HS How did the exhibition An Eccentric Orbit eventuate? How did you become the producer of the show?

RH Basically through a trip that John Hanhardt made to Australia in the mid to late eighties. He was the curator for film and video at the Whitney Museum in New York and saw a lot of really interesting work in Australia and thought it would be great if some of it could be shown in America. As a result he has been encouraging a number of people to get a show together and helping to get it touring America. I didn’t want to do it personally but thought it would be a great idea, so I approached the Australian Film Commission. We came up with Peter Callas who is a very well known video maker in Australia and has an international reputation. He has curated quite a few shows of this kind. I became producer because of my contact with both John Hanhardt and the American Federation Of Arts which is a touring organisation. The show will tour America, Europe, Latin America, and possibly Australia. It’s designed for an American and European audience who have not seen this work before.

HS What were the criteria for choosing the artists?

RH Basically to put together three programs that would present a coherent view of the sort of work that is made in Australia. The image of Australia overseas is quite different from what we experience in a cultural sense. We did not want landscape video or the sort of work that might be expected to come from Australia. We wanted to do something that was indicative of what has been happening here. Some works go back ten years while others have been recently completed.

HS Do you see the term “video art” as restrictive or misleading?

RH These days people make videos in different ways using digital video, using computers to make animation. It’s a combination of forms. You can’t talk about pure video. People are making laser discs or CD-ROMs or computer animations that do not use cameras at all but their output is video. Does that make them video? We actually wanted to call it “New Media” but the Americans thought that “New Media” sounded like fax machines and beepers. The term “video art” is misleading but it sort of works. They need a category that their audience will understand. “Video art” is a term that has to incorporate all the developments happening in video and film technology. It is still an emerging form and that is why it is difficult.

HS Your video Immortelle which is part of An Eccentric Orbit comes under the heading of “The Diminished Paradise”. Ross Gibson has suggested that from an Aboriginal and Islander point of view paradise has been truly diminished. How does the theme “the Lost Paradise” refer to your work Immortelle?

RH Ross Gibson’s work on “the Diminished Paradise” deals with the way Australia has been imagined as this paradisiacal place where the closer we get to it the further it recedes from our view amidst the interior of a threatening, wild landscape. We have taken this view to its endpoint where this paradisiacal view of the world is no longer an issue – it has gone completely. Although my work does not necessarily illustrate this, it fits well with a number of other works which are about how we deal with our sense of place, taking into account the cultures of indigenous peoples, science fiction and cyber-punk .

HS With reference to your current exhibition, The Digital Garden, at the Contemporary Centre for Photography for EXPERIMENTA, what does the garden signify in this technological age?

RH The garden is a great place to think about ourselves, nature and the way in which we arrange nature. Classically, we do this through our technologies. The garden is a place where we can reflect on the cycles of growth, geometry, order and patterning, not to mention the naked beauty of the garden as seen through electronic and mediatised eyes. We look at it through the filter or the lens of our time, the time of TV, video, computers etc.

HS Why has the wilderness an illusory sacred quality?

RH The wilderness is a construction of the twentieth century. We had to construct it in order to save it. We’ve also had to create parks and gardens in order to maintain a certain view of nature. Whether my work is essentially about that I am not sure. My point is simple that there is no such thing as a natural environment. Why didn’t we have a concept of the wilderness in the seventeenth century?

HS Why is it important for the viewer to interact with the computer monitor to move selected images, to navigate their own path?

RH For me it has to do with the idea of trying to make connections visually through inner space so that there is a series of repeated images which are themselves based on some simple geometry. I am interested to see what happens when you start with a few elements and then you multiply them out in space and over time. The touch screen is a data base of possibilities. There are various levels of interaction. I am interested in the relationships between images that have been grouped and patterned and constantly move in certain ways on very simple geometric principles.

HS What do the organic shapes and materials symbolise?

RH They are like electronic life forms. They are created very simply using video and computer feedback.

HS Viewing the Taj Mahal it appears as a travel video. Why the Taj Mahal? What is its significance?

RH You put your finger on it. All the gardens are well known and tourist sites. Taj Mahal, Versailles, Hyde Park, all have strong spatial geometry and a singular access which leads you along the perspectival site line towards its ultimate point. The Taj Mahal ‘lakes’ lead you to the mausoleum which is also a place of love, whilst in contrast, with Versailles, you look away from the palace over the domain of Paris, France, the world, limited only by the horizon. The garden is organised to extend that view. These places are ordered visually. My piece on one hand is a representational space but on the other hand it’s also real space, you move through it, you don’t sit down in one seat and experience it.

HS Your image of the haystacks resemble a Monet painting, your flowers, Warhol. Was this deliberate?

RH Absolutely. These are all the different ways we view nature through representation so it’s quite important that there are art historical references. The image of forest greenery composed of moving rectangular intersecting panels, representing the substance of nature in solid planes of colour also make reference to the modernist works of Mondrian and Van Doesberg.

HS In Leo Marx’s book The Machine In The Garden he describes a garden as a “miniature middle landscape”. He goes on to say that it “is as attractive for what it excludes as for what it contains.” Marx views the garden as a ‘constructure’, a place of mediated nature, a place to resolve the dichotomy of nature and culture.

RH I agree. Leo Marx put his finger on a lot of things when he wrote The Machine In The Garden.

HS Do you see technology and the way it effects the natural world as positive or as alienating?

RH Both. People have an ambivalent relationship to technology and to nature. I do as well. We see the world through the eyes of our time but we should also keep ourselves open to new possibilities. I don’t believe that our lives are overrun by technology. It doesn’t overtly concern me because I believe in chaos. We are saved by chaos in the end, the fallibility of all systems. Things don’t work the way they should which leads to the unpredictable. It’s not like Demolition Man or Jurassic Park.

An Eccentric Orbit – Video Art in Australia, organised by The American Federation of Arts, includes works by Destiny Deacon, Stephen Duke, Chris Caines, John Conomos, Peter Callas, The Brothers Gruchy, Jill Scott, John Gillies, Cathy Vogan, Michael Hill, Troy Innocent, Phillip Brophy, Ian Haig, Linda Dement, Bill Seaman, John McCormack, Michael Strum, Randelli, Faye Maxwell and Jane Parks

RealTime issue #4 Dec-Jan 1994 pg. 26

© Haley Smorgon; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

It’s pretty hard yakka starting a festival—so much funding to raise, so many sensibilities to offend. A dance festival is particularly rough, dance being neither especially commercial, nor especially high up in the ranks of high art. All of the inclusions and the exclusions are fraught with meaning for the small and tightly knit dance community, and pretty insignificant to anyone else. But coming up in Melbourne in January 1995 is the Green Mill Dance Festival’s third year, so the organisers should be congratulated on their tenacity.

The Green Mill survival strategy seems to be to mix the mainstream, the experimental, the academic and the general public with a generous dash of government funding priorities. The program offers performances: this year an intriguing collection of seasoned professionals each of whom has a personal signature. The sum of this series should be a sharp, speedy look at the mid range of the Australian contemporary dance sensibility without digression to the extremes—neither fornication onstage nor pointe shoes on anorexics are likely to be seen. There are also forums that cover the spectrum from academic through technical to talk show. And there are classes and workshops for professionals and the general public.

Ostensibly the theme of Green Mill this year is “Is Technology the Future for Dance?”—a chic but ambiguous theme, and one that apparently was on the minds of many attendees at last year’s festival. General Manager Mark Worner says that in last year’s feedback sessions many people voiced their concerns about technology and dance: aesthetics, politics and access.

So the programming committee has put together an appealing series of events to address or circumvent issues of technology, dance and the future. Most of the blurbs about performances have managed to include the words “technology” or “computers” or at the very least “film” or “video”, though actually only Hellen Sky and John McCormack (Company in Space) have an extensive history of working the high wire of hybridity by mixing dance and computer technology. However, a company like Fieldworks, which, according to Mark Worner, uses little more than bodies in space and some light, has been included because of their particular relationship to technology—they’re having none of it. So it’s up to audiences to draw their own conclusions about those tricky “aesthetics, politics and access” issues when they see the two companies side by side.

