Immersions and navigations

Kate Richards surveys recent multimedia works in Sydney

Experience of multiple media is as ancient as a feast day with dance, ornament, incense and orality. Three recently installed artworks in Sydney—Frontiers of Utopia at Roslyn Oxley9, Epileptograph: The Internal Journey at Artspace, and Mind’s Eye—a journey into sound at the Australian Steam Navigation Company Building, The Rocks—provide leverage for thinking about contemporary multiple media works with a component of viewer interaction.

For an interactive multimedia (IMM) work, success can be gauged in the combination of the various media, ability to produce an experience of immersion (intellectual and/or emotional) and in the challenges presented in navigating the architecture.

Jill Scott’s disc-based Frontiers of Utopia has female characters speaking from different temporal and geographic locales: Irish-Catholic rural Australia circa 1900; modernist urban America circa 1930; Aboriginal outback Australia circa 1930; Italian immigrant Australia circa 1960; contemporary Sydney electronic artist; expatriate Chinese professional in the contemporary Australian desert. The trajectories of their lives meet in the space of the work.

Frontiers is structured in an accessible way, appropriate for its intended museum exhibition. The viewer discovers through the characters’ individual addresses to camera the symbolic objects contained in their suitcases, and through their interaction with other characters across time and space in two-hander video sequences. As with Scott’s previous Paradise Tossed, there is an illustrative use of contemporaneous media, and a thematic interest in the role of technology in women’s lives and in the seminal moment of realisation. At Roslyn Oxley9 the work was shown as touchscreen plinth-mounted, with simultaneous projection making the best of laserdisc video sequences.

Isabelle Delmotte’s Epileptograph: The Internal Journey is composed of elements from a continuing project. Epileptograph maps the internal space of an epileptic reviving from a seizure. Suggesting the impossibility of representing what is the moment of electrical ex/implosion in the brain, Delmotte has concentrated on the slow rebuilding of consciousness.

On display were several large transparencies, beautifully executed, and simultaneously amorphous and finely detailed. Horizontally displayed text chronicles the experience: the loss of identity and the painful reawakening; a soundscape, textured, hypnotic, jagged, contributes to an atmosphere seeking to emulate the turning inside-out of the mind. The work is successful in suggesting the sense of the struggle to regain consciousness coupled with the desire to manifest precisely this experience through media that in their electronic processes replicate the synapses of the brain.

A really immersive and interactive experience, Mind’s Eye, by Nicholas Wishart, Peter Woodford-Smith, Joyce Hinterding, Vaughan Rogers and Stephen Hamper was accessed through a low-tech wardrobe door. From there, the interface is the sophisticated construction ‘listen and touch’, as the hapless punter mediates a journey of aural and sculptural exploration through a pitch-black labyrinth. The sounds are varied in tone, pitch and amplification, producing a dimly perceived spatial differentiation we visual people usually get via sight.

My party quickly joined hands and shuffled on. Others, alone or with tendencies to claustrophobia, fared less well. Outside, the success of the installation could be measured in hearing usually blasé first nighters affected to the point of freak out. Mind’s Eye worked physiologically, delivering a gut-level experience that stimulated and confronted in ways that more intellectualised works rarely do.

RealTime issue #11 Feb-March 1996 pg. 27

© Kate Richards; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 1996