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EAF's global spin: a progress report

Chris Reid

Oleg Kulig, System of Coordinates, DVD 2003 Oleg Kulig, System of Coordinates, DVD 2003
Established in 1974 as Australia’s first government funded experimental visual arts organisation, the Experimental Art Foundation (EAF) celebrated its 30th anniversary by introducing important new strategies in its 2004 program. Under the leadership of Melentie Pandilovski, director since mid-2003, the EAF’s program has emphasised new media, the nexus between art, technology and science, the impact of globalisation on art and, most importantly, international cooperation in commissioning and exhibiting art.


The EAF’s main event in 2004 was Art of the Biotech Era, coinciding with the Adelaide Festival of Arts in March. This involved an exhibition, symposium and workshop, and a forthcoming book documenting the event. The 5 day workshop led by Gary Cass and Oron Katz of SymbioticA (see Fargher's Bio-art: adventures in ethics ) addressed subjects such as DNA extraction, plant breeding, tissue culture and biological research ethics. The symposium addressed a range of subjects including bioethics, genetic manipulation and the definition of life itself, asking questions such as whether it is possible to ‘kill’ a ‘living artwork’ of tissue cultivated outside the body? The workshop will be exported, and in March 2005 will be conducted in London under the auspices of Arts Catalyst.

The number of artists working on biotechnological themes is growing exponentially, and Pandilovski previously organised exhibitions and seminars on this theme in Europe. He secured international grants to help fund Art of the Biotech Era, which was seen by some 8,000 people (RT60, p4). Many works were deliberately controversial. Heath Bunting’s Natural Reality Superweed Kit 1.0, for example, is supposedly a weed that will kill GM crops. As Pandilovski notes in the exhibition catalogue, such artwork is neither image nor text-based, nor is it simply an encoded program in action: “it is conceptual beyond its biomateriality.” There is an emerging aesthetic concerned with the conceptualisation and evolution of biotechnical processes. As well as showcasing existing work, such exhibiting catalyses new work and theorisation.

Video perspectives

For the remainder of the 2004 EAF season, Pandilovski mainly selected artists concerned with photographic technologies, primarily through video. Shaun Gladwell and Samstag Scholarship winner TV Moore, both young Sydney artists with an urban youth culture focus, showed CONCRETE 000, a series of collaborative video works that included Moore’s paranoid chase scene and Gladwell’s introspective skateboarding. Oliver Musovik of Macedonia followed in June; his photographic work in Friends, Neighbours and Others also addressed urban existence, resonating with the work of Gladwell and Moore. The idea of the observing camera, central to our society of surveillance, permeated these artists’ work.

Dundee-based Lei Cox’s July exhibition Retrospective Elements brought to Australia a scaled down retrospective of his work from the past 15 years. His typically large-scale installations, in which we see giant hand-made flowers and artificial grass that interact with the viewer, could not be brought to the gallery and so videos were used instead.

Irish artist Grace Weir followed Cox’s exhibition. Her video installation A Fine Line explored the philosophy of science, featuring scientist Ian Elliot as actor/presenter/philosopher and Weir as the investigator. Her elegiac work conveys information televisually and induces a meditative state, approaching the subject of physics both intellectually and psychologically.

Russian performance artist Oleg Kulig’s videos, shown in an untitled exhibition in October, are records of his performances from 1994 to 1999. His work challenges the social standards of the former USSR and contemporary Russia. By portraying guard dogs and the EU flag in the work I Love Europe he questions various political tendencies in Europe such as the territory’s expansion and the appearance of new borders and their ‘guarding’. He also questions the nature of the police state and the dichotomous nature of such dogs, who are at once obedient friends and uncontrollable monsters. Kulig’s video also muses on what it is for a human to behave like an angry dog confronting an unaware public. His performance I Bite America, America Bites Me references Joseph Beuys’ 3 day performance in New York I Like America and America Likes Me (1974) in which Beuys cohabited with a coyote.

