Silicon Graphics, darlings!…ISDN lines, darlings!…Mac AV’s, darlings!…computer manipulated video playback, darlings!… heat sensors/light sensors/audio sensors!!!

The exhibition component of ISEA 95 incorporated sound and visual arts, electronic cinema and performances. As a curated event with the theme of Emergent Senses, the works were all able to contribute to the discursive, artistic and media practices surrounding the corporeal and social effects of electronic media.

ZKM (Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologies/Centre for Art and Media technologies) at Karlsruhe, provided a coherent taste of the kind of work produced through the support of artists in this centre. Bill Seaman’s Passage Sets: One Pulls Pivots At The Tip Of The Tongue is a highly poetic work which encapsulates the term multimedia in its potential multidisciplinary approach. A series of stills, moving images and texts which map a visual poem are able to be manipulated by the user at a podium with a responsive scrolling device, the images are seen on a large screen via a data projector. The user concurrently interacts in a highly subjective manner, rather than following an established direction, and appreciates the visual delicacy, architectural illusions and poetic interpretations of “notions of sexuality in cyberspace”.

Keith Piper’s piece Reckless Eyeballing (Britain) was one of the few works which addressed difference and stereotypical representations. Keith works from London and his work “considers black masculine subjectivity through media imagery” (Catalogue notes). Reckless Eyeballing uses 3 podiums from which different commentaries emanate. They are activated by multiple users, reinforcing the way in which group dynamics effect stereotypes in society. A large screen at one end of the gallery has projected onto it various texts and images regarding three representational categories: Sportsman, Musician, Threat.

The playful elements of Piper’s piece insinuate the user into the discourse of the piece through provocative invective: “Remember when Ben…fucked up / Remember when Mike…fucked up”. The user acknowledges the stereotype and is led to a larger comprehension of some of the complexities surrounding representations of the black male gaze.

Maurice Benayoun (France), whose 35mm computer generated Les Quarks is programmed for the In Spaces Unsuspected program of the ‘96 Adelaide Festival, is a video artist and special effects art director. His Le Tunnel sous l’Atlantique was housed in the Montreal Contemporary Art Gallery and simultaneously in the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris. The ‘explorers’ at either end of the tunnel discuss and navigate its virtual images with the assistance of the joy stick and a supervisor, until they see each other’s faces when the virtual meeting occurs.

The logistical and technological innovations were very impressive, particularly given that it is unusual for an artwork to be able to call up such resources. On either side of the Atlantic the tunnel used an ONYX SGI, Indy and Next stations, A SGI digital camera, Sharp projector, RINS (ISDN) line and quadraphonic sound system.

In the same gallery, Osmose (Canada) was again logistically and aesthetically impressive. An immersive virtual reality based on Char Davies’ experiences whilst deep sea diving, Osmose relies on interactive participation of the user to fully explore the possibilities of the piece. Her aim is to create “an experience where people can play with becoming more open to representations of nature, more receptive, more contemplative”. The digital imaging was developed with Softimage and played through several SGI platforms, however the interactive sound aspects of the piece were the significant innovation. Dorota Blaszczak (Poland), is a sound design engineer who developed the programming in collaboration with Rick Bidlack (Canada) who also composed the music score. The breathing and movement choices made by the navigator construct the form of the sound track. In effect, the navigator is involved in the sound design of the immersive experience. Whilst virtual reality is hailed as an ‘out-of-body’ experience, there is an ironic relationship with the body in Osmose. To take advantage of the piece, those navigators who have a strong awareness of their bodies’ functions, particularly controlled breathing and movements, are able to more fully explore the potentials of the sound and visuals.

A very playful and ironic piece Invigorator (Bosch and Simons, Netherlands) consisted of 28 wooden boxes joined together by large metal springs both horizontally and vertically. Attached to the boxes are motors controlled by a computer. The fantastic noises and movements of the springs are driven in such a way as to almost imperceptibly move from co-ordination to chaotic discord and then back again. This cacophonic choreography invoked a metaphor for capitalist modes of mass production, and the cycles of consume and produce.

Several virtual sculptures were included this year. Nigel Helyer’s Hybrid (Australia), and Cantin’s La Production du Temp / The production of Time (Canada), amongst them. That works in progress and conceptual visualisation were included in ISEA 95 establishes the difficulty artists and mediamakers encounter in completing a project. The demands of high-end technology and the imagination working beyond the realms of the technology are contributing factors.

La Production du Temp was a series of documentations of previous work and a double channel video installation. Cantin explores the idea of what constitutes an image. Light is employed as a metaphor for time, which he describes as his material. The works are very elegant lenses through which are projected either video images of a light bulb suspended in water, or bulbs with specially made filaments that create an image of time, and images about image.

George Legrady’s interactive CD ROM/installation An Anecodoted Archive From The Cold War was shown in ISEA 94, and the interactive Slippery Traces exhibited at ISEA 95 maintains his interest in narratives. It is about creating a narrative—a collection of images on related themes exist on a data base which can be accessed visually. The images are projected via data projector onto a large screen. The user weaves a story by selecting one of the five hotspots on the 300 possible postcards. These hotspots are linked to a different image from the data base selected on a set of values which may be literal, semiotic, psychoanalytic or metaphoric. The algorithm will eventually be able to review the user’s choices and give an analysis of them. The aim is to have the audience look at a work and the work look back at the audience.

Australian works at ISEA were mostly CD-ROM based with the exception of Dennis Wilcox’s Zenotrope #2 and Oscillator and Jon McCormack’s Turbulence. The vast distances from the global centres in some way dictate the form of Australian works. Whilst hypermedia may dissolve some of these difficulties, it remains the case that locating larger sculptural or visionary works often preclude them from being installed at greater distances. Similarly for Australian audiences the exposure to larger scale interactive installation/cinematic works from overseas is limited due to expense. Stelarc (Australia), of course, has been intimately involved in the place of the corporeal within electronic and kinesthetic works for his entire career. More of a global nomad than identified with any nation, Stelarc represents the outer edges of the discourses of the cyberbody, and is producing concepts and works which will continue to demand attention, challenge the theory and mark out the edges.

RealTime issue #10 Dec-Jan 1995 pg. 19

© Cecelia Cmielewski; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

one: Let’s rehearse the electronic order of things: within cyberspace, which is both a new frontier and a new mode of existence (or perhaps, in the way of fascists, somewhere to get it right once and for all) and an economically driven zone of deregulated cultural action; a range of translucent or even transgressive identities struggle to shape the future of art and life: a revolution of sorts. Now where’s the thought in that…?

two: In a city devoted to malls of every kind, interconnecting tunnels, subterranean relationships, there was something inevitable about the primacy of the net. Of course we knew what we were looking for: a large seventies tower in suicide brown where the less important sessions (artists describing their work) drifted towards the top while what went on below sounded like a Baptist revival meeting.

three: The concept of electronic art is bound to various assumptions about the artistic field. There is the language of revolution, the heightened expectation of death and transfiguration: post-humans, post-politics; expanding networks and shifting morphologies; the utter belief in communication as the essence of life; and the shift to non-linear systems.

four: Metaphors curl and splice, gathering into themselves the metaphysical changes that might occur, setting up a series of other worlds, nether worlds, off-worlds; meanwhile great chunks of reality are sliced off, segued over, turfed out, by an endless cycle of endless science fiction fantasies in which artists get to make it all glow and gloom and flow.

five: Thought is replaced by the power of the market, by hyperbole. And the full range of accepted analytical categories—class, race, gender, ethnicity—are flung and plastered and floated through everything as though to merely use them is to guarantee one’s radical credentials as an artist, as a thinker…

six: And this by way of avoiding the question of art altogether, assuming that the components of the image are secondary or even irrelevant; that the frame is simply a window onto another world; that the connections to painting, to sculpture, to music are like that of a Mercedes to a model T Ford…As though abstract art or conceptual art, minimalist art or even cinema had never engaged with the critical potentiality of aesthetic practice.

seven: What becomes apparent is that the thinking surrounding electronic art assumes its own structural presuppositions (in the sense of networks, codes, instantaneity, simultaneity, synchronicity, etc.) as the universal model for all communication, and therefore, for all of life.
eight: There is a fundamental conservatism embedded within the ideology of interaction, of screen-based processes, of immersive environments: the demand for feedback (from our machines, from our lives); the primacy of exchange; and the kinds of lives that come to be lived in the very process of embracing this model of sociality, that eventuate from an aesthetics that all too readily pre-empts its own systematic transcendence.

nine: After a keynote address by the performance artists Arthur & Marielouise Kroker that oozed ethereal metaphors, empty signifiers, and bad puns to sustain its apocalyptic fervour, an audience member was heard to say, “It’s the Protestant ministry all over again. Fear of the flesh, end of the world, redemption, all that kind of hocus pocus…Where’s the thought in that?”

ten: I kept returning to the idea that “…no aesthetic or artistic practice, for fundamental reasons that derive from the determination of the very essence of art, can declare itself politically innocent.” In a city where the question of national identity was peeling back the layers of post-war hegemony, where the economic influence of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) continues to reverberate across the political landscape, the very question of politics was subsumed, suppressed, by an overwhelming sense of determinism, by the laws of technology and of the market.

eleven: What was ignored except for a couple of isolated, and therefore, exceptional, commentaries, was a complex analysis of the modern state and modern corporate forms. In this context, we realise the degree to which the image of art as a screen-based phenomenon replicates the very structures of multinational and military-industrial distribution and production it sets out to oppose.

twelve: As paper after paper proclaimed the power of technology to change lives, to reconstitute the globe as a massive web of interconnected subjectivities, you begin to wonder, how is the artist/thinker to resist the ideological imperatives of networks and codes, of informatics, of a naive futurism, of technological determinism? What are we to call art in a world where the difference between a ride and a revolution seems to be in the type of operating system used?

I do not know which to prefer
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendos,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

Wallace Stevens, from Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Blackbird.

RealTime issue #10 Dec-Jan 1995 pg. 18

© Nicholas Gebhardt; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Dance, Modernity and Culture: explorations in the sociology of dance
Helen Thomas
Routledge, London and New York, 199

Sociological approaches to the study of dance are few and far between, and Thomas makes a most significant contribution to the development of this relatively uncharted terrain. The book focuses principally on American modern dance of the early twentieth century; plotting the connections between a metamorphosing cultural context and the beginnings of what is now the institution of modern dance. Thomas proposes that through investigating such connections, and through closer analysis of artistic practice—Martha Graham is the primary consideration of Thomas’ case study—new understandings of modern dance may be provided through sociology. The relationship between dance and its context is further refined by a differentiation between extrinsic and intrinsic properties and perspectives; that is, examining dance from an external sociological viewpoint as well as investigating the cultural symbolism of a movement language.

From a comprehensive theoretical framework which acknowledges the influence of cultural studies, feminist studies, anthropology, philosophical theories of dance, poststructuralism and postmodernism upon sociology, Thomas canvasses the historical significance of early theatrical dance in America. Of particular interest in the second chapter is her account of the controlling forces of Puritanism and Protestantism upon the freedom of performers in the theatre and initial cultural encounters with ballet.

By providing an overview of conspicuous figures in the pioneering of modern dance in America—including Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, Ruth St Denis and Ted Shawn—as well as more detailed analysis of Iconoclasts from Denishawn—Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey—Thomas traces a history of the modern dance movement which is embedded within the elaborate socio-cultural history of twentieth century America. Thomas’ final examination of Graham’s Appalachian Spring (1944) is the culmination of the study, demonstrating how the symbolism of movement may represent a more expansive, reflexive cultural voice for its context.

RealTime issue #10 Dec-Jan 1995 pg. 29

© Julia Postle; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Richard James Allen and Karen Pearlman delineate for Keith Gallasch the impulses behind Tasdance’s new work, the epic Thursday’s Fictions

KG Your work is distinctive on two fronts. First is the the role of voice. Second there is a narrative interest which is not typical of a lot of contemporary dance.

KP Richard and I both feel very strongly that dancers are not dumb and that means both that they are not stupid and that they are not mute, that the voice is a part of the instrument known as the body, and the body is the instrument that you have to work with in creative dance. With voice we have tried to develop a language as sophisticated as the physical. The level of writing for the voice has to match the level of choreography, and vice versa.

KG How do you get that quality of voice you need in performance, since from the earliest days of a dancer’s training the focus is so much on the body.

RJA I was chatting last night with a guest actor in our latest show and he said, sort of jokily, “I’m not sure you really need me, because all of you dancers are so good at speaking and dancing. Most actors couldn’t do the physical things they do and be so clear.” That was a nice comment. In the ten or more years Karen and I have been working together we’ve developed both conscious and unconscious ways of training the body so that you can use the voice fully as well as the body fully. There is a sense of freedom in the use of the voice.

KG That’s fine for you, but what about for a relatively new company?

KP When we were auditioning we looked for great dancers and we had more than enough to choose from. Then we asked them to speak. First of all they had to be willing to speak, willing to open their mouths. Dancers are so often trained to be quiet. It is very much a part of dance culture, especially in classical training and that is a way of showing your respect.

KG Not questioning the choreographer’s intent?

KP The first thing an actor has to do is to ask “why”, and that is the last thing a dancer ever does. We are now getting dancers to ask us why, and it certainly pushes the thinking of the choreographer.

RJA If the choreography can’t be discussed, then it can’t be pushed further, particularly in this case where we are creating physical and verbal characters. It requires a full understanding by the dancer-actor, of why they are doing what they are doing.

KP We look for dancers with clear, simple speaking voices, unmannered and malleable, which is a similar thing to what we look for in their bodies, that their years of training haven’t left marks on them that have to go.

KG Presumably, Richard, you compose this text that is to be spoken well prior to the rehearsal process?

RJA I’ve been writing Thursday’s Fictions for three or four years. It’s an epic poem and part of the process has been to make a stage adaptation of it. We went through a creative development period with a whole series of guest artists from Tasmania and Sydney, working with us on imagining different ways of staging this text in performance.

KP The creative development project was part of the PAB-funded Time and Motion project allowing us to bring in Don Mamouney to work on the acting, Mémé Thorne on the Suzuki approach and many others from Tasmania and beyond. We had Scott Grayland working at the cross-roads of aerial work, dance and acting. We had Theresa Blake and Dan Whitton from Desoxy at the nexus of acrobatics and acting. Everybody brought ideas to the process. Don stayed on as co-director.

RJA Ultimately, Karen was the dramaturg, creating ‘with the knife’. We worked on it together, and I’d say, “Yeah, that sounds good, but put that back in!”

KP We had a lot of help also, Greg Methé and Ruth Hadlow of Hobart’s Terrapin Theatre were involved in the creative process both on design and dramaturgy. Their design background makes the question always come up, “Do we need to say this in words. Can’t we say it physically or visually?”

RJA To me this was, in a way, a workshop for defining what is a performance script. It’s is not a traditional play, and it is not a poem anymore. It is now a performance script, and that was a lot of hard work and a lot of discussions and a lot of actual trying out.

KG How much of Thursday’s Fictions is driven by the narrative, how much by dance’s sense of the moment?

KP It’s structured by the narrative and it is also character-driven in the sense that each of the sections offers a quirky individual around whom we can centre our images and ideas. While it is a very rich and fascinating plot, it doesn’t move at the speed of lightning. It goes off from side to side, in a sense, and gives us horizontal views into the minds of these people. The dancers play several roles. They play the poems, Thursday’s poems, which are this central object passed from hand to hand. They play the left and right half of Friday’s brain. A set of triplets, all named Monday, run a funeral parlour. Later on, they torture Tuesday on the rack. Three dancers combine to play a large blue spider, looking like a cross between a praying mantis and a chandelier.

KG What about the choreography, Karen? Are you going off in any new directions?

KP I think there are some new directions. One of the places that modern dance has got stuck, in a way, is in the development by individuals of dance vocabularies that they call their own. So you can look at a dance and know immediately that it is a dance by Martha Graham, or a dance by Russell Dumas. I feel those vocabularies—like Trisha Brown’s—are wonderful, and they are rich, but they have a limited range of emotionally expressive possibilities.

KG You immediately know what they are saying?

KP Right, and when we get into our idea of narrative, where have the full spectrum of psychological and emotional vocabularies to work with, we are in a sense trying to let the characters develop their own vocabularies, rather than the choreographer work on his or hers.

RJA That doesn’t mean that we don’t create it, but it does mean that we are trying to create specific vocabularies that suit those characters in those situations.

KP There are moments in the dance where you might look at it and say ‘Martha Graham’ because one of the things she was really strong on was torture. There is a section in which I am tortured and I am really trying to make myself think in terms of very hard, bound, striking movements, as opposed to soft flowing gliding actions, which are completely inappropriate for torture, even though they are things which I personally enjoy doing.

KG Given that Thursday’s Fictions is character and narrative-driven, what role does ensemble dancing play?

KP A significant role in the sense of ensemble acting. There is no corps de ballet here at Tasdance. We have really selected people who are very distinctive. They look different, they dance different, they talk different.

RJA It is a company of soloists, a complementary mix rather than a sort of bland sameness.

KG Language is central to the work, what about sound?

KP The composer and sound designer Andrew Yencken is using live musicians, recording them and manipulating the sound to evoke travel through time. He has references from moments in music history. He is also working with radio mikes on us, the performers, and he is modulating our sounds and words into the sound design as well as we perform. There’s also a pre-recorded radio component (involving a number of Tasmanian actors) which plays a surprising role.

KG You say Thursday’s Fictions is a fairy tale, but its themes and sometimes graphic violence and sexual content make it definitely not for children.

KP The theme of the work is the power of art to live on past us. The question at the heart of the work is, “Is it possible for a human to create something better than themselves?” Kids just aren’t going to be interested in that. I think it is adult also in the sense that it requires a very attentive audience. It’s also the question of whether the language of dance is universal in the sense that people who don’t speak your verbal language could easily understand your dance language, including children. I have a lot of problems with that.

KG Richard, why the interest in re-incarnation?

RJA I am personally very interested in yoga and Buddhism but Thursday’s Fictions isn’t a work of religious instruction. It is a spiritual work in the sense that it deals with issues of where we are and what our lives mean. I don’t think people are going to walk out of the theatre thinking this, but if someone was to reflect on it for a long time, they might decide that at a deeper level they’ve experienced a dialogue between a western spiritual vision of heaven and hell, and an eastern vision.

KP In the first instance, we are creating a spectacle. If people can come to it without deciding in advance what dance is or what theatre is, then they will get a lot out of it.

RJA I hope that people will come out delighted and intrigued and chuckling.

KG Is the work ultimately about creativity through words? Is it about the poet?

KP No, but do I think that dance is the most ephemeral of art forms, and poetry is one of the least ephemeral artforms. Dancers disappear and poems don’t.

RJA There is another medium in Thursday’s Fictions, other than dance, acting, design, sound and radio, and that is print. Thursday tries to get her poems buried with her, so she can pick them up and keep writing them in the next life. In the end, you never hear the poems on stage, but the program contains Thursday’s 24 poems. And you can take them home with you in the innovative Paper Bark Press publication which doubles as program and poetry volume. You see these poems in the performance buffeted through time and history, and different people care about them or not, and by some miraculous chance they end up on your lap.

Tasdance, Thursday’s Fictions. Text—Richard James Allen. Dramaturgy, direction, choreography—Karen Pearlman. Don Mamouney—co-director. Andrew Yencken—composer and sound designer. Dani Haski—costume designer. Greg Thompson—lighting design. Simeon Nelson—rack designer. Ben Little—radio producer. Karlin Love—music production coordinator. Dancers—Joanna Pollitt, Gregory Tebb, Kylie Tonatello, Samantha Vine, Richard James Allen, Karen Pearlman. Actor—Michael Edgar. Earl Arts Centre, Launceston, Dec 7-10; Peacock Theatre, Hobart, Dec 14-17.

RealTime issue #10 Dec-Jan 1995 pg. 29

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

Eleanor Brickhill talks to Norman Hall about the impulses behind a new dance double at The Performance Space

NH I’ve had an idea in mind for quite a while to do co-productions, to work with other independent artists. As a complementary program to Aida Amirkhanian’s Credo, for three women, and as a contrast, it was practical for me to do a program with two men, called Two Men. The men are very different, experience, technique and personality-wise.

EB Is that what interested you in them?

NH They both have dedicated many years to dance work, Patrick Harding-Irmer for twenty-five years, and Derek Porter has been dancing since he was about 13 and professionally since 1990.

But more and more I am interested in individuals, because you have got to have strong performers, or very individual performers, people who can actually work with material and not just have it put on them, who can integrate it. That seems to come with experience.

Superficially, I think Derek’s talent is in his incredible flexibility. I have often wondered if he had average flexibility, how that would affect his performance. And I still think he would have that incredible stage presence. He is so focused on what he is doing that it comes across, even without those legs and that very supple back and the things he can do with his body that just amaze people.

EB With Patrick there are similarities, they share that same clarity of line and focus.

NH I think both of them are so intent on what they are doing that the audience would have to be asleep to not be drawn in. As far as the program is designed, they do two solos each and two duets, so you have a chance to see them in work that brings out different qualities. Derek is doing a piece called Divine, to a mass. Very dancey, although not in the usual way. It’s more fluid and organic. I try not to make steps.
The second piece is Toilette, from the Dance Collection ’95, a totally different work, more of a sculptural piece. People find it quite whimsical. We got that basically roughed out in about two weeks, working an hour three times a week, because all we were doing was working with shapes and images. It was a nice foil to some of the more serious works.

Patrick has made Birthday Card to celebrate his 50th birthday, and he is also performing a solo from a work by Siobhan Davies called Bridge the Distance. She made that in 1985, when Patrick was 40. There was a BBC program about it, about the mature dancer, and this was before Jiri Kylian formed Nederlands Dance Theatre Three, the mature dancers’ group. Over the last five years, in particular, the focus on the mature dancer is coming through.

EB How might that maturity manifest itself?

NH I don’t think all people of that age have it. It goes back to the intent, the focus, the performance strength. As people get older they start to appreciate all the training they have, all the fine tuning, from performing, from life, over many years. It’s the fineness, the delicacy, and a kind of subtlety of meaning, doing more with less. You suggest without doing big things.

EB So the whole aesthetic quality becomes quite different, doesn’t it? The whole point is different.

NH Jiri Kylian said you don’t ask of these older dancers what it is they can’t do anymore, but what it is they can do better than anybody else? I spent a lot of time with that company, NDT3, and I saw younger choreographers who haven’t realised what it is all about.

EB Until you get there, you don’t know what questions to ask, what material to work with. But that is one of the beauties of the independent dance world. When you are able to use that wealth of experience, it is always very much an individual statement.

NH I think independent dancers and choreographers are actually producing the most interesting work at the moment, and doing it with very little support. I like to do small, very intense pieces. I call them ‘boutique pieces’. Something like Toilette could be done in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, as a self-contained work. It wouldn’t need any lighting, just take the prop there, and just do it. And of course, I actually enjoy making smaller, more personal works rather than doing the grand production where the detail of the dance just gets lost.

Credo by Aida Amirkhanian with Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, Paige Gordon & Aida Amirkhanian, percussion by Andrew Purdham; Two Men produced by Norman Hall with Patrick Harding-Irmer & Derek Porter, musician Patricia Borrell. The Performance Space, Sydney, Thursday Dec 14-17.

RealTime issue #10 Dec-Jan 1995 pg. 28

© Eleanor Brickhill; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

In August Tony Osborne attended a one-month intensive workshop in Berkeley, California with improviser Ruth Zaporah. She originally trained as a dancer but for the last thirty years has been stretching the boundaries which enclose dance and developing her own style of improvisational performance which she calls Action Theatre.

RZ When I originally coined the term, Action Theatre, because I’d come from dance, I needed to make the distinction that there was a whole instrument at play rather than just dance and its techniques. Dance is theatre for me. Theatre is when one or more people get up in front of another group of people and create a fantasy world. That’s why politics is theatre. A politician gets up there and creates a fantasy world and we all believe it. That too is theatre.

TO Did you get bored with the lack of attention to what the body is saying? Was there a dissatisfaction with technique? It seems to me that dance languages have a sort of bathos built into them.

RZ When it’s just technique?

TO Yes.

RZ That was always the problem my teachers had with me. They always said I was too dramatic. I didn’t clean out enough. I didn’t just do the technique. I was always visible. I kept switching teachers until finally I started teaching… looking inward for the teacher.

TO So did the idea of teaching what you do now come before you met other improvisers? Did you meet Al Wunder before this point?

RZ Before I met Al Wunder I was teaching improvisation on the east coast. I got a job with a theatre department teaching movement to the actors. I looked at these actors and I knew that my dance class was not going to be possible. So I asked them what they wanted and they said they wanted to embody their characters. At the time I didn’t know what ‘embody’ meant because that was not something that we were taught in dance classes. I didn’t know what character was because that’s a theatre term, not a dance term. So I said, “Okay, walk, sit, pick up something” etcetera, and I just started improvising and seeing what was coming back—this was telling me what I wanted to see next. Then I had to figure out some kind of framework. That’s how this all started. Then when I moved to San Francisco [in the 1970s] there was this guy, Al Wunder, who was teaching a much more formal kind of improvisation that he’d learned from his teacher, Alwin Nikolai. So Al and I hooked up and put a studio together because we were both interested in improvisation.

TO Improvisation means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Theatre and dance practitioners might employ it in certain specific and varying ways but people like yourself and Al Wunder have created the genre of improvised performance which, paradoxically, doesn’t necessarily relate to theatre or dance processes generically, even though it employs both.

RZ Al Wunder’s work was always very dancerly but I haven’t seen his work in a long time. (Al Wunder has lived and worked in Melbourne for over ten years).

TO I think Al Wunder’s Theatre of the Ordinary is very much about creating form; finding form in all sorts of stuff.

RZ Well, this work isn’t really theatre improvisation in the traditional sense because theatre improvisation deals with situation. This work doesn’t ‘set up’ situation and it doesn’t fit into any genre of dance because it deals with situation.

TO Would hybrid be an appropriate word?

RZ I don’t think so, because its not like I studied dance and I studied theatre and then figured out how to put them together. What happened was I just extended myself from dance and kept on extending from a body-based form—expanding the avenues of experience and expression from body-base to include language, speech, vocalising. Its all body-based to me. Its all dance. Then that includes content which just grew out of my original body-based interest in action which started with dance. The action extended into my mouth and language.

TO You talked earlier about embodiment and in your work you talk a lot about inhabiting or ‘filling out’ an action in performance. It seems to me that in a lot of dance and theatre the body is a bit absent; that is, there’s a lot of text or intellect going on but the performers’ bodies are unconsciously telling a different story.

RZ The body’s just supporting the text? Propping up this instrument so that the mouth can…

TO Yes, with very little connection between text and body—something in the body tells you that the performer is lying. It occurs to me to ask why this work isn’t more prevalent in training institutions.

RZ That’s a very good question. I’m not very good at promoting myself, I guess. I just keep on doing my thing. I think they should at least check out what I’m doing. I’ve never had anyone to take care of that side of things for me, you know, like an agent or secretary.

TO Have you ever felt the need to?

RZ I’m just beginning to because I’m going to be sixty next year and at some point I would like to retire, and so I would like to make some money, although I can’t imagine retiring. If I had set this whole thing up in New York, I think it would be different at this point. I think this work would be much more known. Out here [San Francisco] it’s like, in a sense, the boondocks. It’s like a little town in a way… I’m not a hustler and don’t go after it … maybe having a book out will make a difference.

TO What made you write a book about the one month ‘trainings’ which you conduct twice a year?

RZ For about ten years I’ve been wanting to write a book about this work… because I think it’s really useful and I felt like for me to just hold it for myself was very selfish in a way. I don’t feel like it’s mine. I feel like I worked this out with all the people that have been working with me for the last fifteen or twenty years. It just got too big for me to hold as my private stuff. I know that I probably work with a couple of hundred different students every year and I know that a lot of them go back and teach this work in their own way. In order to protect the integrity of the work I wanted this book out so that they could have that.

Action Theatre: The Improvisation of Presence is published in the U.S. by North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California.

RealTime issue #10 Dec-Jan 1995 pg. 28

© Tony Osborne; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

There’s a lot of spectacle out there—colour and movement, sumptuous images, fabulous techniques of all sorts, a real party, but the more dance I see, the less idea I have of what other people are actually looking at. Little girls fall in love with their favourite dancers, aspiring to embodied ideals with intensity and passion. For others, there’s all that flesh, sexy tumultuous glances, the heat and sweat, quivering sensitivity, swathed in the very height of fashion, re-drawing the images of what is desirable.

I’m usually interested in all the wrong things, and what I see is not what others see. Perhaps I just miss the point, but I don’t want to live vicariously through someone else’s fantasy, constructed on someone else’s terms with pre-digested ideas about how I should view my body, other bodies, the way people live and relate to each other and the world. Frequently I feel I’m being asked to discard my own hard won individuality and jump into that glorious shared heaven of living fantasy that is there for me, if only I could just think differently, loosen up a bit, not be so demanding, maybe be someone else. Well, that’s me.

In the last six weeks or so I have been to seven different dance programs.

I’ve been able to enter into the spirit of some of it, without too much of the aforementioned anxiety. However the experience has been coloured by renegade publicity, inviting, for example, a view of “Sydney’s hottest dancers/performers” (Four on the Floor), which rather sets the tone of a ‘fashion statement’, implies something ephemeral, transient. But some of these works, and certainly the artists, might last considerably longer than that. Even so, a few older pieces, for example Dean Walsh’s Hysterical Headset and Ros Crisp’s On Lucy’s Lips, had been worked over to the point where the fine lines, ambiguities and loose threads had been tidied away, as if they had been mistakes. For me, particularly with On Lucy’s Lips, the unfinished and vulnerable quality of the original performance was an aspect I missed this time.

The four programs of Dance Collection ’95 really were what the publicity said: a forum for playing, trying things out and working out what you think is important in dance. Meanwhile, it strikes me that times and ideals have changed, and the irony is that the primary aim of the growing number of Sydney’s ‘independents’ is to flock together for mutual support. There must be a better name for them. Even so, it’s a shame the organisers want to foreclose their open door policy and act as curators, because a place where artists can feel relaxed and informal rather than pressured to create a finished product is a rare treat for most performers.

With Link Theatre at the Museum of Sydney, the program invited me to see “a dance that utilised the inherent design of the exterior of MOS … both architecturally and thematically inspiring”, a commissioned ‘site specific’ work, Site Lines, which seemed in the end itself to reflect the same environmental insensitivity, or more politely, a cultural strangeness that the first settlers might have experienced on this very spot. We see in the dance material and design the same curiously blinkered reading of both body and environment. The permanent MOS installation Edge of the Trees, by Janet Laurence and Fiona Foley, demonstrating the passage of time in the weathering and layering of physical and cultural material, was used as a set for the new work. However Link just appropriated some superficial visual effects for their own purposes and ignored the inherent potential interactivity and delicate soundscape already part of the installation.

Another vivid collision of material occurred when an old lady wandered across the square, as anyone might have done, walked up to the dancers, stared at them briefly, and started imitating them in an engagingly oblivious way, after which she proceeded to roll up the leg of her pants, demonstrating to a group of young boys her aged and wrinkled knee. A well-meaning administrator tried to lead her away, stop her interfering in the ‘real’ event, but only in her own time did she wander off, much to the relief of the dancers whose performance task was, at this point, to pretend nothing was happening.

The unspeakable eloquence of this episode encapsulated my feeling that the actual present and highly visible layering of cultural values that is in front of us every day, speaking through all our bodies at every turn, with the real passage of real time, continues to remain unacknowledged right here and now, afflicted as we still seem to be with the same cultural obtuseness of 200 odd years ago.

Not entirely, though. There were two short works both of which illuminated in their different ways that very aspect of cultural difference: Mother Tongue Interference , a performance work by Deborah Pollard (Four on the Floor), and Karmagain by Simone Baker, subtitled “A Western Woman’s Eastern past life” and performed as part of Cha Cha Cha, the fourth Dance Collection ‘95 program. Both works expose facile perceptions of cultural displacement and assimilation. Deborah Pollard has gone straight to the difficult bits, where the pretence of bridging impossible cultural gaps is simply unbearable, leaving her witless and inarticulate. Karmagain highlights a westerner’s short-answer response to the culturally inexplicable, with idealisation of classic stereotypes being like a first stumbling attempt at cultural understanding.

And speaking of stereotypes, The Sydney Dance Company’s Berlin is composed of a multitude, all redolent with the nostalgia and romance of Berlin’s theatre and film tradition. If you haven’t already seen Wim Wenders’ film, Wings of Desire, then perhaps you should do that first, because, entertaining though it might be, Berlin doesn’t come close to its beauty and depth. Surprisingly, there is no mention of the film in the program despite the fact that it appears to have stimulated many of the ideas, and only a vague mention of “ghosts and angels”. Nor are any of the other sources acknowledged. Maybe it is simply too obvious to be worth bothering about. For heaven’s sake, Iva Davies and Graeme Murphy look for all the world like the two angels watching benignly over the human world of pleasure and wanting.

