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Dorkbot Workshop, Electrofringe Dorkbot Workshop, Electrofringe
photo Mardy Dean

Surrounded on all sides by aggressively marketed ‘youth’ events, there’s been a growing suspicion among some regulars that perhaps they’d outgrown This Is Not Art, the festival of which Electrofringe is a part. However, what distinguished TINA 2007 was an unwillingness to take these sorts of assumptions lying down. Instead, the festival hit back with a refreshingly self-reflective program that included panel discussions and artistic interventions designed to unpack ideas about the philosophy and future of the event as it edges towards double digits.

Take, for example, the panel on culture and generationalism cheekily titled You are all going to die. Facilitator Simon Cox had envisioned a throwdown between the young(er) and old(er) panelists about who’s monopolising arts funding and who’s blocking the doorway so that other generations can’t get a foot in. Interestingly however, the panelists including Kate Crawford, Marcus Westbury, Alice Gage and Gabrielle Carey didn’t turn on each other, but on the concept of generationalism itself. This point was deftly laid down by Crawford, author of Adult Themes, who argued that generational battle lines are essentially media chalk-ups and that real differences between groups are more likely to occur in relation to socio-economic factors.

But if generational divisions are not all they are hyped-up to be, what does this mean for the festival itself? Is TINA a cross-generational platform or an event specifically directed towards emerging practitioners? The discussion titled Is TINA a Critical Animal? (epistemological raisons d’être) pulled a sharp focus on these issues. Featuring Crawford, former Electrofringe co-director Gail Priest and 2007 Critical Animal co-director Sass Nicholson, the panel speculated on the cultural philosophy of TINA: is the festival facing a crisis in identity or should it hold fast to its consciously slippery position as a series of shifting possibilities. It is, after all, an arts festival called This is Not Art.

I tend to side with those who see the festival’s rejection of any clear mission statement as one of its fundamental strengths, enabling the event to be fluid and responsive to shifts in culture. The Electrofringe camp of the festival would seem particularly in keeping with this ethos, having—unlike the Young’ Writers Festival arm of TINA–never attempted to wear a youth demographic on its sleeve. As a festival simply geared to the showcasing of experimental electronic arts, Electrofringe also has certain mechanisms in place aimed at combating programming stasis.

To this end, Electrofringe’s biannual turnaround of directors this year teamed Alex White, Ben Byrne and Cat Jones. They engineered a tight program that seemed to preference organisation over anarchy, providing a distinctly different feel to some of the more deliriously chaotic Electrofringes of the past (I’m thinking in particular of the 2005 festival which, among other things, spawned its own irreverent talent show, Plover Idol). Significant new territory covered by the 2007 team included a thorough examination of issues of disability and accessibility in the electronic arts, presented in partnership with Accessible Arts NSW.

Of course, just because Electrofringe has the potential to change doesn’t mean that it necessarily will—there is always the danger of too much familiarity creeping into the programming. For this reason I would argue that it’s often the more specifically focused presentations that really hit the mark, plugging into people’s desire to walk away from each event with a new arsenal of skills, Dorkbot’s Pia Van Gelder not only gave an introductory presentation on her electronic learning group, but also ran an inspired series of practical Dorkshops on wiring circuits, sensors and controls. Other program highlights included the screening of Good Copy, Bad Copy (2007), a brilliant Danish documentary on audio remix practices (the panel on copyright which followed was irritatingly conservative, but that’s another story) and Clinton Green and Robin Fox’s compelling history of Australian electronic music otherwise virtually unrecorded.

In the visual arts corner, emerging collaborative outfit spat+loogie packed a huge crowd as they explained their intriguing and ambitious brand of low-fi art magic. The pair talked through their major projects including a Redfern community-based performance project, a fictional supermarket and their plans for a virtual travel agency. Although at TINA it is common for artists to be placed in the service of panel discussions, spat+loogie’s presentation confirmed just how rewarding it can be when the hour time-slot is given over to a single presentation.

In a similar vein, I could not help but wonder whether Electrofringe’s long standing video program would benefit from a rethinking of its format. Pieced together from an annual international call for entries, Electroprojections always showcases engaging works but the content of the program tends to suffer from a lack of variety from year to year. Curatorially this year’s program held together better than most, which is unsurprising considering that the guest curators were the seriously clued-in Keir Smith and Daniel Heckenberg (co-ordinators of the monthly Sydney-based film night Camera Obscura). Given their credentials, however, it would have been fascinating to see what they could have brought to Electroprojections had they not been restricted to selecting from a pool of submissions.

Ingeniously anticipating criticisms that TINA might have become dangerously institutionalised or formulaic, a number of artists were tasked to perform interventions designed to disrupt the efficiency of the festival. Dressed in beige military get-up, collaborative group Brown Council took aim at TINA’s ambiguous identity, instituting their own splinter event, the This IS Art Festival. Throughout the weekend they could be found (clipboard folders in hand) inspecting presentations and workshops for signs of legitimate “art.” But perhaps the most wildly disruptive interventions were the terror(art)ist antics of Melbourne’s Black Lung Theatre. Ambushing one unsuspecting panel discussion, two performers raided the stage and gaffa-taping, stripping, urinating and urine drinking ensued. Whether or not this organised anarchy was entirely successful in every instance, it was indispensable as an affirmation of the healthy future of TINA. It seems to me that any festival that is conscientiously concerned with its own undoing is not in danger of forfeiting its life-force anytime soon.

Electrofringe/This Is Not Art 2007, Newcastle, Sept 26-30

RealTime issue #82 Dec-Jan 2007 pg. 24

© Dominique Angeloro; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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