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Promiscuous media

Shiralee Saul savours new media at Next Wave

Shiralee Saul is a freelance curator and consultant specialising in the media arts. She is currently researching navigational strategies for use in on-line and hardspace cultural environments.

Ironically, in a festival exploring the permutations of distance, 1998’s Next Wave Festival demonstrated the promiscuous intermingling of artforms and the dissolution of traditional barriers between them. With a program comprising more than 100 separate events, Next Wave abandoned discrete artform streams in favour of a recognition of the increasingly hybrid and cross-disciplinary nature of contemporary art practice.

Next Wave’s art and technology program has consistently provided one of the highlights of the festival, generating high levels of publicity and pulling punters eager to take advantage of the opportunity to actually see new media art for themselves. Though tempting it would be a mistake to see this year’s refusal to replay the artworld apartheid scenario as a symptom of the increasing acceptance of new media into the mainstream contemporary arts world. Most galleries pay the barest of lip service to supporting this and other many new artforms. Perhaps now that most art schools have glossy new multi/new media courses which are already pumping out the graduates, these galleries will be forced to rethink their attitudes and begin to present technologically demanding works as a consistent part of their normal programming.

More pragmatically, the integration meant that one tended to stumble over projects incorporating new media. Equally, given the geographical dispersion of Next Wave events with many in rural Victoria as well as in diverse parts of Melbourne and suburbs, the car-less viewer certainly felt the tyranny of Australian distances. Most of the actual projects, though, concentrated on psychological and emotional distance, producing a strangely melancholic and nostalgic undercurrent as they explored human yearning for closeness and understanding and the impossibility of achieving it.

Company In Space’s futuristic installation I@here, You@there (email order bride) at Gallery 101, all shiny stainless steel and glass surfaces, assorted techno-gadgetry and lonely reminders of the natural world, was pressed into dual service for a 3-up performance in which there was plenty of technology-mediated looking but minimal contact as the participants remained trapped reflections of each other in a masturbatory pas de deux. I@here, You@there (email order bride) contained moments of great poignancy and beauty but was flawed by the logic of the installation layout which at times transformed the performers into product demonstrators showing off the features of one gadget after another. (See also, “I@Here, You@There”, RealTime 25, page 14)

In his elegant minimalist installation self remembering—home in the vaults at Old Treasury (one of the most beautiful and challenging indoor installation spaces in Melbourne) James Verdon exposed his ‘self’ and the audience in a series of mnemonic loci of sexy surveillance gear, soft-focus video and multilayered digital images dispersed within the chilly shadows of bluestone vaults originally intended to protect the monetary assets (and secrets) of a young colonial administration. Exploring questions of subjectivity and surveillance, the work generated a sexual subtext of voyeurism and exhibitionism as viewers spied on each other, swapping gossip—secure in the knowledge that the gossiped about were safely ensconced in another cell—and puzzled out the narrative clues of a self, rendered partial and out of focus by the passage of time and the vagaries of memory. Memory, the private construction of the self through self-surveillance and re-presentation of the past became equated with the social and economic forces, deploying an ever greater range of surreptitious monitoring technologies, which enforce appropriate public self-presentation—identity as a product of context.

@ curated by Kate Shaw was a welcome revisiting of the terrain of video art—which was, as you will remember, going to be the next big thing in the early 80s, but withered through lack of exhibition and critical support. @ firmly positioned video art as a subset of visual art—none of that annoying investment of time of which Robyn McKenzie so vociferously complained at the Binary Code Conference was inconsiderately demanded by interactive media therefore preventing it from being considered an artform. Nosirree. @’s works (by David Noonan, Meri Blazevski and Leslie Eastman) paid out fast, evoking the alienation endemic to a fast-moving society fragmented by physical and social mobility at the very moment that physical space is being collapsed by global telecommunications. All movement (whether it was Noonan’s re-visiting of the roadmovie, Blazevski’s elegiac elevator loop or Eastman’s movement of light from across the world via video-conferencing to illuminate the corners of 200 Gertrude Street), but no destination. It seems all roads, URL or virtual, lead nowhere—but the scenery is very pretty and reason enough to start the journey.

Map 1, Garth Paine’s most recent investigation of immersive interactivity, eschewed the more common privileging of the visual in favour of encouraging the audience to construct their own cartographies of aural space. Activating the installation’s responses by their movement through it, Map 1 immersed the audience in a rich sonic field which encouraged communication as individuals collaborated to map the area and then ‘play’ it like an instrument. Rather than represent distance symbolically, Paine’s work both activates and collapses space—breaking down the polite ‘look but don’t touch’ of most art work by only springing into full existence when physically triggered by a corporeal presence traversing its parameters, and by encouraging and rewarding communication between the participants. As such, Paine’s work foregoes involvement in continuing assessments of the capacity of technologies to perpetuate existing and create new regimes of social control. Instead it offers an optimistic technophiliac vision of a more humane technology which will allow new insights into our world and new ways to express them.

I@here, You@there (email order bride), Company in Space, Gallery 101, May 1 - 28; Map 1, artist Gary Paine, SPAN Galleries Melbourne, May 5 - 23; self remembering – home, artist James Verdon, Gold Vaults, Old Treasury Melbourne, May 1 - 31; @, curated by Kate Shaw, artists Meri Blazevski, Leslie Eastman, David Noonan, 200 Gertrude St Fitzroy, May 8 - 30

Shiralee Saul is a freelance curator and consultant specialising in the media arts. She is currently researching navigational strategies for use in on-line and hardspace cultural environments.

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 6-7

© Shiralee Saul; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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