info I contact
advertising
editorial schedule
acknowledgements
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter
donate

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

contents

  

media arts and their disconnects

christian mccrea: re:live and super human


Metazoa, Angela Main, Super Human Exhibition, RMIT Gallery Metazoa, Angela Main, Super Human Exhibition, RMIT Gallery
photo Mark Ashkanasy; courtesy RMIT Gallery
A RANGE OF MEDIA ARTS EVENTS, THE LEONARDO EDUCATION FORUM, SUPER HUMAN: REVOLUTION OF THE SPECIES AND RE:LIVE MEDIAARTHISTORIES CO-HABITED IN MELBOURNE DURING LATE NOVEMBER, AIMING TO ACHIEVE A CRITICAL MASS OF ARTISTS, THEORISTS AND CURATORS. SUPER HUMAN WAS THE AUSTRALIAN NETWORK FOR ART AND TECHNOLOGY’S INTERVENTION INTO QUESTIONS OF BIOLOGY AND FUTURITY, COMPRISING AN EXHIBITION, MASTERCLASS AND GENERAL SYMPOSIUM. RE:LIVE WAS THE THIRD MEDIAARTHISTORIES CONFERENCE, CAPITALISING ON THE GROWING BODY OF RESEARCHERS AND SPEAKERS WHO ARE ATTRACTED TO MEDIA ARTS DISCOURSE.

A great sense of disconnection permeated the official discourses of Re:live and Super Human (I didn’t get to the Leonardo Education Forum). The gap between what guests and attendees were saying on stage and then saying over coffee, or lunch, or walking between events, was more than merely disquieting—it was just plain weird. Given the openness of the audience to meta-analysis of the arts generally, more in-depth criticism of particular programs or models would have been welcome. The timid public accounts—especially from Australian artists, curators and academics—were especially striking in the still-raw discussion of the dissolution of the Australia Council’s New Media Arts Board. It seemed that little hope is invested in the Council’s pivot to the new “arts content for the digital era” strategy, though some discussants in the question sessions were articulating the board’s removal as bearing significant creative fruit.

In both events, the lived practice of history re-emerged as a kind of demilitarised zone between codified (and historicised) media art and the ever-refusing cultures which fail to engage with and hence misunderstand it. While work and institutions which speak to archive practices are being rewarded, Oliver Grau’s presentation at Re:live indicated many archives were succumbing to financial and other pressures. He asked whether or not the MediaArtHistories body could be a catalyst for preservation strategies. The question is going to become more and more explicit, with the ephemerality of new media now embodying another generation gap—one of ubiquitous-yet-closed platforms clashing with open-but-unpopular methods and protocols.

Other important questions concerning the generation and curatorship of work through arts funding circulated at both events. Most commonly, how do artists attract funding to work that doesn’t fit into the categories with which funding bodies assert themselves? Just as importantly, how do artists conceive of new media artwork when the only field-specific bodies are in every sense more risk-averse and conservative than the funders of traditional arts?

In many ways, the Super Human symposium addressed its concerns well, and the focus of speakers presumed investment from the audience. Some speakers, such as Natasha Vita-More—firmly of the mind that all life extension techniques and procedures should be pursued and promoted in order to avoid death—generated palpable disquiet that was far more fruitful for discussions than rote recitations of academic squirreling. Barbara Maria Stafford’s keynote was a highlight, connecting ideas across vast distances and elucidating a call for seismic shifts in approaches to art history and especially the task of the critic.

ANAT had obviously put on a very high-cost event, and the range of international speakers began to explain the high costs of attending. More than a few attendees, myself included, are beginning to wonder whether the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (and by extension, Federation Square) is the most viable place for such public events—certainly when the costs associated with events there far outstrip the convenience.

Early on at the Super Human curatorial masterclass sessions, Mike Stubbs (director of FACT, Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, Liverpool, UK, which will host the next MediaArt History conference) provided the answers nobody wanted to hear to these two questions. Stubbs’ impassioned pre-emptive defence of FACT and other national scope mega-bodies openly celebrated a risk-averse model of new media in favour of “publicly visible work” that can “extend the reach of these images.” On its own, his presentation would have sat reasonably well if a little controversially, as Stubbs had a tenure at ACMI overseeing excellent public exhibitions such as White Noise.

However, the speaker immediately prior on the same panel, artist Jens Hauser, had delivered a very well-received talk on producing work which explicitly complicates the ability to generate images at all: work that is neither combinable into a flickr set or Facebook post; nor the poster child for the conservative and static neologisms of theorists. Hauser’s work on the sk-interfaces exhibition in Liverpool in 2008 and a string of prior events concentrated on curating highly (culturally, materially) sensitive works and in one case, encountering a gallery that baulked, literally at the last minute, at the display of a work that could invite litigation—Jun Takita’s bioluminescent brain sculpture, Light only Light. It was interesting that Mike Stubbs was the gallery curator who made the call to retract the work and use a non-biologically active substitute. It is clear that Hauser and Stubbs are friendly and the issue is not the source of tension, but the significance of the discourse was left entirely implicit, to be picked over in between sessions rather than built upon and expanded.

One of most engaging speakers in the masterclasses was Sarah Cook (speaking largely as CRUMB) who asked the audience to help address a curatorial problem with an ongoing program of works that had not found an audience. The openness of such a presentation was precisely what many attendees had paid to join the masterclass for—actual work on projects, rather than the usual panels. Erich Berger’s presentation was delightfully specific, rapidly dissecting the difficulties of putting on a series of shows in Laboral, Spain, culminating with the deliriously expansive Homo Ludens Ludens show in 2008.

Re:live’s focus on history was hinted at everywhere, but unfortunately organisers resisted the urge to frame issues of decay alongside continuance—decay of works, decay of institutions, and most importantly, the decay of audiences and imperatives. Sean Cubitt, bravely filling a hole left by one of several last-minute cancellations and Skype hysterics (will there ever be an exhibition comprising the mangled faces and victimised voices of this interminable program?), chose to frame the conference and open up to audience questions concerning the direction of the MediaArtHistories concept/group more generally. A common point of agreement between generations and professions is that there was a great deal of theory being produced (and sold) and far less careful description and preservation work.

The most glaring omission from both events was mentioned by an audience member right at the close of this informal debrief; people under 30 were barely represented in any of the events. However someone wishes to defend or historicise media arts in Australia, it will need to increasingly account for the shift away from large-scale institutional media arts events and equally, a shift upward in artist age. Events such as Electrofringe and the minor exhibitions of tactile animations from groups such as Tape Projects constantly filling city media galleries (of which there are now a fair few, with a new gallery, ScreenSpace, in Melbourne) seemed to have no role to play in the history taking shape, not even as disappointments or diversions.

The risk of an academic history is that rather than looking at the fine grain of particularities, credit is given only where it is easily coded—such as in essentially closed networks of new media artists and writers. At both events it was when openness was emphasised that activity seemed the most possible—an openness that includes a fundamental receptivity to the notion that some forms and practices are organically diminishing and others, yet to be named or understood, have no history.


Symposium proceedings will be published in Second Nature: the International Journal of Creative Media in March 2010; secondnature.rmit.edu.au

ANAT Super Human, Revolution of the Species, Symposium; www.superhuman.org.au, BMW Edge, Federation Square, Nov 23, 24; Re:live, Third International Conference on the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology, www.mediaarthistory.org; BMW Edge, Federation Square, Melbourne, Nov 26-29

RealTime issue #95 Feb-March 2010 pg. 25

© Christian McCrae; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Back to top