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Black Grace

Black Grace

Black Grace

In describing what a dance might mean, people often refer to frames of reference, something which might indicate how to look at a dance so that it makes sense. These days, dancing is also about frames, demonstrating shifting perspectives, requiring the viewer to slide around multiple trains of thought as if over teflon.

In Face Value, we see Kate Champion through windows in a monstrous facade, tiny framed views of her various relationships with the world and more particularly with men, over the years. Another world far behind sends galvanic warnings of storm and stress. Lights flare and briefly illuminate a profound and scary desolation, a vast, empty space with rotting beams, about to collapse. Sometimes we also notice images that seem transparent in their invitation to see past her daily skin. Soon, however, we become aware that these images of her as uncomfortable yet willing model, anorexic, a woman slowly being crushed as she sleeps, are opaque. The blinds are down.

Frames also reveal secret non sequiturs. Kate Champion tells us about the profound relationship between a person’s social skin and their inner life, assured that it is remarkable, a source of both strength and destruction. But the secret in Face Value is that we never get to see the hidden passage from one to the other. No artist’s insight illuminates the way, and we are left stranded in unwilling collusion and vapid inference. Kate’s gorgeous 34-year-old ‘facade’, in several costumes, remains the primary source of insight, and any talk we hear about menopausal decline and resurrection seems frankly spurious.

What did the six separate Bodies programs (Newtown Theatre) show us? Simply that the frames of reference for most young dispossessed dancers are so tight-arsed as to be suffocating. We are asked to find sustenance in a narrow and ill-fitting series of classroom steps, which for the most part, arising from ancient techniques engendered in the 70s, have lost any power they might once have had.

Dean Walsh, Hardware Pt I

Dean Walsh, Hardware Pt I

Dean Walsh, Hardware Pt I

But here’s an interesting example of censorship! Dean Walsh with his riveting comments on male physicality, in Hardware Part II and Testos/Terrain, was obliged by the management to warn the audience to leave if they might be offended by his “male nudity” which included the riotous sight of his anus. It’s a pity we weren’t warned about another piece, Duet 4/4, in which two pre-pubescent girls were obliged to adopt sequences of ‘pout, waggle and smile’ as their preferred if naive style, closely accompanied by two older girls, no doubt demonstrating the condition they might be lucky enough to grow up into, if only they can smile for long enough. The idea of child pornography sprang immediately to mind.

But Dean Walsh’s Testos/Terrain is not about homosexuality or even being male, but about being human. His insights seems hard-won, and profoundly embodied. His ghastly singleted ‘male’, who at first seems to have forgotten his opposable thumb, eventually shows us a place where instinct, animal curiosity, intelligence, and physical nature meet, way below daily manifestations of gender. At this junction, there is a well of polymorphous sensibility. For building a human home of whatever kind, boys’ toys may just as well be lipstick here; the creative playing is the same, and it’s only the tools of implementation that are different.

Jeff Stein’s performance in Lard, at October’s Eventspace at The Performance Space, showed another kind of physicality altogether. Unlike Dean, his is not defined by muscular and emotional depth, but by skittering skin-deep neural patterns, visible thoughts which tie up his frame in a kind of dance of simultaneous and conflicting directions. His being is expressed as if merely a series of whims, a collection of certainly more than two minds; he spars with spectres; he is ingenuous, just there, and sometimes he seems afraid of just taking up space.

Black Grace

Black Grace

Black Grace

Watching Black Grace, an all-male New Zealand based group, as part of Pacific Wave at The Performance Space, was an unexpectedly moving experience. New company, first work, raging success: a terribly hard act to follow. Ex-football players, professional drag queens, nine dancers highly trained in western techniques among more traditional ones, brought a sophisticated humour, and a mix of lissom and weighty vitality to Neil Ieremia’s personal statement. What to say about wanting to be a dancer (“Not a ‘dancer’, a dancer!”) in a virulently hetero black Maori culture? Where do dreams of wanting to be weightless go? Is being a florist really unthinkably weird? The threads of these and other hard questions are unravelled as Black Grace’s stories of personal experience are retold.

If their most conspicuous physicality has grown out of contemporary European dance lineage (Douglas Wright via DV8 and Batsheva perhaps), it frames glimpses of black traditions: urban rap and Maori haka for instance. Black Grace itself, in a literal sense, is about journeys across the world’s dance floors, and about risking familial and peer group isolation in the attempt to comfortably embody simultaneous and divergent cultures.

There is very little gratuitous material in the choreography of Black Grace, not many extraneous gestures. It is straightforward and often poignant. And there is real joy in the visceral charge, the resilience of unabated competence, the smudged unconfined edges of movement made emotionally resonant, the streams of sensuality, and the heavy, moist thwack of muscle and sinew thankfully audible when the other music stops.

Face Value, Kate Champion, The Performance Space November 8-12; Bodies, The Newtown Theatre October 23-November 10; Eventspace, The Performance Space, October 30; Black Grace, The Performance Space, November 15.

RealTime issue #16 Dec-Jan 1996 pg. 9

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

Molissa Fenley

Molissa Fenley

Molissa Fenley

From New York Molissa Fenley describes her Sydney Festival program to Keith Gallasch
Molissa Fenley, a leading US dancer and choreographer, has made a number of significant visits to Australia. She has worked with many prominent composers including Laurie Anderson, Pauline Oliveros, Alvin Lucier and Phillip Glass and has performed in the US to works by Australian Robert Lloyd. She has collaborated with visual artists including Richard Serra, Richard Long and Tatsuo Miyajima. Her vision of dance as sculpture and dance as ritual has heightened the contemplative and spiritual dimension of her work over the last decade.

KG The significance of this visit is tied to the Keith Haring exhibition at The Museum of Contemporary Art. You were a close friend of his and a collaborator?

MF When we were very young we did a piece together in 1977 or 1978 called Video Clone and it was actually done as a video and as a dance performance. It premiered at the School of Visual Arts. It was only done once but the tape exists and I’m bringing it with me to show and talk about it.

KG So we’ll see the tape but not the dance performance?

MF I was all of 22 or 23 or something. It was a long time ago. I’ll speak about our relationship, how the piece came about and probably a little bit about Keith’s continued interest in dance and how I feel about…you know, when you first start working. I think I came to New York when I was 21 and started working right away. So it was just at the beginning of what it is to be a professional artist in New York and we were both forging our way. He at the time was affiliated with the School of Visual Arts and I was a floating choreographer. So it was interesting to be able to support each other. Our main interaction was back in those early days but when he died I was asked to perform at his memorial and I made a dance specifically for him, which I will be performing in Sydney.

KG You mentioned that Keith Haring had a continuing interest in dance. How did that manifest itself?

MF He was very interested in street dance, particularly, and capoeira and break dance. He had a place called The Paradise Garage which was basically a dance place where people would go and dance till the wee hours. He worked with Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane with set design. I think basically his interest was in street culture and whatever that meant.

KG You performed this piece, Bardo on the same program as your solo version of the The Rite of Spring at the Joyce Theatre in 1990.

MF I’d been asked to do something for the memorial service that took place at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine here in New York. The Bardo is a Tibetan concept. It’s a forty-nine day period in which, upon a person’s death, they travel through their own personal Bardo, meeting their karma, and in that time decisions about their rebirth are made. So it’s supposedly a seven week period of walking through an intermediate state. So I thought it would be interesting to make something that had to do with that feeling that he had died but he was still very much a part of us. Still is. He’s very important for the continuance of art for a lot of people. He was very influential. In the dance there are lots of references to his funny little shapes. I mean they’re recognisable to me and probably to anyone who knows his work well.

KG So do you embody these concretely?

MF An occasional gesture. An implication, I would say.

KG For close to a decade, a number of writers have described your work as spiritual, ritualistic, contemplative.

MF Bardo is quite the epitome of all those things.

KG That’s an ongoing part of your work?

MF I’d say so. I think the range of my work is quite large. There are still pieces in my repertoire that are very spatial and dance oriented and then there are pieces that are more sculptural, which I think Bardo is. I like to keep shifting back and forth between them. So for the performances in Sydney I’ll be doing three different pieces: one that’s quite sculptural, and a piece that moves through space quite largely, and then Bardo.

KG So as well as the contemplative, sculptural work there is still some of that particular kind of energy I would have seen years ago when you performed Hemispheres at the Adelaide Festival?

MF Well that was 1983. So things change and shift around. But I would say that the energy of that early work is present in a changed way and I’m not sure exactly what that change is—I don’t think the work is as fast as it used to be.

KG With the Peter Garland and the Lou Harrison pieces in the MCA-Festival program, did you commission these or did you work from extant music?

MF Both of them are existing pieces. But when I work with composers I always ask them what they think I should use and establish a real relationship with them. I don’t just pick up the CD.

KG How would you describe these two pieces?

MF Savannah is a work to Peter Garland’s composition and it has the feeling of taking a walk through the savannah which is a geological area of grassland with an tree here or there. There’s a calmness to it but a lot of dance motifs within. It’s quite an abstract work. Pola’a is the piece to the Lou Harrison music. ‘Pola’a’ is an Hawaiian word for a quality pertaining to the ocean. It’s a quiet ocean, not a huge raging sea. It deals with ideas of ebb and flow, tides, surgings and swellings. It’s a very large piece moving through space, very much inspired by the idea of the ocean and different types of tides…and the idea of the music itself, which is very inspiring. I work very differently with each piece but I would say that with the Lou Harrison I work very much hand in hand with the music, and with Savannah I worked on the dance first and then the music seemed to be appropriate for the work…and the same with Bardo—I found Somei Satoh’s music after I’d started working on it.

Molissa Fenley has recently created her own web page: www.diacenter.org/fenley. She describes it as a dance piece for the web working on the dance and sculpture relationship thant intrigues her. It was created with the assistance of the Dia Center for the Arts in New York.

Molissa Fenley, American Express Foundation Hall, Museum of Contemporary Art, January 14 and 15, 9.00pm; Video Clones screening and talk, January 16, 6.00pm.

RealTime issue #16 Dec-Jan 1996 pg. 3

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

Looking at developments at the One Extra Dance Company and the emergence of The Choreographic Centre in Canberra, Eleanor Brickhill interviews the new non-choreographing directors and queries each company’s new structure.

Comparison of comments in the Dance Committee Assessment Reports on funding and policy in the last few years reveals that in 1994, particular interest was given to “developments involving dance and other media”; in 1995, the aim was “to maintain its commitment to independent artists and a range of work practices”; in 1996, the newly named Fund focused on “innovation, artistic vision, and a diversity of cultures and artistic practices, more than on the maintenance of particular structures or forms”.

Symptomatic of changing emphases, small company artistic directors being compelled to reconsider basic organisational structures, may well have felt unable to continue working without support for what they believed essential to maintaining artistic standards. The resulting resignations (for instance, Sue Healey, Graeme Watson, Julie-Anne Long, Chrissie Parrott, Cheryl Stock, Jenny Kinder) seemed to demonstrate extreme protest.

No doubt company boards began tearing their hair trying to construct new answers to the small company ‘problem’, of late perceived as economically non-viable, not pulling in big enough audiences to warrant maintenance of full-time financial support or to attract sufficient sponsorship. Janet Robertson, the new executive producer of One Extra Dance Company, acknowledges that for the next two years at least, there is a bottom line which requires an increase in audiences if that company is to continue to exist at all.

Meanwhile the boards of both Dance Works in Melbourne and One Extra remain committed to a ‘company’ structure, although having an artistic director who’s committed to creating their own work is the choice only of Dance Works.

Both Janet Robertson and Mark Gordon (director of TCC) are deeply aware of the histories of the institutions into which they are entering, wanting to assure people that their new enterprises stand on the shoulders of the old. Both are also aware of the streams of opposition to the loss of existing small company structures within the dance community, and while they have been profoundly concerned about not dismantling the “good bits”, what they are actually building continues to be debated.

Can their assurances assuage fears that losing artistic directors will mean a terminal loss in the development of dance as an independent art form; that the potential depths for dance innovation and development will be confined to the role of theatrical adjunct? Might not the means of developing independent dance aesthetics be simply negated in a drive towards a different set of performative notions, in which language based ideas set the ground rules?

What does a choreographer as artistic director do? It sounds bland to say one loses vital links with a unique body of work once a preferred means of support disappears. But at best, dance artists as collaborators share a deep physical relationship, a profound personal culture, an ethical, even spiritual stance on their bodies, as the basis of their aesthetics, which flourishes in that hothouse. Dancers within this culture literally embody work, and copies made outside that culture are to its detriment. Development of that culture needs more intense hands-on effort than is ever available in a stop/start environment such as freelancing requires. Time is required not so much to ‘make steps’ but to enter that intimacy.

Janet Robertson, executive producer, One Extra Dance Company

Janet Robertson has modelled her role of executive producer more on film tradition, as someone who puts people together, listens to ideas, responds to them, negotiates, and also has a very strong creative role. For her, while the clarity of her vision needs to be maintained, holding fast to specific ideas can muddy the artistic waters. As she understands it, “executive producer” is not just a fancy name for an artistic director, a person single-minded in their commitment to making their own steps, but is someone who makes decisions about what is seen.

Janet spoke about an evident lack of ‘performative notions’ expressed within dance works, separate from the technique, about a need for getting past the dance ‘show’. Her job as executive producer is to demand that a choreographer’s ideas become cohesive, and her talent as company dramaturg, in which capacity she will work on the floor with choreographers, is to be able to get choreographers and dancers to ask themselves just what it is they are doing.

Way back in 1960, Susan Sontag said, “The best criticism dissolves considerations of content into those of form”. Remember Balanchine’s maddening ideas which insist that “the movement is the meaning”. If these ideas still hold true, it is by means of the movement itself, the physical ideas that a dance conveys, that some “secret truth” (Acocella, 1990) of a dance is found. Separating the content of a dance from something called “technique” seems to me highly problematic. If a dance work suffers from a lack of performative skill, perhaps the lack is the technique, not separate from it. Without relevant things to say, technique can make dancing grossly inappropriate and banal, and needs to be dealt with head on, rather than being treated as separate from notions of ‘performance’.

Another perceived problem is that within the current economic climate, dancers and choreographers are forced to work independently, required to continue to produce new work constantly in six-week rehearsal blocks. Artistic directors of a company develop a body of work, perhaps a repertoire. Independents are forced to throw out work and be constantly making new material, rather than redeveloping it. Janet’s concern is with the difficulty of questioning one’s artistic motives when box office is always of prime consideration.

The idea that independent artists are people who throw out their work is problematic too, and an important distinction made between freelance and independent artists still seems valid. Capable of making work in almost any structure, freelance artists tend to work within a kind of generic aesthetic. But independence inherently involves an individual artistic need to work outside of established artistic structures, and doesn’t usually centre on financial necessity. Ideally, evolving one’s own structure in which to work seems a logical and necessary career move for independent choreographers.

The legacy of Kai Tai Chan’s One Extra, working as a huge melting pot for ideas, where people could come and work, while still responding to his central vision, provides an important basis for the new company. There needs to be a core aim to produce work with a particular kind of production value, a ‘house style’, and independents will be asked to respond to that vision when producing work for One Extra. Meanwhile, there is potential for the natural development of teams over time, or an artistic director to take over, to redevelop and reshape the company vision.

The first aspect of the company program for 1997 is the development of relationships with an audience via three seasons of work by proven and established choreographers. Sue Healey has been invited to re-develop an older work, to take the opportunity to have it really critically pulled apart and re-examined. Importantly, an ongoing two-year commitment to any commissioned program provides the means by which independent artists need no longer throw away work just to maintain box office success.

The second program, a double bill with Lucy Guerin and Garry Stewart, with their vastly different profiles, may invite complaints of eclecticism, and begs questions about the constituents of identity and ‘house style’. Neither a dancer nor choreographer on the floor “making steps”, Janet is still a practicing artist, and remains committed to the idea that a cohesive philosophical base forms a strong company identity.

An affiliate artists program starts in January, and the six artists invited to participate include choreographers, designers, dancers, musicians and technicians. There is no fixed ensemble, but several dancers have been invited to become affiliate artists. While entirely free to choose their preferred dancers, choreographers will be encouraged to consider working with the affiliate artists. One Extra will provide a place to discuss work, office facilities, rehearsal and forum space. To a certain extent the work evolving under this scheme will be motivated by the artists themselves, and is not expected to be produced within the company context or vision, although they will receive acknowledgment as working artists in all One Extra publicity.

A third aspect of the company structure concerns creative development through a mentor program. One Extra hopes to provide a strong context in which established artists might work with dancers of their choice, simply exploring their working processes. With no performance outcome necessarily expected, a serious kind of play becomes much more central than usual.

Fourthly, direct educational and community activity will further promote the company’s ongoing relationship with the University of Western Sydney, Nepean, by setting up performance workshops for people whose interest is in physical performance, but who might want to explore text based material.

Mark Gordon, director, The Choreographic Centre

The Choreographic Centre is the most recent incarnation in organising the development of professional dance practice in Canberra, and like One Extra, its history contains the seeds of this current manifestation. By almost a series of accidents Don Asker took up an ANU fellowship in 1980, resulting in the formation of Human Veins Dance Company, and it is important for Mark Gordon, as the new director, that this history is known. Between the old and the new lies Meryl Tankard’s Dance Company, and more recently Sue Healey’s Vis-a-Vis, but the board itself and its long-term commitment to professional dance practice in the ACT, has remained fairly stable. The studios too, in Gorman House, are the same ones that Don Asker used, but now, 16 years later, that whole complex is a rich, busy environment.

The board’s response to Sue Healey’s resignation was to engage widely in consultation with local practising dance artists, arts organisations, the ACT Cultural Development Unit and the Australia Council, as to appropriate action, and the notion of a centre for choreographic research and development emerged. The idea of that first fellowship, along with residency opportunities, became an important part of this vision. But the crucial aspect is that of mentorship, where a variety of experienced artists are available to work in creative partnership with a choreographer, to solve problems, to talk through ideas about what is or is not happening within the process of exploration.

Choreographic partnership shapes Mark Gordon’s role as a director whose talents lie in nurturing new ideas, bringing out the best in people. His role is not curatorial in the sense that artists are directly promoted. But the protection of archives, the previous companies’ histories, and continuing documentation of the life of the Centre, what happens, what succeeds and what doesn’t, carries an important curatorial obligation.

The Armidale Conferences of the 1960s remain for many Australian artists a high point in their creative lives, having provided a nurturing and empowering environment, where no special demands for ‘success’ and no sense of value judgement impinged on work done. The Centre’s patron, Shirley McKechnie described such an environment as a creative broth. This idea has provided a formative model for TCC, and one measure of its success will be whether or not choreographers are attracted to Gorman House as a place for exploration.

Fellowships are variously budgeted between $40,000 and $50,000. But needs may vary tremendously and structuring can be as flexible as imagination and practicality allow. Artists are invited to make proposals for the fellowship program, rather than applications, so that the criteria for success is more about project feasibility than popular appeal.

The fellowships essentially buy time, and like One Extra, the Centre is working towards freeing choreographers from the misery of the six weeks production schedule. Funnily enough, unlike Janet Robertson, Mark describes it as a luxury and a freedom for choreographers to discard work. But then the issue is not really whether a simple move needs to be discarded or retained, but where the actual dance work lies. Moving is never simple, being fraught with meaning, and it is deciphering the many guises of human embodied meaning which really provides the work.

Fellowships are targeted at ‘emerging’ choreographers, not necessarily the young. Essentially they can provide special opportunities for people with vision and potential, but estimating potential is difficult. Submissions therefore need to include references attesting to the artist’s capacity to use the experience to best advantage.

Crucial to the 1997 TCC structure is the advisory panel, and a glance at the personnel (Don Asker, Nanette Hassall, Jennifer Barry Knox, Wesley Enoch, Annie Greig, Garry Lester, Sue Street and Graeme Watson) suggests a wide-ranging understanding of dance making and arts practice will be brought to bear on the ranking of submissions for the three fellowships envisaged for 1997.

The residency program, with a lighter financial commitment, offers access to the Centre’s facilities and resources for choreographers to develop work. A highly flexible program allows an almost infinite range of innovative proposals. Matters of duration, financial assistance and personnel are discussed within the partnership, with advice from the advisory panel.

The flipside to both fellowship and residency programs is public outcome. With exploration and research as the primary focus, outcome will be measured not by performance, but a different kind of public access. The local community needs to feel a benefit from the Centre, and opposition can arise when choreographers makes the space so private that no-one can enter, either metaphorically or literally. Fellowship recipients will need to integrate some degree of public access into their schedule, although there are no rules about what form this might take.

By way of sharing ideas and to gently open up dialogue, Mark Gordon envisages choreographic luncheons, where local people might meet choreographers, perhaps see videos, ask questions, to develop perspectives on dance practice. He also wants to set up a writers’ group whose charter is to develop writing about dance outside of criticism. If genuine dialogue between writer and choreographer is just an ideal, the results may still benefit archival documentation.

* * * *

These activities seem so closely interwoven as to create of a kind of performance ‘safety net’, and engender confidence in those afraid of falling. But for others whose artistic footing is surer, and who crave danger and isolation, a source of joy may seem stopped. Both Mark and Janet’s undoubted strengths will be welcome and liberating for some, performers and audience alike, even if the singleminded and uncompromising among us find such stimulation more of an irritant.

In many ways, Mark Gordon and Janet Robertson’s visions dove-tail well. Their enterprises seem built for survival, and between the two of them, they may flourish.

RealTime issue #16 Dec-Jan 1996 pg. 8

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

When the man behind me in the stalls at Melbourne’s State Theatre asked his Chinese companion if The White-Haired Girl was a well-known story in China, I was praying she’d at least ask him if Swan Lake was a well-known story in Australia. But, of course, she gave him a very courteous Chinese reply. At the risk of being misunderstood I tried to turn round and get a peek at how old she was—perhaps she didn’t know much about the work either. They used to say, in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution, that 800 million people had seen only eight plays for eight years and the ‘revolutionary modern ballet’ (now styled ‘classic modern ballet’), The White-Haired Girl, was one of them. Yet it would be quite wrong to think everyone got to see a live performance, since it was extremely difficult to get tickets, and most Chinese I have spoken to saw only the film version—which they loved. The problem was never that the work was propaganda only that it was part of a very limited repertoire of propaganda. So, for me, who saw some of these works in the 70s as a privileged foreign visitor, and my Chinese friend who saw films of them, this was a very exciting occasion, although there is little in the Shanghai Ballet’s promotion that would prepare you for it.

In fact, this is one of two ballets in the famous repertoire, the other being Red Detachment of Women, which is regarded as a technically superior work. The great thing about The White-Haired Girl however is its folkloric power, the fact that it had already taken its place in Chinese culture as a legend, factual story and opera (and black-and-white film of the opera) before becoming a model opera in the 1960s.

This is the work Jiang Qing (Madame Mao) must surely have felt most ambivalent about, since it was a kind of ghost story, and she was always determined superstition would be rooted out of the Chinese theatre, which had long been a haven for fox-fairies, snake goddesses and erotically inclined transmigratory souls. She may also have had strong feelings about the storyline, which is reminiscent of her own life. She hinted to her biographer, Roxane Witke, that her mother was forced into prostitution—that she became accustomed from an early age to ‘walking in the dark’ in search of her mother. Her fear and loathing of dogs is also suggested both in official biography and in the roman-à-clef novel Red Azalea, in which the body of a fallen woman, being unsuitable for burial with her ancestors, is interred outside the city gate where her bones are gnawed by wolves. All this fits with The White-Haired Girl, which is based on the Chinese legend of hungry ghosts, the vagabond undead who plague the living unless they are offered sacrifices like other respectable spirits with decent filial descendants.

Jiang Qing actually played a starring role in a 1936 film called Blood on Wolf Mountain based on a novel, Cold Moon and Wolf’s Breath, in which a community of human beings triumphs over marauding wolves—the Japanese. The White-Haired Girl is set in northern China before the organisation of resistance to the Japanese invasion. In the 1940s opera which preceded the ballet (and won the 1951 Stalin Prize for Literature), the peasant girl Xi’er is sold to a landlord against the will of her father, abused by the landlord’s mother, made pregnant and then thrown out of the house to be remaindered as a prostitute. She flees into the mountains and becomes a white-haired, cave dwelling spirit, frightening local peasants who take her for a hungry ghost to be offered food sacrifices. In her wiId outcast state, she is constantly threatened by the elements, and in the ballet version we see this luminous, ragged-maned creature darting eerily through rain and lightning, always a step away from howling wolves and their human incarnation—rapacious landlords and their feudal lackeys.

Finally she is discovered and redeemed by members of the Communist Eighth Route Army, who do not believe in ghosts. As Marxists and materialists they appreciate that her white hair is simply the result of a lack of salt and sunshine. She emerges from her cave into the brilliant sunlight—also the symbol for Mao Zedong—and stands with her comrades in a famous last act tableau celebrating her unmasking and metamorphosis from mysterious renegade ‘animal’ outcast to member of the new proletarian, human family. In the ballet version there are a number of changes but the major one is her repulsion of the landlord’s attacks—this heroine cannot be sullied, which is not good news for real rape victims.

In the 1950s, before the ballet was created, there was considerable theoretical discussion about realism in literature, and Xi’er—the white-haired girl—was seen by some as a character who demonstrated the ‘typical’ qualities required of a proletarian hero without sacrificing distinct individuality. At this point she was still real enough to be raped, become pregnant and have a child—and her father was real enough to commit suicide. She was described by one critic and writer—soon to be denounced as a rightist during the Hundred Flowers Movement—as “an ordinary girl with an unusual destiny”.

That she managed to live down her association with rightist theoreticians is an indication Xi’er may well have had genuine supernatural abilities. In fact, during the Cultural Revolution she became a pin-up girl, and her picture was pressed lovingly into boys’ wallets; but, in spite of this dangerous habit, she remained an untouchable symbol of proletarian purity. Curiously, in the ballet, more than in the opera, there is a strong hint of that kind of U.R.S.T (‘Un-Resolved Sexual Tension’) beloved of modern television scriptwriters, although, it must be said, this ghost does get laid. Revolutionary Romanticism steers perilously close to True Romance at times and there is a lovely sensuality about this moonlit apparition in her papercut, Peter Pan-ish costume—the garment of the tale gapes, as Roland Barthes would have said. On top of it all there is a suggestion of primitivism and even ‘Fauvism’ which Jiang Qing specifically denounced in one of her key speeches on the arts. Yet this is the model work which suffered the least interference from Jiang Qing, the relentless censor and inquisitor.

There is a good deal of the world’s folklore, ancient and modern, about The White-Haired Girl; lupine themes have been appropriated from peasant story-tellers for use as moral education for bourgeois audiences (a similar thing happened to Little Red Riding Hood); familiar motifs of starvation, rape (the Neapolitan version of Sleeping Beauty), child-selling (Rumpelstiltskin), and banishment to the wilderness (Rapunzel), are apparent. Perhaps, with European ballet and music wedded to Peking Opera movement, with traditional folk storyline and the use of modern peasant protagonists, Jiang Qing succeeded, in spite of the ideological difficulties presented by this story, in creating the international proletarian fairytale.

The German Marxist Walter Benjamin said fairytales told us of “the earliest arrangements that mankind made to shake off the nightmare which the myth had placed upon its chest”. The wicked witch is dead, but in The White Haired Girl we may still see Jiang Qing’s attempt to get the nightmare of truth off her chest and transform it into the power of fairytale.

RealTime issue #16 Dec-Jan 1996 pg. 9

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

Lucy Guerin and Rebecca Hilton in Incarnadine

Lucy Guerin and Rebecca Hilton in Incarnadine

Lucy Guerin and Rebecca Hilton in Incarnadine

Melbourne audiences have had a memorable combination of dance performances over the past few months. One of the highlights was the return to Melbourne by choreographers Lucy Guerin and Sue Healey. Both presenting concerts in September, they gave us an opportunity to look at how differently their choreographies have developed.

Both were part of Danceworks during the 1980s. Since then Lucy Guerin has been in New York, and Sue Healey spent part of that time as the Artistic Director of Vis-a-Vis Dance Company in Canberra.

We have seen glimpses of Healey’s work in Melbourne over that time, but nothing of Guerin. Healey’s Suite Slipp’d, comprised four pieces: two by her, one from Phillip Adams (Australian dancer, based in New York) and a short work from Irene Hultman, New York-based Swedish choreographer, with whom Adams performs.

Suite Slipp’d, Healey’s opening dance, describes exactly what happens in the piece. A collection of short solos, twosomes and threesomes that dip into and borrow from social and historical dance forms. These fragments are picked and pasted, and re-presented as a dense work, almost over-filled with movement. Healey, Adams and Michelle Heaven wind decoratively and decorously through the space with taut, restrained bodies. Sometimes they are twisting like corkscrews. At other times there are bent, angled knees, and half diamond shapes in the arms, by the side of the body, or above the head. Tight spatial patterning is enhanced by direction changes that cut through the air. The performers are close but rarely touch. One can feel the connection between them. There is a magnetism that keep these bodies together.

The tension in Suite Slipp’d is in and between the performers’ bodies, while in Guerin’s Incarnadine, a tension is set up between the performers and the audience. At times, it was as if one was watching this work through a transparent barrier. Guerin sets up a scenario that demands our empathy, but denies us the emotional access to it. Guerin and Rebecca Hilton perform a tireless unison boundary-marking pattern on matching white spirals painted onto the floor. The sound by James Lo crashes and crackles around the dancers, while the stark white light dramatically changes direction, striking the dancers at odd angles. They are exposed by the light. They rarely leave their spirals, perhaps only to extend a movement onto the floor; but they retreat, eager it seems, to maintain their space.

They are approached by a trio (Ros Warby, Nicole Bishop and Jennifer Weaver). The relationship between the two groups is unclear. The trio seem keen to be acknowledged, initially without response. In the final resolve, an uneasy one, we see all five dancers spaced across the stage, their torsos writhing and reaching in unison, stretching towards us, just out of our emotional reach.

Healey’s second work Hark Back is an expedition through an intimate personal history. It feels loose and inviting, like memories that flutter and tease. It is easy to find a way in. There are moments of lucidity, of intimacy, of insight and of sadness. It is engagingly performed by five dancers (Adams, Heaven, Shona Erskine, Sally Smith, David Tyndall) in episodes that create a layered understanding rather than a sequential pattern.

Guerin’s second work, Courtabie 1966, is also, I suspect, a reflection on times past. She presents three young girls (herself, Hilton and Warby), inexperience exposed at every gawky elbow and hip. We journey with them through time and their changing relationships. The use of repeated spatial motifs in this work, unnecessarily exposes the structure. However, Guerin uses subtle changes in rhythmic structure and syncopation which create some playful movement dialogues aptly describing her intention. She also has a way of drawing us to where the movement is in the body, even if it’s just in the fingers of one hand.

There are more differences than similarities between the two choreographers’ work. Healey’s time seems thick with movement. She creates worlds that meander through the short sections of both her works. Guerin is more direct, her stories unfold along a linear path. There is a deliberateness about every movement, a spareness infused with emotional undercurrents.

The inspired performances by the dancers in both Guerin and Healey’s work ably showed the two as strong and distinctive choreographies in Melbourne’s multifarious dance community.

Incarnadine choreographed by Lucy Guerin, Gasworks Theatre, September 4; Suite Slipp’d by Sue Healey and Dancers, Beckett Theatre, September 18.

RealTime issue #16 Dec-Jan 1996 pg. 10

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

The curtain is up as we enter. Two figures hang in perspex cubes: specimens, a sacrifice; naked but preserved, elevated, ready for dissection. Below, dancers stretch, flex, finalise, in a casual yet definite rhythmic pattern. This backstage is already on show.

This is the pause before the dream; the curtain falls, slicing the space between watcher and dance. A colonnade opens, a male body revealed in yogic contortion, his outside turning in. His hand gestures like Dylan Thomas’ green fuse up through an impossible space between his limbs.

To his side, a woman dances within the curtain—embraced and writhing. They dance the edge between out and in, the membrane between past, present and dream. And as if the membrane, the question of the border, becomes another person, another single figure appears…

Jiri Kylian’s Bella Figura is a neo-Renaissance work with a Mannerist questioning of the givens in classical repertoire. If we associate Renaissance with man-centredness, stone colonnades, chiaroscuro lighting, and the ambivalent relationship between full skirts and the nakedness of Da Vinci’s anatomies, then Kylian’s work is not so much about partnering (that on which classical dance technically relies) as about the duality of performing and being. One partners, is partnered, and yet one is technically quite alone. Such dualism is achingly apparent in the music (Pergolesi, Torelli, Marcello, Foss—a pair of ears takes in a macrocosm of sound), in yoga (where postures and sensations consolidate and expand the body’s references), and in dance, where the dichotomies of gravity and defiance, muscle and lightness are taken further into a questioning of how contemporary bodies can dance old themes.

The choreography continually toys with these aspects: partners dance whilst the presence of a third questions from the side, in pyramids of light merging or emerging from a dark Roman corridor.

Even the most classically-oriented lifts are re-coloured mid-air by a crossing of knees, or thighs registering a contrapuntal trill. Body positions encompass classical, Renaissance court dance, occasionally something like flamenco, as well as animal, insect and dream.

Against the hilariously human (a dancer sliding cross-stage to land beneath his lover’s knees), a man “walks” a woman like a greyhound beside him; he, huge, falls to amble beside her like a Great Dane. Their passage cross-stage is a slipping-off of human covering. Costumes, too, play with this slippage: a woman’s upper torso is bare, below she is full-skirted with red. She is a rose: powerful, vulnerable, scented with knowledge beyond the billowing and seams.

This aspect of framing, clothing, and revealing becomes astonishing when six half-naked courtiers downstage cradle the long curtain, the sky itself ruched in their arms. Their skirts dance, embracing the collusion of the spheres; and then the sky itself begins to fall, the curtain bar falling into their velvet dreams.

Is this the beginning or the end? Two hug a curtain to each side; is this the start or finish of the dream?

* * *

A pair come in for curtain-call amidst a line of braziers aflame. Their bodies lean towards the heat. Their duet is almost classical; his lift (her legs paddling like a swan’s) ends with her lowering leg sliding over his ankle like a swan’s neck’s embrace.

He masks and stops her mouth as he supports her turn. It is their last illicit meeting: each soothes the other’s shoulder hitching with sadness. A silent, clandestine pas de deux, they exit, leaving the unspeakable behind.

* * *

Whilst Bella Figura (an Italian term meaning “don’t let on that anything is wrong”) shows trouble drumming beneath the skirt-swept courtyard face of an era, No More Play is a restless if brief dance of pressing contemporary alienation. The costumes and stage are dark and bare. Long black pants, short leotards, Webern’s atonal score giving no hook of comfort tunes. Pyramids of light pick out trio versus duo in a chequerboard of ambiguous relationship and uncertainty.

A woman is held aloft by the legs between two men, taking great strides across the sky. She is gargantuan, but totally reliant on her supporters.

There is an edge of trepidation: confounding borders, dancers roll and hang over the front edge of the stage. Dancers rock as if blindfolded, smack themselves; limbs form geometries which wrap into themselves, bodies twitch like speared deer.

Kylian, inspired by a Giacometti sculpture, says “one might feel as if one has been invited to a game, the rules of which are being kept secret, or have never been determined”. This short, disturbing piece about the semi-conscious is epilogued by a long, low rumble which leads directly into a surprising, white, corsetted dance where rapiers and partners swap roles.

Petite Morte is a dance of ritualised lust that is both fearful homage to and proud demonstration of the game of love. It expands the scene from Bella Figura where a duet play bow-and-arrow, stretching and arching at antelope in a delicate hunt of ordered passion.

Six women’s bare necks and arms are picked out by the opening light, their folded hands white diamonds/chastity belts against black velvet bellies. Before them, six men perform a dance with rapiers that swish and prod and fall; they drop them, also slap their own bodies; rehearse the missionary position and lower themselves over prone rapiers to the floor.

In the chiaroscuro light, their white boned corsets and women’s bodices contrast with the spilt-blood black of velvet abandoned in the colonnades. This is a petite mort of sex and teasing death, swapping rapiers for women then deftly passing the weapon through the women’s legs, an elaborate mating game.

They draw spears through their own bodies like floss through teeth; they enter tipping their skirts, slide cross-stage like soccer players in a toy parlour game.

