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The public face of online interaction

Lizzie Muller

Lizzie Muller is a curator and producer of interactive art, currently conducting PhD research at the Creativity and Cognition Studios, University of Technology, Sydney.

d>Art.04 Web d>Art.04 Web
photo Patrick Neu
Much of the particular joy of experiencing internet art is that it enters your own private space. Curating and exhibiting internet art in a gallery shifts the context of the artwork from the private to the public, creating new meanings and experiences for audiences. Something is lost and something is gained.

In the case of d>Art.04 Web a great deal of significance was added by the public context. The exhibition was part of dLux media arts’ annual showcase of digital art presented at the Sydney International Film Festival. The 6 internet works selected by curator and web artist Melinda Rackham were exhibited alongside sound art selected by Gail Priest in the Sydney Opera House Gallery. The illustrious venue, dLux’s skilful staging and the festival context all conspired to give this small exhibition added impact.

Drawn from 6 different countries, Rackham’s selection covered a range of current themes and approaches, from the relationship between real, virtual and networked spaces in Selectparks’ ACMIpark (www.acmi.net.au/acmipark.jsp), to explorations of web aesthetics in Enrique Radigales’s Ideal Word (www.idealword.org).

Some works suffered more than others in the shift to a public context. Pac Man and the Minotaur by Brazilian designer Andrei Thomaz (rgbdesigndigital.com.br) explores the parallels between eponymous maze-dwelling characters through a retro-aesthetic of 1980s low resolution graphics. Prosthetic Component Interfaces is a series of monochrome interactive sound toys by American-based Andrew Bucksbarg (www.adhocsound.org). These pieces of web whimsy would have been refreshing distractions if encountered while immersed in the labyrinthine structure and goal-oriented interaction of the internet. Divorced from this context they seemed simplistic.

In contrast, the experience of Stained Linen by Canadian artist Linda Duvall (www.lindaduvall.ca) was enhanced by the exhibition setting. The work is all about eavesdropping. It allows users to select and pursue snippets of private dinner party conversations from tantalising hook words such as “condemn”, “innocent” and “in love.” The choices made, which are almost unconscious when in private, gain in significance in public. The user’s interactions become very much part of the work’s illicit quality, both for the player being watched and for those watching.

Despite the failures of some individual pieces the exhibition itself was a pleasure to experience. The design skillfully exploited the potential of this individual mode, paradoxically producing a social experience. Alluring neon seats on a raised platform at the far end of the gallery turned the sound installation into the focal point of the exhibition, providing a vantage point from which to gaze back at those interacting with the web art. The room was full of people watching each other listen and interact and this became part of the spectacle.

Exhibiting internet art is as much about watching, enjoying and sharing the experiences of your fellow audience members as it is about the work itself. The gallery space compensates for what you lose in privacy by providing the opportunity of literally seeing other points of view. The diversity of visitors at the Opera House made for a rich set of social experiences. It was particularly interesting watching a group of American school boys interact with ACMIpark, a 3D model of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and its Federation Square surrounds, produced using game engine technology. One boy had a very clear idea of what a multiplayer online game world was, but no conception of ACMI, Federation Square or possibly even Melbourne. He attempted to kill oblivious virtual inhabitants of ACMIpark with disappointingly non-lethal light balls. “It’s not a game, Steve” said one of his friends with regret, “there’s no point.” “I don’t think you’re meant to kill anyone,” replied Steve, “I think it’s just art.”

The major gain in showing internet art in a gallery is encouraging just this kind of conversation, by putting an art-form on display that still falls below the radar of the general public and even much of the art press. The invisibility of web art is particularly noticeable in Sydney at the moment due to its complete absence from the Biennale. In contrast, the current 2004: Australian Culture Now show at ACMI and the National Gallery of Victoria has a major online element, also curated by Rackham. So our virtual projection from Sydney to Melbourne via ACMIpark was a reminder that in a national and international context this small 6-piece exhibition was only a glimpse at an art form of growing significance. Hopefully dLux will expand this component of the annual d>art showcase to produce an event of greater magnitude in the future.


d>Art.04 Web, curator Melinda Rackham, 51st Sydney Film Festival, Sydney Opera House Gallery, June 17-27

Lizzie Muller is a curator and producer of interactive art, currently conducting PhD research at the Creativity and Cognition Studios, University of Technology, Sydney.

RealTime issue #62 Aug-Sept 2004 pg. 28

© Lizzie Muller; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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