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New depths and old distances

Cecelia Cmielewski at ISEA 95 in Montreal

Cecelia Cmielewski is the Cross-cultural and Multimedia Project Co-ordinator at the Media Resource Centre, Adelaide. She gratefully acknowledges the support of the Industry and Cultural Development Branch of the Australian Film Commission for making her attendance at ISEA 95 possible.

Silicon Graphics, darlings!…ISDN lines, darlings!…Mac AV’s, darlings!…computer manipulated video playback, darlings!… heat sensors/light sensors/audio sensors!!!

The exhibition component of ISEA 95 incorporated sound and visual arts, electronic cinema and performances. As a curated event with the theme of Emergent Senses, the works were all able to contribute to the discursive, artistic and media practices surrounding the corporeal and social effects of electronic media.

ZKM (Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologies/Centre for Art and Media technologies) at Karlsruhe, provided a coherent taste of the kind of work produced through the support of artists in this centre. Bill Seaman’s Passage Sets: One Pulls Pivots At The Tip Of The Tongue is a highly poetic work which encapsulates the term multimedia in its potential multidisciplinary approach. A series of stills, moving images and texts which map a visual poem are able to be manipulated by the user at a podium with a responsive scrolling device, the images are seen on a large screen via a data projector. The user concurrently interacts in a highly subjective manner, rather than following an established direction, and appreciates the visual delicacy, architectural illusions and poetic interpretations of “notions of sexuality in cyberspace”.

Keith Piper’s piece Reckless Eyeballing (Britain) was one of the few works which addressed difference and stereotypical representations. Keith works from London and his work “considers black masculine subjectivity through media imagery” (Catalogue notes). Reckless Eyeballing uses 3 podiums from which different commentaries emanate. They are activated by multiple users, reinforcing the way in which group dynamics effect stereotypes in society. A large screen at one end of the gallery has projected onto it various texts and images regarding three representational categories: Sportsman, Musician, Threat.

The playful elements of Piper’s piece insinuate the user into the discourse of the piece through provocative invective: “Remember when Ben…fucked up / Remember when Mike…fucked up”. The user acknowledges the stereotype and is led to a larger comprehension of some of the complexities surrounding representations of the black male gaze.

Maurice Benayoun (France), whose 35mm computer generated Les Quarks is programmed for the In Spaces Unsuspected program of the ‘96 Adelaide Festival, is a video artist and special effects art director. His Le Tunnel sous l’Atlantique was housed in the Montreal Contemporary Art Gallery and simultaneously in the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris. The ‘explorers’ at either end of the tunnel discuss and navigate its virtual images with the assistance of the joy stick and a supervisor, until they see each other’s faces when the virtual meeting occurs.

The logistical and technological innovations were very impressive, particularly given that it is unusual for an artwork to be able to call up such resources. On either side of the Atlantic the tunnel used an ONYX SGI, Indy and Next stations, A SGI digital camera, Sharp projector, RINS (ISDN) line and quadraphonic sound system.

In the same gallery, Osmose (Canada) was again logistically and aesthetically impressive. An immersive virtual reality based on Char Davies’ experiences whilst deep sea diving, Osmose relies on interactive participation of the user to fully explore the possibilities of the piece. Her aim is to create “an experience where people can play with becoming more open to representations of nature, more receptive, more contemplative”. The digital imaging was developed with Softimage and played through several SGI platforms, however the interactive sound aspects of the piece were the significant innovation. Dorota Blaszczak (Poland), is a sound design engineer who developed the programming in collaboration with Rick Bidlack (Canada) who also composed the music score. The breathing and movement choices made by the navigator construct the form of the sound track. In effect, the navigator is involved in the sound design of the immersive experience. Whilst virtual reality is hailed as an ‘out-of-body’ experience, there is an ironic relationship with the body in Osmose. To take advantage of the piece, those navigators who have a strong awareness of their bodies’ functions, particularly controlled breathing and movements, are able to more fully explore the potentials of the sound and visuals.

A very playful and ironic piece Invigorator (Bosch and Simons, Netherlands) consisted of 28 wooden boxes joined together by large metal springs both horizontally and vertically. Attached to the boxes are motors controlled by a computer. The fantastic noises and movements of the springs are driven in such a way as to almost imperceptibly move from co-ordination to chaotic discord and then back again. This cacophonic choreography invoked a metaphor for capitalist modes of mass production, and the cycles of consume and produce.

Several virtual sculptures were included this year. Nigel Helyer’s Hybrid (Australia), and Cantin’s La Production du Temp / The production of Time (Canada), amongst them. That works in progress and conceptual visualisation were included in ISEA 95 establishes the difficulty artists and mediamakers encounter in completing a project. The demands of high-end technology and the imagination working beyond the realms of the technology are contributing factors.

La Production du Temp was a series of documentations of previous work and a double channel video installation. Cantin explores the idea of what constitutes an image. Light is employed as a metaphor for time, which he describes as his material. The works are very elegant lenses through which are projected either video images of a light bulb suspended in water, or bulbs with specially made filaments that create an image of time, and images about image.

George Legrady’s interactive CD ROM/installation An Anecodoted Archive From The Cold War was shown in ISEA 94, and the interactive Slippery Traces exhibited at ISEA 95 maintains his interest in narratives. It is about creating a narrative—a collection of images on related themes exist on a data base which can be accessed visually. The images are projected via data projector onto a large screen. The user weaves a story by selecting one of the five hotspots on the 300 possible postcards. These hotspots are linked to a different image from the data base selected on a set of values which may be literal, semiotic, psychoanalytic or metaphoric. The algorithm will eventually be able to review the user’s choices and give an analysis of them. The aim is to have the audience look at a work and the work look back at the audience.

Australian works at ISEA were mostly CD-ROM based with the exception of Dennis Wilcox’s Zenotrope #2 and Oscillator and Jon McCormack’s Turbulence. The vast distances from the global centres in some way dictate the form of Australian works. Whilst hypermedia may dissolve some of these difficulties, it remains the case that locating larger sculptural or visionary works often preclude them from being installed at greater distances. Similarly for Australian audiences the exposure to larger scale interactive installation/cinematic works from overseas is limited due to expense. Stelarc (Australia), of course, has been intimately involved in the place of the corporeal within electronic and kinesthetic works for his entire career. More of a global nomad than identified with any nation, Stelarc represents the outer edges of the discourses of the cyberbody, and is producing concepts and works which will continue to demand attention, challenge the theory and mark out the edges.

Cecelia Cmielewski is the Cross-cultural and Multimedia Project Co-ordinator at the Media Resource Centre, Adelaide. She gratefully acknowledges the support of the Industry and Cultural Development Branch of the Australian Film Commission for making her attendance at ISEA 95 possible.

RealTime issue #10 Dec-Jan 1995 pg. 19

© Cecelia Cmielewski; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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