The humour is timely and unsettling; in the final image, life dances back in black cloak: six empty skirts enter, spinning and rotating on their own, red on the inside like the blood that has left the dancers’ bodies and dared itself to dance alone.

Kylian’s choreography is a relief from the usual sexing of dancer’s bodies to either the crass, the pristine, or machismo. Men join a chorus of skirts, a woman partners a man as if she’s a boy; whilst women’s hips swerve and curve like sliding gazelles, men refrain from piercing leaps but hold the horizontal with the level swaying power of poppy blooms.

This is a huge beauty that doesn’t need to boast muscle or brawn but plays the edge of doubt, mask and intrigue that performance has long known but doesn’t always dare to show.

Bella Figura, No More Play, Petite Mort, choreographed by Jiri Kylian, Melbourne International Festival of the Arts, State Theatre, October 29. (The program also included Fantasia choreographed by Hans van Manen—not reviewed here.)

RealTime issue #16 Dec-Jan 1996 pg. 12

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

still from John Tonkin’s these are the days

still from John Tonkin’s these are the days

Elastic Light is a program of short computer animation works curated by Jon McCormack, to coincide with the exhibition of his interactive laser-disc work Turbulence at the AGNSW.

Animators have always been fascinated by the ease with which they could produce movement, and the ways in which the movements made by an image could be crossed by movements created through the plasticity of the form itself. Stretching, speeding, crashing and metamorphosing were the favourite activities of the cartoon character. With digitisation, the complexity of the visual possibilities was multiplied beyond measure; animators became intoxicated with it. Techno-baroque was the pervading genre for a few years, and its multi-layering of multi-coloured, omni-kinetic compositions was far more gratifying for creators than spectators of the works. Jon McCormack’s work brings concentration back into the picture. His complexity is not mere complication, the accumulation of multiple visual possibilities. It is highly selective and committed to detail, so that evolving formations on the screen explode into new intricacies of colour and movement whilst maintaining a sustained conceptual focus. Action is always an unfolding, never an arbitrarily added ingredient. Jon McCormack is a hard act to follow. After standing in a darkened space at the AGNSW for half an hour or so watching Turbulence, I took the escalator downstairs wondering how anything else could measure up. It didn’t, but Elastic Light provided some valuable context for what may be the culminating example of the first phase in the first generation of computerised animation. McCormack’s work takes the art into a new order of complexity by adopting the principle of emergence. The algorithm is the DNA of a digital idea which is allowed to develop and proliferate itself as a complex of ever evolving formations.

His choice of works for Elastic Light shows, he admits, a personal bias. But this is where it is interesting. Hanging around in the vocabulary and program notes is an evolutionary theory of animation. The program might well have been subtitled “Climbing Mount Improbable” with its Dawkins-esque commitment to making poetry out of a clinically technical discipline and its talk of “peaks” in the repertoire. A prefatory quotation from Vilem Flusser predicts a new level of existence for homo sapiens, heralded by those “who possess the new imagination”. Are we leaving the manic dizziness of techno-baroque for another kind of dizziness: the dizziness of an art married to science and heading for the heights of unprecedented human achievement? I hope not. I think there is something new happening here, and something with long-term potential but it should avoid making neo-romantic claims for itself. Its origins in John Whitney’s Experiment in Motion Graphics (1969) are described in an authorial voice that is almost comically prosaic. “My name is John Whitney”, the voice-over starts. And the camera, situated politely behind John Whitney’s shoulder, shows us the scientist at work with his light pen on a screen filled with columns of figures. He is not about to get carried away. “All that you see here should impinge upon the emotions directly” but “I must say that to get emotionally involved with the computer is not easy.” Whitney is playing with nothing so dramatic as turbulence. His research project is “Permutations”, a modest exercise in the creation of computerised non-centric movement patterns. The ghost of a future chaos principle hovers dimly as you see diving spirals go through a non-repeating choreography. It would be easy, from this short film, to read Whitney as a boffin whose literal-mindedness and naive references to art-as-emotion have a certain chunky charm for the hip-hoppers of the digital age. Whitney was nothing of the sort. He brought to computer animation a highly sophisticated and carefully schooled understanding of musical composition, and his approach to the creation of visual movement reflected a fascination with the developmental principles of “movements” in music. He sold experimental film works to the Museum of Modern Art in the 1940s and was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship early in his career. As the pioneer of a paradigm shift in the visualisation of movement, though, he remains engagingly perplexed at his own disintoxication.

The rest of the program comprised recent works. John Tonkin’s these are the days, which McCormack describes as “a meditation on the passage of time”, follows Whitney’s systematic example. With its companion work air, water part 2 (also in the elastic light program) it is a formal and restrained experiment in a minimalist format. In the first work, squares of white paper fall vertically across the screen, creating random patterns first through the air and then on the ground. The only hint of poetic indulgence is in the creation of a watery visual atmosphere with blue depths and area lighting. The second “movement” picks out floating squares with coloured light—yellow, then red, then green—to a sound track of cello playing. When I Was Six (Michelle Robinson) also experiments with the possibilities of atmospheric lighting. Furniture lit at a low angle, with distended shadows, moves around a deserted room. A chair creeps about like a spider. The child’s eye view magnifies and dramatises. Movement is the beginning of any form of haunting. “All you see here should impinge on the emotions directly.” It does.

A number of other works in the program are restrained formal experiments: Stripe Box (Kazuma Morino), Just Water (Evangelina Sirgado de Sousa), Memory of Maholy-Nagy (Tamás Waliczky). Superstars (Thomas Bayrle) moves formality towards the visual joke, making cellular image fabrics from multiple repetitions of micro-images, contoured into faces. The micro images zoom in occasionally, revealing body parts, including genitalia (with accompanying orgasmic noises). Jokes are too easy in this medium, so the tolerance level is low. Brain Massage with Robo-Insects is a clever piece of grotesque visual comedy, with mosquito-robots interfering in the work of a team of brain surgeons, but I’m not sure why it gets a place in this program, unless on the variety principle. Ian Bird’s Liberation, a video animation made for the Pet Shop Boys, comes closest to techno-baroque, but redeems itself from the generic mise-en-abîme by playing a sustained game with vertical perspective that, technically speaking, is state of the art.

McCormack’s own work combines the ambitious spectacle of Bird’s approach with the lyrical concentration of Tonkin’s or de Sousa’s. The shift from an interest in form (as a given visual idea) to an interest in formation (as the visible patterns of a continually transitional process of growth) marks McCormack’s work as the start of a new kind of animation experiment and, potentially, a new approach to visualisation itself. It’s illuminating to see this shift taking place through the work of a number of artists committed to less consciously ambitious agendas.

elastic light, curated by Jon McCormack for Sydney Intermedia Network, Art Gallery of New South Wales, October 5 and 12 to coincide with the exhibition of his work Turbulence.

RealTime issue #16 Dec-Jan 1996 pg. 18

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

Daniela Alia Plewe

Daniela Alia Plewe

In assessing the recent International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA96) [http://www.isea96.nl/index.html – expired] and related events held in Europe this September, I have decided to focus on the aspects of the fora which related to the internet. This may seem like an unlikely decision, as these events are specifically about the ‘fleshmeet’: seeing new installation based works, listening to and talking about issues facing artists working in electronic media. However, the mad rush to go on-line has infected so many aspects of art and cultural practice that it seems pertinent to have a look at what artists are doing in this area and to focus on the many disparate critical discourses currently in circulation. Furthermore, in reflecting on the events I attended, I have found myself continuously drawn back to the internet, finding that this manifestation of the ‘real life’ events finds resonance in the on-line after-effects.

In an article on the Nettime list [http://mediafilter.org/ZK/Conf/ZKindex.html – expired] the Critical Art Ensemble has written, “The need for net criticism is a matter of overwhelming urgency. While a number of critics have approached the new world of computerised communications with a healthy amount of scepticism, their message has been lost in the noise and spectacle of the corporate hype—the unstoppable tidal wave of seduction has enveloped so many in its dynamic utopian beauty that little time for careful reflection is left”. I would suggest that the amount of critical work being done on-line is not so much the issue, as the poor resources available in this area for presenting ideas and furthering discussion in a coherent manner without centralising any kind of power base.

Prior to attending ISEA this year, I decided to check out the 15-year-old European Media Art Festival (EMAF) [http://www.emaf.de/]. The festival, which like many of its genre started life looking at experimental film and video art, this year extended itself to include a range of video, film, performance, exhibition and on-line components. Almost as compelling as the site-specific works presented was the opportunity to log on and check out the cyber dimension. I travelled across the world to meet people and see art, yet found as much satisfaction in finding the time to log on to the internet and check out what is going on in the same ‘cyberspace’ I can access from home. The difference was that it was not done in a vacuum. I could discuss concerns, get pointers and tips to interesting sites and generally get more feedback than is possible logged on to the computer from home. One can certainly get this kind of feedback on-line, but perhaps it is simply that I harbour the old fashioned belief in the joy of ‘touching flesh’. The other factor that must be taken into account is that it is specifically in the ‘conference’ environment that one takes the time to see new work. At Home or in The Office, I simply always find that other things have more urgency.

Telepolis [http://www.heise.de/tp] in association with Rhizome [http://www.rhizome.com/] set up an interactive ‘newsroom’ at the EMAF. The room was the hub of liveliness and activity during the conference. Flitting between video screenings live performances and lectures, the space was a haven and a place to stop, enjoy a coffee, a chat and a space to log on. (I would have to say that my favourite was the fabulously quirky and witty work of Shu Lea Cheang: a whimsical meandering through Tokyo with a gorgeous group of young women—almost an homage to soft porn Japanese style.)

In fact, the on-line facilities at this year’s EMAF were fantastic: plenty of terminals, people milling around trying to get access to telnet sessions to check email. While on the one hand this points to an obsession with having to check what is happening in one’s own world, it was done in an atmosphere congenial to generating discussion and talking with old and new acquaintances about their views on the exhibition and the place of on-line technologies. And of course, telnetting to Australia was so slow that it was easy to keep a track of what was happening (or not happening) on screen at the same time as having a conversation.

Unfortunately, the issue of resourcing, already alluded to, has meant that while the concept behind the newsroom was sound, the actual content which made it onto the newsroom site is not what might have been expected given the talents of the people managing its maintenance: the site certainly in no way reflects the considered critical nature of parts of the telepolis site nor the newsy relevance of the Rhizome site, both of which are dedicated to the discussion of new media, albeit in different formats.

But on to ISEA, where unfortunately, and again for resourcing reasons rather than any will or desire on the part of the organisers of the conference, there was no space dedicated to accessing the internet. Whilst it may seem at odds with the notion of a real time conference that these facilities are necessary, the fact remains that computer screens are not the single-person spaces of interaction they are so often posited. However DEAF [http://www.v2.nl/DEAF – expired] was working with ISEA to stage this year’s manifestation of the event and the internet facility at that event, Digital Dive, was a continuous hive of activity from opening time mid-morning until around midnight, when conference attendees, drinks in hand, would stand around a communal terminal and converse about their most recent site discovery or lament the long download times of their favourite site.

On a very personal front, Kathy Rae Huffman’s On-line Encounters, Intimacy and E~motion at DEAF and Julianne Pierce’s forum with Stelarc and Sandy Stone at ISEA engaged with the personal and the sexual in on-line environments, alluding to new ways of perceiving the body in the realm of ‘cyberspace’.

Stelarc too performed his recent Ping Body [http://www.merlin.com.au/stelarc – expired] at the joint opening of DEAF and ISEA. This work is a natural progression from his wired body performances, but in this performance he takes the body on-line, or rather, the body becomes influenced by on-line activity: his body movements are not controlled by his own nervous system but by the external datasystem of the internet, with internet-activated muscle stimulators monitoring signals to various internet servers.

In the exhibition presented as part of the DEAF event, Daniela Alia Plewe took the internet analogy one step further. A water bed in the middle of a darkened gallery room invited the viewer to lie down and relax. Next to the bed, which more closely resembled a psychiatrist’s couch (or is it just that I have become used to a double bed?) was a computer. The computer activated a large projected image of a text based interface. The interface operated much as text based internet environments do. Like on-line text based environments the texts to which the viewer was invited to contribute became part of a network of ideas and associations which were neither predetermined nor quite arbitrary: it was an amalgam of all of the texts entered by previous visitors.

Knowbotic Research [http://www.t0.or.at/~krcf/ – expired], in the commissioned piece Anonymous Mutterings, also used the internet as one of a range of ways to interact with the light and sound event which almost encompassed the Dutch Institute of Architecture in Rotterdam. The digital sound component of the installation, which one could hear blocks away from the site (a useful bearing in an unfamiliar city), could be manipulated via an interface on the website of DEAF96, and also by ‘bending’ and ‘folding’ rubber mats located at various points around the building. Whilst the work was spectacular in its form, and Knowbotic Research were attempting to use the ‘fault line’ between the Net and the World to produce hybrid domains, the effects of the interaction on the audience were less clear.

One of the most engaging ‘performers’ at all three of these events was Margarete Jahrmann. Her on-line projects, which she undertakes with a range of collaborateurs, are almost perverse deconstructions or perhaps reconstructions of the world wide web. Most particularly the work she has done with Max Moswitzer as “Mamax” [http://www.konsum.co.at/ – expired], [http://www.t0.or.at/~max/mamax.html – expired] or [http:www.silverserver.co.at/mamax/ – expired] undermines the “Gatesian” simplicity of many internet or, more specifically, world wide web interfaces by offering new ways of getting to the source of the information, often laying bare the root structure or ‘filing system’ of the web site and offering that up as an example of its simultaneous simplicity and complexity.

One of the final events of the DEAF festival, which I was unfortunately not able to stay around for, was a forum titled Reflective Responses: Networks, Criticism and Discourse organised by Tim Druckrey. The objectives of this discussion were “to think about the ramifications of distributed information in an historical perspective and in forms that are both dynamic and considered;… to confront and incite an approach to web criticism across a range of topics; and [to]…discuss networked discourse as a fundamental issue of the political, intellectual and theoretical consequences of network ideology…”. I look forward to seeing some of this discussion go on-line.

RealTime issue #16 Dec-Jan 1996 pg. 20

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

The real value of this symposium lay in its intersection between potentially conflicting fields—the grass-roots methodologies inherent in community arts, and the still-rarefied strata of digital technologies. As such, the symposium was aimed more towards the community end of practice, a welcome space in which to discuss the implications of emerging technology without the tech-heads or the incomprehensible minutiae required to explain the operations of digital media. Credit goes to symposium artistic director Lylie Fisher for placing content and means on the agenda, firmly ahead of form, rounded out by a comprehensive series of hands-on workshops and demonstrations held each afternoon. It’s perfectly fine to explore what we can do with this technology, but it is imperative to discuss why we would want to do it at all, pushing debate beyond the Mt Everest (because it’s there) syndrome.

As it turns out, the community arts is a contentious arena in which to stage this debate. Its more traditional supporters and practitioners view the technology with suspicion, as exemplifying the alienation inherent in Western industrialism—the enemy of the people. If it is that, it should be cast in Ibsen’s appropriation of the term: something crucial is happening and to turn our backs to it is at our own peril. Key-note speaker Stephen Alexandra hinted precisely at this, that to avoid this technological revolution is to cast the community arts as envisioned in the 70s even further into ghettoisation and marginalistion. But he also stressed some of the peculiarities and contradictions inherent in the structure of new beasts like the internet and other digital media. On one level we find the power struggles of multinationals seeking their stake in information technologies, dynamic battles which will restructure our concepts of national autonomy, cultural boundaries, commercial and civil infrastructures. On another, there exists a digital community which is best described as grass-roots with a virtually (pun intended) unfettered exchange of information and ideas, including political organisation and protest. As a mass-medium, the net circumvents other ideologically determined media, as described in Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent. Quite to the contrary, the net provides the perfect opportunity for Chomsky’s celebration of counterculture, whether it be environmental activism or gay lobbying (as discussed in detail in Michelangelo Signorile’s Queer in America: Sex, the Media and the Closets of Power, Abacus 1993). This is because the plethora of content on the web is so diverse that it mimics a genuine anarchy. Later speakers would throw cold water on certain cherished concepts of web-utopia. But in the meantime, we can say that while corporate battles are waged, individual expression runs riot, as any web-surfer would be aware.

Speakers who followed over the next few days (many familiar to readers of these pages) only emphasised this point: Francesca da Rimini speaking about the work of VNS Matrix, Zane Trow on his role as Artistic Director of the Next Wave Festival, Brett Spilsbury on Australian Network for Art and Technology’s seeding work for art in the digital arena, and Michael Doneman’s run-through of a website for Brisbane’s youth arts organisation, Contact Inc. I was delighted by some of the contrasting approaches given expression over the three days.

da Rimini, for example, emphasised the non-technological approach of VNS Matrix’s efforts. Working only on a need to know basis, and drawing on expert help when required, emphasis is placed firmly on discursive strategies fluidly aimed at subverting a patriarchal unconsciousness most popularly summarised as ‘boys and their toys’. Yet implicit in VNS Matrix’s approach is a growing awareness and sophistication: once you start playing with this stuff, you start getting good at it. Still, VNS Matrix have succeeded by deciding on a focus, their pro-libertarian feminism is refreshing, the final effect delightfully fearless. In contrast at least to VNS Matrix’s stated aims, Zane Trow emphasised the skill of the artist who uses the computer as a virtuoso instrument. He presented a devastatingly brief manifesto of such wit and truth that its more unpalatable side was greeted with guffaws of recognition, especially “our art is so radical it is sponsored by the government”. Perhaps because his background is in sound and composition/performance, one of the first arts practices to embrace digital technology, his attitude was refreshingly down to earth. The computer is just a tool. Or, again recalling Chomsky, a reminder that if access to digital information could really change things, the Pentagon wouldn’t let us have it. As it is, cyberculture is best characterised as ‘adolescent’, not democratic. But most importantly, it was stressed that community arts in the digital age would never be about ‘decoration’, which has characterised Western art since the baroque met bourgeois ideology. That in itself is a breakthrough, making digital art about ‘things’ (if not objects), and implying links between the virtual world and the material one of bodies, communities and power.

The symposium had the excellent sense to address exactly these issues by choosing artists working in both multicultural and indigenous contexts such as the Milanese Ermanno “Gommo” Guarneri who gave an account of disenfranchised Italian youth who have moved into cyberspace to conduct community events. Last month, the old News building on Adelaide’s North Terrace, the origin of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, caught fire—no doubt through the activities of homeless street kids. Imagine instead that it is filled with computers, begged and borrowed, hooked into the web as an integral part of its fabric and giving voice to an anarchist youth who find this technology as familiar to them as phones. This might scare people, but frankly, Gommo’s account of such events in Italy looked a lot like fun. In Australia however, it won’t be street kids working this stuff, but the (hopefully not) well heeled children of the bourgeoisie. It still raises the question of community access which is where Gary Brennan’s somewhat dry address to the symposium belied the importance of what he had to say. Gary’s consultancies with both the Australia Council and the Australian Film Commission have identified the means for providing access, basing skunkworks in the existing Screen Cultural resource organisations such as Metro, Open Channel, the Media Resource Centre and FTI in Perth. This deserves a report to itself.

United Trades and Labour Council of Australia Symposium: Community Cultural Development and Multimedia, Mercury Cinema, Adelaide, September 24-26.

RealTime issue #16 Dec-Jan 1996 pg. 24

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

Jon McCormack, Turbulence

Jon McCormack, Turbulence

“the object is that through which we mourn ourselves”
Jean Baudrillard

The rise of the cabinet of curiosities, or wunderkammer, in 17th and 18th century Europe brought with it a keen interest in the collecting of natural history specimens and exotica. Prompted in part by colonial expansion and the establishment of trading routes into the New World, the collection and display, study and scientific classification of rare and unusual plants, seeds, shells, rocks and exotic fauna offered a microcosmic glimpse of the natural world to the viewer. Computer artist Jon McCormack’s Turbulence: an interactive museum of unnatural history likewise offers contemporary viewers a glimpse into a strange and exotic world. Unlike the traditional wunderkammer, however, Turbulence proposes a digital alternative in which computer-generated organisms inhabit the virtual space of Artificial Life.

Known as AL to its adherents, Artificial Life aims to replicate biological evolutionary patterns within the computer via simple numerical codes or algorithms, the digital equivalent of DNA. Computer scientist Christopher Langton describes this process succinctly:

“Artificial Life is the study of man-made systems that exhibit behaviours characteristic of natural living systems. It complements the traditional biological sciences concerned with the analysis of living organisms by attempting to synthesise life-like behaviours within computers and other artificial media. By extending the empirical foundation upon which biology is based beyond the carbon-chain life that has evolved on Earth, Artificial Life can contribute to theoretical biology by locating life-as-we-know-it within the larger picture of life-as-it-could-be.” Christopher Langton, Artificial Life

Artificial Life is premised upon the notion of life as dynamic form rather than material embodiment, taking a ‘bottom-up’ approach to the modelling of its organisms. That is, it starts with simple, recursive rules out of which more complex structures can then evolve, branch out and randomly mutate. This represents an alternative strategy to that often taken in traditional biology, which works downwards from organic complexity to underlying simplicity in search of the so-called ‘building blocks’ of life.

While the study of Artificial Life is by no means new in itself and can be linked to the emergence of cybernetics in the late 1940s, the development of more recent high-end computer systems has enabled both scientists and artists to experiment with the many possibilities it offers. McCormack’s work represents one instance of this, the results of which are both conceptually rigorous and visually startlingly beautiful. Other contemporaries in the field include English computer artist William Latham and American Karl Sims.

Turbulence takes the form of a video laserdisc upon which a menagerie of synthesised organisms, exhibiting life-like behavioural patterns, are stored. Images are accessed by a touch-screen computer and projected via an overhead projector onto a large screen before the viewer. Echoing conventional systems of biological classification, life forms are grouped thematically into five imaginary realms entitled ‘Signals’, ‘Flow’, ‘Spaces’, ‘Organisms’ and ‘Metaroom’. Almost 30 minutes of computer-generated animation is accessible through these groupings, each sequence representing a particular organism and its environs. Thus we see a pulsating, translucent creature with thread-like tentacles in an aquatic garden, a strange, ant-like creature scuttling through the sands of an imaginary desert and a livid green plant splitting open in a sudden, violent burst to project its spores into the cosmos. An evocative soundtrack by the artist accompanies each sequence, adding to the overall impact of the work. Within the constructed world of Turbulence, nature is both beautiful and terrible, meditative and destructive.

Writing about Turbulence McCormack has described the work as dual lament and celebration:

A lament for things now gone. A celebration of the beauty to come, and the fact that we can appreciate and create it (Turbulence) heralds a new evolutionary landscape made possible by technology: a digital poiesis. Jon McCormack, The Beauty to Be

The rapid destruction of the natural world which we inhabit, coupled with the desire to establish alternative spaces for beauty and contemplation, is a driving force behind the creation of Turbulence. Alternatively, it is the ability to create forms so close to, yet so dissimilar from ‘nature’ as we know it that motivates the production of the work. As one recent publication suggests, we are living in an age when nature teeters on extinction yet, at the same time, its exact definition as a category of representation becomes increasingly problematic (G. Robertson et al eds, Future Natural: Nature, science, culture). Endlessly reproduced and analysed, mediated by technology, economy and politics, what constitutes nature anyway?

Created over a three-year period between 1991-94 with financial assistance from the Australian Film Commission, Turbulence is the recipient of several international multimedia and film awards. It has been exhibited at the 1995 International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA) in Montreal, the 8th Tepia Multimedia Art exhibition in Tokyo, the Berlin Interfilm Festival and at ACM Siggraph in Orlando, Florida. The work was previewed before Australian audiences in 1995 at the Australian Film Commission conference The Filmmaker and Multimedia: Narrative and Interactivity and has since been exhibited at the the Ian Potter Gallery, The University of Melbourne Museum of Art, in 1995 and at Science Works Museum. Turbulence was displayed at the Ian Potter Gallery in a large, darkened amphitheatre, next to which a room of dimly lit zoological specimens provided an eerie biological counterpoint to the synthesised creatures of the interactive.

Audiences in Sydney also have the opportunity to view Turbulence between 5-20 October at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, where it is accompanied by two film screenings on the 5th and 12th. Collectively entitled Elastic Light: an international retrospective of computer animation, the screenings have been coordinated by the Sydney Intermedia Network (SIN) with individual works selected by McCormack. Many of the works included within these screenings have never been seen by Australian audiences. The seminal 1969 documentary Experiments in Motion Graphics, based upon the work of animation pioneer John Whitney Snr, forms the centrepiece around which a selection of more recent works are assembled. Animations by Australians Ian Haig and John Tonkin can be seen alongside Michelle Robinson’s When I was Six (USA), Kazuma Morino’s Stripe Box (Japan) and Ian Bird’s acclaimed Pet Shop Boys video clip, Liberation (UK).

As a philosophical meditation upon nature and its multiplex forms, Turbulence questions traditional definitions: what constitutes life and how can we define it? As ‘digital poiesis’, it represents a unique and breathtaking fusion of sound, imagery and poetry.

Jon McCormack, Turbulence, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Oct 5-20

RealTime issue #15 Oct-Nov 1996 pg. 18

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

experimenta media arts festival

experimenta media arts festival

As it heads into its second decade, the Melbourne-based Modern Image Makers Association (MIMA) has reinvented itself with a new name—experimenta media arts—and a new direction. Kathy Cleland talks to new staff members Shiralee Saul and Peter Handsaker about the changes to the organisation, and previews some of the highlights of the upcoming experimenta media arts festival in Melbourne.

KC Why the name change? “New Name, New Image, New Direction”…what exactly does that mean?

SS The time had come to re-invent the organisation and reposition MIMA in the public perception. Feedback from present and potential members indicated that the concept of ‘modern image makers’ had reached its use-by date and there was a widespread perception of the organisation as catering to and for a very small group of mainly Melbourne-based 16mm film practitioners working in very formalist and structuralist modes. Many other practitioners felt disenfranchised by a perceived bias in the organisation’s activities and public presentation and suggested that the organisation was not representing either new concepts or aesthetic directions in film and video practices nor innovations in practices brought about by the digital revolution.

Along with the name change to experimenta media arts, which has allowed us to redesign our organisational identity to reflect a more professional and less partisan approach, we have initiated a series of strategies to more effectively promote, publicise and distribute experimental media. These strategies include using the www to provide educational, archival and associated information about Australian media arts and artists, increasing the scope and coverage of MESH, so that it is becoming a truly national journal, using new(ish) screening possibilities such as community television and building strong alliances with similar organisations to share resources and support each other’s activities.

KC Does the change in experimenta’s focus mean a shift away from film and video based practices towards the digital domain? Will you still be representing more ‘traditionally’ based experimental film and video practices?

SS We will continue to represent ‘traditional’ experimental screen works. We are extremely concerned that the achievements and advancements of past experimental media pioneers is not forgotten or overlooked, and that contemporary discussions of production and aesthetics take them into account…that what is new today is seen to be growing from the ‘new’ of yesterday rather than simply springing up out of nothing. Of course, many practitioners are switching to or augmenting their practices with digital media—and through MESH, our exhibitions and the festival we hope to explore and support this development. Digital media and electronic networks are increasingly being used by creative artists of all kinds to generate innovative and exploratory works—it is only natural that as the amount and quality of works using digital media increases so too will our exhibition and promotion of them.

KC So, what can we look forward to in this year’s festival?

PH Short, Sharp and Very Current at the (Lonsdale Street) Power Station is the centrepiece of the festival. It’s an integrated program of installations (by over 20 artists) plus screenings (by some 50 artists), performances and a closing night rave party/event at the Power Station. It’s the first time experimenta has had the use of a single exciting, multi-purpose venue enabling us to exhibit a range of practices alongside each other (a one-stop shop) plus there’s a bar and festival club with a games arcade—which will encourage people to come along, have a drink and linger.

SS The Power Station events will, in turn, be extended by the festival’s series of satellite exhibitions at the CCP (Burning the Interface and mediaSphere), ACCA (The Body Remembers—an interactive survey by Jill Scott), NGV (Domestic Disturbances), Linden Gallery (ATOM Australian International Multimedia Awards exhibition plus mediaSphere) and the CMEC’s Reflective Space concert series at the Power House in conjunction with Short, Sharp and Very Current. We are also running eTV (experimenta Television)—a curated program of national and international work in conjunction with SKA-TV and Open Channel. eTV will screen on Channel 31 and will also be available on tape via our mediaSphere viewing rooms at various satellite exhibitions.

PH Highlights within the screening component of Short, Sharp and Very Current are the Stan Brakhage new works (1990-1995), the Guy Madden retrospectives and the Super-8 screening, talk and photo exhibition by New Yorker Richard Kern—which should open a few eyes!

SS The juxtaposition of historic programs and materials alongside new is intended not only to stimulate discussion about the current state of play in the media arts, but also to question whether multimedia is in fact a ‘radical new development’ or simply on the continuum of the history of experimentation and innovation within the experimental media arts.

experimenta publishes the quarterly media arts journal MESH, also available on-line as e-MESH from the experimenta web site http://www.peg.apc.org/~experimenta [expired] – new address http://www.experimenta.org/mesh/

RealTime issue #15 Oct-Nov 1996 pg. 19

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

“The twenty or so CD-ROM discs selected for this preview of interactive multimedia are those related to the aesthetics of cinema. In particular, my focus was the traditions of the narrative form that have evolved through the cinema of documentary, but demonstrate and explore the ways in which a new aesthetic is beginning to emerge from a new medium.” Email from Mike Leggett, curator of Cynema: An Interactive Playground

For someone currently researching the possibilities of the emerging form of interactive documentary, Cynema: An Interactive Playground was a kind of manna from heaven to be found in the streets of Brisbane. Twenty CD-ROMs—loosely subdivided into the games, music, reference and experimental categories—were collected together at the Hub Internet Cafe, in an exhibition curated by Mike Leggett as part of the Brisbane International Film Festival. This was a new initiative of the festival, and one that is to be applauded given the difficulties of seeing other than a narrow range of commercially distributed interactive multimedia outside of this kind of specialised exhibition.

There was something of the feel of a ‘new frontier’ for the festival in this exhibition: numbers of patrons were low early on, elements of the viewing environment were still being refined, exhibition assistant James Thompson was in constant demand to assist people unfamiliar with the medium. By the end of the week the audience had built up very significantly as word of mouth spread. Thompson describes a number of patrons returning several times, often for hours on end, to engage with the works.

Apparently, it was the games that were a particular drawcard. Bad Mojo—where users are drawn by sumptuous graphics into identifying with the point of view and navigational possibilities of a cockroach—incited particular loyalty in some patrons. So too did Discworld— an animated mediæval adventure game where users attempt to vanquish a dragon terrorising a mythical city. My five year old son had to be coaxed away from Kids on Site—where the user enters the driver’s seat of major construction equipment—after an hour’s complete absorption. For me, it was the works in the experimental category, and the Laurie Anderson work, Puppet Motel (oddly categorised as music), that were the highlights of the exhibition.

An issue in reviewing CD-ROMs, given their non-linearity, is how long you need to have spent with work, how many various pathways you need to have taken, before you feel able to comment upon it. Those works that immediately reveal their complete contents can be less satisfying than those which manage to construct their interface in ways resembling a labyrinth that draws you in. Those in the latter category, however, always leave you wondering ‘what have I missed’ and ‘will I be contradicted by that

• continued page #
• from page #
which is hidden just beyond my chosen pathway’.

Puppet Motel very successfully created a sense of boundlessness within the necessarily limited confines of the CD-ROM format. From the opening imagery of a vortex disappearing into infinity, accompanied by spinning clocks and a seemingly random series of further choices, the work reveals itself as a game-like maze. Within this maze are to be found vintage Laurie Anderson performance monologues, soundscapes and music. Rather than using its navigation system to direct the user down clearly signposted pathways, Puppet Motel works as a series of linked sites whose main interactions relate to the challenge of escaping into the next one. I for one was not up to the task in one instance and had to quit out of the application to escape a particular location. Intriguing graphics and an enigmatic and curiously satisfying soundtrack generally maintained my interest until each puzzle was solved. At one point Anderson’s sensuous whisperings had my ear pressed to the computer speaker to catch every word and nuance.

Christine Tamblyn’s Mistaken Identities explores the life stories of ten famous women (Marie Curie, Margaret Mead and Frida Kahlo amongst them) in a work “which combines aspects of an academic essay or documentary film with intuitive associations between graphics, film, text and sounds…the boundaries between fact, interpretations and fiction are intentionally blurred in the project” (accompanying ‘read me’ notes). Short fragments of archival movies are cleverly incorporated into screen designs that naturalize the small screen QuickTime format. The structure of this work encourages users to explore both individual women’s trajectories and the thematic analogies that linked their lives. A woman—presumably Tamblyn herself—is woven throughout the work, visually commenting on the subject’s life stories. Often she mimes exaggerated facial responses in mute QuickTime images, in one section she transforms ‘into’ her heroines in a series of morphed pictures. Whilst this strand of Mistaken Identities did not seem to me to have been sufficiently integrated into the overall text, it was refreshing to see an exploration of self reflexive strategies in a work of interactive multimedia.

Graham Harwood’s Rehearsal of Memory powerfully evokes the closed world of the Ashworth Maximum Security Mental Hospital patients with whom he worked in producing this piece. One of its most striking features is the conglomerate human form—created as a mosaic of scanned body parts—which becomes the large but bounded space through which we navigate and in which we discover various looped fragments of oral history and soundscape. Harwood’s use of contrapuntal sound is deft: a soundtrack of trickling water alongside the scanned ECU image of pubic hair and the head of a penis opened up meaning in the space between the image and sound.

Not all the works were as engaging. George Legrady’s the clearing, whose project is to “explore the cultural meaning in the language of news representation [of the former Yugoslavia]” (quoted from the ‘read me’ note), seemed to me to reproduce rather than deconstruct the frustrations of following that conflict through the vehicle of daily new reports.

Taken as a whole, this was a very successful exhibition that reflects some very interesting recent work at the nexus of cinema and interactive multimedia. It also confirmed, however, that this is still very largely a medium of graphics and animation, with digital video only a small component of most pieces.

As a reviewer who both visited the exhibition twice and had the privilege of taking a number of the works away to view on my own computer, I found much to enthral me, though some works goaded me into musing how they could be even better. In the exhibition itself, users had to contend with the cafe’s usual muzak as well as with the conflicting soundtracks of works on adjacent computers. For the many works where the soundtrack was critical, this was a real problem. This is perhaps unsurprising for a medium still finding its audience and developing its optimal viewing environment. Given the number of these CD-ROM based works that had associated web sites, it could also be an advantage if works were displayed, next time, on networked computers.

Perhaps these issues will be addressed in 1997 in the Brisbane season of the much larger Burning the Interface exhibition, originally shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, which was also curated by Mike Leggett (with Linda Michael). I sincerely hope that this kind of new media exhibition will become a regular feature of the festival, and play a key role in exposing Brisbane audiences to emerging genres of interactive work.

RealTime issue #15 Oct-Nov 1996 pg. 23

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

Mark Dery’s perceptively written Escape Velocity is a welcome addition to the growing list of new media publications. It is unique on a number of aesthetic, cultural and technological fronts. Most significantly, it is a comprehensive overview of computer culture, incisively x-raying the myths of the many different digital subcultures that constitute techno-culture more broadly. In this critical sense, Dery’s book is a first: nowhere else (in book form) will the reader encounter the complex historical, mythic and cultural configurations of the cyber-hippies, New Agers, techno-pagans, Extropians, rogue technologists and so on—groups which have substantially contributed to our wired world of ‘terminal identity’ (Scott Bukatman). Dery has done his vital historical spadework, and this is one of the book’s more enduring accomplishments.

In an era where much of the critical writing on digital media is marked by a problematic ahistorical emphasis, Escape Velocity critiques the ‘context-free’ metaphysics of new media literature. Dery searches afar the more (in)visible sites of cyberculture in his relentlessly scorching critique of the postevolutionary romanticism of the on-line world—the relatively unexamined will to leave our ‘obsolete’ bodies behind as we become superlunary voyagers of extraterrestrial silicon bliss (viz. Hardison, Moravec, and Vinge). Dery’s invaluable project to counter the postmodern cyborg desire to ‘objectify ourselves to death’ (Vivian Sobchack)—a discernible trend in contemporary life, traceable to Walter Benjamin’s observations on humankind’s propensity to experience self-alienation as “an aesthetic pleasure of the first kind”—is grounded in a rigorous attempt to italicise the ethical, social and political implications of the mind-jarring nonsense that is propagated in the name of cybernetic technologies.

