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qld premier’s national new media art awards


looking for deep generative poetry

greg hooper: queensland premier’s national new media art awards

Greg Hooper, an artist and researcher with a background in neuroscience, has a PhD from the Psychiatry Department of the University of Queensland. He is completing a Synapse residency at the Queensland Brain Institute, producing a score for members of ELISION
based on their EEG responses to listening to music, and a generative video from stimuli used in experiments on the recognition of facial emotions.

Earthstar (2008), David Haines and Joyce Hinterding Earthstar (2008), David Haines and Joyce Hinterding
courtesy the artists
THERE’S QUITE A BIT OF HYPE COMING OUT OF BRISBANE’S GALLERY OF MODERN ART (GOMA) ABOUT THE PREMIER OF QUEENSLAND’S NATIONAL NEW MEDIA ART AWARD. NINE WORKS, 10 ARTISTS, $75K FOR THE WINNER AND A SWEET $25K TRAVELLING SCHOLARSHIP FOR SOME LUCKY EMERGING WORTHY AS WELL. GOOD MONEY IN THE CONTEXT OF AUSTRALIAN ART FUNDING. (THERE’S A LOT OF THESE PREMIER’S AWARDS FOR SOMETHING OR OTHER IN AUSTRALIA. PEOPLE OFTEN SLAG OFF AT POLITICIANS BUT YOU CAN’T DENY THE GENEROSITY. I THINK ANYBODY WHO FORKS OUT THEIR OWN MONEY LIKE THAT TO SUPPORT THE ARTS OR MEDICAL RESEARCH OR WHATEVER DESERVES THE BADGING RIGHTS. GOOD ON THEM.)

Anyway, into GOMA and up some stairs to the show. The space is smallish and dimly lit. Four of the works are in shared or open space and the five others are in rooms of their own—sort of. Sort of, as during the times I visited there was no sound dampening which meant that all the works shared the same soundtrack—a blend of the three loudest pieces and whatever sound (if any) they had of their own.

On to the show. Being new media there are a few projection/screen based works. The winning piece, Everything (see cover image), by Peter Alwast (it’s an acquisitive award so into the GOMA collection it goes) uses three large projections of what seem to be cut and spliced together clichés of digi-art animation. Shiny pipes, translucent shapes, clouds, mountains, CAD style building frames, lickable butterscotch cars, reflections into shiny domes to show off some projective geometry/linear algebra. Over the top runs a soundtrack that also seems to recycle the standards of collaged and cut-up sound, even down to the slightly manic sounding street preacher. (Subpsychotic street person rant = gritty urban equivalent of salt-of-the-earth charming peasant folk wisdom?) Overall, there’s an aura of slick and meaningless process, an empty consumption of surfaces that gets a bit creepy.

Another projection piece is CuteXDoom II from Anita Fontaine. Fontaine has used the Unreal game engine to build a simple race-against-time game. Basically you get poisoned and have to find a bunch of stuff and escape or die. The effect of the poison—a blurry sort of wooziness to the graphics is a nice touch. Modding Unreal levels is popular amongst gamer types—it’s a whole nerdy sub-culture—and I’m not sure where work like this fits—it doesn’t seem to function as game, as critique, or as resonant play.

Onward to the works with actual monitors. Sam Smith’s Control structure. A giant head—nicely tiled plywood facetted like a crude avatar—spills black plastic gunk onto the floor. From one eye protrudes a camera lens. Out the back of the head—reference occipital lobe for visual system—is more gunk and a flat panel with some animation/footage playing. Bits of static, some views of what looks like a control room, people about, two screens. Image of bloke with long shiny-rubber tubes coming from each eye and joining into a lens. It’s got an 80s Videodrome look about it. Critique-wise, the giant head is alone, the body is gone. Without the body, the brain is in a vat and all the inputs—digital or analog —are equivalent. Hence the head explodes and black gunk oozes out.

Near the entrance is Adam Nash’s Seventeen unsung songs, an installation for the online virtual space, Second Life. Nash has produced a typical 3D landscape to wander about in, and populated it with interactive virtual, and sculptural, sound devices—sound toys. Many of the sound toys can be manipulated real-time by the user. As a single user a virtual space like the slightly clunky Second Life cannot really provide the quality experience for interactive sound that dedicated software can, but it is as a multi-user opportunity that this sort of artwork potentially shines. It is also impossible for a gallery to guarantee a multi-user experience and so in some ways this means that the exhibited work is indicative of the possibilities of the real work rather than the real work itself.