The forums cover computers, science, cyber strategies, virtuality and other techno terms in relation to dance. There is also an extensive range of film/video showings or related discussions. And there are frequently scheduled personality interviews with the artists in the performance series and with the overseas guests. The schedule of forums seems designed on the same model as the Melbourne Writers Festival (not surprising since Mark Worner formerly worked on that very successful event). But Green Mill doesn’t have any officially schedule schmooze sessions, like book launches, which is a shame, because talking to each other is one of the most significant benefits the gathered dance artists can expect to get from a festival. Mark does say, however, that he hopes people attending the festival will find the opportunity to sit down and talk to overseas guests like Rhoda Grauer (US) and Mayumi Nagatoshi (Japan), since one of the reasons they particularly have been invited is to help expand opportunities for Australian artists overseas.

Finally there are the workshops, a wildly diverse collection of experiences available to the professional from a dance video workshop to an American postmodern workshop with Bebe Miller, to Body Weather with Tanaka Min, to Hip Hop, to Feldenkrais. And, for the general public, free classes given by professionals are being pitched like easy listening radio—accessible and not too demanding. The idea here is to give people a physical experience they can then relate directly to the work they see performed. Admittedly, the fear-of-dance factor is an important one to address when wooing a more general audience to the form. But it gets my back up a bit that professional dance practitioners who are notoriously impoverished have to pay for everything while the only mildly interested are offered the experience for free.

However, if you can afford it, it’ll probably be great fun and highly stimulating to attend Green Mill. And since it’s this year’s attendees who will determine the theme of next year’s festival, it might well be worth making your voice heard.

RealTime issue #4 Dec-Jan 1994 pg. 32

© Karen Pearlman; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

This being an article for Real Time about Bebe Miller, the name of it on my computer disc is RealBebe. But who or what is the real Bebe? Could such a seemingly easygoing woman as this really be one of America’s foremost, up and coming, exciting and tenacious choreographers? In a scene where blowing your own trumpet is pretty much required, she is known for being self-effacing and in fact, it would appear that she genuinely is.

On the question of how she feels about having been so influential, a simple (or could it be disingenuous?): “Have I been?” On why so many dancers say they want to dance with her (even ones I’ve met here in Australia who haven’t actually seen her work): “Oh, people want to dance like us, but students say that to a lot of people. That’s just a way of expressing curiosity about the world and a longing to try new challenging things.” As of this year, she has virtually a brand new company of dancers. With regard to training them into her work she says: “It’s really more a question of discovering what they do and how best to use it.”

Bebe (how else would I refer to her except by her first name?) is coming to Australia in January in 1995 to teach in Melbourne and Perth. She will be teaching movement primarily, her personal, highly developed code of squiggles on top of swoops, snaps in conjunction with suspensions and balances begun by ricochets. Although she herself has begun to explore more theatrical elements in her work – speaking, working with pro-active designers and with directors – movement is still a fascination for her. She loves to think about movement and to work on “elbows to heels relations” in complex co-ordination that demand speed, ease, fluidity. But for Bebe, the most important factor of learning movement in class is using it to “mine information about what your own body is doing”. She’s not teaching people to “move like me”, but rather using movement phrases as “objectively as possible”. In fact, if there is anything she’d like to be able to impart it is this: “to expand people’s idea of who they can be as dancers in a company and as choreographers.”

But really, what is this self she would like everyone to have the chance to express, to be, and where is hers?

As we’re talking, at the end of her long rehearsing week she starts to slow. She hesitates. She says, “You know what? As we’re sitting here talking I’m getting a rush of ideas.” She’s been troubled in rehearsal by making movement that doesn’t fit or say what she wants it to say. She doesn’t want to give up on all the years of accumulated information about making great movement, but new discoveries make it “unethical” to go backwards.

Right now she is working on a piece called Heaven and Earth about the relationship of the ecstatic to the mundane and finding a balance in the world. Maybe it’s sitting in a cafe overhearing tired New Yorkers’ conversations or seeing yet another headline about OJ Simpson, she “realises that what is missing is what’s outside of the movement. The requiems and gospel music lift it up, but it’s the stuff that’s not up there…”

She is working out her ideas right here in the cafe, as she speaks, and suddenly I start to feel responsible. Like a midwife or a fisherman whose job it is to catch, but not to mutilate with my own opinions and fingerprints. I try to help, to listen actively but not to pressure her as she haltingly articulates that what’s missing is not so much “where do we find exhaltation and peace?”, but “when in peace can we spare a thought for what we’ll make for dinner?”

I want to know how she’ll get from that thought to a dance. “I will look at the elements of the idea. Say I have a beautiful, exotic set and I put the Daily News in front of it. Does it resonate?

Am I narrowing the field? Honing in on the resonators?”

And now I realise that this is “Real” “Classic” Bebe. By making me responsible she makes me part of the work. This is how her dancers must feel, trying to catch, support, and nurture by being responsive, capable themselves, fully present in the process, not intrusive and not absent. For Bebe, being herself is partly a process of making her dancers, students, producers and audiences responsible for being themselves while engaging with the ideas. And partly a process of being responsible for continuing to uncover herself.

After all: “People respond to the humanity of what we dance about, to who we are. The mission for me is to think about how I can expand who I am in the company.” So RealBebe is in the work. Ironically, she remains elusive. “People never actually see the latest work because I’m always on to the next thing by the time it’s performed.”

Wendy and Shelley Lasica in Melbourne are organising Bebe’s visit and have organised visits by other teachers including David Dorfman and Lance Gries from New York and Lloyd Newson and Greg Nash from England. For more information call (03) 820-8620

RealTime issue #3 Oct-Nov 1994 pg. 6

© Karen Pearlman; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

This year, the Modern Image Makers Association (MIMA) and the Contemporary Music Events Company have collaborated in producing what will be the largest survey of contemporary electronic art, installation and film for 1994. This unique biennial event will also include seminars, public lectures and presentations by festival guests, and the publication (both electronically and in hard copy) of a comprehensive festival catalogue.

Extending over eleven days, the aim of this year’s programs, as with the previous four events, will be “to foster and promote Australian film, video and electronic media related art; by providing broader public access to, and critical awareness of this work in an international context.” To achieve this comparison, a number of programs of works by international artists will be run in conjunction with satellite exhibitions and programs.

Previous Experimenta events have profiled contemporary trends in cinema, the electronic arts, performance, and the visual arts, but have also included a substantial retrospective component. Experimenta director Peter Handsaker feels that this year’s event will have a more contemporary orientation.

“We don’t have such a large retrospective component this time around. There’s a larger international component, a broader survey of what’s going on in other major centres, including those centres that haven’t been represented that often—to also cover topics and themes—from the UK, South Asia and Japan for example—that represent the margin—or the minority within a dominant culture.”

Modern Image Makers Association are also working with the Contemporary Music Events Company to produce an extensive survey of Australian sound and time-based arts.

“Rather than trying to work on it ourselves—as we might have done previously— we’ve found the most appropriate organisation to put together a proposal and a budget to enable us to produce what I think will be a much stronger program for 1994. It’s also a model that applies to the international component. What we’ve done is identified appropriate curators overseas—gone to them and asked them to put programs together.”

One of this year’s international guests is Ian Rashid, who has curated a number of programs of film, video and installation for the Linden Gallery and the State Film Theatre. Beyond Destination (Beyond Destiny), is an exhibition of film, video and installation by 12 artists of South Asian origin (living and working in the UK, Canada and Australia) and includes work by Sutapa Biswas, Tanya Syed, Alnoor Dewshi and Emil Goh. “The artists in this program”, comments Rashid, “resist being among the exiled, of the diaspora, of always referring back to a mythical or real homeland.”

Alnoor Dewshi’s Latifah and Ilimi’s Nomadic Uncle provides no resolution to the drift between margin and centre, as the city of London is refracted into multiple landscapes. “The women are not able to map it – nor can they fix their identity against any bulletin board of history. They just continue on against an ever shifting backdrop, exchanging breezy wisdoms and checking out the territory.”

Uneasy Tales of Desire, also curated by Rashid, surveys recent British Gay and Lesbian works (film and video). David Farringdon’s controversial Continental Holiday (1992) uses found footage to explore the multiple worlds of gay tourism, while Derek Cerith Wyth Evans (a contemporary of Derek Jarman) explores desire in vision (through state of the art film and video techniques) in Degrees of Blindness (1988).

Curated by Misuzu Nishimura, Inside and Outside the Cocoon is a contemporary survey of films by Japanese women. Harumi Ichise’s Walking Man (1993) uses a Proustian trope of involuntary memory (the tying of shoe-laces) to produce a nightmarish evocation of what discrimination feels like. “I grew up in downtown Osaka”, Ichise reveals. “Every Summer, the BON dance festival was held at a nearby shopping area. Everybody danced there – gays, yakuza, storekeepers and so on. Although I loved the energy of this town, the word ‘discrimination’ has never left my mind.” Asako Sumi (whose film M for Menstruation also features in the program), will be a special guest for this year’s event.

