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Working the Screen 2000


Redefining hybridity: CD-ROM possibilities

Mike Leggett

Mike Leggett is guest editor of Photofile #60 (August 2000). He curates, teaches and writes about media arts and is currently developing a multimedia project for the Australian Film Commission.

Linda Dement, In My Gash Linda Dement, In My Gash
It was but 6 years ago that the first works on CD-ROM by artists made their appearance, only 5 since the initial net art sites emerged. The rapid expansion of artists’ sites in the last 2 years has eclipsed and diminished the desire to place work onto CD. The considerable range of skills needed to make an interactive CD-ROM and then distribute it have kept artists’ attention on the improving quality and range of options available online—faster access times; browser and production software adapting to the desire for sound and movement; and an on tap means for delivering curated exhibitions to the audience (no freight, no installation, no need for a sustained level of funding).

Moving out of the notional centre (from the confined spaces of the gallery, from the vicissitudes of curatorial taste) into the digital highways and byways of cyberspace is becoming challenged, a la revenant, by the laneways and streetscapes of the analogue city. Drive by was a series of shop window projection installations by the Retarded Eye group for the Perth 2000 International Festival. (See RealTime 37, page 18). One of the works A throw of the dice (can never abolish chance) was made by Vikki Wilson with performer/writer Erin Hefferon as “an experiment in electronic writing to produce a work that makes a ‘movie’ on the fly with text, sound and video. The ‘movie’ is recognisably the same story but different in each version: a series of compressed serial-killer narratives—Perth-dwellers have been living with this story for some time.” The work reiterates its storylines, building a collage of permutations over time and was developed from a narrative database engine (made by Cam Merton of Retarded Eye), holding movies, sounds and sentences scripted to combine into narrative sequences as the engine runs. A DVD delivered the piece to the projector installation and is accessible on the web (http://arc.imago.com.au/ driveby), indicating an inexorable movement by this group and a few others overseas towards forms of online cinema.

As a work distributed on videotape, Love Hotel anticipates these shifts, summarising in 7 minutes of linear exposition the impact of online culture and communities on gender politics. Linda Wallace (www.machinehunger.com.au) takes video collected from Japan and New York and layers it in windows and boxes containing the words of Puppet Mistress (Francesca da Rimini reading excerpts from Fleshmeat, her forthcoming anthology, www.thing.net/~dollyoko), vectoring meanings from the collisions of resulting images. Screened recently as part of d>art00, the project adopts the provisional location of the love hotel to materialise in the media guises of cinema, television, multimedia, internet and next…gallery installation?

Rosalind Brodsky in her time travelling costumes spans right across the 20th century and into 2058, the year of her demise. The space she occupies during this bungy-jump is, of course, the virtual space of the interactive multimedia computer and the encounter between each user and the rich imagination of the artist…No Other Symptoms—Time Travelling with Rosalind Brodsky. Rosalind (the alter ego of the CD-ROM’s maker Suzanne Treister, see RealTime 34) delivers a monologue that ranges across late 20th century media studies discussion points from psychoanalysis to Mary Poppins, vibrators, sci-fi films, the Russian Revolution (complete with clips from Eisenstein’s October), 60s euphoria and hope for the future. Stories of Old Europe—pogroms, revolts, émigrés—are encountered. They are central to her history. Rosalind wishes to be “…connected to (her) roots…” and interspersed are photos and videos of the Treister family members, as family and as players in re-enactments of historical moments and encounters with extensive figments of Freud, Jung, Klein, Lacan and Kristeva. Rosalind as a time traveller is able, of course, to warn Freud to leave for London…he does. She sees a lot more of him. And so can we…

Lisa Roberts time travels via the simple action of turning the hands of a clock backwards and forwards (I discovered eventually this had to be performed quite vigorously), until entry is given to the labyrinths of the CD-ROM Terra Incognita. The smoke and mirror possibilities of the authoring tool Director (in spite of inexorable pixel-dissolves) recreated the séance-like atmosphere of the magic lantern, with static images from the artist’s experienced pencil and paint gestures flickering through parts of the writer Carmel Bird’s fiction, the images forming “the basis for an interactive ‘map’ of the creative process” perceived by the artist in response to the writer’s work. This is the work of a mature artist picking up and learning a complex multimedia tool.

