A quiet consensus

Ann Morrison

Sean Kerr, binney project

Sean Kerr, binney project

A recent submission states, “The use of new technology by artists and audiences causes a reconsideration of the nature and meaning of art, and opens the way for new interpretations and expressions of art, just as the technological advances in art practice have in the past” (Report of the Contemporary Visual Arts and Craft Inquiry, 2002)

The relationship between new media and visual arts is a multifarious one, possessing qualities of cause and effect. Progression and expansion in one field unfurls fallback and rejoinder in the other. The subject matter of much contemporary art work (including but not necessarily confined to new media work) is the developing ‘new’ technology itself (extending into computer science). The processes of formulation are not detached, rather they are integral elements, both in the making of the work and in the thematic concerns; these are not self-contained processes. The definitions themselves are fraught: new media—where the technologies are often no longer new (or progress to the uninitiated may seem slow); and visual arts—where an installation may include sound or video footage, and/or interactivity and, regardless, installation is arguably as much about the spatial experience as the visual one. The lines are blurred and the definitions ‘do the job’ in that they indicate the genre of practice we may expect, although they in no sense comprehensively define the extent of the works within these adapting fields. There is a tension between these terms, agreed upon within the communities involved, by a common ‘ease of use’ consensus.

Art practice per se is not easily separated out from the political, social, economic and cultural concerns of our time. The canon of visual arts evolves further than fine or visual arts and its intersection with developing technologies and the affects of our immersion within them produces a non-singular mode of art production. Art does not take place within a rarefied, isolated environment and many artists respond to living in the so-called information age by discussing the very information accessed. As artists we are immersed within and cannot readily differentiate ourselves from the effects of globalization, anti-globalization, cultural, social, ethical and political enquiry, world events or scientific development to make some kind of pure statement.

Bill Seamans’ Hybrid Invention Generator (currently on exhibition at Te Papa Museum, Wellington, New Zealand) “conveys its own fields of meaning through 3D models, texts and digital audio. Varying combinations of these fields of meaning are experienced through direct interaction with the system. Each participant will potentially have a different experience of this open work. The work provides an environment for rich associative and contemplative activity surrounding the notion of invention”. (Bill Seaman, “The Hybrid Invention Generator—Assorted Relations”, unpublished paper, 2002). Such a work sits within the field of critical technical practice, extending 3 categories of practice and research: computer science, new media, and visual arts.

Susan Hiller’s Witness, exhibited at the 2002 Biennale of Sydney, uses the internet as one of the means of gathering stories on UFO sightings and encounters. This installation goes beyond sound, narrative, content and the technology that made and operates it. The pulling together of this international delegation of voices and languages seems timely in an age where geographical location no longer precludes communication, and internet applications actively augment intimate conversation as the norm.

The permission to explore animation characters, to build one’s own, to delve into ‘cute’, to create whole other worlds/complete logic systems/systems of abstract meaning is a developing articulation of this field. Witness The Augees, (augee: (n) augmenting organism), a simple life form with emotional capabilities. ‘Playing god’ by controlling their emotions, the user can create differing levels of ‘happy or sad’ and ‘intellectual or strong’ for these abstract animated organisms/characters. (A group work for stuff-art by Minty Hunter, Rebekah Far, Charlie McKenzie and Michael Pearce; www.abc.net.au/arts/stuff-art/augees/default.html [link expired])

Philippe Parreno’s character ‘AnnLee’, takes the plight of the anime where the Patricia Piccinini and Peter Hennessy Lump CD goes, looking for who they are, the essential human condition (amongst many diverse outcomes and thematics). Parreno also collaborates, passing the character around and works between film, documentary, fantasy narration, video, and digital animation. Piccinini debates stem-cell replacement therapies, and raises important questions around evolutionary and genetic modification.

Visual art practice has embraced new technologies, political agendas and expanded cultural practices and evolved to a broad polemic of issues. The complex topography of the new global community lends a multidisciplinary direction through which artistic practices and processes come alive outside of the pre-determined institutional domain of westernism, or those situated solely in the sphere of artistic canons. Artistic, social and political theories and practices intersect. The technology provides the tools for extending this natural relation.