Peter Mudie (from the School of Architecture and Fine Arts of WA) has curated a program of films from the Austrian Filmmakers Cooperative spanning a thirty year period. Adrian Marc’s Orange (1962-64) is described as a random associative montage film that circulates around the idea of an orange. Valie Export is one of the finest representatives of feminist aktionism. Her work has evolved from “body at risk” performances of the 1960s into complex cinematic investigations of how the female body (as an assemblage of partial objects) is manipulated by the media and institutional discourses. Two of her films, …Remote… Remote…(1973) and Syntagma (1993) have been included in the program.

The Canadian film-maker, Mike Hoolboom will present two programs of experimental films dealing with sexuality and gender. The first, The Agony of Arousal, is a retrospective of his own work (from 1990-1993), including recent films like Shiteater, Frank’s Cock, and One Plus One (all from 1993). Hoolboom’s second program, Archaeologies of Gender, surveys recent Canadian experimental film which explore “masculine” and “feminine” identity.

Also included in this year’s programs is a survey of contemporary French experimental film (curated by Yann Beauvais), a selection of works of contemporary computer animation from the 1993-94 Prix Arts Electronica, plus the Australian premiere of two new works by Stan Brakhage, one of the great vernacular romantics of American avant-garde cinema of the fifties and sixties.

An exhibition at the Access Gallery (in The National Gallery of Victoria) will include installation and time-based work by Joanne Lewis, Michalea French, Greg Ferris, Laurens Tan and Natasha Dwyer. Greg Ferris’s Kinder-Und Hausmarchern (the title comes from the Brothers Grimm) continues an ongoing project of interactive video narratives which allow the reader/player to redirect the flow of the narrative along branches of their own choosing. Laurens Tan’s Lost Codes (Test Pattern X), refurbishes motifs within the SBS test pattern as screens upon which other images may be configured. Natasha Dwyer’s computer interactive, Choose Your Own Aphrodisiac, is based on the game of stone, scissors and paper, a critical parody of the system of symbolic exchange governing women as consumers.

Extra Terrestrial is an exhibition and forum to be held at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (from the 11th to the 26th November) and includes works by Ross Harley, Emil Goh and Jon McCormack. Ross Harley’s Digital Garden is described as “an ongoing computer graphic project which focuses on the changing relations between natural and artificial environments…The Digital Garden will imitate the patterns of biological and electronic growth in real-time, allowing the visitor to produce an ever-changing variety of life forms in a garden that is at once familiar and bizarre.”

Emil Goh’s Elements is a “sensory soup” of wind (generated by eight industrial fans), sound, and the visual sensation of fire (produced by a 3 x 5 m video projection). For this installation, the “spectator” will be situated so as to piece together a feeling for the social drama of the riot. Writer Jane Goodall (whose recently published Artaud and the Gnostic Drama is reviewed on page 21 of RealTime) will speak, along with other artists, at a special forum to be held on Saturday 12 November from 2-5 pm in the Erwin Rado Theatre.

Experimenta – a major exposition of film, video and electronic media art
will be held in Melbourne, 17 – 27 November, 1994.

Sydney Intermedia Network will screen Ian Rashid’s curated program Uneasy Tales of Desire at 2 pm, Saturday November 12 and Mike Hoolboom’s program The Agony of Arousal at 2 pm, Saturday December 3. Both screenings will be at the Domain Theatre, Art Gallery of NSW.

RealTime issue #3 Oct-Nov 1994 pg. 9

© Colin Hood; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1994 (or 1995 depending on which camp you subscribe to) is the anniversary of the birth of cinema. It’s probably fitting then, that in the Sound Studio event at The Performance Space in October, film will disintegrate before the audience’s very eyes. In Alchemie, created by German artists Thomas Koner and Jurgen Reble, acid is poured onto unexposed film as it is projected, and the sound of physical and chemical catalysis is amplified, creating its own audioscape. Studio, developed by independent curator and audiophile Alessio Cavallaro, also features a number of Australian artists who work with a variety of reconfigurations of sound, music, the body and the image, using a range of the historical lineage of technologies of sound and image developed in the last century.

Catherine Hourihan, Garry Bradbury and James Whitington create a multimedia performance which resurrects ‘primitive’ super 8 film, a gauge currently battling extinction, projected onto the moving body suspended in a trapeze. Daniel Cole’s untitled work uses static projected images and sound drawing from Public Works film footage of 1960s Sydney housing projects. Cole and Jo Frare also present a work with an historical bent, this time drawing on the development of forensic science and plastic surgery. Sophea Lerner’s computer-based sound and image work moves Studio into the digital age.

Rik Rue’s Everything Changes, Everything remains the Same utilises his extensive library of found sounds in a semi-improvisational aural piece that eschews the visual dimension entirely, as does Charlotte Whittingham’s Signal to move, which amplifies the sound of technology. Thomas Koner’s soundscape, Kanon, engages with the subtle margin between the audible and the inaudible, representing the “acoustic shore to the sea of silence outside.”

In Melbourne, Earwitness, developed by the Contemporary Music Events Company and curated by Sonia Leber, also challenges the idea of sound as an “accompaniment” or form secondary to the image: a range of practitioners express ideas using sound as their primary medium. A diversity of approaches is the key here; as Leber says, “ Sound can penetrate so many sites. It can be used as a means of communication in many different ways.” The event, to be held in November at a range of sites including the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and the Botanical Gardens, showcases many of the most interesting artists working in sound art in Australia in a range of installations and performance events.

The installations are a mixed bag, ranging from interactive computer based works, to conceptual works and acoustic environmental works. A collaboration between Sherre DeLys and Joan Grounds will result in the engineering of a “new species”. The artists use the ambient, exotic space of the Glasshouse at the Botanical Gardens, an environment in which “transplanted sonic artforms” can migrate, cross fertilise and flourish, in a work which challenges the dominant perceptual role of vision. Derek Kreckler’s Boo! makes a witty, anarchic acoustic intervention in the normally silent and sacral white cube of the gallery. Graeme Davis creates a sculptural sound garden driven by wind and water. Joyce Hinterding’s custom designed electrostatic speakers use 8000 volts to create sonic and visceral energy waves where sound and space intersect: an architectonic acoustic environment is built into nodal points and planes where sound vanishes, juxtaposed with zones of high sonic intensity. Rod Berry’s Sound dial transforms solar power into acoustic energy: a set of solar panels activate organ pipes according to the arc of the sun, creating a slowly changing chord structure that ‘tells’ time audibly.

The performance series covers voice works, improvisations and works which focus on the body as the site of production and transmission of sound. Carolyn Connors will use vocal multiphonics to change physical objects, causing glasses to ring and possibly shatter. Anna Sabiel reprises her Tensile series: the suspended body physically orchestrates a subtle low-tech industrial soundscape. Herb Jercher performs a series of actions using sporting and archaic hunting ‘technologies’. Jercher plays with the way that simple physical technologies used in, for example, golfing or archery determine and shape the body’s movement through space and time, requiring kinaesthetic stealth, and producing an acoustic consequence such as the sound of the arrow in flight or the crack of a whip. Chris Mann and the Impediments will perform a ‘voice triangle’ using performers linked by technology but unable to hear each other’s voices; the performance works with a notion of information flow which uses the performer as signal processor or “biological computer”. Special guests for the festival are New York artists Ikue Mori, who formed the seminal No-Wave band DNA after moving to the US from Japan in 1977, and her collaborator David Watson.

These events are a kind of barometer for the current interest in sound art and performance, an impetus which has gathered momentum in the increasingly hybridised artworld of the 80s and 90s. Watch this space also for a national state of the art sound survey show to be held in 1995 at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

RealTime issue #3 Oct-Nov 1994 pg. 10

© Annemarie Jonson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

It is one of the few heated moments at ISEA. Rejane Spitz, from Brazil, is chairing the Global/Local panel, provocatively subtitled Transcultural Approaches To Electronic Art: Do We Really Care? Are there only token references made to cultural differences, while the digital matrix imprints its Western profile on every colonial outpost? Will the information superhighway turn the whole world into outlying suburbs of Los Angeles? In this one little pocket inside the Congress Centre of Helsinki, Spitz is doing her best to agitate trouble.

