Hands off credentials

Dean Kiley at Bendigo Art Gallery’s Byte Me

Troy Innocent, Iconica, Byte Me

Troy Innocent, Iconica, Byte Me

An atavistic shudder went through the suddenly-silent crowd. We ‘knew’, of course, we all ‘knew’, the same way everyone always knew already about The Crying Game. But now someone had come out with it and it was discomforting.

We’d done the rounds of the exhibition space and chuckled knowingly at how the art (full of sound and furious interactive multimedia) was so loud we couldn’t properly hear the artists and commentators talking about the art. We’d been patient through the setting up of laptops and the inevitable irruptions of screensavers into Powerpoint presentations. We’d heard some data-packed, sardonic, erudite, passionate, whimsical, burnt-out and solipsistic presentations from artists and critics, and been given a pragmatic info-bite and pitch by Cinemedia on funding practices and venture capital.

And, then, this accidental, or blasé, revelation. “Someone in a car yard in Richmond,” I think it went.

“Fashion designers do it too”, someone said dismissively afterwards, picking over the fallout at a natty Bendigo pub. What crap. Did you see what Jon McCormack did? He’s not a natural nerd you know, he had to teach himself the code and put it all together himself, came up with the algorithms to make it work. And Troy Innocent, making up his own complex comprehensive iconic language and idiom with which his artificial creatures and their human watchers can communicate. For my money and long car ride, he’d obsessively ex nihilo created one of the most inventive and engaging of the exhibits dealing with the widest repertoire of issues in the most concentrated space.

Anyway, we’d had Darren Tofts being Darren Tofts, doing laser-scalpel analyses of the experiential (is it like a TV-flow? what’s ‘intermedia’? are artists outstripping critical idiom?) side of new media, with its recombinant formats dramatising the techno-human interface with a poetics of uncanny, defamiliarising constructivism via bricolage with found object metaphors. In one of the most useful analogies, he phrased the symbiosis of visual/aural and textual as working like the wave and particle theories of light. And Jon McCormack critiquing technology as utopian dream with his pseudo-realist burlesque on the function and idea of the scientific/museum diorama as didactic cinematic spectacle (Julius Sumner-Miller does 3D) taken over by multimedia as the prime, hyped, ‘natural’ successor to olde-educational spectacle.

And Peter Hennessey, who satirised the Oedipal identity crisis of ‘new’ media, dubbing it ‘pubescent’, sending-up the endless search for provenance or paternity among ‘old’ media, deflecting legitimation onto context, reflexivity and simulation, bemoaning prescriptive formulae and—gossip-wise a great step sideways—announcing the irrelevance of ‘authenticity’ as criterion. Kevin Murray spoke on insects and cyborgs as design allegories of social trends, over-generalised psychology, economic rationalism, privatisation, political amnesia and civil anomie. And James Verdon on the recursive DNA-looping of memory, narrative, memorial and camera/monitors by which artwork can respond to your movements.

But it was Patricia Piccinini who came out with it. After an amusing discussion of her work, including the ‘car nuggets’ (miniaturised offcuts from automobile iconography, smoothly sculpted and shiny), a Coca-Cola-ish bubbling-spring animation and a video installation of rust-done-to-look-like-a-world-globe, someone asked how she did it. Apparently the nuggets are done by carpenters and spray-painted by someone in a Richmond car yard. The moving images are by Drome.

Now, without wanting to get all Giles-Auty on you, isn’t there a teensy issue here to do with credit, acknowledgement and transparent processes (to say nothing of authenticity or intellectual property, which is always a good idea in such pro-pomo but ethically-fraught circumstances)? No mention of Richmond spraypainters on the gallery wall, or in the forum paper. If someone hadn’t asked, would we ever have known? Should we? Of course you’ve got the Koons defense, the canned-Warhol argument about artists who conceptualise but don’t do. It’s an argument that joins the dot-points: artisanship, craftsmanship, corporate-art delegation, design and directing. That’s ‘directing’ as in ‘storyboarding’ videos/animations and ‘blocking out’ sculptures/installations with ‘plans’ (trans. sketched outlines for someone else to actually construct). Kevin Murray pointed out that Piccinini’s sketches were beautifully done, artworks in themselves.

So, yes, a bit like a fashion designer, though those are usually ex-draftspeople who have apprenticed themselves in most areas of craft before they become hands-off designers (and some never do). Also a bit like Darren in Bewitched. Or Samantha, for that matter.

And disturbing, like the other issues deftly raised at the forum. I’m still arguing about it.

Byte Me, curator Anonda Bell, Bendigo Art Gallery, Forum, Saturday 24 July 1999.

Just as with the NXT event in Darwin, and MAAP99, so Bendigo Art Gallery’s Byte Me is an important addition to a developing regional awareness of and participation in new media nationally and internationally. Here the key participants were Melbourne artists and commentators in exhibition and forum. Esta Milne comments in experimenta’s online periodical MESH on the same issue raised here by Dean Kiley in her article “Nameless things and thingless names: A review of the Byte Me Forum.” MESH 13: Cyberbully. Eds.

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg. 17

© Dean Kiley; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 1999