One of the first things that the reader will enjoy about Escape Velocity is the author’s inimitable prose style. Dery writes like Lenny Bruce on speed: it’s a neon-lit, hallucinatory scalpel writing style that captures the highly kinetic quality of author’s freewheeling speech. We know how writing about digital media is remarkably conducive to the creation of metaphors, neologisms and phrases, but to read Dery’s visceral Celinian writing is to exactly experience the author’s lava-hot lecturing style.

Dery’s omnidirectional capacity to coin sharply-etched neologisms not only deflates the more spurious hyperbole of the information age (for example, the promotion in some circles of the new media as a welcomed expression of bodily extension and disembodiment, what McLuhan aptly termed “auto-amputation”), but it also allows Dery to significantly contribute both substantial historical information of the digital underground and a critical, scholarly spin on value new media theory. Escape Velocity, in a word, reminds us of the urgent necessity to address the new media technologies with all the rigour that is evident elsewhere in contemporary cultural studies. It behoves us to speak of digital media in an informed historical context, to know our subject in terms of a self-reflexive materialist analysis grounded in the task of addressing the “social physics” of technology (Avital Ronell).

One of the premises of Escape Velocity is that the new media technologies (especially the personal computer) and their techno-transcendental promotion in everyday life is primarily an American phenomenon. Dery is correct to point this out at the beginning of the book, for what is clear in the context of global digital media is how technological progress (read Leo Marx’s notion of “the rhetoric of the technological sublime”) has always been stressed as an American phenomenon. Consequently, the personal computer and the internet, and their post-GATT promotion as the centre of a supposed coming electronic Jeffersonian democracy, suggests not only human disembodiment but also (what Buckminster Fuller once termed) “the ephemeralisation of labour”.

Dery seeks to probe beneath the techno-hype of cyberculture and question the many contradictions, shortcomings and tensions that characterise the mutating computer-mediated interaction between our immaterial and material lives. This requires nothing less than a fundamental negotiation of our collective and individual capacity to delude ourselves into thinking that with media technology we can escape from the very bodily, cultural and epistemological features that define us as we approach the end of this century. Dery’s anti-idealist investigation of computer culture goes beyond the Sunday Supplement hyperbole to define a penetrating critique of the futurological mysticism and techno-eschatology that colour the various digital subcultures comprising our high-tech world. Dery’s contextualisation of these (till now relatively unexamined) digital subcultures apropos of contemporary science fiction, science, robotics, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, futurology, and the counter-revolution of the 60s, is a major achievement.

Dery focuses on the runaway millenarian fantasies and myths that are defining the ‘escape velocity’ rhetoric of post-Darwinian posthumanism—what in the author’s vivid phrase constitutes “a theology of the ejector seat”­­—that we encounter in many forms: cybernetic body art (Stelarc, Therrien, Orlan), cyberdelia (Mondo 2000, Whole Earth Review, Leary and McKenna), techno-paganism (Bulletin board systems like Modem Magick, Deus ex Machina, and Scared Grove), cyberpunk, metal machine music (Throbbing Gristle, Elliot Sharp, and Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails) and the ‘techno-surrealist’ mechanical spectacles of Mark Pauline’s Survival Research Laboratories. Dery argues persuasively against the self-deluding end-of-the-millennium utopianism of postevolutionary robotics and space migration (Burroughs and Moravec) insisting of the hermeneutic urgency of the “moral gaze” (contra Baudrillard) of posthumanist thought. We must, that is to say, critically address the biological and socio-cultural fictions that comprise the reductionist theology of cyborg escapism.

The disembodied rhetoric of posthumanism, for critics like Dery, Vivian Sobchack and Andrew Ross, suggests a vast unchecked contempt for the body and the material world. The many rosy paeans sung for high technology as an expression of the Enlightenment project, for American techno-utopianism and for the Olympian Cartesian fantasies of ‘downloading’ our brains onto the global cybernetic circuitry of our cyborg futures (a la Lecht, Moravec, Vinge and Zey), are deconstructed by Dery and shown to be misguided, unconstructive and dangerously distorted. Dery insists on staying earth-bound, and this is one of Escape Velocity’s more appealing characteristics.

Dery attacks the technocratic elitism of Moravec’s ideas on advanced robotics, Mondo 2000’s airy, high-minded endorsement of a “dictatorship of the neurotriat” and the free-market expansionism of computer technology by digging deep in the interzone between the giddy technophilic pronouncements made by today’s cyber-zealots and the actual socio-cultural impact of the computer at this historical moment. Dery’s provocative book insists on probing the refusal in our techno-media landscape to adequately negotiate the social and political currents that are germane to the main concerns and direction of our emerging on-line world.

At the centre of Dery’s deftly constructed arguments is the notion of the computer as a “Janus machine, an engine of liberation and an instrument of repression”. Escape Velocity demonstrates the many shortcomings of the seductive, self-fulfilling apocalyptic fantasies of computer-mediated “transcendental” ideology that feature in the digital over- and underground. Whilst some of us may be preparing for a posthumanist lift-off from the ecological devastation, social anomie, impoverisation, polarisation, and political alienation that characterise planet earth as we hurtle towards the next millennium, Dery begs to differ. He insists that our voyagers of techno-rapture who wish a life beyond our stratosphere are ignoring (at their peril) the critical and moral wisdom of keeping their feet on earth.

Escape Velocity is an essential read for anyone who in concerned with the complex, shifting intersections between culture, biology, politics and digital technology. Dery’s morally charged insistence on locating the new technologies within the everyday orbit of ecological and socio-political gravity is appreciably timely. Because Dery values crashdowns, not lift-offs, earth-bound historical observations not apolitical cyber-abstractions based on the Icarus myth, Escape Velocity’s critical future is assured.

RealTime issue #15 Oct-Nov 1996 pg. 25

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

Kate Champion never actually wanted to do a solo show. She wanted publicity shots not to show her face, but was told, “You’ve got such a pretty face.” She said, “But that’s what my piece is about. Whatever you do, it’s judged on face value.” In her new work, Face Value, facade is the theme. Champion is intrigued by our social skins and what’s really going on in the more tender organs. Sometimes the difference between the two feels too great. Using text or voice along with the body represents that clash between the façade and the inner voice that’s not social. Voice creates the body as a whole; it’s a different canvas, with more choices to be made. Champion is looking at the idea that many women live in the one person. Taking women of three different ages, 22 and 35 and 49, she has tried to work out what the energies are, their physicalities. “At 22, I was too full of energy. Looking back you realise you had it all, but no idea what to do with it. At 35 I feel more easy. Everything’s arriving at a point, but there’s something in me still fighting. What I’ve projected onto the older woman is that at 48 you don’t give a stuff, no desperate need to prove anything. Maybe that’s not menopausal but post-menopausal.”

The set made by Russell Way is a facade too, and a playground. “To an outsider, it looks straightforward, but we know its history. It’s got ‘scars’, and they make the skin more interesting. We’ve had those breakdowns and rebuilds, and arguments, and we’ve had to really test where each of us stands as far as where we’re going. This is why what I’m doing isn’t a solo show in any way.”

She says, “I go to the studio and I dance and dance and dance, finding all the processes I’ve been witness to, part of. You can see how your body’s owned by other people, you’re a little piece of history and you need to work out how to use that to your advantage. You can’t get rid of it because it lives in you. What makes some aesthetics stay in your body more strongly than others? You go to Paris with a lover and a few months later you say, just tell me five things that you remember about that week we spent in Paris, and his five things were not my five things. It’s the intensity of interest that causes you to retain it. The body has such an interesting editing facility.”

Kate Champion, Face Value, The Performance Space, Sydney, October 8-12

RealTime issue #15 Oct-Nov 1996 pg. 37

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

From the 50th Edinburgh Festival and Fringe, Benedict Andrews conjures performances by Wilson, Bausch, Stein, Chaikin, Netherlands Dance Theatre, Hakutobo, Zofia Kalinska and Teatr Podrozy

In order to celebrate the 50th birthday of Edinburgh Festival, director Brian McMasters invited a core of elite theatre and dance artists to present works. As a young director this was a rare opportunity to see my heroes in action—Robert Wilson, Pina Bausch, Peter Stein and Robert LePage. With the cancellation of LePage’s Elsinore due to equipment failure and of Neil Bartlett’s Seven Sacraments due to illness, the Festival lost two of its brightest young stars. Their works promised a questioning of the boundaries of theatre and a meshing of performance with other forms—cinema and digital technology in Elsinore and the visual arts in Seven Sacraments. The Festival, instead, became a display of established auteurs.

The high priest of hi-tech aestheticism, Robert Wilson brought two productions that showed the present extremities of his work and a seeming fascination with the Modernist textuality via the high-fiction of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and the playful, heavenly landscapes of the Gertrude Stein-Virgil Thomson Four Saints in Three Acts. Both productions were abstract and mesmeric. Orlando was a minimalist chiaroscuro composition with an epic solo performance from Miranda Richardson, and Four Saints a lollipop landscape saturated with cartoon colours and filled with flying sheep, elegant giraffes, punk acrobats and a chorus of sartorial saints and vaudeville comperes.

Orlando is a fascinating exemplar of Wilson’s recent experiments with narrative showing his refusal to illustrate text or display conventional emotion. Instead he writes a parallel text with gesture, architecture and light, which forces the audience to drop below the narrative and let its dream logic unfold. Woolf’s fantastical tale about a young lord who lives through 350 years of history and finds himself transformed into a woman is perfect fodder for Wilson’s explorations of time’s passing and history’s images. Orlando is performed by Richardson with androgynous tension and physical and vocal precision. Her voice is amplified giving it a mediated resonance and an alien-like quality. As words pile on top of words in her two-hour monologue, Richardson’s voice and Woolf’s language are fused into an independent and mercurial texture. Hans Peter Kuhn’s meticulous sound design allows Orlando’s voice to shift through speakers placed throughout the auditorium further accentuating the character’s disembodiment. Wilson’s lighting design draws inspiration from German Expressionist films and early Hollywood. At the beginning the stage is black, a light picks out the back of Richardson’s head for a moment, fades to black again, then lights her hand only. Parts of her body seem to float. Wilson continues to make light a performer throughout the piece, often using it to play with appearances and disappearances central to the questionings of identity and sexuality in the text. The light is always sculptural with tight follow spots lighting Richardson’s face, making her seem like a haunted Greta Garbo.

The space is a cross between minimalist painting and magic show. Wilson flies various gauzes and curtains to change compositions, creating chambers and multiple horizon lines. He also uses the set as a sequence of indices, which play with scale and meaning. A miniature automated door pops up through the floor to represent Orlando’s suitor, opening and closing in response to her questions. When Orlando changes into a woman, s/he does so behind a giant polished metal tree trunk which has slowly flown in. This phallic joke and pun on theatrical conventions demonstrates Wilson’s oblique and playful dramaturgy. His Orlando uses form to interrogate language and subjectivity. Richardson’s performance moulded into Wilson’s statuesque choreography shows the impact of history and time on the body.

Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson’s cubist opera Four Saints in Three Acts provides Wilson with a language that converges with his own use of autistic text, allowing him to create hallucinatory landscapes. He calls the piece “a meditation on the joy of life.” It is a series of free-associative pictures as various saints graze in a day-glo heaven. Snow falls on white cutout palm trees, biplanes fly by, angel statues drop in and giraffes bow their heads. It is classic make-of-it-what-you-will Wilson surrealism culminating with a ‘mansion of heaven’ (a giant white architectural model suspended above the stage) bursting into flames as the saints on stage hold miniature models in their hands. These are the light and beautiful ‘souls’ reflected on by Wilson and Stein in their meditation on saintliness, or ‘genius’ if you like.

Peter Stein’s production of Uncle Vanya with the Teatro di Roma and Teatro di Parma was the closest the Festival came to a well-made play (with the exception of Botho Strauss’ wonderfully well-unmade play Time and the Room presented by Nottingham Playhouse). Uncle Vanya is a masterpiece of orchestration combining passionate realism, hyper-naturalistic design and an ever-present soundscape, which highlights Stein’s inspired use of silence. Over three and a half hours he creates a terrifying passage of time within which the characters’ gradual disintegration and painful tearing of illusions are played out. The performances from the cast of handpicked Italian actors are detailed, yet elastic. Each character proceeds blindly from an unresolvable, unknowable lack; the impossibility of resolution fused with an acute awareness of the body’s aging creates a slow dance of death. Stein sees the play as containing the embryonic symptoms of all the systems and neuroses of the twentieth century. In this way his exacting analysis and evocation of the emotional lives of Chekov’s Russian bourgeois becomes an exploration of our own fin-de-siecle malaise.

Pina Bausch’s dance-opera of Gluck’s Iphigenia auf Taurus is also embryonic in that it was one of her first works created in Wuppertal in 1973. Re-presenting this early work shows her choreography when it was less a deconstruction of dance and the economy of desire and more aligned to narrative. It is an atavistic, emotionally raw piece obsessed with machinations of history and rituals of power. The opera soloists are placed in the gilded boxes of the theatre while the chorus sings from the pit. The dancers alone occupy the stage—a cavernous post-industrial chamber of beaten metal (into which, at times, the lighting rig is flown turning the tools of the theatre into instruments of imprisonment and torture). The libretto is a complex Greek tale of exile, enslavement, human sacrifice and death’s door family reunion. The representation of the barbaric state shows the influence of Heiner Müller’s catastrophic scenographies. The ruler, Thoas, a brutal and shadowy man with a shaved head enters doing a jerky, angular dance and wearing a giant leather trench coat. He disappears behind a hanging sheet and emerges without the coat, which is revealed standing of its own accord, a heavy, oppressive symbol. He is followed everywhere by a disturbing couple, an immaculately dressed bald man who stands downstage staring into the audience (our representative?) and a small, broken woman bedecked with jewels who carries a box of dirt which she smears over her face. The man repeatedly lifts her up forcing her collapsing body into submission. In this opera, Bausch reflects the deformed audience of patriarchy, while the story of mythic exiles begs us to love.

Other dance I saw in the Festival program included the Martha Graham Company, Netherlands Dans Theatre (who will be at the Melbourne Festival in October) and Hakutobo’s Renyo. Unfortunately the Martha Graham programme of works reconstructed from between 1918 and 1944 felt like a creaky and reverential museum piece. It seems Saint Martha has been canonised and her devotees have maintained the shape of her works, but lost the soul. Netherlands Dans Theatre’s programs, however, were fresh and provocative. Jiri Kylian’s ‘black and white’ works in particular are stark and intense, full of funky geometrics, seamless movement and erotic rituals. Bella Figura is a dance about performance and the space between dream and waking.

Vast open spaces are created with corridors of light, or the proscenium height and width is enlarged and reduced by black curtains to play with our gaze and the liminal zone between performer and audience. In one sequence two women naked, except for scarlet corselettes, are imprisoned by the curtain’s frame. They shyly and exquisitely come ever so close to caressing each other, but instead set each other in motion. The dance is razor sharp: robotic jolts, twitching limbs, slides and torsos twisted into impossible contortions. Kylian creates beautiful and provocative hieroglyphics.

Hakutobo is one of my favourite butoh companies and I enjoyed seeing their work Renyo—Far from the Lotus again. It is a complex and subtle work which elaborates on the jizo: stone statues of children found throughout Japan which are carved anonymously and placed by the roadside or rice paddy, left exposed to the rain, wind and snow. The dancers perform their decay and mutation. Akeno (whose outstanding performance is the core of the work) dances the body in perpetual flux, electrified, not moving but moved. She shudders and shimmers, seems to be a tiny infant all-agog and then an impossibly old woman or even a corpse decaying into the elements: becoming an-Other body.

Amongst the whirligig of the Fringe several productions demonstrated the raw power of the best of the Festival shows. Seeing Joseph Chaikin perform Beckett’s Texts for Nothing in the gutted shell of a Gothic church is an experience I will never forget. Beckett’s texts—about the body’s struggle with itself, with articulation, with the experience of nothingness and its attempts to remember—resonated in Chaikin’s own experience of losing speech and body control due to a stroke some years ago. [The sound of] his live, stuttering, struggling tongue was interspersed with an analogue recording of the texts made pre-stroke which was clear, controlled and precise creating an unmendable schizophrenia between past and present which absolutely echoed Beckett’s writing.

A similar solo performance of burning presence was given by Polish actress Zofia Kalinska (formerly of Kantor’s Cricot Theatre) in If I am Medea. Performed in a dark, filthy, ramshackle basement with a grilled window looking out onto a patch of ultra-green weeds and sunlight, the piece was a ‘séance’ in which Kalinska compared her life with Medea’s. Howard Barker’s production of his chamber play Judith performed by the Wrestling School (a company dedicated to his work) generated the collisions of sheer beauty and cruelty that his Theatre of Catastrophe requires.

Polish performance group Teatr Podrozy’s Carmen Funebre was a haunting and violent requiem about civil war and genocide. In the sombre courtyard of the university buildings they created a deeply moving physical theatre spectacle. ‘Civilians’ are searched out amongst the crowd by menacing masked figures on stilts who strip, separate and brutalise them. The piece is most powerful when it becomes a mourning for the dead—the performers each carefully carrying a tiny paper house with a pale flame burning inside, offering words of hope to the audience in broken English until tying balloons to the houses and watching them fly away into the Edinburgh night like prayers.

It was a Festival (and if you looked hard enough, a Fringe) of virtuoso theatre artists whose works demonstrated their mastery and maturity. Their works were a distillation and vivification of their careers—idiosyncratic, technically excellent and containing beautiful, disturbing images which burned the retina. The next generation of renegades (as these artists had once been) sadly cancelled or were ignored.

RealTime issue #15 Oct-Nov 1996 pg. 6

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

The largest festival in the world for modern and new dance, Copenhagen’s 4th International Dancin’ City was grand, eclectic and provocatively programmed. It proved to be a success despite enormous competition in a city inundated with performance (Copenhagen is European Cultural Capital for 1996). Despite mutterings about the death of European festivals, blockbuster survival tactics were replaced with a bid towards totality.

An intense spectrum moved from the pure dance of Merce Cunningham to Jérôme Bel’s ultra reflective Anti-Dance, creating a feeling of a ‘classless’ festival where obscure and risky work was presented alongside big budget quality product. The emphasis was not only on interdependence but also on the presentation of history and process— perhaps an extension of Scandinavian democracy or maybe a clear strategy for a dialogue between artists, theorists, critics and audiences and for a future multiplicity of works and forms.

The Merce Cunningham Company (US) was overwhelming. Five divergent pieces from the latest five years of Cunningham’s 50 years of work, were challenging and extremely demanding, leaving the dancers perpetually at the edge of their technique. The most recent work, Rondo (1996), is fresh, ingenious and provocative.

Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker (Belgium), with her renowned company Rosas, presented two new works. Rosas Danst Rosas is the company’s first and now famous minimalist performance from 1983. Four women confront three basic forms of lying, sitting and standing over two hours. Emotional narrative is placed within a conceptual framework that paradoxically both enhances and cuts its intent. It is a repetitive, teeth-grinding and mature tour de force that is without compromise. The second, de Keersmaeker’s latest piece, Mozart/Concert Arias, is a splendiferous homage to Mozart with a 34-piece orchestra on original instruments, three opera singers and the company’s 13 dancers. It is a beautiful, humorous and abundant work that maintains a contemporary insistence within its 90s meta-staging.

Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company (US) presented three pieces. Having once epitomised the legend of the brilliantly athletic modern dancer, the reverence for youth and muscle is unfortunately still maintained. Nevertheless Bill T’s passion carries through and the company itself exudes great warmth. Unfortunately, his working around Kurt Schwitters’ UrSonata is a travesty of a pivotal work. The languages are far apart and this simplistic misconception proved their incompatibility.

With superbly technical dancers, massive high-production capability and Phillipe Guillotel as costume designer, Philippe Decouflé’s work Decodex (France) was extremely popular and a captivating success. An upstaged circus enchantment as opposed to a ‘dance piece’, it leaves one with that Andrew Lloyd Webber feeling and a sense of the baroque epitome of ‘Frenchness.’

Japanese choreographer Saburo Teshigawara and his company Karas performed I was Real—Documents. Other than some quite beautiful suspended moments at the beginning, the work had a tendency towards a muscle-bound hyperactivity alongside its strong Japanese spatial aesthetics. Some delicate and complex choreographic patterns juxtaposed a resonant presentation of stillness—even if a deeper relation to emptiness and to space was not so forthcoming.

Non-director, non-choreographer catalyst Alain Patel and the Flemish company Les Ballets C de la B composed a brilliant, chaotic cacophony La Tristeza Complice. As the men piss in their trousers, boys beat up mental cases and young girl dancers are molested alongside the rocketing tempo of a North African break-dancer with wings and a ballet pastiche on roller-skates, what comes across is a sense of quiet, reckless but insistent observation. The piece has an animal-breathing as each vivid dancer seethes in and out of the suspended mass which is further swelled by Dick Van der Harst’s arrangement of Purcell set to a magnificent gendarmerie of 10 harmonica accordions plus a superb solo soprano.

Sasha Waltz & Guests (Germany) presented the entire Travelogue series of performances, which were very popular. The work is humorous, entertaining and well produced which, combined with a quirky if at times overriding heterosexuality, assures absolute success.

A double evening event with three solo works by José Navas (Venezuela) and a single group work by Quasar Companhia de Dança (Brazil) also drew large audiences. The youthful and sensitive ballet-defined duende of Navas combined well with the raw, humorous and temperamental choreography of the Quasar’s punk-street feel.

Wayne McGregor & Random Dance Co (UK) has been hailed as the “New English Thing.” The work is young, exuberant, fast and frantic but lacking in the weight and the coolness required to achieve clarity. When the dancers are stretched to their very best, one is reminded of Molissa Fenley’s ‘hyperdance.’ But within these repetitions there is not the same rigorous commitment to a danced continuum as presented by Fenley in her stunning solo at the ‘94 festival.

The young French choreographer Jérôme Bel presented Anti-Dance; two quiet, slow and committed one-hour works. Via the symbolic exchange of objects in the first piece and actions in the second, they confirmed, antagonised or metaphorised typical dance structures. These provocatively programmed works would normally be described as performance art. Although arguably ‘anti-dance’ they were decisively moved and powerful.

Our own work, Epilogue to Compression, was a 12-hour piece aiming at a summation of Compression 100 (Sydney, May 96). The final hour, presented within a theatre, was very definitely a hybrid piece, cutting and slicing between narrative and non-narrative, performance and dance. It received a mixed response with the durational aspect most clearly understood by the visual arts field.

Owing to our own involvement we were unable to cover the strong Latin grouping as well as a number of Scandinavian works: Tango El Gran Baile (Argentina) from Buenos Aires, and Europe’s leading flamenco group La Familia Farrucca (Spain). From Scandinavia Tero Saarinen (Finland) and Ingun BjØrnsgaard (Norway) presented well-received, disciplined postmodern works. From Denmark, a large number of local artists represented different trends within the Danish dance scene: Anders Christiansen’s intense, idiosyncratic work is predominantly butoh-inspired. Tim Feldman’s first larger-scale collaborative work, with dancers from Venezuela, Cuba and USA, integrated postmodern dance with video images. Bysteps was a showcase of short works by six independence Danish choreographers (Jens Bjerregaard, Kamilla Brekling, Lene Boel, Anne Katrine Kalmoes, Lene Østergaard and Mikala Lage) ranging over the various streams of postmodern into new dance area. The Paradox Event staged a beach ballet, while Transform is a prominent, annual event where Danish and international choreographers present site-specific group work in often fascinating environments. This third festival presented Mehmet Sander (US/Turkey), Kitt Johnson (Denmark), Motionhouse (UK) and Bo Madvig (Denmark).

In bringing together the varying trends of contemporary work from around the world, the festival showed a strong sense of commitment to a forum for dialogue rather than just to the presentation of confirmed product. This insistence is a challenge and, for dance/performance junkies, the entire festival was a solid shot in the arm.

Performers Tess de Quincey and Stuart Lynch are based in Copenhagen and Sydney. Dancin’ City, Copenhagen, August 1-18 1996

RealTime issue #15 Oct-Nov 1996 pg. 5

© Tess de Quincey & Stuart Lynch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Sound is catching up with multimedia, or rather multimedia is catching up with sound. This was one of the impressions left by the Seventh International Symposium On Electronic Art (ISEA96) held in Rotterdam in September. Although sound in multimedia was not a privileged theme at the symposium, it made its presence felt (as always, both literally and figuratively) during the week of conference discussion and artistic events.

While most attention—and funding—has so far been directed to the visual field of text and graphics, the potential of sound in the multimedia interface is becoming increasingly evident. The one conference paper to directly address this issue was presented by Sean Cubitt, from John Moores University in Liverpool. Sound, “the repressed partner in most areas of audiovisual space”, has for the most part been under-used at the interface, filling the roles of vocal instruction or musical mood-enhancer. Cubitt argued that the reliance on the visual has produced an impoverished interface, based on the office design of typewriter and monitor. The resultant emphasis on individual experience is also a limitation, Cubitt pointed out, extending the user’s sense of disappointment at the multimedia experience into the field of networked communication.

Cubitt’s paper, “Online Sound and Virtual Architecture”, posited sound as a potential remaker of the interface. In contrast to the individuated screen, sound has always constituted a social space. It is both more communal and more subversive. (This latter characteristic was attested to by audience members accustomed to working under audiovisual surveillance at high-tech research centres: workers will tolerate video surveillance but will turn off the audio, leaving them free to mutter to colleagues while preserving a dutiful facial expression.)

While Cubitt’s proposal remains idealistic due to current technical limitations to online sound, it is, as he hoped, an inspiration to move between “what we currently have and the possibilities which constitute any possible future”. Large-scale interfaces mediated through sound would be collaborative practices, stretching across actual and virtual dimensions.

If a prototype for this ideal interface exists, it would be something like Anonymous Muttering, the latest project from Knowbotic Research. This striking installation was part of the Dutch Electronic Art Festival, running concurrently with ISEA96. Built on top of the Netherlands Architecture Institute, it could be heard from many blocks away. Drawn in by the booming electronic sound, listeners could also use their visual sense to locate the site. Pulses of light were flashing around the apparatus, which could be reached by climbing up to the roof. Standing inside this large audio-visual field was an intense experience, to say the least. Intoxicating or disorientating, or both: responses depend on your reactions to strobe light, ferocious sound, and a forced disconnection between mind and body. It was like having parts of yourself separated and scattered around the force-field of sound and light.

Such a dismembering experience had its parallel in the construction of this electronic event. The Knowbotics team took sounds produced by various DJs at party events, processing them in real time into fragments of digital information. This digital material could be manipulated by visitors to the installation by means of a tactile interface: a silicon membrane. This pliable, transparent device could be bent and folded, as it was passed around like contraband at a party. The result: the sounds shooting around the apparatus were bent and folded in sympathy, and the strobe light was also triggered. As both the speakers and light-banks encircled the installation, the visitor was wrapped in an audio-visual felt of their own (partial) making.

But there’s more! There were other inputs to the sound and light show. The digital material could also be manipulated via an interface on the website, and could be followed live with RealAudio software. With so many at the controls, it’s impossible to determine who produces which effects. Anonymous Muttering is a communal interactive space, operating on both virtual and actual planes.

If the Knowbotics project was the most challenging application of virtual and audio technologies, other works exhibited in Rotterdam made more modest contributions. Anyone walking up the steps to the World Trade Centre, the central ISEA96 site, was confronted by A Music Machine Balancing at the Edge of Order and Chaos. This work by Peter Bosch and Simone Simons, otherwise entitled The Electric Swaying Orchestra, comprised six parametrically forced pendulums—that is, pendulums made to swing in unpredictable motions. Each pendulum had either a microphone or loudspeaker attached to its end; a computer controlled both the electro-motors driving the pendulums and the musical process. However, because irregularity is built into the pendulums’ movements, the musical output is also unpredictable. The computer interprets the sounds received by the three swaying microphones, playing notes through the speakers in response. As a result, the computer, as its programmers put it, is “constantly listening and responding to itself”.

This injection of chaos into the digital order of a computer-operated system is now a familiar element of the electronic arts. In defiance of the military-industrial precision expected of such systems, artists introduced a dose of anarchy which is itself now becoming predictable through overuse. The Knowbotics project at least pushed beyond the order/chaos paradigm; its multiple inputs played across the terrain of will and chance, with an unfolding audio text of unknowable authorship.

Enigmatic authorship of audio works was one of the topics pursued by Heidi Grundmann in her presentation to ISEA, “Radio The Next Century”. Austria’s Kunstradio is now on-line, vigorously promoting Internet radio through such projects as Family Auer, a sitcom on radio and internet. The writing is done by a host of “pool authors”, while the narrative is also shaped by internet users. Other telematic radio-events include the composition of a multimedia music score, with the presiding composer collecting samples offered by other composers on line. Radio The Ne(x)t Century is a project instigated by two Swiss artists whose fictional premise is of a disastrous web crash, leaving SOS TNC to webcast for surviving fragments of debris. This and other ongoing works revel in the demise of the finished work of art; bits and pieces are re-contextualised into ever-shifting amalgams.

A similar project using more modest technology was articulated by Ian Pollock and Janet Silk: phone-based art. Although it’s seldom mentioned, the phone was the first instrument of cyberspace, generating many of the effects now claimed for the internet. Its democratising network cuts across space, class and race, without excluding the poor and computer-illiterate. As well, being built on the voice, it is an extremely intimate mode of communication. As the two speakers pointed out, attempts to market “picturephones”, active in the US since 1927, have always failed: the addition of visuals would destroy all of these advantages. Pollock and Silk have instigated several phone-art projects from their San Francisco base, deploying group phone links, voice mail and other techniques. The phone, they assert, is one network guaranteed to permeate social structures.

Back in the actual world of Rotterdam, several installation works added the sense of touch to the audio-visual dimensions. The physicality of sound found a partner, in these cases, in the pleasure of getting your hands on the works. The most intriguing was Jaap de Jong’s Crystal Ball. Sticking out invitingly from a portal in the gallery wall, this glass ball responded to touch by producing a flurry of images and sounds taken from live TV channels. Mixed by computer, the images were spread across many small lenses, the sounds were shards of contemporary culture. Confusing at first, this work was an enchanting kaleidoscope in three senses.

Jill Scott’s installation Frontiers of Utopia also added the tactile sense to image and sound. Its eight female characters converse with each other, and the visitor, across time; extra interest is added by the invitation to use real, old-fashioned objects like keys to invoke certain responses. While the work is let down by the banality of some of the monologues, the interface is an engaging use of touch and sound, in particular.

There were other works on display which foregrounded sound, but these I’ve described were the most effective. The concert performances at this ISEA were disappointing, with only Mari Kimura maintaining her usual high standard in new works for violin and interactive computer. The most interesting aspect, from an audio perspective, was the impression that sound is hovering in the multimedia background, waiting to make its presence more sharply felt.

RealTime issue #15 Oct-Nov 1996 pg. 10

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

Mixed Metaphor 96 at Dancehouse presents “new collaborative works blurring the boundaries between movement, text, image and sound.”

Week One. I take my seat. A woman appears to be asleep on a pile of mattresses. The Princess and the Pea? But then the lights go down. In Now I lay me… Rochelle Carmichael and Kerrie Murphy evoke the thousand moments of a single night; the conscious, dreaming and twilight states as well as the nightmare of sleeplessness. Carmichael’s dance is at moments contorted, animal-like, a St Vitus’ dance displaying the ritual behaviours of autism. My fascination with this psychosis however is repeatedly interrupted by the need to make sense of narrative signs, such as, when Carmichael caricatures frustration. Thereafter the dancer becomes a character and I flounder in the attempt to force other images into the service of a story—and fail.

Upstairs to Tongue Fence by Entropy Productions. Ushered along a corridor towards a hideous cacophony and smoke. I love the terror/wonder when conventions of entering the theatre are altered. Around and through a rough assemblage of black plastic screens mayhem can be glimpsed. The noise is glorious. Instruments careen across the room, a cellist shrieks, dancers move past in formation, a digital clock blinks, a TV hisses. I am wide awake and listening, what does this chaos mean in 1996?

My eye is drawn by emerging patterns—I notice the noise-makers with one exception are male, the dancers female; the young men’s faces are unpainted, the young women’s nicely made up and hair gelled. My euphoria deflates. Given the evidence of such marked and traditional theatrical conventions, I doubt a radical performance analysis is at work. The challenge of this event begins to look merely like performers’ pleasure. Disappointed, I was ready to participate but am left feeing a witness, a mother.

Back downstairs, in An-Alice-is by Strange Arrangements, the unconscious unfolds again. This time in homage to the great explorers of that realm: Freud, the surrealists and Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll). Nigel Luck and Janet Lee, doll-like automata inhabit a space of shadows and eerie projections. They speak in monologues, using linguistic and conceptual trickery to illuminate relationships between concrete logic and the unconscious. I feel as if I am looking at a picture box containing revelations quaintly dated by this mode of narration, and better suited to a time now gutted by two world wars and television.

Week Two. The Last Gasp directed by Rinske Ginsberg, affectionately investigates popular culture of the nineteen forties, especially the place of the cigarette. All those lovely gestures, the inhalation and the ex, the very breath, the heaving bosom and the manly chest; camp in their consummate heterosexuality. The smoke is the only fluid sign in an otherwise controlled and vertical physicality. Snippets of film dialogue and popular song move in and out of synch with the human interactions. I am happiest in the disconnected moments. The multifaceted images are perfectly observed, slipping me into some other, darker, sweating place, inside a tiny puff, a slow blow or a hooded glance (surely, straight at me).

In Holiday on Death Row by Stride, text by Roger McGough, a heterosexual theme continues in a different style. Moving fluidly between dance and word sequences, Nicky Smith has skilfully directed this tawdry evocation of sexual frustration. The confident acting of Justin Radcliffe and Emma Stend brings with it the attendant problem of the ‘is it believable?’ kind. Increasingly I struggle with the premise that these young, perfectly formed bodies are mired in a hopeless suburban scenario where husband wants a root, wife wants a life. The final sequence is like a real-time Calvin Klein ad and although a delicious spectacle, I cannot reconcile it with the text. My tentative belief that dysfunctional heterosexuality is a problem of the suburban middle class is scuppered. Or am I being asked to consider the reified sexuality of advertising as a transcendence of the old brutalities of heterosexual sex?

From het-glamour to het-horror, we swing into the home straight for Elemental. Part one, a gambolling dance about life in a group house. Probably Carlton in one of those big terraces with about forty leaking rooms. The dance is loose and weighty, choreographed sequences moving from rough coherence to pleasant and jumbly. I have lived in houses where we moved like that. In the moments of not-dancing, the performers seem shy and hesitant and I lose focus or watch the sustained concentration of musicians. I wonder why they include these moments? Perhaps the acting genie appeared in rehearsal and the performers nervously obeyed her commands?

I am struck by the role of acting in all six works, which seems to have appeared as a result of formal decisions rather than as primary mode of expression. In experienced hands, as in The Last Gasp, this can be revelatory, where acting marks a weird place between representation and the real. But elsewhere the acting genie’s henchpixies—character, narrative, and suspension of disbelief—have thrown down the gauntlet to these artists who dared to summon them in the powerful spell of blurring boundaries.

Mixed Metaphor 96, Dancehouse, Centre for Moving Arts, Melbourne, June 20-30

RealTime issue #14 Aug-Sept 1996 pg. 37

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

Next Wave—festival of manifestoes, words not spoken and visions splendid—occupies a place in the nightworld. Time spent in the darkness of travelling, waiting and watching. I sit until the shape-shifters emerge and shake, blur and stop; this nocturnal in-and-out is unsettling. It is meant to be.

When the organisers of Melbourne’s biennial festival of young and emerging artists (born-again from a youth arts event) invited proposals for their performance program, apart from Brisbane’s Kooemba Jdarra (not covered here), they ended up with dance collaborations. So my black nights were spent in the following black holes.