Sex, drugs and violence, both nasty and poignant, make their obligatory appearance. Janet Vernon is entirely at home in a tired sort of way as our Marlene. I caught a glimpse of a more contemporary Pina Bausch chorus line from 1980. The Wall is represented too, both the climbing up and the coming down, as well as the militaristic influences of now and then, blond boys perpetually bullet-headed, innocent, power hungry.

But what about the dancing? I hear you ask. Yes, it was there, and I was right up close, not more than 3 or 4 feet from the performers. We could see through the wire mesh, (another image from Wings?), the elasticity, the resilience and flow of dancers caught up in something they have done all their lives, the perfectly timed slippery partnering of duets, and the complex and articulate ensemble work in parts like Angel Life, and Complicated Game. To understand dancing, I need to ask, “What are these bodies saying to me? What do they make me feel?” and I often get stranded with all those unacknowledged physical habits and empty gestures, which lie in that impossible gulf between what they might want to say and what they do say.

RealTime issue #10 Dec-Jan 1995 pg. 27

© Eleanor Brickhill; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

by Rebecca Coyle and Philip Hayward
Power Publications, Sydney 1995

“Holography is a tantalising medium”, we are told in the opening sentence. Holography may be, but after its seductive black cover, Apparition remains a pretty straight piece of empirical documentation, comprehensive if tinder dry. Coyle and Hayward set out to address “the characteristics of holography as an expressive and artistic medium; discourses around art and technology which impinge on such work; and Australia as a site for such activity”, devoting most of the book to long semi-biographical chapters on early Australian and British holographic artists such as Margaret Benyon and George Gittoes. With the issues around art and technology so current, documenting early collaborations between holographic artists and scientists is undoubtedly relevant to Australia’s new wave of multimedia practitioners, but extrapolation to current developments could have been more vigorously explored. Indeed, one gets the feeling that some of the tough theoretical questions, such as the development of a critical discourse apposite to this medium and the light it might shed on high technology art have been sidestepped for a narration of significant scientific events and specific artistic works. While this documentation is of value, an opportunity for valuable speculation has been missed.

RealTime issue #10 Dec-Jan 1995 pg. 25

© Jacqueline Millner; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

The Creative Nation statement (one year old in October), though admirable in its elevation of the arts to commonwealth policy status, served up slabs of grandiloquent spindoctoring: a curious alliance between instrumentalist goals of increased efficiency (“the government intends to develop programs aimed at improving the [cultural industries’] management efficiency and links with other industries”); economic rationalist shtick (“we need to ensure that good ideas can be turned into commercial product”) and the appropriation of notions of creativity to support a deeply jingoistic nationalism: “Culture is that which gives us a sense of ourselves … Culture … concerns self-expression and creativity. The work of writers and artists like Lawson, Roberts and Streeton offered an Australian perspective of Australian life—a distinct set of values … reflecting a distinctly Australian experience.” Personally, I prefer these sorts of sentiments in the original German.

Amongst all this hubris was a clarion call to arms at the dawn of a new epoch: “we must address the information revolution and the new media not with fear and loathing, but with imagination and wit.” How? In the view of the architects of Creative Nation, this means mobilising significant amounts of revenue to support a “vibrant multimedia industry”, “ensuring that we have a stake in the new world order” while retaining a “distinctly Australian identity”. In dollar terms, the price of our ticket to the new world order translated as a cool $84 million over four years: an allocation of $45 million to the Australian Multimedia Enterprise (AME), $20 million (over the first 4 years) to the Cooperative Multimedia Centres (CMCs), $7 million to the Australia on CD program, about $4 million to the Multimedia Forums program, around $5 million to the AFC, about $1 million to the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) for multimedia education and training and some $700,000 to the Australian Children’s Television Foundation.

It doesn’t require much RAM to work out the tilt of the playing field here. The AME, for example, intends to invest in commercially viable ‘product’. Run by a corporate lawyer and staffed by young industry top guns, the AME is, by its own description, a venture capitalist aiming to catalyse the production of demonstrably profitable multimedia titles and services. Applications for investment funding are now open, and the Enterprise has announced its first successful proposals.

The CMCs were initially vaunted as sites for research and development, as well as for the education and training to develop multimedia skills (the “critical pool of talent” CN says is required). With the government’s decision that they should become self-funding enterprises, they look increasingly to being driven by short term commercial imperatives. Early in the piece, there was a degree of optimism amongst some artists and arts advocacy bodies involved in the consortium development process that the Centres would, as an integral part of their function, broker access to high-end multimedia technologies for artists—that is, if they were genuinely committed to creative R&D, a process which takes time and doesn’t necessarily provide an immediate financial return. With bottom lines now setting the CMCs’ agenda, the involvement of artists, let alone integrally, is looking far less certain. Paradoxically, the very viability of the ‘industry’—its ability to innovate and create new forms—is itself dependent in the longer term on the high-end experimentation and R&D which is the stock in trade of contemporary artists. There are plentiful instances State-side of the medium-to-long-term flow-through effect from techno-artists’ research and experimentation into quality ‘product’. Myopic policy makers would do well to take note.

Throughout this year, some 18 consortia submitted proposals for funding of CMCs across the states. Two were funded: the Access Australia CMC to be headquartered at the Australian Technology Park in NSW, with a consortium comprising major NSW universities and industry partners; and the IMAGO CMC in WA, similarly, a university/industry group. Both come equipped with voluminous business and strategic plans and very chi chi logos. Other states are currently vying for the remaining Centres and results are expected to be announced this month.

The Australia on CD program, “designed to showcase a wide range of Australian cultural endeavour, artistic performance and heritage achievements” has already seen some action. Five CDs of “national significance” have been funded in Round One, and will be distributed to every school in the country. Here’s the “wide range”: Did we get one about Australian art? Too right -Under a Southern Sun, a catalogue of 50 great Australian works of art. (We’re thinking Streeton, Nolan, Roberts, Drysdale, Boyd, McCubbin…or maybe Nolan, Drysdale, Boyd, Roberts, McCubbin, Streeton…). How about the war? No worries. Australia Remembers does WW11 in son et lumiere. Then there’s the Tales from the Kangaroo’s Crypt, our national prehistory via the fossil record. But let’s not forget Backstage Pass— “an exciting performing arts concept with an on-stage and behind the scenes focus” —with hot links to a do-it-yourself guide to Stelarc’s stomach sculpture performance…not. A WA project called Mooditj will look at the relationships between contemporary Australian indigenous arts and cultural heritage. Applications have closed on Round Two and successful projects will be announced before the end of the year.

The Multimedia Forums were an object lesson in how to disenfranchise the arts and intellectual community and defuse debate on the social, aesthetic and political implications of multimedia. Suits, business cards and cellulars were mandatory at all three 1995 sessions (on “the government’s multimedia initiatives”, “creative aspects of multimedia” and “export markets”) which, despite their diverse monikers, spanned the gamut of issues from fast bucks to, well…fast bucks. Perhaps this is not surprising. At a recent meeting a high ranking functionary from the Department of Industry, Science and Trade which administers the program was asked whether the government’s intent in supporting multimedia is primarily commercial, or primarily about cultural and creative concerns. (Naive? Perhaps. Some would even say artificially dichotomising terms which need not be mutually exclusive.) The DIST operative shot back with an affirmative on the former objective: no ambiguity in his mind on the exclusivity of the terms. Forums planned for 1996 will focus on online and new technologies, copyright, marketing and distribution and—in a laudable attempt to make good on the program’s past failure to accommodate creative artists— “building bridges between the creative community and industry”. They’re going to need the Golden Gate.

All this is not to suggest that industry development policy, and government support to kickstart industry viability, is necessarily a bad thing. (It’s commendable that the incumbent Labor government has had the foresight to deliver a reasonably resourced policy on new media, with some good open access initiatives in relation to users—as opposed to producers—of content; and too abominable to contemplate the consequences of a Coalition win next year.) However, any genuine attempt to engender the kind of “creativity”, “innovation” and “leading edge” practice the government purports to be fostering requires that a diverse range of objectives share the policy agenda: critical, aesthetic, cultural and social as well as economic ones. A number of Australian artists, though their own efforts and against the financial and geographical odds, have established themselves at the forefront of the cultural and intellectual community’s version of the microeconomists’ ‘world best practice’: witness the disproportionately large representation of Australians at the recent International Symposium on Electronic Arts in Montreal, and the status of artists like Jon McCormack and many others in international new media art.

Direct support for artists developing multimedia works has been left squarely to the Australian Film Commission and its $5.25 million over 4 years (which works out to 6 cents in every dollar out of the $84 million over four years allocated overall to multimedia). The Commission intends to fund projects which are exploratory, innovative, geared to lower budgets and high risk: projects which, in other words, are unlikely to be funded under the objectives of the other multimedia initiatives set up under CN, notwithstanding the rhetoric. A number of works have already been funded, including a collaboration between multimedia artist Brad Miller and writer McKenzie Wark. Miller created the CD ROM A Digital Rhizome, based on Gilles Deleuze’s A Thousand Plateaus, and Wark is the author of the book Virtual Geography. Another project to receive funding is the development of a prototype multimedia game title by the cyberfeminist electronic artists VNS Matrix, based on their ongoing work All New Gen.

It might be asked what the Australia Council has been doing in all this. Apart from channelling the genius of Hugh Mackay, dismantling peer review and heaping invective on artists, not a great deal. As their self-promotional hyperbole goes, they have been supporting electronic and media artists for years, and indeed, artists in these areas have been receiving support, predominantly through the Hybrid Arts Committee. But, 13 months after CN, Council has yet to establish any public policy position on support for multimedia arts practice. Council plans to announce its new initiatives in early 1996—in terms of the cultural policy, a mere year and a half or so after the event.

In the interim, artists will doubtless continue to work critically and innovatively with the new technologies, helping to ensure that multimedia culture in this country develops beyond—in the words of digital artist John Colette—the “acumen of a computer sales presentation”.

The opinions expressed in this article are strictly personal.

RealTime issue #10 Dec-Jan 1995 pg. 23

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

http://wimsey.com/anima/ANIMAhome.html [expired]
I never knew what a synarchist was until I discovered ANIMA. A synarchist—derived from synchronous, synthetic anarchy—“is an individual linked technologically, socially, collaboratively and professionally in organic spontaneous relationship webs instead of in rote linearly defined or institutionally directed roles”. So there. Making this anti-system possible is a computer assisted community network facilitating intercommunications within the “nomadic virtual tribe”. There are no meetings, no dues, no qualifications except the self-declaration of participatory engagement: “I network, therefore I am”.

ANIMA is a multimedia cultural information service for the internet which provides a forum for artistic expression, critical analysis, educational outreach, experimental projects and research information. The overarching focus of the project, according to chief WebWeaver Derek Dowden, is to research net design, which makes ANIMA a site for experimentation with online multimedia publishing interface, structure and design. The web becomes both the subject and medium of dissemination of the group’s work. Work on the site began in 1993 and the project launched in March 1994. ANIMA currently runs several hundred html pages and GIF images. In designing the site the group has tried to take into account the frustration of excessively long download times for images and have attempted to strike a balance between visually appealing graphic content and low bandwidth speed. A particularly welcome design feature, given the vast acreage of the site, is the Fast Find Index which presents the entire web node in a logical hierarchical structure for top sight access—a methodology which, theoretically at least, defies ANIMA’s underlying synarchist principles but, hey, who’s complaining.

Following a fairly standard structure ANIMA is divided into zones, each with a particular focus: ART WORLD—images, ideas, sounds and experiences of digital art spaces on the net worldwide; SPECTRUM—a selection of new arts and media publication on-line; ATLAS—a resource and reference library; NEXUS—artists’ projects online; TECHNE—research on interface, immersion and interactivity; PERSONA—community voice/vision—forum for individual exploration and community discussion of the evolving world media network; and CONNECTIONS—special events from around the world.

With so much to choose from I freaked out and decided to go just down the road to the Australian National University Art Serve location offering an extensive collection of art and architecture mainly from the Mediterranean basin. This server offers access to around 16,000 images—1.6Gb of data—all concerned in some way with the history of art and architecture and claims to have over 14,000 accesses per day which, if true, would make it an opportunity missed by prospective advertisers. The site has a mysterious logo on its home page indicating it has been designated the honour of being amongst the top 5% of web sites, but no-one seems to know who is responsible for the award or what criteria are used to determine it. But in my opinion the honour was deserved. The use of thumbnail images to allow for the pre-selection of full-screen graphics was welcome for the savings made on download times. It’s a feature which should be standard on the Web where so often the images, when they finally do appear, aren’t worth the wait. The thumbnail gives you the option of choosing to look at an image in more detail or of overviewing the collection in a single screen as was the case with the Leni Riefenstahl examples from Olympiad (1936) and Triumph of the Will (1934).

I was immediately struck by the inclusion of Riefenstahl as the only artist listed in the otherwise categorical main index of the site and wondered why a 20th century photographer was given such prominence. So I e-mailed the webmaster and asked, only to be curtly told that Leni Riefenstahl was one of the most prominent filmmakers of the 1930s but, perhaps, I just had a problem with fascists. Naive as I am, I imagined the only people who didn’t have a problem with fascists were, well, fascists and given that only the day before the Sons of Gestapo had bombed a train in the USA I didn’t quite know what to say or think. So I clicked and moved on.

But it must have been the phase of the moon which led me immediately to the work of one Antonio Mendoza whose personal gallery was a lusty cornucopia of pornographia which I’ll leave readers interested in such pursuits to discover for themselves. More sobering was the OTIS site: http://sunsite.unc.edu/otis/otisinfo.html#what-is [expired]—an acronym of Operative Term Is Simulate, a place best described as an open-ended collective of artists where works can be posted and ideas exchanged. Any type of original art is welcome. Photos, drawings, raytracings, video stills, paintings, computer-assisted renderings, photos of sculptural/3D pieces, photocopier art, zine covers, quilts, tattoos and pyrotechnic displays are all mentioned.

Although OTIS’ focus is still-image, it does have space set aside for animations, self-executing slide-shows and multimedia works. Instructions, including copyright information, are posted for prospective exhibitors. OTIS comprises an archive of thousands of images, a list of participating artists, tips on compression, resources, links and so on. Frankly, what I saw on OTIS was less than spellbinding but it is a fact of life that most images on the net take on a homogeneity of surface and colour quality which immunises the viewer against the possibility of pleasure. Nevertheless, the desperate or foolhardy may wish to paste something on the virtual walls of OTIS.

ANIMA is a project financed by the Canada Council (Media Arts), the City of Vancouver and the University of British Columbia and although a worthy enough enterprise it suffers from trying to do too much. There is a lesson here for Australian public sector organisations wishing to construct grand joint ventures on the internet. I imagine the ambitious ANIMA concept may have looked great as a project description in a grant application but my tour of the site reminded me of Warhol’s aphorism “Always leave them wanting less”. At this stage in the development of online services it is wise for developers to adopt a less-is-best approach to design both in terms of download times and interactivity. To some extent we have to assume that users will be frustrated by the cumbersome, arcane qualities of the net by the time they get to our site, so we should give them a break by providing high quality content which is technically transparent and functional.

RealTime issue #10 Dec-Jan 1995 pg. 22

© Boris Kelly; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

KG What are Artlines’ concerns?

TD I think our concerns are mostly digital. And I think possibly, through a process of osmosis, everyone’s concerns are going to become increasingly digital, though perhaps not mostly digital.

KG Even in areas where we thought they would not have been?

TD I think so. No-one can predict what will happen in the future, I think it is futile to do so, but digital technologies will infuse themselves into society, perhaps the way telephones did. I don’t think Alexander Graham Bell predicted the impact of the invention of the telephone.

KG What is the need for Artlines?

TD A need for information about legal rights, about the law, and what you can and can’t do, especially with other people’s work. Also there is apprehension, certainly amongst people who have yet to touch a computer, including a lot of creators who work in traditional media. We want to reach those people, and reassure and perhaps encourage them to get out there.

KG To protect their own work and further it?

TD In terms of the law, certainly. You have to look at how other people are going to use your work. There are a lot of concerns at the moment about artists signing away the electronic rights to their works for a song, in the belief that electronic rights really will be an ancillary form of income for them. In the future electronic rights may be a primary form of income.

KG Who will be the readership of Artlines?

TD Artlines has been sent to all Arts Law members, but it is aimed at all people who are interested in the creative applications of new technologies. Film makers in particular should really be taking note of the new issues. To an extent, it is also aimed at lawyers, and lawyers need to learn to deal with these issues and they also need to learn how artists think as well. There is always a disjunction between social practice or between the way artists work, and the law. Copyright is a good example. Certainly in the age of appropriation, copyright can’t come to grips with the way a lot of artists work. Amongst the creative community, it is aimed at those people working with new technology. They need to know what they can and what they can’t do, who they should be seeking permission from. So there is a quite pragmatic focus.

KG So how do you reach all these people?

TD At the moment, the strategy is to let the creative community know about it and get it to them on paper. We are ‘dead tree publishers’ still. Sooner than we originally planned to, we will also be getting it online. It is a lot cheaper and in the case of Artlines, we will be really getting to the people interested in the area. Most people working in digital media have gone online. Six months ago, everyone was talking about CD ROM, now no-one is talking about CD ROM. They are talking about publishing on the World Wide Web.

KG The content transcends legal advice with examples of recent Australian multimedia, CD ROM and online work. But you also give examples, like Negativland’s scrap with U2’s record company. The article doesn’t seem to me to come down on either side of the argument and we know that U2 themselves were not unsympathetic.

TD Negativland taped U2, and they taped some out-takes of some well-known disk jockeys in the States, and combined them into a new recording. The legal and artistic community is ambivalent about the question of copying. I suppose copyright, since the 19th century at least has always looked at trying to balance the rights of users against the rights of creators. Where you set that balance, in each case, will probably be different, and it is very hard to say what is right and wrong. I suppose one way of looking at it is that you should treat others the way you yourself would wish to be treated. We have to maintain a stance of ambivalence at this stage.

KG So Artlines will be about the ongoing copyright issue.

TD There are other issues like trademark law which is designed to protect business reputation, to protect logos and images. But a lot of people have pointed out that our social selves are increasingly constructed out of trade marks. An American scholar has said that perhaps the only shared cultural memory in America is the death of Bambi. “Bambi” is a registered trade mark of Disney Corp.

KG I went to a lexicography seminar where I heard that Velcro was giving the Pocket Oxford, I think, a hard time for using ‘velcro’ as a verb. They wanted it to appear only with a capital V, only as a noun, and with the copyright marker. They were not happy with what was being said with ‘velcro’ in Australian English.

TD Velcro is a trademark, but it’s also part of our language. Who owns it?

KG You feature an interview with Hou Leong who has incorporated his head and sometimes body photographically into iconic images of Australian men. What kind of procedures does he go through to be allowed to use some of the images, like the “I’m Australian as Ampol” image?

TD I guess it was an ironic comment on the mass media’s acceptance of multiculturalism. Hou sought and got the permission of Ampol and the advertising agency. The question as to whether or not he should have done that is unclear. A lawyer will always say be safe rather than be sorry. He was advised by Arts Law that the safest thing to do is to write a letter to these people and get permission.

KG It raises issues about the artist as subversive, doesn’t it? As soon as you ask permission you compromise yourself to a degree.

TD That’s right but Hou wasn’t interested in that, only in the final image. It’s also interesting that he could only have produced the works using digital image manipulation. But at the same time, he doesn’t see himself as a digital artist. In his view it is another tool.

KG Artlines also provides definitions of techno-terminology (bandwidth, flaming, hypermedia) information on Australian Film Commission and other sources of assistance for multimedia developments, e-mail and Web addresses for artsites, as well as publications and seminars pertaining to the legal issues. How long will Artlines have to go to print and what is its majority audience?

TD We had a conference recently on getting started in multimedia and online publishing. It was excellent to see the large number of artists turn out at the Art Gallery of NSW. We do get a lot of what you would call ‘suits’ at our seminars, but at this one they were in the minority, so that was good sign that artists are interested in the issues. I suppose we are in a transitional stage between the offline and the online world, and during that transitional period at least, there is a need for a continuing, printed source of information and public seminars.

Artlines is published by the Arts Law Centre of Australia, 02 358 2566

RealTime issue #10 Dec-Jan 1995 pg. 22

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

skadada are imagery and movement paced with a rhythmic beat. The ‘music’, situated somewhere between a club and the hubbub of a kitchen, utilises synthesised samples from the everyday: factories, shipyards, foundries, backyards, train tunnels and kitchens. skadada explore the hyperrealism of their/our confused consumerism and in their own words, “the body and the emergent senses”, a body transformed, extended and amplified by technology.

From the huge banality of projected bar codes to the eroticism of Burtt’s bald head spinning, twisting as a beam of video light, Katie Lavers’ computer manipulated video images achieve an iconic status. The large-scale projected Burtt is balanced by the real time and minimalist, physically articulate Burtt. The interactive body with a twitch of an eloquent shoulder blade, a finger tip, triggers events in the performance space. He spins inside a vertical column of light, lifting his arms to cut the beams—a cylinder of interactive pin spots. As the light is broken, a sound is triggered: Patterson’s midi system broadcasts a round of Chinese song—courtesy of and sung by artist Matthew Ngui—a melodic canon generated by Burtt’s body. “Red Yoyo” is hypnotic and mesmerising.

skadada@pica is skadada’s first extended performance work. It takes the form of a kind of techno cabaret. Short stories told by Burtt link image and movement, reminding me of Laurie Anderson. The form is episodic. “Jacques Tati’s Jug” for instance, tells the story of a washing machine which performs a perfect samba; “Flip Book” looks at remote control and TV dinners whilst “My Hat “ asks, “well what does a hat sound like?” The mood is cool and droll, the images seductive and the sound moves from the melodic to the cacophonous.

skadada reviews the everyday. Burtt’s movement reminds me of mortality. Few of us will ever move as well, ever have the dexterity of motion that situates Burtt as a blur between images and idea, generating actions that spawn, actions that give. Burtt, Patterson and Lavers have created a unique yet utterly familiar vision. This is not Louis Nowra looking for the real in a clichéd mélange of symbols. This is local voice and colour creating meaning, effecting displacements and minute variations, commenting and modifying those realities our mainstream arts agencies avoid or describe as if in the latter stages of drought. This is not high art but it is essential art.

Of course, this young skadada had some downsides. Some of the direction was rather too pedantically tied to the technology, causing the staging to be overly tight. Some images were a little glib, despite their relationship to other content elements. Overall, however, the technology, encompassing touch-sensitive floor panels, infra-red triggers, slide and digital video projection was witty, urbane and intelligently integrated into the landscape of the performance. Image and sound combined to complement and enhance Burtt’s performance yet operated as powerful works in their own right.

If skadada are able to continue, as I believe they should, they will no doubt have a hard time of it. Australia wastes its human resources. skadada may, as so many before them, edge close to the mark—their best performances reserved for the few. In their autumn years will they turn to each other and ask, “what happened?” I hope they remember the names of the enemy—our major and ‘excellent’ (sic) theatre companies who, mob like, pretend to be doing, but haven’t got a hope in hell of achieving more than derivation and imitation ad absurdum. Yet skadada are essential viewing if one is to gather a complete picture of contemporary performance in Australia.

We’ve seen so much of this in Australia: average work, amazing work, profound work, all kinds of work but work which seeks to expose and explore the spirit of the under-encouraged and underground. The best, like skadada, follow their own voice and employ a tenacious discipline to realise their ideas. What a joy it would be to see a linking of these energies with the so-called mainstream. I imagine an intelligence and growth; some see a calamitous infection. There will be no important growth in Australian theatre and performance until artists like skadada are sought after for their opinions, ideas and skills. This is the source culture—the grass roots—let them grow!

skadada@pica performed by Jon Burtt, visuals by Katie Lavers, sound by John Patterson. Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts. September 6 – 16, 1995.

RealTime issue #10 Dec-Jan 1995 pg. 21

© Derek Kreckler; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

British artist Graham Harwood was in Perth in October as part of a national visit co-ordinated by the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT). It was standing room only at his presentation, Virogenesis: Letting Loose the Multimedia Rogue Codes, a testimony to the huge interest in new media art. His work holds up a mirror to Britain’s social status quo: class, consumerism, the art world, the failure of left-right politics, the revival of nationalism, racism and homophobia.

Harwood’s presentation opened with examples of his early photocopy works, among which were included copies of money that were seized and subsequently became the subject of a House of Commons select committee on counterfeit and forgery.

This led him to a course in computers “for unemployed people, that cost a fiver a year for two days a week”. Thinking, “this is a good idea, I might have to never draw again…great, just feed the images in and it happens”, he produced a Gulf War satire—Britain’s “first computer generated comic”. The style—Saddam Hussein morphed out of Commando comic book childhood memories.

One of the restrictions of publishing in Britain is that if you have no money (and can’t be sued) the printer must assume liability, leading to an effective censorship by printer rather than publisher. Such restrictions led to the production of Underground, a free newspaper pasted up all around London, financed from the proceeds of two rave parties. One issue featured a computer enhanced John Major, with a dick where his nose should have been, right when his own PR people were announcing a recent nose operation. Harwood got interested in “giving famous people diseases”. Images of businessmen and politicians were distorted and “computer enhanced” so as to appear monstrous yet recognisable.

More recently, Harwood replaced brand labels on grocery items with rather more satirical and subversive labels: “The fun thing about technology is that Saatchi and Saatchi have the same computer as you can get hold of. They invest millions of pounds to make people believe you need to put bleach down your toilet, and you can usurp it in a very swift way.”

Rehearsal of Memory, the primary focus of his Australian presentation, is a forthcoming CD-ROM made in collaboration with residents of Ashworth Maximum Security Mental Hospital. Ashworth is home to some 650 people, 70 per cent of whose crimes include murder, manslaughter, rape, arson and criminal damage. The CD was commissioned for Video Positive, an international art festival in Liverpool.

Harwood’s interest was partly personal, in how domestic violence might ‘rehearse’ through generations. He also stipulated that the work be exhibited within the international showing, not pushed off to the fringe.

In the hospital, Harwood’s options for involving the patients were heavily restricted. He was not allowed to take photographs of patients, so he scanned their skin, tattoos, hair, genitals directly into digital form. These personal fragments were combined with the patients’ own texts, recitals, interviews and songs. When we see a palm pressed against the screen it is the hand of a someone who killed a complete family. The same hand strums a sweet guitar melody, and hearing that music is unsettling.

NB What I liked a lot about Rehearsal of Memory was the texture of the skin of the whole thing—like a terrain, like a game. A lot of multimedia we see is hooked into that screen-mania, button-mania thing where you’ve got everything in little boxes. Push this, prod that.

GH Yeah, the idea was to sort of make the technology transparent so that as soon as you know how to use it—which is very quick—then you can forget about it. You know, when you watch a film, for maybe five minutes you ‘know’ it’s a film, then you suspend your disbelief and you’re away.

The whole piece is designed like the nakedness and vulnerability of the figure. You get closer to this figure than you would a lover, or at least as close, and the machine is acting like an interface between you and them at the closest possible level.

NB You don’t know how much of the terrain there is, like the human body as a landscape. I also liked the way you used heavy monochrome throughout. But anything slightly coloured appears like a rich gem out of the greyness.

GH You know why I used all the monochrome—because you do multimedia…

NB Just to make it run faster?

GH That’s right!

NB I thought it was interesting that whereas Linda Dement has turned images of ordinary sane people into ‘monsters’, you’ve taken what society would call monsters and created a piece of work which brings out the human side.

GH Francesca di Rimini said she thought it was interesting that blokes using bodies keep them whole but women using bodies in their work cut them up. Your common sense would assume the other way round.

One of the weird things about the piece is, ‘cause I scanned myself too, some of the bits of flesh are my flesh. It’s only pixels on a screen but when you start merging your own flesh with people that have killed or self-mutilated, it’s like somehow you’re becoming part of them.

NB There’s a text from a patient who’s there for self-mutilation, that was very close to the bone.

GH I was really scared that I’d meet someone that didn’t value human life. When I got there I didn’t find that at all. I was talking to people to find out what happened—I mean we all think about killing people, we just don’t do it.

In the discussions, the single thing that patients talk about is that moment when no-one loved them at all—it completely does you in. That’s why with his text I couldn’t even edit it. I found another editor who had 25 or 30 years of editing experience. It was really hard for him too.

NB Were the patients able to see the finished work?

GH The success of the thing was measured in that they brought their own chocolate biscuits along, which I was told is like a real sign of acceptance. They’ve sort of become my friends, but you’ve got to remain suspicious—like you don’t say “Give us a ring”. One of the things people usually say to me is, “Aren’t you exploiting these people?” and I say “Yeah, but because they’re exploiting me!”

At the moment they can’t actually talk outside the institution itself. The deal is, if it’s art and the internet can be art, then this could give these people access to the World Wide Web and enable them to talk about their own condition and the conditions of the staff in a very direct way. So the deal is: I exploit them and they exploit me—we’ve come to an understanding.

Rehearsal of Memory is to be published on CD by BookWorks in early 1996.

RealTime issue #10 Dec-Jan 1995 pg. 20

© Nic Bearnes; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Over the years, Russell Dumas has developed unique material, stuff of classic lineage. His work, … and yet, has phrases I’ve been seeing since 1978, rendered in qualities and contexts which always seem to defy repetition. But there they are again, and with Dumas’ seemingly infinite aesthetic will, always appear in ways that make you wonder why you didn’t think of them yourself.

… and yet seems at first to be spread thinly. There’s a lot of old material, some phrases from Envelope, to name some, shared between a potentially unwieldy assortment of performers, a lot of new dancers, several older ones, and a diverse bunch of visual artists, all trying to assimilate in their own ways this core work. I was glad I saw both the first and third weeks’ performances, quite different in effect, because each threw clear light on the other. What was missing in the first week was there later on, so that the sense of the whole work came over time, not all at once.

… and yet might be described as an exhibition of various qualities of absence and presence, which might sound like a mouthful. But, no, it really was. Ostensibly, there’s movement and there’s video. But really what you get are different qualities of presence, a terrain shaped by Margie Medlin’s lights, playing in her special way, in a sculptured and mobile space.

In this particular manifestation of the material, a few serendipitous logistical problems highlighted what I think could have been the core of the work. At first, the opening week’s performance seemed no more than charming but, I hasten to add, that probably wasn’t Dumas’ intention. It seemed almost as if he was trying to turn the presence of the dancers into a kind of absence, wishing them away by throwing the focus, like a ventriloquist’s voice, in another direction.

It might be simply an artefact of Russell Dumas’ style, which leaves an impression that you’ve just called the dancers to the door in the middle of the night, woken from a deep sleep, T-shirts rumpled and hair sticking up like cat’s fur. Their motion is so intensely and carefully wrought, as if the impulses to move are coming from somewhere very deeply buried in their bodies. When you watch someone with real expertise you feel that’s the only valid place for it to come from. There are no tricks, but a passionate sensitivity and will for precision, and an almost plant-like heliotropic moving and growing together. In experienced bodies, it’s pristine. In the students’ less cultivated bodies, it occasionally gets silly.

I imagine the first problem was how to actually use these inexperienced bodies so they became a part of the environment rather than a feature of it. One possibility was to shift the focus so there seemed to be a landscape of presences in the space with a capacity to appear and then dissolve into it in various ways. The vertical pillars, the length of distance from one far wall to another, the long horizontal shadows, the low receding roof, became architectural features: an environment, not a performance. As I stood in the semi-darkness, I became aware that people I saw standing quietly, or inching hesitantly through the space could equally be members of the audience or performers; the action sometimes resembled a distant game, too far off to hear the sounds of calling out. The sidelines were anybody’s territory, dancers in a camouflage of track pants and T-shirts looking remarkably like part of the crowd as they stood, also waiting and watching.

I remember various scatterings and clumps of gaunt figures, a long way off, shifting slightly; dancers, alone or in twos and threes, clinging, sliding and rebounding from a far wall, amongst shadows. Their relationship to what they were doing was not playful, but could have come from that. It wasn’t grounded in physical accomplishment, though it might have come from that too. Mostly, they were dwarfed and overtaken by their own looming shadows, much more the real presences in the space, able to extend further and move faster than flesh could, at times a teeming, flighty crowd.

In the back of my mind was an awkward idea that there was a video loop going on somewhere in the space and I was meant to appreciate it somehow as part of the same venture: 21 three-minute contributions by visual artists, who cut and manipulated footage of Dumas’ work with other material of their own, to their own tastes. And there it was, flickering away ineffectually to the side, a lot of probably fabulous material stuffed into a tiny box with the volume off.

