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Curiouser and curiouser

Lisa Gye in search of the experimenta media arts festival

Lisa Gye ( - expired) is a lecturer in Media Studies at Swinburne University of Technology and recently assisted in the curation of digita-online for the Melbourne International Film Festival (http://www. - now ACMI)

Sarah Waterson, Mapping Emotion Sarah Waterson, Mapping Emotion
"The rabbit hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well." Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

In order to write a review, it’s generally useful to be able to locate whatever it is that’s under review. Trying to locate the experimenta media arts festival was akin to Alice’s experiences in Wonderland. The festival seemed to be constructed with a morphing program, constantly shifting shape, being reinvented at every turn as something other than what it was just before. Curiouser and curiouser…

I thought I may find some definitive outline in the media kit sent to me by experimenta. An invite to the opening night’s festivities gave me the clue that the Lonsdale Street Power Station was somehow central to the overall festival. It said “6-8pm at the Power Station” but other information in the press kit indicated that opening night “will be a sensory and artistic extravaganza. Staged over 48 hours in a disused inner-city power station, this rave/exhibition will be a multi-disciplinary happening bringing together the talents of Victorian and interstate installation, sound and performance artists utilising time-based media (film, video and digital technologies) to explore ‘outer-limits’ of contemporary creative expression”. It turned out to be the former, much shorter event and the only exploring of outer limits which seemed to be taking place with any artists present was to see how many free vodkas they could cram into the allotted two hour period.

Other information contained in the media kit was also wildly misleading. Stan Brakhage as a guest of experimenta? Well, actually, no. Cyberspace/Internet Festival? Unfortunately not. [email protected] Monograph? ‘Fraid not. Curiouser and curiouser…

In desperation, I log onto the experimenta web site. It repeats all that I’ve read before in the press kit, with some variations. Am I getting closer? I scan to the bottom of the screen. It reads, “Last updated July 1996”. Curiouser and curiouser…

After the event, I feel I’ve finally collected all the pieces of the puzzle but I’m still unable to piece them together. experimenta media arts festival seems to have been mainly composed of the following discrete events:

short, sharp and very current at the Lonsdale Power Station, an amalgam of screenings, installations and performance art spread across the four levels of the disused power station. It included Matinaze curated by SIN; Back to the Future, a film retrospective curated by Marie Craven; the work of Richard Kern; retrospectives on Guy Maddin and Stan Brakhage; Internetrix: Women On-line seminar; Compound Eye, Super 8 Program.

Domestic Disturbances, a curated program of film and electronic art by women at the VicHealth Access Gallery.

The Body Remembers, an interactive survey by Jill Scott at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.

Burning the Interface, an exhibition of international artists’ CD-ROMs curated by Mike Leggett at the Centre for Contemporary Photography.

ATOM Multimedia Awards Exhibition featuring award winners from the inaugural ATOM multimedia awards.

In fairness to the artists involved or on show in these events, space and time restrict me from reviewing each component of the festival. In fairness to the festival organisers, the above may not be a complete list but the fact that, despite my best efforts, I’m not able to come up with a definitive list is telling in itself. However, part of the confusion I felt in trying to locate the festival seems to lie in the genesis of the program and its various parts.

Of all of the above events, only two—(short, sharp and very current and Domestic Disturbances)—were curated especially for the experimenta festival. Both of these were somewhat uneven in quality. short, sharp and very current had a heavy emphasis on retrospectives—curious given experimenta’s claim to be the forerunner in supporting new media arts and artists in Australia. Domestic Disturbances, an all woman show, featured some interesting work (most notably Martine Corompt’s The Cute Machine, Sarah Waterson’s Mapping e-Motion and Gillian Morrison’s Tricky: A game of delusion) but displayed an extraordinary insensitivity to the featured filmmakers by screening their 8mm and 16mm films on video! Maybe a space like the VicHealth Gallery is not an appropriate venue for the screening of film but a media arts organisation should be the first to recognise the necessity of showing work as it was intended to be seen.

A similar fate befell many of the films screened at the Power Station. Not only were some of them screened on video (despite the fact that print copies were available) but the screening area at the Power Station was not adequate to the task. No projection booth and insufficient blackout facilities meant that the films were hard to see and hear. The constant stream of coming and going from the room was reminiscent of the Mad Hatter’s tea party!

The other programs (Burning the Interface, The Body Remembers and the ATOM award winners exhibit, in particular) were scheduled to take place anyway and it would appear that experimenta has piggybacked these exhibits to flesh out its program. To claim them as experimenta events is stretching it somewhat. An experimenta advertising feature in Beat even went so far as to suggest that Troy Innocent’s “latest venture is a contribution to Melbourne’s experimenta festival”.

They were referring to Idea_ON>!, a CD-ROM-based interactive which was exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art as part of Burning the Interface in April and has been available as a supplement from Mediamatic for some time. And besides, what of Innocent’s ongoing collaboration with Shaolin Wooden Men for Psi-Harmonics? Just like Wonderland, nothing about experimenta seemed to be quite as it appeared.

There are clearly problems in exhibiting media art which centre on the locatability of the art work both in a physical sense and in the sense that it is often multi-disciplinary and therefore not easily categorised. experimenta needs to rethink its strategies in the light of this. Rather than trying to stage an “extravaganza of media art” as it immodestly described itself in its press releases, perhaps experimenta needs to return to a series of more focused and artist inspired mini events. They could use their funding to help artists complete and exhibit work rather than try and use the work of artists to fill the frame of an event which will always be less than the sum of its parts.

experimenta media arts festival Melbourne, 7-16 November, 1996

Lisa Gye ( - expired) is a lecturer in Media Studies at Swinburne University of Technology and recently assisted in the curation of digita-online for the Melbourne International Film Festival (http://www. - now ACMI)

RealTime issue #17 Feb-March 1997 pg. 26

© Lisa Gye; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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