It began with Character X, asking its audience: “What sort of information do you need to make a place for something to happen” (program notes). A character without a narrative is a distinct possibility (let’s not forget Pirandello) but what does a character “without context and meaning” look like? When five women arrive in Shelley Lasica’s alien nowhere, they have become silver clones—I think of them as lunar worms—twisting through the hips a half turn and a hold. Later, when dressed in the extravagant pink and purple fake fur of designer Kathy Temin, they travel as a protean clump before becoming a series of jesters, clowning in bonnets, boas and booties. The comic possibilities of this costume disrupt the previously languorous dancing but I would have liked more. Between desultory solos and nurturing group exercises, the collective dynamic loses energy with the sparkling exception of Lasica and Sandra Parker becoming a polyp—a jelly of bodies cowering and covering itself with tentacular limbs. Character X evokes a longing for a vaguely feminine utopia/

In Josie Daw’s Downloading the dance floor is an archaeological site; a place for retrieving knowledges embedded in books as well as the formal logics of gestural repetition. The set is littered with piles and platforms of books, frames and pedestals of books and a wide armchair lovingly made of books. The performers traverse with their noses pressed to the page; silhouettes of steps become bookmarks; a Chinese whisper of personal signatures coils its way around the bindings; a duel is fought with books as swords. Codes accumulate in the clash of dance styles, literal objects and improvised sound but the messages don’t transfer from one labouring body to another spectating.

At the door of Help—Multi-Dimensional Performance Enhancer, a lady in fluorescent tights gives me my 3D glasses and invites me to relax. Super-saturated landscapes illuminate horned androids whose plastic skins slide through fern gullies, oceans and psychedelia. There is a powerfully receding doorway—a gate into, a hallway, a courtyard, a corridor whose shadows hover at the edge of perception. These dancers are crystalline, bubbles of physical energy whose outlines dissolve into colour. For Cazerine Barry and Tao Weis et al ‘the magnet of curiosity’ reside in the kinetic arts of technology absorbing human materiality. In a majestic emerald rainforest where trees hover and glow, lines become zigzag and bodies climb into the picture. A harmonising of powers that reproduces another utopian, if more cosmic, vision.

I don’t know whether Grind is quite the word for the onslaught of raw adolescent energy generated by the Stompin Youth Dance Company in the concrete bowels of a decommissioned power station. This was the only performance one might seriously label ‘youth’ and for the two teenage girls accompanying me it was the ultimate expression of the desire to dance. Thirty blue and red corpuscles bump against walls and slink through bursting arteries of human movement. The non-stop gang rhythms of running, shaking, posing, moshing, flipping, looking-in or looking-out displayed only passion and commitment. Jerril Rechter, the Launceston choreographer/co-ordinator has achieved a remarkable feat of disciplining techno culture for a refreshingly ordinary group of kids—guys in glasses, girls of all shapes and sizes—into an aesthetic event whose terrifying sexuality you can’t help but latch on to, even if it does nearly land in your lap.

By way of contrast, Rub the Angel is an ethereal world of scrim and pale tarquette; suspended in a harness is Barbie, of blond hair and stiffened limbs. A bonanza of visual images melts into a wrap-around of clouds, waves and sunsets—nature still a favourite signifier of transcendence. The mannequin rocks back and forth until she drops close enough to the floor to begin crawling. The video shows a child’s nursery looking out from her cot, the arms reaching towards her, the handle of the closing door. The girl lets us know she wants to fly and fly she does, over the rooftops, over suburbia, into the playground where children throw tan bark at her, fleeing down an avenue of trees until nothing. Her hair is pulled off and she is flesh-coloured plastic all over. Human semblance gone, she jerks and slaps herself, fingers up her crotch, hand in mouth, legs pulled apart, doll’s arms bent at the elbows, fondling and pushing hands away. A mother’s skirt and hands appear reaching towards her and a blood-red light absorbs the image of her bed. Julia McDonald calls her dance-image-making ‘flight paths’ in which she wants to set her audience free with a metamorphosis. And whilst I travelled with this toy ‘angel’ into her bad dreams and fantasies—red velvet theatre seats, fairgrounds and knights in shining armour—something very strange happened when she decided there was nothing more to fear. From under the mat arrived a Man, who unwrapped her real hair, caressed her, climbed up ladders into the sky with her, fell into bed with her and then walked into the sunset with her. With Her, ‘growing up’ was a Hollywood romance and not the sordid terror of the girl-doll after all.

Black coat, cold night, black cat, night cat—we leave Next Wave and go for a drink where another dance event is happening. Some Deakin graduates have initiated their own season in a nightclub. Mafiosi inhabit the underworld of violence and late-night bars, drinking and fast footwork; watching the clock and greasing the palms. The five female gangsters enter—dropped shoulders, a curve in the lower spine, a shuffling walk—and move to the bar. There is the ritual of sitting down—slide the head to check out the room; brush off the stool, step to one side; bend back and land on the seat, lean on the counter, skol the drink, slide the head and scan the room again, laugh—it’s their world. We sip red wine in the low lights and keep our eyes on the spiders crossing the floor. Has all this dance really been dangerous?

RealTime issue #14 Aug-Sept 1996 pg. 7

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

Filth and frivolity often gets you a long way, and for four cLUB bENT performers, all the way to Great Britain. In May, Azaria Universe, Derek Porter, Dean Walsh and Moira Finucane [directed by Jacqui Smith], travelled to Manchester’s It’s Queer Up North Festival and also to shows in London and Brighton. But how long does overseas fame really last for our home grown talent? Was Queer Up North just a momentary piece of glory before a return home to the bills and banality, or has a real and lasting cultural interchange been established?

Majestic diva, Moira Finucane comments, “The Australian work was very strong. I was proud to be part of an incredibly strong team. The type of work that The Performance Space has taken risks on and promoted internationally is very physical and multilayered…The English work was much more cabaret-ish and verbal.”

There are rumours afoot that some of the British performers will come here for cLUB bENT 97. Can cLUB bENT’s distinctive brand of off-the-wall art forms and askew cultural persuasions become a world-wide affair without losing its experimental edge? According to dancer from the dark side, Derek Porter, “It’s called Queer Up North, but I still found it more mainstream oriented that our queer events. He remarked that some of the British shows deal with ‘pretty run-of-the-mill issues’ like ‘demystifying gay culture, a drag queen’s search for love, a stripper who can lip-synch and sing. I feel some of us went beyond what queer was expected to be.”

Porter’s betrayal of a character’s chaotic change from gender dysmorphic male to cat woman left London audiences in eerie silence. “Although they were hard to tame through some of the performances, there was a sinister silence through Misfit,” he says.

Porter’s work explores the territory of androgyny in a style redolent of German cabaret. “I think transgenderism is still taboo,” says Porter. “Transgender performance is different to drag. We are not popping on a frock and being frivolous.”

Porter alludes to a sense of bleakness in postmodern Manchester, comparing it to post-war Berlin. “Every time I come back from o/s, my desire to be in Sydney is even stronger. The grass always seems to be greener back home each time…There are more opportunities for queer performance here,” he says.

Daddy’s boy, Dean Walsh, has created a new form of drag called “muscular drag”. Wanting to keep his suitcase light, he took to the British stage in nothing but high heels. When he whispers that his heart belongs to “DDDDaddy,” to whom is he speaking? “Daddy to me personally is this strange intangible kind of character,” says Walsh. “He’s not daddy necessarily, he’s not the father. He is a taboo lover.”

What is muscular drag? “You can hold your muscles around your bones”, says Walsh. “It’s almost like dressing the flesh. You can release that and become quite feline…I wanted the male body to be exposed without big throbbing cock…I’m breaking the stereotypical male thing.” Naked, boldly, Walsh goes into a headstand. “You have the male bum being shown, the anus being show, the very vulnerable part of the male body. I’m opening that as wide as I possibly can while I have my thighs held in strong masculinity,” he says.

In Hardware, Walsh moves fluidly between masculine and feminine bodily forms, capturing a realm of lost innocence through his newly created drag form. But some gay British skinheads felt short-changed by its powerful simplicity. “These guys came and saw a show and said to me later, ‘You fucking Australians need to get off your angst ridden arse! What about Priscilla? Where is Priscilla? What are you trying to fucking show us…Wipe that fucking Australian smile off your face. You’ve got a big attitude, haven’t you?’” There was indeed a big expectation amongst a small section of the British gay community for all Australian gays to be glitterama, high camp drag queens.

Azaria Universe, described as a “good-time showgirl drag queen trashy slam silver screen scene buster,” did not make it back home with the rest of the troupe. In a fax from London, she wrote she’s “…been watching shows and performing constantly, which is heavenly.” She has been invited to perform in an old Music Hall, “where drag queen DJs play Suzi Quatro tracks.” Universe describes the British experience as “a strange combination of exhaustion and adrenalin, an awesome performance cocktail.”

A reviewer described “Ms Universe” in Manchester as “sans clothes, pubic hair and some might say, talent.” Finucane says, “That response doesn’t surprise me, because she’s young, she’s beautiful and her work is extremely physical.” Azaria belongs to “another generation”, says Finucane, who do not question their right to “get their gear off in gay abandon.” There is still an out-dated notion that naked women with shaved pubic hair are merely playing to the fantasies of men. When Azaria Universe brings you her love from high upon crudely bandaged stilts, there is passion and power in the air.

Was the satiric tradition of British culture reflected in the queer works? “They’re taking the piss out of their own society even more than we do as Australians,” says Porter. Moira Finucane was enamoured with the intimacy of traditional British theatre. “There is something very celebratory about the old fashioned theatre that contemporary theatre doesn’t do. You are immediately surrounded by a sense of importance and luxury. It’s very intimate and beautiful being part of the audience. The world that those old theatres create is a world in the same way that cLUB bENT creates. It’s very human.”

RealTime issue #14 Aug-Sept 1996 pg. 6

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

“Art, which was previously so concerned with a finite product, a composed and ordered outcome, an aesthetic finality, a resolution or conclusion, reflecting a ready-made reality, is now almost totally preoccupied with processes of emergence and of coming-into being.”
(Roy Ascott, Communications and Consciousness in the Cyberspace)

For some time now, a shift has been taking place in art from object to process, from the tangible to the phantasmic. The observer of art is now in the centre of the creative process, not at the periphery looking in. Art is no longer a window onto the world but a doorway through which the observer enters a world of interaction and transformation. All of this raises many critical, theoretical and aesthetic questions. And it is these questions that were foregrounded by the 1996 Next Wave Festival’s Art and Technology program. The theme of the festival’s third biennial gathering of national and international work in Melbourne was ‘perception and perspective.’

Curator Margaret Traill described this year’s program as having shifted the focus from ‘means’ to ‘meaning.’

“We no longer feel we have to wave the flag for the media: it’s obvious computers have arrived and they’re entering mainstream culture and we no longer have to say it’s art. Now we have to ask what sort of art is it? What does the art do? Hence, ‘perception and perspective.’ We’re saying it’s not so much how the things are made ie computer-generated, but what they do, how they affect our perception, and therefore, how they affect our perspectives on the world, the values we have, the judgements we make…we’re looking at what impact technologies have on the way people see the world and think about it, and therefore act in the world.”

Five linked but quite individual exhibitions were spread across five different gallery spaces. The major exhibition of the program (Perception and Perspective) occupied the Murdoch Court in the National Gallery of Victoria. Members of the public were able to interact with Leon Cmielewski and Josephine Starr’s User Unfriendly Interface, a program designed to make you mistrust computers; step around Natasha Dwyer’s bathroom scales as if they were stepping stones and follow the text directions they proffered; and be overwhelmed by Czaby Szamosy’s commanding digitally collaged mural Procumbere (and when you tell lies an angel dies) dissolving, through its combination of image fragments, different moments in the history of art. John Tonkin’s Elective Physiognomies used the face as a site to compare the Enlightenment science of physiognomy and modern genetic research generating multiple facial forms as still images and in an interactive program. Whereas for Keith Piper’s Surveillances (Tagging the Other)—a 4-monitor video installation with 35mm slides—faces provided a target onto which the language, motifs and forms of surveillance technology could be layered. Patricia Piccinini’s work was to be found in two gallery spaces. Love me love my Lump (digital photograph) is part of The Mutant Genome Project (TMGP) series—an ongoing work discussing issues surrounding physical difference, as seen through the lens of genetic science and the Human Genome Initiative—a worldwide scientific project dedicated to cataloguing human genetic material with a view to being able to change it. The designer baby proposed by the TMGP Corporation is called LUMP (Life-form with Unevolved Mutant Properties). It has been genetically designed for maximum efficiency—disease free, intelligent, long living. Its striking, garish plasticity in its many mutations confronts our very humanity.

Nothing Natural in the Basement Gallery exhibited the work of four artists who are all exploring the body in relation to popular culture’s new technologies of games, interactivity, advertising and merchandising. Here Patricia Piccinini’s images show actor Sophie Lee in pop art dream landscape cradling her LUMP. Ian Haig’s Mighty Morphing Muscle Men are digitally morphing figures produced in response to a hideously obsessive body culture. Haig’s work conceives a de-evolution of the body at that very moment when modern medicine enables us to be artificially enhanced. Martine Corompt’s Activity Station forms part of her Cute Machine project that examines our culture’s obsessions with ‘cute iconography’ in relation to that imperative of ‘user-friendly,’ which is currently determining developments in computer technology. Christopher Langton’s Ecowalker is a hypothetical exercise machine—an artwork that resembles a consumer item.

Ruins in Reverse at the RMIT Gallery was a show conceived by curator Susan Fereday to tackle the relationship between art and architecture; in particular the predicament faced by art within the new gallery. In her catalogue essay, Fereday states:

“(There) are spaces which direct attention to the present moment of exhibition before awareness of the gallery, while RMIT gallery is visible before anything else it contains or displays.”

Thirteen artists were asked to contribute sculptural works in response to the space, and their mixed mediums included Masonite, MDF, cardboard, concrete, vinyl, Lurex and fake fur. Work varied from Chris Ulbrick’s sound piece which incorporated the building’s air conditioning, to Lauren Berkowitz’ mountain of polystyrene fruit boxes stuffed into a corner, to Chris Langton’s oversized PVC inflatables which drew attention to the confusing perspectives.

Issues of perspective in the show at Gallery 101—Distant Relations—were concerned with historical, temporal and spatial distances. Greg Malloy’s work tried to transcend time and specific cultural differences by evoking universal humanistic ideals such as democracy and beauty in his series based on Hellenistic art. Hou Leong’s latest project is a series of digitally manipulated landscapes that collage clichéd geographical icons of Australian and Asian cultural identity into hallucinatory multicultural spaces. Heather Fernon, also working in allegorical mode, based her work on the Cerberus, the old warship that lies rusting in Half-Moon Bay. Its uneasy status as a deteriorating historical icon foregrounds our own difficult relationship to the past as well as providing a focus for Fernon’s own concerns about new technologies.

The exhibition that engaged me most was Lumens 3 at the Centre for Contemporary Photography where three artists investigated light—the essence of their practice—as a kind of sublime metaphor in photographic processes. Dan Armstrong’s installation Displacement de-constructed the light box to its component parts and these lined the walls and the floors of the gallery space. Among the steel frames and phosphorescent tubes I found a celluloid fragment of a face, losing its definition, strangely moving. Marion Harper’s installation Default charted another kind of dematerialisation in bringing the underground to the surface White moulded plastic boulders were strewn about the gallery; boulders appeared in negative, CAD animated sequences projected across a curved screen; and light boxes displayed vividly coloured gravity maps of underground forms. James Verdon’s installation Keening was the most evocative—a floor plan of a 1950s Australian rural cottage was drawn onto the gallery floor, its corridors littered with memories. Window frames and photographic easels further reframed flashes from the past—a child on a swing, a certificate of merit, entry tickets, recalling events, textures and people, spasmodically illuminated by lightning flashes sparkling behind strips of celluloid.

Be Your Best, 2nd Next Wave Artech Symposium provided a forum where practitioners, theorists and the public could meet and address many of the questions raised by the work in these exhibitions. It is clear there is much to be said. Just as the relationship between art and technology occupies a liminal space of becoming, more questions are raised than can be answered; this is evidence that the debate and the work it generates if vitally alive.

RealTime issue #14 Aug-Sept 1996 pg. 8

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

Susan Leigh Foster recently published an essay entitled “Choreographing History” in which she contemplates the intimate partnership between writing and moving bodies that lies at the foundations of revealed history, both inscribers of and inscribed by culture.

Many performances at the World Dance ’96 conference New Dance From Old Cultures vividly showed that dancers are historical bodies, people whose traditions are deeply etched in their own present personal mobility. Sometimes however, there was an uneasy relationship between individual dancers and the traditions they sought to acknowledge. It’s not as if dancers slide effortlessly through time just by an act of will. More often there is difficulty and loss in the passage. More formal, choreographed references to older traditions sometimes seemed laboured, unformed, or superficial.

Performances by two groups of Aboriginal artists—Ochres (Bangarra Dance Theatre and Yawalyu Women of Lajamanu) and The Opportunity of Distance (Tracks Dance Collective) threw into relief this problematic relationship. We watched the Yawalyu Women in a congenial group, painting each other’s bodies, in slow preparation. Unhurriedly, they shuffled through short phrases of small hitched jumps, their feet shifting as if through dust, not over bare floor boards. They often broke the passages while waiting for each other or the accompanying chants to begin. I had an unusual feeling of never having seen this before, of something genuinely ‘authentic’, unlike my experience of Ochres. The two groups seemed engaged in very different enterprises.

You might imagine the dancers’ movement in Ochres being like an archaeological reconstruction. Tiny washed and polished fragments of material arranged in order, then plastered together with an expanse of late 20th century rendering. The dancers’ bodies bear no resemblance to those of the Yawalyu Women. Having cultivated all the nuances of western dance deportment, they seem like observers of the culture from which the fragments come. Any desire for authenticity on our part could only be hung uneasily on the central Ochres Spirit character, played by Djakapurra Munyarryun who carried the weight of the piece. His cultural responsibility seemed onerous, unlike that of the Yawalyu Women.

Two forums for Asian Pacific performers included International Soloists (Korean Nam Jeong-Ho, Japanese Kazuco Takemoto, Indonesian Martinus Miroto and Australian Sue Healey) and Showcase, highlighting work from six tertiary dance schools, three white Australian, one black Australian, one from Hong Kong and one from Taiwan. If it was momentarily unclear whether the institutions’ works were selected for their differences or similarities (perhaps in some ill-conceived gesture towards multicultural exchange), the fairly blah choreography seemed indisputably a product of identically constructed European syllabuses. It produced a bland, easily practiced, homogenised, institutional kind of dance, which managed to asphyxiate most cultural differences.

The four solos I saw out of six from the International Soloists moved in another direction. Four dancers’ individual histories claimed our focus, their bodies telling very different stories of cultural affiliation and personal growth. Takemoto’s Peace of Mind and Healey’s Zella were both conceived through deeply excavated remembering. Healey’s story of three women, different generations, grew from past to present, her light physical style slipping easily from there to here. “My muscles were talking in tongues, my cells thinking, my skin remembering about something it knew a long time ago… .” Takemoto’s trajectory was less linear, moving deliberately, her thoughts visible and palpable, as she seemed to painstakingly carve herself out of the dense cultural air she breathed. She defined herself as poised, wired, subtle and very clear. Nam Jeong-Ho’s Kasiri was made of softer stuff, a little fog-bound and drifting, but still there was a sense of a journey somewhere, small, inconsequential jobs done, people changing and time passing. In Miroto’s Penumbra, change was more galvanic. With tiny steps, his body swayed, strong and controlled, to a drum beat. Finger and hand gestures had an undulating, spider-like intensity. His feet and legs seemed deeply rooted in the ground. He removed a mask to reveal his own fragile being, but the mask retained its independent persona, something to be reckoned with.

I remember Danceworks’ Descansos—resting places as visually stark and much more than a simple duet (Helen Herbertson and Trevor Patrick). The work created a profound sense of place, given body and depth by the very specifically sculptured and tiered areas. The audience looked down into a dark field where thoughts floated, isolated, disembodied; across a gap into a dim room where a presence wandered. The light fell in certain special ways, passing headlights through a window, sharp-edged slabs lying like a grave, oblique beams, isolated pools perhaps falling on the slow, small shifts in a single dancer’s face or body. Together with lighting designer Ben Cobham and sculptor Simon Barley, director Jenny Kemp has distilled these rarefied images, waking dreams live in these places of meditation.

The imagery of Douglas Wright’s Buried Venus is at first strong and startling, the dancers conveying a pace and tone at once fluid, plaintive, passionate and dangerous. They build a kind of visual anthology of human relationships with many images from other times and other dances. But eventually the theme falls apart under the weight of jumbled associations.

Sexed—Legitimate Images by Bryan Smith also piles up images, ubiquitous and highly cultivated, drawn from every Hollywood movie, soapie and American nightclub fantasy you can think of. Shelley Lasica pouts, drawls, and saunters, long-legged and red lipped, across the stage, dragging classic Monroe/Melrose Place lines in her wake. In the dimly lit territory behind the scrim, a chorus line of disco dolls dance with the demeanour and dress expected at every dance club in town. Sexed says our humanness, from the most profound and fundamental expressions of love and intimacy, is allowed to exist only via narrowly defined precepts formed by the glossed and fired imaginations of a few image-makers. But these legitimate images risk creating the same dead-endedness and predictability which Smith seeks to expose. Unless you already know Smith’s agenda, his commentary might be hard to decipher.

There were many other performances in the Green Mill program, some ‘successful’, others not. But all of them together illuminate us as a cultural species, a fact which is simultaneously as obvious and as forgettable as gravity. Sometimes, however, we are fortunate enough to notice that our perception of reality, even co-existent different realities, our capacity to believe certain things and not others, our judgements, even who and what we love, are all effected through an accumulation of cultural images and texting, from histories present and past, remembered and imagined.

Green Mill Project, Melbourne, July 1-20, 1996

RealTime issue #14 Aug-Sept 1996 pg. 10

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

There is an analogy I like to use when discussing the arts and digital technology: primitive cinema. It too was an artform born of an industrial age, dependent on technology. Its inception gave no indication of what it would become—the greatest narrative machine of the twentieth century. Cinema’s existence in an industrial form only became possible through a period of intense experimentation, trial and error, an extraordinary confabulation of artists, business and a fascinated public. It borrowed from all of the pre-existing artforms that it would eventually exceed—theatre, the novel, the visual arts, symphonic music—until resisting all other possible paths, it claimed its current domain and colonised the world. So we sit amid our visionaries, versions of Méliès, the Lumière Brothers and Porter, wondering where it’s all going.

As usual any close scrutiny will support the analogy and show where it disintegrates. Such is the case with the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT)’s small funds for art and technology projects, comparative peanuts strategically thrown to the cutting edge. In this case that edge is so multi-faceted it puts good postmodernists to shame. This is best illustrated in the diversity of projects selected for funding, possibly a reflection of the applications rather than their assessors’ agenda. At best they capture the concept of boundary pushing—addressing the tension between creativity and technology—with just the hint of a time where the arts and sciences can inhabit the same field. The renaissance whiff is reflected in the diversity of the projects; in sound, websites, performance, exhibition and installations, fusions with established artforms and more, and in ANAT’s strategy, which emphasises the conceptual work over realisation and outcome. So, despite the booming technology and infrastructure, despite the fact that digital media seems unlikely to homogenise content in the way the cinema did, we are clearly in uncharted lands seeking the face of the next century. And ANAT is at the forefront of the all-important terrain of content development.

A one-off increase from the Australia Council (doubling last year’s grant) provided $80,000 to fund twenty proposals. ANAT has selected a mix of established artist, from those not necessarily known for their work with technology to those who have established their practices in digitally generated work. Prominent in the former category is painter Juan Davila, who continues to experiment with computer enhanced 3D images. If this is an extension of his previous work exhibited in Adelaide two years ago (large wall mounted pieces viewed with 3D glasses) he will use this technology to enhance his characteristically wide palette of tones and moods. This technology added an entirely new dimension to Davila’s signature of sensuous brutality, giving some of the images the feel of a hagiography for the next century.

Other established artists to attract funds include Greg Schiemer (NSW) working on non-score based forms of music resulting from emerging technologies. SA’s Junction Theatre will be able to fund a consultancy on incorporating video and multimedia into more traditional performance modes. In the area of performance art Arthur Wicks is also being encouraged to explore the web’s potential for virtual events. Like many other past and present recipients, his proposal is as much about exploring the relationship between the virtual and the physical. This seems fundamental to the fund overall. Most ‘art’ currently available on the web is basically treating the technology simply as a new way of disseminating pre-existing forms, like those early films, which basically used the medium to record theatrically arranged events. Few funds address the context this immediately poses: the language of digital media itself and the transformations that are inevitable when pre-existing artforms collide with it.

Urban Exile, for example, have utilised a gallery presence for their collaborative efforts, but cite the simultaneous use of the Internet as the reason for the success of the ‘hard’ exhibitions. Their permanent presence is now on the net, with new exhibitions added to the site regularly no doubt contributing to the high number of on-line hits, about 100,000 fro each exhibition. They have been funded for TOOL 02, a collaborative project which is again intended to have both hard and virtual counterparts. At heart, it’s not just their popularity that makes Urban Exile interesting. It is the conceptual frame behind the work. One of the starting points for TOOL 02 is Gilles Deleuze’s notion of subjective machines, an extension of the post-structuralist conceptualisation of identity as the product of fragmented experiences, the place where often contradictory or conflicting influences intersect. This seems to me more than a perfect metaphor for the web, and the kind of thinking that is as important as the execution itself, which can be clumsy or constrained as often as it is successful. It is also indicative of the criteria ANAT has set for itself in determining funding.

Other artists have also adopted the web as their prime means of exploration and expression. Lloyd Sharp’s beautifully enigmatic website has secured funding for further development again for both his conceptual approach as well as access to appropriate technology. His current work at the opalm site was easily the most lyrical of those I visited in researching this article, and is found at www.ozemail.com.au/-opalm [expired] or www.ozemail.com.au/-mcool [expired]. Agent All-Black are to stage a two-day “multimedia extravaganza,” which will also then move on to the web. Some of their current work is to be found on the Electronic Media Group’s site www.world.net/-quiffy/emg/emg.html [expired]. Amanda King is likewise linking an outdoor exhibition/installation with her virtual work. The difference here is that where the above sites originate in Sydney, King operates out of rural Queensland, a reminder that actual location is simply irrelevant when it comes to the virtual world.

Other projects have an intriguing community involvement, such as producer Sharon Flindell’s proposal to distribute DAT recorders to Aboriginal people in the Kimberley, and present the results in a sound installation in conjunction with the Festival of Perth and Aboriginal cultural and media centres. The Victorian College of the Arts has funds to contribute towards a residence for Stelarc, which will include a collaborative project for students as well as the vital opportunity to relocate one of our most important artists back into the country, at least for a while. The true beauty of Stelarc, and the reason he is such an important artist is precisely his distinction from the virtual. He brings technology back to the body itself, a corporeal testament to the subjective machine. Links here with perhaps my favourite project, computer artist Richard Stanford’s collaboration with forensic anatomist Meiya Sutisno to develop a prototype for the facial reconstruction of an unidentified human skull. Not far behind is Stevie Wishart’s work in creating a virtual instrument based on, among other things, the hurdy-gurdy.

Other projects not mentioned (for lack of space, I assure you) extend existing work like Mutley Media’s Booth, and collect work produced for ABC’s Art Rage for regional and public gallery distribution. In another project, Brendan Palmer will produce an anthology of young composers working with experimental electronic music. ANAT’s selection of a nationally derived assessment committee with combined experience in a variety of cross-artforms has done them proud.

RealTime issue #14 Aug-Sept 1996 pg. 19

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

In May this year we packed our bags and shunted off to JavaOne in San Francisco. More than 6,000 nerdy men and a few women were there to learn everything they could about Sun’s new programming language, Java. The conference sold out, even at registration prices of AUD$1,250. It wasn’t hard to see what they’d spent their $7.5 million on—lights, cameras, carpet, coffee and special gifts such as the very useful JavaOne Maglight torch.

“We’ve spent more money promoting Java than Sun has spent on marketing since we began!” James Gosling, the ‘Father of Java,’ proudly announced. Although we were in the same room, it was easier to see Him in one of the numerous overhead video screens. In real life Gosling was a speck on a stage a hundred metres away, with its purple and red JavaOne logo carpets and ribbons strung all over the place. At first glance the event was reminiscent of an Amway convention.

At the opening keynote address Gosling took to the podium and basked, reminiscing about the team of six people who worked, tucked away at Sun, for five years on a device control language called Java. He demonstrated a gadget called the Star Seven (*7), a hand-held colour palm-top computer with a very high-speed (256 kbps) wireless Internet connection. It was the first proper Java machine, built almost six years ago using what Gosling referred to as Hammer technology. “You know, you take a hammer and smash apart the things other people have built to get at the bits you need.” He cited the forced removal of range sensors from Polaroid cameras as an example.

The *7 is amazing. The only interface to it is your finger on its pressure sensitive colour screen. You navigate by sliding your finger around, pointing, dragging and pushing components of the scene to navigate from one ‘space’ to another. Cartoon as interface!

Elsewhere people could be found in the Hackers’ Lab, 60 or so high-powered Sun Ultra Sparcs, SGI Indis, PowerMacs and Pentium machines connected to the net at a screaming rate for attendees to play with. We principally used them to check our email and show off our work back home to any audience we could attract. In the corner, a laidback band played world music. At lunch time airline food was churned out for the very hungry.

“When you come to the next JavaOne (JavaOne II) we won’t be giving away backpacks and torches, we’ll be giving you PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants).” Lines like this throughout the keynote addresses made spines tingle. Java was only announced to the public around 12 months ago and in that short space of time it has spawned an entire industry. Everyone from major multinationals to hobbyists are embracing Java

Java is an ‘object oriented’ language which essentially means that information comes bundled with the necessary ‘code’ to act upon that information. For example, a photograph would also come bundled with the appropriate software to display or scale that photograph. The photo can then be used anywhere and collections of photos can be all sent messages like ‘draw yourself’ and they would know how to respond.

Java is platform independent. It will run on any computer capable of running the Java Virtual Machine (a computer running in software within another computer). There are JVMs for Macintosh, PC and Unix machines freely available now from java.sun.com and many companies are releasing chips that support the JVM inherently.

Java is a network language. As most people who have used the web would be aware, the information you get is quite static. With Java, however, the user’s computer actually runs small applications (applets) written in Java that come off the network. These applets can be as simple as a fancier button, or as complex as a video conferencing solution.

During the Adelaide Fringe Festival we used Java to control the motion of a robot surveillance camera sited 40 metres above the main Fringe Precinct. This meant people could pan, tilt and zoom the camera from a web page. Our next project calls for much more sophisticated behavioural modelling of both real and virtual robots, and the promise of Java chips running a universal programming language was too intriguing to ignore.

There were several significant announcements made at JavaOne. Adobe (inventors of Postscript, Photoshop and Premiers, among others) announced the licensing of their font and path technology to form part of the standard free Java distribution. This lets developers use specific fonts and curves in on-line environments. If an on-line gallery relies on the presence of the font ‘Grunge Update,’ the Java aplet displaying it will look first on your local hard disk and if it’s not there, will fetch it from an on-line font bank.

Other Java libraries announced include database access tools: a general set of media tools providing 2D, 3D, video and audio; commerce tools like the Java wallet (digital cash); encryption and security tools; and remote object tools which allow one Java program to call another and interact. There are tools for building servers, browsers and hardware controllers.

Java chips, which execute Java ‘byte-code’ directly, run Java software much faster. Mitsubishi displayed a chip the size of a thumbnail and the Government of Taiwan announced that they have licensed Java for development by all of their regional microchip factories. These chips will be in everything. Mobile phone companies announced support for Java chips and Nortel even had diagrams of their new phones

Network Computers (general purpose computers which have no hard disk, but instead get all their software off the network) are set to do to the personal computer industry what PCs did to the mini and mainframe market. Early critics see this as a return to an age when great big mainframes served information out to dumb terminals, but Network Computers are much more than that. Based on Java chips, these devices are super fast, super smart and able to get exactly what they need off a global network to the user. Most importantly they will begin retailing this year for under $US500.

There are many new artforms arising out of this new networked world. Ed Stastny whose Sito and Hy-Grid projects won him an honourable mention last year and a distinction at this year’s Ars Electronica is taking network art into its next stage of evolution. Sito challenges the notion that artwork can exist on their own and encourages people the world over to create works designed specifically to be manipulated by other artists. Annette Loudon from Construct, a company based in San Francisco developing Internet sites using VRML (Virtual Reality Modelling Language), has gathered a loyal band of contributors with her Stratus project—an interactive 3D environment where artists can host and display their work.

There are challenges for artists working with a global, all pervasive network where the computers themselves are peripherals hanging off the network. We must assume that processors themselves will become smaller, faster and more numerous. Advances in network speeds and wireless communication will provide a soup of micro devices each with access to this global network.

RealTime issue #14 Aug-Sept 1996 pg. 19

© Dave Sag & Jesse Reynolds; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

This exchange was conducted by e-mail with three people in two states talking to one another on a project that roves over distance, time, interpretation and single-project status.

DV Booth—a definition, please! A travelling cinema space? Prototype for future new media exhibition and distribution?

GH It’s best understood as a highly modified photo booth.

JV For me, primarily, it’s two things: a site-specific new media installation—

KB —purpose-made for the screening of short interactives—

JV —and a customised venue for the exhibition of linear and non-linear film, video, sound and desktop authored artwork.

GH And through the process of using it visitors have the opportunity to contribute to and access a companion Boothsite on the web.

KB It might actually be considered as the physical incarnation of a web site.

GH As an object it honours the form and function of the ‘classic’ black and white photo booth, preserving the contract of the vending machine: $4 in the slot for a strip of four different portraits.

KB So you get this familiar token made strange; a photo strip, which is—as always—a photo souvenir of a sequence of moments, but is in the case one which also souvenirs a particular, customised screening experience. Consider then that it is the filmmaker who gets to determine the exact points within the screening of their work in which the Booth will take its photos of its mini-audience. Photos the visitor might then choose to see pasted into our Boothsite photo album—a cumulative record of all who sit in it, all over the country.

DV Your call for entries will be announced soon. What are the selection criteria?

KB We’re opening a national call for entries for short, time-based, purpose made work to screen in Booth. Work can be produced in any format in the span from super or high-8 to high-end desktop generation and will then be pressed and accessed to a series of CD-ROMs, each containing a curated ‘season’ of around an hour of material—or around 20 works.

GH We will be asking each program maker to structure their three-minute piece around four designated cut points; each point is both a literal trigger for the Booth’s camera eye to take its portrait of the viewer, and a potential cut point between any one work on the CD-ROM and any other. Booth works as a kind of editing suite, offering each visitor the option of editing together sections of the contributed works into amalgam ‘films’ in various improvisatory ways.

DV To what extent will artists need to design their ideas around its sonic/physical space?

KB To a great extent. For all the things it is and all the ways it works, it is primarily a venue. We were interested in this notion of a ‘film’ production practice that could also be site-specific.

JV It’s a chance to redress some of the disempowering aspects of exhibition for work of this nature. To take an example, desktop work is often exhibited either on a videotape loop if linear, or on a desktop machine if non-linear; often time-sharing with other works, unoptimised for any pieces with regards to navigational access and calibration of hardware and with no independent technical support to ensure the work will in fact be displayed or interacted with as the artist intended for the duration of that show. Booth can target specific works and treat them in the best way possible.

KB Booth sets out to lock down a series of known’s for contributors to riff around in configuring the environment, we’ve artificially extended those aspects of the screening situation which always lose out—like sound.

GH It was important that sound not be an afterthought to vision; a true stereo field is produced by speakers inside the Booth, as well as a separate speaker system in the equipment cavity of the box that gives a ‘voice’ to the Booth.

DV What outside participating will be possible for web browsers?

JV Via the Boothsite, the remote visitor can rifle through the archive of photo strips of all Booth visitors, access the evolving soundscape, check information on touring, on contributing artists, on ways to contribute to the curated CD-ROMs, as well as being linked very directly into the physical Booth via a (broadcast delayed) live video feed signal from the Booth itself.

DV Tell us about the video postcard. Are there any other ways the Booth will ‘archive’ its travels and the presences of the people who visit it?

GH We’ll be asking people to bring along 30-second VHS video postcards of their town, which can be fed directly into the Booth via a VHS slot, digitised and posted to the web site.

KB If we’re going to have some representation on the Boothsite of where the Booth literally is, we want it to come filtered through local versions, shot on domestic equipment, edited in camera and contributed direct-to-Booth. The total Booth experience is shot through with various plays between what a visitor might ‘put in’ to the Booth (like their image, their voice) and what they might take away.