Juvenate, from the Perth team of Michelle Glaser, Andrew Hutchison and Marie-Louise Xavier, also explores intersections of memory—“The beginning and the end reach out their hands to each other.” The simple action of rolling over unmarked parts of the images stimulates sounds and successive images to emerge in a flow of snapshot and watercolour elements constructed around the domestic. Abrasions, lesions and drips intervene into the sound of children’s voices as the user moves through the 36 scenes following a route that can be re-visited once learnt.

Linda Dement has recently completed her third CD-ROM, In My Gash. Like the earlier works, she creates a gentle correspondence between the user and the complex representations seen and heard, that in spite of the implication and threat of violence witnessed gives access through a real engagement to comprehension rather than the dead-end of the hopeless and intractable. As Anna Munster has observed: “Dement’s 3D animated renderings of gashes seemingly offer up representations of the mysterious leap from the physical to the psychical, from the outside to the inside, from the beautiful to the grotesque that straddle our understanding of gender relations (Photofile 60, forthcoming).”

TellTale is the flipside CD-ROM, “a mixture of sweetness, courage, nauseating patheticness and romance” in the words of its creator, Rebecca Bryant. As an immersion into the world of a soapie-like group of ‘characters in situations’, it enables the user to terminate irksome storylines, back into a more promising combination of plotline options and when all else fails, simply read scurrilous footnotes about members of the cast. Whilst navigation is elegantly designed and effected, the flux that personifies the notion of the soapie is placed into a state of fixity when delivered as a CD-ROM. Internet narrative possibilities have advanced this option more recently, utilising streamlined vector graphics which, when coupled with graphic images of the kind in TellTale, simulate a cinematic experience. (Jonni Nitro at www.eruptor.com and Too Hot at www.toohot.com are examples of the form if not the content).

The use of the 360 degree virtual space linked via rollovers to movies and graphic sequences enables discrete narratives to be coordinated into the virtual installation of Cross Currents by Dennis Del Favero, investigating the sex slave trade of Western Europe (see RealTime 34), or the encyclopedic Lore of the Land from Fraynework Multimedia. A big budget project involving Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians mostly in Victoria, the multi-faceted chapters examine history, ecology, culture, law and land with an approach that encourages the upkeep of an integrated personal journal of the user’s journey through the work, collecting images and notes along the way. A curious game of Discovery is incorporated (separately authored by Troy Innocent) which involves collecting artefacts from an uninhabited cave, egged on by an off-screen Aboriginal voice, before returning them to the ground. The goal of all this earnest activity is to move towards understanding, and the achievement of, reconciliation. The navigation system whilst easy to use keeps this rich resource at arm’s length relying, like a television doco, on the personalities of the individual contributors to provide the spirit of the piece. The outcomes of individual journals linked through a website forum (www.loreoftheland.com.au) potentially close the gap between the user and the experience and process of assimilating this work.

User confidence is challenged in the elegant Electronic Sound Remixers by Tobias Kazumichi Grime, where the ubiquitous Director authoring tool enables the user to combine from a palette of attractive sounds a mix using a design grid with an attractive variety of visual slider devices. Is the mix actual or, as the user begins to suspect, the result of options only partially given by the author?

Virtual kitchens were a factor in the mix of the year’s completed works. Dream Kitchen by Leon Cmielewski and Josephine Starrs submerges us beneath the smooth surfaces of the domestic laboratory to examine its seams and what lies hidden: fire-raising pencils and pens, anthropomorphised garbage, an opportunity to take the Interface Test and apply an increasing electrical voltage to a dead frog. Witnessing from a surveillance position behind the phone the S&M goings-on of the otherwise absent owners adds spice to this ingenious wunderküchekabinet. Michael Buckley’s Good Cook dives beneath the psychic surfaces of the professional kitchen during a sleepless night for the chef. The user shares his frustration at not being able to shake off meandering thought and image recollections as the mouse threads our way from the trials of the previous night’s work to childhood memories and the paternal pathways of songs and scriptures.

Delivered after a short gestation, the pixel, the byte and the inkjet are seamlessly integrated via the CCD and the chip into a contemporary practice that is again dissolving the artificial barriers to the possible erected by corporate culture and the ambitions of software engineers. Time-based technologies used to ‘fix light to a time signature’ are in ever more constant flux, again redefining the terms of hybridity, again continuing the development trajectory of the newer media within screen culture.

Mike Leggett is guest editor of Photofile #60 (August 2000). He curates, teaches and writes about media arts and is currently developing a multimedia project for the Australian Film Commission.

RealTime issue #38 Aug-Sept 2000 pg. 6

© Mike Leggett; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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