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Education feature: new media art

Cross disciplines, experiment, market!

Linda Wallace

Kate Murphy, Prayers of a Mother, video still Kate Murphy, Prayers of a Mother, video still
New media art education—are curators happy with it? I emailed several of them with questions about regional and institutional differences, the use of various media forms, the re-use of media and attitudes to collaboration and experimentation. Replies were quite varied, sometimes contradictory, sometimes convergent, and ranged from the very specific critique of local scenes and issues to more expansive overviews. The following responses come from curator/producer and RMIT lecturer Keely Macarow; former Creative Director of ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) and now Research Professor of New Media and Digital Culture at UTS (University of Technology Sydney), Ross Gibson; ANAT (Australian Network for Art & Technology) Director and 2003 Primavera curator (MCA, Sydney),Julianne Pierce; curator of the e-Media space at Melbourne’s CCP (Contemporary Centre for Photography), Daniel Palmer; and Director of PICA (Perth institute of Contemporary Arts), Sarah Miller.


Do you feel it is possible to speak of differences in terms of regions, cities, or even at the level of various art institutions? And what of ‘media’ institutions as opposed to more traditional art schools?

Keely Macarow I feel more confident and indeed more interested in the work by students coming out of tertiary departments that are dedicated to an organic and interdisciplinary media arts education. Art schools that are steeped in Victorian ideals that compartmentalise (and therefore thwart interdisciplinary media) arts practice seem to continually push out students who have little real grounding in media arts culture and history. This maxim leads to the production of work that can be somewhat vacuous and lazy on conceptual and theoretical levels. I am not suggesting that all traditional art schools are like this, but I do find myself drawn to the work that is discursive and aware of its place in media arts culture. Similarly, artists who obsess with technology at the expense of ideas quite often also produce problematic and naive work. And to be honest I’d be wary of anything that pushes the catch-cry ‘new media.’

Julianne Pierce I think that there are very distinct differences emerging regionally. In many respects it depends on what resources are available to students. Art schools and other institutions that are well-resourced are producing some very interesting new media artists. Some of the stronger works are coming out of other sorts of disciplines and institutions, for example, institutes of technology, design, and computer programming courses. The benefit of art schools is that students have access to artist-lecturers and theory—this is perhaps where the most interesting works are being generated. Unfortunately, some art schools are struggling to offer resources for new media practice, and I think that this is having an impact regionally.

Ross Gibson I reckon people are just doing whatever they can with whatever they can get their hands on, wherever there is a cache of hardware and software. In this way it’s not such a different situation from independent film and video scenes of previous decades.

Sarah Miller While there are a number of more mature artists [in Perth] working with technology and distinct initiatives such as SymbioticA, BEAP (Biennial of Electronic Arts Perth), pvi collective and so on, I don’t know that emerging artists in WA are really engaging with new media in a very substantial way. It may be that they’re nervous about approaching PICA…but we do a lot of proactive work with the art schools getting graduating students into shows and studio residencies so it’s not just that. The other issue is that the [new media] courses are very young—2 to 3 years old at the most—which means that it will probably be a while before we see the impact of those courses/graduates in the broader community. I’d also note that in WA these courses haven’t developed in the way that they did in say Melbourne or Sydney—out of a history of installation, performance art and consequently film/video and photo media...Nor do we see a lot of work coming from graduates of ‘media’ institutions. I would suggest that this is because they are more vocationally driven and there tends to be an emphasis on computer sciences.

Kate Murphy, Prayers of a Mother, video still Kate Murphy, Prayers of a Mother, video still

What trends do you see emerging in the work of younger/emerging artists, what kinds of mediums and how novel are their approaches?

KM The most important thing in my mind is that people keep experimenting with content and the sonic and visual properties of media art…I have seen some amazing video and sound works recently that completely overhaul our expectations of ‘new’ media art. I am talking about works that are glitchy, messy and raw, and quite unlike the derivative cyberish gloss that plagued much late 90s digital art.

JP Video and sound are very strong areas at the moment. These are technologies which artists can have in their studios or at home. Access to production facilities is quite crucial, and these sorts of ‘portable’ mediums are proving to be very popular. I’m noticing less interest in interactive works; definitely CD-ROM production is declining, as is the use of authoring tools such as Director. Younger artists seem to be more interested in using video and manipulating images in After Effects or customised animation tools. I’m surprised that the web isn’t being used more for creating art—once again the strongest use of the web is in sound. Perhaps the art fraternity sees the web as too lowbrow...realistically however, it is difficult to exhibit web-based works, and I see a shift away from monitor/terminal works to projection and sound pieces. Performance is also a strong area at the moment, especially amongst younger female artists who are working with performance and video installations. Gaming is having a huge impact, and we are seeing artists using game engines and game style graphics to generate video works. Once again, hardly any of these are interactive—I think that there is generally a decline in interactive media, unless you are associated with a university or research institute who can support the ongoing development of interactive media.