JV A visitor gets to manipulate his or her own image before taking away the ‘hard copy’ record of the session in the edition of the photo strip, but also to upload their strip to the Boothsite to join other portraits in an online photo album, or send an email from the Booth—their photo portrait plus a short message.

DV How soon before the box in question hits the highway? And where will it go? What are the logistical problems of getting the booth on-line in remote areas and does this limit the Booth’s frontier?

GH The Booth is set to begin its tour in force at the start of next year, looking towards a Perth launch. Obviously there are still vast areas of Australia that have no local access to the Internet, even thought diverse groups are agitating for change. The National Farmers Federation, for instance, is active in trying to ensure on-line access for its members. The map of local service provision could be very different by mid-1997, but it is crucial for the Booth’s success in remote areas that we can tap into the shifting ground of local access. It is a situation that redefines ‘remote’ and ‘local’ in Australia. You can be living only a couple of hundred kilometres from Sydney and still have to dial STD to be on-line; the touring Booth serves to underline such anomalies. In developing the Booth we have been guided by two central questions: who has access and to what?

RealTime issue #14 Aug-Sept 1996 pg. 25

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

Information wants to be free.

In September/October 1996 the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) is co-ordinating Virogenesis 2, the second cultural infection of the Australian body. Replicating and mutating the touring template of Virogenesis 1 (Graham Harwood, September/October 1995). Euro-data deviants Fuller (UK), Gomma (Italy) and Scanner (UK) will present talks workshops, gigs and informal exchanges in Adelaide, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne.

“The great demographics of Web users—according to a recent A C Nielsen study, the 17.6 million people using the Web in the US and Canada tend to be young, upscale, educated professionals with a household income over $80,000. Also approximately a third of all Internet users are women.”
www company ‘X’

Information wants to be free.

The three artists/activists work with old and new media anarchically, creating hybrid forms, slick grunge, dirty code, infiltrating mainstream and underground zones. Agent Gomma aka E. ‘Gomma’ Guarneri has been deeply involved in the cultural and existential underground since his early teens. In 1985 he managed the punk section in the Calusca bookshop (opened in 1972 in Milano on the model of the San Francisco City Lights bookstore). In 1987 he founded the cyberpunk magazine DECODER, which brought to the project diverse cultural and political experience: anarchists, punks, communists, liberals and autonomists, all working in the field of communication—music, video, radio, graphics, literature, computers, photocopying and mail art. In 1988 he founded the SHAKE co-operative, a publishing house that translates into Italian significant works from the cultural front, including Donna Haraway, Hakim Bey, J G Ballard and Re-Search. Gomma writes for the daily newspaper il manifesto on technology and society, directs a series for Feltrinelli and uses the internet as a site for political activism. His distinctive aberrant poetic style and anarchic attitude permeate the DECODER/SHAKE media projects and disturb the authorities. This is cultural production continually in a state of tension—disruptive, egalitarian, and heretic. Stuff you can be imprisoned for in Italy.

“We’re like many Frankensteins, composed of human members and artificial elements created by technology. I’ve seen one whose hand had three fingers, with the thumb and index finger substituted by a pair of pliers and functioning like a crooked beak. A small antenna came out of his mouth and he spoke in megahertz to a woman who had no ears, but instead two parabolic dishes to capture television messages. Not being able to comprehend each other, the two made love, in such a way that it excited my pity, now with clogged movement from the wheels on his feet, now facilitated by her tongue, magnetic-tape-made, sixty minutes long, while following the rhythm of the electronic drum that beat in their chests. From this incest, DECODER was born, the son of communication, of diversity, and of provocation. It has no more mutations like man, it’s completely technological. A small automaton, self-composed by many means of communication, assembled anthropomorphically with the greatest esteem of speaking a universal language.” Gomma

Information wants to be free.

'The phenomenal growth of the Web—the Net is adding new users, new Web sites, and new capabilities at an incredible rate. Hembrecht & Quist, a leading investment firm, forecasts 200 million Web users by the year 2000.”
www company ‘X’

Agent Scanner aka Robin Rimbaud began his musical explorations at age 11 when, having been exposed to the work of composer John Cage at school, he took to the family piano with nails and screws and hung a tape recorder inside to record the reverberations. He later formed the band Dau Al Set and compiled Peyrere, a cassette AV ‘zine with featured new material by the prime movers of the industrial music scene including Test Department, Coil, Lydia Lunch and Derek Jarman.

One day he chanced upon a tiny mobile radio receiver called a scanner and saw the creative possibilities. Discovering that it could surf through the airwaves and intercept personal telephone calls he began mixing it live into the four-track recordings he’d written. The first Scanner CD was issued in 1992 followed by Scanner 2 and offers of commissions for compilation albums, including Artificial Intelligence 2 for Warp, Trance Europe Express 2 and Types from Kudos. He set up and still runs The Electronic Lounge monthly at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London with DJs including Mixmaster Morris, Locust, Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia, David Toop and Paul Schultze/Uzect Plaush.

In the 1994 Terminal Futures conference at the ICA, Scanner ran a workshop on scanning. He completed writing the soundtrack for the exhibition entitled Fuse at the Royal College of Art in association with graphic designer Neville Brody and has remixed among others, Immersion (Swim), As One (New Electronica), Scorn (Earache) and Oval (Mille Plateaux). Spore, his double album on New Electronica, was released in 1995. He is currently creating radio works and participating in numerous European performances and installations. Scanner’s recent collaborations have included Icelandic singer Björk and American filmmaker David Lynch.

“I believe that there is no such thing as real privacy any more. Video cameras survey [us] in the streets, the underground, the buses, the shops. We are all featured on countless home videos without consent. There is this paradox of privacy and invasion that interests me. What I use is simply available on open access in the shops, but what else exits? What do higher authorities have access to? How much are we being watched without our knowledge? My work is partly about taking technology and finding an alternative use for it so that it becomes relevant to society. These kinds of [surveillance] machines are developed to help those in power keep us at arm’s length. In some ways I feel that my use of it subverts that. Then again, consider—why does someone invent and commercially market a device such as this?” Scanner

“The ability to shorten the distance between advertising, information gathering and sales—[our company] offers instant gratification. Your customer sees your ad, clicks on it to get more information and your information immediately pops up on his screen. Then, he can click on options to receive more info, ask to be contacted by you, send you an inquiry, order your product, whatever is appropriate.” www company ‘X’

Information wants to be free.

Agent Fuller is on the editorial group of Underground, an artists’ free mass-circulation newspaper focusing on critical cyberculture. He is editor of the interactive disk and internet based magazine of fiction and art, I/O/D. Fuller is completing a hyperfictional novel Automated Telling Machine and has published two previous books, Flyposter Frenzy—posters from the anti-copyright network and Unnatural, techno-theory for a contaminated culture. He is a contributing editor to the excellent Alternative X web site.

“[I’m interested in] the wider dynamics of information movement and the intersection of what is in the abstract an open system, with manners of speech, cultural poise and economics that militates against it being such. It might even be possible that the totalising metaphor of the ‘community’ and the false warmth from its hearth both masks a wider and more radical conflagration and fails in its supposed task of providing people with the tools to negotiate the increasing subsumption of the networks with the imaginary, and the attenuating dynamics of the market. The internet constitutes a bifurcation in information dynamics. As an event it is exemplarily complex and cannot be reduced to the sum of the factors that make it possible. A politics of the networks therefore will of necessity be just as seething with what George Bataille called “those linked series of deceptions, exploitations and manias that give a temporal order to the apparent unreason of history.” On with the road rage.” Matt Fuller

“In most cases [our company] is able to ascertain from your network address which organisation you belong to or the service provider you are using. Once we determine your organisation, we are able to better determine information about your organisation such as size, type and location. We do record your interests, which are determined only by [our company’s] member Web sites you visit. However, we only summarise this information and do not retain logs of your specific visits to these sites.” www company ‘X’

Information wants to be free.

Virogenesis 2, curated by Francesca da Rimini, has been funded by the Australia Council (New Media Arts and Community Cultural Development Funds) and is presented in association with participating parties including United Trades and Labour Council, Ngapartji Co-operative Multimedia Centre, Experimental Art Foundation, Carnivale, Art Gallery of NSW, The Performance Space, Artspace, Street Level Inc, University of Western Sydney—Nepean (Department of Design), Zonar Records, Australian National University (Canberra School of Art), Institute of Modern Art, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art and Experimenta.

Full touring details will be available from ANAT later in August.

RealTime issue #14 Aug-Sept 1996 pg. 26

© Francesca da Rimini; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

If asked where the island of Kauai is, could you pinpoint its location at the centre of the circle we commonly describe as the Pacific Rim? If you could, then your geography is better than mine. In the last week of April I was fortunate to travel to the county of Kauai, northernmost island of Hawaii, to attend a conference and workshop series entitled Story Telling for the New Millennium. This conference was touted as focusing uniquely on the role of the artist in the new technology, drawing together strands from filmmaking, new media, graphic design, music and sound design, website publishing and ‘the story.’

I had only just absorbed the contents of the Australian Film Commission’s publication “Language and Interactivity,” and more than a year of multimedia gabfests. On the flight to Kauai I had to ask myself how many more multimedia clichés I could bear.

Surprisingly, Story Telling for the New Millennium was, as described in the advance publicity, indeed a unique occasion.

To start with, on offer was a series of hands-on workshops. One stream offered three-day intensive workshops in writing and assembling narrative for interactive media, while another offered a practical smorgasbord of insider tips on graphics, video and audio software, primarily for experienced new media artists and practitioners. Unable to secure a place in the first stream, I was more than compensated, taking five workshops from the second. What was so valuable about these hands-on sessions in Photoshop, After Effects and digital audio design was that we were shown secrets by the people who made the software. As a practitioner, I got inestimable value from techniques and features that ‘never made it into the manuals.’

Thanks to the ubiquitous web, speakers’ papers and interviews were made available almost the moment they were uttered. If you want an insight into some great new media minds the website is well worth a look.

Among the speakers who really shone was keynote Peter Bergman, whose Radio Free Oz website—‘the funny bone of the Internet’—makes the web seem as natural as radio.

Michael Nash and Rebekah Behrendt, pioneers of the interactive publisher INSCAPE (The Dark Eye, Bad Day on the Midway) told us how they preferred to work with artists, alternating story point-of-view and plot lines. CEO Nash was formerly a respected fine arts critic, and suggested that the reason so many multimedia titles suck is that too many are the products of solely market-driven business plans.

Linda Stone of Microsoft demonstrated that company’s foray into virtual worlds. V-Chat is unabashedly derivative of Neal Stephenson’s SF epic Snowcrash, where people connect on-line, meeting as avatars in the metaverse. V-Chat is, for now, a Microsoft Network-only service, with no projected release on the web. For those lucky enough to connect via V-Chat, the worlds are (for on-line chat environments) richly detailed and personalised.

Tom Reilly, founder of Digital Queers, is currently president of Plant Out, a network catering to gay and lesbian net users. Among its services, Planet Out operates a V-Chat world where users’ avatars can freely flirt and pick each other up.

Other memorable presentations came from former pop icon and now multimedia sound producer Thomas Dolby, and from the producer of From Alice to Ocean, Rick Smolan, whose 24 Hours in Cyberspace is perhaps the most visible community art event the net has yet seen. Many of the American audience were there from the film and television standpoint. The event was co-hosted by the American Film Institute and Kauai Institute for Communications Media. Judy Drost Director of KICM, showed how a four years young organisation can ably attract enormous support for a worthwhile event.

RealTime issue #14 Aug-Sept 1996 pg. 27

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

In July RealTime took up residence in Perth with Keith Gallasch and Virginia Baxter working with nine WA writers on their responses to PICA’s annual season of new performances, Putting on an Act. During the week, the writers balanced their experience of the work on show with the urge to judge, and co-edited two editions of [email protected] for distribution at the event. Their participation required endurance—five nights watching performances of varying quality and type, five days of fast writing and debate. Often performances felt too familiar (poets reading, men in dresses, empty gestures). Sometimes it felt like community service (quaint family circuses). Sometimes, as with Rocky Bay Insomniacs, wheelchair performers, we were truly surprised and impressed.

PICA director Sarah Miller worries at the concept of such open seasons, the risks involved in staging incomplete works by inexperienced performers balanced against the need to provide public space for independent and emerging artists. She is acutely aware of the need for more workshops in which collaborative works are developed with experienced artists. Whatever the best solution, Sarah Miller and her team at PICA are working hard at building a performance milieu in a city that hasn’t really had one and the expertly managed season was sold out most nights. Following are responses to some of the performances from the [email protected] team:

Cornflakes: Lucas Ihlein

Denis Garvey
The table is set by two stage hands. Tablecloth, bowl, spoon, milk, sugar, Corn Flakes. The performer moves from the audience, sits down at the table, serves himself and eats a bowl of Corn Flakes, then returns to the audience.

Jiminy Cricket!! No existential dilemma here. Blocks come forward to eat. Simple as that. Betcha I can anticipate your moves! First look. Waxy inserts disappeared down cardboard sleeve. He unfolds. Rolls it up. Crinkles right. Stops moths breeding. Never had that problem at our house. Packet didn’t go right back in again. If you took it out, searching for some gun or horse to race other plastic horses your brother collected to see who crossed the table top first. Upend packet. Into bowl. Fuller than I would have thought. No poncy fruit on top. That’s right. Hey, wait a minute. You don’t have milk in fuckin’ jugs. Where I come from it’s carton or nothing. And you don’t take the spoon out if it’s already in. To put sugar on. Sugar bowl’s OK, I suppose. And a tablecloth? Nice touch, but a red gingham tablecloth? Funny, I’d have picked him for a two sugar man. It’d have been funnier if you’d kept piling the sugar on. Tablespoon after tablespoon after tablespoon. Like Buster Keaton. My Mum did for my Dad. Killed him in the end, you know. Now, the milk doesn’t have to go round the same configurations as the sugar. As the sun. Push down with your spoon! Sounds right. Now eat. Great big spoonfuls. Spoon’s full. Open wide. Lockjaw. Remove spoon. Crunch! Spoons are the only eating utensil allowed in that cavity. You put those things inside your mouth in the 1950s. Read the packet. Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin, Iron, Protein, Fat, Carbohydrate, Sugars. Sugar? Turn the packet around again in a wider configuration. Read the back. How nowadays you stand to win a car. The real thing. Come to think of it, wasn’t Kellogg some sort of paedophile or something? Perhaps that’s the answer. And didn’t the world war machine keep on supplying Pol Pot with Corn Flakes, guns—into the 1990s? There’s nothing to say popular culture must be original. Better if it isn’t really. Like the Marlboro man you smoke for the same taste each time. Killed you in the end. It killed him. Tilting of the bowl. Spooning up the last of the milk. Will there be a Corn Flakes Man of the future? Doing counter ads on prime time TV? This is what Corn Flakes did for me. Look away. Cutaway. Stomach. Shot. To bits of ant-like pincers putting us in stitches. You don’t think so? And wasn’t the ending a little too pat? Peremptory? The world war machine didn’t keep supplying Pol Pot with Corn Flakes into the 1990s. You deserve to flee. Escape. Your addiction. I mean back to the audience. Me. I’d have, I’d have savoured the moment. Gone. For another bowl.

Rotations: Dancer Vivienne Rogis, Choreographer Tamara Kerr

Fiona McLean
Marilyn: The building I work in rises tall and white like an elongated rib cage. So deep is the curve of ribs to sternum, it is, even more, an enormous long-line bra. This building also has legs—stocky but sharply tapered—and between them, marking the entrance are flounced canopies of Perspex. Each morning as I pass beneath her skirts, my mind turns to Marilyn Monroe.

Vivienne: She is standing in a circle of bright light and first from one joint, then from another and another, and then from all of them at once, the body of Vivienne Rogis is rotating. It seems less an ordinary body which has learned extraordinary movements than an extraordinary body performing movements which, to it, are ordinary. An up-turned hand turns at ground level and her whole weight arcs across the space. A roll that begins precisely in one vertebra sends flesh in waves across her abdomen and chest. This body is pliant as putty. It has drive to more than match the synthesised accompaniment. She is a girl-machine moving not as rectilinear robot but with the fluid dynamics of fractals.

Tamara: Tamara Kerr who worked with Vivienne Rogis on Rotations is part of a company called Physical Architecture. She has plans to use computer images to track the movements of a skeleton in rotation and to project these up beside the same rotating body in the flesh. I ask Tamara is she knows what Vivienne is thinking about when she dances and she tells me she is focussed on each rotating joint. I think of Marilyn and how much goes on under the skin and behind the eyes. I think of Vivienne and how exciting it is to see the strange ways her bones and muscles work.

One Full Moon: Sandy Mujadi, Susan Allwood; Bumpkin Babes, Clare Christie, Samson Zaharkiv and another

Erin Hefferon
Rash. I’m sick of men in frocks, even beautiful ones. Men? Frocks? It seems so easy. Shock? No. But a beautiful man playing a woman in a beautiful frock next to a woman? What is she, a wound? What’s she doing, writhing, rolling, and picking at herself like a giant scab? Like she’s got some kind of rash. And she’s pure soap. “How can I survive?” she says with a humph and starts her slow, strange dance. Picking at herself while he says—another he, not the he/she of the frock—while he says on the telephone, “Fucking useless bitch, you bitch, answer the phone. I know you’re there. I want the dog back!”

No. I can’t believe it’s happening—Patsy Cline in slo-mo. Three performers, a man in a frock (no surprises here) two girls (ho hum, no surprise either, they’re in frocks too). No cheap one gag for them, they’ll have to try harder and they do. It’s painful to watch. Another scab lifts. He’s so funny, look at him in white face, grimacing, playing with his dress (yes, it’s a dress, I’m a man and I’m wearing a dress. It’s funny, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Isn’t it?). He’s in the spotlight. The audience laughs and laughs and laughs. The girls work around him, bitchily trying to outdo each other. I am hysterical. Hysterically angry. Hysterically bored. Hysterically saddened. One of the girls teases her hair, drops her comb. The other smears lipstick on her face. While he lip-synchs to a brain-damaged Patsy. The girls face the audience, and then face each other, competing. One turns her back, pulls her dress down to her waist. I see her black bra strap. Is she going to strip? This is bad. How far will she go? The other mimics her. This is pathetic. They keep their clothes on. I am disappointed. Something almost happened. Something horrible. Something to inspire pity, not terror, but the terrible.

Terror, Tour 1: devised and performed by David Fussell

Fiona Kranenbroek
We’re getting used to him now. Installed, almost in the Hay Street Mall, him in his wheelchair, in his facial muscles, neck and arms that twitch in a continuum of unpredictability that could be sustained only by permanent neurological damage. This is not pretty. This man is a performer, a professional busker. A small keyboard placed across the arms of his chair, some vocals but no words I can decipher, no tune I can make out. The busker in the wheelchair confronts our expectations—his mumbled cacophony, his disability on display.

David Fussell’s performance has all the decorations of title, of occasion, executed in the safety of an indoor art-space. He does not attempt to play at music—he stands awkwardly, begins to speak, and breaks off. He doesn’t know…he isn’t sure. I know how he feels. His gestures are not unlike the busker’s but Fussell is privileged by an audience held captive by theatre walls and conventions. Is he the real thing? A person who has suffered some sort of breakdown? The bulk of the audience trusts not, they laugh shamelessly during his painful pauses. Through a layering of repeated phrases, artifice emerges. This is an act. I relax somewhat but I still don’t laugh. Is David Fussell with shoelaces undone, being cruel, doing a piss-take of a damaged person? He’s certainly getting laughs. I’m suspicious and yet held by my uncertainty.

In the middle the piece gains intensity, the timing steadies as words are delivered in bursts that seem to take the greatest summoning of courage to issue. More and more I am drawn in, not out of sympathy, but in sympathy with the performance. Because, really, I’m not sure either. I too really don’t know, though I’m pretty sure I don’t know much. Like David Fussell, I’m not really sure what I want and this is why, like him, I don’t really do anything. Because I don’t know much. The one thing David does know is that, so far, this has worked for him.

That’s okay for me, but I’m going to try something else for a while. I think of the busker, of the Hay Street Mall, of trying to make something of my own.
Stillness/Panic: Peter Toy

Paul O’Sullivan

A man? Naked! On his back. On a table. Under a spotlight. Wrapped in the plastic you’d use to wrap your lunch to keep it fresh. But Peter Toy didn’t look fresh. He looked to be on the edge of death.

I feared at first that he wasn’t breathing. Then, that he was over-heating. Then, even if either or both were true, how would we know? Would he tell us if he could? I was afraid that we would be accomplices in his death and even imagined us all being arrested and tried for complicity. I wonder if the Third World (assuming that we are actually the First) could hire a good enough lawyer? Would it find us guilty of standing by as it starved to death? I felt a callous bystander at a terrible accident. Is that what you meant, Peter? Does our voyeurism prevent us from acting, from doing something? Are we all armchair experts on the world we live in? When nothing much is happening on stage—but the little that is happening is remarkable—the brain goes on terrific flights of fancy.

Eventually his arms and legs succumbed to gravity, or perhaps his resolve waned. How long could you keep it up? Did you get bored? Or was the timing just right? It was just right for me, though I desperately wanted to peel you out of your synthetic sarcophagus, pour you a cold one and ask what you were thinking.

Living Dolls: performed by Marlene O’Dea, directed by Sian Phillips

Helena Grehan
A woman stands in a spotlight. She is dressed like an aberrant jewellery box doll. The clothes are right but the hair makes her look like Rod Stewart. She makes the right movements and speaks: “I’m Clare. I like you”. I’m reminded of Rachel Romano (Glory Box) on Thursday night as, again, we are confronted by a middle-aged woman questioning her achievements and oppression. “What are you doing?” “Don’t leave me!” Classic dependent stuff. The movements become jerky. It seems someone has wound her up too tight. Eventually she moves on. She changes costume to Geisha Girl. At the insistence of a bell, she performs, waving her yellow fan, tossing it in the air with precision and then catching it. The action is repeated until like the actions in the jewellery box, it too becomes taut and aggressive. She is letting herself be manipulated. She begins to resent it, drops the fan and disrobes. This is where Living Dolls begins to live. She grabs a drill, mimes sexual actions—the power drill purrs to her command. She is finally taking control. Singing “Mean to Me” she saws wood/phallus in two then moves to a grinder and begins to hone a metal rod. She moves downstage and begins to run on the spot. New Age music floods the space as she spends several minutes in “free” movement. Where does this fit? It’s curiously out of synch with the rest. The performer in her attempt to comment on her “epic journey through the facets of love” has meandered off to another journey altogether.

Can’t Sleep in my Dreams, written and performed by Rocky Bay insomniacs, with playwright Jan Teagle-Kapetas; director, Simone Bateman

Terri-ann White
Works in progress: words and images that show there is a distance to go, give explicitly the message that attention is being applied to the making of this work. Questions, interrogations and things to learn.

Friday night. Another full house, this time uncomfortably so. Spill-over audience sitting on the stage and most didn’t wear the right clothes for it. Getting them all in has taken some time, and all of those nine wheelchairs on stage are occupied. Hope the performers are patient. The opening is dramatic: seven wheelchairs upstage, backs to us, a chair coming on the stage with a woman draped across its occupant. They present stories, these performers: the sort I like—fragments, unfinished, provisional utterances. Sometimes they come directly from the teller, sometimes one of the three floating ‘assistants’ gives their story in parallel. Slow-moving, considered, sometimes tentative, sometimes I couldn’t hear the words but could understand the passion. My sense was that many of these performers had not told these stories, or even been listened to much before, certainly not in such a formal and highly valued way. Personal stories, some private, some of them dreams. The combination of dramatic intensity, the presentation, the austerity and self-containment, and the bodies with their voices, their struggle towards the articulations we understand made this work my highlight, the most fully realised work in the week’s program. I appreciated the spare space, the gaps evident, the integrity of the voices and the shape of the stories. The little moments of pleasure: getting seven electric chairs around in a tight circle in the confined space; the turning on of the spotlight torches hanging above the bodies on the chairs, how that lighting design made drama. And the moment for me: which was felt, sentimental as anything but authentic. “Do you want to know the song I requested? Do you?” he asks. Finally, he answers himself. Roberta Flack singing “Killing Me Softly” and the able-bodied woman helps him out of his chair and holds him and they dance close. His pride and pleasure. Her love and care. The catalogue of items, movements no longer possible, memories forgotten or mislaid. Right through our lives. Finding, or re-finding your voice and using it.

The How-to series #1, devised and performed by Paul Gazzola

Jane Cousins
On the home stretch after chancing the open cauldron of a 100km wind on the long bridge over the river, arms rigid on the steering wheel, I stopped for a man on the road. I don’t normally stop for hitchhikers but on such a night, with such a wind…He swayed against it, barely able to stand.

“Not a night to be out,” I said, swallowing against the strange, rich smell of a body too long in the same clothes.

“I like being out. But I don’t like to walk too much. I got a bung foot. Hit and run ‘bout a year ago. Police see me walkin’ funny. Pull me up. Reckon I’m drunk.”

“I reckon”, I thought.

But how do we know a movement for what it is? How do we read a gesture’s truth?

This is what Paul Gazzola stands asking before the audience, a portable gramophone at his feet, at the end of his right arm held perpendicular to his body, a tiny plastic owl, its minute parts articulated. The owl performs the most delicate of movements. And a split second later, the performer mirrors its moves. The record provides accompaniment: “Hello,” it says, repeated perkily with the oblique intonation of an alien or a machine. It becomes a chant. Exquisite miniature gestures. Repeated and amplified. Paul Gazzola is attentive; a small frown of concentration furrows his brow. Suddenly the owl drops its wings and throws back its head. A moment of exultation, abandon, surrender. Gazzola follows suit. Someone in the audience gasps. We hold together. Performer, owl, audience, rapt.

The end comes suddenly when the record moves on to “How Are You?” The audience laughs. We are meant to ignore this bit. But for me it is the moment which encapsulates all. We learn through repetition, through mimicry, we learn by watching others. We become ourselves, human or owl, a collection of habits, movements, gestures. On the basis of these, assumptions are made.

Jimmy asked me for [a] train fare for the following day. I hesitated, then told him no. He said thanks anyway and…by the way, he’d been puzzling over this, “Which finger is the wedding ring worn on?” I held out my hand and pointed, “That one, I think.” “Ah, so you’re not married then?” “No.” He laughed. “Don’t worry, I’m not a rapist or a murderer or nothin’.” He got out and closed the door. “Thanks for the lift, bub. See ya round.”

I drove away, arms rigid on the steering wheel, heart beating fast. Senseless acts of kindness. What a night. I thought of Lear, stripped of artifice and made to see. I’d been kind hadn’t I, fearless, open minded? But underneath it all…well, Jimmy could tell.

Civic Poems: John Mateer

Jenny Silburn
To John Mateer:
You stand in an arc of light
pressed into the microphone
Poet in Jewish and English
and Polish and Irish
and Tristan da Cunhan and Scottish
and unknown
exile

Unknown?
In the silence
your ancestors stand behind you
fanning out against the black cyclorama
observing you
the audience
the work

The words stick in your throat
you eat them like that devil the dingo
while the hyena stands behind you
lips curled into a snarl of laughter

Civic poems
the word seems curiously arcane
Civic?
So this the space you metered out
the territory you now occupy
while the spectres of
Alan Bond and Ned Kelly
Mudrooroo and Arne Naess
spin
in the desert
of the psyche?

You are and are not
you walk in the line in elevated places
you know the abyss
and it is from here
the voice on the wire sings.

White praise singer
sing your song
Sangoma
dance between
Your voice is sweet
Use your cultural weapons
machete the silence
and let the ancestors
speak

RealTime issue #14 Aug-Sept 1996 pg. 32-33,43

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

Compression 100: 100 performances in different venues and sites around Sydney during May; artists Tess de Quincey and Stuart Lynch performing with a wide variety of collaborators, from dancers to writers to musicians to visual artists.

True to its name, Compression 100 was actually 111 performances. The first and last days (May 1 and 31) began on Compression Highway—Parramatta Road—the most loaded space in Sydney. I commute on it every day, trying not to think about it. Since May, though, I feel differently towards it. I’ve moved from dissociation to mild fixation. I’ve developed a perverse sense of attachment to this roaring, ugly, clashing, hot, polluted environment. I’ve taken to walking along it, sometimes for two hours a time, to writing about it and to driving down it in preference to using the freeway. Now this is perverse and Compression 100 was, amongst other things, a shared exercise in sustained perversity. Its legacies are likely to be random and widely dispersed. Perhaps all over Sydney there are people who are experiencing altered relations with particular spaces.

As an exercise in perversity, Compression 100 is firmly in the tradition of performance art where endurance, purposelessness and risk have worked together to effects that criticism has been at a loss to define. Not for want of trying, of course, which is part of the sport. To do several performances a day, every day for a month, with dozens of different collaborators, some of whom you have never met before, in places where you will have little and sometimes no control over the conditions, to audiences gathering at random who will sometimes not have a clue what to make of whatever it is you are doing, begs a lot of questions. And the questions came like some kind of inflamed outbreak, a virus that everyone caught. What is it? What’s it for? Who are they? Who do they think they are? What are they doing? Why? Occasionally, some stray explanatory statement would be in amongst them. They’re making a commercial. He’s a fruit. Must be for TV. It’s a witch, mum. They should be in the zoo.

Compression 100 did go to the zoo, and of all the place it went—including the cemetery, the Opera House, the dog pound, the jail, the top of Centrepoint, Observatory Hill, and an assortment of tunnels—that was where it seemed most to belong, amidst an array of strangely determined behaviours, all on show for an audience. Everywhere else, the performances looked like pieces of escaped behaviour, serving to generate awareness, perhaps, of the extent to which behaviour is category confined: related to gainful employment, the fulfilment of need, or the pursuit of identifiable forms of leisure. A version of behaviour labelled “performance” has wide currency, but this is conditional on its conformity with established categories. Audiences at the Opera House, well trained to tune into performance, responded readily to something that looked like it, happening on the steps outside. But this was escaped performance: not performance of anything, just the performance principle gone feral and hyperbolic amongst a group of people apparently possessed by it, posturing in derangements of operatic costume. “Is it Butoh?” someone asked me, his face almost aglow with the pleasure of catchment.

As performance, most of Compression 100 was exploratory and erratic, but there were emergent moments that created an intensity of attention sufficient to kill the question virus stone dead. Stuart Lynch and Tess de Quincey take off into pure virtuosity improvising movements to a sound track made by John Gillies—a collage of rhythms from traffic and instrumental percussion, that just keeps on producing inspired shifts in direction. Nikki Heywood, barely visible and standing in several inches of water in the tunnel at St. James railway station, generates stray bursts of sound and movement which fuse quite suddenly into miraculous familiarity as the cadences of Che Faro…from Gluck’s Orpheo. The idea of producing the voice takes on uncanny meaning. The line of the melody is breathtaking, the voice swells into it, and then it’s gone again, perversely, like some kind of apparition that you know won’t come back. Isn’t this what the opera is about? Maybe we heard the definitive performance of Orpheo.

Compression 100 had a mixed reception. That’s a cliché, and how could anything else have been expected? There was a lot of discussion and some agonising about reactions to the performances throughout the series. But much more interesting than what people thought of it was what it made them do, by serving as a strange attractor, drawing them away from their regular business, into unfamiliar parts of the city at weird times of the day and night. How do you get three office-bound workaholics to find their way onto Bondi Beach in the middle of a weekday afternoon and stay there until the light fades? How do you get a bunch of performance artists to the Opera House? What if you walk the Parramatta Road, the whole way, from Parramatta to Sydney? The perversity principle is a catalyst which has most effect when generated within strictly designed parameters. It’s only the most experienced and disciplined artists who can get it going, set it loose and leave it to reverberate. I’d credit de Quincey and Lynch with that.

RealTime issue #14 Aug-Sept 1996 pg. 35

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

Digital Aesthetics-One was held at the University of New South Wales in April 1996. The symposium was convened by Contemporary Art and Technology (CAT), an independent Melbourne-based group “dedicated to the promotion of critical inquiry and debate of issues surrounding the shift from analog to digital paradigms”.

If there’s one thing that the cyber-conference circuit can agree on, it’s the urgent need for a critical theory adequate to our new media landscape. If there’s one thing such conferences appear to consistently fall short of, it’s the substantial progression of such a theory. For while speaker after speaker at Digital Aesthetics-One identified the problem, vehemently put by Paul Virilio as the lack of a theory for technological art, few proposed any fleshed-out strategies for tackling it. Moreover, for all the palaver about the fluidity and openness of cyberdebate, the sense of closed circuit was underlined by the continual reappearance of familiar names, familiar arguments, none more in-your-face than Professor Allucquere Rosanne Stone, “performing” the precise same anecdotal musings on liquid identity for the umpteenth time in Australia (the last only nine months ago at the Biennale of Ideas), musings which in any case you can read pretty much word for word in her latest book.

While suffering from some dilemmas common to similar symposia, Digital Aesthetics-One was also saddled with the particular and difficult task of addressing its title. Peter Chamberlain from the University of Hawaii asked at the wrap-up panel, “Did anyone really talk about digital aesthetics?…there ain’t no digital aesthetics, it’s just too complex”, and certainly few speakers actually addressed the notion of aesthetics as such or the impact which digital technologies have had on traditional aesthetics. And this despite a brave attempt by conference organisers CAT to represent both theorists and artists in equal measure at the symposium, let alone in the series of surrounding events including performances at Artspace and an exhibition at the Ivan Dougherty Gallery.

Regardless of these general problems, there were some star turns, the brilliant presentation by American cultural theorist Mark Dery, the indisputable highlight. With a masterful turn of phrase and a relentless stream of pithy and hilarious metaphors, Dery through his language alone was able to evoke a sense of a digital aesthetics, and at the same time further a salient critique of the politics of the new media. Beginning with a colourful description of Wired—”the mighty morphin’ power book with the sheen of a turtlewaxed Formula One roadster”, its day-glo fused photographs like an “irradiated monitor turned up too high”—Dery went on to surgically dissect the magazine’s design and its ideological implications, seducing us first into believing in Wired’s avant-gardism before convincingly undermining this status in the next breath.

For while Wired positions itself at the forefront of a push to crack the US military-industrial-entertainment complex through the democratising gestures of netsurfing and hacking (a “let them eat laptops” mentality), what it really does is provide a safe vehicle for the Silicon Valley establishment to live out its fantasy of rebellion. Wired’s design, steeped in the Uriah Heep iconography of the early 70s, works to affirm the hipness of the magazine’s core demographic (average income $US 81,000 a year, male, white and employed in the communications industry); facilitates the transition of the flat-footed IBM nerd to latter day uberlord prowling the net after hours (in other words, an affirmation that “corporations are cool”); and perpetrates a kind of “info-machismo” whereby one’s worth is judged by the ability to handle information overload (as in Johnny Mnemonic’s directive, “Hit me!”). Dery’s facility to range from popular culture to sociological texts to complex poststructuralist theory with wit, spontaneity and a concern to be understood, made for a most entertaining and edifying session.

Another pertinent contribution was Jane Goodall’s critical consideration of the aesthetic credentials of the digital. Contextualising her analysis in the history of digital programming, with its desire to obliterate human agency, and the late 19th century synaesthetic movement, with its sensorial theatre, Goodall elegantly argued that digital art remains sensorially challenged. For Goodall, “there are more interesting questions to be raised about the limits of digital art than its imagined megalopotentialities…[and] the most significant limitation is the restricted possibilities for sensory engagement. Multimedia is not synaesthetic—it’s bound to an audiovisual axis, and the literally digital aspect of it—fingertip communication by the user—offers a hopelessly reductive approach to accommodating the sense of touch”. Describing her visit to the CD-ROM exhibition Burning the Interface, Goodall observes, “There’s something very unsensory about this activity or interactivity, as you stand there watching it, waiting for a turn with the mouse. And the art, far from liquefying and going global and dissolving and cancelling the social field, is all boxed in its monitors”. Ultimately for Goodall, the only way to create a digital aesthetics—with the emphasis on aesthetics as perception by the senses—is to combine digital media with live performance, as Stelarc and Orlan do.