Boundaries for this work are typically ambiguous. The architecture and the presences of people and shadows, the light, the time, space, shape, medium, personnel, are all fluid and shifting. Who can tell where the work might begin or end? This ambivalence of focus, the ‘other-sidedness’ is to me what is important in … and yet.

After such spacious and lofty design, the last performance began for me with the feeling that there were just too many people, and an awareness of the awkward indecisiveness of the audiences’ herd-like behaviour. Shall we go there, or there, or maybe there? Gee, I don’t know. So everyone stood milling around foolishly in the middle of the space, trying to keep out of the way while maintaining a degree of dignity and a decent vantage.

Personally, I enjoyed the whole upending of the previous situation. I remembered the recent Next Steps program in which various attributes of the space became a central focus for the work. In that case almost everyone, performers included, seemed to be at the mercy of the environment. In this case, it was just the audience. There was nowhere for them to be, or to go. People jockeyed for position, competing for space with the dancers they had come to see. The dancers were unfazed and made sure they were not the ones to lose possession, relentlessly manoeuvring their way through the herd, handling with authority what had obviously become their own territory over the past weeks.

This unexpected authority was the really good part, an interesting flip-side to the first week’s apparent quiescence: a firmly established practice, the richness and density of the material, the solidity and weight of the light. You suddenly realised what had been missing: physical expertise, the sense that the material was more complete, better rehearsed and the relaxed luxuriant appearance of some of the interstate dancers—Judy Oliver, Reyes de Lara and Sally Gardner, whose contributions lent a pleasant acerbity. Gardner’s opening solo seemed to bind the dissipated focus of the crowd to her, as she moved with the limpid clarity of a dancer whose dance is simply and importantly the play of her own body.

While the quiet distance and architectural spaciousness of the first week had been dismantled by the presence of so many seemingly uninvited guests, there was a welcome clamour now, a sense of work and purposefulness, and a kind of comfort in the warm, human presence of dancers and audience in close proximity.

… and yet, Dance Exchange, Artistic Director Russell Dumas, Artspace, Sydney, August-September 1995.

RealTime issue #9 Oct-Nov 1995 pg. 37

© Eleanor Brickhill; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

EB What was special about working in New York (1989-1996)?

LG I think the most significant thing was the dance community, which is really strong and very supportive. Starting to choreograph there was easier for me than here. Somehow, you’re not so much on view. There’s so much happening, you’re just one more person doing some little showing somewhere. Here, I always felt so exposed. People are responsive, I think, because it’s so hard to keep making work. It’s a matter of course that people have jobs and dance in their spare time, even really successful, established people. In ten year’s time, I can see myself showing work at the Joyce or at BAM or City Centre, doing quite well, but still waiting tables.

EB Sometimes working on other people’s material is like doing your own work, because there’s something that feels so right about what they do. Was there anyone in particular like that?

LG Tere O’Connor’s work was most like that for me. He wasn’t interested in spending hours getting the right this and the right that. It would just come out in this kind of gush. It was about a different thing, not the movement. Mostly, the way people are in civilisation, the way they interact with each other, how they’re isolated. There are not that many things that preoccupy us. There’s love, there’s probably power, there’s God knows what else. The point for me is basically a stylistic thing.

EB So how do you decide what material to use? What’s the basis for these decisions?

LG It’s just instinctive, really—I use what pleases me. I like things with a conceptual base, and because of the way they work in the space, rather than through any emotive content. I don’t think of dancers as people who are trying to express themselves. In the beginning, they’re more like abstract concepts.

EB What about physicality? What does dancing feel like for you these days?

LG I still love the visceral sense of really pure movement. But since I started choreographing, I got bored with movement for its own sake, so I tend not to look at that fine detail. I want it to mean something more. I don’t think I’m naturally that sensual or luscious. I like moving fast, using hard, classical lines in my choreography—over-indulging. You know, ballerinas who distort movement through their own intensity and verve? Sometimes I’ll set something up and then subvert it, undermine it somehow, in opposition all the time to itself. I like my movement to be affected by more emotional elements. Not love, or hate, or anything like that, but by a sort of tone that’s beyond just moving.

EB Do you have anything in mind when you say that?

LG Well, the last piece I made, called Incarnadine, which means ‘blood red’, I had a 25-minute unison duet with Becky Hilton juxtaposing very large movement and very small movement, quite rigorous and relentless. Pretty much all my pieces deal with duality or extremes. Then I had a trio come in after about ten minutes, all in pinks and reds, very interdependent, and mutually supportive all the time. They held on to each other a lot, used the whole stage. It was a lot more lush. An initial idea for that little one was that very small movements can have huge consequences. You’re standing on a cliff, and you just take the tiniest of steps, and it results in death. (Demonstrating) I had to move to this place, not really knowing…what it was. Testing out positions, not really being fully committed to them.

EB I made a piece once where I just fidgeted—trying to get into the right position for a photograph. That’s all. Finding the quality, the tone: trying to fit in, find the right place, being uncertain about what ‘right’ was, but in a forthright sort of way.

LG Yes, that’s what I mean by tone. It doesn’t happen that often that you find something really special in your body where the movement has its own life. You spend a lot of time in the studio, trying to come up with something that’s not re-hashing, just a bit of this or a bit of that part of your history.

EB In (musician and sound artist) Ion Pearce’s work, Practice (1995), at The Performance Space, you used old material and some new stuff.

LG Yes, the first two bits were from that duet in Incarnadine—the one that went to the floor a lot and that little one. The third, more dancey one was especially for the piece. Solo material for myself always tends to look dancey. Because it’s from the perspective of being a dancer, it lacks that directorial edge. That’s what I mean about having a conceptual base to start from. Then I can really push the material, be much more disciplined with how I make it. I won’t just make nice movement.

EB How do you decide what your pieces are about?

LG I can’t make pieces about someone’s life, or political issues. I can’t ever get interested in that kind of connection to reality. It has to remain abstract, which is why it sounds like I’m waffling all over the place. Usually my pieces are about how I make sense of human existence, which sounds extremely grandiose. The thing is, it doesn’t usually get more specific than that, and ends up being a bit unwieldy.

EB Yes, the ideas are so all encompassing, how do you ever say, “That’s not part of this dance?”

LG Often I have to get down to questioning the basis of existence for a while. That’s really tedious. I have a difficult time by myself in studios. I start off thinking in a very abstract, almost philosophical way. After two hours I’m crying. It’s so far from movement. By myself it’s always really confronting, but I’ve come to see that as the important step: to have these two opposing forces, a dialogue. Incarnadine, with that static duet and the flowing, expressive trio, was about different approaches to how you deal with your life. Do you just go with the flow, and allow yourself to fall apart, and then come back together? Or are you very rigorous and resist and try to be really strong all the time and hold your ground? Both things seem really beautiful. I love those people who are really strong, but they have their limitations. And people who can be manipulated really easily, they’re more like water, finding their own level. That’s the dialogue, looking at choices. That’s the movement. But then people who work just purely with movement would argue that it’s really the same thing.

EB Perhaps they’re really working with a whole lot of other things, and just haven’t noticed… It’s just not a credible place to be anymore.

LG No, everyone yawns. There are obviously a lot of other things going on so why not just admit it.

RealTime issue #9 Oct-Nov 1995 pg. 35

© Eleanor Brickhill; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

In the first of a series on dance studios, rachel fensham talks to shelley and wendy lasica in Melbourne

Extensions studio, Carlton was opened in 1980 by Margaret Lasica, a leading modern dance figure in Melbourne. Initially established as a space for her company, the Modern Dance Ensemble (MDE), over the years it has been a focal point for a diversity of dance activity, including classes, rehearsals, performance, lectures, seasons of new work and workshops offered by visiting artists, including Simone Forti and Mary Fulkerson. Several generations of Melbourne dancers have been exposed to modern and postmodern dance by doing classes at Extensions.

RF Can you describe Extensions?

SL It’s a double space, one larger without columns, and a lower space with columns. Two different floor surfaces, upstairs a sprung floor with a permanent dance surface, and downstairs a composite cork. Mirrors on one side upstairs. Downstairs a couple of smaller mirrors. The upstairs space is very light. It’s close to the city.

WL It feels somehow connected to the sky.

RF How did Margaret’s use of the space change?

WL Her teaching was constant and initially she was very active with the MDE. As people left, she shifted her involvement from choreography to facilitation.

SL She started the Image seasons, which involved artists from all over Australia and overseas showing work and giving talks.
They began in 1984 and ended in 1990 and were some of the first forums for discussing and seeing a range of approaches to dance.

RF Who uses the space now?

SL Individuals and small groups use it for specific projects and on an ongoing basis. There seems to be a real desire on the part of this generation of artists to have a regular space to work in. Perhaps they realise they need time alone in the studio.

RF What about classes?

SL There’s Aikido training and various Melbourne based people teach at different times—morning and evening. In the last few years, Margaret became less interested in teaching vocational classes and more in teaching people who just wanted to move, to find out about their bodies and extend their functional use.

RF That has always been a big part of the modern dance tradition, hasn’t it?

SL I’ve tried to keep that going so that in a class you can have people with different motivations and backgrounds; some you know well, some are completely new.

RF Is that different from teaching in an educational institution?

SL In a studio there is always time before and after class, or ideas that are being thought out during the class.

WL When the assessment element is taken out, the teaching is based on the acquiring of knowledge about the body, about space, about the repertoire of movements. There seems to be more room for experimentation, even within class it doesn’t matter if you fall on your face.

RF What is your typical beginning to a dance session?

SL Cleaning the floor (laughs). It took many years to get used to being able to work by myself. I still find it difficult although I have more understanding of when it is a waste of time. Or when it’s OK to look out the window, listen to some music or play games with myself.

RF Tell me how your visiting artists project started.

WL We knew Stephen Petronio was coming to Australia and invited him to teach in Melbourne. We were awestruck by the response—people came in carloads from Sydney.

After that success, we decided to set up a program inviting dancers and choreographers, interstate and overseas, to teach in different parts of Australia and in different situations; sometimes in studios, sometimes in institutions and sometimes in companies. At the same time, we’re encouraging them to look around at Australian dance, to foster some kind of interaction between what they bring and what they see. Last year we brought David Dorfman, Bebe Miller and Lance Gries. And they all taught interstate as well as in Melbourne.

SL Now people know we are keen to use Extensions for teaching, they’re approaching us. We have also had Gregory Nash, who was in Australia for an Australian Opera production, Russell Maliphant, Lloyd Newson and Lucy Guerin…

WL …with a broad objective of trying to show different processes for working with ideas in dance. We’d also like to extend this into performance and if they don’t do solo pieces, they might make a work. Or dancers might attend workshops here and then work with the same choreographers overseas on a project. Sowing the seeds and setting up opportunities for other things to develop.

RF How do the dancers you invite vary?

WL Stephen Petronio and Lloyd Newson have different politics, different aesthetics and different ways of working.

SL When Stephen was working here in 1993 the discussions were about taking the Alexander Technique into dancing. Whereas Bebe Miller was curious about composition and the conversations after class were about ways of generating and structuring work.

RF Did you find overseas artists wanted to come here?

SL Many local artists have worked in Britain, Europe and America so generally, international choreographers are keen to know more about the context for Australian dance.

WL When they come for a major festival, they are just asked to perform and even though audiences are interested, local dancers don’t always learn about the artists’ backgrounds or approaches. In some cases, we are connecting festivals with teaching situations.

RF Is there an international dance language developing, do you think?

SL Dialogue is certainly possible although there are some conditions specific to Australia. In the studio, the differences are usually not to do with geography so much as particular interests in dance. I might have a really hard time talking with someone based in Melbourne but a wonderful time working with someone in Denmark.

RF How has the function of the studio changed now there are so many graduates in dance?

SL The establishment of vocational courses clearly changed the focus of the studio. When Margaret began teaching there were none in Australia but their expansion seems to have bypassed studio practices. Most graduates see the dance profession in relation to companies and funding, and there’s a lack of understanding of other histories of dance.

WL Studio culture has always changed in response to changing conditions. And with our current projects, Extensions is still leading in providing movement opportunities for dancers.

RealTime issue #9 Oct-Nov 1995 pg. 36

© Rachel Fensham; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Jim Hughes is preparing for a new Fieldworks production working with three very significant figures in Australian dance—Lucette Aldous (world renowned ballerina and currently Senior Ballet Lecturer at Western Australia’s Academy of Performing Arts), Elizabeth Cameron Dalman (founder of the Australian Dance Theatre based in South Australia and creator of some thirty works for that company) and Cheryl Stock (performer and choreographer and, for ten years, Artistic Director of Dance North in Queensland).

JH Lucette hasn’t performed professionally for about ten years, well maybe even longer. She had no notion of wanting to perform, and how I cajoled her into doing that, I’m not quite sure, but she’s doing it.

RT Her experience is in classical ballet, isn’t it?

JH What a lot of people don’t realise is that my early training was in classical, and I knew Lucette in London when I was training. See, I was a rebel in that area, and she was the purist. And my feeling is that she’s got a bit of a rebel in her, and somehow there’s been some recognition of the work I’ve done and the desire on her part to work with me.

RT It connects with your past too.

JH Did you see Solo when it toured early this year to the Sydney Festival? That connected me with my classical past and my whole life.

RT Will you be working with the dancers individually or as an ensemble?

JH Individually because of the short period of rehearsal, the problem of getting these three together because of their busy schedules. I’m trying to do as much work as I can before rehearsal so Cheryl has just sent me a lot of notes.

Now Cheryl Stock happens to be a very good writer. And her material is very, very interesting, including the extent that she wants to go with her autobiography, which includes a car crash.
Lucette wanted to feel confident about doing the show so we’ve started rehearsing bits and pieces. I also knew what her expectations would be, for me to choreograph in a more ‘legitimate’ way than the way I usually work with Fieldworks.
It’s been an absolute joy to work with her but it hasn’t been that easy for me personally to get the material together. It’s working out.

RT Will her performance be oriented towards classical ballet?

JH I think she sees it as a sort of contemporary classical or modern ballet, and that’s interesting because of a choreographer who’s had an enormous influence on contemporary thinking—(British choreographer) Antony Tudor. We both have a great love for Tudor. And my feeling is, if she can go as far as Tudor in terms of contemporary thinking—because he went right over, and actually has had an influence on postmodern dance—that will be very good.

RT So what length work would you expect to yield from a fairly short rehearsal time?

JH Well, I’m actually looking at something like 20 minutes from each.

RT That’s quite substantial.

JH It is substantial, but my feeling is with the contemporary dancers that being able to improvise and create quickly, it’s not a problem.

RT So this will be a new work from Elizabeth Dalman?

JH She doesn’t want her piece to be autobiographical, unlike the others. I’ve got a strong visual idea about how I’d like to work with her, using silhouette.

RT Where will the work be performed?

JH In the theatre at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, not the kind of space I’m used to. I’m a gypsy, so are Liz and Cheryl. And I’m bringing in a designer, Kristin Anderson, who’s done some great work with the Deckchair Theatre Company. Usually I do the design myself, but I need the security of a designer while I’m working with these three artists. I’m working with three stars and I never work with stars.

Funnily enough, it’s the kind of show that could give Fieldworks a reputation it couldn’t otherwise achieve and spill over into the other work we do. But I’m not doing it for commercial reasons. It’s something I want to do. It’s something these dancers want to do.

Dancing Lives, December 7-21, Academy of Performing Arts, WAAPA, Perth

RealTime issue #9 Oct-Nov 1995 pg. 38

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

Given the galaxy of stars and heavyweight institutional support, the Dance Exchange work, entitled … and yet, promised far more than it delivered. It may be unfair to criticise a project for its ambition, but perhaps a more modest approach, in terms of the number of participating “directors” and the length of the video “interventions” may have made for a project more befitting the talent of its contributors. Twenty-one artists and theorists were given short black and white video footage of two dancers (Josephine McKendry and Nick Sabel), performing extracts from Russell Dumas’ A, B, C, D, E, F, G, together with access to an editing suite and artistic carte blanche. A great idea, but the overwhelming impression of the resulting video pieces screened back to back on two monitors, one at each end of the otherwise empty Artspace, was of unfulfilled potential.

The less than innovative use of video as a medium and frequent disregard for the sound dimension of the work were particularly striking in light of the project’s avowed “hybrid” nature. I suspect this testifies not to the inherent limits of the medium, nor to a lack of imaginative ideas, but rather to a shortage of time and technical support for those participants not familiar with the creative manipulation of video. For my money, I would prefer to read an essay by Meaghan Morris in all its length, nuance and complexity, than listen to a standard voice-over of some snippets of it on action cinema overlaid on a fairly straight piece of video. Another theorist, Rosalyn Diprose, used exactly the same technique, with only the text and the voice differing. I would argue that the poetry of Nietzsche’s “Dancing Machine” is better evoked without the literal contextualisation in footage of contemporary dance.

Lack of technical support should be no excuse, however for seasoned video practitioners. Perhaps the circumscription of the subject mater was the villain instead. Both Stephen Jones’ 70s rock clip psychedelia— initially enticing in a rare use of colour and distortion—and Reva Childs’ juxtaposition of cosmetic surgery digital-dreaming with the dance, ultimately lacked impact. Similarly, the narrowness of the raw material made for rather forced subject conjunctions in the works by Helen Grace, Laleen Jayamanne and Solrun Hoaas. Here the dance figured as extraneous rather than integral to the conceptual project.

While this apparent incommensurability is an interesting feature in itself, with its suggestion of the inevitable essentialism of dance, the argument was not developed. It is as if the video makers never resolved their original discomfort with the brief. Susan Norrie, for example, addressed this dilemma through minimal use of the dance footage, momentarily overlaying just two almost still shots of the prone dancers on mesmerising slow motion scenes of a rippling, treacly sea. Seductive surfaces and origins mythology made for an appealing if somewhat familiar work.

That this discomfort with the nature of the project prevails in so many of the works is all the more apparent when one sees Joan Brassil’s piece, which alone handles the dance with great assurance. This is not a token use of solarisation and juxtaposition, but a considered choice of video effects to heighten the ephemeral energy and textural complexity of the dance. Brassil’s sound component is also successful—a deep, insistent aspiration that struggles to anchor the fleeting nature of the images.

Also assured is Debbie Lee’s Sound Folly 3. The screen is broken into six jagged parts, the images appearing and disappearing as if cut and whipped into place by the beat of a session of martial arts or torture. Lee’s choice of image from the dance footage—close-ups of jumping feet—her video manipulations and dramatic soundtrack work seamlessly together to create the violence of a body going through its paces.

Effective soundtracks also rendered Andrée Greenwell’s and Ion Pearce’s contributions interesting. Greenwell’s jazz impro in rehearsal mode, complete with “Once from the beginning!” and impromptu laughter, and Pearce’s intercutting of his cello-machine with its random but melodious sound and aesthetically balanced design, both made some sense of the dance. Sandy Edwards’ soundtrack, the C&W ballad, “Beautiful Lie”, worked surprisingly well as accompaniment for the dance, although the intersection of a photo narrative of Edwards’ evocative black and white images with the dance footage was not successfully resolved.

The project could claim hybrid status merely on the breadth of its participants: artists working with sound, video, installation, painting, photography and music; writers on film and cultural theory; responding to the videotaped work of two dancers and a choreographer; in the context of a live dance performance. Judging by the catalogue testimonials, many of the participating “directors” personally experienced a certain hybridising of their practice—some coming to video for the first time, some realising a long-held desire to collaborate with Dumas. While this process is undoubtedly important, the project must also be judged on its exhibited finished works, and here, I would argue, the potential for crossover was not fully realised. Rather than reading as a hybrid work, the components of … and yet remained separate entities, a contemporary dance, and a set of video pieces, the majority of which did not come close to stretching or bending the medium beyond well-tried expectation.

… and yet—new work by Russell Dumas. Interventions video dance installation: various artists and SBS TV, August 21-September 10, 1995, Artspace, Sydney.

RealTime issue #9 Oct-Nov 1995 pg. 38

© Jacqueline Milner; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

The recent evolution of The Crab Room in Brisbane is an indication of the developing strength of the community of independent dance artists away from the putative nucleus of the south. Pioneered by Clare Dyson, Rachael Jennings, Brian Lucas and Avril Huddy, The Crab Room exists as an alternative performance and installation venue for artists and also runs contemporary dance classes and workshops.

In May this year, the new space was officially opened with a season of solo works entitled, Tripping on the Left Foot of Belief.
The unprecedented support of Brisbane audiences for this season was an explicit endorsement of The Crab Room project. The democratic, collaborative ethos of the collective encourages the showing of new work, and the second season at the space entitled, Raw, was the materialisation of this spirit of acceptance and openness. Raw presented a series of four-minute encounters with several genres including movement, visual art, circus performance, music, photography and song. The works were united only in their duration, and this promoted a diversity of experiences for the audience.

Various artists released helium balloons from which were suspended delicate wooden cages in Rachael Jennings’ Maybe Even Until I’m Seventy. “Yes, it’s my heart. Somebody left the window open,” was the adage as the balloons drifted across the ceiling and over the heads of two sweepers who brushed away words in sand. The work was both symbolic and ethereal, the images moving with languid charm through the space, with music from Zhang Yimou’s Raise the Red Lantern augmenting the visual.

The Soup Waltz, a quirky creation from Lisa O’Neill and Christina Koch, departed quite radically from the serenity of Jennings’ work. The two artists experimented with the weight of their bodies: in one section they leaned heavily against each other, legs splayed out from their connected heads and shoulders, as they both attempted an awkward and affected motion—without success. The comic characterisation O’Neill adopted in her previous work, sweet yeti, (see RT7), surfaced again in the incongruous stoicism of The
Soup Waltz.

A more familiar approach to movement was apparent in John Utans’ piece. Loaded—a search for meaning was just that; slide projections containing text and images provided a fragmented narrative for Utans’ choreography. Visual statements such as “You are reading this” made explicit the interaction between performer and audience, and the multiple readings/meanings engendered through performance. Loaded… embraced theatrical elements of performance but did so in a witty, self-referential fashion.

Choreographer Jean Tally created Dance Essay 3: Dis’passion which, despite its political content, read more as personal journey than manifesto. Tally reintroduced voice in this piece, an aspect of performance that she has not explored since her time as co-artistic director of Still Moves in Perth. Tally’s repeated, frantic jumping onto and falling from a stool in a corner of the space gave an increasingly breathless quality to her song. Her adamant voicing of “No!” to female victimisation was supplanted at the end of the piece by the spoken and danced question, “How can I re-embrace ‘Yes’?” The travelling, seemingly celebratory movement language Tally utilised in the final moments lifted the work out of the aggressiveness of the opening section.

The politicisation of the body that Tally investigated contrasted with the pure movement of Jan Russell’s piece, Can you see me?, an exploration of the body in space, and particularly moments of connection between the moving body and light. With an approach to movement informed by the essence of eurhythmy, Russell traversed the performance space and the spotlight in the centre. She moved with a highly developed awareness of her joints and limbs and with an articulation of arm and hand movements that was both refined and sensitive.

Brian Lucas continued to clarify his idiosyncratic, satirical mode of dance theatre in Frightening Livestock, performed two weeks after Raw. This was a more personal exploration for Lucas; an examination of the sexual self which traced a trajectory of identity, marginalisation and affirmation. His fusion of movement and text resists definition; the relationship between the two elements is neither solely disconnected, in juxtaposition, nor symbiotic. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to refer to the movement and text as co-existing in this artist’s work.

Brian Lucas also radiates a very open attitude to his aesthetic: “I’ll grab anything from anywhere if I feel that it actually suits the purpose; any style, or just an everyday movement, or a caricature of an everyday movement,” he says. Popular culture occupies a significant position in his practice. With his ironically sincere quotation of Lionel Ritchie—“Hello, is it me you’re looking for?”—and his appropriation of the Grease soundtrack, in Frightening Livestock, Lucas constructs a complex map of references and associations. With training in both drama and dance, he asserts that he “never really fitted into either category.”

Early October, The Crab Room hosts Done like a Dinner, the logical extension of Raw. This season will present four longer performances from some of the artists involved in the original
Raw. Rachael Jennings will follow with an installation performance work later that month. Despite the jammed schedule, The Crab Room’s fate remains uncertain. The four independent artists who are currently managing the space do so without funding. It’s an ambitious enterprise existing outside the conventional hierarchical company structure—as Dancehouse and Dance Base have proven—but The Crab Room may just succeed against the odds. Brisbane needs it to!

RealTime issue #9 Oct-Nov 1995 pg. 36

© Julia Postle; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Shoppers in Newcastle’s Charlestown Square Centre Court are met with a seemingly arbitrary assortment of contemporary “labour-saving” devices— white goods (tumble dryer, fridge, microwave oven), kitchen and cleaning appliances, communications technologies (touchphones, computers), electronic leisure and entertainment items (video camera, TV/video monitors). We have touched down at ‘Home Base’ and passing through it, notice other objects which also suggest everyday domesticity and housebound labour: a chevalier mirror, sofa and treadle sewing machine. Amongst these wander individuals dressed in identifiable work clothes and uniforms, name-tagged. Yet this at first apparently random mix of household and electronic goods (especially the numerous monitors placed atop stacks of packing boxes featuring the Future Tense logo) bear more than a passing resemblance to a product display. But that fridge has leather bound volumes in it, a vase of flowers and a sort of shrine.

A sandwich board indicates a schedule for three Showtime performances, and an EDU provides project information and text such as “Victoria Spence as Casey Case New Age Babe” … “What time is it?” … “Future Tense”… “Showtime.”

A blurring between the senses of viewing a promotional product display and awaiting an imminent performance generates both inquiries about the purchase of items and recollections of the experience of the popular and high cultural mix of spectacles and entertainments offered by local shopping malls—like, but not like—Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, hand-crafted glass sculpture displays, Miss Newcastle Showgirl heats, Indigenous art exhibitions, appearances by local identities such as football heroes, Senior Citizens’ Week concerts…

The workers/performers hand fliers to those who are diverted from the disciplined calculations of the purchase and pleasures of (voyeuristic) consumption. According to the flier, Future Tense promises an offering of:

“Contemporary performance and multimedia forms which will both complement and subvert the shopping centre’s dual atmosphere of leisure and consumerism, provoking an encounter between the intimate and the social. The technologies… incorporated in the show, which include computer applications and video footage [were] developed to encourage interaction and demystify some of the concerns that workers may have about new technologies.”

What time is it? Not long ‘til the scheduled Showtime. Loud techno music signals a beginning, as does the miked performers’ taking of position. They move around Homebase, striking exaggerated poses, repeatedly announcing “Showtime.” More shoppers gather around the space and on the mezzanine level above. Performers move intently about the space, some utilising appliances and goods: here one is sewing (piecework?), there another (a journalist?) is engaged in agitated phone conversation and entering data on a computer, another (a migrant worker?) discourses about cheeses, a retail services employee addresses us, a child is sent off to “virtual school” by a mother: “Don’t forget we’re going teleshopping tonight.” Video monitors display images and a journalist reports on a woman who is lost in a shopping centre. Much activity. Lots of talking. Poor amplification. The performers are very watchable, each simultaneously engaged in their story. Fragments are heard. Confusion.

Most people stay a while, watching, curious, for maybe 10 minutes or so then move away. Others replace them. Teenagers dangle their limbs and shopping bags over the rails that border the mezzanine viewing space. An older female shopper wanders through the show—for her, there are no clear boundaries between performers, products, workers, shoppers and onlookers. She asks questions of one of the project arts-workers. Self-conscious realisation: I’m in the middle of a show!

More conventional shopping centre performances may provoke pleasurable senses of reading competency and knowledgeability amongst familiar audience members as the shows play upon recognition of popular cultural characters and local knowledges. Showtime, although having identifiable and familiar character types, scenarios and objects, presented a bewildering melange of sounds, images, spoken narratives and actions, and not many stayed for the 40 minutes.

Rather than showing a sustained engagement with the performance, people curiously viewed both the installation and performers for a relatively short time before returning to the (more reassuringly familiar?) everyday goings on in the shopping centre.

Did Showtime deliver its promise to “complement and subvert the shopping centre’s dual atmosphere of leisure and consumerism?” Both the Homebase installation and the Showtime performance provided an arrestingly ambiguous complement to our experiences and knowledges of promotional displays and shopping centre shows. Subversion? ‘It’s Showtime’, but what time is it? Intervention? Showtime effectively intervened in the culture and space of the shopping centre in that it arrested and redirected our attentions away from usual shopping centre activities (to perhaps reflect on their everydayness and its difference). Most of us looked on for a while.

Yet this was a different sort of looking. It was neither the kind of gazing of window shopping in which a succession of images are (pleasurably) consumed, nor was it the close, engaged attention that may be provoked by a popular pantomime/spectacle. There was a cool distance between most onlookers and performers. Remote and bemused spectators rather than rapt voyeurs or audience. Lack of audibility presented a great problem.

Future Tense and Showtime aimed to “explore the implications of new technologies, and their particular and potential inter-relationship with the working and private lives of women.” The artists possessed expertise, experience and knowledges of these new technologies. Yet their experience and knowledges did not seem to resonate with those of their onlookers, especially the knowledges and expectations provoked by the experiences of shopping centre culture.

The gap between the intentions of the project and the more familiar lives of the people present at the event suggests that the everyday (particularly the cultures of shopping centres themselves) would have been a most fertile field for research. Such research, in addition to the interviews conducted with women about the impact of new technologies and changing work structures, may have afforded more resonances with onlookers. And it could well include attention to the relationship between shopping centre culture (especially the surveillant use of video monitoring in the privately owned ‘public’ space of the centre) and plural notions of performance (of selves both looking and on display, and of centre spectacles and entertainments).

Future Tense, both as a public event and a community cultural development project, was a daring move beyond the more conventional realistic plays so often associated with the concerns of ‘Art and Working Life’. As such, it took on the not insignificant challenges of both contemporary performance and multimedia forms, and our experiences of everyday public spaces. We hope that Future Tense signals further engagement with such challenges.

Future Tense with the Sidetrack Performance Group and guest artists (featuring performances, video, computer applications and sculptural installations over a full shopping day) at Charlestown Square, Newcastle, 19 August 1995. Concept and direction, Peggy Wallach; research and performance text, Catherine Fargher; producer, Sidetrack Performance Group; sound and computer applications, Sandy Indlekoser-O’Sullivan and Ali Smith; video, Maria Barbagallo and Tina Stephen; vocal workshop and ‘Lost Woman’, Bernadette Pryde; performers, Robert Daoud, Jai McHenry, Victoria Spence, Meme Thorne, Rolando Ramos.

RealTime issue #9 Oct-Nov 1995 pg. 4

© Jacqui Lo & Jules Pavlou Kirri; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

The Eugene Goosens Hall at the ABC Centre in Ultimo was the setting last month for the second Digital Radio Conference organised by the ABC to provide a forum for the discussion of rapidly developing technology. The conference attracted some 200 delegates from across the industry.

The number of forums, conferences and seminars about the digital future attest to the fact that we are living in a digital age. The reality is that most of what is being discussed is actually happening now, or is at least possible. Those working with the technology generally know exactly what the machinery can do or achieve. It’s just the poor consumers who are in the dark. To illustrate: in the generous folder handed out at the conference there’s an introductory page on ABC Radio’s output. “There are six ABC Radio networks,” the leaflet boasts, “the newest being the around-the-clock news update service, News Radio.” A generation ago a small group of young ABC producers put a submission to the Maclean Inquiry into the feasibility of FM broadcasting. The year was 1974 and the substance of the submission was that the ABC should be running at least six networks rather than two.

In the early 80s at Metro Television, a community access TV outfit located in Paddington Town Hall, a mixed group of broadcasters, artists and assorted ratbags set up a so-called ‘slow-scan’ audiovisual link with a conference of performance artists at MIT in the US. With a little technical help from Telecom, ‘TELSKY’, as it was called, this was a very early experiment with the sort of technology that is now being routinely used on the Internet. The point about these anecdotes is that it is very often the on-the-ground workers, artists and performers who realise the potential for new technologies and put the pressure on to get it developed.

At a break in the conference a senior ABC Manager asked me what I thought and I said there seemed precious little to do with the creative side of things. “It’s a technical conference,” she hissed. And touché, she was right. Minister Lee promised to light up the airwaves with some test licences to begin digital broadcasting. This is great news for the technos, but as it will be some time before there are any receivers available there won’t be much for the rest of us to talk about, much less any creative content.

Because of the way it was structured, the conference was essentially an opportunity for technocrats to strut their stuff and lap up the latest from o/s. Nearly half the participants were from the ABC, which is understandable but hardly balanced. Of these 90, only two were program makers! There was a sprinkling of people from commercial radio—all managers. Only SBS and community radio managed to send any ‘real’ people along and naturally they didn’t get much of a look-in when it came to participating.

