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I link, therefore I am

Ella Barclay

Ella Barclay writes about digital art and network culture.

Owen Leong, Second Skin Owen Leong, Second Skin
Prospectus is a collection of 9 works from 8 Australian new media artists grappling with nuances in digital media and culture. In their catalogue essay, curators Dougal Phillips and David Teh draw attention to the recent disbanding of the Australia Council’s New Media Arts Board, which aided many of these artists. The Board’s dissolution threatens the reputation and agency of Australian art’s most interesting developers.

The title Prospectus should be interpreted as a dreamy, speculative sketch of our digital destiny and how it may unfold. At the same time it is a concise delineation of what is happening right now, a repertoire of video work that brings insight to how a digitised perspective, connectivity, alteration and immersion have transformed the way in which we learn and create.

Digital culture has taught us that power lies not in our nodes but in our connections–it’s not how you think, it’s what you link. This is not to say that Soda_Jerk and Sam Smith don’t think, but their message is in what they connect. The Dawn of Remix fixes the opening sequence of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey with LL Cool J’s hip-hop classic Can’t Live Without My Radio. This deftly dovetailed sequence offers a re-evaluation of history; anyone born post-1970 is likely to have come across LL Cool J long before they sourced Stanley Kubrick. As Soda_Jerk and Smith’s chimps taunt us ("rock the beat with my hand"), they are demonstrating our new ability to construct and tweak history based on personal extractions from our collective pop-cultural whirlpool.

Tweaking in a more sickly sense is Owen Leong’s agenda–we can tell from his Second Skin. Under superbly crisp studio lights, honey softly streams onto Leong’s head and is smeared over his face. After several minutes the viewing experience becomes less sweet and more nauseating as Leong’s facial manipulation seems never-ending. Reminiscent of Zheng Huan’s 12 Square Metres, in which the honey-coated artist caught flies on his skin in a male urinal, Leong’s work centres abjection on the body. But instead of immersing himself in flies and excrement, he is contemplating the infinitely airbrush-able digital sanitation of Photoshopped bodies in popular print and screen media.

Over time, variations in perspective have effected our comprehension of our surroundings. Sumugan Sivanesan’s Landslide is a minute-long scan of the city skyline. Through the sun’s glare and a harsh, cicada-like digital buzz, we decipher a rippling urban horizon, its solid, geometric structures wavering and fluid.

The excerpt from Daniel Crooks’ On Perspective and Motion–Part 1 renders a prominent street corner in Melbourne in a new way, invigorating the old dialogue concerning photography and what we see–or do not see. Daguerre’s 1839 Le Boulevard du Temple was an attempt to capture one of Paris’ most lively streets. However, due to the long exposure time, the figures moved too quickly to register and the street appeared empty. Crooks draws related conclusions about analogue’s successor, although his distinctive ‘time-slice’ technique works to reverse the effect: the faster figures move, the more conspicuous their visual presence.

Sivanesan and Crooks nudge our ability to contend with dimension: street grids are compressed, figures stretched, buildings are like water, and school boys darting in front of trams look like dragons. Perspective here is no longer about the observer’s position; it’s our connection to the whole. In a second work by Sivanesan, Seismic, eloquently-timed, glitchy pauses leave figures spasming as they pass an unaffected, motionless Falun Dafa demonstration. This kind of digital acuity reveals a connectedness between figures and time with a duality of political and nearly comical implications.

An artist enjoying the constant stream of visual data is Wade Marynowsky. His Apocalypse Later is a freakish visual and aural binge of grunting footage gathered from Sydney’s recently closed theme parks, and a recording of what is called ‘live cinema’–the manipulation of sound and image in real time. There is a level of passivity required from the viewer; instead of contemplating relational aesthetics, you must let the experience wash over you and wriggle in the data flow.

The question of what will replace the Australia Council’s New Media Arts Board will determine Prospectus’ role: a projection of things to come or a relic of Australian new media art.


Prospectus: Projections in New Media, blank_space gallery, Surry Hills, Sydney, January 23-26

Prospectus was part of the 1/2doz. festival

Ella Barclay writes about digital art and network culture.

RealTime issue #66 April-May 2005 pg. 32

© Ella Barclay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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