Stelarc and Orlan certainly came away as the anointed royalty of digital aesthetics from this symposium. Not only Goodall, but other speakers including Nicholas Zurbrugg—whose keynote address was a good opener, its ambit so wide that it prefaced many of the ensuing issues, its emphasis on the traditional genealogy of digital art salutary—found few better exemplars of what the future might look like. Orlan’s agent/publicist/theoretician, former paediatrician Dr Rachel Armstrong, however, added very little to the debate, stringing together a swag of clichés to say nothing more than that Orlan confounds the institutions of art and medicine and evades the strictures of identity by using her body as a canvas. The bodgie ‘live’ link up to Orlan in Paris—which consisted not of video or even net conferencing but simply a trunk call—was only outdone by Dr Armstrong’s tortuous French which frustrated the audience’s attempts to elicit nuanced answers from “the world’s first practitioner of carnal art”.

Stelarc’s contribution was far more substantial. Dismissive of the “outmoded metaphysical yearnings” of some net surfers for a “mind to mind communion”, and disowning the notorious World Art interview in which he asserted the obsolescence of the body (“this does not imply a body loathing, nor the desire for a utopian body that achieves immortality”), Stelarc went on to outline his latest project: the generation of a “fractal flesh” by performing the body stirred and startled by the remote whispers of other bodies—displaced presences on the net—prompting the body to perform actions without previous memory or desire. This loop of stimulus and response becomes for Stelarc a metaphor for awareness, which in the artist’s schema is due to gross and small muscle movements.

The symposium also invited a number of emerging local new media artists to discuss their work, among them Patricia Piccinini and James Verdon whose latest digital art was concurrently exhibited at The Performance Space and Ivan Dougherty Gallery respectively. Also on show at the latter was British artist Graham Harwood’s Rehearsal of Memory, a poignant CD-ROM record of the personal scars and histories of inmates from a high security mental hospital. There is a raw energy about Graham Harwood and his community-oriented projects which is exhilarating, particularly in a cultural climate still hostile to artwork which wears its political heart on its sleeve. Harwood admits that he’s never been interested in technology so much as where technology acts on people. Like Dery, Harwood drags the cyberdebate back to where it counts, to the realm of the social, contextualising his work by reminding us that “while one third of the national income of the UK is generated by culture, there is no cultural voice for people below a certain level of income”.

Considering its lack of heavyweight institutional support—no credits to the Australia Council, nor for that matter the AFC which ran a rather more lavish event across town at the same time—Digital Aesthetics-One did well to attract some leading new media players. Certainly CAT’s attempt to pull together artists, designers and theorists was laudable, even if a more compact program might have separated the chaff from the wheat. However, coming away from the symposium only underlines the still urgent need for cogent theoretical approaches to the new media.

RealTime issue #13 June-July 1996 pg. 22

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

The Language of Interactivity conference, held at the ABC Ultimo Centre, Sydney, April 9-11, was the third of a series of annual events organised by the Australian Film Commission, designed to ‘bridge the gap’ between the often separated groups of computer specialists, creative ‘talent’ and entrepreneurial risk-takers. The conference chair, Michael Hill, AFC Multimedia Projects Coordinator, one of the few people in Australia with significant experience of a multitude of multimedia production proposals, suggested that this year was the International Year of Multimedia Cliché (following on from last year, the International Year of Multimedia): terms like ‘content’, ‘interface’, ‘prototype’, ‘non-linear’ were up for reconsideration if “we are to make projects which satisfy and challenge an audience hungry for something they haven’t yet seen.”

“Artists often have sudden ideas, want to try different possibilities within the structure of the project, so you have to be flexible and your code needs to be very flexible. You have to be able to adapt and respond to different situations and be very open to changes. Too often in commercial projects I’ve coded, people know what is on the market and they know what they want…and it’s a very limited approach.”

Gideon May was a guest speaker from Amsterdam and one of several within the ‘industry’ who actively pursues the unknown alongside the rent-paying yakka. “As the demand for programmers able to write code for multimedia projects increases over the next few years, their ability to succeed will be related to their ability to work in close collaboration with the full range of other specialists engaged in a project. I don’t think that there will be a place for just one director who is in control and who delegates everything.”

Will the control freaks, artists and moguls back away from so much shared territory?

The conference topic of ‘interaction’ was imaginatively extended from ‘responding to screen prompts’ to focusing as much on the interactions between production teamwork models. Several of the overseas guest speakers, whilst demonstrating the appearance and ‘functionality’ of their works, came from quite distinct production environments.

Glorianna Davenport came from the MIT Media Lab cocoon where, working with in-house staff and students, she has developed story-telling/listening agents with cute names like Lurker and Thinkies. These respond to the choices made during an interactive encounter on a computer by presenting options calculated most likely to be needed next by the individual. (Unfortunately a classic faux pas, with the status of an aphorism, undercut her presentation: “I was shocked when I discovered many of my students barely knew that the Second World War took place. I mean I know that it wasn’t very influential in Australia but it turned out the Second World War really changed the world a lot.”)

A contrast was the artisanal production approach of Chris Hales, whose interactive touch-screen installation was shown for a short time at Artspace. Using Hi8 video and working from his London home when not teaching, whimsical portraits of friends and children are woven together on the computer into an example of ‘interactive cinema’, a ‘genre’ which seems to owe a lot to a history of cinema. Hales avoids the ‘classic narrative’ interactive approach adopted by Graham Weinbren, who spoke at the 1995 conference in Melbourne, revisiting instead the cinema of pathos and slapstick comedy.

Another contrast was the Stevie Wonder of interactive game design, Osamu Sato, head of one of Tokyo’s’ “leading multimedia firms”, who inscrutably demonstrated the intricacies of “the most popular CD-ROM adventure title in Japan, Eastern Mind”. Sato’s presentation highlighted the gap between eastern and western traditions of visual coding and meaning construction.

Jonathon Delacour created the links that he has achieved in previous AFC conferences between different cultural traditions. The negotiation of roles and role play in on-line game environments, he suggested, rehearses personality development and the centring of the self. Richly illustrated with ‘habitats’ populated by ‘avatars’ and other identities, the history of this development went back to the Lucasfilm Habitat established as far back as 1985.

The tension between on-line and off-line delivery and development was present behind most of the papers and panels, in this, the Year of Wwwebness. Also, as John Colette succinctly put it, this tension reflects the distinction “between whether we are seeking information or experience”.

A Sydney team developing an interactive soap opera ‘transformational game’, Strange Fruit, revealed the collaborative workshop approach taken to an ambitious project. The ‘big-picture/little-picture’ relationship and the defining of roles for team members, including the relationship of the writer and performers to the whole, gave an insight into the brave complexities of exporting established narrative traditions into digital environments. This was in contrast to a high point of irony which was reached when ‘interface consultant’ Fiona Ingram gave a flawless presentation of eye-watering bullet points depicting a multimedia-by-numbers approach to the production process, and then used as her example the CD-ROM of the Doors of Perception 1 conference Amsterdam, 1994 (part of the Burning the Interface exhibition, MCA, Sydney). While stuffed with elegant visual approaches to a static documentary (by “cutting a lot of buttons”), it certainly had nothing to do with the production process described.

Tim Gruchy delightfully demonstrated Synthing, the “wetness of interactive experience”, as the outcome of distinctive teamwork flowing from the traditions of the plastic and musical arts. Using modest and dated Amiga technology, the path to “unencumbered interfaces” gave a glimpse of a cultural tool which may become as ubiquitous as the sound synthesiser.

Other inspired individuals like Jon McCormack, Michael Buckley and Graham Harwood seemed much less concerned with the value that can flow from the integrated interactive production team. Can the imagination that such artists deliver ever be attracted to work with others in such a way?

The benefits of such collaborations are two-way according to programmer Gideon May: “It helps me a lot for writing good code because there are many times when you have to come back to correct or amend. And well structured, well laid-out, readable code makes this process easier and more rapid”. Also visual artists have often objected, for instance, to the clean, well-rendered surfaces beloved of games makers. “It takes a lot of computing power to make something dirty,” said May. But clearly such interaction has meant that code is now being written, for a variety of purposes, which will begin to remove some of that surface gloss and glitter.

RealTime issue #13 June-July 1996 pg. 22

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

Nino Rodriguez, Boy  (United States, 1994)

Nino Rodriguez, Boy (United States, 1994)

Are galleries quite the right places for exhibitions like Burning the Interface, Cybercultures and the Luc Courchesne contribution to No Exit? You have to ask. At the MCA’s Burning the Interface at 11.30 on Saturday morning the room is already full of people quietly tapping away. What’s the alternative? The private booth? Appointments at your local gallery? Certainly some kind of ticket that allows a couple of visits seems to be indicated. It’s depressing to think the only solution is back home in front of your own computer because there are some pleasures in being with other people in a sea of CD ROMs—though not many. This artform would seem on the one hand to be the least social but, let’s face it, the more adventurous works will always need public space. The answer is some as yet unimagined place.

As with any art you can scan images but here it’s not just seeing that’s at stake but more the time of cinema, the textuality of books, the pleasures of sound and most importantly time to choose from a range of options. You’re likely to spend much longer with an engaging CD-ROM than a painting or a sculpture because it requires you to. And watching over other people’s shoulders is no fun for them or for you. With some, non-interactive works, like Peter de Lorenzo’s Reflections, Abstractions and Memory Structures all you do is watch as frames become flames, images unfold and fragment, transform through twelve minutes that slowly focus and transform and sometimes look like ‘pixelist’ paintings.

A room full of CD-ROMs and similar offerings is like being at a party where every person in the room is talking about something different and everyone is inviting you over to talk. So you move from machine to machine and you know the room is bound to contain a few bores who will never let you go. A couple of women are having trouble exiting from the jaws of the very insistent and confronting seedy-ROM Necro Enema Amalgamated in the corner. They’re trapped until we start to hover and they make their escape.

With Luc Courchesne’s Portrait One you feel you’d like to be alone. A young woman speaks intimately and offers you a set of responses and questions with which to address her. Courchesne’s other work Hall of Shadows for the No Exit exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, is like being in a room full of holograms and you know, because you heard it on the grapevine, that if you push the right buttons, you can get these laser-disc-video images to actually speak to one another. Just like the host at a real party. Somehow, these naturalistic/theatrical works are the most confronting because they are the least like paintings and the most like engaging with real people. And you need to be alone or nearly alone with them. A crowded gallery room reduces Hall of Shadows to four duets.

In another intimate work at the MCA’s Burning the Interface, Nino Rodriguez’ Boy, a woman offers you fragments of memories of her childhood “as a boy”, “as a tomboy”, when “my mother was always throwing picture frames at people”. As she speaks, her words unfold on the screen and you can click on an earlier word and phrase and she’ll repeat that passage. You don’t get into an exchange as you can in the Luc Courchesne, but by using the mouse you can get her to repeat and re-order what she has said. You, in turn, play with what she says, creating an even quirkier poetry of the everyday. There’s no animation, no collage, you simply choose to watch and listen to someone speak. You can even make her disappear and just read or listen to what she’s got to say. All she requires is that you be with her for a time.

There’s quite a lot of reading on offer on these CD-ROMs, though the kinds of reading experiences vary. Something like Jean-Louis Boissier’s exquisite Flora Petrinsularas needs an hour. It’s like reading a precious book in which words become flesh. The text comprises sixteen quotations from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Confessions. You move from sexual encounters between 18th Century characters in Quick Time movies—breasts, faces, delicate clothing in surprisingly fine images—to a catalogue of plants in nature to close up specimens of the same that press against the screen. The urge to touch is irresistible. Who said we were mousebound? This one requires patience and a delicate hand. If you push too hard, you’ll just find yourself back with the relentless lapping of water over pebbles that lies behind every image and you’ll miss the eroticism of the work. Again, the human figures exert a personal directness—gazing into your eyes, flushed with near orgasm in a QuickTime loop of heavy breathing. Only when you think you encounter perhaps too obvious a connection between woman and nature do you feel the pull to another machine.

Eric Lanz,  Manuskript  (Switzerland/Germany, 1994)

Eric Lanz, Manuskript (Switzerland/Germany, 1994)

You can read Erik Lanz’ delicate Manuskript like a visual encyclopaedia. It’s a collection of small images of hand tools that first look like rows of words until you move in closer, clicking on each tool to get a small movie with the sound of the object performing its function. That’s it. But what a pleasure as the everyday object and its sound and movement become epiphany

Bill Seaman offers a similar intense proximity to the object, though he also takes in roads, buildings and landscapes (even then miniaturising them). In his The Exquisite Mechanism of Shivers, Seaman hands over the controls to a Chomskyan generator of sentences and a string of objects in shifting juxtaposition, which you in turn can play with.

The word is firmly and playfully with us again in Felix Hude’s Haiku Dada. You conjure up a classical haiku in delicate woodblock print settings by capturing, with a move and click, a dragonfly, a falling leaf, or a passerby. Or you can call up the personal files of the cartoon host, Ichi Ni San, a sumo wrestler (“Rank: Behind the Curtain”), his female friend (“Degree in Education; Degree in French Literature; Wish: White wedding, Sydney Opera House”) and his dog (“Variety: Cute”), or visit them floating around in a spaceship and shooting out haiku doggerel. From a bag of lines, you can make your own haiku. Animation and reading pleasures abound with a choice of interactive experiences.

Information is everywhere if you choose to read it. As well as lots of background from the artists on how and why the work was created, Bill Barminski’s De-Lux ’o gives you a mock training course in advertising. You move through the nostalgia of 40s and 50s products (“SubVert, the fish flavoured cereal”) packaged with surreal images, like the advertiser’s dream—a face with two mouths (“That guy with the two mouths, he would drink a lot of beer”). Brad Miller’s Digital Rhizome wittily extrapolates complex theory with multiple Quick Time movies (which you can stop-start—card shuffling, riots, curious helixes) but you can still have a great time without dipping into the Deleuze and Guattari passages (though the challenge is to do both).

Playfulness is everywhere at the MCA. Anti-Rom is a brisk fun parlour you are seduced to enter. A map of the heavens is home to stars like Jacqueline Onassis and Myra Hindley, the Moors murderer. Here you can get a little girl to pull a face and say something rude at one click and then something poetic like “Time sleeps in thunder”.

Like the Dutch Mediamatic contributions, these works are quick, rude grabs that subvert expectations and stretch the limits of mouse abuse.

Also for the speedy, the afore-mentioned Necro Enema from New York is a fast and insistent prayer for sexual liberation through interactivity: “I love you interactivity, my one and only proclivity.” The crude rhyming argument runs that if interactivity lives up to its promise then the speaker will give up molesting children and other deviant practices. Ironically, though, the work itself is not interactive. Once you’re in you’re in.

One of the demands of an exhibition like Burning the Interface is that as you move from ROM to ROM you have to learn a fresh set of usually simple rules, not hard but requiring some patience, quite a bit of laterality and, again, time. Michael Buckley’s The Swear Club yells, “The way inside a house is usually through the door!” until you click on the door. Once inside, you are in the company of cursing children, old people talking about falling and forgetting. There’s some nice play with silhouettes which reminds you there was a time pre-cinema (engagingly on show in the Phantasmagoriaexhibition in the next room).You work your way in, feel where you connect if you do at all. With the pressures of time, an audience watching you fumble your way in, it’s easy to get impatient with The Swear Club and that’s not the fault of the artist.

Cybercultures at The Performance Space Gallery, is like walking into a Japanese pop playground. At first sight, it’s all primary colours—Troy Innocent’s Jawpan and Techno Digesto Fetishism, created with Elena Poppa, use dense, rich colours and Potato Man graphics. Martine Corompt’s Sorry (part of a larger CD-ROM project called The Cute Machine) offers a fight to the death with four cute cartoon characters on a giant children’s toy. You don’t click, you hit and stomp. Patricia Piccinini’s Your Sperm Our Egg Our Expertise invites you to cost the mutation of your own computer-animated baby and then to take in her fleshy mutant innard images on the wall. In the corner Josephine Starr and Leon Cmielewski’s User Unfriendly Interface pulls the rug on your sensibilities, a very clever relative of some of the speedier CD-ROMs at MCA. Cybercultures is a curious mix of the straight interactive experience, the old gallery pleasure of looking at things on walls, and a bit of real physical engagement. It points towards a multi-experience ‘gallery’ of the future, a rich playground of dark themes and critical ideas behind a techno-pop exterior.

The MCA’s Burning the Interface, on the other hand, although of the sit-down-and-interact variety, poses even more significant questions about interactivity and the future of the gallery experience. Revelations from the CD-ROM experience include the power of the word on the screen, the variety of reading experiences, emerging new forms of the book, a more alarming and seductive intimacy than that offered by the movies, simple interactivity that can be profoundly pleasing, the sheer inventiveness of the artists. Despite impatience in many quarters, the mouse and the CD-ROM (or whatever replaces it) still offer a wealth of experience fast and funny or reflective and deep(in the layering of choice). Interactivity in the form of CD-ROM may only be an interregnum between cinema and something else, but Burning the Interface suggests a rich experimental domain drawing together image, film, video, sound, the word and the book with new ways of reading, scanning and choosing. How best we should enjoy these new pleasures and how galleries will accommodate us as audience and participators is right on the agenda.

Burning the Interface, curated by Mike Leggett and Linda Michael, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, March 27-July 14; Cybercultures, curated by David Cranswick and Kathy Cleland for Street Level, The Performance Space Gallery, Sydney, March 21-April 13; Luc Courchesne, Hall of Shadows, part of No Exit, curated by Victoria Lynn, Art Gallery of NSW, May 22-June 30

RealTime issue #13 June-July 1996 pg. 23

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

“The differences that count the same—the ones that, in themselves do not add up to, or make, any difference—are a matter of indifference to us. But can the same be said of assertions of indifference?.” Timothy Bahti

In his forum paper Utopia: Coming or Not, John Potts outlined a number of relational scenarios (conceptual, historical and aesthetic) between modernist technological utopias and contemporary administered information culture. The question might be as simple as this: “Compare and contrast the technological utopias of Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Futurist F.T. Marinetti”. Or as complex as: “In what ways did the Utopian Socialism of Fourier, Saint-Simon and Owens influence the will to action and community of the historical avant gardes. How have the concepts of messianic pathos (Benjamin) and heterotopic epistemes (Foucault) changed our attitudes to progress—social, intellectual and technological?”

The Historical avant gardes—blending art, theatre, architecture and music into ‘model’ communities and performances—provided a working model of an aestheticised life-world. Problem is, the National Socialists and also Hollywood stole the blue-print. They made it happen bigger, better and faster.

Potts is certainly correct in drawing a line between Marinetti and Gates on the issue of ownership and copyright. Both travelled the world spreading the good word and their respective claims to authorship and extended franchise. The technological dreams may have changed dramatically, but the “will to dominate” reads as all too familiar, both then and now.

The forum became more fruitful when—leaving aside the ‘bit players’ of speed and hybrid communication, we shifted into discussion about terminology, etymology and history. Utopia—Dystopia? What’s the difference? Nothing. Today, conceptual oppositions dissolve into a relational flux (the affirmative deconstruction of the history of ideas demands it). Good for a moment or two of speaking or writing this or that. Then subject to cancellation. An ideological fix is installed when conceptual dyads are set up, naturalised and given fixed tenure.

A quick example: the Apollonian/Dionysian distinction has been thoroughly abused by those seeking to glorify the ‘participatory’ excesses of certain media while assigning poor Apollo to shifty scientists and technocrats. Problem is, as Nietzsche clearly pointed out in The Birth of Tragedy, we have need of lies, dreams, illusion, Hamlet and delay—lest we perish of Truth (to live life at its ultimate extremity which is, dare I say, a hyperbolic limit).

John Conomos relieved the congestion around the prime word topos by suggesting that a more critical relational matrix—of objects and concepts—requires an engagement with particulars that bypasses the subjugation of conceptual regimes. Utilising a Derridean ‘opposition’ (derived from Aristotle) between topos and chora (logical space versus sacred personal space). Conomos suggested—to me at least—that certain forms of new media work us over faster than we can think—that they are ‘across’ our understanding before we muster the conceptual force to render them ‘aesthetic objects’.

New Media Forum Four coincided with media artist Luc Courchesne’s visit to Australia and the installation of his interactive Hall of Shadows as part of the No Exit exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW. Katherine Byrd—co-producer of the Booth Project (a mutant photo booth), together with Courchesne and artist Rosemary Laing discussed their work on an artists panel as part of the same event.

RealTime issue #13 June-July 1996 pg. 26

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

Claire Hague, Clare Grant, Dean Walsh and Benjamin Grieve

Claire Hague, Clare Grant, Dean Walsh and Benjamin Grieve

Claire Hague, Clare Grant, Dean Walsh and Benjamin Grieve

At the beginning of our talk, Nikki Heywood shows me a series of photographs of the performers from Burn Sonata, realistically costumed and posed as a family group in front of a fire in a 44 gallon drum in a suburban backyard. The performance looks at the monstrous in us and in domestic violence in particular. I’d just been to see Hilary Bell’s emotionally and morally demanding play Wolf Lullaby at The Stables (Griffin Theatre Company) in which a nine year old murders a younger child.

KG Your work has a rich symbolic power, archetypal female figures and chains of metaphor like the human-insect analogy in Creatures Ourselves. This new work looks like a leap into something more social, more literal.

NH I don’t see it as a departure. I think Creatures grew out of a big question I had about how women use their power and transferred that into looking at insects and at human beings as creatures. Women have occupied a place of no power and, given power, there’s something very terrifying that happens. It’s an area people like Camille Paglia have looked at, and she has proven very unpopular with a lot of feminists. But I think it could bear a lot of further investigation. I was looking at what we consider to be monstrous and how we relate to it, and whether or not we place it inside or outside ourselves. At that time there was a lot in the media about serial killers. Like a lot of people, I am very interested in that impulse to kill.

I’d been thinking about my father and the fact that I’d decided I didn’t want to see him again for quite a long time, if ever. Then I heard that he was in hospital having an operation. Of course, it called on my sense of guilt and of duty as a daughter. I sat thinking, well, if I go to the hospital and visit him, what will happen? I imagined him lying in bed, and I imagined him on a life support system, which of course he wasn’t because it wasn’t that serious. But that was the image I had and I just let the story run. And the story went that I walked into the room, felt nothing for him and switched off his life support system. At that moment, I thought “That’s really satisfying. That would just complete something for me, to do that. Okay, I know I could kill someone”. And I remembered I had dreams about killing my father when I was a child.

KG Archetypal father or actual father?

NH The actual father. I’m not alone in that. There are a many people who’ve had that difficulty with one or other of their parents. A lot of murders happen in families. But the interesting thing is, it’s very hard to find a case where a daughter murders her father. And that seemed to me to be like a big taboo. Even in Greek mythology, I still haven’t really found the story. The father is God. If the daughter, in terms of hierarchy, was to turn the tables and to kill God, what happens?

KG I’m curious about the naturalism of the photo images you’re showing me.

NH Well, the inclination’s there and I’m trying to subvert it and find other than naturalistic ways to occupy the performing space that re-create that energy of violence, of dysfunction. When we’re not functioning well as adults we all occupy again the place of the child. There’s a schism created for us through a childhood experience, and that experience will continue to operate out of that fracture, in some way or another, until we find a way of resolving it.

KG When Open City performed Promiscuous Spaces: Table Talk at A Progressive Dinner, (The Performance Space, April) I spoke about my obsessive horror-story-telling behaviour at the dinner table, about how here I am at 50 behaving like someone who was traumatised at an early age. But it wasn’t a big one-off trauma. At one performance, because the work is semi-improvised, I suddenly invoked Sartre’s notion of serial trauma, of recurrent events (like a decade of family rows over meals) that cumulatively shape the psyche.

NH I thought I might look at what happens when a child tells a story or does a drawing, the act of transference where they become another character or an animal. One of the performers, Claire Hague, has worked as a visual artist, so I’ve been talking to her about it especially since in the performance she occupies my place as a child, that place of no power, in a sense, like that of the youngest daughter.

Lucy Bell and Tara Morice in Wolf Lullaby

Lucy Bell and Tara Morice in Wolf Lullaby

Lucy Bell and Tara Morice in Wolf Lullaby

KG In Wolf Lullaby, as soon as you enter the theatre you see the walls that surround you are covered in a dense child’s blackboard scrawl along with the erased shape of a wolf. The child is a murderer. Her parents are not oppressive, they just have no idea what their daughter is, no way of responding to her ‘cries for help’—her nightmares are ‘comfortingly’ dismissed. They haven’t created a monster, they’ve got one. Of course, sooner or later they suspect the ‘monstrous’ is in them, that their daughter has inherited it. But there is no genetic or psychological consolation from the writer for either the parents or the audience. Because the parents share a kind of bland optimism, a belief in childhood innocence, they both figuratively and literally don’t see the writing on the wall. The moment when the child, played by Lucy Bell, furiously draws a wolf on the wall, is truly frightening. I haven’t been frightened by anything in conventional theatre for years.

NH I don’t want the space to be cluttered with drawings. I want it to be meaner than that.

KG It helps the stage play because it’s a real challenge to convey the enormity of the child’s vision, the wolf which she both is and fears, without resorting to too many words or a symbolic poetry. It’s a beautifully spare text.

NH What do you as a child do when you recognise that you’re living with a monster, whether its yourself or a parent? Can you recognise the monstrous for what it is?

KG It’s bound up with affection and the desire to love the parents. When I performed Photoplay in 1988, a work about my relationship with my emotionally tyrannical mother it was a very difficult experience even though she was long dead. The work turned out to be an exorcism-in-progress.

NH Jean/Lucretia (1995), my work about my grandmother was a very private, personal thing, a lament. That’s when I started to recognise that I really don’t feel I can make work until it rises almost like some sort of bubble. The fact that it’s about my family is not pre-determined. It’s just that it’s happening.

KG Your work is very distinctive, it doesn’t read as Butoh even though your training is in that area through the Body Weather ‘school’ of Min Tanaka. Is Burn Sonata going to combine the archetypal power of your work with the everyday? I’m back at the naturalism issue again.

NH What happens in ordinary life is far more extraordinary than what we create as high art. That was what interested me in Meg Stuart’s dance work at the Adelaide Festival.

KG A Sydney choreographer said to me that Stuart’s dancers weren’t sufficiently in their bodies!

NH The total opposite was the case for me. I felt that I was in their bodies half the time. I noticed that one of the dancers had worked with Min Tanaka. I made a decision a couple of years ago that I wasn’t interested in doing Butoh anymore but Body Weather training is based on everyday sensations and movements. It allows you to access conditions and states on a physical level and transfer that into a work where you’re dealing with a sort of realism. It’s like taking a microscope to the real, or accelerating it by using a different speed, or by amplifying it.

KG You have had some classical vocal training on and off for a couple of years, you perform with the Cafe at the Gate of Salvation gospel choir and you work with sound designer Garry Bradbury. Lately in Sydney it’s been exhilarating to hear the voice emerging in performance works you usually expect to be physical and silent. The vocal work in Creatures Ourselves and Jean/Lucretia was both natural and heightened.

NH Body Weather doesn’t really address the voice, but I think it has influenced my approach to the voice. I feel I’m just scratching the surface. Sound is a fundamental part of the way I construct the imagination of the performance. Garry Bradbury is someone I’ve found who I can work with in a very intuitive way. I talk to him about the thematic content of the work and he invariably has a connection with it. We were working on Jean/Lucretia and I was talking about my grandmother’s house and her pianola and my childhood relationship with it. He’s really fascinated with pianolas so he’s looking at ‘deconstructing’ a pianola and making new rolls based on electronic and possibly vocal sound. The performers have great voices and I’ll want to use them too.

KG With words?

NH I’m not sure how much. I’m just beginning to write text, another surprising development, another way of working. The subject matter is such a juicy area: what is the relationship between the archetypal and the real. The older I get, the more fertile that territory becomes. I remember talking to a psychologist years ago, who said your late 30s, early 40s is actually when the unconscious starts to really become…well, no longer so separate. The dreams get stronger, and anything that’s not resolved actually becomes bigger.

KG You can resolve it through your art?

NH I think you can.

Nikki Heywood, Burn Sonata, with Claire Hague, Tony Osborne, Benjamin Grieve, Clare Grant, Dean Walsh, sound design by Garry Bradbury, The Performance Space, July 25-August 4.

RealTime issue #13 June-July 1996 pg. 30

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

Momix,  Baseball

Momix, Baseball

Momix, Baseball

At its best, there’s something attractive about American humour. In Baseball and Passion, two works by Moses Pendleton, performed by Momix, there are enough salient cues for events to coincide with personal biases, even if at first glance the images in the program act like warning signs. Clueless gum chewing ball players strike facile poses with bats. Perfectly linear, rigorously symmetrical groups of dancers threaten to paralyse the imagination. Nervousness overtook me until I read a quotation from Woody Allen, also included in the program, “I love baseball, you know it doesn’t have to mean anything, it’s just very beautiful to watch.” I was relieved with this more comfortably oblique perspective.

In both works there’s an unexpectedly rigorous interior texture, a tang of spirituality, a sacredness of sorts. Profuse images cluster, working to create dense, open-ended iconographic histories which speak about the dimensions of a tart spirit manifesting itself in the profane cultures of everyday human endeavour. Take an apparently sweepingly simple and familiar passion for a game of baseball, and if you care to follow this line of thinking, it turns out to be part of the same deep well from which spring other mystical and unfathomable aspects of human civilisation which follow us from the ancient into the contemporary world. In Passion, sexual fervour, death, struggle and ecstatic religious immolation are made of this same stuff.

An important feature of both works is the layering over live performance of projected slow fading images on a scrim which together capture expansive cosmological perspectives. In Baseball, we see ancient, ‘graven’ images and monuments like Stonehenge overlaying the vivid and live spirit of the pitch on stage; corpulent female Venus figures (described sometimes as homo sapiens’ first object of worship); bat and ball images, banal and serious, are conspicuously genital—a girl in a half-shell; a ball nestles egg-like in a baseball glove, simultaneously vulval and phallic. We see performers regress to a 2001 scene, exercising an atavistic pleasure in hitting soft squashy things with long hard things. We see emblematic crossed bats; Moses with his commandments, the set of rules for the game; film star images, Humphrey Bogart, Babe Ruth; American Indian warrior images; beer-can culture; the Stars and Stripes Forever; a dance within pliable and perfectly balanced double arches set to Arvo Pärt’s Stabat Mater (Stood the Mother, full of grief), and militaristic synchronised bat play. One woman’s Sufi-like spinning solo is able, with immaculate simplicity, to draw us into an understanding of that peculiar kind of devotion.

Nations develop civil religions whose liturgy and iconography are capable of sustaining a range of meanings for devotees, because the symbolism, though intensely religious, is not from any orthodox faith, but typically taps primal or ancient sources. Moses Pendleton’s Baseball shows us all the hallmarks. Civil religion in the US is grounded in the Constitution, directed at binding the individual to the state, “One nation under god”. Virtues are civil ones: physical strength, skill, team spirit. No religious spirit celebrates any God Out There, but exultant humanity right here in the world of competition, politics, finance, dirt, fame, greed, sex, beauty, pain, and skill, and the damp meditative autumnal (should that be fall) afternoons spent tossing a ball around in the wet leaves. This, an insipid but perfect closing image of Baseball, brings that spirit home, binding it to a place which is fundamentally American, even in its own self-mockery.

The immediately spiritual images of Passion take us unhesitatingly to Shiva, Indian god of the universe and lord of the dance, a huge branching tree, the teeming ardent struggle of organic life, the passionate attachment of nerve and cell, fierce, microcosmic vortex of pistil and stamen, flower and insect, vultures in a dead tree, ginseng root—a human image—folds of cerebral cortex, decomposing flesh, war, medieval images of flagellation and ecstasy, monastic penance, repetitive, extreme and peculiar. The passion of a bride, whether of Christ or man, comes to us bare breasted, swathed in tulle. There is a profound eroticism in all of this, from the images of Italian renaissance women, tiny winged cupids with dimpled legs, to the huge mechanical clock marking the passage of both cyclic and linear time.

Neither frail, brittle nor pre-pubescent, the women’s bodies have a more flagrant aesthetic independence not so familiar to Australian mainstream dance. An apparent maturity and succulence seems to walk all over quaint narrow female images we have unfortunately come to expect, and embarrassingly, to think of as erotic. These dancers show no signs of physical struggle, they make no slips, they have immense facility, they are perfectly attuned. Meanwhile, the choreographic designs are surprisingly so foursquare, repetitive, turn-taking, linear, and peculiarly literal as to make me wonder why their dimensions do not feel more circumscribed. Such are the illusions, farcical and sophisticated, which are created with meticulous precision. You need a soft focus on these images for them to do their work.

Momix (U.S.), Baseball and Passion, conceived and directed by Moses Pendleton, Sydney Dance Company, Sydney Opera House, May 2-9.

RealTime issue #13 June-July 1996 pg. 36

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

Is it possible to talk about first, second, third generation contemporary choreographers in Australia—what constitutes a generation? At Dancehouse’s Great Escapes—two week-ends of continuous dancing, one event following another for up to four hours—generations came and went. There were the subtly skilled bodies of trained dancers and ex-company dancers—Dianne Reid and Rochelle Carmichael—doing sinuous solos or showing the work of their fledgling companies. There were the frisky bodies of Al Wunder’s studio in Five Square Metres. There were the modern dancers still stretching fabric and making elegant gestures (Arches of Desire and Mind the Gap) and there were the intensely Butoh and psychological, Tony Yap again. Others bordering on the edge between the banal and the truly funny, Suit, and still more.

Dancehouse is meeting a real need for independent dancers, or dancers in general, to have a place to show work and to meet one another in a polyglot and non-judgmental environment. The newly polished jarrah floor of this old building shone more than some of the works but then the mobile crowd came and went with enthusiasm for what they saw. It’s cheap and diverse and the format does allow dancers to tease a little and test a little. I missed Jane Refshauge’s solo but was told it had a focus on inner listening which was quite foreign to the refinements of a younger generation. One of my favourites was Steven Pease’s monologue in the midst of Yap’s A Little Escape into the Subterranean; no dancing, but standing still he took us on a rapid journey from kitchen table to maggots, worms, urethra and Vikings—far more grotesque than the other sweaty bodies around him. Perhaps the ultimate escape was Breaking Free of Human Bondage in which Andrew Casey, pinned to a ganchion on the brick wall, hurled himself at the audience while his dog was tied to a pillar in the yard outside, barking wildly. On the first performance the rope broke, nearly demolishing the front row of spectators wrapped in their blankets. The second night audience missed the return visit.

RealTime issue #13 June-July 1996 pg. 36

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

Lisa O’Neill

Lisa O’Neill

When over 100 people braved the recent Brisbane downpours and subsequent floods to attend the launch of the Cherry Herring, somehow it wasn’t all that surprising. After the success of the Crab Room last year, the continuation of its spirit of experimentation in a new venue, with a larger group of core artists, was more or less guaranteed to renew the interest of an already supportive community. The new space adjoins the Council Bus Depot in the Valley, which at one time housed a drag racing association. Cherry Heering is one of the many liqueurs depicted in the wallpaper behind the old bar, hence the title Cherry Herring. The potential for such quirky intertextual exploration makes 1062 Ann Street a particularly interesting site for those artists involved—Shaaron Boughen, John Utans, Jean Tally, Avril Huddy, Lisa O’Neill, Julieanne Hansen, Tony Kishawi, Brian Lucas, Gail Hewton, Helen Leeson, Sonia Fletcher and Susan Lewis.

Politically, this may seem like a curatorial nightmare, with all twelve artists sharing the financial responsibilities for the lease of the space. Yet it was the financial burden upon the four artists who initiated and administered the Crab Room that contributed to its eventual dissolution. At the moment though, this group of artists seems to be honeymooning; there’s an atmosphere of harmony and conviviality as they urge each other towards new creative possibilities. Cherry Herring’s manifesto states as one of its objectives: “To encourage and facilitate the creation of an environment which rigorously embraces and embodies risk, experiment, research, discussion, and debate about artistic practice and application”. The artists are more explicitly united in all being quite specifically dance-based. There is a definite openness to other art forms however, as the emphasis is on the more expansive notion of ‘performance’, as opposed to dance as such.

This broader understanding is echoed by Lisa O’Neill, one of the collective. Lisa has two ‘families’ ; the Suzuki-influenced FRANK Productions, under the strong artistic direction of Jacqui Carroll and John Nobbs, and the flexible, democratic Cherry Herring. “My main focus at the moment is evolving as a performer,” she says. “So my pieces are a vehicle for increasing my awareness of my relationship with the audience, which is something that comes out of working with FRANK. And since working with FRANK, I’ve discovered and developed another level of my own solo work. I feel like I work the audience differently. And I suppose it’s the difference of going from ‘dancer’ to ‘performer’. There’s much more to it than dancing in a space.”