The keynote speakers introduced us to the wonderful world of interactive radio where we will be able to get instant traffic updates (whoopee) and order concert tickets at the press of a button. While admitting that content was what it was all about, Steve Edwards, the hot Canadian tech exec of the moment, said “Radio’s prime focus will continue to be companionship and high quality music entertainment.” I can live with the music bit, but companionship! Sadly the conference never got much beyond this pathetic put-down of an exciting and creative medium. If Brian Johns is really going to encourage creativity at the ABC, they’ll have to do better than this.

RealTime issue #9 Oct-Nov 1995 pg. 13

© Marius Webb; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

“We pipped them at the post in 1993 when we realised (guitarist and composer) Guy Delandro’s Pool of Reflection. Everyone was talking about multimedia in music and we produced Guy’s album with interactive liner notes,” explains Peter Higgs, until recently Chairman of Sydney-based multimedia technology company, Pacific Advanced Media, of the interactive CD-ROM programming his company has developed called Active Audio.

“This still had the Track One problem but as a concept for an album no one had done interactive liner notes for a popular CD until we did. Six months later came Peter Gabriel with his CD-ROM. Gabriel’s CD-ROM has no Redbook. It’s designed purely for playing through the computer. You hear the music but it’s not the full 44 kilohertz stereo, not Redbook.”

The major innovation that has given Pacific Advanced Media the advantage is in overcoming that ‘Track One problem.’ This is where Track One of a CD is used for the interactive information to be read by your CD-ROM. If you want to play your CD as audio software, unless you remember to skip Track One, you’ll find yourself listening to a lot of very unpleasant noise for anything up to 20 minutes.”

“We had a contract from BMG Records that said that we had to deliver a CD by a Sydney-based girl group GF4 with Track One solved. The main technical problem to overcome was to hide the computer data from the audio CD component, and deliver it cost effectively. In other words, producing a computer program that you can use over and over again for many different titles, which keeps the cost of production right down.

“If we hadn’t developed that, we’d be in the Peter Gabriel CD-ROM position of having to re-program each title from scratch, with an attendant cost of between $150,000 and $200,000 per project. We’ve brought production costs down to around the same as an average video clip, $25,000 to $35,000. What we’re aiming at now are the hundreds of bands out there that can afford to spend between $30,000 and $60,000 on adding an interactive component to their audio CDs, rather than merely on a clip.”

Pacific Advanced Media, utilising their ActiveAudio system, have already created three titles for BMG Records Australia—the multi-platform CD-ROM single, Sooner or Later by GF4; the album Born Again by Boom Crash Opera; and the single, Truckload of Money by Anti Anti—and one for Warner Music Australia, for hi hop/R&B quartet Kulcha.

As well, Melbourne-based label, Gotham Records, distributed by BMG Australia, have released two AudioActive titles—guitarist Richard Pleasance’ Colourblind, and the eponymous debut album of Melbourne group The Lovers.

“We’re working with all the CD-ROM driver people to make certain that their drives run it, because no-one’s ever done anything like this. There was nothing to comply with except the Redbook Standard, which is the native audio signal, which plays through your CD player. So we took a technology path that gave us 100% compatibility on Macs and about 60% capacity on Windows. Now we’re working on that other 30% or so.”

“These discs work on what’s called a tri-platform basis. They work ‘Native’, unadulterated, in the normal way as a simple CD. You can put them in a Mac and in Windows and they work fine. We’ve also been testing them on Pippin, which is the Apple competitor to Sony’s PlayStation and the Sega and Nintendo games machines and they work on them too.”

Pacific Advanced Media are currently finalising details of a joint venture with Japan and joint ventures currently being negotiated with the US and UK.

RealTime issue #9 Oct-Nov 1995 pg. 16

© M Billsson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Calling his musical project Digital Primate was a bit of a pisstake, says Christopher Coe, a little bit pompous – but he wanted to get across the idea of evolution. He started out like any other lounge-room musician by demo-ing a set of songs on guitar before throwing them away. Hadn’t he done this stuff before? This time the species had to have room to mutate. Rules had to be broken.

Digital Primate began as a conceptual musical experiment—setting up a conversation between the organic and the technological to explore what he thought was a dichotomy. “It became just as important to turn on the computer switch as to think of a melody in my mind,” Coe says. “Watching the lights blink on the reverb unit was just as inspiring as reading Tolstoy. Every machine was used as an instrument in its own right.”

Coe has spent the last couple of years working on a Virtual Reality installation in cahoots with performance artist Stelarc—well known for his ongoing probes into the parameters of the human-machine interface. Their major collaboration was “developing a virtual environment that created music when you walked through it and manipulated objects.”

Watching Stelarc merge his body with various elements of technology—both physically and virtually—gave Coe food for thought. His preconception that there was a dichotomy between body and machine began to alter, morphing into what he now describes as “an articulation.” A connection became apparent between physical human movement and “the way we move through technology.” On Coe’s Digital Primate CD, Stelarc ended up as a new “body of work” archetype. By committing his blood flow, brainwaves and muscle strain to tape, Stelarc donated an electronic signature, a digital omnipresence. Using Doppler bloodflow and biofeedback units, Stelarc’s sonic corpus became the backdrop to the entire work.

Fiber, the first track on the CD, is a good example of the techno-collective’s ideal – a kind of loose format into which things just evolved. At least that was the way it seemed to work out.

“Fiber started as purely a techno track, then Arthur Arkin jammed on it for an hour. Then I analysed it and edited it, then came back with Helen Mountfort’s cello and live percussion. It became the organic and the technological working together to create a very fluid, balanced piece of music – from the high-pitched squealing of Stelarc’s brainwaves up in the top register right down to the cello.”

Coe’s friend Maria Tumarkin added some Russian vocals over the top of the hybrid, turning the piece into an icily sensuous mantra. “I gave her a list of fibres to work on, then she came back to the studio and we talked about what we were really saying by listing all these fibres back to back,” Coe says. “We came up with this hypothesis on the direction that society’s going. The fact that fibres are going in certain directions.”

He suggests optical fibres being laid under the ground as an obvious physical thing, but contends the existential or spiritual side is just as important. Tumarkin’s Russian sequence echoes that idea, including everything from cotton to muscle, tendons to electrical cables—through to the moral fibre of society. She put the vocal track down in one take, and as Coe says, it sounds like poetry from another world.

Ideas and musical genres–from rock and funky rap through ambient atmospheres and even some searing white noise–meshed in what became a fluid synthesis. By chance and synchronicity, various collaborators played a vital role in the final recording of Digital Primate. Ollie Olsen, a musical techno-primitive from way back – beginning with Whirlyworld in the late 70s, then in Orchestra of Skin and Bone, No, and more recently Third Eye–was one who sat in. “Ollie liked the idea from the beginning,” Coe explains. “He came down to the studio where we did a full-on acid track, Invoke Your God, probing the harder side of technology.”

On Obsolete Body, Stelarc contributes a trademark rave about the inadequacy of the human body’s soft tissue structure in the face of the inexorable evolution of technology. And in a chance meeting, Killing Joke vocalist and fellow musical explorer, Jaz Coleman, provided a crucial link to the album’s finale–Evolution Ends. By invitation from a mutual friend, Coe dined with Coleman and invited him back to the studio. It was a chance meeting which helped Coe nut out a troublesome keyboard part. “He came in with this very fresh attitude and said: ‘Nah, don’t worry about that, do it like this.’ It was a nice, inspiring random collision.”

The common philosophical thread manifested in the overall work, Coe says, is how humanity is dealing with what’s happening between ourselves and technology. Concurrent with this was his own incorporation of different musical genres, “and the connection of digital music to the re-wiring of the world as we know it.”

To define exactly what the album attempts to communicate, Coe defers to the liner notes written by his ‘reality advisor’ Johannah Fahey: “The binary oppositions of previous philosophical and critical systems are displaced by more fluid motions. What was live is reproduced as technology, and technology is subsequently played live. The epoch of simultaneity, of juxtaposition, and of the dispersed infringes on us. Sharp divisions are blurred. Sound is mobilised and transitory. At some moments it is distorted, at others it is pulled back into focus. There are no lines, only links, articulation replaces demarcation. Music is a nomad that violates all boundaries. The aural revolution continues…”

RealTime issue #9 Oct-Nov 1995 pg. 17

© James Compton; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Dancers in Perth who work outside the company systems often feel isolated from one another as well as from the dance bureaucracies, which do little to reduce the atmosphere of heap-scrabbling competition. Independent New Choreographers (INC), a bi-annual project funded by the WA Department for the Arts, is attempting to redress the balance. INC’s administrator, Gillian Edmeades, convenes programs by inviting available dancers to participate in a six week workshop process which culminates in the showing of works-in-progress to a paying audience. The latest offering from INC was shown in the performance space at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) in July.

In their respective dances for INC, choreographers Bill Handley and Sasha Myler both chose to construct a movement ‘score’ which drew the performers’ attention to particular body parts. This created in Handley’s Miss Understanding a meditative pace which brought new meaning to dancerly athleticism. Sasha Myler’s duet, An Exploration, A Relationship employed contact improvisation and spoken text. It subtly evoked for me the questions about cruelty, obsession, intimacy and passion which surround heterosexual liaisons.

These two explorations of body intelligence were complemented by the louder energy of Billie Athena Cook’s Turn Me On and her superbly executed acrobatic duet Shake It, Break It with Setefano Tele and Angela McDonald-Booth. McDonald-Booth choreographed a synchronised ‘techno’ trio This Is Contagious and the material in Tele’s self-devised solo Last pre-empted the trio Play It By Ear which he directed as the closing dance of the evening. This piece brought together the disparate energies of the group to finish with a humorously thoughtful impro-based experiment which ruminated on the implications for the individual of sensory/mobility deprivation.

The program juxtaposed young bodies flying in unison to a techno accompaniment against body-practice investigations of motion, creating a dialogue over the evening which was both strange and enriching.

INC provides an on-going forum for dancers to try out raw ideas on an audience even though much of the material is only at the beginning of its evolutionary path. The fact that dancers in such a vulnerable forum perhaps lose sight of this was manifested in the INC project by some of the rather self-conscious program notes.

Retaining confidence in one’s skills is, for any independent artist, part of the on-going challenge of participating in and producing art works. Dancers who generate their own creative work invariably supplement it with teaching or unrelated employment. Dancers Bill Handley and Sasha Myler, for instance, told me that they balance their performance passions with a teaching career in dance. They feel fortunate that their ‘day jobs’ are not completely disconnected from the business of creating art and find that the two activities inform each other very well.

In a dance community which rarely seems to publicly celebrate difference, projects like INC are important to the development of dance in WA because they bring together its disparate strands.

Mainstream dance discourses dictate that dancers and dance-makers subscribe to a putative universal standard of physicality which promotes an image of the dancer as young and supremely athletic. Consequently a dance mythology has evolved which discounts anything other than the extremely aerobic forms of motion. A mythology like this not only reduces the status of older practicing dancers and their valuable contribution to the dance community (the wider arts community does not seem to have this problem) but also devalues work which is motivated by a different intelligence from that of the conventional forms.

Many dancers believe that if the dwindling support for those working in the margins continues to spiral downwards, then less innovation will occur. And if the unmarked vitality which the independents bring to the practice is absent, then the mainstream dance body will also atrophy.

To invoke the rhetoric of the economic rationalists, “no business survives without creating new interest in its activities”, and if performance dance is to continue, then new audiences must be constantly generated. One way is to break down long-held stigmas, which for many are attached to traditional venues, by staging dance outside of the theatre.

PICA, in part, performs this function and bridges gaps for independent dancers with development opportunities for work such as Putting On An Act and its (inaugural) dance festival in November.

The eternal frustration for independent performers, however, is that the value to, and influence on, the mainstream that their work has is rarely acknowledged. Many independent dancers therefore must form their peer support group amongst the practitioners of other art disciplines. Without these liaisons, life for many independent dance artists would be very lonely.

RealTime issue #8 Aug-Sept 1995 pg. 33

© Tony Osborne; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

“Those who fail to re-read are obliged to read the same story everywhere”
Roland Barthes, S/Z

I’m winding back through the preview tape of this year’s Matinaze screenings organised by the Sydney Intermedia Network (SIN), cross-checking artists’ names, recording, editing and delivery platforms, and the schizoid assortment of themes, work histories and promising futures. Something like Open Week at The Performance Space except that most of these young film and video makers – unlike their ‘performing’ counterparts – would probably not find much of an audience on the club and cabaret fringe. Perhaps I’m wrong.

The Matinaze scene at the Art Gallery of NSW could have been an end-of-year student screening or one of those big Combined Studies lectures that have become so popular within the arts and media faculties of our rapidly corroding university conglomerates. Sitting five abreast, waiting for the work of a friend to show. Rapturous applause and a lot of nudging and congratulations – self and otherwise.

My audience choice award for best work went to Fling (SVHS, 1994, 1 min 30 sec.) by Hazel Milburn and Sugarcoated (Shot on Super 8, completed on BW Highband, 1994, 6 min) by Niamh Lines. Falling outside the overused video clip or joke thematic, both these works addressed memory and desire within a carefully chosen (and obviously economic) mise-en-scène. No marks to the real winners of the audience choice award: John Curren and Jackie Farkas, for The Movie Or The Duck, and Back To The Happy Ever After by Philip Hopkins, Shane and Michael Carn. The sickly-sweet, over-crafted work of these seemingly established filmmakers gave me no pleasure at all. Their elaborate joke-work gave me no pause to think about anything.

So why did I persist with this feeling of being a teacher (rather than an experimental film and video enthusiast)? Probably because a good quarter of the audience present on those two days had probably been in film and media courses I taught in second semester of 1994.

I hesitated before striking the keys that would dismiss the whole event as ‘mostly student work’, deciding instead to talk to the people who taught them. So what are the causes and possible cures for the muddling exposure of something old, something new, something ‘enfant’, something ‘elder’ that was Matinaze 1995?

What the people who taught them have to say reveals not only the depressed state of undergraduate and postgraduate media education within the corporate cultures of some of our universities but also a history of community – and student – initiated media events which have been gradually undermined by bureaucratisation within the Australian Film Commission and various university departments. Uneven professionalisation within teaching institutions, coupled with the ‘take the money and run’ attitude of a beleaguered humanities sector, has created a stand-off between educators and administrators. Yet speaking out on these issues – trying to seriously address the micropolitics of media and arts education funding –is like not speaking at all.

In an attempt to give myself an adequate voice, I undertook a brief literature search on the subject, trawling through a CD-ROM version of the Australian Public Affairs Information Service (APAIS). The result: a mere handful of relevant articles written by respected academics over the last six years, including Stephen Knight, Anne Freadman and Simon During (whose article The Humanities and Research Funding, in a 1990 issue of Arena, still says a lot about the unspoken).


4-D Studies (covering film, video and new media) within the School of Art at the UNSW College of Fine Arts recently received $65,000 for ‘sight and sound’ research through an external Australia Council research grant application. Sounds great till you read the small print. The words ‘scientific visualisation’ recur with uncomfortable frequency, alerting the reader to how poorly scientific and humanities research are differentiated by the money-brokers servicing our cultural and educational institutions.

A senior lecturer in the same department receives enough AFC funding to take a year or two off; freed from the pressures of teaching to devote more time to multimedia research. All well and good until you discover how the college has arranged how these spare teaching hours will be covered. The number of students the remaining staff have to supervise increases dramatically as do the number of ‘just in time’ appointed casual staff. Second and third year undergraduate students are feeling drawn to become feature film makers one semester – experimental non-narrative mavericks the next.

At the moment there is much anxiety being expressed by contracted and tenured staff that course and departmental restructuring will further undermine the quality of face to face teaching. While professional morale plummets in a dignified silence, university administrators smile through the glow of recently obtained management awards for cost-cutting their lean teaching machine even further. Still I suspect that staff conditions, the quality of liberal, film and media education (in art colleges barricaded within the new university system) can only be improved by allowing art and media students freer (degree credit) access to the larger humanities faculty on a main campus. Why restrain the agonistic impulse (dare I call it competition) that draws someone from Anthropology to Italian, from French Literature to Philosophy, and back through the side door of an art and media education.


“Lest we forget – before too long – the difference between avant-garde, independent, experimental, mainstream and ART-HOUSE cinema, and those who served to program, screen (and make) the difference.”

I repeat these words from an essay-interview, The Liberator of Spaces, – RealTime 7 – on the work of Ian Hartley, with a small addition. I’ve been talking to media lecturer and filmmaker, Kate Richards, who – together with a number of students from what is now The University of Technology – programmed the first Sydney Super-8 Festival back in 1980.

The venue was the Film-Makers Co-Op, home to the 16mm experimental push of the 60s and 70s which peaked in the mid to late seventies with experimental feminist documentary pieces like Jenny Thornley’s Maidens. Resistance to the incursion of the new medium dwelt on both the form and content of works by Andrew Frost, Stephen Harrop, Kate Richards, Mark Titmarsh, Michael Hutak and Jane Stevenson. Quite a few of these filmmakers – apart from being film-literate – had been caught up in the new wave of post-Marxism, psychoanalysis and semiotics which had swept through fine arts, communications and film studies courses all over the country.

The event was a sell-out and the stage was set for four to five years of regular screenings, discussion and ambitious ‘no-frills’ funding. Reviewing the Fourth Super 8 Festival for FilmNews late in 1983, Ross Gibson was able to cast a critical eye over the diversification and development of the Super 8 phenomenon: – “The Festival also served as a reminder that the medium attracts the creative gamut, from beginners with much to learn through to aficionados and professionals with impressive theoretical and practical competence.”

By the mid-eighties, the weakness of Super-8 (as a non-reproducible recording and projection platform) started to wear on the artisanal economics – the short, inexpensive turnaround from filming to screening. The Super-8 Group became Sydney Intermedia Network and began to stage video as well as film events. Electronic Media Arts (EMA) hosted the first Australian International Video Festival in 1986 and a number of other smaller groups and events started to drag on the AFC purse-strings.

The new media/film festivals did not have quite the same integral audience-producer feedback as the so-called filmmakers’ culture that preceded it (from The National Film Theatre days to the cresting of Super-8). This created a dilemma for the AFC in its choice of sponsored players and events promoters – the result of its own inability to administer or even conceptualise the diversification of media and audiences.

Cinematheque programs continued to thrive however, with AFC-subsidised repertory cinemas screening historical retrospectives and special seasons. This seemed consistent with the assumption that industry development in the areas of film, video or new media requires balanced funding for both production of work and the education of producers.

The cinematheque culture seems vastly different from the ritualised Film Festival events which occasionally toy with ‘difficult’ cinema but end up dutiful servants to tasteful art-house and documentary styles. The single screening of A Personal Journey Through American Movies With Martin Scorsese during the 1995 Sydney Film Festival created an atmosphere of what I can only describe as cinephilic desperation in the Pitt St Centre. Doubtless this mis-managed must see!! video event will end up on the box in the not-too-distant future, hopefully in tandem with Godard’s Histoire(s) du Cinema which appeared – without the bellowing of trumpets and velveteen – during the 1994 cinematheque season.


There was a time not so long ago where membership of the AFI (which cost between $20 and $40) automatically gave society membership to cinematheque screenings. This enabled continuous and inexpensive access for both students and enthusiasts. In and out of art school in the early 80s, my film education was cheap and easy, lounging through CAE film courses, NFT screenings and a more committed alternative section in the Sydney Film Festival.

These days, the choice of programs and venues has diminished drastically, and a user-pays philosophy makes it hard-going for cinephiles on a limited budget. Take the current crop of cinematheque offerings for example. At the refurbished Chauvel, the 1995 cinematheque season (programmed by Melbourne Cinematheque Inc.) – after a few years of much more detailed events programming – has collapsed into a mish-mash of cinema all-sorts. It looks as if someone has thrown darts at the National Film Library catalogue and chosen those films with the extra sprocket holes.

I spoke recently to a respected film historian who said he was told by the new managers that a proposed retrospective of Lumière films would not go down so well with its over-abundance of French sub-titles. Cultural or nuclear cringe? Hard to tell, really.

The Museum of Contemporary Art – which promises a proper cinematheque by the year 2000 – has made some effort to screen some interesting programs over the last few years as well as taking on part of the remainder of the 1994 cinematheque program when the Paddington complex closed for renovations. Lacking a desperately-needed government subsidy, the cost of attending all these film and video screenings for a 12-month period would probably hit the two hundred dollar mark. I’m hoping the Art Gallery of NSW will continue with a much more creative retrospective and contemporary program beyond the big cine-centenary of 1995.

“Film and video are more or less the
same thing
There might be a difference in the treatment of light
Like the difference between philosophy and science
Science is video philosophy is cinema.”
Jean Luc Godard

Past cinematheque screenings have generally manifested a collective will to learn (or remember) about cinema history and individual film-makers (in both narrative and experimental genres), attracting artists, writers and an array of film-making talents. Moving into a period of speculation and experimentation in multimedia formats, it is important that we maintain a culture of informed discussion and programming around innovative narrative and non-narrative forms within the celluloid medium.

In a catalogue essay for Passages of the Image (a huge anthological exhibition of video, film and installation which travelled through Europe and the US in 1991-92), Raymond Bellour put it this way: “Thus is the gradation that goes from one to two arts founded on mechanical reproduction and set beside the visual arts that preceded them, a pattern of possibilities is established, formed by the overlapping and passages that are capable of operating (technically, logically, historically) between the arts.” There is a small delirium of confluence implied here: the running together – backwards and forwards – of different media, concepts and personal poetics, an approach where the formal, technical and historical boundaries between different media become consciously interwoven.

I too would say – following on from these remarks – that for the benefit of our cinematheque and multimedia futures (which must be integrally re-connected without petty institutional and personal rivalries) that turning side-on to both of them may offer more hope for creative innovation than simply scribbling on the blank cheque of a new digital millennium.

RealTime issue #8 Aug-Sept 1995 pg. 9

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

Time for a New Image? was held at the Art Gallery of NSW on Sunday 4 June, 1995. The forum was the second in an occasional series organised by a group of artists, critics and curators who work with digital media: Maria Stukoff, John Potts, Rebecca Cummins, Nicholas Gebhardt, Victoria Lynn and Mike Leggett (who chaired this session) and was supported by the Australian Film Commission and the Art Gallery of NSW. The initiative began when a number of these people returned from the International Symposium of Electronic Art (ISEA) held in Finland last year. Australian artists were well represented at ISEA, in the exhibition program as well as in forum sessions. However, many of those who attended had not heard each other’s papers, and also felt that it would be valuable to present the papers to an Australian audience. Australian artists working in new media are well represented at many international forums, but opportunities to present work and to discuss issues and exchange ideas are limited within Australia. Galleries and museums have been slow to pick up the work and support organisations for artists working in these areas – such as the Australian Network for Art and Technology in Adelaide, which was represented at this forum by Jenni Robertson – are poorly resourced and limited in the amount of support they can provide.

The aim of this series of events, is to provide a forum that is primarily about creating a critical environment for ideas and debate, using as a catalyst a series of short papers.

John Collette discussed the current hype surrounding interactive multimedia, questioning the much-touted CD-ROM boom. He contested the notion that information or communication will be revolutionised by repackaging existing information into CD-ROM format and argued a case for artists to be involved in the development of new media technologies. Collette argued that it will be artists who will push the boundaries of interactive multimedia: it will be ideas, not marketing, that will potentially produce competitive and challenging international recognition for Australian multimedia.

Sally Pryor discussed Postcards from Tunisia, an interactive multimedia work she is developing concurrently with her research and exploration of the human computer interface. She linked her research with an analysis of the development of writing, in an attempt to formulate new ways of navigating interactive space.

Darren Tofts followed on from Pryor’s line of thinking in a paper entitled The digital unconscious: the mystic writing pad revisited, in which he undertook to explore Derrida’s discussions of writing as a graphic process irreducible to speech. He went on to discuss digital art in terms of surrealism, analysing digital art as an aesthetic of the marvellous.

Jon McCormack outlined the emergent nature of his own art practice. He spoke of writing software as an intuitive process, a process which for him was one of creation. Writing software is as integral to artmaking for McCormack as the aesthetic decisions he makes in the development of the synthesised ‘unimaginable’ images he creates.

The opportunity the forum provided for artists working in digital media to discuss their work in terms other than as a technical exposition was extremely valuable. There was potential to link discussions of interactive media to debates about the aesthetic qualities of digital art, and the opportunity to debate issues of interactivity, connectivity and transformability of new media. This was a welcome change from the hardware, software and technical debates that have surrounded interactive multimedia in recent months and which have generally focussed on commercial product and export viability. The next New Media Forums are planned for October 15 and 22, where artists will discuss their experiences at ISEA ’95 to be held in Montreal in September.

RealTime issue #8 Aug-Sept 1995 pg. 8

© Amanda McDonald-Crowley; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Alternative Realities at the Ian Potter Gallery featured “five Australian artists working with technology”. Though the work was individually impressive, and I admit, I thoroughly enjoyed the show, the ‘technological’ theme as curatorial strategy seemed insufficient to hold the pieces together. Why should technological dreams recoup the failed modernity of the gallery space?

This said, I was particularly impressed with Patricia Piccinini’s work, not only for its high, indeed, deliberately slick techno-production values, but also for its cunning pre-subversion of corporate plans for mass marketing genetically-designed babies. What better way to do this, she reckons, than by anticipating, then aping, a multinational-style billboard advertising campaign. Showing the same kind of insider ‘knowingness’ of a Barbara Kruger, she has designed giant glossy posters that display the babies of the future as yours to take home today. Like all good consumer items they come in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes. LUMPLand from TMGP1995 ™ shows five delightful little lumps, variously limbed and proportioned – doesn’t it warm the cockles of your heart? One wears an all-too-cute piebald bow on a bald head while another a Maverick’s Wild-Western hat – entirely appropriate for a frosted lunar landscape. Your Sperm Your Egg Our Expertise from TMGP1995 ™, while mocking the consumer empowerment strategy of big business also works as an educative primer for intending parents still presumably somewhat disturbed by the implications of the new technology for that obsolescent notion – biological paternity. Piccinini has also designed a hands-on computer baby designer program for intending ‘parents’ about to do it. Gallery goers get to create, view and cost their new offspring, simply by manipulating the mouse. A perhaps predictable evolution of safe sex.

Rosemary Laing’s computer manipulated photographic landscapes in the same show seem to acquire poignancy as critiques of essentialism filter through to the feral environmentalist movement. Her digital versions of sublime landscapes, including forested arcadia, open out a problematic hiatus between Greenpeaced nature and Baudrillardian simulacra. If transcendent-alism was once incorporated in organicism, is it now to be found in pixel ratios? Her large format images are at once Hilton wall decoration and metaphysical critique.

Shiralee Saul, a long-term player in the new media network, has curated a small but powerful show at New Media Network, Southgate. Titled Ada’s Spawn and captioned by the post-Kristevan cartoon cry “they’re back … and they’re meaner, slimier and smarter than ever before!”, it assembles the work of eight women. The ‘Ada’ reference is to Ada Lovelace, who collaborated with Charles Babbage to develop the first binary programming language. Amazing how these names conjure phallogocentric scenarios of vulvic seduction and cabbages! Ada’s occlusion from electro-phallic history merely reiterates the vaporisation of those women who inaugurated the loom. Is the patriarchal scenario so palpable now?

Linda Dement certainly thinks so. Her interactive multimedia work CyberFleshGirl Monster carries out Donna Haraway’s call for perverse cyborg unities to take on the “escalating domination of woman/nature.” By cloning direct scans of numerous female body parts into visceral hybrids, she not only hyperbolises the phobic construction of woman as formless castrating gunk, but also plays at re-inventing female bodies that can invade and collapse the male Cartesian body/mind split – that’s if they care to!

What I enjoyed about Ada’s Spawn, apart from its humour, was its appreciation of ‘technology’ as digital ‘state of the art’ and plastic techno-trash. Martine Corompt’s fluorescent wall piece, Two Face, was a parodic reworking of Munch’s The Scream. When you pushed the soft tongue, it let out a febrile electronic toy cry that seemed all the more poignant for being such a hopeless similitude of the ‘real’ thing. Here was the mechanical hysteria of TV soapies as well as the histrionics of cartoon culture.

Technothelylogia, at Monash University Gallery, featured the work of 20 women artists “in/on technology” as Zoe Sofoulis puts it in her catalogue essay Against the Grain. More ambitious than the other shows, it provides an opportunity to explore a range of feminist responses to technology and hence to notice some prevailing discourses. Viewers are also able to tease out the issue of whether or not (especially top end) technology might be considered a male juggernaut. It is at this point that a certain stress appears in some of the work between seeing technology as phallic extension and regarding it as a potentially liberating set of tools for re-imagining social structures and subjectivities – even those of sexed bodies and gender boundaries. Clearly, critiques and contending strategies within contemporary feminist theory and art practice are also invoked here. 1970s notions of women as domesticated and disenfranchised workers, or even as prime baby-producers, seem insufficient to deal with the complexity of how machinery is now employed within, across, at and out of the body, a body which is itself being remapped as a network of cognitive processes and energy pathways.

Janina Green’s manipulated photographic image of modernism’s Utopian promise of domestic bliss, Geodisic Dome 1993, with its potted cactus, vacuum cleaner, painting of solar sky and attractively reclining female mannequin complete with conveniently articulated joints, would seem to reveal how even the separate realms of public and private have collapsed into anachronism. In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl, Marion Marrison has taken Maria Kozic one step further, and beautifully morphed her own face into that of a fresh out-of-the-packet Cindy, thereby confounding the gap between her own body and that of the ideal. She’s a real living doll. In another droll enactment of penile fantasies, Michele Baker and Anna Munster have morphed a dick in four stages into an authentically muscled gun. Significantly, even the original was a dummy – a dildo. Is even that gun for real? Lynne Sanderson in her MTV spoof video, Need 1994, celebrates the lesbian S/M nightclub scene. “NEED SUCK PROBE,” says the text over and over, as bodies merge and penetrate in rhythm to the disco beat.

Does technology open out or fill holes in established meaning? Does it satisfy or aggravate our desires? “Do you always do what you are told?” asks Josephine Starr’s and Leon Cmielewski’s User Unfriendly Interface 1994. “Yes”, you click, feeling naughty for once. Next screen carries only a single instruction, “Don’t click here”. You click. There’s no other way out.

RealTime issue #8 Aug-Sept 1995 pg. 8

© Ross Moore; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Since the implementation of Creative Nation in October 1994, the Film Development Branch allocates $1.2 million per year for multimedia projects. Funding is granted for script writing, preparation, and prototypes for CD-ROM and interactive forms which are then developed elsewhere. Some low budget artists’ titles are completely funded.

JP What are your selection criteria for projects?

MH Without wanting to sound prescriptive, we’re looking for innovative projects that engage with the medium in a creative way. If it’s on-line work, we’re looking for something that instead of merely presenting information on screens in the World Wide Web, uses the hierarchy of the Web in a way that might give us an indication of how on-line works in the future might actually work. If it’s a CD-ROM work, we’ll look at its interface: how do you interact with it, how is it new, how is it fresh?
There seems to be so much in multimedia that hasn’t been explored, so if people are producing copies of what they’ve already seen, we’re not that interested. We’d really like to see unusual things. The only thing that everyone in the industry and in the arts agree on is the poor quality of work so far, so it may be a challenge to say, let’s try and go as far as we can. Our guidelines are fluid, they encompass the unusual project, rather than the project that sees multimedia as merely a shell to hold information.

JP What multimedia works of the last few years are exemplary?

MH A few works stand out. Jon McCormack’s installation Turbulence is one. I’m very impressed by Troy Innocent’s work: he continues to create iconic languages that defy meaning. There’s John Collette’s CD-ROM, and Linda Dement’s work continues to affect me, makes me laugh, and horrifies me. They’re the people who extend at least one thread of current practice. With these artists you’re beginning to sense that you can have a personal style.

JP How do you prevent the perception that you pander to a coterie of artists?

MH We are about assisting a diverse range of people, and we’re a national organisation. We’ve found a growing band of people coming forward. We’re not only about making work, we’re about developing careers. We hope to assist people to go from a small project to a bigger one, so that they achieve something they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. We want to find new people all the time and develop their work, but we have to be sure that those people we’re assisting have the skills to do it. We’re not a training organisation. So if people have the skill to produce what they say they can, we’d love to support them.

JP Is there a fear that the hype surrounding multimedia creates a fad, and little else?

MH There is a sense of frustration that digital media have let us down already, maybe the circus will move on. Last year it was all CD-ROM, this year it’s all Web. I know the people in the ‘virtual reality’ community are very happy that the circus has moved on from there, and they can get on with their work. And I think that will happen with interactive art forms. But I think the major problem at the moment is the tools. The basic languages embedded in the computer systems only give a very limited sense of interactivity.

JP What of the question of aesthetic criteria? How do you judge artworks in new media forms?

