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In support of the fleshmeet even on-line

Amanda McDonald Crowley muses on internet issues at ISEA96, EMAF and DEAF

Amanda McDonald Crowley is the Director of the Australian Network for Art and Technology [ - expired]. She is also a board member of the Inter-Society for Electronic Art (the umbrella organisation under which the symposia take place) [ - expired].

Amanda’s attendance at ISEA was assisted by Museums Australia’s Professional Development Program and the Australia Council, the Federal Government’s Arts Funding and Advisory Body.

Daniela Alia Plewe Daniela Alia Plewe
In assessing the recent International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA96) [ - expired] and related events held in Europe this September, I have decided to focus on the aspects of the fora which related to the internet. This may seem like an unlikely decision, as these events are specifically about the ‘fleshmeet’: seeing new installation based works, listening to and talking about issues facing artists working in electronic media. However, the mad rush to go on-line has infected so many aspects of art and cultural practice that it seems pertinent to have a look at what artists are doing in this area and to focus on the many disparate critical discourses currently in circulation. Furthermore, in reflecting on the events I attended, I have found myself continuously drawn back to the internet, finding that this manifestation of the ‘real life’ events finds resonance in the on-line after-effects.

In an article on the Nettime list [ - expired] the Critical Art Ensemble has written, “The need for net criticism is a matter of overwhelming urgency. While a number of critics have approached the new world of computerised communications with a healthy amount of scepticism, their message has been lost in the noise and spectacle of the corporate hype—the unstoppable tidal wave of seduction has enveloped so many in its dynamic utopian beauty that little time for careful reflection is left”. I would suggest that the amount of critical work being done on-line is not so much the issue, as the poor resources available in this area for presenting ideas and furthering discussion in a coherent manner without centralising any kind of power base.

Prior to attending ISEA this year, I decided to check out the 15-year-old European Media Art Festival (EMAF) []. The festival, which like many of its genre started life looking at experimental film and video art, this year extended itself to include a range of video, film, performance, exhibition and on-line components. Almost as compelling as the site-specific works presented was the opportunity to log on and check out the cyber dimension. I travelled across the world to meet people and see art, yet found as much satisfaction in finding the time to log on to the internet and check out what is going on in the same ‘cyberspace’ I can access from home. The difference was that it was not done in a vacuum. I could discuss concerns, get pointers and tips to interesting sites and generally get more feedback than is possible logged on to the computer from home. One can certainly get this kind of feedback on-line, but perhaps it is simply that I harbour the old fashioned belief in the joy of ‘touching flesh’. The other factor that must be taken into account is that it is specifically in the ‘conference’ environment that one takes the time to see new work. At Home or in The Office, I simply always find that other things have more urgency.

Telepolis [] in association with Rhizome [] set up an interactive ‘newsroom’ at the EMAF. The room was the hub of liveliness and activity during the conference. Flitting between video screenings live performances and lectures, the space was a haven and a place to stop, enjoy a coffee, a chat and a space to log on. (I would have to say that my favourite was the fabulously quirky and witty work of Shu Lea Cheang: a whimsical meandering through Tokyo with a gorgeous group of young women—almost an homage to soft porn Japanese style.)

In fact, the on-line facilities at this year’s EMAF were fantastic: plenty of terminals, people milling around trying to get access to telnet sessions to check email. While on the one hand this points to an obsession with having to check what is happening in one’s own world, it was done in an atmosphere congenial to generating discussion and talking with old and new acquaintances about their views on the exhibition and the place of on-line technologies. And of course, telnetting to Australia was so slow that it was easy to keep a track of what was happening (or not happening) on screen at the same time as having a conversation.

Unfortunately, the issue of resourcing, already alluded to, has meant that while the concept behind the newsroom was sound, the actual content which made it onto the newsroom site is not what might have been expected given the talents of the people managing its maintenance: the site certainly in no way reflects the considered critical nature of parts of the telepolis site nor the newsy relevance of the Rhizome site, both of which are dedicated to the discussion of new media, albeit in different formats.