Lisa has created her own movement vocabulary out of a self-imposed rule to work away from conventional dance techniques. “It wasn’t a conscious rejection of anything, it was just honest. People say my work is pretty odd, but I get that from trying to find different physical connections,” she reflects. “Through the last few solos I’ve done, I have built up a character, and she’s full of contradictions. And I find that in a lot of ways she reflects who I am, which is a bit scary.” In the forthcoming inaugural season at the Cherry, Tanked, Lisa will be revisiting her performance persona, although in this incarnation the movement will be more aggressive. Yety in e minor is a continuation of sweet yety, the solo Lisa stomped her way through last year at the Crab Room’s first season. It is fitting then, that the work has been extended in a fresh context, while essentially bridging the two performance spaces.

An obvious marine fixation has already bridged the venues with respect to title, and this was playfully celebrated at the opening of the Cherry Herring. Each artist designed a unique fish tank for the event in a comic representation of the group’s name, sushi was served, and the members of the Cherry were wearing cherry red ensembles. There were also snippets of works in the making for the Tanked season. Despite this, there is no definite theme for Tanked. For instance, Shaaron Boughen is reworking a piece she originally choreographed for Wendy Houston when she was completing her Master of Arts in London. Shaaron wanted to return to a work which held creative significance for her in a particular time and place and try to reshape it in a movement conversation with a different performer in this new space.

Not all of the artists involved are presenting work in this season, and because of the size of the collective there is less pressure for them to do so. Jean Tally comments, “Instead of a few artists continually generating work, there is more space for the individual”. Brian Lucas agrees, “I think just the physical fact of having so many people involved means that the work can be spread around, so we will be able to do as many if not more performances”. There is also more space for workshop series, classes and forums, because of the different backgrounds, capacities and interests of the members of the group.

Perhaps the Cherry Herring will prove more difficult to manage than the Crab Room, but the potential for the space is clear. Building on the enthusiasm of the Crab Room but diffusing that enthusiasm through many different courses, the Cherry Herring will be, as it purports, “a major venue for emerging and established artists, offering a local focus for the creation, development, rehearsal and presentation of original performance based work”.

RealTime issue #13 June-July 1996 pg. 37

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

No Time Like the Present, Wendy McPhee

No Time Like the Present, Wendy McPhee

No Time Like the Present, Wendy McPhee

On paper it looks neat—three collaborators, three weeks, three subjects. But the tapestry these three threes weave together is richer than a simple braid. The working process to create No Time Like The Present, a collaboration of dance and design by Ruth Hadlow, Wendy McPhee and Cate O’Brien involved a complicated layering of necessity, risk and ideas, of intuition, structure and invention. Wendy, a feisty, explosive dancer brought an energising serving of necessity and intuition. She works from her kinetic intelligence, responding in movement to deeply felt imperatives. Ruth, ostensibly a “designer” is actually someone who is not afraid to get her hands dirty. She doesn’t decorate the work, she instigates, probes and designs it in the sense of devising. Her contribution to the working process of No Time Like the Present is another vital triple: “structure, hope and faith”. Cate makes the bridge between Ruth’s measured and optimistic approach and Wendy’s rush of expression. Although used to dancing in formalist work, depending on her very reliable and developed technique, Cate says calmly that when asked to do improvisation which may or may not have an outcome and to try a bit of “gush” dancing to Patsy Cline she was “willing to take the risk”. Audacity with equilibrium and a sense of perspective. And so the three were able to work together in a tightly structured and emotionally fraught three weeks to create No Time Like the Present, a work which started with a lot of ideas, developed into even more ideas and then filtered itself down to three: time, speed, and change. And in the end, while the finished work looks at these subjects from the point of view of time passing in decades, of the dizzying speed of the world, of the changes in society, the three collaborators agree, it’s also about their lives, and even about this working process. It’s a piece about time they wanted more time to make. A piece about speed that was made fast enough. And a piece about change that keeps changing. The working process created a finished work, but also the beginning of the performing process in which they have to balance, and wave and risk their way around Tasmania, ever updating their intentions within the piece and bringing it into their own time, which, certainly there is no time quite like.

No Time Like the Present is a dance and design collaboration by Ruth Hadlow, Wendy McPhee, and Cate O’Brien currently touring Tasmania. Karen Pearlman is co-artistic director of Tasdance

RealTime issue #13 June-July 1996 pg. 37

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

In 1994, Jude Walton was invited to develop work as an artist-in-residence at the Queen’s College, University of Melbourne, in the neo-Gothic Tower Studio. In turn, she invited choreographers Sandra Parker and Trevor Patrick, writers Jackie Dunn and Mark Minchinton and cinematographer Brendan Lavelle to work with her around the broad thematic constellation of knowing and bodies. Material generated from that time and space is now being reworked for a week of performances in July, in a very different space: the George Ballroom in St. Kilda, a weathered Neo-Baroque dance hall ghosted by its pasts and possible futures.

Dance:Text:Film emerges from questions that seek to recognise epistemological ‘gaps’, spaces in-between self and other, presence and absence, remembering and forgetting. These spaces in-between are the sites of desire and its corollary, fiction. What follows is a collage of fragments by Jude Walton and Mark Minchinton, written during the development process.

* * * *

Desire comes as a realisation, a perception, as it were as the result of a mental operation which has now entered into the system of desire. The erotic, one might say, is the intelligence of the body. It is the body become sentient and self-aware by way of the other. Peter Brooks, Body Work

* * * *

I said, “Who’s missing? Someone’s missing”.
You said, “There’s always someone missing”.

Is it only in absence that we know another? Given that incorporation is both act and condition of experience, how do we know intimately through the ‘body’ through the ‘mind’? The knowing that stems from incorporation is acquired through accretion, translation, accumulation of ‘fact’, evidence observed, experienced, collated, sifted…but in the end what do we know? And what is this inherently insatiable desire to know another—to ‘hold their mind in your hand’? These are some of the questions.

When we speak we communicate more than we can know. But more important is what we seek to omit, to withhold. What are these selves that could have been, and in withholding them what do we gain and lose?

I feel we continually rebuild our reality to suit our wishes and desires. As Leif Finkel says in an article on the construction of perception, “our cortex makes up little stories about the world, and softly hums them to us to keep us from getting scared at night”.

The reflection of the fields in the glass of the train window remind me of another time. A time known only in motion. The sense of going forward to another place, another me, and I invent my life, what it will become.

This project brings together the differing languages of dance, text and film to investigate how knowledge is generated and conveyed from body to body, from soul to soul. I think it creates an unstable patchwork, a shadowy narrative of desire between the performers, a world at the cusp of appearance and disappearance. At various times information is accumulated, concealed, transformed or deleted to reveal relationships that remain forever potential and therefore, in a way, forever unknown.

What is the place of absence? Where is it we are when we’re not (t)here? Who do we become when we are not present? And should a fireman come to us, wearing helmet and boots, would we know how to respond? Would we go with him, accept the state of emergency, or sit dumbfounded and questioning, wondering if we had heard the sirens, and if not, questioning their absence? What is a fireman? And why do fires need to be put out?

The structure of the work is conversational, nomadic, looping back on itself and making tangential excursions. It exists as a collection of small, individual moments which hopefully, as Walter Benjamin suggested, act as “crystals from which can be read or inferred the shape of the total event”. Audiences are invited to participate in an unravelling and understanding of the circumstances, “to grasp the epoch from the small symptoms of the surface”, as Horkheimer has said. To make their own fictions of what real-ly happens.

At sunset, in those moments of fading, when I try to see what I think should be there, where have you gone? And at sunrise when the light slowly reveals you, why don’t I feel surprised?

Jude Walton’s Dance:Text:Film will be performed by Sandra Parker, Trevor Patrick, Jackie Dunn, Mark Minchinton and Jude Walton at the George Ballroom, Fitzroy Street, St. Kilda, 16-21 July, as part of the Green Mill Dance Project 1996.

RealTime issue #13 June-July 1996 pg. 38

© David Williams (Melb); for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Fieldworks,  Rites of Passage

Fieldworks, Rites of Passage

Fieldworks, Rites of Passage

In 1995 Stefano Tele spent five weeks as a teacher in the Ausdance Outreach program which travelled to the north-west of Australia. He was subsequently asked back to take up week-long residencies at Woodstock (a remote community near Kalumburu) in November 1995 and August 1996. Stefano explains to Tony Osborne how he came to be a dancing success with young people not normally exposed to Western performance dance forms.

TO Ausdance were excited that you’d been invited back after the initial Outreach program because someone in the remote communities—not necessarily involved in the arts—had recognised the value and the benefits of the workshops you gave as a potential catalyst for transformation for some of their people.

ST I only worked with kids and they varied from pre-primary through year seven to high-school. Being there for a whole week as opposed to doing a one-off workshop was important.

TO How do you think your teaching practice and your performance work inform each other?

ST You have to be able to impart the information in a way that is not too esoteric. For instance, if I’m doing a one-off class, if I don’t know the students and I’m not sure how they’re going to take the material, I’ll use my warm-up to gauge what step to take next. I found that the kids in remote communities were so shy at first that I had to coax them to do things. They like to see what you can do first. So I improvised a little show with a talking drum. Once they saw me turning drum rhythms into movement the little kids started copying me. Then the older kids followed as the enthusiasm infected the group. It taught me an invaluable lesson in how to change my teaching style and not allow myself to be too limited by a rigid program. I can use that experience to change the direction of a workshop if I need to.

TO Do you regard yourself as predominantly a teacher or as a performer?

ST I would say a performer. I studied performance at the Victorian College of the Arts and my teaching skills were acquired at Two Dance Plus, a West Australian dance-in-education company. Since I left Two Dance Plus teaching has provided employment between performances.

TO I’ve noticed a real ease in the way you move in performance as well as the comedic aspect you bring to your work—a strong theatrical element. You seem very comfortable with a sense of the ridiculous and with satirical material such as your collaboration with Jon Burtt during Dancers Are Space Eaters at PICA and In the Blue Room last year.

ST Sometimes people take themselves too seriously. An anatomy teacher once told me that its good to twitch…as an antidote to the highly technical training I was receiving at the time. She saw dance, especially classical, as a form that was detrimental to the body and I believe that there’s got to be a balance.

TO Do you think your ethnic background was an element in the connection you made with the kids up north—not another white-fella coming in to show them how its all done?

ST One foot in the door, so to speak. I was born in Western Samoa and my parents emigrated to New Zealand when I was about three. I came to Australia in 1985.

TO How did dance come to figure in your life?

ST Basically to curb my hyperactivity. But in my culture everybody dances and in a lot of ceremonies as well. If a visiting group comes to the community, then a performance will be staged and the men will be part of it. When my family realised I was doing white-man’s dancing, such as classical and modern, they were really surprised. My cousins have only had a tiny exposure to white-man’s dance.

TO Does white-man’s dance appear to be a career rather than something that you do culturally? Was that the significance of their surprise?

ST They couldn’t understand why I would want to do that. If I had become an actor it would have been quite different. Exposure to TV ensures that they would be quite familiar with what actors do, but not so with dancers.

TO What was the importance of the dance you took to the remote north-west as opposed to the dance people there experience as part of their community activities?

ST What I took to those communities was my ‘zest for life’, trying to impart in different ways that the dance I do is very important to me. I taught some of the kids to play the talking drum or played footy or basketball with them as the only way of connecting them with the group. Rather than just doing the job, I interacted with them and became a small part of the community as well as being their teacher.

TO Do you think it was important for them that you are a ‘success’ in the white-man’s world through dance?

ST Because there is no role model here for Aboriginal kids, like the Bangarra Dance Company, I think it’s important for them to see that there are fields other than sport.

RealTime issue #13 June-July 1996 pg. 38

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

Meg Stuart and Damaged Goods

Meg Stuart and Damaged Goods

There are several days after a grand mal seizure in which you remain within the terrifying aura of the convulsion. During this period it is impossible to distinguish between the inner world emanating from your traumatised temporal lobes and the outer world, from which you can feel an overwhelming energy of aggression and anarchy. I have had to stop driving a car three days after a fit because it is filled with a mixture of shouts I cannot quite decipher and an unbearably loud low-pitched hum. I look out the window and the actions not only of people but of traffic seem fragmented and lacking the comfort of cause and effect.

Meg Stuart and Damaged Goods’ No-One Is Watching takes place in such an epileptic world. The psyche, the society, the civilisation has been seized and is convulsing. Attempts are made by one or occasionally two of the figures within to connect with another, to express an emotion which has something to do with tenderness. Unfortunately, at the time, the intended receiver is not watching, possessed by a force that has little to do with love.

I came to No-One Is Watching with Vertov’s film Man With A Camera and Pierre Henry’s extraordinary musique concrete accompaniment fresh in mind. Like Stuart, Vertov fragmented his world—in his case, in camera and in editing. There feels (and almost is) a century difference between them, however. Vertov’s fragmentation was his way of capturing the sheer energy of the early Soviet state. Stuart’s fragmentation is the condition of a civilisation lying twitching on what Heiner Muller has called “these despoiled shores”. Similarly, Vincent Malstaf’s composition for No-One Is Watching is Pierre Henry forty years down the track—electronic, sampling, looping, nothing ever quite starting, nothing ever quite finishing, nothing distinct, epileptic.

This is what Jenny Kemp described in a forum as the landscape of the psyche. Bleak in its depiction, extraordinary to watch. The tiniest everyday gestures repeated reveal here not the inner resonances of Kemp’s work but become the obsessive ingredients of a diseased state that gradually and always inevitably spreads throughout the entire group. And there is an inexorability to the rhythm. If the group was ever able to find some sense of physical unity (and this was always in pain or obsession and usually without any individual recognising the others) there was always one individual who broke the pattern, who became preoccupied with another state of being. This is nothing new in movement choreography. But here the power lay in the fact that the very actions that the individual was setting up in contradistinction to the group so often became the seeds for the next wave of disease that spread throughout. There is it seems no way out and the entrapment here lies in the very form of group dance structure itself.

The dance for me was at its most powerful either in the fragments of states of being when no complete image was achieved or in the moments of suspension of action when the stage was filled with the memory of past events, or with the threat of what was to come—most of the company standing, sitting or lying, witnessing in the movement of one of them the seeds of their destruction. It was least interesting when dance became representational and traded off the audience’s empathy with what was being represented. It is always hard to watch madness being acted.

This is not dance as we used to know it. It is cruder, less abstract and more directly metaphoric than that. More power to it.

No-One Is Watching, Meg Stuart and Damaged Goods (U.S.), The Space.

RealTime issue #12 April-May 1996 pg. 15

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

Scene One. Exterior/Day. Canberra skies. 3D Cinema Sequence Five airforce jets. Formation manoeuvres. Inscribing the relentlessly grey skies of the nation’s pre-election capital with the expensively red blaze of technology linked with realtime earsplit audio. Multi-military-media.

Scene Two. Interior/Day. Canberra School of Art. Talking Heads Five artists. Computers, VCR, slides. Tattoos and viscera and the intolerable, elective physiognomies, mid-west bowling alley slide to homeless pages on the web, scanning the global telephone book of consciousness, research art, the owning of culture. Five different takes on the phenomenon of ‘multimedia’.

Hyperlink #5 Wallpaper graphics A forum on Artists and Interactive Multimedia organised by the Australian Network for Art and Technology as an adjunct to its National Summer School. A chance for the 14 students to connect their recently acquired practical skills in interactive mm to current cultural and intellectual debates. An opportunity for other artists, artsworkers and IT types to hear five exceptional creative innovators reveal the how and why wonder of their personal connexions to mm.

Hyperlink #7 The forum. Highly non-interactive. The form bearing the weight of 2000 years of the oratorial tradition. Audience required to be passive, quiet, still, patient. To still the present in order to contemplate the future. And yet there was something compelling about the Bodies with Organs, the experience of fleshmeet however formal, the tensions arising from artists with different cultural agendas, different philosophical bases.

Hyperlink #17 Visceral horizontal wipe. Linda Dement guides us through her dark interactive terrains of Typhoid Mary, CyberfleshGirlMonster and In My Gash, a long term project of a virtual space inside a wound. This artist exercises a fascistic control of technology to create a space where the unbearable can be made bearable. Melding flesh not deemed conventionally pretty to objects and organisms which are sharp, dangerous, perversely beautiful, malevolent, Dement slips through the screen, institutionalising herself, prescribing art as therapy . Hers is a highly blasphemous take on multimedia, defying the legislators who would stamp the future technologies with classifications cloned from The Difference Engine.

Hyperlink #24 Jump cut 3D anim. Enter the software artist, the nocturnal self-governing Aberrant Intelligence system whose various projects may be motivated by the desire to create a visual equivalent of music or an interest in seeing how scientific theories of earlier ages bumpmap onto our millennium-fevered minds. Jon Tonkin’s infinite falling squares streammorphed seamlessly into his interactive Elective Physiognomies. Now a series of pseudo gene portraits, now a gang of pseudo mug shots, challenging the player to contribute character assessments based on the purest of subjective responses to the faces . Then the tricky bit, the smartware adding each player’s ratings to the overall score for each mug on each test, spitting statistical updates politely. An oblique collision of science and art, quietly bent.

Hyperlink #32 Multiple video windows of Doctor Caligari’s Cabinet. Third download, artist and educator John Collette. This digital homeboy lacks a healthy reverence for the government money cow Molly Media, recalling that most enabling technologies have been novelties before finding a social value. Almost heretically he talks about transforming new media’s commercial impetus to things of ‘real benefit’. His take on connectivity links to cinema’s grand narratives, TV sitcoms’ ongoing pantomimes and the net as global phone book of consciousness . Through the low/ly bandwidth of the net we can participate and inject something of ourselves, as in Elizabethan theatre. I remember the Indonesian all night Wayang Kulut shadow theatre, shades of LambdaMoo’s living room on a bright night. The Collette mm take is redolent more of passion than profit, imagining a utopic interactivia rising from the ashes of infotainment.

Hyperlink #49 http://bowlingalley.walkerart.org Shu Lea Cheang takes the audience on a comedic tour of some of the cyberfringe zones, revealing her current project of digitalising herself. This nomad in spiralspace appears more interested in homeless pages and collaborations with artists and public to explore notions of access, power and infernal desire than pressing CD ROMs to make a million. From coin-operated video installations to her Eco-cybernoia feature film Fresh Kill, from the sophisticated filth of net-grown multi-authored texts triggered by live bowling alley punters to her gender-fuck and justice web project, Cheang constructs contexts for individuals to create their own adventures from elegantly dismembered narratives.

Hyperlink #56 Lyn Tune, digital pioneer, asks “how do we own culture?” She distinguishes between what she terms ‘research art’ and art that feeds into the commercial spheres of activity. Describing mm, Tune’s take is that in a small box an environment is created and people are put there. Her take on mm is also passionate, and pragmatic.

Transition fade to end cinema sequence. It may be more about alchemy and serendipity, than it is about data rates and platform reversioning.

The artist or interface designer who can create an intuitive front end evoking the economic elegance of a haiku to a multi-sensory digitally mediated experience becomes a cultural alchemist, transforming silicon into thought.

RealTime issue #12 April-May 1996 pg. 18

© Francesca da Rimini; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Anyone who uses on-line services as part of their daily work routine will understand the recurring tension between the value of patience and the lust for speed. Running a high performance modem with a late model computer is no guarantee that travelling the infobahn will be a smooth, economical and productive experience. More like a stop-start traffic jam than a freeway cruise, the negotiation of virtual space can be frustrating, even infuriating, but there’s the salt in the wound of commercial on-line rates to be endured as well. Touring the web for a day can cost almost as much as taking a guided tour of Sydney in a taxi. At this stage in its development the net, and particularly the web, is a place for people with money (presumably through some kind of employer subsidy in most cases), time, determination and patience and that is likely to be the case for some time to come as the technology struggles to keep pace with the needs and expectations of consumers. For although both Optus and Telstra are currently installing hybrid fibre-coax cabling in areas selected for pay TV delivery it is unlikely that the entire continent will be wired—either via cable or digital satellite delivery systems—before the end of the century.

Once the broadband infrastructure is in place, however, the nation will be overlayed with a sophisticated telecommunications grid which will redefine the nature of space, place, community and identity. William J. Mitchell, for example, in his book City of Bits: Space, Place and the Infobahn (1995) proposes a shift in the function of architecture and urban design to meet the needs of the information age:

In a world of ubiquitous computation and telecommunication, electronically augmented bodies, postinfobahn architecture, and big-time bit business, the very idea of a city is challenged and must eventually be reconceived. Computer networks become as fundamental to urban life as street systems. Memory and screen space become valuable, sought-after real estate. Much of the economic, social, political, and cultural action shifts into cyberspace.

Mitchell, Australian-born, is Professor of Architecture and Media Arts and Sciences and Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Like his colleague, MIT Director Nicholas Negroponte, Mitchell writes in short, sharp grabs which link the historical with the futuristic. He sees architecture as needing to redefine itself as a discipline capable of embracing the reconfigured nature of space, place and time which result from changes in communications technology and which compel society and individuals to negotiate the uncertainties presented by the electronic frontier. In cyberspace, Mitchell argues, the conventional relationship between community and territory is displaced. The notion of a “body of people living in one place, district, or country” becomes a geographically and culturally disparate group inhabiting the “soft city” of common interest defined by access to the virtual space comprised of computer code, software deployment and electronic connectivity.

Although the ‘information superhighway’ metaphor is already rather tired it is useful in considering some of the political implications of scenarios such as those presented by Mitchell, because of the curious relationship between transport and communications which Marcos Novak alludes to in his essay “Transmitting Architecture” in the on-line journal C-Theory.

The history of invention alternates between advances of transport and advances of communication, that is to say from transmitting the subject to transmitting the sign and presence of the subject, establishing a symbiosis of vehicles and media that leads from antiquity all the way to the present.

Just as the promotion of the convenience and status of individual ownership of automobiles belied the consequences for the nature and use of public space, the primacy of a fossil global economy and negative environmental outcomes, so too is the information age being characterised by a muteness in respect to the true value and potential dangers of the communications revolution. The construction of a virtual nation state existing within a corporatised, global superstructure is masked by the lure of by-products like cable television and net surfing. The inevitability and inherent goodness of change is promulgated by the individuals and corporations who have most to benefit from seeing it implemented and there is far too little critical discourse in the public sphere.

It is ironic that the purchase of Telstra as a complete entity is beyond the means of any single Australian owned corporation but within the capacity of the national superannuation fund. In other words, the country’s most valuable, single asset, currently in public ownership, is able, theoretically, to be purchased with the combined savings of the populace. This would appear to be an indication of a relatively healthy economy and society which is why the proposed partial sale of Telstra presents a real dilemma for the nation. There can be little doubt that if the partial sale did go ahead it would be a matter of time before the entire asset was divested of public ownership to pass into the hands of global, corporate interests. Given the compelling arguments of William J. Mitchell and many others assuring that the future is digital, the Australian people need to consider very carefully the degree of political, cultural and economic autonomy which is at stake in the proposed sale of Telstra.

The decision by the Coalition to link the sale with its environmental policy was a cunning political calculation. The launch of the policy was unanimously endorsed by green lobby groups who then, realising the implications of the Telstra link, withdrew their support and made it conditional on the removal of the link. The policy itself, however, remained a winner despite the notable sticking point over uranium policy. The Democrats and Greens in the Senate, although quite rightly standing their ground in the interests of their constituents, may be under considerable moral pressure when comes the time for the big decision.

The Coalition government will be able to level a compelling argument that the minor parties are being dishonest and hypocritical in preventing the delivery of a widely endorsed environmental package by their intransigence on the Telstra question. This could be the midpoint between a rock and a hard place for the minor parties and may result in a double dissolution. If so, the minor parties could be regarded by the electorate as obstructionist and could suffer irreparable damage at the ballot box resulting in a further consolidation of the Coalition’s position. No doubt the Labour Party’s awareness of this will determine their Senate vote on Telstra and could result in a political compromise on their part in which, despite their avowed opposition to the sale, they vote with the Coalition to avoid the long term consequences of a double dissolution.

The cultural implications of the proposed sale need to be carefully considered. The fledgling multimedia industry, stimulated by Keating through the Creative Nation initiatives which have been largely endorsed by the Coalition, is confronted with the kinds of difficulties arising from the imperatives of the global marketplace. In respect of the production of multimedia titles, of which CD ROM is the current delivery system priority, the Australian Multimedia Enterprise (AME) has made it clear that it will only invest in titles with potential on the international market. For this we can read the North American market, meaning that creative material needs to be fashioned first and foremost to the tastes of that constituency at the expense of local cultural and social values. The domestic market then becomes a secondary consideration resulting in a duplication of the case with television in which American product has dominance in the distribution channels despite a clear viewer preference for local product.

Rupert Murdoch would be the first to admit that control of the means of delivery means control of the market and if we, as a nation, surrender that control by selling Telstra at this critical juncture in our history, then we may be signing away the remaining vestiges of our cultural autonomy. As the virtual nation is superimposed on the existing material environment and as “soft cities” become the cyberspace alternatives to transport grids and community space we need to know that whoever owns the ‘streets’ of the future has the best interests of the country and its people at heart. The public ownership of Telstra stands as an important national symbol signifying the resolve of our nation to maintain sovereignty over its culture as we enter the new millennium. The challenge for the Coalition government lies in convincing the electorate that the sale of Telstra is, in the long run, in the public interest and not simply an ideologically driven expediency.

RealTime issue #12 April-May 1996 pg. 23

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

Barbara Campbell in Zero Hour

Barbara Campbell in Zero Hour

Barbara Campbell in Zero Hour

The morning after. After the election. After the Mardi Gras. The news is hang-over stuff. We’re all a bit stupefied, sitting there in the half dark in the Domain Theatre of the Art Gallery of NSW. A constituency, for sure, but of what? The Labor party, having reinvented itself as the Liberal party has lost out to the Liberal party masquerading as the Labor party reinvented as the Liberal party. It’s a day for getting caught in ambiguities: for mixed signals, mediated voices, spluttering, and a kind of deadpan processed gaiety.

On a platform in the auditorium Stevie Wishart lightly torments a violin to get out of it a set of choked bow strokes, spasms and squeals; Amanda Stewart, whose instrument is a mouth, creates accompanying emissions in the form of pops and prolonged limpet kisses. Result is a noise like a radio dial moving across a short wave band, occasionally finding a snatch of voice or music. Barbara Campbell comes in as the voice of Tokyo Rose, presenter of Zero Hour on Radio Tokyo as broadcast on August 14, 1944 to audiences of assembled GIs in military bases all over the Pacific. Campbell’s transcript of the complete original program comes up on screen, marking the time intermittently in minutes and seconds.

“Hello you fighting orphans of the Pacific! How’s tricks?”

The ambiguities are multi-layered and hard to read: ‘Tokyo Rose’ was a generic name given by the troops to all the female announcers on Radio Tokyo and this particular Rose was Iva Toguri, a nisei (Japanese-American) whose dual nationality led to her getting stranded in Tokyo without a valid passport. From here she found her way into a situation of deeper ambiguity: she was picked to be trained as a radio announcer by Major Charles Cousins, a POW with radio experience who was forced to help in the making of propaganda programs on behalf of the Chinese and who proposed to subvert the propaganda effect through an obviously sardonic tone in the announcer’s voice. Toguri had just the raw voice he wanted. She was coached to read his scripts word by word, with every pause and inflection chosen to disrupt the sense that this was a voice which meant what it said. The ambiguity was lost on the American court which tried her for treason in 1948 and found her guilty.

Were the GIs who heard the original programs more discerning than the American jury who convicted her? And how does a present day audience ‘read’ this voice, further mediated by Barbara Campbell? Announcements of soupy songs and general C’mon boys patter are interspersed with news extracts. Some are about Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek. Some are about John Howard and Kim Beazley. Amanda Stewart reads the latter verbatim, unedited, from a bulletin that went to air half an hour before the performance. Campbell says the idea is to evoke in present day audiences some of the discomfort of Tokyo Rose’s original listeners, hanging out for the latest bulletin on the state of the war. It’s accident not design, apparently, that the performances have coincided with an election weekend, and that the twenty four hours between the first and the second performance are right at the high end of the nerve spectrum. People tell me that the mood of the audience in the first performance was in stark contrast to that in the second.

I’m increasingly fascinated by what makes an artist choose something to focus on. Why this episode, this individual voice and its embroiled little history, from amidst the vast array of recorded chattering from the past half century? Campbell has a flair for re-presenting a figure and a history with an intensity of focus that burns into your brain. Selection is so much more direct a challenge than assemblage, which is what happens on the internet. The net is about options, not choices. Nothing is ever selected out; it’s the library of Babel in the making.

The websites featured in Matinaze are called galleries, museums, magazines, systems: they’re places of accumulation, and the net artist is always a curator, if not of other people’s work, then of his or her own. Urban Exile offers the most visually ambitious work in its Temple of the Third Millennium Exhibition, which reflects a tendency to the Gothic and mediaevalism in internet art. Why? Perhaps there’s something about the web page that evokes the illuminated manuscript, and realises the fantasy implicit in books of hours, that you could just fall into the scenes framed on the page and move through them. This is the exhibition technique used by Urban Exile, with each image allowing you to pass through to a selection of others. According to the curatorial statement, “the new age is non-linear, a matrix of infinite combinations and permutations”. System X offer simpler, more targeted projects. It’s a sampler for the work of a wide range of artists, some specialists in electronic media and some not. You can call up images of recent installations by Derek Kreckler, a VNS Matrix anthology, a whole directory of the work of Clan Analogue (and much more). Geekgirl is a rich mix and also offers some great directory services, though I’m a bit resistant to the cultishness they’re so desperately trying to stir up. Try Click for an alternative. The two individual artists featured—Lloyd Sharp and Dennis Wilcox—presented, respectively, fluids and machines. A touch of the obsessive in both, I thought.

The curators’ panel for the film and video program selected 22 pieces from 80 submissions. The selection keyword has changed, apparently, from ‘experimental’ to ‘innovative’, with the implication that film and video artists now can be expected to have absorbed a wide range of experiment by their predecessors and be ready to move into less reactive, more purposeful explorations. Attitude and punchline-oriented work are on the out, it seems, and the quality of commitment to the subject matter is what distinguishes the best work. White (Francesca da Rimini and Josephine Starrs) offers a stark and restrained portrayal of clinical confinement: there are allusions to surgery, to mental illness, with the first person experience recounted in Spanish and translated through two other voices. An anthology of whites—snow, nurses’ shoes, bandaged limbs, a white dress, sheets, toilet bowls and sinks—intercuts images of an angular body with a heavily textured scar down the line of the shoulder blade. Alyson Bell’s work, too, concentrates on a subject for whom images and words diversify and chain themselves without ever moving towards coherence. Here I Sit presents dispersed words travelling across the screen over collaged images whilst the voiceover tries to explain the schizophrenic experience. Bell’s Lexicon, made in collaboration with Chris Newling, is a more contained exercise, based on the simple concept of words chaining associatively across the screen cueing a string of interpretive images. The collage approach quickly leads to overload for the viewer in an anthology program like this (by half way through it was in danger of coming across as just one goddam collage after another) and there’s more impact in pieces that offer continuous footage of a well-chosen subject. Chain of Holes (Alice Kerrison) is a cameo documentary of a country rodeo with the riders of the bucking broncos also offering voiceover accounts of failing crops and bankruptcies. Very memorable. A fly buzzes as the credits roll.

Thanks to Sarah Waterson and Barbara Campbell for discussion and information.

Matinaze, Domain Theatre, Art Gallery of New South Wales, March 2, 3 and 9

RealTime issue #12 April-May 1996 pg. 24

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

Amsterdam in January. It’s minus 5 degrees, the wind is howling and a homeless black man desperately attempts to grab my attention. He asks me what kind of music I am listening to. I hand him the headphones which are keeping my ears warm and tell him that it is one of the local pirate, or at least semi-legal, public access radio stations. “I used to be a DJ…I love music”, he says, and goes on to tell me his sad recent history. It is at this moment that I realise that for some people, access to communication technologies, even in a wired city like Amsterdam, is less a question of access to the internet than a question of access to even basic technologies such as radio or telephone.

This question of access to old and new technology, for individuals and groups from different economic and cultural circumstances, is one of the central themes of the second Next 5 Minutes: Tactical Media conference and exhibition (the main reason I am in Amsterdam freezing my butt off). The Next 5 Minutes is an ongoing project (the first Next 5 Minutes was held in 1993) which combines grassroots political activism with art practice, and the innovative applications of communications technology, drawing on a diverse series of critical discourses surrounding the new technology. This “proudly” non-academic conference brought together people from over thirty countries providing examples of the way in which different groups and cultures are dealing with various media technologies. Particular emphasis was given to Eastern Europe (where a critical re-evaluation of Marxism is replacing a rejection of Communism), and the former Yugoslavia (where the most important agenda is peace).

The term ‘tactical media’ is probably unfamiliar to most people, or at least those outside of this particular nexus of theories and practices, so I will attempt a definition. Tactical media refers to non-hegemonic media practices performed by a conjunction of media artists and media activists operating on a tactical rather than a strategic level. In short, the aim of tactical media is to achieve creative solutions for specific situations. However, as David Garcia (from the Centre of Tactical Media in Amsterdam, one of the organisers of the Next 5 Minutes) points out, the number of individuals, groups and projects operating along these lines is large enough, and the activity has been going on long enough, to be considered as a distinctive movement within contemporary culture: “a movement which some of us have chosen to call tactical media. Tactical media are works and projects that act out the dream that we are moving from a culture of consumption into a culture of participation and communication”. The tactical media movement is concerned with the democratization of media practice. In this sense, Next 5 Minutes was not just about access and participation, rather it openly encouraged visitors to make their own contributions via a variety of platforms including 24 hour live television and radio, electronic publishing, internet access, an extensive library and media archive, and a ‘temporary autonomous zone’ in which visitors were able to schedule their own presentations. The mainstream of the conference, however, consisted mainly of presentations, performances and installations. Some of the issues and debates which from my perspective were particularly interesting, included the following:

Tactical media as tools or weapons

One of the most fruitful benefits of the new communications technologies seems to be the use of the net as an organising tool, bringing like-minded people together, despite geographical distances, to form temporary alliances over specific actions. In this way, the net is being utilised to empower individuals and groups by creating shared workspaces which cross national boundaries. Examples of this ‘many to many’ communication were provided by DeeDee Halleck (Paper Tiger TV, New York), Rena Tangens (Zerberus, Bielefeld) and Frannie Armstrong (One World of the McLibel Case, London), all of which use the internet along with older technologies to organize resistance, or increase public awareness of the undemocratic and socially harmful activities of specific corporations.

Copyright? Copyleft?

The enforcement of copyright legislation in many cases functions as a form of censorship. This was demonstrated by Bernard Timberg and Sut Jhally, whose particular brand of ‘montage critique’ has in the past drawn threatening responses from certain copyright owners. Both cases were successfully defended under the concept of ‘fair use’, a First Amendment right in the US which is sadly absent from many other national constitutions, including Australia’s. It seems that if an artist wishes to engage in a critique of a media institution (for example, to analyse the depiction of women in the publications of a specific media enterprise) this criticism can be muted by refusing to grant copyright clearance on the reproduction of images in question. Resistance to the limitations imposed by copyright can be witnessed in the proliferation of ‘shareware’ type anti-copyright schemes such as copyleft, MACOS (Musicians Against Copyright of Samples), and the copyright violation squad.

Net criticism

The growing international theoretical practice of ‘net criticism’ involves not only an analysis of the infrastructure and praxis of the internet, but also the critique of net-theories and net-ideologies. On a theoretical level, many of the presenters attempted a critique of cyberculture which they saw as a product of a corporate culture described as the ‘Californian ideology’. The utopian rhetoric which enthusiastically proclaims the internet as a means to an egalitarian and democratic society, where the body gradually drifts into obsolescence, was continually put into question by Mark Dery, Katja Diefenbach and Peter Lamborn Wilson. As Marleen Stikker (Society for Old and New Media, Amsterdam) suggests, “the American Dream version of the technoculture, ‘the desire to be wired’” finds itself brought down to earth by the “cynical European movement of ‘proud to be flesh’”.