MH You can’t help but judge them in terms of past art forms. But then I’ve seen works where you can say, that’s an elegant piece of programming, it’s unusual or exciting, so there is a sense of a new language emerging. At the same time, to dismiss the new media as mere novelties is to forsake any real thinking about what’s going on. What we’re doing in digital media is finding new ways to tell old stories. The bankruptcy of the novel, the bankruptcy of many feature films is telling us something important. At Perspecta, kids rush past the paintings and go straight to the interactive works. If artists are finding it harder and harder to speak to modern audiences in traditional forms, their ideas can be re-energised by a new form. I get excited that there must be new criteria, new ways of thinking that non-linearity offers, that random access to material offers. But at the same time, it’s important to focus on what the artists are saying, as well as how they’re saying it.

RealTime issue #8 Aug-Sept 1995 pg. 7

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

The second of the multimedia forums (presented by the Department of Communication and the Arts and the Department of Industry, Science and Technology as part of the Creative Nation cultural policy package) was a fairly predictable government/business talkfest: heavy on the market rhetoric and light on critique and analysis. Despite the misnomer – there was something about ‘creativity’ in the title for this forum – there was, once again, little genuine attention to the involvement of artists in the development of emerging interactive media forms.

Undoubtedly the forum would have provided some very useful pointers to aspiring commercial producers. Viktor Zalakos’ talk – he’s the marketing manager for Firmware – made it apparent just how very difficult it is to crack the CD-ROM marketplace. Producers are now, for example, paying for shelf space: retailers will not even take product for free. Most CD-ROM sales occur through bundling with other software and hardware; a recent survey showed that a very large majority of people with a CD-ROM drive had no intention of purchasing a CD-ROM unless it came bundled with other goods. Zalakos’ maxim: know your market, plan, don’t try to do it all yourself, and be aware of the risks.

Another useful session was a hypothetical role play. It concerned an inexperienced player’s attempt to engage commercial interest in – and retain control of – her idea for a CD-ROM on a pioneering Australian aviatrix. In the hands of the money-men (for they were mostly men), the idea mutated into an action game based on the rescue of the American pilot Scott O’Grady shot down over Bosnia, providing a cautionary tale for all those unfamiliar with the ways of the market and the all-powerful imperative to global market viability.

Stewart MacLennan, MD of the Garner MacLennan group, spoke about putting together multimedia consortia. It was at least heartening to hear this major player emphasise the depth of creative talent in this country – designers, filmmakers, writers – and the need for the multimedia industry to draw on these people if it wished to produce high quality titles. This endorsement of the role of artists raises the question, however, of how well the industry is prepared to remunerate these people, and to what extent (if at all) their conceptual, aesthetic and critical skills will be allowed to drive or influence production.

The impression one gets in all this hype is one of rampant technological determinism. The hysterical fascination with all things multimedia recalls the mid 19th century preoccupation with prototypical pre-cinematic toys such as the phenakistoscope and the praxinoscope, and the gobsmacked hysteria that greeted the first cinematic projections 100 years ago. What’s notably missing from the cultural policy agenda is even the slimmest commitment on the part of government to fostering critical practice and a theoretical engagement with the formidable conceptual, philosophical, aesthetic, educational and cultural implications of nonlinearity and digital technology.

The final multimedia forum in this series was held in Adelaide in July. It cost $150 to attend (excluding many individual artists, and those who don’t live in Adelaide and cannot afford one-day interstate jaunts). It’s focus was export. Needless to say none of the above concerns was on the agenda.

RealTime issue #8 Aug-Sept 1995 pg. 7

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

“How long is this bloody thing going to take?”

I want to slap the screen to wake the computer up. It’s been sitting there for at least five minutes doing nothing but giving an occasional vague flicker. This is barely enough to keep me from reaching for the reset key just to relieve the suspense.

But then I am confronted with a lurid red and green graphic and in heavy blue letters, the title Putrid Afterthought. It’s a web page at http://underground.net [expired], from somewhere in the US, with a new series of beckoning buttons underneath. It claims: “Putrid Afterthought is what is seen at the end of the double-barrelled, shotgunned cesspool of hyper reality. View at your own risk. May cause irreparable libidinal damage.”

Once this appears it’s a matter of following further hyperlinks, more waiting and potential frustration.

With all the hype in the media about the Internet you would think browsing the net should be a more dynamic experience. But it isn’t. It’s sometimes tedious. Often frustrating. Using the net is quite mundane.

When I say the net at its best is mundane, that’s not actually a put-down. It is mundane in that it’s a day-to-day thing. It’s not extraordinary. It’s ordinary. And once you have been using it for a while, it becomes just a part of your daily routines.

The World Wide Web is the most popular way of publishing material on the Internet. It’s only one of the ways the Internet works, but is the best way to publish documents because it is easy to use and combines graphics and formatted hyperlink text.

(See How the web is woven).

Net publishers name their sites by using familiar metaphors: sites are exhibits, publications, or spaces. Things on the net really are not much like the originals. The metaphors help give focus for the authors and set expectations for the viewers.

Check out on-line exhibitions

If you visit a gallery you expect to see pictures. In fact, quite a few art galleries have a presence on the net. The Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh in the US, for example, has a site on the World Wide Web. It includes a ‘guided tour’, which lets you choose a floor, see the floorplans of each floor, and a list of every work on display. There are images of many of these works. The site promotes the gallery’s permanent exhibition and events, and is an end in itself.

Unlike a real-world gallery, you don’t have to be in the same place as the exhibition. Without travelling or paying entrance fees you can see all sorts of contemporary art works or older collections. The only difference between a virtual gallery in Paddington and one in Pittsburgh is the time it takes for the images to download.

But the time you may have to wait can be annoyingly long, even for the ‘local’ gallery. This affects the experience. Where in a physical art gallery you can shuffle from one picture to another in a matter of seconds, on the World Wide Web an image takes anything from a few seconds to several minutes to turn up on your screen. What you can see is confined to the size, and the resolution of the screen (usually around 640 by 480 pixels at 72 pixels per inch).

Visiting a virtual gallery makes you aware – by its absence – of the sense of place you feel in a real gallery. This sense affects the way you experience the artworks. It takes effort to get to a gallery – arranging the time, travelling to the gallery, bringing friends and so on. Once you are there, you feel a sense of place: the space of the gallery, the light, silence and smells are part of the experience of the gallery that are missing from the virtual experience. When you’re browsing the world through the web what is stable is the machine you are using, and the nature of the way the Internet works.

Virtualler and virtualler

An exhibition on the net doesn’t need to have a real world referent. Kaleidoscope, a web site for independent artists includes a maze of metaphorical places: the art studio, centre stage, cyberfair, a newsstand and reading and screening rooms. At each of these, the metaphor sets the expectation about what kind of information you should find there. Based somewhere (or nowhere) in LA, Kaleidoscope gathers material from independent artists and gives them virtual place and meaning. There are interviews with various artists about current theoretical and practical themes, graphics, sound and video clips (although downloading many will take you all night).

A new site from South Australia, Parallel, is a ‘journal / gallery’ that looks beautiful, and is rich in content. It is both a journal and gallery on the web, using the tropes of both to set the tone and structure of the web site.

Parallel opens with a well-designed first page. This is crucial, because it sets the tone for the whole site. At the top of the page is a graphic of their logo, followed by a brief statement of purpose, and a table of contents for the gallery and journal. Each item in the table of contents links to the work itself.

Also on the first page are a series of links to other sites in related areas. The articles deal with theoretical post-modern and post-structuralist issues. The gallery of art works is small enough not to alienate users. From small ‘thumbnail’ images in the main gallery there is the option of downloading larger versions or animated QuickTime video clips. This site makes good use of backgrounds and design using the capabilities of the newest browsers. It also backs up the structure with solid content.

System-X is another group of electronic and computer artists. For some time they have used a bulletin-board, which is available through dial-up and they now have a net site. It includes exhibits by musicians, visual and installation artists. Work like Brad Miller’s digital rhizomes finds a natural place here, growing in the cracks of the post-Cold War technology. SysX sees cooperation and collaboration between artists through the net as equally important to exhibiting work.

Read, hear, see!

Web sites are a means of electronically publishing all sorts of information that used to be published on paper and in other forms. Sometimes publishers have a physical version as well; other times they don’t. The virtual version is different from the paper one. The virtual version has new possibilities.

Next Online is an elegantly implemented, commercially-oriented site from publishers of Rolling Stone. Their site includes an on-line promotion for Rolling Stone, an online games magazine associated with the publication Hyper, called Hyperactive, MM multimedia magazine, and Geek girl. Managing director Phillip Keir says attracting notoriety on the Internet today is easier than through traditional forms. The electronic version of Geek girl, for example, was called up 300,000 times, far more than the paper distribution of 500 copies. The net provides an international audience impossible to gain economically with paper distribution. It also includes multimedia material like sound and video that are not possible with paper.

Another site, Artsnet, has grassroots community-based material, from the Australian Society of Authors and the Australian Network for Art and Technology, but has a home page that at the moment is cluttered, ugly and unclear. There is some good material on the site, but the initial impression is bad. On the net, clever and appealing design are critical in the impression you get of the material.

You could easily say the net is not as good as other media. It is slow. It lacks the visual impact of TV advertising. It doesn’t have the sense of place of a gallery. It is not as easy to read as a book. It doesn’t have the resolution of a photo. Being silent (except for grabs that take minutes to download) it is no competitor for radio. It is impersonal and antisocial compared with meeting real people.

But the point is the net is really a different medium. It has grown very quickly, and in many fields is becoming a real, lived-in resource. The net is now remarkably unremarkable. It’s no longer a technological experiment or a spectacle, but a medium, where the attractions are what you can see and do through it.


How the web is woven

The easiest, richest and most popular way of browsing the Internet is the World Wide Web (WWW or ‘web’). The web is not separate from the net, but is a way the network infrastructure is used. To use it you need a browser: a piece of software that runs on your machine to decode and display web ‘pages’. The must-have browser of the net at the moment is Netscape 1.1, which has Mac, Windows and UNIX versions.

The home page is what first comes up – the browser connects to it automatically. A page of text and graphics will appear in the browser’s window. From there you can follow ‘links’ to other pages by clicking on underlined words or icons within the text. When you choose a new link your machine sends a small message through the Internet to call up the information you want. This is the URL (uniform resource locater).

Three bits of information form the URL:

1 The protocol. On the web this is HTTP
(hypertext transfer protocol) – the standard
way the data is sent and received.
2 The IP address. The unique address of the
machine, in the form of a series of letters
separated by full stops: www.warhol.com.
The IP address can also be a number, and
3 File path for the document: the name of the
file and the name of the higher level
directories (or folders) that group the files.

That’s what those long strange addresses are: http://www.warhol.org/warhol/, for example, will use HTTP protocol to retrieve the file warhol from the machine whose IP address is www.warhol.org. If you know the address you can connect directly to it by typing it in rather than following other people’s links.
To use Netscape you will need a full connection to the net (using PPP or SLIP if you are connecting through a modem). Internet Australasia magazine has an up to date listing of Australian service providers and costs. CC

Sites referred to in this article:
Andy Warhol museum
http://www.kspace.com/ [expired] Parallel:
http://sysx.apana.org.au [expired] Sydney Morning Herald:
Next Online:
http://peg.apc.org/~artsnet [expired] Starting points:
Yahoo (General subject lists):
Art History Research Centre:
http://www.cam.org/~harmsen/research/intro.htm [expired]

RealTime issue #8 Aug-Sept 1995 pg. 6

© Chris Chesher; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

TRACKS, the Darwin based dance collective, grew out of the dance development program at Browns Mart Community Arts under the direction of dance officers Sarah Calver and David McMicken. Last year it acquired its own name and consolidated its direction. TRACKS functions as a part-time innovative dance company and full-time community dance program supported by the Northern Territory Office of the Arts and the Performing Arts Board of the Australia Council.

The community it serves is broad in dimension and geography. In Darwin TRACKS runs classes for adults and teenagers, and a program with a 50-plus group, The Grey Panthers, as well as workshops with Corrugated Iron Youth Theatre. It also provides choreographic support for Darwin Theatre Company productions and directs Gathering Ground, an annual community dance event at Browns Mart, which brings together the diversity of dance in the town. Its activities outside Darwin are focused on Aboriginal communities, in particular Lajamanu.

This year TRACKS has staged a Darwin season of their work Boundaries and Beyond and taken it on tour to remote communities in the Territory, and just completed a five week residency at Yipirinya School in Alice Springs. In September, they are remounting My House, a dance theatre performance project in conjunction with Corrugated Iron Youth Theatre for a Darwin season and a tour across northern Western Australia in September. To finish off the year TRACKS will direct a cabaret show with the Grey Panthers.

Boundaries and Beyond showcased work from the last two years and included two extraordinary original works – Silent Thought and Sacred Space. While Calver and McMicken constantly hanker for more time to do this sort of thing – developing their own art as dancers and choreographers, they are the first to say that it is the community dance work that feeds their creativity and to imagine abandoning it would be cutting themselves off at the source. TRACKS’ position is akin to that of many other contemporary dance groups across the country producing innovative work – funding structures and constraints mean they work as pick-up companies. However, TRACKS is in a stronger position than many because they have always combined community dance development with their own artistic exploration, rather than being force-marched that way by funding bodies.

In Darwin and the NT, the small population, the geography of distance and the relatively minimal professional arts infrastructure has meant that a contemporary dance company or a contemporary art space (the position of 24 HR ART is very similar) must address itself to more than the cognoscenti. Rather than seeing such breadth and inclusion as compromise, TRACKS and 24 HR ART have used that matrix as a strength. Such an approach has led to an exploration of form coupled with content drawn from the community. The work is broadly accessible, strengthens regional identity and develops an audience through recognition of content, in time the audience becomes confident and familiar with the form and recognises style and innovation.

Such work is frequently celebratory but it can just as easily be critical and provocative and make its terms of reference for its audience as it goes. In this context Silent Thought and Sacred Space can be viewed as addressing gender relations between black and white Australians in works that both celebrate and provoke, and are read by predominantly white audiences in Darwin and Aboriginal audiences in communities in different and interesting ways.

Silent Thought was conceived and choreographed by Tim Newth for Calver and McMicken. It was inspired by the Ted Egan song The Drover’s Boy – a tragic lament about the coupling of white drovers and Aboriginal women.

Shoot the bucks/Grab a gin/break her in/
Cut her hair/and call her a boy/
the Drover’s boy.

The practice was common but rarely publicly acknowledged. Silent Thought is a subtle and very moving piece about the reining in of public emotion, as the song hinges on the observation of another stockman who watches the drover silently mourn his love and sees him steal a lock of hair from the dead ‘boy’.

Ostensibly the piece reclaims a hidden history and honours the work and contribution of these women to the pastoral development of the NT. It also shows that despite the brutality of the breaking-in, there was a mutuality, companionship and passion across the racial divide. Interesting-ly, because Calver is obviously not Aboriginal, it subsumes, even subverts the category of race allowing the audience to focus on the secret relationship between a man and a woman and the pain of concealing the extent of feeling.

But it also works at another level – not only is the dancer meant to be Aboriginal, she is also meant to be a boy – she does the work of a man and no concessions are made to her femininity, so it is possible to read it as if she were a boy which raises further questions about sexual politics on the frontier. Newth says that it was those very ambiguities that attracted him to the story. In Silent Thought, he has made a piece about sexuality and work which is about gender and race but does not lock the audience into the fixity of either. It is about a larger and more felt emotional truth. On this frontier socially constructed boundaries are malleable, and in the aftermath of brutality there is space for an essential connection between two individuals.

Silent Thought is riven with ambiguity. Even the sequence of the ‘breaking-in’, by its repetition and subtle shift of attitude transforms from an image of subjugation into an expression of need and desire, with the boy holding the reins. It’s a very sensual piece, its eroticism is understated, and true to the shyness of one and the awkwardness of the other there is very little eye contact between “the tall white man and the slim black boy who never had much to say”. Significantly, in the fucking sequence, there is eye contact preceded by an image of the two looking into each other’s faces as one is supported above the other, and what it suggests is Narcissus drinking in his reflection; that recognition of love being recognition of the self in the other.

The feeling is elegiac and the pleasure in the physical is felt through the work rituals and the sense of freedom and expansion of self in doing this kind of work. The music takes the song in John Williamson’s version and cuts into it the plangent cellos of G Clef by Kronos Quartet, and, to suggest the galloping hooves of horses, the syncopated drum beat of Not Drowning Waving.

The movement phrases are strong, graceful and elegant. Both Calver and McMicken employ the other’s body as horses to mount and ride, as rocks or saddle bags to sit on by the campfire, and at other times carry one another. In the repetition of these actions with the roles reversed, the polarities of subject/object, active/passive, strong/weak dissolve into mutuality. Real actions are distilled, abstracted and repeated in sequences which resonate with charged emotion.

Sacred Space was created and performed by Calver and McMicken in collaboration with writer and performance poet Karyn Sasella, and centres on the community of Lajamanu in the Central Desert. From living and working there, all three have formed strong connections with the community, though they have never been there at the same time – each person’s experience has been discrete and particular.

In that hot/red land/I learnt/
so clearly/that it’s not/
the tyranny of distance/
but the opportunity

Sacred Space is about culture shock but firmly poses the question: Whose culture is shocked? Compared to Silent Thought, which had an historical distance and suffused feeling, Sacred Space is set right here in the full blinding glare of the present. It announces itself as a distillation of experiences lived by the two performers with their feet firmly on the ground and their eyes out on stalks. Sasella’s poems, which are threaded through, are another experience which often parallels and complements Calver’s and McMicken’s.

Sacred Space is structured in three sections – getting there, being there and internalising there. The space is divided down the middle by an invisible line. At first this seems merely to reflect Calver’s and McMicken’s sides of the story, as we see them packing up to leave Darwin and then driving the long long way to Lajamanu. But once they arrive it becomes clear the space reflects the Walpiri division of the world into men’s business and women’s business and parallels the separate but continuous spheres of life they encountered at Lajamanu.

Only in the duet Lover Boy Lover Girl do they come together in the space and in so doing literally cross the line as the dance is not simply about courtship but about wrong skin love – a taboo but common occurrence in Aboriginal communities. The dance is set up with a game of flirting with torches in the rec hall after everyone else has gone to bed. The dance is both furtive and shy, cheeky and bold, pervaded by play and risk, and regarded as a wicked hoot by Aboriginal audiences.

Sacred Space is shot through with wit. We laugh with them laughing at themselves as we see ourselves reflected as strangers in a strange land. We feel the awkwardness and confusion of being on the outer, in the minority. The piece is serious and respectful of cultural difference but is never precious or earnest. There are hauntingly beautiful images – McMicken binds his clothes with string into a rope as thick and lumpy as an intestine, or a snake, while exquisitely fine sand falls from the ceiling and Calver dances in its rain. The sand falls slowly and keeps on falling. There are movement sequences based on Walpiri sign language which look at the disjunction between the simplicity of hand sign and the complexity of meaning it evokes. The power of the imagery in the piece comes from the lived experiences of the dancers.

Sacred Space speaks most clearly and loudly of the trust and connection between these white artists and this Aboriginal community. This relationship of exchange and collaboration has been built slowly over the last eight years and produced a series of works for, by and about the community. Like all good exchanges it has been properly two way; Lajamanu Kurra Karna Yami in 1992 brought the community – men, women and children, dancers, performers and painters – to town for a show and art exhibition at Browns Mart.

In 1996 TRACKS is planning to take Silent Thought and Sacred Space and a group of traditional Lajamanu women dancers, Yawalyu, to Melbourne for Greenmill Dance Festival to present their work alongside an exhibition of Lajamanu desert painting. It will be interesting to see what a national audience makes of this unique collaboration. Greenmill next year will coincide with the Dance Alliance, a biennial event, so TRACKS will be exposed to international dance aficionados. What will they make of it?

RealTime issue #8 Aug-Sept 1995 pg. 3

© Suzanne Spunner; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

It’s almost expected these days that performances will appear at all corners of the room, offering the audience all manner of perspectives. My personal favourite is still the perspex panel inserted in the ceiling of the Performance Space to reveal earth shovelled above the audience’s heads, ‘burying us alive’ in the Sydney Front’s Passion (1993). Anyway, just when we thought we’d seen all the Performance Space had to offer, Next Steps uncovered more: an attic; a wall shelf; a window; a space above a doorway; and then a circle in the centre of the room, all of us sitting on portable stools. To our right, Fragment 1 by Leisa Shelton gave us a horizontal show of legs defying gravity, lining up and slipping out of view. And how strange legs are when you look at a line of them for long enough. This serious fun with movement and space included some very nice finger and footwork from accordionist Gisel Milon.

Along a narrow platform, Jean/Lucretia—Nikki Heywood singing beautifully from Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia and taking a movement microscope to her grandmother Jean, guiding us through and into her stance, her gait, the way she stood when she laughed, taking all of this into her own body and out again, not quite becoming but commenting on it all in a personal, emotional and at the same time detached demonstration of memory.

In three separate spaces, Andrea Aloise and Katia Molino created Gynaecology I, II and III, beginning with some wriggly work through a see-through tube, some raunchy bum waggling and concluding with an evocative, silent scenario at a window that definitely has the makings of a longer work. Outside the door and in the ceiling, Alan Schacher retraced the steps of some former inhabitants of the Performance Space, recreating remembered movements from his own and other performances.

Anna Sabiel stepped inside her metal rigging and fell into suspended animation inside this external body while the machine breathed sound around her. In the studio and at the windows of the office space, photographer Heidrun Löhr created a theatre of images from the landscape round Tibooburra along with a set of tableaux containing suggestions of movement—boat, fan, tree, caught inside rusting metal frames.

In Fugue, a film directed by Louise Curham, choreographer Sue Healey’s four dancers moved through physical spaces, some we might identify as real, others far less certain. Bodies transformed, shuddered, flew across the screen in the (very) cool air outside the theatre. In Gideon Obarzanek’s postmodern apache dance with Narelle Benjamin, My Brother-in Law’s Most Disfunctional Marriage, movement became metaphor, the couple all angles and impossible connections.

Kate Champion is an inventive dancer with a nice sense of humour. Her pieces in last year’s Steps program (a woman falling upwards from her dress, a drugged girl barely able to stand) take some beating. This year, her work Of Sound Body and Mind lays bare the fears of the damaged body, complete with amplified sound of knees creaking (audience groaning in sympathy) as Champion repeatedly steps up and down from a chair to change a continually failing light bulb.

Finally, Jeremy Robbins explores all the gymnastic possibilities of a bathtub full of water in a very athletic striptease displaying the pure pleasure of the body at full stretch, directed by Gail Kelly with her usual theatrical flair. This year’s Steps program was a nice step up from last year’s Steps One. The participating artists are linked by their work being primarily physically based and by collectively representing dance/physical performance in its broadest terms. Curator of the program, Leisa Shelton (Theatre is Moving) has plans to tour.

RealTime issue #7 June-July 1995 pg. 25

© Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Father and son act, Richard and Sam performing in What to Name Your Baby, filmed and shown by SBS and screened as part of Tasdance’s first season under new artistic directors Karen Pearlman and Richard James Allen with dancers Joanna Pollitt, Gregory Tebb, Kylie Tonatello, Samantha Vine and Scott Graylands who will join the company after recovering from an injury he sustained while performing in Adelaide. Tasmanian reviewers and audiences took to the new company with praise and enthusiasm and not a little curiosity about work that features a baby and a strong emphasis on the spoken work. The company is based in Launceston and toured What to Name your Baby to Burnie and Hobart in April and May.

RealTime issue #7 June-July 1995 pg. 25

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

She stomps on tattered shoes into the long, narrow performance space, all concentration, moving forwards along a line, looking straight ahead and into the moving light source. She switches her half smiling attention to the audience, flips into a set of sideways almost Indian dance poses, half-turns of the body. Her attention moves to her assistant with the light as he moves to another part of the space. The shadow of the tiny dancer shoots up and across the wall. Her movement is sometimes eccentric, sometimes reminiscent of something ‘oriental,’ sometimes ‘exotic,’ sometimes minimal. Loud grunge by Beck interspersed with silence counterpoints the performance. She completes the piece with a perfect swan dive into her tatty shoes. She brings the house down with her. Lisa O’Neill describes Sweet Yeti as “a movement based piece designed to take the viewer on a theatrical journey into the world of one small women. The piece is peculiar in manner with a sudden twist and turn of thought around every corner. The woman is both happy and sad, determined and carefree, loud and soft, but most of all, she is alive.”

Lisa O’Neill is an independent dance artist now based in Brisbane. She has worked as performer, choreographer and teacher both in Brisbane and with the Darc Swan Company in Sydney. She has a diploma in Dance from QUT. Sweet Yeti is her first solo work.

The Crab Room artist-run space, Brisbane

RealTime issue #7 June-July 1995 pg. 25

© Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

FB Our funding was cut approximately 50% for 1995 so rather than spread that very thinly across the whole year, the company elected to use its funding over seven months, which is not that unusual for small companies working on tight budgets. The current company finish at the end of July.

Sue’s resignation forced us to look at what was going on. We stopped and asked how do we get our funding back and which direction do we go? So we’ve had consultations with the community, with funding bodies, dancers, and other artistic directors. We wanted to find out if there really is a desire to have a professional contemporary dance company in Canberra and what the form of that company should be. We held a public meeting at the end of April and more than a hundred people attended. There were lots of letters of support not only from members of the community but also from people like Meryl Tankard and Don Asker, the two previous artistic directors of the company. We got good media coverage and representatives from the Australia Council and Cultural Council (the ACT funding body) attended.

We presented a strategy paper for options for 1996. Although the need for a company was clear, the issue of what kind of future was not, because of the number and diversity of the people at the meeting. But it did make clear who we should keep talking with, including dancers and choreographers.

KG What is the ACT dance community attitude to Vis a Vis?

FB Very concerned that there might not be a company—with a loss of work opportunities, peer opportunities—just knowing that you’ve got a company in Canberra you can work with, get advice from, get support from—administrative support, classes, keeping up professional standards.

KG The federal cut was from $142,000 to $100,000, the local one from $150,000 to $85,000. What was the rationale for the local cut?

FB A lot of things. The bottom line was they didn’t feel that audience development was happening fast enough, that the work was inaccessible.

KG Were they right, do you think?

FB We’ve been doing surveys for a year now and no-one has said “inaccessible.” At the meeting with Cultural Council we asked, “Where do your statistics come from?” and they didn’t have an answer. They were correct about the high level of government subsidy but it’s on a par with other dance companies around Australia. Their argument was that in comparison with other non-dance companies in Canberra on lower subsidy, how could they justify funding this company.

KG A blanket approach.

FB Exactly. The result—no professional dance company and the loss of sixteen years of work. But the forum was a positive event and the board has an exciting concept for next year to answer everyone’s problems. We did a very successful tour to Greenmill in Melbourne and got excellent reviews. We took Succulent Blue Sway to the Gippsland Festival, an inspiring experience—so many people want to see dance. Then we did Askew, Dance of Line here—and it was well received. Finally, we’re doing In the Wind’s Eye comprising two pieces by Sue Healey and one by returning Canberran Phillip Adams. Then it’s over to the board for 1996.

It takes a while for a company to establish itself. Sue’s third year has been very good, so it’s a bit like it’s been cut out from under her just as it’s all starting. It shows a lack of insight from various quarters. We’ve also had the problem of negative arts journalists, even when they haven’t seen the work. But Sue is leaving on a fantastic note.

KG What is this concept for 1996 that’s going to “answer everyone’s problems”?

FB A choreographic centre with an artistic advisory panel (local and interstate). We’re calling for projects—these will be advertised over the next few weeks. We can provide administration, publicity, rehearsal space and a performance venue …

KG Is this an interim strategy or a long-term one giving the board more power in the absence of an artistic director? Could it be like the inclination to replace theatre company artistic directors with executive producers?

FB We definitely do not want to cut out the idea of the artistic director. The board will not make the artistic decisions; the advisory panel will select from the proposals submitted.

KG Sue, how are you coping with this very dark situation?

SH It’s not really dark, it’s just that Canberra is no longer the place I want to be. It’s a difficult place—it’s conservative, it can be small-minded and it’s small. But I feel I’ve done a lot of what I wanted to do and the company’s been a fantastic stepping-stone for me.

KG What’s your connection with the dancer Phillip Adams?

SH He was a student at the VCA many years ago when I was teaching there. I was intrigued by him. He’s a unique dancer and choreographer. In Australia, he’s only worked with this company; the rest of his time has been spent dancing in New York with many cutting edge choreographers. He’s ready now to make a work.

KG How would you describe his work?

SH The emphasis is on distortion and restriction, how distorted bodies can be—it’s not a pretty little dance.

KG You’re also doing two pieces.

SH Saddle Up is light-hearted on the outside, but it’s really a comment on my time in Canberra. I did a sketch of it in our last season, Askew. It has a rodeo theme. Physically, I’m looking at the horse but metaphorically it’s about what a ride I’ve had in Canberra. It’s been tough but I keep getting on that horse. The other piece, more of a major work, is called Hark Back. There’s an ancestral element to it and also an evolutionary thread, and in a grand way, light evolving through the different elements from water to land to air—that’s the general structure to it.

KG Are you still pushing the choreographic limits?

SH The basis of my work is a fascination with the body but I sense a change in what I’m doing. I’m interested in what the body is saying and what the motivation for movement is, more in a theatrical sense.

KG How is this expressed—is it more psychological as opposed to working on form?

SH Yes, with a strong base in physical form, but the theatricality is vital and each performer explores genetic, physical and family origins. It’s fabulous for them.

KG Do you use speech? I ask because there is a proliferation of talk in recent dance and because the material would seem to lend itself to speech.

SH A little. I have used it before but only as an aside. Once people introduce language it can take away from what the logic of the body is saying. Speech has to be organic for me, to come from a central physical focus. My work in this show with the body is quite architectural. It’s the first time in Canberra I’ve worked with a set. I’ve designed it in collaboration with a builder. I’m working with the set and the dancers as I create it. It’s very three-dimensional, with lots of possibilities for changing spatial relationships—putting people upside down, placing them high in the air. We move on it but there are shifting elements. So it’s architectural in form because, as with the bodies and lives of the dancers, I’m looking at the evolutionary element.

The music is composed and improvised by percussionist Keith Hunter. I always have live music. He’s very much a performer in the piece. There’s also a Pianola activated by the performers—including myself.

KG And after Canberra?

SH I head straight back to Melbourne to teach briefly at the VCA and then I’m off overseas.

Vis a Vis new season In the Wind’s Eye commences June 28 at Gorman House Arts Centre, Canberra.

RealTime issue #7 June-July 1995 pg. 24

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

Another night at the Opera House. Sue-ellen Kohler is seen outside. She looks sick.
Perhaps it’s her all-day-and-night morning sickness or has something she’s just seen caused that pained expression?

What’s the matter, Sue-ellen? “I have just sat through two hours of… of…” Her mouth opens but nothing comes out. She tries again but the words evade her. Finally. “There was…a lot of colour and movement. There. That’s it. I saw something with a lot of colour and movement.”

You’re talking about the latest Sydney Dance Company performance Fornicon. There must be more to say about it than “colour and movement.”

“Oh well, after what I just saw it’s hard to remember that there is much more to dance anyway. I mean, the audience seemed well pleased with a bit of light entertainment, a bit of a story taken from other stories and a chance to perv on all those glamorous, hot bodies—a bit like Baywatch, nothing too challenging or disturbing. What more can you ask for?”

I thought Fornicon was inspired by great moments of eroticism, love, sex, power, citing De Sade, Bataille, Calasso, Nin and Byron to comment on our repressive views of sexuality in a world terrified of AIDS?

“Exactly! You go to see dance that claims all those things and you find that there’s no danger there, just pretence. Gesturing towards breaking taboos while playing it safe. Safe eroticism—I didn’t know that was possible till now. The Claytons form of sex—spend with an eye on saving. Dance can therefore remain a powerless form of communication, commenting on nothing and no-one and (almost) everyone seems to be happy.”

But surely the work has merit. This company is one of the most highly funded in Australia—one of Australia’s cultural flagships adored by Paul Keating and dance critic Jill Sykes alike.

“I think there are individual merits but if I took either the costumes, the design or even the music out of context I would seem to be speaking of three unrelated contributions. You can see the skill and enjoy those elements on their own but in context with the work, they are all at odds.

“Fornicon is so underdeveloped that each element represents a different ego. Because the work in itself doesn’t have a voice or language to call its own, it then becomes transparent, leaving it at the mercy of either the glamour or ravages of fashion.”

Yes, but what happens?

“The story is a torrid little soap opera sorely lacking originality and shape. The ‘author’ (Graeme Murphy) is imprisoned for writing pornography. The scenes unfold as visions of his censored imagination. Drawing on the classic figures of love and lust including Eros, Paris, Don Juan and Helen of Troy, the author interweaves their stories and desires with contemporary icons including a pop star and a giant, winged penis. The steps were the same ones we’ve been seeing from Sydney Dance Company for years now—with the exception of Mark Williams the pop singer as ‘the Don’ who was doing more dancing and commanded more attention than any of the dancers.”