But on to ISEA, where unfortunately, and again for resourcing reasons rather than any will or desire on the part of the organisers of the conference, there was no space dedicated to accessing the internet. Whilst it may seem at odds with the notion of a real time conference that these facilities are necessary, the fact remains that computer screens are not the single-person spaces of interaction they are so often posited. However DEAF [ - expired] was working with ISEA to stage this year’s manifestation of the event and the internet facility at that event, Digital Dive, was a continuous hive of activity from opening time mid-morning until around midnight, when conference attendees, drinks in hand, would stand around a communal terminal and converse about their most recent site discovery or lament the long download times of their favourite site.

On a very personal front, Kathy Rae Huffman’s On-line Encounters, Intimacy and E~motion at DEAF and Julianne Pierce’s forum with Stelarc and Sandy Stone at ISEA engaged with the personal and the sexual in on-line environments, alluding to new ways of perceiving the body in the realm of ‘cyberspace’.

Stelarc too performed his recent Ping Body [ - expired] at the joint opening of DEAF and ISEA. This work is a natural progression from his wired body performances, but in this performance he takes the body on-line, or rather, the body becomes influenced by on-line activity: his body movements are not controlled by his own nervous system but by the external datasystem of the internet, with internet-activated muscle stimulators monitoring signals to various internet servers.

In the exhibition presented as part of the DEAF event, Daniela Alia Plewe took the internet analogy one step further. A water bed in the middle of a darkened gallery room invited the viewer to lie down and relax. Next to the bed, which more closely resembled a psychiatrist’s couch (or is it just that I have become used to a double bed?) was a computer. The computer activated a large projected image of a text based interface. The interface operated much as text based internet environments do. Like on-line text based environments the texts to which the viewer was invited to contribute became part of a network of ideas and associations which were neither predetermined nor quite arbitrary: it was an amalgam of all of the texts entered by previous visitors.

Knowbotic Research [ - expired], in the commissioned piece Anonymous Mutterings, also used the internet as one of a range of ways to interact with the light and sound event which almost encompassed the Dutch Institute of Architecture in Rotterdam. The digital sound component of the installation, which one could hear blocks away from the site (a useful bearing in an unfamiliar city), could be manipulated via an interface on the website of DEAF96, and also by ‘bending’ and ‘folding’ rubber mats located at various points around the building. Whilst the work was spectacular in its form, and Knowbotic Research were attempting to use the ‘fault line’ between the Net and the World to produce hybrid domains, the effects of the interaction on the audience were less clear.

One of the most engaging ‘performers’ at all three of these events was Margarete Jahrmann. Her on-line projects, which she undertakes with a range of collaborateurs, are almost perverse deconstructions or perhaps reconstructions of the world wide web. Most particularly the work she has done with Max Moswitzer as “Mamax” [ - expired], [ - expired] or [ - expired] undermines the “Gatesian” simplicity of many internet or, more specifically, world wide web interfaces by offering new ways of getting to the source of the information, often laying bare the root structure or ‘filing system’ of the web site and offering that up as an example of its simultaneous simplicity and complexity.

One of the final events of the DEAF festival, which I was unfortunately not able to stay around for, was a forum titled Reflective Responses: Networks, Criticism and Discourse organised by Tim Druckrey. The objectives of this discussion were “to think about the ramifications of distributed information in an historical perspective and in forms that are both dynamic and considered;… to confront and incite an approach to web criticism across a range of topics; and [to]…discuss networked discourse as a fundamental issue of the political, intellectual and theoretical consequences of network ideology…”. I look forward to seeing some of this discussion go on-line.

Amanda McDonald Crowley is the Director of the Australian Network for Art and Technology [ - expired]. She is also a board member of the Inter-Society for Electronic Art (the umbrella organisation under which the symposia take place) [ - expired].

Amanda’s attendance at ISEA was assisted by Museums Australia’s Professional Development Program and the Australia Council, the Federal Government’s Arts Funding and Advisory Body.

RealTime issue #16 Dec-Jan 1996 pg. 20

© Amanda McDonald-Crowley; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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