NSW: Regional digitisation

Dan Edwards

Gabriella Hegyes, en route (video still), 2003

Gabriella Hegyes, en route (video still), 2003

New media art has generally been a resolutely urban affair, largely because until recently the technology simply hasn’t been available outside the cities to exhibit, let alone produce such work. However, the efforts of the Sydney-based dLux Media Arts organisation and a scattered band of intrepid regional gallery curators has seen a steady growth in the exhibition of screen-based works outside cities. While these works are not necessarily representative of the full spectrum of new media art, they indicate a significant break with the forms that have generally characterised exhibition in regional areas.

Tour dLux

Since 2001 dLux Media Arts have been assisting in touring and staging exhibitions of digital media art across NSW through their Tour dLux program. For dLux director David Cranswick, developing an audience for this work in the regions has gone hand in hand with building support in the curatorial community. The organisation has been able to provide invaluable advice for galleries not familiar with the requirements of computer technologies or the challenges of exhibiting multiple works, many with an audio component. The Tracking exhibition at the Bathurst Regional Gallery in mid-2003 was a Tour dLux initiative, and provides an interesting case study of how the program works. Gallery Director Alexandra Torrens explains: “For us it was one of our first focuses on new media…dLux were basically offering to bring out a curator with new media expertise…[Aaron Seeto, at that time director of Gallery 4A in Sydney]…to work with artists in our region…and to bring the media into the art gallery for the first time.”

Bathurst

Seeto sought out 3 artists living in or near the Bathurst region and commissioned them to produce works specifically for the Tracing exhibition. Local artist Gabriella Hegyes produced en route, a video installation about her experiences fleeing Hungary as a refugee in the 1970s. Brad Hammond, a South African artist who had recently emigrated from Paris, contributed the video work El Nino. Blue Mountains new media artist Andrew Gadow created Inverse Maps, a sound and video work about the old roads across the Moutains and out to the state’s west. The artists also ran a series of workshops through the local TAFE in conjunction with the exhibition.

David Cranswick sees the direct personal involvement of artists in the Tour dLux exhibitions as vital. Their presence through gallery talks and workshops allows regional audiences who may not be familiar with digital media art to ask questions about the processes that go into the creation of such work.

However, while Tracking provided an introduction to screen-based art for Bathurst audiences, it also revealed some of the technical constraints faced by regional galleries. Gallery director Torrens recalls that Brad Hammond’s El Nino required a large digital projection, which neither dLux nor the gallery were able to provide. Much to the artist’s disappointment, the work ended up on a TV monitor. Generally, however, Tour dLux has allowed regional galleries to successfully delve into screen-based media without having to make a large initial investment, since dLux can usually arrange for the hire and setting up of the necessary equipment. In some areas this has led to a major shift in the direction of long term infrastructure development. Since Tracking, Bathurst Regional Gallery has made a commitment to regularly exhibit screen-based work and has purchased 4 DVD players, 3 digital projectors and a sound system.

Broken Hill

Broken Hill City Art Gallery has made an even bigger commitment to screen-based art. The long term involvement of Gallery Manager Jacqui Hemsley with Tour dLux and her commitment to digital media meant that technical infrastructurebecame a major priority in the development of the gallery’s new premises which opened in October. The new space is larger and specifically designed to cater for multimedia work. Previously, there was no space in Broken Hill suited to the exhibition of contemporary media installations. The new space has also allowed Broken Hill Gallery to become something of an alternative screening venue in a town with only one cinema. The gallery recently screened a showcase of films from the WOW (World of Women) Film Festival and have toured to outlying regions like Wilcannia, projecting films against the side of a bus for audiences with virtually no exposure to film culture.

Hemsley sees the crossover between traditional visual arts and video as one of the most exciting developments opened up by the incorporation of screen-based work into the gallery’s program. She cites the example of Forgotten Dream, a recent sculptural exhibition by local Indigenous artist Irene Kemp, which prompted a documentary on the artist made by 2 school students from Broken Hill and South Australia. “They did it at such a high standard we sent it off to Message Sticks and will use it as part of our local regional broadcasting here through BKN TV…Irene now feels more comfortable with that medium as an artist, but also the young kids have been able to get a different exposure as well.”

Network strength

The Broken Hill gallery regularly screens local work and has built a close association with the local high school’s Ross Clarke Centre, which is fitted out with equipment for advanced video production. The complementary role played by the gallery and school in stimulating interest in screen-based forms is indicative of a broader trend across the state. Although the efforts of dLux and regional curators have played a vital role in propagating an awareness of screen-based art, the work has generally been most successfully established as part of the regional landscape when supported by a broader network of educational institutions and/or festivals. For example, both Aaron Seeto and Alexandra Torrens feel that the success of the Tracking exhibition and associated workshops in Bathurst owed much to the local TAFE’s considerable resources and interest in digital media forms.

Newcastle, new media

Given the ongoing success of the This Is Not Art (TINA) festival in Newcastle, it is not surprising that the region has become another hub of digital media activity. Both the Newcastle Region Art Gallery and the smaller local gallery Rocketart, have shown a strong commitment to digital media work. Rocketart co-director Izabela Pluta regards the Electrofringe component of TINA as having played a crucial role in stimulating local interest in digital media (see Jasper: We, robots). While most regional galleries are focussed solely on video art and video-based installations, Rocketart is pursuing a broader agenda with a program due to kick off at the end of January 2005 with 3 artists launching online projects, with a further 2 projects to be added every 3 weeks. This ambitious program has received funding from the Australia Council’s New Media Arts Board and will run parallel to shows in the gallery’s exhibition space.

The next stage

This survey provides only a small snapshot of what is happening in the realm of screen-based and digital media outside Sydney. The exhibition of this work across NSW is highly uneven at present, with even the most progressive galleries focussed primarily on video art and the technical requirements of exhibiting bio-art or even net-based work representing a considerable financial challenge. Museum and Galleries NSW and dLux have recognised the need for a broader study of the technical requirements of regional galleries in the 21st century, and one of the masterclasses at next year’s Leading from the Edge public galleries summit in Wagga Wagga will focus on art’s digital future. Beyond the challenge of digitising regional gallery spaces lies the challenge of providing sufficient support for regional digital artists.

RealTime issue #64 Dec-Jan 2004 pg. 17

© Dan Edwards; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2004
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