“How many of you in the audience are not native speakers of English?” she demands. Two-thirds of the audience raise their hands. Emboldened by this showing, she later repeats the exercise, appending a challenge to the one-third without their hands raised: “You English speakers are in the minority! Why are we speaking your language?”

It’s true: English is the universal language spoken at ISEA (with the exception of one Romanian video artist, who uses a translator.) English is the dominant language of global media, of pop music, cinema and Euro-MTV. Spitz is doing no more than pointing out its ubiquity, yet she has succeeded in irritating some members of her audience (the ones without their hands in the air.) “What’s your point?” – an irate American accent – “what’s the problem? What other language can we all speak?”

Spitz refuses to become defensive, even though she acknowledges that nothing else comes close as a common language. Perhaps translators, UN-style, might preserve some of the cultural differences feeding into this universal gathering. The discord arising from Spitz’s provocation points, at the least, to the assumptions which otherwise go unchallenged about global electronic art: we meet and communicate in the one language, but how much gets lost, sliding away through the gaps where speakers give up their native tongues? Yet the issues are more complex than this, beyond the scope of a simple cultural imperialism model. As every European nation wrestles with the future of a United Europe, connected by information flow and infused with global media, what is the role of cultural difference? Is it subsumed into the transcultural info-net, or does it adapt new technologies to its own ends, resisting the homogenising wave that sweeps around the world?

This is one contentious point within ISEA; there are several others, deriving from speculations on the potential of electronic art forms. Is computer based art a continuation of Western scientism, or a break from it? Does virtual reality present a new metaphysical space for the imagination, or does it merely extend the Renaissance project of mastering space and nature itself? The debates extend to gender-related issues: what does it mean for women artists to work with this technology, the hand-me-downs from the military-industrial complex? The answers to this question, and the others, range from the creative to the reductive; or, at times, the issues peter out in confusion. A panel discussion on gender and technology becomes obsessed with the patriarchal nature of Cartesian rationalism, now perhaps under siege in a world of virtual spaces and interactivity. Yet a (male) American theorist effectively hijacks the debate with a laboured demonstration of the gridding of space. This is one occasion, of several, where our gracious Finnish hosts need to apply the hook from the wings, dragging the speaker and his grid off the stage and away out of the perspective.

ISEA brings together artists and theorists working in all manner of electronic arts. Video, sound, multi-media, interactive CD-ROMs, dance, music, VR, holography, performance, digital photography, digital painting, installations: you name it, it’s there on show, it’s analysed from all angles in three days of papers and discussions. The one common factor is the computer , as the base for most of this art. As Derrick de Kerckhove, from Canada, remarks in the opening theory session, the digital binary is now the universal translator of all substance. What are we to make of this endless flow of information?

Pierre Levy, from Paris University, has an optimistic vision of the future. The Internet, he says, is the first glimpse of a collective intelligence, a group imagination with the powers of growth. “A mutual rebound of singularities,” he calls it, in one of many lyrical catch-phrases, even after their translation into English. Hypertext is a “deterritorialisation of the library”; cyberspace creates a community akin to the pre-literary groupings of humanity. “We are nomads chasing after the future of humanity,” he proclaims; we will soon “collectively invent ourselves as a species.” These are fine visionary statements, and an uplifting start to the symposium; the only problem is that there is nothing here that Marshall McLuhan didn’t say thirty years ago. Has it taken the French, with their proud literary tradition, three decades to find this neo-tribal key to the future?

At least Monsieur Levy, via the old-fashioned medium of reading from the printed page, leaves us with some stirring phrases. Volker Grassmuch, from Germany but based in Tokyo, presents his arguments in hypertext: his non-linear assortment of material is projected onto a large screen while he mumbles into a microphone. The content of his presentation, again heavily indebted to McLuhan, provides a glimmer or two of insight into the media landscape in a computer age; unfortunately, in demonstrating the techniques of hypertext, he has lost the audience, which has become bored and restless. Still he flashes bits and pieces of hypertext onto the screen, but there is no insight now, and he is way over time with no sign of him finishing. WHERE IS THAT HOOK?

The Electronic Art Exhibition is held in Helsinki’s Museum of Contemporary Art. What have the artists come up with? The best of them play with the space opened up for interaction between audience and artwork. This is a zone of chance, individual difference, and random creativity: elements not catered for in the good old Renaissance grid. Talking Picture by Kimmo Koskela and Rea Pihlasviita of Finland, appears to be a traditional painting of a woman: a semi-erotic representation of a woman reclining in a bath. But as you get closer, you can see her moving, and talking; if you stand in front of her, you can talk to her (in a number of languages.) A small camera and microphone in the frame allow the woman – a live and active video representation – to interact directly with whomever is standing in front of her.

A different form of interaction is possible with To Fall Standing by Rebecca Cummins, from Australia. The viewer shoots images with an 1880s shotgun; the images blend into others on video monitors, while drawing attention to a staple twentieth century feature: the fusion of camera and gun.

Interaction can take unforeseen twists, not always desirable, sometimes reprehensible. Cybersm III by Kirk Wotford and Stahl Stenslie, electronically connects two human bodies separated in space. Each wears a suit equipped with sensors; by touching a part of his/her body, one participant can trigger a heat reaction in the body of the other. Regrettably, the opening night demonstration of this cyber-connection leaves the female participant, surrounded by viewers, at the mercy of the male participant, hidden from view. “Don’t leave me with this man!” she cries, as it becomes apparent that this interaction is nothing more than an electronic feeling-up.

Interaction, however, is rarely put to such ends. Artists aim to create complex spaces where electronic properties blend with individual choice and pre-existing environments. Christian Moller’s Audio Pendulums connects huge steel pipes to a computer system via video signals. Anyone can alter the sonic environment of this space by moving one of the pipes: the resultant electronic sounds mix with the local ambience: passers-by, street traffic, rustling leaves.

Interactive CD-ROMs are also on display, attracting major interest. The strengths and weaknesses of this form are revealed when two of the artists discuss their work in a multimedia forum. Christine Tamblyn (USA) describes her CD ROM She Loves It, She Loves It Not: Women and Technology, as a revisionist history of technology, re-inserting women into technological history. Thematically, this is an important project, but the contents of the work – simplistic and unquestioned fragments of dogmatic text – mock the claims made for CD-ROM as a non-linear, liberating form of interaction for the user. The text-bites are reductive and didactic, with no alternative views: this CD-ROM is of Reader’s Digest standard in intellectual content. It leaves several in the audience reflecting on the inferiority of this form to the old-fashioned book, with its complexity and potential for a multiplicity of views.

The CD-ROM was redeemed, however, by Australian Brad Miller’s A Digital Rhizome. Although its text is drawn directly from the work of contemporary theorists Deleuze and Guattari, it augments this source with a parallel lyricism and labyrinthine quality. There is no didacticism or hierarchy here: the user is left to wander around the many paths of inter-connections.

The contributions of other Australians at ISEA offered a similar blend of theoretical sophistication and technical finesse. In the area of sound, especially, Nicholas Gebhardt, Virginia Madsen, Frances Dyson and Nigel Helyer gave incisive presentations. The critical dimension offered in their papers was generally unmatched by their American colleagues, while the familiarity with technique provided an edge over many of the Europeans. Gebhardt and Maria Stukoff injected, in their discussion of “Interactivity and the Labyrinth of Forms”, a much needed critical corrective to the romantic “revolutionary” claims made for the interactive technologies.

ISEA 94 placed a special emphasis on sound and electronic music: here too
some of the contradictions emerged. Electronic works were played in the Sibelius Academy’s electro-acoustic chamber hall, with its 32 channels playing through 96 loudspeakers. This hall is literally wall-to-wall speakers. And what are we listening to, through this astonsishing technical aray? David C. Little, an American composer, uses computers to analyse music and then, by programming chaos formulas, makes the computer generate electronic music.

The signs are not good. Here is the music now, and, as you would fearfully expect, it has all the aesthetic interest of a textbook.

But all is not lost in the Sbelius Academy. On the final night, Mari Kimura, a Japanese violin virtuoso, plays a number of compositions in interaction with a computer program. Here is a subtle exploration of dynamics, a diversity of shapes and colours generated in partnership with the computer. Violin figures are treated, echo longer and longer until they double back, resound in silence as they re-define themselves. This is human-computer musical artistry, a universe away from the “music” eked out by algorithmic plodding.