In the 2004 work System of Coordinates, naked actors in a water tank photograph themselves and each other, challenging the boundaries of pornography and disclosing aspects of human sexuality. Such work has a sociological edge and becomes a way of mapping (Russian) societal development.

The Slovenian connection

The final exhibition for 2004 was Slovenian group IRWIN’s Like to Like. This exhibition, complete with a visit by IRWIN members, was made possible through cooperation with Sydney’s Artspace, where it was also staged (RT64, p32). Established in the early 1980s, IRWIN is central to Slovenian contemporary art. As Igor Zabel notes in the catalogue, IRWIN’s defining characteristic, in addition to functioning collectively, is their concern with the ‘retro-principle’—combining images and symbols from past high and low art to re-examine art itself. Like to Like features a series of large Type C photographs, each of a carefully staged scene constructed to represent an adjacent diagram. Each diagram is a reconstruction of an earlier tableau or event. For example, Wheat and String 2003, by commissioned photographer Tomaz Gregori, is a photographic reconstruction of a work by the 1960s Slovenian art group OHO. The original Wheat and String (1969) was in turn inspired by Suprematist art. As the artist’s statement notes, the work references environmental concerns and ‘earth art’, but is ephemeral and conceptual. An accretion of artistic forms and history is embodied in each image.

Opposite the photographs is Corpse of Art, a recreation of Russian Suprematist artist Kasimir Malevich’s lying in state. A sarcophagus, designed by Malevich, contains a frighteningly realistic mannequin of the artist, above which hangs a facsimile of a Malevich painting. IRWIN’s work addresses the impact of Russian revolutionary art on the USSR’s satellite countries and, more broadly, the cultural and political history of Slovenia and its neighbours. IRWIN’s exhibition also included extensive videos and artists’ books tracing past work, and commentary by theorists such as Slavoj Zizek.

Global resource pooling

Pandilovski has brought to Australia important European work that would not otherwise travel here. The EAF’s networking has also assisted local artists to exhibit and travel overseas: Adelaide artist Martin Thompson exhibited at Web 3D Art in Monterey (USA) and SIGGRAPH 2004 in Los Angeles, while Adelaide writer Maria Bilske participated in the curatorial seminar Trans-global Art-ground at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade, in December 2003. This seminar involved curators from several countries addressing the question of a global art system. Pandilovski is looking at Australian video artists for an exhibition planned at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Skopje and other European venues.

In 2004, workshops were held in Adelaide for artists to learn new technologies, and further workshops are planned for 2005. Karl Dudesek, from Van Gogh TV, will run a 3D web art workshop, presentation and exhibition for the local industry in February; and Brazilian-American artist Eduardo Kac will undertake a residency and conduct a workshop on Biotech and Telematic Arts.

The EAF is planning more twinning arrangements such as the one with Artspace that sponsored IRWIN’s visit: Pandilovski is working with the art and technology centres in Britain and Germany on parallel projects. Oleg Kulig’s work will also be shown at Artspace. The book of Art of the Biotech Era will be sponsored by the IMA (Brisbane) and the Gordon Darling Foundation. There will be thematic exhibitions on the intersection of art, technology, science and information mounted in tandem with overseas institutions, which will see local and overseas artists being shown together. The EAF will rely on funding from overseas institutions to underwrite such projects and the exhibitions will travel to those institutions.

Pooling resources in this way permits the mounting and touring of larger scale projects and international travel by artists, curators and theorists. The EAF sees itself as a traffic manager. Pandilovski’s intention is to enrich Australian art as a whole, not just that of Adelaide. Importantly, the EAF is positioning itself as an international player and linking Australia to the global scene. In this age of rapid evolution in art, technology and society, it is essential that Australia’s art is closely connected to the world circuit, and organisations such as the EAF (as well as CACSA, Artspace, IMA and others) play pivotal roles. As Melentie Pandilovski says, “we can’t work in isolation in the 21st Century.”

Experimental Art Foundation, Lion Arts Centre, North Terrace, Adelaide,

RealTime issue #65 Feb-March 2005 pg. 9

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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