Documenta11, 2002, Kassel, Germany responded to contemporary cultural political and social themes via a visual discussion with conceptually persuasive art works. Engulfed in the smell of coffee grounds, I walk past 5 screens of white rubbish bobbing in clear blue water, wander amongst rolls on racks, clumps in boxes of deep dark browns and blacks, journey through dykes and parks, and watch 7 hour stretches of film—all of which proved to be a dynamic and rewarding challenge to attentiveness.

Also at Documenta11, David Small’s The Illuminated Manuscript combined graceful motion of spatialized language as a graphic element on the screen/page, with absorbing content and tactility in a stylish interactive installation. Both animated discussion and actual interaction occurred around this work. The mechanisms of the sensors were clearly visible and there was a real sense of delight in discovering the playfulness of the interaction, as well as the possibility of extending the format of the book and the way we read/interact with text.

Projected typography is virtually printed into the blank pages with a video projector. Sensors embedded in the pages tell the computer as the pages are turned. In addition, sonar sensors allow visitors to run their hands over and to disrupt, combine and manipulate the text on each page. The book begins with an essay on the four freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from fear and freedom from want. Each page explores a different text on the topic of freedom. www.davidsmall.com

Igloolik Isuma Productions’ Nunavut|Our Land was shown continuously as a 13-screen installation. A work that crosses conventional boundaries of digital film making, its displays of the activities of daily life—husky-driven sledge journeys, fishing, skinning dead dogs, cooking and the conversations that occur throughout—make compelling viewing.

“We are Inuit storytellers in a 4000 year-old oral tradition,” says Zacharias Kunuk, producer-director and president of the Isuma collective. “In our time we have new technologies so it’s our job to adapt digital filmmaking to continue our elders’ tradition of passing on information to future Inuit from one generation to the next. It’s a bonus when the rest of the world sees our work and appreciates our Inuit point of view.” (www.isuma.ca/about_us/index.html [link expired] and “live from the tundra”, streaming from a remote outpost on Baffin Island).

There are many frictions within the production of new media work. For net.art (with a trickle through effect for CD and/or HD outputs) the lessening of the interactive experience compounded by the inability to standardize expectations for delivery platforms initiated by the browser wars, has made a huge impact on output potentials. Alongside this is a frustration in dealing with the fallacy of the non-linear and interactive experience, of which any relatively competent programmer (and user) is all too painfully aware. In turn, the hype/desire for infinite possible outcomes proves a driving force towards more complex programming methodologies, AI models, discussions, critiques and production. It demands implementation of highly technical and complex structures/languages (which alter one’s mode of thinking and being in the world), to ensure ‘truly’ interactive outcomes within stated confines. A problem for the end-user within this propulsion is a misunderstanding of the level of sophistication required for implementation of these processes in the ‘real’ (and the enormous expenditure of time required). There is a ‘so-what’ attitude from a jaded audience bombarded by constant exposure to mainstream big-screen simulations of popularized futuristic narratives (made with enormous resources at hand).

A further struggle for new media work (and once again particularly net.art, with a seeping throughout) is its habitat, located side by side with an excess of software-driven dross, to which audiences become habituated and come to expect. ‘Mastery’ of the software ad nauseum is the resident context. Despite, or in stark contrast to these ‘blimps’, there is a refreshingly large amount of exciting and dynamic work being produced by artists, across many more areas including tactical media activism (TILT and Borderpanic), gaming paradigms, sound, sensor-based installation and performance works, with most being available (or referenced) on-line.

Another example of a refreshingly playful work currently in exhibition at Te Papa Museum, Wellington, NZ is Sean Kerr’s binney project. Starting with an iconic painting by the New Zealand artist Don Binney, Pacific Frigate Bird, Kerr has “generated a 7 screen interactive work that the audience will activate either through the internet or by mobile phone. The bird can be made to soar across the row of screens in the exhibition, move through 3-dimensional space, and perform in ‘flocks’ through commands from internet users from around the globe.” ( www.tepapa.govt.nz/BINNEY_PROJECT.htm)

RealTime issue #51 Oct-Nov 2002 pg. 26

© Ann Morrison; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2002