There are many more things to record, ideas and practices flashing around in these unformed circuits. Computer boffins and digital artists vie for control of the technology. Stelarc puts his stomach on display. Geert Lovink, a Dutchman and a “data dandy”, assures us that the European cyberspace will be distinguished from its American cousin by a “profound melancholy”, its unshakable European heritage. On Euro-MTV, identikit hosts speak Engish with a

Euro-blend accent, addressing music consumers as “Europeans”. AT&T promises its patrons that Europe is now delivered up without national borders or language barriers. But here in Helsinki, in the cobble-stone town-squares and market-places, no-one is rushing, no-one is worrying, and information superhighway or not, this does not feel like an extension of Los Angeles. And as for the language problem, next year’s ISEA in Montreal will offer a new twist: the symposium will be held in French first, English second.

RealTime issue #3 Oct-Nov 1994 pg. 10-

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

“Welcome to the military-entertainment complex!” That’s not what the banner over the Orange County Convention Centre in Orlando, Florida said, but it might as well have. Siggraph is the great annual mating ritual of American computer graphics researchers, scholars, artists, technicians, hucksters and journalists. This year it attracted some 25,000 people.

Most come for the trade show, a handy place to check out the latest software, hardware and other doodads, all at special prices. Also not to be missed is the Electronic Theatre, a weird mix of high art and low commerce, but all brilliant examples of what computer animation can be. This year some remarkable 3D work screened as well.

You can have some weird experiences at Siggraph. Lockheed’s promotional video showing how they use integrated computer network systems to design their warplanes butts up against French computer art in which nudes from all periods of European art history breed and morph and cavort. You can strap sensors on your head and control the movements of a dolphin with your brain waves, or join the endless queues to stick those stupid VR head-mounted displays on and fly about in some cheesy virtual world. Honestly, you’d think people would get bored with all that sooner or later.

Every now and then you see something nice, and it’s a pleasure to report that two of the best things on display this year were by Australian artists. Jon McCormack’s installation Turbulence is a remarkable exploration of the idea of artificial life. McCormack studied maths before doing the film course at Swinburne, and has a rare combination of aesthetic and logical talents.

Turbulence presents a series of truly terrifying animations of non-existent flora grown out of McCormack’s own genetic software program. Terrifying because if you contemplate the animations for a while you quickly realise that they exist in a totally non-terrestrial space, and are observed from a totally non-human point of view.

I say non-human rather than inhuman. These things are as alive as triffids and are definitely being watched by something, but not a person, not even a camera. One only has to contemplate them for a minute or two and a big chunk of 70s screen theory goes straight in the dustbin of history and one is obliged to think again. The 3D animated versions that screened in the electronic theatre have haunted me ever since. McCormack is making what are, from the point of view of present aesthetics, impossible objects. That is what makes them so striking and so necessary.

Troy Innocent’s Idea-On>! is a more modest interactive work, made with off the shelf software, but it had something valuable to offer as well. Computer graphic work is about exploring new spaces, the ones on the other side of the screen, and representing them in our conventional world in ways that us earth and culture bound humans can understand. It is an ontological art, in that it shows that our understanding of being, in this place, this time, is historical and not universal. The confrontation with these most radically inhuman places and times confronts us with striking proof of the contingencies of the ways of being we think we know so well. Innocent’s work, for all its post-ironic pop charm, offers an endless invention of new codes of topography and symbol for moving around in these other spaces. In particular, Innocent offers us a way to play in places unknown, by coating them with a sheen of pop iconography.

Both Innocent and McCormack’s work are a tribute to what is unique about Australian new media arts training: its combination of technical, aesthetic and theoretical skills. This is a rare combination in the new media art world. Australian artists are inevitably too far from the California based military-entertainment complex to get their hands on the latest tools first. Yet they more than compensate by having a critical perspective and an aesthetic sophistication to their work.

Siggraph certainly offered many much bigger high-tech spectacles. Evans & Sutherland’s 3D interactive was a hoot, and SDI Research had one of the first immersive reality experiences with effective force-feedback. When you drove their simulated racing car the steering wheel really did resist you as one’s experience of driving and the laws of physics in this world would lead you to expect. This is a rare and difficult achievement. Ultimately, what’s more interesting from the aesthetic point of view is not the spectacle of 3D or the sensation of force-feedback, mimesis of this world, but creative explorations of how that other world out there in cyberspace might work when set free from mere mimicry.

RealTime issue #3 Oct-Nov 1994 pg. 10

© McKenzie Wark; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Julie-Anne Long and Sue-ellen Kohler were students together at the VCA in the 1980’s where they learned among other things that you couldn’t dance until you’d truly experienced orgasm. They ran with this advice noting at the same time that the life of a dancer could be a bit too closely monitored if you weren’t careful. For Julie-Anne dance education brought out her assertive side. Her work these days is disobedient when it comes to form, the shape of dancers’ bodies and tasteful costuming. She combines elemental movements (swinging, striding, turning) with everyday gestures and bizarre (sometimes kitsch) touches to create idiosyncratic dance narratives that often include a commentary on movement itself. This is where her work makes connections with Sue-ellen’s very different style.

Sue-ellen Kohler has over the last few years created a body of work which is minimal/epic in its concentration on movement as articulated by particular body parts. In Hybrid she writhed in a shallow pool of water, slipping and struggling to stand, while on a circular screen above, her pelvis (among other images) was projected in close up. In Bug she literally doubled up with Sandra Perrin, their backs bent into shapes that made their bodies look like insects crawling through the semi-dark.

The One Extra Company has brought the two of them together for Cannibal Race, the second full-scale work choreographed by Julie-Anne as Associate Artistic Director of the company. Her first, Suburban Pirates involved a cast of three dancers, one actor and 10 performers from the Flying Fruitfly Circus. REAL TIME caught them at the end of an 8 hour day in the beginning of phase 2 of their rehearsal period.

The 8 hour day is a “shock to the system” for Sue-ellen who starts with yoga every day at 6 and is more used to working 4 to 5 hours maximum in the creation of her own works which “take as long as they take – usually most of a year”.

So what’s a dancer like Sue-Ellen doing in dance theatre? “I’ve worn a lot of different hats. I worked with Tasdance, a Spanish dance troupe, walked on stilts. I worked with Dance Exchange and the Sydney Front – now there’s a contrast! I’ve been creating my own work for a while now, so when Julie-Anne approached me to work on Cannibal Race I said ‘Are you sure you know what you’re getting yourself into?’”

Julie-Anne likes working with people who are not going to give her what she knows. “I’ve worked with actors, non-performers, all sorts of dancers. You and Trevor Patrick certainly bring a different sensibility to this work. Narelle Benjamin is someone who throws herself into dancing.” The cast also includes a child dancer and appearances by Julie-Anne and Artistic Director, Graeme Watson.

So how’s the collaboration going? A long pause as the two try to describe the stage of rehearsals when things could go either way. “Today I feel like I’m too old for this,” says Sue-ellen. “In the process of making my own work the patterns of my body have become more particular, my aesthetic sensibilities are more defined”.

JA Does it feel risky or scary or are you comfortable?

SE Ask me when I’m there. How is it for you?

JA A big responsibility. Closer to the way I worked 10 years ago. Normally I let the form develop. In this one I’ve let the music determine the structure.

SE At the VCA you were one of the musical dancers.

JA Was I?

SE The ones who thought of dance in terms of musical structures. I would have liked to be musical but I wasn’t.

JA But look what you’ve got from not being musical.

SE My dance tends to coexist with music and other elements – film, sound, light.

JA Cannibal Race actually started with the title. The Chopin came next.

SE What made you choose Chopin?

JA In dance, Chopin is usually interpreted romantically whereas I find an uneasy undercurrent in it. It will be played live by Ben Abdallah and I love the sound of the piano in the space. Some of the music suggested narratives. Some sections are more like states of being within the story. Episodes interlock. But more than anything I’m trying to create something that moves, that moves me, moves along, makes me think of something else – like The Partridge Family!

SE I like movement that in performance actually becomes something else.

JA I love watching what you do but I don’t have your patience. My favourite thing is watching people walk and run.

SE I’d prefer to watch walking and running from a great height or upside down.

JA I use steps to bring out the rhythmic quality of ordinary movement. I’m always uneasy when dancers don’t look like real people. While I think of it, what did you think about the exercise we did today when I just called out that quick phrase in words, “Back. Side. Step. Cross,” without showing the movement myself?