John Tonkin provides an engaging interactive work: time and motion study v2. You enter a room with monitors on all four walls. One has a camera and mouse control. You put yourself in front of the camera and appear on the screen as a sequence of time lapse photos trailing off into the past—sort of 3D Muybridge with a little memory loss. The monitors on the other walls play back the past recordings of others who have used the work. It’s fun to use and, eventually, your time with it will enter into the database of previous visitors to be played for someone else.

Oottherongoo (your country) is a four-panel video by Julie Dowling. You sit on a bench, sounds above, screens in front, and watch what seems to be a home movie/audiovisual display split into four parallel image streams. There’s a journey to the bush, shots of the bitumen, some old family photos, some beautiful shots of a sun-bleached stock holding pen. A dry as a chip dingo strung up from a tree. A woman’s face looks out—a little tentative, later there’s a trace of tears and sadness.

Mari Velonaki’s Circle D: Fragile has two well crafted wooden boxes sitting next to each other on top of another, equally crafted, wooden stand. The boxes have matt screens on four sides where sentences will appear when you rotate or handle the boxes. This is quite a lovely piece although it can be hard to operate and get the full effect—but the nostalgia of the craftsmanship and materials, the apparent human agency in the way the text appears to be handwritten, and the need to hold the objects (to bring them closer as if accepting or caring), is quite poetic.

Next to Peter Alwast’s Everything is Natalie Jeremijenko’s eco installation Green Light, which functions both as an object and as a possible intervention into community energy use. Ferns in glass bowls hang like a nice display at a nursery or in some corporate space. The ferns are of a type that filters the air. Individual lights above each bowl funnel energy down from solar collectors on the roof. There’s a big X on the wall and a small video showing (somewhat obliquely) how the system might be installed in a domestic or small scale environment. Jeremijenko has produced a large body of exceptional work that functions across engineering, art and design. Green Light is more in the engineering design camp—lacking the symbolic moment that her piece Tree Logic has, where oak trees are suspended upside down to grow and bend up to the sunlight in a kind of aspirational tropism.

Finally, what for me was the best work in the show, David Haines and Joyce Hinterding’s Earthstar, which uses the tools of scientific investigation to create a poetic engagement with the Sun. Two tables sit in parallel at the centre of the room. On top lie large antennae—graphite rods bound with copper wire—and a bit of audio mixing gear, picking up and playing real time bursts of radio frequencies from the Sun. On the wall a large video projection of the solar chromosphere—a layer of super heated hydrogen only revealed though radical filtering of the image. Opposite the projection are two enclosed vessels, gorgeous refrigerators carefully holding something precious and fragile—molecular solutions designed as fragrances of the Sun. We can sample the smells using paper sample sticks held up to the nose—another gesture of approach.

The effect of the sound in Earthstar is to encourage close listening and contemplation. The video encourages a kind of awe at the astonishing power and immensity of the Sun. And the fragrances, bushfires and insecticide, ozone and coriander, free molecules brought into contact with the nasal epithelia, evoke the memory of touching a world that can only exist when it is itself in contact with the Sun.

Outside of the sophisticated poetry of the Haines and Hinterding piece the show is steady and a little safe. For me some works fit more into design or video, or lack the generative poetics of deep art. There is nothing that strikes me with the excitement or ambition of a work such as Kurt Hentschlager’s astonishing ZEE (Austria), which uses fog and stroboscopic light to induce overwhelming visual hallucinations, or has the smarts of Ruth Schnell’s Disappearence (Austria), which can only be seen by the peripheral vision, disappearing when looked at directly. Closer to home, how could an artist like Keith Armstrong not be represented—either with work such as Intimate transactions (as part of transmute collective) or Shifting intimacies (with Charlotte Vincent and Guy Webster)? If the award is to live up to the marketing hyperbole (“...some of the most exciting developments in contemporary art today”) a more adventurous and poetic selection is to be hoped for in the future.


Premier of Queensland’s National New Media Art Award, artists Peter Alwast, Julie Dowling, Anita Fontaine, David Haines and Joyce Hinterding, Natalie Jeremijenko, Adam Nash, Sam Smith, John Tonkin, Mari Velonaki, Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Nov 1-Feb 8

Greg Hooper, an artist and researcher with a background in neuroscience, has a PhD from the Psychiatry Department of the University of Queensland. He is completing a Synapse residency at the Queensland Brain Institute, producing a score for members of ELISION
based on their EEG responses to listening to music, and a generative video from stimuli used in experiments on the recognition of facial emotions.

RealTime issue #88 Dec-Jan 2008 pg. 27

© Greg Hooper; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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