Was there anything you liked?

“My performer’s body is tired of watching these skilled dancers throwing themselves violently from one shape to another, performing steps that speak to the body (especially the female body) as if it is a commodity to be used and abused as the means for another’s end. There was a brief respite, however, with a short solo set within the surreality of an opium dream and performed by Wakako Asano. A dramatic contrast to the other scenes, it drew the audience into the sinuous quality of the dancer’s butoh-esque movement. The performance is driven by a strong filmic score by Martin Armiger who collaborated on the scenario with Graeme Murphy.”

You’re looking better. Who’s really to blame for making you sick?

“Audiences. They like to be in control, to commodify and ultimately have total power over our cultural experiences. To me, Fornicon is a perfect example of this. The erotic, the idea fundamental to the work, which is about breaking taboo, is here a neatly packaged, very safe expression of middle-class, repressed sexual desire. Perhaps Fornicon is so well supported because it is so safe and unthreatening. More innovative work by independent artists is ignored or denigrated. If in Fornicon we are supposed to vicariously live out what we can no longer do in real life, then one cannot help but feel repressed at all turns. The sexual fantasy of the ‘author’ provides no satisfactory escape for a culture that is morally cautious.”

Sydney Dance Company, Fornicon, Sydney Opera House, May 6-30; Adelaide Festival Centre from June 22; then Melbourne and Canberra.

RealTime issue #7 June-July 1995 pg. 24

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

In terms of an alternative dance form, which embodies a challenge to, an extension of, or a reaction towards traditional dance forms, Queensland artists are investigating multiple possibilities. What seems so significant for contemporary experimental dance in all its manifestations is the potential that this elusive form holds for creating new meanings and understandings of dance. The obvious dilemma in considering the contributions of Queensland choreographers within this context is who to include. It follows that this examination is necessarily a selective one. However, I wish only to share my perception of certain individuals whose work is fundamentally exploratory. Although the heterogeneity of new choreography is hardly a localised phenomenon, these artists are essentially re-investigating and celebrating possibilities within dance, and their choreography represents the profusion of new work in Queensland.

Helen Leeson, an independent Brisbane artist, has created work that manifests a collision of post-Cunningham strategies and contemporary experiment. Her Making Zero, performed as part of Brisbane’s Shock of the New festival in 1994, foregrounded the audience by presenting multiple sites for attention and thus demanding a selective viewing process. Four individuals perform separate renderings of movement in an exploration of the levels and parameters of the space and of the other performers. There are rare moments of uniform movement and weight sharing which blend into and out of individual performance. Making Zero is, however, only one representation of a practice that essentially resists categorisation. Leeson’s choreography is eclectic, sometimes utilising contemporary dance technique, sometimes site-specific, sometimes a juxtaposition of numerous elements. Leeson also performs in her own work and that of others. She met with Chaos theory as a dancer for Jean Tally’s A Strange Attraction (1992).

Tally is a choreographer and lecturer in contemporary dance, composition and alignment at Queensland University of Technology. My earliest memories of Jean Tally recall her abandoned laughter, her composed and yet effervescent manner and most significantly, her acute awareness of the moving body. Those first impressions remain valid today. Most recently, Tally has engaged in a creative dialogue with composer Andy Arthurs and designer Tolis Papazoglou. The abiding collaboration has been sustained through two completed projects, A Strange Attraction (1992) and Ritual (1995).

As the title suggests, Ritual is an investigation of the ceremonies that pattern our lives. The piece begins as the audience enters and moves around the circumference of the performance space. Papazoglou’s design is suspended from the ceiling to create a circular screen within the performance space, at times separating the audience from the performers, and at others containing the audience. Ritual is a physical and conceptual journey for its witnesses and the centrality of this aspect of performance communicates Tally’s awareness of the relationship between audience and performer. “I’m interested in ways of seeing, ways of participation,” she explains. Tally is presently acting as collaborator/director for Cyber City Cabaret, a production premiering at the Brisbane Biennial on 31 May. The work is another interactive experience for the audience, but in contrast to Ritual, Cyber City gives its audience even more freedom to choose their own pathways of meaning throughout the performance.

This acknowledgement of the autonomy of the audience is shared by the hybrid art collective, Montage. As part of the Fringe, the six artists who constitute Montage have devised Dormant, a work that communicates five different stories through movement, design and voice. The artists represent a variety of forms (hence the name Montage), and what I find particularly valuable about Dormant is its acceptance of the individuality of the moving body. Of course, this is nothing new. The non-dancer in performance was embraced as far back as America’s Judson Dance Theater in 1962, with artists searching for alternatives to the categorisation of the body in the traditional dance forms of ballet and modern dance. Today, many contemporary choreographers have since returned to technique, manipulating and interrogating it. However for the artists of Montage, individuality is central, as the performers travel divergent paths. This is what makes Dormant such a valuable experience; the audience witnesses a trained dancer performing alongside a vocal artist, and recognises the unique physical moments specific to each individual.

Coinciding with the Fringe is Tripping on the Left Foot of Belief, a program of three works by independent choreographers Clare Dyson, Brian Lucas and Lisa O’Neill. In meeting with Dyson I asked her about her contribution titled Water to a Morning Mouth—a collaboration with performers Avril Huddy and Alison St Ledger. Dyson courageously admitted that she was driven to create Water… as an experiment; that is, “something that can fail.” Dyson’s intrepidity is a conspicuous quality. She considers living in Brisbane part of an effort to somehow distance herself from the traditional expectations placed upon a choreographer in her position. “I try and stay as far away from everything that I’m supposed to do, or what I’m supposed to be.” For Dyson this isn’t so much a reaction against convention as an endeavour to be true to herself and her work. She has a sensitivity to gesture that is really quite remarkable. Water… is dotted with countless memorable images—a frantic rubbing of necks, Avril Huddy lifting her dress, then violently rocking in a chair—and infused with the resonance of St Ledger’s voice.

While the connections between movement and song seem almost tangible in Water to a Morning Mouth, the relationship between text, voice and dance in Maggie Sietsma’s work is more indeterminate. In the choreography of Sietsma, artistic director of Expressions Dance Company, the audience is compelled to create its own connections between the various facets of performance, and in this way she acknowledges the plurality and contingency of creating meaning. As Expressions celebrates its tenth anniversary, Maggie Sietsma and Natalie Weir have created two new works for the company. Alone Together, the director’s latest work, is characteristic Sietsma—an assorted characterisation of humour, melodrama, hopelessness and wretchedness—this instance being inspired by Edward Hopper’s paintings, particularly Night Windows (1928).

Weir worked from the same motivation in creating In-Sight, an integration of athletic and challenging choreography with ‘convention,’ and the imposition of conventional gender roles as one indication of this. Weir’s Burning (1994) was promoted as ‘new dance’ for Queensland Ballet’s contemporary season and the piece definitely manifests a challenge to traditional modes of performance for a ballet company. Needless to say, the choreographer’s utilisation of spectacle, illusion, virtuosity, technique and expressive movement wasn’t exactly ‘new dance’, but rather a re-orchestration of these elements within a familiar contemporary dance form.

RealTime issue #7 June-July 1995 pg. 23

© Julia Postle; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Gary Rowe blows on a hand-painted slide in the cavernous reaches of the old Masonic Hall that is Dancehouse in Melbourne and we look for a patch of sun to talk. Rowe, a British artist and performer, is making a new work called Love Song After Death that will premiere here en route to London and Edinburgh.

Rowe combines a background in the visual arts, originally as a painter, with years of work as a dancer. In the 1980s he studied at Dartington College in the UK, an internationally renowned centre for new dance development. Under the visionary Mary Fulkerson, the course encouraged students to think of themselves as artisans—to experiment, make and show their own work. The list of visiting teachers sounds like a roll-call of pioneers of postmodern dance—Steve Paxton, Lisa Nelson, Miranda Tufnell, Laurie Booth, Nancy Topf, Valda Setterfield, Simone Forti, Michael Clark, Richard Alston. Deliberately disoriented, the students had to find their own paths through projects that ranged from social dancing to trapeze or Skinner Release technique. Rowe’s own epiphany came in front of a Mark Rothko painting and he chose to continue a process of choreographic enquiry within the postmodern minimalist tradition.

In its most rigorous form, postmodern dance has relentlessly questioned the vocabularies, frames and artistic functions of dance. Addressing questions to the maker as well as the spectator. The choreographic process is used to test and extend relationships between the visual and the textual, the spatial and the aural. The purpose of art is viewed objectively in contrast to the personal, expressive or spiritual quest and the choreographer’s task is to make patterns of movement articulate and intelligible in very particular ways. Precise, individual offerings of human endeavour are placed inside conundrums of time and space.

Rowe’s first independent work, Eclipse: an Apparition, was shown in a tiny but unusually shaped gallery. Using a grid pattern, he plotted visual and spatial connections for duets between three women. A long and silent work, the bodies violently orbited from the structure before returning to their trajectories. Created with no emotional intent, it held and affected its audience intensely. Subsequently his work has been mainly in the form of site-specific installations combining strong visual images and lighting effects with stylised phrases of movement. In River Crossings, for instance, projected slides from the Queen’s Collection hung like tapestries on the walls of a building. Against a battle scene backdrop and the mixed sounds of water, Ella Fitzgerald and an echo of gunshots, two men danced. Behind them, a woman and a young girl in period costume whipped foils through the air.

Love Song After Death retains a strong visual texture in the slides projected on the wall, objects and bodies. But this time, a text locates an emotional field. Rowe’s autobiographical writing was first reworked by the novelist Peter Slater into fragments of prose. In performance, actor Paul Hampton’s Australian accent distances the identification of the words with a personal self.

Rowe and Alan Widdowson dance duets and solos, hooded and clothed in white. “The invisible man,” laughs Rowe, although the piece peels off the flesh on an emotional world. Perhaps he is the shadow and Alan the angel. The shrouded piano becomes a dream house boarded up with its door unopened. From it emerges the music of Benjamin Britten and Erik Satie—songs of memory and desire. The body is not nude but dissolved, naked in reflected light, a surface for touching, for tattoos and erotic sensation. Addressing both feminine and masculine, the dancer tiptoes across the stage. “I don’t know what those boundaries are,” says Rowe.

It is part memorial—a lover dies, this time of AIDS. The dance is painful—a relentless, physical shuffling. In another room 400 candles floating in wine glasses form a carpet of remembrance. Repetition and stillness inform the work. Freud says that melancholia is the effect of ungrieved loss. Performance is often a problem of unacknowledged loss, both a refusing and an incorporation of the lost figure. Is it also a lament for a positive masculinity, a loss that pervades our culture?

Rowe is grateful for the space, technical and administrative support that Dancehouse has provided for this project. In Britain, as elsewhere, there are fewer opportunities for rigorous investigation of the aesthetics of dance. Popular emphasis on technical prowess is a far cry from the minimal necessities of continuing to say things as an artist, not simply to be a choreographer. Far from home, Gary Rowe has not been distracted and is making another ‘new dance.’

RealTime issue #7 June-July 1995 pg. 23

© Rachel Fensham; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

“It’s like living on the set,” says Rosalind Crisp on the phone from the studio where she also lives and is now working on The Cutting Room, a solo piece that will be part of the performance component of the Time and Motion project, an ambitious event that brings together choreography, dance/movement and critical writing.

Rosalind Crisp began with Kinetic Energy in Sydney and went on to work in companies and independent projects in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne. In 1991, she received an Individual Development grant to work at Holland’s Centre of New Dance Development and stayed on for three years eventually working with dance/theatre companies in Belgium and Canada. Back in Australia she created throughout 1992-94 The Lucy Pieces, a set of three dance works inspired by a woman from her childhood. “She lived alone and like the rest of the neighbourhood I wanted to know what went on inside her.” Crisp adopted Lucy as her persona for these works and in The Cutting Room she picks up the thread, this time fleshing out her own inner feelings, delving into what she calls her “uncivilised moments.” Uncivilised? “Some mornings I put on Nick Cave and start working before I’m even awake. If I feel sad, bad or mad, I express it, then I press out into those areas of emotional intensity.”

As well as working from improvisation, Crisp has used for inspiration Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s The Yellow Wallpaper as well as The Handless Maiden, a story that appears in Drusilla Modjeska’s biographical essay/novel The Orchard. Both are stories of women at the extremes, often interpreted as victims of social oppression. But Crisp is interested in exploring another perspective, from the inside. “A lot of The Cutting Room is about death and about female strength in vulnerability and grief. It’s also about the exhilaration of a body flying through space.”

Crisp, who has previously worked alone, is collaborating on this new work with Nigel Jamieson. She describes the relationship as bizarre and wonderful. “He was interested in getting me to backtrack into my childhood to find out where some of these ideas might be coming from. We came up with some strong images—watching my father killing sheep, animals hung in meat bags—though, for me, the piece is not about my childhood. Let’s say if the theatre had windows, you might look out on these real incidents like a disturbing presence. Nigel is interested in clarifying meaning while I’m more interested in the subtle, surreal meanings to the movement.” Movement? “Oh, I can’t decide any more what it is I’m doing! Maybe it’s more theatre, this extreme emotion in dance, or just dance that taken further by channelling it into themes like death and the breaking apart of a woman/myself.”

On the other side of town Julie-Anne Long has covered the walls of the studio with pink cards, each with a sentence, a story, a movement phrase—“sensual, grotesque-gestural, punchy, boppy,” and pictures: Sophia Loren gets an eyeful of Jane Mansfield’s awesome décolletage; a woman with one breast rubs shoulders with occultist Rosaleen Norton’s catwoman with six; a bouquet of burlesque beauties overlaps with all manner of creases, splits and crevices both human and geological; Siamese twins; a body stitched together post autopsy.

Working with Long as dramaturg, I use a sort of conversational method and we’re now at the interesting stage where our vocabulary includes a whole lot of gestures that pass for movement. She’s on the floor tracing scribbles in the air. I’m making notes. In the corner, the tape recorder blurts, “Let’s just relax and say tits.” She cuts across the words with some swooping phrases of her own, punctuated by strange little gestures—nipple snips? Whatever. She has a nice turn of phrase. She stops mid-movement. The definition dances before our eyes. Klividz defined biologically, geologically, chemically and last of all, colloquially, as “the cleft between women’s breasts.” From the tape recorder: “Cleavage is the promise.” Long flips into a set of balletic arm movements. She’ll put the feet in later. “Dancers’ breasts are usually the bits that get in the way.” From the tape: “Anybody tasted breast milk? How was it? Funny. Did you put it in a glass?” Inside this small room, Julie-Anne Long is taking on a word, shaking it around, flaunting it, re-shaping and revealing it for all its meanings. “What am I doing? Most women can’t stand people staring at their breasts when they’re trying to talk about something serious and here I am putting myself and the audience through exactly that experience!”

The Time and Motion project was born in recognition of the growth in volume and maturity of dance and movement-based performance commonly referred to as “independent” and in the significance of the individual exploratory processes that go with it. While opportunities exist for emerging artists to perform their work and profit from collective management and presentation, there are few such opportunities for seasoned artists with a more developed creative processes and artistic vision. Time and Motion comprises performances, workshops, creative development and critical writing.

In Where Have All the Dancers Gone? dancer Sue-Ellen Kohler conducts an intensive workshop on processes that keep movement of the body personal with an aim to develop different understandings of what dance can be. Helen Poynor’s workshop will focus on the non-stylised movement she has developed creating improvised site-specific cross artform collaborations and more recently her work in Java with teacher and artist Suprapto Suryodermo.

The two Creative Development projects are Thursday’s Fictions in which Karen Pearlman and Richard Allen move out of the duo and into the epic with a group of dancers and Body/Space/Language in which artistic counsel for the Time and Motion project Barbara Richardson is joined by teacher-writers Eleanor Brickhill, Kathy Driscoll and Karen Martin in presenting a series of critical writings that will situate local practice within the broader framework of contemporary performing arts theory and experimentation. The writing is intended to serve as a reference point for the artists involved in the project as well as to provoke a higher level of critical dialogue surrounding local dance/movement.

The Time and Motion project runs from July 1-16 at The Performance Space, the University of Western Sydney and Sydney University’s Centre for Performance Studies

RealTime issue #7 June-July 1995 pg. 22

© Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Jacques Tati’s final film, completed almost a decade before his death, was Parade (1973). It is a strange, decidedly amateurish swansong from this great director. Parade is a modest effort, shot on video and transferred to film, completely theatrical in its setting. Different groups of performers come on and off stage, doing their time-worn routines; Tati meanwhile concentrates on the behaviour of audience members as much as the acts themselves. The film ends with a surprising, ragged coda: children wander about the empty set, picking up discarded objects and letting out little noises that mean nothing and lead nowhere in particular.

Tati’s film is utterly entrancing because it gives the viewer the rare sense that, here, the very language of images and sounds, the potentiality of performance and space, the relationship of spectacle and spectator, is being discovered step by step, as if for the first time. Filmmaker Jean-Marie Straub described Parade as a film about “degrees of nervous flux – beginning with the child which cannot yet make a gesture, who cannot yet coordinate her hand with her brain, and going up to the most accomplished acrobats”.

Parade would make a good double bill with Arf Arf’s wonderful ‘performance film’ Thread of Voice (1993). Although nominally this work could be taken as an innocent ‘documentation’ of some of the sound pieces that Arf Arf have performed live since the mid 80s, the film confounds all categories. They use their sound work to transform the medium and language of film – and vice versa – just as the most inventive recent dance films, such as Mahalya Middlemist’s Vivarium (1993), have done.

Co-ordinates of time and space, and all the usual connectives between these filmic realms, are freely, lyrically distorted in the rigorous montage plan of Thread of Voice. Physical gestures begin in semi-darkness, get carried on by another body in another place. The film constantly displaces itself from one register to another: ‘direct’ filming, varieties of refilming, animation. A marvellous sequence, anchored in an aural performance of a blackly comic and unnerving piece about a violent domestic argument, visually weaves together ciphers, actions and motifs from right across the film. Silhouettes lumber and fly behind screens, a dream of silent cinema that recalls the shows of the Even Orchestra, or the childish pantomime of Wenders’ buddy-heroes in Kings of the Road (1976). Words and drawings, forever cancelled, restarted and superimposed, hurl past frame by frame. Previously seen images of the performers are retrieved, slowed down, frozen, caught mid-production of some odd utterance or gesture.

Arf Arf refer to their sound pieces as ‘songs’, which surely makes Thread of Voice some kind of mutant musical. Their entire fugitive oeuvre, down this past decade, is difficult to ‘place’ in an Australian context. The exploration of body and voice that goes on here, the haphazard constructions of ‘multimedia’ assemblages, the merry ‘deconstructions’ of sound, meaning and narrative draw their inspiration from some other bundle of influences and traditions than the ones we are normally used to recognising and citing in local performance art.

There are traces of art brut, arte povera, Grotowski’s ‘poor theatre’, Artaud … and also the ‘chiselling’ practices of the Lettrists, the sound-poetry of Bob Brown, and Baruchello’s visionary uptake on the legacy of Duchamp. But, ultimately, a kind of hushed secrecy is the watchword of Arf Arf’s art. If there is a complex archaeology of influences in their pieces – across all the media they work in – it is a mangled, shattered, thoroughly transformed lineage. There is an extreme ‘symbolist’ legacy in their work, as in the avant garde films of Stan Brakhage or any number of the dense, allusive, little known poets they so admire: the ‘source’ of a piece has been lost or disguised beyond recognition, the key for its decoding has been buried, the ‘score’ they use is a dizzying, compacted mass of lines, dots, letters and markings.

“We do not concentrate on any one medium as we are specifically interested in how a particular medium can be transported into another one”. Arf Arf has always been interested in unusual, cryptic, almost fantastic correspondences and exchanges between different art forms and media. The principal members of Arf Arf are Marcus Bergner, Michael Buckley, Marisa Stirpe and Frank Lovece. Between them, individually and collectively, they have worked in everything from post-punk music (Melbourne’s ‘Little Bands’ era so feebly mythologised in the film Dogs in Space) to CD-ROM, via all the visual and literary arts.

As an ensemble, Arf Arf bears out an old motto of Philip Brophy’s – that it is better to have not artistic intention, just artistic tension. All the key members have different styles, approaches and strengths. Bergner’s forte is his experimental animation – drawing and writing on film – and his radical approach to artistic collage (both evident in his masterly Tales From Vienna Hoods, 1987). Lovece has a very distinctive, quite lyrical and aleatoric way of working with bodies, gestures and voices (as in Te Possino Ammazza, 1987). Buckley’s strength is in the poetic ordering of diverse materials in montage; his work is multi-layered, juggling anarchy and control (as in the excellent recent shorts Witness and Forever Young). And, as one of the best ‘songs’ in Thread of Voice memorably shows, Stirpe is a remarkable performer able to mutate herself with each new vocal inflection.

Arf Arf is a performance group that, it might be said, does not ‘communicate’ easily. But on the other hand, there is an utter simplicity, directness and transparency about what they offer. In their sound pieces, words appear from random noises, are momentarily played with, and then disappear back into a sound-mass. Nor is it much of a theatrical ‘spectacle’: very drawn to non-slickness and the pleasures of an ‘incidental’ art, Arf Arf do their shows in their everyday clothes, without fast or tricky transitions from one piece to the next. You see clearly all the moments of randomness and improvisation that go into their pieces. When they use ‘props’ or items of technology, these are deliberately primitive, clunky, exposed: bits of wood, transistor radios, a 16mm projector.

The artistic work of Arf Arf, across all the media they use, is vivid, kinetic, involving, very humorous, full of the rawness and randomness and mysteriousness of life. It is an extremely heterogeneous art, clashing different styles, timbres, textures. It is sophisticated, deeply considered, and also spontaneous and immediate in its emotional effects. It is full of almost violent juxtapositions and gear shifts – as well as sudden, hushed passages of calm, poetic grace.

This article is part of a series called Across Media written with the assistance of the Visual Arts and Crafts Board of the Australia Council.

RealTime issue #7 June-July 1995 pg. 10

© Adrian Martin; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

“We’re a youth arts organisation. Our bottom line isn’t theatre, it’s kids. If theatre stopped working then we’d change the way we work. We use arts and cultural activities as a tool.” I’m talking with Michael Doneman Co-Artistic Director of CONTACT. Ludmilla Doneman, the other artistic director, is busy organising the company’s move from the city to their new space GRUNT in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley.

1995 sees the company in a serious state of reorganisation. The Donemans spent eight months in 1994 away from the company gathering ideas to inform the future directions of the organisation. They founded the company six years ago and it now has a six digit turnover. “It’s time for us to move on.” They are currently organising a hand-over of the company to occur over1996-1997 when “the old and the new can segue. We’re organising a mentor scheme for our successors.”

Currently the company serves a range of clientele. “On one level we serve everyone.” The company involves disadvantaged young people who lack access to arts based activities. “This includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with disabilities, young people in detention, young people in regional and remote areas, young people from a diversity of cultural backgrounds (ethnic, gender and sexual identification). Social justice is an area of passion for the company and initially we focused on indigenous communities, less so now, as we’ve morphed into general cross-cultural work.”

The company’s activities are extensive and push into areas not commonly associated with Youth Arts. There are four main areas in which the company is active: workshop programs, performance-based projects, outreach workshops and “other”.

These four areas are being pushed laterally as the company engages with technology. Its commitment to infotech is growing rapidly. The GRUNT space will be developed as a telecentre where groups can have access to technology. CONTACT is investigating virtual performance, establishing Perfect Strangers W3, national youth arts site on the world wide web and setting up collaborations with young people and companies who work with youth in global, national and local contexts through technology. The techno-work will also extend into multimedia and broadband with the company looking at making web pages and CD-ROMs, a music interface and midi files in live music. In broadband CONTACT will experiment with on-line workshops. The access to internet will feed back into other areas of operation.

CONTACT is also extending its work into “training” with the establishment of the Bush Pilots Project, a year long course to cater for the young long-term unemployed, “those people who fall through the net”. The focus will be on training young people through providing them with experiences which can prepare them for the “jobs of tomorrow not the jobs of yesterday”. CONTACT attracts a different league of funding through this focus, playing in the “big league”, with DEET (Department for Education, Employment & Training) for example.

The philosophy of CONTACT is based in access, participation, equity and empowerment. The subtext to the philosophy is based in a “serious and informed cheekiness”, the ethic of always working on the “front foot”. The company currently employs three full-time staff – two artistic directors and an office manager – a part time coordinator of cultural programs and around six casual arts workers and tutors at any given time. Pending funding the company envisages a growth in staff which would include a director for the Bush Pilots Program, more administrative assistance, coordinators for the formal outreach work in Redcliffe and the infotech work through Ipswich.

If all progresses as planned for CONTACT, we’ll begin to see the growth of a company in Queensland which challenges the scope and content of traditional youth arts work, informing it with a global perspective.

RealTime issue #7 June-July 1995 pg. 8

© Louise Gough; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

JP What have you found to be the most pressing legal ramifications of the new media technologies?

IC With multimedia, the most obvious issue concerns the way art forms can be transposed from a hard copy to a digital format. Whether that’s a CD-ROM or an on-line system, it provides an easier format from which to access, to manipulate and download. The difficulty is in monitoring that situation so that the copyright owner, the creator, is fairly remunerated for the use of that work. I think it’s the monitoring which is the real challenge at the moment.

JP It’s often said that the law covering intellectual property is a cumbersome beast lagging behind technology. Unless the law is amended, technological change makes it obsolete. Has that been your experience?

IC There’s no doubt about that. The Copyright Act, dating to 1968 with amendments in 1989, is basically looking a bit tired. The federal government is now in the process of producing a totally revised copyright. They want to simplify it and bring it up to speed with the age of convergence. The inadequacy of the Act at the moment concerns the transmission right, which in essence is like a cable right. It’s very limited in scope and really not sufficient to ensure copyright owners have some control over transmission of material down the line.

At the recent contemporary music summit in Canberra there was a demonstration where musicians put their work on the Internet. They were saying that people could access it without restriction. In theory they could, because the transmission right as it’s presently defined is so limited as to make it difficult to prevent people downloading music files onto their computers. The government has, through the Copyright Convergence Group, recommended a broad communications right which would be sufficient to restrict the free market downloading of this information. That would be OK in theory, but then how do you monitor people doing this, how do you police it?

The whole copyright Act is based on discrete activities, which are now overlapping so much that it’s very difficult. It was initially the right to copy, where the reproduction right has been the key right, to stop making duplicates, pirating. But in the convergence age, we don’t need to make a hard copy anymore, we can access it through a terminal , and get the same information. Likewise soon we’ll have cable music, CDs transmitted down the line for listening. The tangible items that we’re used to will still be there, but perhaps they’ll be more peripheral. Therefore the communications right, this transmission right, will be the all-important right, more so than the reproductive right.

JP Is that because the nature of information is immaterial? Information is malleable, and can take different forms depending on the information carrier.

IC Yes, because basically you’ll have things whizzing through the ether, from one databank source to your home PC. The main issue will be properly controlling that dissemination and making sure that when you use that information, the copyright owner is properly recompensed for it. It’s not so much the laws that are at fault, as we can amend the laws to fit the new environment, but there’s a technological solution – encryption schemes – by which people can’t download the material until they’ve paid the gatekeeper a certain fee. It may be that you can browse an abstract, for example, for free, but any accessing of information would incur a fee.

The other key issue in the digital age is moral rights. At the moment there is no moral right protection in Australia, although the government has confirmed its intention to introduce moral rights legislation. When artistic material is more readily available in digital format, it can be easily sampled and so on. Moral rights are the rights of owners to protect the integrity of their work.

It’s a difficult issue, because we still want that freedom to create new work based on existing work, and you don’t want moral rights or copyright to be a fetter on artistic freedom of expression. But you want to protect the integrity of the work from perhaps the more insidious commercialisation of it, where it gets re-hashed, as in an old Gaugin being used to sell pizzas. But there are two arguments here, and you have to try for a fine balance.

JP Here perhaps we have an aesthetic approach clashing with the law of copyright. There are many artists working with samplers and scanners who have a post-modern aesthetic of appropriation. There are theorists like John Perry Barlow who wrote in Wired that “everything you know about intellectual property is wrong”, in the information age. One argument is that there should be a greater public domain to allow artists freer access to images and sounds. Are such arguments doomed to founder on the rock of copyright law, or is there some scope for a compromise, in which the law can be relaxed?

IC A lot of people are sympathetic to these postmodern arguments – but then you get it from the other side. Take the example of multimedia. It’s like a hybrid, taking bits and pieces from different art forms. Some say that a multimedia producer could take a piece of a visual artist’s work, a piece of music, and put it altogether, and not have to pay those artists. But then from those artists’ point of view, if that multimedia work makes a lot of money, surely they should get some slice of the pie.
I think there’ll be a move towards collecting societies which allow you to use the work without being restricted as long as you pay fair remuneration. I think that’s probably the way it will go, and perhaps the only way. It provides access to the material, but ensures that the original artist gets a fair remuneration.

JP Is that the most workable compromise?

IC I think so, because it is fair that if you’re an artist by profession, you should be compensated if your work is sampled or scanned. But then I think in the past the pendulum has swung too much towards the owners of copyright and not enough towards allowing access to material.

The Arts Law Centre of Australia gives legal and accounting advice to artists in all art forms. Services include free preliminary phone advice, referral to solicitors or dispute mediators, legal advice nights, publication sheets and seminars.

The next seminar, Tales From The Infobahn, discusses developments in electronic publishing and the challenge presented to the traditional publishing paradigm. Speakers are Oliver Freeman, from Publish Australia, Lynne Spender of the Australian Society of Authors, and Colin Galvin, barrister and lawyer.

The seminar is held on June 14, 6-8 pm, at the Gunnery, Woolloomooloo, Sydney.

RealTime issue #7 June-July 1995 pg. 8

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

In the same moment that Luna Park, Sydney’s oldest amusement park apart from Kings Cross, has been threatened with closure, a new entertainment space has opened in a shopping centre in suburban Hurstville, far from the Sydney-defining harbourside spectacle.

Called Intencity, it’s part video arcade, pinball parlour, sideshow alley and simulated amusement park, billed as “intertainment for the new world”.

Perhaps it is no more than egregious inner city snobbery to wonder at the ambition to create a new world in Hurstville. Kogarah at least gave us Clive James and is home to the bank that brings us the cheerfully tinny sound of Julie Anthony.

But Intencity is in Hurstville, in Westfield Shoppingtown, backed by Australia’s leading entertainment companies, Village Roadshow (the movie distributors and exhibitors) and the Nine Network.

If American shopping mall planning strategies are being used in this case, Intencity is in less than intense Hurstville because the demographics are right. In other words, the audience profile in the service area will maximise the number of visits and the size of the spend of what they call, in the trade, ‘guests’.

According to publicity, 212,000 guests visited Intencity in its first three weeks of operation. That’s slightly less than the number of people who visit Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks Museum in a year. And they expect 20,000 to 30,000 a week. (It was a slow Friday night when I went but maybe that was because it was cold and wet.) It’s principally aimed, according to Gary Berman, the Managing Director of Village Nine Leisure, the company behind Intencity, at 18–39 year olds.

Intencity’s recorded message promo boasts that it is the world’s first indoor interactive intertainment complex — intertainment being a combination of interactivity and entertainment.

So what is Intencity? What happens there? And what does it mean? Is it a menace to society? Is it like the video arcade, to use John Fiske’s phrase, a semiotic brothel of the machine age?

Intencity contains elements of the themed restaurant, the video arcade, the pinball parlour, the funfair, the theme park and the museum. It occupies just over 3,000 square metres and employs a staff of 150 people.

The space is divided into a number of themed areas which offer different kinds of entertainment. There’s Virtual World, a game set somewhere in space, like Mars. Here speed is success and rookie players are advised, “Be a bully. Collisions are big points when done right.”

Groups of participants, up to eight, battle it out, the aim being to win a race. The lengthy introduction to Mars and the rules of the game by video presenters and staff takes up a large part of the 25 minutes the experience lasts. Then you climb into a pod which is designed like the cramped cockpit of a Martian mining vehicle with a big screen up front looking out onto the virtual world. Then the race through the Martian canals begins.

Afterwards there’s a debriefing which tells you how you went. Even virtual reality has a reality check.

The other game in Virtual World is called Battletech. In the 31st century, the promocopy runs, sport is a deadly thing and war has been ritualised into sport. Mechwarriors fight it out like knights of yore in jousting competitions. “In Battletech, you can play as teams, or in a free for all where it’s every man (sic) for himself.”

This is the most expensive attraction at Intencity and bookings are recommended (although seemed entirely unnecessary on a wet Friday night during school term).