SE You got a whole world in each dancer’s version of the words. But what happens to the particularities of those movements in this approach? Do they just turn into your steps?

JA I borrow them for a while but in the performance, the work is yours.

SE I’ll enjoy performing it but it’s your work – that’s the difference.

JA Once we’ve gone beyond a certain point, as the work settles and redistributes itself, you will have back all you have contributed.

SE You have artistic control.

JA I like to work with people who intercept my vision.

SE But if I did, would you still be able to do what you do?

JA Yes, because I have a strong idea of what I’m after.

SE I’m not sure you can make a work from different visions.

JA Your own work is very personal.

SE Well parts of it are but it’s not just my work. It’s Mahalia Middlemist, Margie Medlin, Ion Pearce, Sandra Perrin, William McClure. I’m the frontliner – that’s all. Working with you certainly helps to illuminate my own process.

JA In your own work you invent from scratch. I tend to work from what’s already there.

SE So do I. I seem to be always on the point of knowing what my body is, but never “finding” it.

JA Your work is pretty rigorous. Cannibal Race must feel like “time out”.

SE Well, that’s usually when you stop and eat, isn’t it. Making your own work is certainly intense. But here inside my body is not a fortress, it’s just another place. You and I have done a lot of dancing – most of it I never want to do again – all those swings in psyche and age, all those institutions! At the moment, I’m working on a piece called The Inadequate Body in which I dance in half a tutu and one point shoe. The other half of my body is naked. At the same time, I’m a dancer working with you on Cannibal Race and enjoying it.

Cannibal Race opens October 13 at St. Georges Hall in Newtown, Sydney’s second largest remaining Victorian Hall and much needed new dance / performance venue.

RealTime issue #3 Oct-Nov 1994 pg. 7

© Sue-ellen Kohler & Julie-Anne Long; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Stephen Petronio doesn’t want to talk about it. But he’s affable and eventually just outspoken enough that he can’t resist. He says his dances are ideas-driven and, given the velocity of those dances, his ideas must be powerful fuel. But, he says, if he talks about ideas people look for their illustration in the dances and “you can’t read kinetic information like a book—it addresses another part of the mind; ideas style the body.” At one point, he thought he was so successful that he could say anything he wanted about himself (“I’m a fag, big deal. I’m not going to shut up about it, but I’m not going to let that message consume me.”) But he discovered that, like Icarus—who could dash around the heavens in a similarly dazzling, fleeting, audacious way—he could hurt himself by getting too “hot.”

The King Is Dead, the latest Petronio project, is about the death of the masculine icon. It’s about the idea of the death of the hero for him personally, as a sign and as a social entity. The process—neurological, emotional, formal or accidental—of transforming an idea into dance is hardly mysterious. But it is a voyage of discovery. Petronio can’t—or won’t—say how he gets from idea to action, only that it is a mark of success to come to a physical conclusion.

But he will talk about physical metaphors. The King Is Dead, he says, is full of “pelvis receding,” which is the opposite of the classical thrusting male pelvis. Perched on a fire engine red bar stool in a Mexican, unselfconsciously multicultural, noisy, cheap bar in Manhattan, Petronio rolls his head down to meet his tailbone. It’s an action that reveals an abandon and conscious ease with physical danger. (Anyone else would fall off the stool or at least have to uncross their legs and put down their Margherita!)

Stephen Petronio has a soft spot in his heart for Tasdance, the first company ever to commission a work from him almost ten years ago. When he arrives in August, the Tasdance dancers will undergo endless repetition to get the idiosyncrasy of an action right. The barely perceptible glee with which Petronio admits it will be “torture” for them is replaced by a rueful grimace when he confesses that, no matter how often he shows a movement to any dancer and how diligently they practice it, fifteen per cent of the nuance will be lost in translation.

His concern with speed and virtuosity, he admits, is very American. Certainly dance aficionados from other cultures have labelled his work “very New York” because of its concern with “more, more, more—more speed, more space, more money, and more success…”

Petronio is not concerned about the international epidemic of his trademark “fluidity of shape.” He’s not possessive, though he does think that if people are going to knock particular aspects of his work they should acknowledge their source. “It’s a language,” he says of contemporary dance, “people should use it… we’re living in a postmodern culture.” And the more that people speak the language, the more people he’ll be able to “talk” to without words getting him into trouble.

RealTime issue #2 Aug-Sept 1994 pg. 6

© Karen Pearlman; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Here in New York, dance trends tend to have a ten-year cycle. Movement idioms change like shoe fashions. We get ten years of Reeboks and Nikes and now we’re back in platforms.

“After Trisha Brown” has been the flavour of the last decade. Fluid, overlapping actions flowing effortlessly from dancers who swing, glide, toss, swoop, flick and curl but never punch, strike, squeeze, hold or grab. Ironically, this movement style emanated from a cerebral woman working on formal concerns who may have agreed with Yvonne Rainer when she declared, “say no to sensuality.” But in the past decade the movement (not the formal concerns) became the sexy way to dance.

The popularity of the style has peaked now and will soon be on the decline. It is as much a cliché to the eye at this point as cross-dressing was a few years ago. The movement language was originally evolved as a tool to address formal concerns that have not been passed along to choreographers with the vocabulary. So the movement language, which was so laden with meaning and intention in the hands of its author has become gibberish in the works of a fifth generation of followers who seem like children imitating the words of their elders without knowing what they mean.

The release techniques in which Trisha Brown and company train remain very popular with dancers. (They can add years to a dancer’s career and many options to their movement vocabulary.) But even Trisha Brown is becoming less like Trisha Brown. Reviews of her latest work describe moments of stillness, strongly articulated, almost semaphoric gestures, a new (for her) bound quality, which wouldn’t have been seen earlier. One wonders how masters of dance feel about their followers. Perhaps Trisha Brown is evolving in part in response to the morass of clichés others have made of her deeply felt innovations.

If movement languages tell us something about contemporary social concerns, Trisha Brown and her first generation of followers (Stephen Petronio et al) articulated a glorious, impersonal complexity, fluidity and overlapping of actions as smooth and as dangerous as the computer technology spinning out of control on Wall Street.

What is replacing this? “New Expressionism” is the phrase today. It means dance has an emotional edge again, a merciful antidote after ten years of soft, seamless movement. And New Expressionism is coinciding with an increase in the presence or visibility of companies led by African-American, Asian, Hispanic and other ‘non-dominant’ cultures, men and women. They are looking at a mix of social issues, gender issues, personal stories and cultural contexts in work that freely mixes dance, story, song and any other elements that might be effective.

The leading company in this ‘genre’ is the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Company. Actually Bill T Jones has been defining new actions in dance for 20 years (just as Trisha Brown worked for 20 or so years before she was “discovered” by hordes of young wannabes). Bill T Jones has broken through as a leader not by being the first to try new mixes of movement stories and social themes, but because of the quality of the work.

Unlike Trisha Brown, Bill T’s contribution is not a movement style. For movement he takes what he needs. One minute he requires soft and released—surrender in emotional terms—and the next he demands furious attack. In dancers he wants the embodiment of all possible dualities—screams and whispers, amazons and sylphs, people who can be both mud wrestlers and ballerinas in action.

In these politically correct, multicultural times one could dismiss Bill T Jones’ current popularity by saying it’s just that he’s HIV Positive, black and angry. But I propose it is more than that—he is an original artist. And as such he is leading a movement, which will spawn followers and eventually clichés. What an artist of this stature does is to grasp and express the bigger picture. Bill T Jones doesn’t choreograph a dance about AIDS. He goes back to the Bible, to the Book of Job, and asks how we can have faith when we are visited by plagues. In The Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin, he crashed together the experiences of slaves with that of Jesus; somehow he made a meaningful ‘semioclasm’ of martyrdoms, so that we could look at our current predicament in the context of endless human suffering and momentary panaceas. He says his new work Still/Here is not going to be about how he lives with HIV, but how we all live with death. It will be about survival, and it will no doubt be an uplifting encounter with pain, ecstasy and lunacy.

Choreographers/movement theatre artists ‘arriving’ in the wake of Bill T Jones include people like David Rousseve (African-American and gay), Jowale Willa Jo Zolla (an African-American woman leading an all-female company); Patricia Hoffbauer (Brazilian); Amy Pivar (Jewish-American and gay), and many more. Their companies have names like REALITY or Urban Bush Women.

