From the ashes

John McConchie celebrates new media language

Even as the Gonski Report hangs poised like Poe’s pendulum above the guts of Australia’s Screen Resource Organisations, a new era dawns. One by one, with minimum fuss, they are opening their new multimedia studios for business.

The studios are modest. The intention is, after all, not the display of technological toys but a continuation of the SRO’s common philosophy: providing the essential basics needed for the development and expression of ideas. At its best, this entails an exploration of the nature of the medium itself and no moment is as exciting as discovering the possibilities of a medium still in its infancy. The studios also testify a crucial step forward in resourcing this developing field, complementing the work of the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) on one hand and providing a recruitment base for the multimedia industry through connections with the Co-operative Multimedia Centres on the other. So what can we expect to see from these new resources?

Perhaps it is too early to say. The Media Resource Centre has established an artist in residency program in tandem with its acquisition of the studio. Noted VNS Matrix collaborator and usually rudely masked Gashgirl, Francesca da Rimini, is at this moment building a new website. This places expertise, with the emphasis on content and process, on the premises even as the first studio bookings are being taken. Using relatively low-end equipment, I would expect the final product to exemplify da Rimini’s typically simple but powerful economy of expression, the consequence of evocative concepts. When asked what she was working on, she replied: women in the Zapatista movement in Central America, Japanese dolls and ghost stories. Titled Dollspace, it will soon haunt various internet sites (System-X, The Thing NYC and LambdaMOO). Well, the beauty of this medium is its ability to marry apparently disparate topics in unexpected spaces.

It is perhaps an adage to say that postmodernism is the result of our inability to say anything new. This appears to me to be patently false: the ability to speak in a new way is inevitably to see things anew, to change the essential relationship between language and the world. Others, such as the film documentarist Chris Marker, have studied the effect of 20th century technology on the process of political resistance and popular memory highlighting the role of technology to act as a prosthesis to memory, and its potential to serve as an antidote to the horrors of an historical amnesia that results from our very corporeality. Ghost stories could be an earlier version of this process, the ineradicable ashes of an otherwise forgotten trauma lingering as a signpost to its erased existence. And dolls? In Sunless Marker films a Japanese ceremony where broken dolls are collected and burnt annually, the avatars for our broken selves which must make way for the new. Marker is, however, an exception to the usual rules of production. The closer we move to this cyborg world of digitally enhanced memory, the more our films and television fantasies emphasise the machine in flight, glossing over the consequences of death or political struggle. Taylor Harrison’s brief article “Weaving the Cyborg Shroud” (in Harrison et. al, Enterprise Zones: Critical Positions on Star Trek, Westview Press, 1996) theorises exactly this deferral of mourning and its affects in the space opera Star Trek: the Next Generation, where the very issues raised by the medium itself must be glossed over and transformed into the entertainment of action.

All this does is confirm my enthusiasm for projects like Francesca da Rimini’s, which offers some kind of beginning in the emotional enterprise, emphasises the need for access to technology based outside mainstream commercial interests, and sets out to explore unchartered possibilities of digital texts, new ways of speaking (and forgetting). This is also the charter of the Electronic Writing Ensemble, also based in Adelaide. As an ongoing affair, the ensemble has at its fingertips virtual connections with theorists and writers around the world, yet is never as delighted as when it uses what is to be found in its own backyard. Explore such concepts as the non-linear possibilities of hyperlinks, moving written texts back and forth in an apparent defiance of linear syntax, playing precisely with the effects of memory and temporality, on line at www.va.com.au/parallel/. The Ensemble (Linda Marie Walker, Jyanni Steffensen) will be collaborating on a project with ANAT later in the year, no doubt prompting a further report, at least in old-fashioned ink. In the meantime, these modest experiments forge their contributions to the future of digital communication and our commitment to the fusion of flesh with technology, as writing and as performance.

RealTime issue #18 April-May 1997 pg. 22

© John McConchie; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 1997