The other big attraction is Chameleon, which is similar to Virtual World but with simpler controls — steering wheel, accelerator, brake — rather than the complex and graded control possibilities in Virtual World. And you get to go to some differently designed part of the Hurstville universe, with more vinyl and fewer metal finishes.

For 1–12 year olds there’s Hide and Seek, created by Keith Ohlsen, one of the people responsible for McDonald’s soft-play concept areas for kids, a huge tubular play space area with mazes, slides, tunnels and obstacle courses.

There’s also a Wide World of Sports Centre where you can play virtual reality boxing (this is certainly not a spectator sport) in which you put on virtual reality head gear and have a boxing match with an opponent whom you don’t actually touch. As well there are mechanised basketball hoops, computer golf and baseball batting cages.

Other areas relate to music and include a booth where you can singalong, karaoke style, to an extensive playlist of pop songs, record the result and take the cassette home. It also includes DiMMMensions (Village owns radio network Triple M) which I missed. (Intencity is structured like a simple enclosed maze and it’s easy to get lost or distracted.)

Intencity’s front of house staff are all young people. Apart from security, waiters and sales people, they are mostly integrators, because their role, according to the media kit, is to ‘integrate guests into the Intencity experience’. More on this later.

So does Intencity offer a new kind of interactive entertainment?

The term interactive has had two principle applications both of which find their way into the Intencity experience.

Interactivity was a concept essential to the science centre movement which began in the United States in the 1960s aiming to educate people, kids mostly, about science, by getting them to participate in experiments or demonstrations of scientific principles.

The role of interactives was as three dimensional ‘permanent’ science experiments, which demonstrated a scientific principle. In San Francisco’s Exploratorium, the first science centre established in 1969, demonstrators — young people, mostly university science students — explained the principles of prisms or magnetic fields. The demonstrators were supposed to interact with visitors, to answer questions, provide help, or explanations if required, like the integrators in Intencity.

Interactive came to be applied more generally to any installation in a museum which got a viewer to do something other than look at it or read a label. At its most elementary, you might push a button and a video would start, or you would, using a computer interactive, make a complex set of choices using either a touch screen or a keypad, to elicit different kinds of information — a video clip, a computer game, or more recently, sending e-mail on the internet.

By extension, there were interactive and non-interactive forms of entertainment. Reading a book involved low levels of interactivity. At one level, it could be argued most book narratives were closed in the sense that you couldn’t change or alter them by your intervention (although fiction with narrative options for different outcomes have recently appeared).

Interactivity’s other history was in computer culture in the 1980s, where it became a buzzword for the message-response relationship that was set up in computer interface design.

It was here that higher levels of interactivity — not simple mechanical button pushing or reading, were seen to be possible. Interactivity in both these processes was seen as the key link, a kind of negotiated performance between the computer, or the machine and the user. This was partly structured by the computer’s hardware and software, in particular its language and design, partly by the user.

In early studies of video arcades in the 1980s, based on Pac men style games, social critics like John Fiske argued that these games constructed a particular kind of subjectivity, a form of resistance to home, school, work and family.

The person in charge of the machine was generally young, in terms of social power in a subordinate position, and from non anglo ethnic background. Fiske argues that the machines give the young man a sense of control, and so of power and pleasure, which he could not otherwise access because of his social position.

Fiske also noted social criticism of the arcades, namely that they were harmful to young people – distracting them from school, worthy consumption and home life – and that they encouraged vandalism, hooliganism and petty crime (young people would become addicted to the machines and need to steal to support their habit).

In Sydney, video arcades were banned from parts of the gay and lesbian Oxford Street precinct, and were not permitted in some shopping centres because they were seen to attract young men who were prone to anti-gay and lesbian violence on the one hand, or vandalism and petty crime on the other.

Intencity’s location in a shopping mall and the involvement of the developer Westfield in its operation is significant because the design and management of Intencity enables some forms of social control. It’s like McDonald’s meets the video arcade.

While some of Intencity’s games can offer the same kind of subjectivity that old video arcade games did, the environment in which they’re placed is far more tightly regulated, and the ‘guests’ or users who might go to a video arcade might not find the Intencity experience that attractive. It’s safe, sterile, (if brightly coloured and shiny), family oriented and heavily staffed, unlike a video arcade.

While the subjectivity offered by those old Pac men machines is still possible at Intencity, the combination with other forms of entertainment and group-operated machines makes that kind of subjectivity relatively marginalised.

The subjectivity that’s created by Chameleon or Virtual World is the subjectivity of the cultural actor, in which pleasure comes from participating in a narrative. A subjectivity of resistance might be built around disruption, or stepping in and out of roles. Stepping in and out of roles, however merely leads back to the social, and one of the principal pleasures of Intencity is to make it a place to meet people. Hence there are lounges where you can talk with the people you played with in Virtual World. It’s another suburban heterosexual public place.

And unlike the arcades, Intencity is not largely a single sex space. It is designed to include young women. In Chameleon, for example, both the video presenters taking you on your mission are experienced, no-nonsense young women.

Symbolically, the central theme of Intencity, its creators argue, is music, movies and sport. But these are marginalised spatially and experientially. Movies are reduced to a series of decorative blow ups of big stars, music to music video, a narrow playlist of hits you can sing along to, and a DJ booth screened off by a thick window, and closed mostly except to integrators. What counts is simulation games and the narratives they present.

In this new goal-oriented world “a man is defined by his actions, not by his memory” as Cuarto the mutant rebel leader says to Arnie in Total Recall, and here we become cultural actors who act and perform action.

“Just do it”, says the Nike ad.

The point is that there is nothing else to do. In the narratives of action, the aim is to score the goal, or win the race; there is pursuit and flight, attack and defence.

The games are designed for an environment which is safe and sterile. Both the games themselves, and their physical and simulated environment, have many of the characteristics that George Ritzer argues, in The McDonaldization of Society, are being built into a fast food world: rationality, efficiency, calculability, standardisation and predictability.

Wherever possible, he argues, this McDonaldization removes the human. Staff become integrators, a role which is at least partly scripted and for which they are trained.

When integrators and actors step outside their roles, things become more engaging. Wandering around the corridors of games we meet up again with the young man who introduced us to the Chameleon. He asks what my score was and I say it’s so pathetically low I couldn’t possibly tell him, he’d just laugh. He laughs anyway.

Did I like it? he asks, and because he wants me to like it because he identifies so strongly with it, I say yes, sure, it was cool. But I’m not used to it. It made me feel, well it made me feel sick, I tell him.

He says he’s had hundreds of goes on it and you get better the more you do it. I want to say that like any reality, it probably looks better after a drink, but then I remember the vomit button in the cockpit pod and I start feeling clammy and nauseous again.

It’s time to get back to the real world.

Jean Baudrillard has argued that the post modern involves the collapse of the real and history into the televisual and the disappearance of aesthetics and values in kitsch. If you take a particle accelerator to be high tech in the way that Last Year at Marienbad is high culture, then the games at Intencity are technokitsch.

So another suburban branch of the postmodern has opened in the decentred city. It’s free to get in, but prices vary depending on when you go. If you go during the week the main attractions are a dollar or two cheaper. At peak times over the weekend, Virtual World is $10.00 and Chameleon is $8.00.

Go with others. The constructed unit of consumption is, except for the sports and sideshow games, not the individual but the couple. Everyone was in groups and many of the games can only be fully played in pairs — there were young couples on a night out, girlfriends out together driving racing cars , buddies from a local gym practising their swing on the simulated golf range.

If you forget to eat before you go, the diner, Intake, serves what promo-language calls incredible edibles, or fast food. Incredibly it’s not that inedible.

Intencity, Westfield Shoppingtown, Cross Street and Park Road Hurstville Sydney. Open 7 days, 9.00 am to 12.00 midnight.

RealTime issue #7 June-July 1995 pg. 7

© Leigh Raymond; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Under the imposing shadow of the new Governor Philip Tower, the recently opened Museum of Sydney has emerged out of the rubble of the old Government House (1788–1846) to mount, what Ross Gibson, writer and director of the Museum’s Bond Store installation describes as “… a sustained and creative inquiry into the operations of power and commerce and colonialism.” Like many of the “new wave” of museums that are opening around the world, the Museum of Sydney produces itself as an entirely reflexive and reflective event that, in its very structure, in the very act of creating the museum environment, turns history into effect of interpretation.

The inert “ruins” of the colonial government are subsumed into a mobile, panoptic structure that imagines, and images, culture as the exchange between the microscopic and macroscopic dimensions of an everyday environment. It attempts to construct a multi-layered series of interpretative perspectives and projections that mark out the historical possibilities for any site, for all sites, at the same time as it vigorously resists any form of closure or completion of the past. In this sense, the Museum stands as a kind of fragile nexus of museology and informatics, of aesthetics and politics, where artefacts, narratives and events are reconfigured within a complex choreography of advanced audio-visual systems to mark out the site as one of an ongoing cultural contestation and negotiation.

For Gibson, the museum exists to demonstrate that “… the meanings of so many places around this inhabited country are always and endlessly questionable. As we go through the museum, we hope it becomes apparent to the visitor that there is a profusion of assertions, versions, stories, options, testimonies; and that they all interrelate and they all invite interpretation. And that’s what the place is about: the necessity for you to reason through, worry through, imagine through, and come up with your best preference for how to interpret the various narratives, rather than it being a place where you’re taught a given line. Of course that open-endedness is ideological as well.”

Approaching the design of his installation and the place as a whole, Gibson continually draws attention to the notion that “space is a live construction of meanings which is changing all the time and so the idea of spatial history is fundamental to the place. Nothing is impeachably solid; it’s there but it is only just there. And although you can see the outside world so readily though all of the glass, in this quite hi-tech, metallic design, no matter where you are in the space, a representation of the natural environment, of a pristine ecology, is always informing what you see and hear. You can’t go anywhere without the environment, as it is understood in a mediated system, being close by.”

Each installation or exhibit produces itself as both a singular point of attraction, of narrative possibility, and as an interconnected passage between the various levels of the site. From the subterranean image of the “dig” mapped onto the outside plaza, to Heidi Riederer’s and Colin Grimmer’s arcane, shifting panoramas of Sydney on the top level, there is a feeling of being drawn through a range of vistas, of ideas, of sounds, and of mechanisms that are, for Gibson, “… ghosted with the markings of previous struggles, previous occupations, previous institutions. It’s a site of transience, but even at this very moment, it’s also a site of contestings, of meetings and negotiations.”

In this way, Gibson sees the Museum as a place for devolving authority, for making it negotiable, changeable; a place of layering, of levels, and reflection that initiates an “interpenetration of outside and inside space, outside and inside light, outside and inside vantage points. Every surface that you strike, every surface that you encounter, has several latencies in it; and this idea of layers, this idea of having to continually look and shift your focus and know enough about any of the surfaces that you encounter is central to the direction of the museum. This is a space in which you can almost see the edges; you don’t become lost in it, and over time it alters itself endlessly.”

And yet, as we move through this “new” space of cultural production, what also becomes apparent is that the sheer indeterminacy of this interpretative surface carries within it the potential to dissolve, into its “aura” or spectre, the very divisions, the differences, the material conditions, of a colonial history; to subsume politics into aesthetics, critique into mediation, event into environment. To maintain its critical edge, the Museum of Sydney must become a site that not only negotiates or contends the assumption of meaning, but one that inevitably questions the whole categorical imperative of a mediated “culture” itself.

The Museum of Sydney opened May 20.

RealTime issue #7 June-July 1995 pg. 6

© Nicholas Gebhardt; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Multimedia Forum One—’Government Support for a Creative Nation’—at Sydney Town Hall on 8 March, was the first of a series of forums arising from the interactive multimedia (IMM) initiatives announced in the commonwealth’s 1994 cultural policy, Creative Nation. The event was primarily an information dissemination exercise—it provided a platform for besuited bureaucrats and corporate types to deliver monologues on the various programs established under the $84 million allocated in Creative Nation to the development of IMM in Australia. Absent from the vast bulk of the day’s proceedings was discussion of the role of creative artists in the ‘new’ medium, or indeed of the content of the multimedia “product” the emerging industry will be assiduously merchandising.

Richard Heale of the Australian Interactive Multimedia Industry Association kicked off with a hubristic SWOT analysis of multimedia in Australia (that’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats to those uninitiated into the arcana of corporate doublespeak). Heale advocated “harnessing the opportunities created by the new technologies to grow our own industry” based on the production of domestically and internationally saleable content. We must steer clear, he helpfully cautioned, of “multimediocrity” and “multimundanity”. His glowing reference to the establishment of the Telestra/Microsoft on-line network exemplified the total lack of a critical register in much of the thinking around CD-ROM and the infobahn, especially given the spectre of Australia as a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft. Tellingly, Heale warned of the “susceptibility” of the industry to “market intervention” by big government, which he believes can “distort the IMM marketplace and retard its development”. Paradoxically, he simultaneously applauded the proposed 150% tax write off for CD-ROM R&D, a replay of the infamous 10BA scheme which, in the words of one conference delegate, was “one of the biggest disasters ever to befall the Australian film industry.”

Communications and Arts Minister Michael Lee stressed the need to focus on content and to develop a coordinated approach to industry development to ensure that Australia is not swamped by overseas product. Lee underlined the importance of the development of an “open access regime” guaranteed by government for the on-line services coming our way. He emphasised the “hybridity” of the nascent media zones of the late 20th century and the need for “collaboration” between software and creative producers. Noble sentiments, but the remainder of the forum provided little opportunity for the articulation of exactly how such a collaboration might be effected.

Gwen Andrews from the Department of Communications and the Arts reported that the Australian Multimedia Enterprise—a Commonwealth owned organisation allocated $45 million under Creative Nation— will fund, through one off grants of between $200,000 and $700,000, “state of the art”, “world class” interactive titles which demonstrate significant “innovation” and “creativity”. Title development kicks off with the Australia on CD program designed to showcase Australian cultural endeavour by developing 10 CD-ROMs that focus on national cultural institutions. The Department of Communications and the Arts is currently calling for applications for funding under this scheme.

The AFC and the AFTRS are also winners in the world of Creative Nation. Jason Wheatley outlined the AFTRS’ plans for its $950,000 over 4 years allocated to fund the establishment of a multimedia laboratory and to extend the AFTRS’ advanced professional training in multimedia related areas. Michael Ward reported on the AFC’s $5.25 million over four years for developmental multimedia projects. The overall objective of the new AFC funding is to encourage initiatives which explore the creative potential of multimedia. The Commission will be targeting arts and entertainment in the form of interactive movie projects, computer game development and artists’ projects.

Ian Creagh from Department of Employment, Education and Training outlined the Cooperative Multimedia Centres (CMCs) program which has been allocated $56.5 ($20.3 million over the first four years) for the establishment of up to six CMCs around the country. The primary aim of the Centres—which will be operational by mid 1995— is to “facilitate the formation of the skills required to meet the needs of the emerging interactive multimedia industry”. Trouble is, it seems little thought has gone into developing a cogent picture of exactly what skills are required and who should have access to the training. How, moreover, are existing cultural producers—visual and electronic artists, designers, filmmakers, performers, scriptwriters—going to access the prospective cornucopia of training and industry development opportunities? How will their involvement, and their access to the brave new technologies of the information revolution, be ensured? Will the energies of the new techno-bohemians whose creation the CMCs will ‘facilitate’ be directed totally to, in the words of one conference delegate, “turning a buck”, or will there also be space for research, experimentation and a critical engagement with the formal and aesthetic properties of the medium?

Interestingly, the sole presentation by an artist—Tom Ellard of Severed Heads—elicited the most enthusiastic crowd response. Ellard demonstrated the CD-ROM Metapus which documents the band’s recording and performance history. His advocacy for the key role of musicians, i.e., artists, in the development of interactive multimedia in this country set in sharp relief the almost total absence of any engagement, on the part of the apparatchiks of the state and business, with the question of the involvement of individual creators. The only other moment in the day which drew a comparable response was Michael Lee’s collective mea culpa about the disgraceful treatment of the artist-architect Jorn Utzon by the myopic and philistine bureaucracy of the 1960s. Perhaps there’s a message there for the incumbent engineers of the ‘multimedia platform’ of the putatively creative nation. Stay tuned for further forums—the next series, on cultural creators, may hopefully address the key factor largely omitted from the first series.

Information on future forums is available from the Department of Communications and the Arts. The forum series will travel to Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra.

RealTime issue #6 April-May 1995 pg. 24

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

Spin has been initiated entirely by the dancers within the company as Chrissie Parrott herself is on sabbatical in France. The dancers decided to take a radical approach and invited me, as a visual artist working with hybrid art with a particular interest in collaborative processes, to work on the project with them as visual consultant.

The idea of the season is to create an unusual and exciting event for the audience. This huge old warehouse will be completely blacked out (no mean feat as the roof has acres of skylights!) and the audience will be led by a surreal guide through the space, from one event to the next. Each event will be like a strange fragment of thought that emerges out of the blackness in different parts of the space and then disappears. Each of the company members will choreograph one of these fragments and there will be an additional one from guest choreographer Sue Peacock. I am working with each choreographer to develop the best possible use of the space, lighting and the use of colour in the sets, costumes and props.

Claudia Alessi decided to combine gymnastics, circus skills and dance in her fragment. Her work will use ropes, trampolines and mesh walls. Helene Embling, the French aerialist, has been brought in to work with the dancers and develop the necessary rope skills. As Claudia wanted the audience’s eye level to coincide with dancers in full flight—up on ropes and jumping up from trampolines—her work is positioned down in the loading bay of the warehouse with the audience up above on the ramps around it. The piece will use a landscape of ropes, side lighting and slides projected up through the trampolines onto the dancers. As the predominant colours of the ropes and trampolines are greys and browns we decided to restrict the palette of the slides and to work with etchings and drawings.

One of Claudia’s central idea is an exploration of the human desire to fly so we concentrated on this and will use the extraordinary Leonardo drawings of flying machines as projections, interspersing them with his anatomical drawings of the body.

Paul O’Sullivan wanted to develop a solo in which the only light source came from lights strapped to his body. We are using smoke in the environment to make the shafts of light emanating from his body more visible. We are presently working on making his fragment more site-specific—his climb up into the roof will make the audience aware of the height and scale of the building and the piece will start to explore the relationship in scale between the dancer’s body and the huge old warehouse.

Lisa Heaven decided to explore a dark, emotional stasis. Through extended conversations an austere aesthetic emerged in black and white lighting and black costumes. The physical presence of water appeared as an important element for her. We decided to introduce a slight shimmer of water falling like mist into the circle of light in which she is dancing. A solo cellist will improvise in another circle of light. The other element is a male dancer suspended on a wall and transfixed in a beam of light, which travels the length of the warehouse to make a circle of light around him. The circle of light parallels the Da Vinci drawing in that it transcribes the exact limits of the reach of his limbs. Throughout the work, the dancer traces the limits of his body. The distance and blackness between the elements in the piece and the lack of contact between the performers heightens the dark sense of stasis central to the work.

Sue Peacock is choreographing a fragment to take place in the centre of the space. She wants to investigate lasting human values and emotions and has positioned her work in the heart of the space. Her work will be viewed in the round and is to be lit by a ring of fire.

Jon Burtt’s fragment takes place within a sculptural form composed of eight vertical shafts of light in a ring. It is an interactive work, which has been developed by myself, Jon and John Patterson, a sound artist and uses information technology to create an environment of sound and light, which allows the performer to generate sounds through his position in space. It becomes a tool to allow Jon to extend the potential of improvisation.

We also worked with performance artist Matthew Ngui, originally from Singapore and who has lived in Perth for around five years. We asked him to sing the first Chinese song that he could remember—a haunting and beautiful tune. It turned out it was the theme tune for a Chinese TV show! The dancer moves slowly within a circle of lights, which shine vertically onto the floor. When he moves he triggers short snatches of the song (via sensors) like half recalled memories. As these snatches of song start to layer over each other a reinterpretation develops which explores different understandings of time and memory.

Kylie-Jane Wilson is interested in extreme athleticism and fast, intensive movement. She suggested the use of Intelligent Lighting and we are working on developing ways of using it with smoke to generate huge sculptural forms in space—cones and sheets of light that inform the choreography by delineating areas within which the dancers move.

Peter Sheedy decided to explore the nature of work. His piece, “Grind”, looks at the fragmentation and specialisation of tasks, which have occurred in the workplace since the industrial revolution. He is using a gestural, minimal and repetitive movement language to reflect this. We decided to further investigate these ideas through the use of lighting states, which only partially reveal the space and the dancers in it. One of these states is a horizontal channel of light at waist height, which reveals fragments of the dancers locked into repetitive, gestural movement sequences, which echo the processes of workers on an assembly line. Another vertical shaft of light partially reveals a person suspended, working on a chain hoist.

The final sequence is danced with the dancers’ backs to the audience, their faces never revealed. The lighting shines from behind them towards the audience through a chicken wire fence. The patterning of the shadows cast by the mesh fragments and conceals the bodies of the dancers.

It has been an intriguing and challenging experience for me as a visual artist to work with seven choreographers with such differing aesthetics, collaborating with them to help develop visual environments that complement the full intention of the works. I hope that this radical initiative taken by the dancers of the Chrissie Parrott Dance Company will pave the way for many more such inter-disciplinary collaborations.

RealTime issue #6 April-May 1995 pg. 4

© Katie Moore; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

The rhetorical architecture of Paul Keating’s recent Creative Nation statement signals the growing realisation that the new media arts are emblematic of new cultural, economic and paradigmatic shifts in our everyday lives. Clearly, this document suggests a substantial shift in government cultural policy from the more traditional emphasis on direct assistance to visual artists, filmmakers, writers, performers, dancers, and all kinds of cultural producers, to a more recent one of supporting diverse institutions and mechanisms of cultural products and services in the context of local, national and global cultural spaces.

For the first time, aside from the more necessary concerns of supporting relevant arts funding institutions like the Australia Council and the traditional art forms, we have a focus on the way the new multimedia technologies connect to broadcasting, computing, telephony and information. This signifies throughout the document a sustained project to expand the economic export potential of the arts by encouraging the computer/multimedia sector of our economy to fund new digital media products. Further, it indicates the emergence of new post-biological art forms evolving from a multiplicity of interactions in electronic space.

Although Creative Nation possesses numerous worthwhile ideas, rhetorical emphases, and pragmatic funding suggestions, there is nevertheless a problematic Arnoldian characterisation of the traditional and the new media art forms in terms of cultural excellence, national identity, self-expression and quality. To a considerable degree, this is a valuable road map to our expanding techno-culture and its relevance to us as individuals and as a highly urbanised multicultural society. But it is a document that also typifies certain cultural, epistemological and technological pitfalls of a more utopian/ technophilic approach to the question of new media technologies and contemporary art practice.

Too much emphasis has been placed on how high-tech entrepreneurs have the magical formula for transforming Australia into a cutting-edge cultural producer in the Pacific Rim. The $84 million tha t is to be spent in the next four years is a positive step in facilitating new media products and services for Australia’s rapid entry into a post-broadcast world of global media, but little consideration has been given to the more marginalised artists, who are more representative of the postmodern technological avant-garde, in the emerging multimedia institutional landscape.

Too often reading Creative Nation one has the conviction of déjà vu: a naive belief in a top-down hierarchical model of cultural production, new media technologies as an expression of late-capital culture and Platonic cyberspace ideology. It is also assumed that new media art forms imply, ipso facto, new aesthetic paradigms. This does not mean that I subscribe to the wilder romantic excesses of Roy Ascott’s view of the new interactive media as a global “mind-to-mind” revolution nor to a Jeffersonian model of the information superhighway and its putative emancipatory possibilities as we read in Wired and other West Coast New Age publications. But I do believe in the critical project of conceptualising the new media art forms (as Ascott does) along the lines of a bottom-up paradigm of connectivity and interactivity.

The new “terminal identity” subjectivity that defines the young navigators of today’s computer terminals of multimedia forms has not been adequately acknowledged. Electronic art as an open-ended paradigm for re-thinking our institutions, our perceptions of ourselves and the complex continuity between traditional and new media has taken second place to the notion of new multimedia technology as a national educational “down-loading” technology. (This is especially evident in the “Australia on CD” Program). The proactive stance adopted by Creative Nation to engender a viable content- oriented multimedia industry suggests a limited utilitarian concept of the new electronic media. It rarely acknowledges that the genealogical formations of new media art forms are complex and that their innovative computer-mediated audiovisual concepts, forms, textures and cultural agendas are a legacy of modernism as much as they are of the post-war avant-garde arts. (This is tangentially indicated in the recent Nike TV advertisement featuring William Burroughs).

What is commendable in this cultural policy document is its underlying objective to locate the new media arts in the broader domain of everyday life. However, this does not negate the importance of creating new exhibition, production and rhetorical contexts for artists engaged in the new cultural forms, in the gallery and the festival world as much as in the proposed Co-operative Multimedia Development Centres. The electronic arts depend on our ability to question the misleading beliefs and assumptions of our cultural zeitgeist, whether they do constitute an “avant-garde” practice and how they relate to the more traditional art forms. Further, irrespective of the document’s practical strategies to create national multimedia forums, the Australian Multimedia Enterprise, the Co-operative Multimedia Development Centres, the “Australia on CD” Program and funding the Australian Film Commission to produce multimedia works, we need to ask the more demanding self-reflexive questions regarding technology’s masculinist conceptual frameworks, seeing how cultural institutions mask the vested interests of academic, bureaucratic and corporate culture and how our mainstream thinking about art, culture and technology is hopelessly inadequate in the light of the aesthetic and cultural turbulence the new cultural technologies are creating. (On the latter point, Laurence Rickels amongst others, has appropriately described our symptomatic inability to find our way from the inside of technologisation as “perspective psychosis”).

Where Creative Nation is correct is in stressing the diverse division of cultural labour that is required for the production of CD-ROM technology, broadband interactives services, and on-line PC services. It is confused and vague however on the complexities of training individuals in the new electronic media and on how established and younger artists will connect with corporate, software and tertiary personnel in these new production contexts. Creative Nation underestimates not only the experimental necessity of the role that more peripheral Nintendo literate artists have to play in the production of the new multimedia exhibits and screen-based electronic media, but it also overlooks the importance of how difficult it is to locate adequately trained new media arts personnel.

Consequently, artists familiar with the new media forms need to be situated in the chain of executive decision-making, they need to be empowered and visible in the new tertiary sites creating their hybrid works for the Internet as much as for the more orthodox forms of broadcasting, exhibition and critical reception. Bureaucrats, curators, producers and our museums and heritage sites need to commission new media artists to do new works for everyday consumption, something that is finally recognised in the Creative Nation document and is sadly lacking today with the exception of one or two museums like the Museum of Sydney.

It is crucial that we remind ourselves whenever possible that the emergent media arts are starting to represent a canon as much as the more traditional art forms do. This necessitates the hermeneutic awareness to question our established tendency to either subscribe to a utopian or a dystopic view of the new media arts.

As we approach the end of this century, what is clearly emerging in electronic media are the unpredictable non-binary intertextual forms between computer art, video, cinema, television, performance, virtual reality and photography and the increasing significance of computer animation and graphics in shaping the concerns and techniques of interactive installation art. Lamentably, Creative Nation does not give due recognition to these dynamic aesthetic, cultural and technological forms, nor to their multimedia creators and neither does it consider how they might be located in reference to education, culture and industry.

Notwithstanding the questionable nationalist slant of Creative Nation and its overall tendency to define the new media technologies almost solely in audience, economic, marketing and social terms, it nevertheless manages to address important issues relating to how the new digital arts are connected to the experience of our everyday lives. It is a significant “weather vane” signal by the Keating administration that finally the new media technologies are being factored into government cultural policy. But why should new media artists endowed with experience and knowledge of these art forms play second fiddle to our techno-corporate industrialists?

RealTime issue #5 Feb-March 1995 pg. 25

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

With Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and the Pope in Sydney at the same time in January this year, inevitably comparisons arose, with one newspaper declaring that “the Pope is here and God is too”. But while the Pope beatified Mary MacKillop, Gates preached a new religion of digital information.

Paul Keating ratified Gates’ vision in his Creative Nation statement, by committing $84 million to supporting the development of indigenous CD-ROM and on-line information services. But how can individual Australian developers take advantage of the multimedia hype and successfully build and market their own CD-ROMs or on-line information services?

Given that multimedia developers typically fall into two camps, the technoheads and the artists, the first challenge is marrying creative with technical and software skills. Here, the internet or physical bulletin boards of universities and colleges can help. Also useful could be Microsoft’s “Multimedia Jumpstart”, a CD-ROM developer’s kit, and Interactive Multimedia Development Guide, a free publication on how to develop CD-ROMs, available from Microsoft.

The second challenge is getting access to funding to develop your concept commercially. It can cost up to half a million dollars to successfully develop and market a CD-ROM globally. Commercial information services can cost similar amounts.

There are five main development phases for multimedia: market analysis and development of a proposal, including the business plan; scripting; prototyping; production; and marketing and distribution. There are several possible avenues to secure funding for each phase:

• Friends wishing to take a share of your business. Many small high tech companies begin this way.

• Small business loans from the bank, difficult to get if you are a sole proprietor, and do not have four or five years of business success under your belt.

• Australian or overseas multimedia companies that may want to invest in your title. All global multimedia companies have departments to assess acquisition or investment in start-up companies. New on-line information gateways being established in Australia such as On Australia, the joint venture between Telecom and Microsoft, may also be interested.

• Venture capital funds in Australia or United States. Depending on their assessment of your business plan, market forecasts and management ability, these companies take a share of your business in return for providing funding. • Federal arts or small business loans and grants. The Australia Council, Film Australia and the soon to be established Australian Multimedia Enterprise (AME) fund a variety of multimedia and will generally review your business plans in a similar manner to the venture capital funds.

Distribution is the third big challenge. With the flood of CD-ROMs coming onto the market there will soon be a ‘shelf space’ problem, where smaller independent publishers will have difficulty selling their products because the majors will dominate the shelf space for CD-ROM sales. The most successful approach seems to be negotiating a licensing or distribution deal with one of the majors, such as Microsoft or Brodurbund.

Independent developers will also need to rapidly acquire new skills in the field of user interface design. If Microsoft’s success in developing icon-based graphical user interfaces is any indication, the multimedia titles that are most intuitive for users will also be most successful.

When AME is established in March this year, its mandate will include providing advice to new Australian developers seeking multimedia project finance. This will go some way to creating a much needed information node and coordination point for the multimedia industry in Australia. It could be a useful starting point for you if you require advice about how to take your multimedia idea one step further towards commercial development.

RealTime issue #5 Feb-March 1995 pg. 27

© David Harrington; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Those of us who have been keeping an eye on the creative and meaning-making possibilities of the computer since the early 70s have always been daunted by the technology with which it is associated, by its cost and by the complexity of the metalanguage. The developments in multimedia computing technology of recent years have to some extent addressed these concerns, although the time, effort and precision required to assemble a series of images for interactive purposes are still considerable. The prospect of a crash is all too real, unless well-designed software runs smoothly from the memory store. It is here that the CD-ROM can make its greatest contribution to art production.

The CD-ROM has more stable attributes than the memory storage devices normally linked to the computer’s processor, such as floppy and hard discs, which are based on magnetic media and so subject to interference both electro-magnetic and physical. While artists have been working with computer technology since its arrival on the scene in the 40s, CD-ROM enables the digital data stream to be stored in a medium more stable than the magnetised surface, whose delicate and fugitive nature evokes the clay used by sculptors before bronze-casting arrived to maximise plasticity and permanence.

Recently, desktop CD-ROM burners capable of making an individual Compact Disc-Read Only Memory (CD-ROM) hit the market. Initially intended for the archiving of company accounts and records, increasingly, contemporary artists are responding to the potential of the computer/CD-ROM medium as several of the ‘problem areas’ are addressed:

• Where previously there was a whole host of ‘computing systems’ of infinite combinations of hardware and software, the CD as a publishing/distribution medium has encouraged the convergence of systems for making, and replicating, the artwork.

• The ephemeral and fugitive nature of much computer-based work has restricted its exhibition potential to one-off installations, or playout through video/film recording. The archival specifications of CD-ROM can more or less guarantee the integrity of a completed work as “art-on-disc”, as well as enhance the prospects for financial return to artists through purchase, editioning and licensing.

• The cost of transferring computer files from “the studio”(the workstation with hard disc/server) to “the gallery”(the Compact Disc) has been lowered, enabling relatively cheap ‘casting’ – AU$150 per copy commercially down to AU$30 material costs if a ‘burner’ can be accessed.

• The industry has designed tools for production, for specialist users rather than programmers, offering artists independence from profit-orientated facility houses at the production stage, although one has to be a truly Renaissance individual – simultaneously photographer, film/video camera operator, lighting director, graphic designer, writer, picture and sound editor, typographer, sound recordist, computer programmer and line producer – or play at “the real estate business” and raise a budget to be able to pay for the expertise required.