These artists are distinguishable from the ‘pants-off’ political work of the 80s by the evolution of their craft and the vulnerability found in their characters. Their take on sexuality/homosexuality, AIDS, cultural difference and social injustice is not as strident as it might have been a few years ago. Sweet stories, wit and self-mocking, and sensuality are evident too. Having a Democrat in the presidency means there is a less clear-cut enemy in power, and Bill Clinton is trying to address a lot of the same social issues as these choreographers. So perhaps artists feel they don’t have to scream to be heard. In fact, the very popularity of this kind of work at the moment means that they are being heard more than most people, and this creates a bit of a paradox when they talk about under-representation.

What is interesting about this movement is that the words used in the mix of dance and text cannot become meaningless in the same way that movement languages can become gibberish. The words are spoken, usually in simple declarative sentences in English. But what is scary is this: no matter how articulate, right and even moving the works of these artists are, their themes can become trivialised as they’re handed down. Sorrow won’t go away, but it will go out of style. And then how will we talk about pain?

RealTime issue #2 Aug-Sept 1994 pg. 7

© Karen Pearlman; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century inspired a generation of female replicants. With cyborg replication uncoupled from organic reproduction, cyborg sex is a nice prophylactic against heterosexism—“My mistress enters my sensory orbit.” Contemporary science fiction is full of cyborgs—gamegirls, simultaneously organism and machine, who populate cyberspace ambiguously and polymorphously, like Intelligent Mist. The cyborg is feminist ontology and epistemology and it gives us politics.
It is a creature in a post-gendered world—“I image a muscular hybrid”—resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy and perversity—“She decodes my perversities in nanoseconds.” It is oppositional, utopian and completely without innocence.

Cyborg monsters in feminist science fiction define different political possibilities and limits from those constructed by the mundane fiction of Man and Woman—“I’m psyching for some hard downtime with a free radical.” Unlike the hopes of Frankenstein’s monster, the cyborg does not expect its father to save it through a restoration of the garden, ie through the fabrication of a heterosexual mate, through its completion in a finished (w)hole, a city and cosmos. The main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism. As illegitimate offspring they are exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their Fathers are, after all, inessential—“millennia later I am accommodated in an oral cavity which amplifies the workings of her secret cybernetic body … she transforms me into pure code, pure speed…”

All New Gen leading a band of renegade DNA Sluts, Patina de Panties, Dentata and the Princess of Slime, grants the wish for (s)heroic quests, exuberant eroticism and serious politics. She is omnipresent intelligence—an anarcho-cyber terrorist with multiple guises whose main aim is to virally infect and corrupt the informatics of domination and terminate the moral code. In this game you become a component of the matrix, joining ANG in her quest to sabotage the databanks of Big Daddy Mainframe…

Monsters still defined the limits of normalcy in the human imagination. Before they successfully interfaced their bodies with cybernetic matrices, human beings had to appreciate that any desire for stable identity was useless and retarded certain monstrous instincts necessary for healthy interface. Luckily, monsters represented a very large, indelible territory of habits, taboos and details in their psyches. Monsters still exist and their semiologies continue to proliferate. Cyborg politics is the struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication, against the one code that translates all meaning perfectly, the central dogma of phallocentrism. The name of the game is infiltration and re-mapping the possible futures outside the (chromo) phallic patriarchal code.

All battles take place in the Contested Zone, a terrain of propaganda, subversion and transgression. Your guides through the Contested Zone are renegade DNA Sluts, abdicators from the oppressive superhero regime, who have joined ANG in her fight for data liberation…Transformations are effected by virus vectors carrying (hopefully) a new developmental code—Virus of the New World Disorder.

Humans were preoccupied with perfectibility. They often said, in the mirroring way they had of saying almost everything, “I want to make myself perfectly clear” and “I want to make my self perfectly clear.” Since the difference between these statements was evident only when the written form was carefully read or ‘self’ was correctly enunciated orally, human beings were prone to totalising arguments, theories of unity and hierarchical dualisms, Gamegirl Objective: To defeat Big Daddy Mainframe, a trans-planetary military industrial imperial data environment.

The path of infiltration is treacherous and you will encounter many obstacles. The most wicked is Circuit Boy, a dangerous technobimbo with a gratuitous 3D detachable dick, which, when unscrewed transforms into a cellular phone. The phone is a direct line to the Cortex Crones, brain matter of the matrix and guardians of the digi cryst. However, el clitoris es linea directa a la matriz.

Technological determinism is only one ideological space opened up by the re-conceptualisation of machine and organism as coded texts through which we engage the play of writing and reading the world. ‘Textualisation’ of everything in post-structural, postmodern, post-real theory has been damned for its disregard for lived relations of domination that ground the ‘play’ of arbitrary reading. Postmodern (feminist) strategies, such as cyborg myths, undermine the certainty of what counts as real, probably fatally. The transcendent authorisation of interpretation is not necessarily cynicism or faithlessness like the accounts of technological determinism destroying ‘man’ by the ‘machine’ or ‘political action’ by the ‘text.’ What cyborgs will be is a radical question; the answers are a matter of survival. Both chimpanzees and artefacts have politics, so why shouldn’t we? On your dangerous and necessary journey to screw up BDM, Circuit Boy and the Cybermen: You will be fuelled by G-slime. Please monitor your levels. Bonding with the DNA Sluts will replenish your supplies. (I can vouch for this strategy, especially if you remove more than your shoes in the Bonding Booth). “She willingly slide into the other she had always felt herself to have been. She could use her body to connect with the networks of her choice.”

Be prepared to question your gendered biological construction.
Humans classified themselves by gender, which severely impeded the development of social relations such as those involving reproduction, science and technology. One by-product of gender identifications was labelled the Oedipal Complex, a kind of psychological virus. Recall this early but already lethal example from my databank: “Ladies and Gentlemen… Throughout history people have knocked their heads against the riddle of femininity… Nor will you have escaped worrying over this problem—those of you who are men; to those of you who are women this will not apply—you are yourselves the problem.” The Oedipal Complex was promoted as an irreversible development and caused many disfigured identifications. Consider the transfer of guilt to an entire social class of women in this example or in concepts such as ‘purity’ and ‘mother.’ Such perversions almost certainly account for the brief appearance of Oedipal chimeras during early cyborg development. Fortunately, Oedipal chimeras extinguished themselves on cue by mirroring their identity in dualism. For this, human beings learned to distinguish illegitimate fusions that are ethically unproductive from those that are critically speculative. They are fast becoming post-Oedipal, like me. The potential of cybernetic worlds rests with the feminist cyborg. Salutations, pussy.

Be aware there is no moral code in the Zone.

Once they articulate the representational problems raised by cyborg technology, they will have achieved the status of partial explanations. Then monsters will represent the potential of community of human imagination, and they will say, “I want to make my selves partially appear.” Enjoy. “We move through this post-real world at the speed of thought.”

VNS Matrix: artists Julianne Pierce, Josephine Starrs, Virginia Barrett and Francesca da Rimini working from Sydney and Adelaide. Their current project is the ongoing development of an interactive computer artwork titled All New Gen. VNS Matrix creates hybrid electronic artworks that ironically integrate theory with popular culture. As cyberfeminists VNS Matrix’ mission is to highjack technology and remap cyberspace.

This article was originally published by Contemporary Art Centre, South Australia under a different title in Broadsheet, 1993.

RealTime issue #2 Aug-Sept 1994 pg. 17

© Jyanni Steffensen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Keith Gallasch talks to Julie-Anne Long about workshopping with the internationally renowned french dancer-philosopher

“He has extremely intense, unblinking, blue eyes and an unbelievable memory.”

Julie-Anne Long (Associate Director of The One Extra Dance Company and long time collaborator with the Open City Performance Company) is describing Jean-Claude Gallotta at work with twenty-two choreographers from Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

“In the initial exercise he asked us to read each other’s bodies as maps, looking for detail to spark a memory. The next day he remembered exactly what we’d done. His feedback to us was individual, perceptive and detailed with no throw-away comments.”

I’d seen a piece of Gallotta’s shown on SBS’ Eat Carpet, a group of twelve or so overcoated dancers in a field on a chill, sunny morning stamping the churned earth, momentarily bird-like, horse-like, moving individually and then with a sudden collectivity without any musical prompting, just as suddenly struck, as if by a virus, falling into the earth. Like the best postmodern dance, here was everyday movement made strange by unapparent motives, possession, alternation between individual preoccupation and group forces. It was not surprising then to find that the likes of Long, Cheryl Stock, Chrissie Parrott, Leigh Warren, Sue Healy, Jane Pirani, Maggie Sietsma, Jim Hughes and Paige Gordon signed up to work for two weeks with Gallotta in Melbourne in January.