Daniel Palmer At CCP we regularly show Australian and international artists working in digital screen-based forms. Most regularly, although also modestly, the e-Media Gallery shows an ongoing program of monitor-based work…This was established in 1997 as a dedicated space for the display of CD-ROMs, and has evolved to include net art and DVDs. For a variety of reasons (not least being scarce resources for curating), we tend to work on a proposal basis. But to be honest I have been a little surprised at the small number of e-Media proposals I have received from Australian artists. My sense is that most have bigger ambitions than the single screen display, but it may also be that students are not trained to get their work ‘out there.’

I have been impressed recently with artists using archival and stock lens-based ‘footage’, artists using gaming models and also the growing use of interactive video. It seems that most of the best artists using new media are aware that for work to be really engaging in a ‘gallery’ context, it usually needs a sculptural/installation element.

SM ...[I] certainly don’t see much interest in gaming, internet art or interactive writing although Murdoch University runs a hypertext course within their creative writing department and I believe that there is a lot of activity around that.

RG People are working in multi-channel ways—several screens, complex soundtracks, often with algorithms or complex rule-systems underlying the ‘synthesis’ of the visual, textual and audio materials that comprise the ‘display’ at any particular moment…In the context of education, I find that the best work is coming from graduates who have been encouraged not to obsess about technical wizardry.... Younger artists tend to want to show off their technical chops, but the well-advised ones learn to go past that, to the much more difficult and rewarding issue of conjuring and communicating ‘worlds’ of emotions and ideas…These are transcendent of normality somehow—you go through alteration as you encounter them. Your received beliefs change. This idea that technology is a system of devices for transcending the limits of one’s received, quotidian ability and comprehension…that’s about the only thing that’s compelling, per se, about technologies, regardless of whether they’re new or old.

Kate Murphy, Prayers of a Mother, video still Kate Murphy, Prayers of a Mother, video still
Making the market

What notions of ‘professionalism’ and levels of sophistication are apparent about the art world/art market? What kinds of ambitions? Do graduates seek institutional verification or are they mainly involved in artist run initiatives?

JP The younger artists I am familiar with, who are working with new media, are really a bit detached from the art world. They generally don’t pursue a gallery to represent them; they spend their time focusing on international new media festivals and residencies, and the occasional exhibition in Australia with a new media focus. However, there is a high level of professionalism amongst them. They are often well traveled and familiar with international trends in media. They organise events and participate in organisations such as dLux, Experimenta and ANAT—generally they are quite motivated and active.

Regionally, the highest level of professionalism, in regard to the process of curating would be in Sydney and Melbourne. There is an awareness in these cities of how to present to a curator, they have business cards and give you packages of their work when you go to the studios. This of course occurs in other cities, but not at the same level. I think living in a competitive city creates competitive practices—and this is important to a curator. When you get home with your list of potential artists, the package makes a real difference, it enables you to make considered choices.

How experimental?

Within these differences, if any, is there more or less ‘experimental’ work?

RG There is some work that professes to be ‘experimental’ because it is ‘about’ the new technology, so much so that the user generally can’t engage with issues other than the medium-specificity of the technology. This kind of work is experimental inasmuch as it tests the limits of the tools, but it’s not especially deep or groundbreaking, and it’s rapidly exhausted in terms of intrigue and ‘something to say.’ Technology-focused [work] doesn’t tend to test the limits of the relationships between the tools and the mentalities that always emerge from and outreach the dictates of the tools. Merely testing the limits of the tools is the easiest and most easily exhausted procedure in all art practice. It needs to be a component of all art practice, but I would invite an artist to pause and re-consider if they are finding that the limits of the tools have become the subject of the work.

Working with curators

From my own experience as an independent curator (an endangered species in Australia, few can live in such precarious circumstances and on miniscule project budgets) I would certainly agree with Julianne Pierce’s observation that in Sydney and Melbourne young artists have the most ‘professional’ approach. There are all sorts of criticisms one can make of this understanding of the art system as a treadmill, but it does make it easier for the often under-resourced curator. I would suggest that young artists actively seek out curators and keep them informed of their latest works—that they develop a relationship with curators, and not just those in the large institutions. For example, whenever Emile Zile from Melbourne sends me a tape he has just made, he also sends more bits and pieces—flyers, posters and the like—that set the scene for his work and that of other Melbourne artists. Lastly I would urge emerging artists to creatively use email lists and the internet, not only as a tool for information dissemination, but as a global site for ideas to come to life.

Linda Wallace is a Queensland based artist, curator and director of the media arts company, machine hunger

RealTime issue #56 Aug-Sept 2003 pg. 22-

© Linda Wallace; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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