Whilst being regarded by sections of the industry as an intermediate technology awaiting the arrival of the ‘superhighway’ networks, the CD medium’s material immutability will remain a major advantage as a storage device. Through an interface with whatever distribution system technology provides, like the Greek bronze, the disc is a stable repository of cultural evidence capable of becoming knowledge.

Mike Leggett is currently preparing an international survey exhibition of artists making and distributing work on CD-ROM for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney to be held mid-year. This article is extracted from a paper presented at the Intersections Conference at the UNSW in September 1994. The full paper and further details about the Artists CD-ROM Show can be accessed on the World Wide Web at: http:// www. gu. edu. au/gart/Fineart Online/info/cd-rom.html [expired]

The MCA is on the lookout for artists whose work uses CD-ROM for possible inclusion in their show planned for September this year. The curators’ main aim is to represent the diversity of practice being pursued worldwide by artists working with computers, giving particular emphasis to work that is extending the possibilities of the medium, for example its potential to alter the nature of engagement between a work and its audience. Innovative presentations by artists using CD-ROM of work in other media will also be considered. The deadline for proposals is 17 February, 1995.

RealTime issue #5 Feb-March 1995 pg. 27

© Mike Leggett; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Doors of Perception 1994 was staged by the Netherlands Design Institute and Mediamatic magazine. Over 1000 delegates from all over Europe, the USA, Japan and Australia, from the fields of technology, design, psychology, philosophy, art, and architecture were in Amsterdam for the event.

The conference organisers started from the premise that when a new technology enters a culture, the culture changes. In response, speakers focused on a particular culture, ‘home’: home as market, as metaphor and as myth.

Speakers compared the qualities of telematic space and domestic space, and analysed changes to our sense of place, both public and private. They looked at the psychology of belonging – to a family, group, or community, and explored the architecture of information and the creation of shared meaning in virtual communities.

There was concern expressed that vast resources are being devoted to digital versions of existing human activities – teleshopping, video-on-demand, telecommuting, but attempts to create entirely new uses for the technologies have been unambitious, to say the least. As the concept of ‘home’ developed, various speakers engaged in debate about the political and cultural potential of new media and its impact on domestic space. What ‘home’ might constitute in light of advances in telematics physically as well as psychologically became a key issue for the conference.

For John Perry Barlow, lyricist for The Grateful Dead and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the global interpersonal links facilitated by the “information superhighway” mean that one can go out and make everywhere ‘home’. Pauline Terreehorst, journalist and author, speculated on the other hand, that the introduction of communication technologies into the physical home would transform the home into a place where people could also work thereby fostering positive changes in relationships between men and women. Her argument was founded on the belief that home played a much more positive role before industrialisation forced people to separate the domestic sphere from work.

Amy Bruckman, a doctoral candidate at MIT, and founder of MediaMOO (a text-based virtual reality environment designed as a professional on-line community for media researchers), saw communication networks as a place – perhaps an extension of the home. She stressed the expressive powers of language and the role of the imagination in new media, pointing out that the network was a place or space to inhabit, and that MOOs are more about a sense of community than they are about information exchange. Mitch Ratcliffe, editor of Digital Media and co-author of Powerbook: The Digital Nomad’s Guide, was particularly concerned to ensure that freedom of speech and thought along with privacy in all personal transactions are protected by the technosystems. He stressed that public participation is crucial to the development of information networks, given that currently the networks simply resemble an “infomercial superhighway”. To Ratcliffe, the Church, the State, and the Corporation have to date been the dominant influences on society, whereas we now need to focus on a sense of community. Whilst the sense of family, or community on the net provided the audience with a positive – indeed almost warm and fuzzy feeling – as the conference progressed the issues related to privacy and access and the fear that the internet already appears to be slipping from the public sphere provided a counter argument. This tension exploded during David Chaum’s paper. Chaum is managing director of DigiCash, an Amsterdam-based company which has pioneered electronic cash payment systems and also chairs CAFE, the European Union research consortium investigating the technical infrastructure and equipment for electronic money in Europe. He described the possible introduction of purchasing power via the internet, which raised concerns amongst many of the conference participants about what sort and how much personal information about users would become readily available via the net.

Whilst artists such as Jeffrey Shaw from Karlsruhe, and Lynn Hershman from California provided some insight into how media art can provide a means of critiquing space and place in the impending telematic age, more concrete issues of how to maintain or indeed gain equitable access to the “infobahn” tended to be marginalised by the debate.

Given the multimedia-mania which has arisen out of the Federal Government’s recently announced Cultural Policy, you too may wish o participate in the echoes of these debates. You can do this by accessing papers delivered at the conference at the World Wide Web site set up by Mediamatic and the Design Institute, where, sitting in a dark bedroom bathed in the light emanating from your computer terminal, there is also the opportunity to reply. http://mmol. mediamatic.nl

The Netherlands Design Institute, established in 1993 as an independent foundation which receives core funding from the Dutch Government, aims to identify new ways by which design may contribute to the economic and cultural vitality of the community. It is a ‘think-and-do tank’ which develops scenarios about the future of design and undertakes research projects to test them.

Mediamatic magazine is a quarterly on art and media and the changes being wrought by techno-culture, hypermedia and virtual reality. Aside from the print and CD-ROM publications, Mediamatic magazine is also published on the internet. Mediamatic Interactive Publishing also offers content driven research and development.

RealTime issue #5 Feb-March 1995 pg. 28

© Brad Miller & Amanda Cowley ; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

“Making a dinosaur for Jurassic Park is exactly the same as designing a car.” That’s how Ed McCracken, CEO of computer mega-corp Silicon Graphics, figures it. Truth is, few of us would disagree.

Entertainment and commercial manufacturing have always made good bedfellows, though in the past we would seldom mistake one for the other. American industrial designers of the 1920s and 1930s like Henry Dreyfuss and Norman Bel Geddes may have dreamt up sets for Broadway, and General Motors car stylist Harley Earl may have lived in Hollywood, but that’s about where the connection ended. Well almost. But at least there was an epistemological difference between their stylised sets and props on stage or screen and the built environment of consumer products. Nowadays their interchangeability hardly raises an eyebrow. Hollywood and Detroit work out their ‘market ergonomics’ (a niche for every body) and concept development on the same computers, sell their products through he same media (TV, radio, print, billboards) and dump their goods in the same old places (western suburbia or third world economies). Makes no difference to them.

At the same time, television has been let out of the studio and shoved headfirst into the world of space, time and architecture – Natural Born Killers -style.

There’s no denying it. Media, telecommunications, marketing and computing are congealing into newly corporatised urban landscapes that bear none of the dark romantic hallmarks production designers Lawrence Paull and Syd Mead materialised for Bladerunner’s bad-new-future. Forget the utopian soothsaying and gothic crystal-ball gazing. For the large majority of us the future is already here – and it’s not what you’d call pretty. It’s planned, it’s calculated, it’s flashy, it’s corporate- global. It’s most probably at a shopping complex or video/computer/TV screen near you. And it’s gonna cost. Our sprawling cities provide the new outlets for a determinedly material culture in which design appears to have no limits. We see and hear evidence that things have been deliberately cast (as if we don’t know by whom and to what end) at every turn – from fetishistic consumer objects to urban planning; from TV graphics and virtual voyaging to the loud packaging of cereals for the supermarket shelf or for television; from the austere public bus shelter to the new tollway or tunnel that increases the distance between home and work even as it’s annihilated. It is increasingly hard to avoid contact with a world designed on the totalising scale of global media. Everyone and everything is plugged-in (especially when it’s advertised ‘Unplugged’). We all know this: the distance that used to separate the media and the world it conjures disappeared seasons ago. But here’s the rub: real life is now designed and experienced as an extension of commercial media, and not (as we used to think) the other way round. North America remains the pioneering source of material media – the phantasms and obscenities of traditional media (from Hollywood to the Fox network) have been concretised in a bombastic web (I hesitate to call it a system) of consumer objects and places. Small wonder American architecture and design are now so closely aligned with the diverse (often perverse) interests of multinational media conglomerates and magnates providing the model upon which countless other cities-as-urban-theme-parks around the world evolve. The following banal ‘framegrabs’ are not from the near or distant future. It’s still 1995, and the theme remains the same: consumption is fun. So what if it costs a little? Frame 1. Even at 30,000 feet, no-one can escape the right to consume, with the credit card of your choice. The High Street Emporium guide, just like the other Skymall shopping catalogues, gives me instant access to merchandise I wouldn’t look twice at on the ground. Inside I find exciting gift ideas for family and friends, as well as items I know I can’t live without. Like the solar-powered ventilated golf cap, complete with six 1/2-volt solar cells to power the fan, which directs a constant breeze towards my forehead. Or the vacuum-powered Insect Disposal System. It may look like a simple handheld cleaner but it’s not. Really. Lined with non-toxic gel (harmless to human and pets) and powered by a built-in rechargeable NICad battery, the 14,000 rpm fan System lets me quickly capture and dispose of insects at a comfortable distance without ever having to touch them.

Freedom of choice is a wonderful thing. I continue browsing: the Portabolt (to lock myself and my loved ones safely inside any opening door), the Auto Toothpaste Dispenser (of course), the world’s smallest 8-digit credit card-sized calculator that records up to 20 seconds of instant voice-notes, or the odour- absorbing PoochPads for dog owners who love their dogs but hate the mess. Just call the 1-800 number conveniently accessible on the Airfone Service the phone company have installed in the seat in front of me. These telephones aren’t for talking to people. They’re for ordering more stuff.

Frame 2. I remember this the next time I dial a 1-800 number to purchase some other stuff (tickets for a 3D Imax movie at a brand new retro-styled multiplex cinema at Lincoln Plaza, Manhattan – the screen measures eight storeys high).

The call is promptly answered by a friendly female voice who thanks me for using their service. “Welcome to the Sony Cinema Network. Please enter your zipcode to locate the theatre nearest you. Press 9 for more information, or 0 for the operator”. Nothing strange about this – though I can’t recall my zipcode, and the theatre I want is not in my neighbourhood anyway. I press 9 and the increasingly irritatingly calm voice thanks me again (as she does for the remaining nine multiple choices). “If you would like to see the following movie, please press the corresponding number now”. This is the future of interactive TV.

More instructions. If I want to see the underwater movie press 1, the Buffalos press 2, the … Next enter date of the booking. And the time of the session. “I’m sorry, the 3pm session is full. Please choose another time”. I do, making sure to punch in the number of tickets I require, the number of my credit card, and of course its expiry date (a rigorous safeguard against fraud I presume). Tickets confirmed, funds are invisibly sucked from one cyberspace to another. I’m ready to watch the show. After one more machine transaction that is – at the front of the lobby, attached to the wall, in front of the long line. Swipe my card, and out pop three tickets for the 5 o’clock show. Amazing. Only an extra buck per ticket.

Frame 3. At Universal City’s ET Adventure, ride, cards and telephones find another convergence. Sponsored by telecommunications giant AT&T, the ride flies dozens of bicycle riders at a time to land somewhere beyond the narrative limits of Spielberg’s original filmic universe. After waiting in the line, everybody gives their name to the tour hosts. In exchange, we are each given an individual “passport” (coincidentally the same size and dimensions as a regular AT&T calling card). Everybody clears “customs” and we riders soar off above the earthly world – with noisy jeeps and a swelling John Williams soundtrack in hot pursuit. On towards the night sky, and in a minute we’ve reached ET’s cute cartoon planet – a world we’ve never seen (in the movie at least). The most magical highlight is left till last. As we swing past the animatronic Extra Terrestrial waving us farewell at the end of the ride, we are all called – individually and by name – by Him, ET. After such an experience, who could ever forget to call home again?

Frame 4. At the motion-platform Omnimax ride, Back to the Future – a fifteen minute experience that ushers the participants through an architectural maze of corridors and checkpoints inside the neo-brutalist Institute for Future Technology – we make it home via other means. For a quarter of an hour at least, we’re supposed to go along with the idea that we’re actually participating in an extended narrative from the film of the same name. The uncomplicated labyrinth that distributes us from one checkpoint to the next – complete with surveillance cameras, familiar actors giving us backstory on video monitors, written LED instructions, and real institute “assistants” – is only vaguely engaging. Being strapped into the eight-seater De Lorean time travel mobile is another matter entirely. The reality effect rapidly accelerates, and time slows as in a dream (or nightmare). Crashing headlong through a seamless collage of 20th century shopping centres, town squares, Ice Age landscapes, Hill Valley circa 2015, prehistoric volcanoes, exploding Texaco signs and cineplexes of the future, the four-minute ride is the most visceral experience in the entire complex. Souvenirs can be purchased at the Time Traveller’s Depot on the way out. But everybody seems to know you can get that stuff anywhere.

Frame 5. Like the recently opened New York Skyride on the second floor of the Empire State Building, these flight-simulator attractions blur the distinction between architectural reality and cinematic illusion. The ride propels the traveller from the stasis of the monumental site to the mobile world of the camera. The mechanical simulation and computer controlled movement may be clumsy, but the thrill lures riders back for countless rides. Of course, it doesn’t compare to the “real view” from the Observatory on the 86th floor. But who said it would? It’s a supplement, an addition, an orientation to a world which is in its own way just as inaccessible. “Look at the cars down there! They look like ants!” Plenty of stuff to buy down there.

Frame 6. Which isn’t to say that the rest of the built environment hasn’t learned from such entertainment machines. The young LA-based architect Mehrdad Yazdani’s motion-reality theatre at Universal Citywalk also incorporates kinetics into its design. Its folded fibreglass screen on the facade functions like an electronically liquid marquee, as if to set static architecture in motion. Regardless of the building’s success, such considered designs endow these entertainment complexes with more than a little Culture. Like the radically deconstructivist KFC outlet in the middle of LA (designed by Frank Gehry disciples Jeffrey Daniels and Elyse Grinstein) or the Planet Hollywood restaurant designed by Anton Furst (the late production designer of Batman), these places make a virtue of the high pop-moderne culture surrounding us – by selling it back to pop’s corporate initiators as Status. So what’s new?

Frame 7. Indeed, Gehry, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Michael Grave, and Robert Stern have all furnished Disney (under the corporate leadership of Michael Eisner) with designs for some of its most critically successful buildings. Why stop at Florida’s Disney World or Euro-Disney in France? (For despite the failings of the European excursion, a Saudi Prince – assured in his wealth since Desert Storm – has poured over $300 million into rescuing the operation from its own unpopularity. Go figure.) If, as critic Michael Sorkin has recently put it, “in theme park nation, life is a ride and everything – transportation, assembly, learning, leisure – must therefore entertain”, we’re in for a lot more fun. Not just in theme parks either.

Frame 8. Disney again. This time with Gehry at the helm, planning to build a retail and hotel complex at New York’s Times Square, just down the road from Disney’s New Amsterdam theatre (currently under renovation). A Virgin superstore and an MTV complex are expected to follow hot on Disney’s heels. More tangible still are the hundreds of total experience entertainment retail outlets mushrooming in major cities – over 300 Disney stores worldwide, with Warner Brothers Studio Stores fast catching up. With over $US 65 billion a year to be made from merchandising, stores like those in Santa Monica Plaza or midtown Manhattan are blue-chip investments. That’s the image unstable media empires have wanted to project all along. Toontown is rock solid.

Frame 9. So is Sony. Not content with the string of movie theatres they inherited during their takeover of Columbia (not to mention the musical interests of CBS and Epic), they’re into diversification in a big way. Not only do they want a living museum like Sony World in downtown Chicago, they want kudos of the sort Philip Johnson gave AT&T with his infamous po-mo skyscraper on New York’s Madison Avenue. Now it’s called the Sony Building. Its public atrium was criticised when the telephone company (somewhat disingenuously) gave over its plaza to palm trees and wrought iron benches. All that’s gone now. In its place is a sprawling retail playground of Sony Style, Sony Signature, and – you’ll never guess – Sony Wonder Technology Lab. This 18,000 foot amusement park is free, and in America that is as good as being “public”. According to interior designer Edwin Schlossberg, “we wanted to make it human, but in a New York way … We wanted to fill it with props, with stuff.” Stuff you can buy. If not now, then soon. This is the Universal City of consumer electronics. Sony’s toontown sets are not quite inhabitable film or television, but they’re about as close as it gets.

Frame 10. That is of course until we finally get to see computer squillionaire Bill Gates’“San Simeon of the North”, currently being completed in the suburb of Medina, across Lake Washington from Seattle. Partially tunnelled into the hillside, the five acre waterfront house has journalists debating whether this is Batman, Dr No, or Citizen Kane, revisited. Truth is it’s probably all of the above. While architects James Cutler and Peter Bohlin say they’re trying to avoid ostentation and pretension, there’s no mistaking Gates’ intention to let architecture make concrete what Microsoft can only conjure with floating point geometry. William Randolph Hearst once had a similar scheme.

That doesn’t mean the electronic media baron won’t find a prominent place for software in the architectural scheme of things. As the New York Times has it, the Gates Xanadu will have a network of computers that “will alert the boulder-rimmed hot tub, the video art walls, the climate controls, the library, the trampoline room and other sections that the master has arrived and expects an evening tailored to his mood.” So why is Gates remaining so tight- lipped about the details for his intelligent entertainment mansion?

I’m sure it has nothing to do with the new Establishment leader’s current fascination with animation. It seems Gates is desperate to have designed a universally recognisable Microsoft cartoon character along the lines of Mickey Mouse or Bart Simpson. But after a recent meeting with Ren and Stimpy creator, John Kricfalusi, uncle Bill decided his work was too cutting edge for the Microsoft demographic. And so the quest continues.

One thing’s certain though. When his search is finally over, you can bet your last megabyte of RAM it will only be the start for the rest of us. And we actually have to live here, on the edge of the next millennium these corporations are constructing so obliviously.

RealTime issue #5 Feb-March 1995 pg. 3

© Ross Harley; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Shelly Lasica, Sandra Parker, Trevor Patrick, John Utans and Ros Warby are all mature dancers and choreographers who have worked in a wide variety of settings. All of them have choreographed and performed their own work, and collaborated with other performing artists in dance, theatre and opera. All have worked overseas, so understand their practice in relation to dance and choreographic practice throughout the world.

Their highly individual work has grown from explorations of a range of classical, modern and postmodern movement and performance techniques including classical ballet, American modern dance, European dance/theatre, release techniques, alignment work and improvisation. Their work is frequently performed without sound. When present, sound is just as likely to be spoken text as music. Although their movement is often subtle, small and slow, the experience of watching their work is vivid.

The questions “What characterises Australian dance in the 90s?”, “How is that shaped?” and “What is the future of dance in Australia?” asked of these five practitioners led to very general discussions. The conversations included issues such as the definition of an Australian dance style, the diversity of work here, support for dance and the impact of new technology.

Many of the conversations began with my asking what sense it makes to talk about Australian dance.

JU The push to find the ultimate Australian style in dance, as in any art form, results in token gestures such as the Australian Ballet’s commissioning of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie or Ned Kelly. I don’t think you can push an identity like that…I’m conscious of being an Australian choreographer and dancer but I prefer to place myself in a dance heritage and to reflect on myself as an Australian dancer from this framework…If there’s anything that characterises Australian dance it is its diversity.

RW When people talk about Australian dance in a positive way it’s all about the strength, the power, the athleticism and the space that Australian dancers occupy. When you think about that, it’s about people “doing” something, and dancers here are very good at “doing”. When I am working, I watch. The combination of doing, watching and sensing is very hard, very disciplined work and you come at it from a very rigorous process. In the training of dancers here, and in the social environment here, “doing” is a much more popular way of existing than sensing, watching and observing.

Australian dance, like many other art forms in Australia, is under constant pressure to make easily reproducible and digestible product. Popular culture’s aspiration to preserve an eternally youthful body, together with its stress on the visual and our culture’s limited understanding of physicality, encourage dance to be experienced merely as spectacle.

TP The institutionalised learning of dance is such that the dance scene is constantly moving from one wave of youthful exuberance to another and often does not reach the point where people are practising as mature artists and working with ideas. Few young artists think of themselves as artists. To most people who are practising dance, it’s a job. Again because it is so much tied with youthful vitality, the work being performed and made is imbued with that. The work is often about glamour, virtuosity, the spectacular…Where is the art amongst all this hormonal activity? It’s very difficult to fight that, particularly when people are funded in ways that encourage them to pursue that energy.

So who in the dance scene is working with ideas and how are such individuals supported?

TP Usually the people working in this way are older. They are supported by other artists and each other, and through personal exchange with the international community. They don’t get a lot of popular support. They tend to become known as the “dancer’s dancer” or the “choreographer’s choreographer”, but it is this body of work that is at the core of the development of dance in this country.

But will it survive with lack of popular support?

TP It has to, because one constantly feeds the other. Although it’s not often acknowledged, any developments that occur in the popular form I feel are made sourcing this other constant that is bubbling away beneath everything. To involve it in the hunger that is the popular arts would be the death of that sort of creativity. It needs to be supported to survive but left alone to do its work. If it was trying to function under the pressure to fill seats, I don’t think it could.

What is the diversity of dance in Australian in the 90s? A stunning Merry Widow; an elastic modern dance; a contact improvisation with text spoken by the dancers; a male dancer in a black frock; a story told in the gestures of hands and eyes; a solo dancer moving without a sound in a gallery; a Western-trained dancer, a designer, an actress, an Eastern-trained dancer and several musicians collaborating in performance; a raunchy rendezvous in a café to rival any Grand Marnier TV ad; a barefoot woman in a jumpsuit on a wooden floor listening intently for the next move; a woman with a birdcage on her head; a woman pulling an endless strand of red wool from her mouth; any number of people doing for the thousandth time something with a chair…The multicultural society is rich with diversity, but how comfortable is it sustaining difference?

TP It’s an interesting problem that I have noticed in the last few years, the dance establishment trying to homogenise the whole scene into one big, happy, harmonious community. I don’t think it is. I think there are a lot of vibrant, diverse forms and they need to be separate, they need their own space, and this corralling, it seems to me, from organisations that purport to represent the whole community, is misguided.

SL The homogenisation somehow goes in line with people trying to identify an Australian dance style. But there is no one story and no one history and to set up official histories is the predilection of reasonably unpleasant forces. It disturbs me immensely that the perception exists of a recent springing up of contemporary work from a single source, when if you look at the bigger picture you see how things grow and develop, how the diversity grows and develops.

JU It is a time of diversity. I just wish that people would accept that diversity. When I think of Melbourne and the different philosophies that different dance makers are employing, there’s a very rich and vital practice. What bugs me a little is the competition, or that …

That difference cannot be sustained?

JU Yes, and that comes back to the funding dollar.

So, as long as everyone’s fighting for the dollar, then everyone will have to step on top of one another, maintain and fight for their turf?

JU Yes, then what is funded is interpreted as the trend.

SL One thing that I think would have a very positive effect on dance in Australia and the arts generally is if the whole funding situation was exploded, so that there was not just one source of funding. There needs to be much more diversity: private funding, corporate funding and foundations. That’s quite hard to set up in Australia, but somehow it has to be nurtured. In this way you would end up with a far more multi-layered community, which can only be better.

In the last decade of the millennium, technology is the buzzword. Is there anything happening with new technology worth talking about? Are the computer boffins getting past gimmickry? Are we being transported into a completely new age?

TP Technology is having an extraordinary effect on the whole form: film, video, computers and interactive sound. And it’s not just because artists want to make the most of what is available to them. It’s also that funding bodies and governments even are legislating to manipulate the artistic community along particular lines of achievement, in what they perceive as the development of the arts and creating exportable commodities…One of the big dilemmas now seems to be how to integrate the body and technology in performance so that one isn’t just dancing around in front of a film, or dancing over music. There seems to be a quest to make that happen, and I don’t think it can. I think that a body will always be a body and it can’t deconstruct before your very eyes and fade in and fade out, and materialise and dematerialise except in quite a literal way.

SL New technology is not automatically superior to other technology. Technology is a wonderful tool but it has to be seen in context. It certainly has limitations and the idea that a live performance can be completely transferred into a new medium is nonsense. Why have people chosen the live arts as their medium? It’s about the experience. No matter how extraordinary a film or video, it does not replicate the live experience.

Another baffling thing is the belief that new technologies can be developed into something meaningful overnight.

SL You need only look at people who have been working in video art for over twenty years. It’s not a matter of running at it. It’s a matter of working something through. It’s very short-sighted of people to think they are going to develop this work quickly. That quick hit mentality is very much associated with a product-based view of art production.

So what is the future of dance in Australia and what will determine it?

RW If those individuals can just keep a certain persistence and integrity to their practice, then maybe there’s the possibility that an understanding of choreographic practice will extend.

SL The future of dance in Australia relies on the generosity of spirit among practitioners and an increasing belief in the practice, a realistic belief in the practice and an integrity about what it is that one does. Until practitioners have that sense, why should anyone else take notice?

RealTime issue #5 Feb-March 1995 pg. 8

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

How is the mediascape likely to change over the next decade and how does this affect the practice of new media art?

The changes in the technology of the media that are either happening or imminent have been much hyped, and not without reason. New media forms will open up some interesting possibilities for art practice, and perhaps close off some old ones.

Less often discussed is a second aspect of this— the changing expectations and competencies of audiences. The media often discusses the media as if the process of choosing, receiving and interpreting media flow were some kind of natural process. No matter how much the technoboosters might like to presume that the development of the new media vectors will automatically create a new audience and a new market, it ain’t necessarily so. The relationship between existing audience cultures and new media forms is always a complicated and quirky business. This is as true for the uses made of media by art as by commerce. Changes in media forms often appear to be driven by new technologies but what drives these new technologies is the problem foreseen and the opportunity seized by a number of media oligopolists. Basically, every medium faced the same problem in the 80s: costs were rising faster than audiences or markets were growing. This was the problem with the movie business, television, publishing, computers and telephony.

One solution to this problem was globalisation—the campaign against the cultural protectionism of countries like France and Australia and the privatisation of state telephone monopolies in many countries are examples of this strategy. A whole range of businesses, based in TV or publishing or telephony, from well developed markets such as Australia, Italy, England or the US, built global empires in a climate of reduced protectionism, and the privatisation of formerly public media assets or state industrial monopolies.

The second solution is to try to take a chunk of the media market away from some other media industry. In the US the phone companies and the cable TV companies have been contemplating this for some time. Cable network owners want to use their infrastructure to carry phone calls as well and vice versa. This would require pulling down the regulatory walls within the US and this in essence is what was behind the push for a new communications bill and all that guff about the ‘information superhighway’.

The third option is to develop a new technology for which one can charge a premium price or with which one can grab a big share of an as yet undefined new market for culture. The so-called experience industry (including ‘virtual reality’) and multimedia (including CD-ROM) are two different versions of this process.

The economics of the experience business are very simple. American punters will pay about eight bucks for 90 minutes of feature movie, but will pay eight bucks for 10 minutes of virtual reality or for 30 minutes of I-max format 3-D cinema. For the most part these are experiments developed by a combination of movie business cultural skills and Silicon Valley computer industry technology, a marriage dubbed ‘Siliwood’.

Since it is by no means clear who has the cultural capital required to make heightened experience media work, all kinds of people from cinema directors to video game produces to performance artists end up getting sucked into this development process. The experience industry is based on the premise of increasing the intensity of the spectacle. For example, Douglas Trumbull who produced famous special effects for 2001 and Bladerunner is now trying to develop experiential cinema. Brenda Laurel, who has a background in theatre and performance as well as a doctorate in computer interface design is working on a virtual reality environment called Place Holder. Ivan Sutherland, one of the most famous names in interface engineering is into 3-D interactive environments. Disney is also trying to turn animations like Aladdin into a virtual ‘product’ for its theme parks. Video game maker Sega has the AS-1, a highly kinetic ride designed for video game arcades.

If the experience industry is mostly about increasing the intensity of the spectacle, multimedia are about increasing the freedom of movement of the person using the media. VR is in theory an attempt to offer both simultaneously—but in practice ends up falling on one side of the line or the other. It simply isn’t feasible with present technology to offer intensity of experience combined with interactivity. Interactive media, hypermedia or multimedia are mostly pretty low resolution technologies compared to cinema or even television, but don’t limit the user to one narrative strand.

Interactivity can be delivered via some kind of portable product like a CD-ROM, or over a network, be it the telephone system used by the internet or cable and satellite vectors that presently deliver multichannel television. On the internet, the World Wide Web is growing rapidly and offers space for low cost experiments, like video artist David Blair’s Wax Web. CD-ROM is also a potentially low cost medium and many artists are presently exploring it. Interactive television is another story, and experiments here are mostly restricted to corporate test beds for commercial products. In the US, access to this medium depends on mainlining the community access principle already in place for pay TV.

In the relatively high tech area of the experience media, the talents of creative artists are brought in by investors hedging their bets on what kinds of cultural forms might work with as yet unspecified audiences. In those areas of interactive media that use established software tools and delivery formats it is often possible to create works on very small budgets. An example is the very successful CD-ROM Myst, produced by a team of three people working at home. Many visual artists and filmmakers are now experimenting with CD-ROM works.

The first big problem is distribution. There is as yet no easy way to distribute CD-ROM art. Book publishers and video game companies are rushing out CD-ROM based products, and these are distributed via computer stores and occasionally, on an experimental basis at this stage, by bookshops. Many of these products are very poor, particularly some of the crap authored by publishers and TV documentary producers, but because they have media conglomerates of the order of Time-Warner behind them, they are on the market.

Most interactive products from commercial producers are adaptations of existing cultural forms, including encyclopaedias, music video, documentaries and video games. They often have high production values but fail to maintain the interest of the idea or to really use interactivity in any interesting way. How is pressing buttons and waiting ages for the screen to redraw any more interactive than flipping the pages of a book? Where interactivity gets interesting is where the skills of film, video, music, games and publishing collide with each other. In Australia, producers with a diverse range of media experience such as Troy Innocent, Brad Miller, Linda Dement, John Collette and VNS Matrix are all producing interesting hybrid forms of interactivity, mostly using readily available delivery formats such as CD-ROM and laser disk. Jon McCormack’s work stands out in this company because of his abilities in computer programming. On the whole, however, the opportunities for artists, particularly for Australian artists, lie in bringing conceptual and cultural forms to existing technologies, rather than being on the so-called ‘cutting edge’ of technological change per se.

Television based interactive media are a long way off for Australian media producers. The collusive interests of the broadcasters have locked us out of multichannel television for a generation. To this one can add the enormous difficulties in raising investment money in Australia for any new media. Some community TV activists have a foot in the door with the Telecom cable roll out. For example, Metro TV in Sydney is involved in putting community TV to air via cable, and a small band of energetic community TV activists, such as the indefatigable Jeff Cook, have interactivity in their sights as well. The TV remote control is a pretty rudimentary form of interactive device but it can be used to drive a menu-based interactive information format.

In the Australian context, access to new media for artists, or indeed for anybody, is constrained by a number of factors. Pressures from globalising media oligopolies to relinquish cultural protectionism will increase. The Hollywood movie conglomerates lost on this issue in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, but are actively working for free trade in cultural commodities for the next.

Given the stranglehold media oligopolies have on mainstream Australian media, and their influence on the policy process, it will be extremely difficult to maintain spaces in the emerging media landscape for something analogous to public and community broadcasting and subsidised cinema and art. It was refreshing to see a strong commitment in last year’s cultural policy statement to experimentation and production of Australian content in film, television and new media, to be administered by a new committee, the Film Commission and SBS. That the ABC was unable to negotiate this policy commitment was very disturbing, as is the present government’s lack of commitment to the main public broadcaster at a time in which it has undergone massive restructuring to orient it to the new environment.

Community activities won a significant victory in 1993 in getting bandwidth set aside for a sixth TV channel devoted to community video access. Yet it remains an open question whether community media groups have the resources and experience to capitalise on this opportunity. The lack of coordination between arts policy, community media policy and new media policy on the part of government finds an unfortunate parallel in the lack of coordination between different interest groups in the media and the arts. Creating spaces for dialogue on media futures is very urgent.

There are now significant funds to disburse for new media experiments. This will work best if concentrated on the cultural forms of new media rather than on cutting edge technology. Australia is a technologically dependent media market, being a long way from centres of research and power in the emerging ‘military entertainment complex’ of California.

Art tends to occupy one of two margins in relation to the dominant media technology of the day. Either it colonises residual media left behind by changes wrought by the culture industries, or it forms an avant- garde in the emergent media that do not yet have a stable cultural form. The interesting opportunities for art practice at the moment are opening up in the emergent media zone. There is a narrow window of opportunity there for new and creative work, a window that it is more broadly important to keep open, given the instability of the whole nexus between media technology and cultural forms at present. The patterns of culture that will stabilise in the next millennium may well be determined by experiments and struggles undertaken today.

RealTime issue #5 Feb-March 1995 pg. 24

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