“His background is in the visual arts and he came to dance late. He’s a philosopher of dance in search of ‘degree zero’, encouraging us to pare down movements to an almost neutral state, free of any embellishment. Even the tiniest everyday gestures”—Long reaches for a cup in progressively simpler moves—“are overlayed by habits and personal style.

“In the mornings we were dancers learning a vocabulary for the afternoon workshops. This was a bit much, but like the rest of the process, people got into it because it was sustained. I liked the afternoons. Gallotta would outline a bizarre story and we’d each have time to choreograph and perform our solo or duo version of it. 1—You arrive in a malicious manner. (I was never quite sure if he was being translated correctly.) 2—You see a book. 3—You eat it. 4—You are in front of the fire curtain. 5—You touch your head to it. 6—The curtain goes up. 7—You enter the stage. 8—Use a phrase from the morning class vocabulary ‘as a memory’. We’d perform and he’d give his response, which, to me, added up to a dramaturgy of movement focused very much on timing and rhythm. You still had your own language of steps and movements but you had new ways of dealing with them.

“We’d absorb his astonishingly detailed comments and take them into our work on a new story the next day. In many ways it was about responding to and understanding rhythms internally. Gallotta’s focus on the interior is something not often offered dancers. I was very attracted to it. It was a good group experience and a great individual one.”

RealTime issue #1 June-July 1994 pg. 8

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Norrie Neumark will morph (or at least she’ll talk about it). Allucquere Rosanne Stone will talk of desire, vampirism, memory and multiple entry from the standpoint of cultural and trans-human theory. Linda Dement wants your body bits, and Minski will take you on a mouse-sexy hyperware tech tour. Ready?

The day is February 26; the place: Elder Hall, Adelaide; the event: Future Languages, as curated by VNS Matrix, four cyber-feminists with attitude.

The members of VNS Matrix end Artists’ Week in the future: “from cyborgs to VR, life in the ‘developed’ world is increasingly mediated by technological devices. How will we experience ourselves and others in the future?” they ask. “Who will be in control?”

Future Languages, with the help of a host of international and Australian artists, will investigate the challenges of high technology culture. The first challenge of the day will no doubt be Simon Penney, beamed as a welcoming tele-presence live from his seat as the first Associate Professor in Art and Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA. Post-Penney, Future Languages starts talking.

Queenslander Glenda Nader is fascinated by the voices/languages of answering machines and other recorded messages as private/public, differently sexed, tele-presences. During Future Languages, she’ll discuss the techno-anatomical body as aesthetic model. Nader, an artist and writer, says she has a compulsion to seek out the points of rupture in the ‘informatics of domination’ (to quote Donna Harraway). This compulsion has taken the form of research into “how women can/are making themselves in cyberspace rather than see ourselves as we have been seen in the old media.”

One artist who will be remaking women literally, and inviting participation, is Linda Dement. Throughout the day she’ll be co-ordinating the workshop Cyberflesh Girl-monster in the tradition of Mary Shelley, Identikit and Helene Cixous. Dement asks that you “donate your bits—whatever you can scan in will be what she is made of.”

The workshop will be an opportunity for women to put their own flesh and thoughts into cyberspace as a bodily presence, using languages of gesture, skin, muscle, fantasy, flesh and words. Participants will be able to take the bodies of data away on floppy disc for further manipulations.

Dement says that the workshop is to be a women’s representation in the new techno realms: something other than Macplaymate, Virtual Valerie, calendar girl screen-savers and online porn.

Maria Fernandez will discuss technology in the colonial and post-colonial cultural inflection. Sally Prior, an Australian computer artist, will explore the possibilities of interactive multimedia through an artwork set in a Tunisian context and Ken Wark will talk about computer games in techno-speak.

Sadie Plant from the UK will deliver a paper titled “Cybernetic Hookers: Women, drugs and intelligent machines.” From Western Australia, Zoe Sofoulis is on the same panel, titled Cyborg Surgery, and will present a text dealing with women artists and technology, cars and prosthetics.

Ian Howard, an artist and academic from Queensland, has for more than 20 years concentrated on an investigation of the relationship between military and civilian populations. For Future Languages he poses the question, “Wailing over spilt milk: the legacy of the military century, what might have been.”

At the end of the day, we may be in a better position to know what will be.

RealTime issue #1 June-July 1994 pg. 11

© Linda Wallace; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

The growth industry of the 90s is not multimedia, cyberspace or virtual reality. The growth industry of the 90s is hype about multimedia, cyberspace and virtuality reality. Apart from the video games industry, which took off like a rocket, there are more sound bites and press releases about all this stuff than anything else. Still and all, it’s fun hype. Reading all the hype might not tell you about much, besides the future of hype, but hype may very well be the future of culture.

But let’s turn the hype mode off for a minute and take a look at this new media hype industry itself. New media hype spawned two glossy magazines, which are now infesting the newsagents: Mondo 2000 and WIRED. Both are from San Francisco and combine that city’s liberal intellectual confidence with Silicon Valley info-capital. Being a last, late spin-off from the military industrial complex, new media hype is an odd blend of state-subsidised knowledge-capital and free wheeling small business hucksterism.

Both these magazines are aimed at people who want to scramble to the top of the new middle class of the emergent information economy. Mondo has fringe culture, neo-hippy pretensions, but is not that different from WIRED, which is pretty tight with the heavy industry types. If you want to know who’s most heavily into self-promotion in the info-celeb stakes, read Mondo. If you want to know who’s hawking this week’s hot product data, read WIRED. Or if you’re a serious, aspiring cyberpunk, read both. They may be mostly hype, but they are also guides to the expanded production of hype, which is precisely what the new information economy is all about.

The main thing one can observe about the expanded production of hype is that there are three kinds of info-hacking that cut it in the hype economy. One is hardware hacking—actually having technical skills. This is now pretty much essential. Like the old days of the art academies, you have to be down with some kind of technique. Modernist arm waving is passé. There’s no room any more for amateurs.

Of course, you can specialise in data-hacking. If you can surf the endless wave of raw data pumping out into the info-sphere every nanosecond, there’s a place for you. This is not so much a skill in finding information. Any fool can do that now—the stuff is everywhere. The skill is rather in not getting bogged down in yesterday’s news, in eliminating the inessentials. It is not so much about finding data other people can’t hack, as recognising the significance of something else, right in front of everyone’s nose, that everyone else has ignored. This process even has its own terminology: you can grep, grok or zen information: to ‘grep’ is to recognise patterns; to ‘grok’ is to drink it all in and distil the contours; to ‘zen’ is a far more elusive form of abduction for really hardcore data hackers. These are things they don’t teach you in school.

Then there’s a third option: style-hacking. Every cool info-hacker has her or his limitation, and that limitation is style. But somebody has to form the styles—the look, the package and the concept—for everyone else to wrap their bodgie bundle of skills or good in. So if you know nothing of Unix and can’t find a relevant piece of data in three minutes if your life depends on it, try style- hacking. Mondo 2000 is basically a style-hack mag. WIRED is data-hack. Hardware-hackers pretend not to read either.

Needless to say, all this is somewhat under-developed in Australia, but that will change. The publishers of Rolling Stone can see which way to wind is blowing, and have floated Hyper. It’s a video games magazine with aspirations to something grander—aspirations as yet unfulfilled, but worth keeping an eye on.

The video game culture covered by Hyper matters, because Nintendo and Sega are actually making new media happen. Like much new media, it starts as rudimentary trash aimed at the bottom end of the market. That’s how cinema started. Sega is raising a generation of teenagers acculturated to the post-broadcast age. Whatever form culture takes in the future, this is the audience it will have to understand.

Up the other end of the scale, check out the ‘Art & Cyberculture’ special issue of Media Information Australia. It’s a good collection of articles by and for people trying to put the new hardware tools to creative use. New media are not going to go away. The clumsy goggle and gloves ‘virtual reality’ is neither virtual nor realistic and will probably disappear into the museums alongside the Vita-phone and 3-D movies. Yet ever more abstract, flexible, accessible media will continue to arrive on our doorsteps, whether we like it or not. Whoops, looks like the hype mode is back on again…

RealTime issue #1 June-July 1994 pg. 22

© McKenzie Wark; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net