On the practical level, it was emphasised that tactics must be developed to fight the commercialization of the net and the large service providers which often suppress free speech by censoring communications between individuals and groups as they see fit. Another less visible threat to public access is the centralization of control of the net via the registration of domain names. Paul Garrin (Mediafilter, New York) has proposed the introduction of a decentralised autonomous network called ‘panet’ (permanent autonomous network) as a concrete strategy enabling media tacticians to escape this unnecessary control.

Do the new media really lead to greater democracy?

Nina Meilof (Digital City, Amsterdam) presented a virtual online city in Amsterdam called ‘Digital City’ in which residents and visitors can be kept informed of the everyday decisions made in local and national government. Check it out on the net. There is a description of the project in English but the rest is in Dutch. To be a resident of the city one must live in the Netherlands. It is hoped that through this level of participation something like direct, as opposed to representational, democracy might be achieved.

But for some people it is still a matter of getting access to the internet at all, as is the case in some Eastern European countries. As Bob Horwitz commented, the right to a postal address exists but the right to a net address does not.

What next?

Will the new media bring about radical social change? At least not by itself, and certainly not with the help of the corporate culture of the ‘Californian ideology’. As Katja Diefenbach rightly stated, “democracy is a social practice”. We must be wary of the technological determinism that infects much of the discourse on and around the internet. Is the concept of copyright becoming obsolete? Do we really want a push-button democracy? And can this question be separated from the question of ‘access for all’? And finally, what are the implications of a fully wired world for oral cultures such as Australia’s indigenous communities?

These questions will not have to wait until the next Next 5 Minutes because many of the debates will continue online. To keep updated with the debates, exchange ideas on these subjects, or access the archive catalogue of the Next 5 Minutes go to the following URL: http://www.dds.nl/~n5m/program/ [expired]

archive.htm

In the meantime, I will leave you to ponder the following question. Throughout the Next 5 Minutes the debate addressed the valorisation of reality over the abstract spaces of the net. Sivam Krishnapillai (Cambridge), who presented a paper on ethno-national cyber-quarrels in Sri Lanka, up-ended this paradigm with the following observation: “in Buddhism the world is Maya (Illusion), so maybe cyberspace is real”.

RealTime issue #12 April-May 1996 pg. 25

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

North American artist Vincent Vincent was in Perth recently (February 28 to March 5) for a series of lectures and performances. I caught up with him following a demonstration of his company’s Mandala Systems technology at the Alexander Library Theatre.

EM Your visit to Perth was organised by Revelation magazine and the Department of Commerce and Trade. What was Revelation’s interest in your work?

VV They probably connected with one of the things we occasionally do and which has become popular—live link-ups in the Rave scene. We have sold Mandala Systems specifically for this. Within the techno community or the Rave community, there’s a real sense of global community. Often organisers will try to link up Raves between two places with teleconferencing or See You See Me or whatever they can basically get hold of. Mandala systems are starting to be used in Raves really as a sort of play-toy in this way.

EM How would you describe the Mandala Systems technology developed by the Vivid group?

VV It’s a new form of interface for the computer, a very hands-off kind of interface because you’re just stepping in front of the video camera and then you’re inside the computer world with which you can interact. The fact that we chroma-key people in means they’re able to put themselves in context with a surrounding world and treat it like a reality in the computer whilst trying to make the interaction as natural and as smooth as possible—whether that’s an art performance, a sports simulation or a business presentation. By allowing the computer to know where the body is and letting the person actually be a part of a live environment, we’re able to allow the person to interact with the graphics, control them and play with them.

EM During your seminar you were saying that you originally devised the technology for use in performance art.

VV My first thoughts of doing something with computers really came about from being involved in dance, music and visual arts and being a psychotherapist in art therapy. I just happened to be lucky enough to be at a university where people were thinking about computers. This was before multimedia computers showed up. The first idea was to be a dancer and create the music from my dancing, because when I was dancing I would hear a lot of additional music in my head and that would make me want to pick up an instrument and play that music out.

I teamed up with my partner Francis McDougal and we came up with a solution that was fairly lightweight in terms of hardware, versus my original ideas which involved huge plates with infra-red beams, light shows and stuff. First we had to get it down into the computer and create graphical worlds that we could step into. That let it be a bridge technology for performance art which involved being a computer artist in the computer while I was performing. I could be a juggler, or a mime artist or an actor or a dancer or a musician just by choosing which environment I wanted to go into. It was the idea of having complete control over the computer’s data base of worlds that would allow it to be a performance medium. Then of course it was a matter of creating all those worlds and then being able to string them together in performance.

EM What will your performances in Perth involve?

VV They will be half hour performances employing the Mandala Systems technology and then a live link up to Toronto where someone there will step into the environment with me and we’ll do stuff together. After that the link up worlds will be there and the public will be invited to play inside them. The performance will be a combination of juggling, stick twirling, dancing and playing guitar, both in the real world and in the virtual world. The main idea behind the performance is to heighten the idea of your own body in a space and to do this by taking you into a virtual world.

EM The worlds we saw were static and two dimensional. Do you have any plans to expand these environments into 3D moving ‘scapes that you can actually go into and explore?

VV The system we have here is Amiga system and its very old and it’s unfortunate that this is the one we were constrained to bring on tour. We actually work on Silicon Graphics machines now which are dramatically different but the Amiga travels better! As the company has evolved the focus has been games and public installations, so we haven’t had the time to build up more sophisticated performance worlds on the PC and SGIs. These new worlds are very much 3-D worlds you can travel into. Part of this work is happening in partnership with Intel and this is the way we are headed now.

EM What sort thematic concerns do you concentrate on in your performance work?

VV It’s very much like a dreamscape in that a lot of the imagery evokes this sense. It was one of the original ideas and one that I am sticking with. I like the idea that you can create a dreamscape and have people step into it and use it therapeutically. The metaphorical images and transitions through time and space when you are dreaming are very interesting to me. It’s like travelling from world to world, going through either obvious portals or just quick changes of entire scenes.

EM So that’s an experience you’d like to impart to your audience.

VV Yes. Over time there have been other themes, like we do a lot of environmental work in Canada. We run the Earth Day for the City of Toronto where they put on very large concerts and for that we’ll create songs or worlds that have environmental messages in them about solar power or something. For the most part it’s very much a journey through the unconscious and little themes and snippets of time space scenarios appear. For example, the idea of jumping back and forth in time and space or taking imagery from daVinci and then something from Easter Island and then a 2001 theme where we play it out. We emphasise time-space trajectories—when your in this dream world you can be jump between these very quickly. Therefore we have a lot of space imagery, a lot of travelling through corridors where you get the sense of being lost, and then arriving someplace.

EM Some of the new media art’s use of technology is attacked from other areas of art and performance art as being techno gimmickry—techno people playing with toys.

VV It’s true for the most part, but I’ve always been of the view, and this comes from my background as a creative therapist, that everyone is creative and that everybody is an artist. It’s been quite an interesting trip being on a lot of panels with artists and art aficionados who are very much into the idea that the artist must be maintained as a separate entity. The genius notion. To me this is the greatest time we’ve ever had because there is so much opportunity for everyone to find some way to be creative. Multimedia is accessible to more people and especially to technologists who are traditionally not seen as creative but in fact are immensely creative within their own realm. It’s the visualisation of each other’s creativity that’s the important thing. I learned that from my partner Francis who is the brains behind the computer aspect of what we do.

EM Have you had much to do with the Banff New Media Centre which is reasonably well known in Australia?

VV No, not really. In the beginning, yes, but they moved into headset related areas of virtual reality with SGIs and we didn’t have that kind of gear or focus. At the moment they seem to be in a phase of retraction with a withdrawal of a lot of their government support. It’s a good centre and they have done a lot of exploratory work and pieces there. One piece by Brenda Laurel, who works for Intervol but is well known in the virtual reality community as a spokesperson for the social consciousness of technology. She was doing a project creating a world based on the themes of indigenous peoples and animal spirits. It was very much a performance piece where two people travelled through a very large virtual world of low resolution graphics. It was a very good experimental example of the use of head mounted displays in a performance piece. Jargon Lanner is the only other person I’ve seen do a virtual reality based performance piece. He’s like the father of VR and was the big spokesman for it when it started out in 1989/90 through his company PL. He’s a master musician with over one hundred instruments from around the world and plays them all in performance and on albums. He also integrates into his performances SIG head mounted worlds which he enters to play weird virtual instruments he’s also invented.

RealTime issue #12 April-May 1996 pg. 26

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

At the beginning of The Antwatchers rehearsal process, I asked Graeme Watson about both the issues he wanted to deal with and the way he chose to treat them (RT11). The notions of surveillance he addressed then touched on a fundamental debate in a very personal way: Why are we, as individuals living in society, the way we are? Evidently the starting premise in the work is an image of humanity, caged, isolated and distorted, the boundaries we live within only marginally compatible with personal integrity. This distortion shapes the very basis of our interaction, inevitably requiring our sensual selves to compromise on an intensely intimate level: confined, stared at, smelled, watched, touched, held, not held, laughed at, listened to, criticised, bullied and humiliated into becoming beings whose integrity depends on learning to perpetrate these horrors for ourselves.

From birth we are held captive by dual expressions of love and power. A mother is bound to her child in ways she is compelled to acknowledge, whether it’s loving attentiveness or critical scrutiny. A child is likewise bound in confinement or security. How these bonds are lived out shapes self-esteem, aspiration and achievement, from notions of what to wear, what to look like, what to see, hear and feel, to what we take to be the very nature of reality. We are all moulded to the marrow by the seismic strength of both private and public scrutiny.

It’s a big project which Watson has chosen to approach in quite literal, physical terms. The set consists of a series of cages, either babies’ playpens for the dancers or a huge central three storey tower caging the musicians and their electronic equipment. We see the dancers through bars, curled up, embryonic. Crucially, the musicians also see us, as we watch them. An intense wash of sound exerts its impact tangibly, through vibrating floor and seats. A central character sits at the bottom of the tower, spider-like, turning ominously, observing the proceedings. Searchlights and floods pick up selected areas of the cavernous space.

There’s measured success in the story being told. Six women dancers portray horror and confused confinement, reconstruct attitudes of naivete and sophistication in true classical tradition. The movement that unfolds begins tentatively; caged animals discovering their plight. It develops from a gestural basis, an abstracted mimicry, a non-human scale. Their acts of fear and self protection literally become behavioural norms. We see a ballet doll character with huge pink bow and whalebone petticoat, learning her repertoire via imitation and bullying, and we see an ensemble of mothers with prams, bound to their life task with a compliance generated by anxiety. All wear black harnesses suggesting slavery, spiders-web, S & M, sky-diving, or corsets.

As central features of the work, these ideas are not as compelling as some smaller glimpses of subtle insight. At one point we see several dancers lying on the floor, rocking their babies gently on their bellies, an attitude articulating more about maternal bonds than histrionic anxiety ever could. After a fast sequence in which the dancers deliberately use as much effort as they can, the audience is invited to take their pulses. Either they need urgent tangible proof of life, or just another test of their own physical bounds. The closing image is a tortured silhouette lashed with camera flashlight, more like gunshots than snapshots.

Inventive talent and imagination in developing movement vocabulary was evident, but subtlety seemed buried in the huge space, selective lighting and enveloping sound. I wanted to be closer, to see people not “dancers”, meaningful movement not dim, narrowly articulate tableaux. There was a disquieting conflict between the grandness of the sound and visual designs and the intimacy of the human body. Although you could say that’s what it was about, aesthetic intentions seemed sometimes at cross purposes. Perhaps Watson’s vision might have been for something smaller, closer than the other designers had in mind.

The One Extra Company, The Antwatchers; choreography, Graeme Watson; design, Eamon D’Arcy; lighting, Rory Dempster; musical director, Antony Partos; costumes, Jacques Tchong; dancers, Felice Burns, Alison Dredge, Taryn Drummond, Lisa Ffrench, Charlotte Moar, Rachel Roberts

RealTime issue #12 April-May 1996 pg. 43

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

Corporealities: Dancing Knowledge, Culture and Power edited by Susan Leigh Foster, Routledge 1995

As the author of Reading Dancing: Bodies and Subjects in Contemporary American Choreography (1986), Susan Leigh Foster established herself as a new voice in dance studies. Now, in Corporealities: Dancing Knowledge, Culture and Power, Foster acknowledges multiple, heterogeneous new voices from her position as editor of this Routledge anthology. This is a mixed bag in the best possible way, but a common grounding for each of the ten chapters is the body as site, or in Foster’s words, “physicality as a site of meaning-making”. For the reader, this is a fluctuating, fragmented journey through history, memory, gender and theory. Moving bodies are everywhere here, reworked and redefined in many different ways and through many different methodologies. Ten individuals have contributed to the collection, seven of whom are Foster’s fellow University of California academics. In this brief ‘tasting’ I examine a selection of the texts; some exist in familiar territory, some are, for me, entirely new experiences.

Foster re-turns to an interpretation and analysis of the ‘gendered bodies’ of the Romantic ballet in her opening essay, “The ballerina’s phallic pointe”. By fixing her understanding of the politics of performing desire in its cultural context—that is, the expansion of Western capitalism and associated marketing strategies—Foster creates ‘corporeal’ connections between history and theory. She contends that even in contemporary avant-garde ballet the female dancer is still inscribed as the subject of the male gaze and male desire; the pointe shoe is the enduring symbol, enacting a particular, imbalanced male-female relationship. I would have been interested in an extension of these ideas to include a focus on artists such as Michael Clark, Karole Armitage or Maurice Bejart. Gender is a more ambiguous, problematised issue in the ‘postmodern ballet’ which these choreographers have inspired.

In another examination of gender—and particularly femaleness—Linda J. Tomko follows the origin and development of park fetes in New York City, events in which fifty thousand girls were involved by 1916. “Gender, ‘folk-dance’, and progressive-era ideals in New York City” is a fascinating analysis of the significance of folk-dancing at those park fetes. The Girls’ Branch, the educational association which initiated the fetes, used folk-dance as a physical embodiment of ideals such as co-operation, female naturalisation, health, and, Tomko posits, American nationalism. Tomko raises the issue of the ‘authenticity’ of the Girls’ Branch folk-dance, and the fact that while the original dances were present in an identifiable form, the Girls’ Branch interpretations also reconstructed those dances, creating new forms.

In Heidi Gilpin’s “Lifelessness in movement, or how do the dead move?”, the ephemeral nature of movement, the inability to grasp it, the mystery of the body “in passage from presence to absence” are the focus. Rather than romanticising the transient quality of performance, Gilpin explores the act of disappearance from an hermeneutic perspective. The body in Gilpin’s analysis is at once real and tangible, and in continual disappearance. Her framework for the question, “How can absence be performed?” is the work of the late Tadeusz Kantor. Because Kantor was usually on-stage with his company, his work Today is my Birthday—performed after his death, even though he had taken part in rehearsals—holds particular significance for Gilpin. The actors and the audience were both intensely aware of Kantor’s absence, so that in effect Kantor, through his death, had actuated a process of performing absence; the concepts of absence and presence were then brought closer together.

Funnily enough, it was Peggy Phelan who discussed the enigma of present absence in her 1993 text, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (Routledge). However in Corporealities Phelan examines “Dance and the History of Hysteria”, discussing the significance of dance and movement in Breuer and Freud’s pivotal psychoanalytic work, Studies on Hysteria (1895). In particular, it is Phelan’s explanation of Anna O.’s condition which is most illuminating, as she identifies connections between psychic health and the body from the notion of “psychoanalysis as a mode of psychic choreography”. So rather than representing psychoanalysis as a concern only of the mind, distinct from the physical, Phelan reconstructs a “psychoanalytic body” while also reconsidering the relationship between femininity, the body, and psychoanalysis.

Marta E. Savigliano’s essay, “Fragments for a story of tango bodies (on Choreocritics and the memory of power)” is probably the most interesting work in the collection structurally. Savigliano moves in and out of history, narrative, song, legend and analysis. The “tango bodies” are ‘latina’, dancing before/for the male gaze and the bourgeois French, British, and American. They dance “Desire, Passion, Fate”, with the female role that of the exotic and ‘la Otra’—Other. Choreography, theory and criticism are interwoven here, with Savigliano interrogating traditional understandings of each by contemplating the tango body as a performance of sociohistorical and cultural specificity.

In “Dancing in the field: notes from memory”, Sally Ann Ness takes a thoroughly different tack on this notion of the cultural specificity of dancing bodies. She begins by describing in detail two experiences—two dance lessons in Bali and the Philippines respectively—and follows these narratives with an ethnographic dialogue between the lived experience, memory, and the “writerly body”. Ness “says ‘no’ to the document”, and yet seems trapped by her own declaration. She proposes a new memory and fieldwork-based document for the text, but ultimately creates another authoritative ‘document’, warning the reader about supposedly complex narrative and advising the reader to re-read the opening statements as concluding ones. Ness does create new spaces though; spaces in which ethnography and the memoir are merged.

Other contributions include Mark Franko’s “History/theory—criticism/practice”, an examination of Graham’s Dark Meadow (1946) and critical responses to the work, particularly those of the “first dance critic”, John Martin. Lena Hammergren embarks on a quest for Swedish body politics of the 1930s in “The re-turn of the flaneuse”, and chooses to centre her investigations around the 1930 Stockholm Exposition of functionalist trends. Randy Martin looks “towards a narrative of context in dance” in “Overreading The Promised Land”. Focusing on the 1990 production by Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company of The Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin/The Promised Land, Martin engages in a dialogue between the right and the left, ultimately rewriting the left through bodily practice. In “Antique longings” Nancy Lee Chalfa Ruyter extends the dance history/theory discussion with reference to Delsartean performance.

With so many diverse and innovative writings on dance, Corporealities propels dance into new domains where the body and theory share conceptual and physical space. Bodies are not just appropriated and interpreted here. Their significance within cultural experience is acknowledged and extended, for as Foster suggests, “bodies always gesture towards other fields of meaning”.

RealTime issue #12 April-May 1996 pg. 43

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

At edges such as death (illness, vulnerability, humiliation), one can cross a state from life as we know it to what we don’t know. The crossing itself can feel like dying…

Adelaide Festival, 1996. Enter Meg Stuart, who knows about dying: her dance pieces are a long dangling that won’t break. Held within a grid, tailed, snuffled, prodded, faltering, focussed on restriction… Hamstrung, bald, she dances pockets of need, building nothing.

Enter The Burley Griffins, who suffer for their dream of Canberra as they try to construct a city by channelling into the overworld.

Enter Jenny Kemp’s black-sequinned woman who slips in a cocktail bar and di(v)es into her underworld.

And then, Enter Achilles: a spectacular DV8 dance piece by Lloyd Newson about the “labyrinth of male rituals”, set in the ideal location for head (butting), ear (holding), shoulder (shoving), chest (puffing), bellies (sleeking), thighs (crunching, mocking, smooching), knees (jiving), ankles (flicking), soles (crushing). A pub, of course: the terrority of collusion in industry, of post down-the-mine camaraderie. But where’s the heel?

The Greek Achilles could eat a haired horse without indigestion—invulnerable, apart from his heel, where his mother, dipping him in the great river Styx for protection, had to hold him. This is a story of loyalty and betrayal, of a man coming to the revenge of his mate—yet it is still a story of war and action within war. The violable point, which connects him with his mother, is the warrior’s undoing but is also the very sign of his humanity and ungodliness.

Enter Achilles is a sculpted work of incredible and ferocious physical skill. It also exemplifies every reason you might have ever stayed away from the pub. Vomit, brawn, competitiveness, the demeaning of women, hyperbolic Superman fantasies—and just plain showing off. These guys are heroes with great asses, as much as objects of repulsion. We have to watch from the sides of the football field, and cheer on.

The dancers execute everything so well, from punch-ups to push-ups, from piss-ups and pissing in pints to a red-hot rope act and fucking an orgasm-painted plastic doll until the doll is slaughtered and the men shed crocodile tears.

Where is the dealing with failure, the going through failure to find the unknown on the other side?

For all its extraordinary physical skill and truthful observation of certain male rituals, this piece and its world of men remains safe. The audience loves it. “Just like real life,” they say, when the finale is over and they begin their personal replays.

Have they turned, or only mirrored the heel? Nothing is displaced in the realm. Superman’s moments are affectionately satirised but nonetheless survive as a means of protecting male culture from being pierced. Split-stage episodes [yobs on a building-site rig highstage whilst a man fucks a rubber dolly lowstage; pub brawlies soccerrooing lowstage synchronised with Superman spinning a jig highstage] are theatrically effective, but the split does not go deep enough: the staging exemplifies how far men will go to cope and protect each other from being pierced, and changing something of what shows itself to the world.

So many pieces in this Festival reflect a masculine and/or mechanical re-production of cultures that thrive on a given order and don’t want to change. Facade Firm, by Molecular Theatre, is a bizarre and relentless piece about Japanese cultural conformism, with men in suits and women pretending to be men in suits re-arranging view-frames, by order of The Firm. In a Kafkaesque way, The Firm is both an incorporation, and a prescription for behaviour, of what above all costs must be maintained.

The Maly Theatre of St Petersburg demonstrates in Claustrophobia how closely bound are autocracy/oligarchy, conformity and mysogyny across Russian history. It is a madhouse of meals becoming a murder, music leaping through windows. Tubas examine a dead body which begins to sing. Does it matter to be alive? Does it matter that I ever had a soul? I hear your heartbeat march through the curl of a marching band. Keep marching…

This is brutal entrapment. Ruched curtains ascend and descend on something that has always been. Men magically sliding up walls with desire; a rake grows from watering, but love itself does not grow. There is only either Pavlova, Pushkin, or vodka [fights over, after, or between all three].

Maly’s physical work is excellent: all the great skills of Russian method and madness (athleticism, stylistic power that captures the music and undertows of language) are here. This is music-theatre, dance-theatre, theatre-theatre where boundaries and borders, truth and lies become the same dance. But where are the attempts to show how things might be otherwise? Maly is a young company, Russia’s avant-garde: it is bleak of them not to explore the hope for another possible world.

Whilst Claustrophobia shows a pointed understanding of entrapment, Hildegarde of Melbourne (not Bingen) replicates it unwittingly . In Inje, a gaggle of village girls splash and lust and practice hysteria whilst a single male figure holds their attentions to ransom with knife cuts, slashes, whips and bribes. Though inviting us to partake of a sensory world of water, mud, blood, of clogged feet dancing, arguing where they are going, who do they belong to? The piece’s relentless tempo and shrill pickings of language are drowned by overactivity and uncertain focus, leaving the “hero” a thug and his women so ground into their cultural roles that their habits, actions, responses remain pre-ordained.

The difference with Jenny Kemp’s work for example is that the work is crafted with a respect for stillness and the curl and pungency of words, and, whilst remaining within a heterosexually preclusive definition of female-as-object of the gaze, The Black Sequin Dress yet struggles with this and attempts to give voice to the falterings of doubt amidst the quotidian struggle to continue. The ways men miss the point here are poignant, sympathetic, but very clear.

A different eye is exercised in The Ethereal Eye, a multi-levelled collaboration which aims at dancing and sounding an aetheric vision whilst giving strange cues on the physical plane. The Burley Griffins’ struggle is itself remote and removed (as unfortunately are the musical instruments!), and the dancers’ bodies aloof. This is intentional; yet, whilst looking for aether’s “moving and rising, forming, changing”, one also sees a certain uniform erectness of neck and pointing of arms which perhaps impedes the energy flow. I enjoy moments when Byron Perry’s body interrogates the dance, instinctively bringing a sudden muscle into a turn, a whipping fraction of speed through arm or knee. There is also a crucial central segment where one by one the dancers, each describe a circle until another dancer joins, as if shared inspiration multiplies and divides and releases another and another shape that cuts and queries the first. Here lie the possibilities of meeting, of construction (architecture is, after all, not just an idea) both within the performance itself and in relation to its subject.

The idea—as stated in the program—of a focus on spatial rather than political or biographical plane worries me. As Meg Stuart realises, space is political—although certainly it would not appear to be so to Batsheva Dance Company’s artistic director Ohad Nahin, whose glib forum statement—immediately dismissed by himself as a joke, a fabrication—about saving his autistic brother by dancing for him as a child, shows words well-oiled, like his dance, but dubious. Within a few days, the structure, shape and timbre of his Mabul are lost to me beyond the starring hamster and a few smooth turns.

Time and space are marked in different ways by all these works: punctured and lamented in, bogged and bugled in, slipped into and pondered in, oiled and glossed through, spun over and around.

So many maps of so many routes…the body’s presence often missing. Theatre and dance’s bodies ask difficult questions of the relationships between past and contemporary, cultural and emotional histories which are difficult to leave aside in the complex acts of watching. What enters? What exits? What has been the space between?

DV8, Enter Achilles (U.K.); Jenny Kemp, The Black Sequin Dress (Australia); The Maly Theatre of St. Petersburg, Claustrophobia (Russia); Molecular Theatre, Facade Firm (Japan); Ethereal Eye (Australia); Batsheva Dance Company’s Mabul (Israel); Company Hildegarde, Inje (Australia/Bulgaria); Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods, No-One Is Watching (U.S.).

RealTime issue #12 April-May 1996 pg. 6

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

Batsheva Company, Mabul

Batsheva Company, Mabul

In Adfest-foyer-euphoria mode, one struggles with such educated commentary as “God, did you actually like that? I had real problems there”. In the matter of likes and dislikes, it’s unclear whether pleasure is derived from art or society, but buffeted by the social undertow, it occurred to me that it’s the act of satisfying this urgent need to express an opinion which first shapes our perception and the consequent credibility of a work. All of which says a lot about the importance of foyer culture, and the meaning of lots of artists meeting to see who holds sway. It was delightful to find a confusing and properly post-modern diversity of responses in many theatre foyers.

There were evident themes: prying into the cracks of existence, dragging open old wounds, exposing humanity’s sometimes fragile and secret interiors. We get to see hideous, possessed, sad, ugly, violent, obsessive things. If sometimes the violence and obsession is merely cultivated and glamorised, expressing an evolving international aesthetic empty of anything except a formal identification with itself, there are also moments of rich substance.

In Batsheva Dance Company’s Mabul, I was grateful for its wide aesthetic spaces. There was no requirement to submit to the ubiquitous glamour of black frocks and Docs encapsulating the entire aesthetic basis of the work. These apparently negative virtues invited a different awareness; a kind of grainy textured relationship between the performers surfaced. The silence of the dancers’ boots on the floor and the first murmurings of a solo voice engendered a kind of breathless waiting. Vocal material seemed chosen for its particular sexless intensity, the purity, restraint and passion of a single counter-tenor line. But the work was also full of contrasts and counterpoint: a motif of courtly containment and restraint out of which erupted the shrieking protests of women; the dancers’ slightly stilted, overly-placed, hyper-extended gestures together with a different dissolute movement energy; a feeling of calm contrasted with vocal and corporeal dishevelment. It had a raw, complex and articulate flavour.

I can’t forget the famous hamster duet, where the rolling topography of the dancer’s body provides dangerously shifting surfaces for a tiny clinging animal; a densely woven trio, the dancers barely break contact; the counter-tenor who continues to dance while we feel his distorted song, a harsh fight of diaphragm and throat for air, close to uncontrollable sobbing; the moving Nisi Dominus where dancers form a plaintive cantus firmus for the soloist’s exhaustingly percussive rhythmic body slapping.

Good ideas occasionally fall short of being persuasive. One such is Hilton 1109 by Catalan dancer Angels Margarit, who invited a very select audience of ten at a time into her hotel room to watch what I interpreted as the confined ennui of a dancer on tour. A familiar flotsam collects on the floor: postcards, aspirin, maps, empty glasses, biros, the eternal debris rising to the surface of the lives of itinerant performers, confined, waiting and preparing, a condition as much mental as it is physical. Her movement was too contained in place and in time, going over and over itself, drawn out of, but also recreating, that very experience. I wondered how a dancer could ignore the messages in the loaded and codified vocabulary. Even in that intimate setting she became a character rather than herself, as if the language she used protected her from the intimate scrutiny she had invited.

The Slovenian ensemble Betontanc’s second program, Every Word a Gold Coin’s Worth seemed anachronistic, made me ask questions about Slovenia to find out just what psychic space this stuff comes from. The work capitalises heavily, if unintentionally, on its subtext: six dancers ingenuously young, healthy, athletic and alluringly decked out in short red frocks, boots, and jeans for the boys, revealing a narrow identification and exploration of physicality. If the work springs from heartfelt awareness of violent social and political upheaval, an Australian vantage sees only story-board brutality in the several rape scenes, people treated as commodities, the struggle to survive in encroaching confinement, an overly dramatised woman-as-victim interpretation of childbirth. Meanwhile, the set, a high metal wall, is clung to, clambered over, leaned against, pounded on, played around, and used with ingenuity as a backdrop to all the action. Scene changes dissolved one into another with hardly a blink. But moving ‘as if’, the dancers did not seem concerned with developing richer meaning in their work, but with reducing human complexity to a level adequately served by soap opera.

Meg Stuart (via New Orleans, New York and continental Europe), with Damaged Goods’ produced a meticulously developed study of internal emotional conflict with No One is Watching, touching on the allure of what is concealed in the depths of people, their relationships, and their secret lives. An old fat woman sits immobile on a chair as the audience enters. We see her back and the slack hanging folds of flesh. The audience chats over the top of this, and indeed, no-one watched except in brief exploratory glances waiting for another more palatable story to begin. A couple entered. Rather than having a sense of duet, it was like seeing one flailing organism, sustaining hideous internal rifts and injuries in an intense fight with itself. People started watching then.

Ingenuousness, loss of self, brutality and a fight for recognition were played out with an emotional texture of dense, immutable obsession. It is this texture which became the focus, as if human interaction consisted of chaotic undirected eruptions of desire, and taking the line of least resistance, no holds barred, we bind with a suffocating struggle to the nearest human object.

With Enter Archilles Lloyd Newson and DV8 were engaged in just as concentrated a line of investigation, here the not-so-secret filth in the souls of men, and ‘men’ in this case were a culturally fashioned gender, assuaging their fear of ‘female’ characteristics like affection, loyalty, love and softness appearing in themselves and others, with violent abuse. The work spoke (yet again, but with pathos) of the need to become human first, ‘men’ second. While the theme might be overstated with such a non-negotiable view of contemporary male consciousness, there was serious entertainment value in watching the performers construct their gross stereotypes with immaculate humour, profound skill, attention to detail and riveting style. Everyone knew these blokes although, genuinely, I had to make an effort to remember the last time I’d met one.

But the complex construction of Enter Archilles sustained attention with the physical eloquence of the dancers’ actions and interactions, the grand familiarity of the set as bar-room/dance floor/playground/proving-ground, and the strategic appearance of child-like fantasy images. In the night-club of our minds, a pop star hero sings To Dream the Impossible Dream and a man struggles to reach a mountain-top. It has a Dennis Potter-like surreal humour. Its absurdity is surprisingly touching.

The venue for Meryl Tankard’s Rasa created its own strange ambience. The Bullring seemed windy and deserted at first, an isolated collection of earth-floored, dilapidated sheds. But the air under cover gradually thickened with the heavy perfume of smoking incense placed around the stage’s perimeter and later the dust kicked up from the floor by the dancers deposited itself in a gritty film over the entire audience.

Tankard’s treatment of the Indian Rasas risked accusations of facile dabbling in exotica, for this western interpretation may well have remained superficial without the guiding artistry of guest performer, Padma Menon. If Tankard’s dancers showed great affinity for the physical renderings of the Kama Sutra, more subtle emotional expression remained lost to them. Only in the last few minutes, almost as an afterthought, we glimpsed an authentic moment in the dancers’ philosophical encounter with this strange tradition. They all sat facing Padma, their teacher, imitating—as children in class might—her subtle gestures, finely graded shifts of aspect and attitude, and the small flickers of lips, eyelids and fingers.

Batsheva Dance Company, Mabul; Angels Margarit, Hilton 1109; Betontac, Every Word a Gold Coin’s Worth; Meg Stuart and Damaged Goods, No One is Watching; DV8, Enter Achilles; Meryl Tankard’s Australian Dance Theatre, Rasa.

RealTime issue #12 April-May 1996 pg. 12

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

Betontanc

Betontanc

Know Your Enemy is performed within a strict confined space, a line really, with little depth. Mostly it occurs vertically, as if the body must press itself upwards not outwards, as if the longing that brought the characters over the wall, to this place, has instilled a muscular and mental habit that is now relentless. Here, where something else (better) was imagined (greener grass perhaps), they are caught again in the dreams of living that subsume the very (every) moment. And so, what lives is an energy, as waste, desirous, and deadly. Deadly, in body and soul.

Three women and four men, four rooms (one that isn’t quite recognised by the others, that holds their fears even), a few pieces of furniture, lights, and a wall. And a picture on the wall. The image of before or after. Who knows. Either way, it’s central, and already redundant.

The performers move/dance in a solid fluid way, which betrays a kind of fine timing. They mostly climb up the wall, over and through struts, and especially on and around each other (each person a wall too). They literally climb-the-wall, in the sense of a creeping, on-off, madness. Madness which seems reasonable, which weaves a taut thread across beings, binding them together, and snapping them apart. It’s this thread that is the ‘enemy’. As the performance is ‘about’ nothing. A nothing which pulses between lethargy and athleticism. (The Theorist says: “The oscillation of which we have just spoken is not an oscillation among others, an oscillation between two poles. It oscillates between two types of oscillation …”) A strange economy of excess. An exhibition of the convoluted body, as it follows/forms thought’s need to exorcise ghosts and shadows, and to make itself known.

Time, waiting, is filled-in with ‘love’. The antics of courtship and seduction are displayed ritually, each move accented, defined. A competition, almost, of strength and resilience.

The music is melancholic, the choreography sits inside this mood, but actively, like a slow implosion. Know Your Enemy begins with a particular, romantic image, high, a couple quietly dancing, in the light, and ends with it. And between, the sadness of ‘true’ love and ‘lost’ love.

The tight limited/limiting overall style of this work, and its negotiation of flat planes which the body must press/spread against and climb, like beetles, clumsy yet liquid, harsh yet tender, is claustrophobic. Oppression comes from the back and front rather than from above.

This is an operatic struggle upon one word say, or a tiny mark, or a false hope. And it might be just a single night. A sliver of entangled gestures, a remembrance of deliberate and necessary exhaustion/expiation.

Slovenian dance company Betontanc’s Know Your Enemy, Scott Theatre, Adelaide Festival

RealTime issue #12 April-May 1996 pg. 14

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

Immediately, one’s own body is called by the sound of the dancers in the dark taking their places. Such a small, ordinary, and necessary thing. But this is to be the entire ‘work’, this internal heat, to be the body for another, for oneself. To be another body for me, say. To watch, and watch as it acts alone, always, even when together, being duo. To watch No longer ready made is to watch an unfolding that is, no matter how intense (and wanted) the movement, is unfolding that goes on, relentlessly, as unfolding, not revelation. The physicality of unfolding though and its persistence in the body as a way, a method, is unbearably wishful, desirous, devastating. That is, the body wants to know something, wants to know how to go on, renew itself. Without end.

A man stands alone in a square of light, his head whipping violently side to side. Then his whole body shivering. As if convulsed, repulsed by a memory, a memory cutting loose perhaps, something I can’t know. The other three dancers wait in the background, two women and a man. The single interfering logic, a logic in flux, is ‘unreadyness’, this is a logic of detail. The detail that can never be ‘ready made’, and is never ‘no longer’, but always present. That’s the trouble, that’s the image in the body, of a stillness that creeps out of the pores.

There are moments of extreme passion in this work, of the complete and known separateness of beings, as creatures. As when a couple battle each other. The man, his hands held behind his back, pushes and kicks, and blocks every move the woman makes, yet she will not succumb. The moves are precise. Each body knows just what the other will do, emotionally, I mean. It’s the exhaustion of the body one hears. Then she’s alone, with his coat on, going through the pockets transferring debris from one to the other, finding nothing much. But more desperate for that, emptying ‘his’ life onto the stage. Nothing at all soon, just her, with her clothes. What to do with a coat. How to be watched, to be in the presence of an ‘audience’, with ‘nothing’. And to gradually expose oneself, until overexposed, until as awkward as a coat. Until just a thing to hang other things on.

No longer ready made is shaped by details, some so small and funny they are almost imperceptible. Sometimes so large it takes a while to see them. It’s this attention to detail that keeps one watching, as ‘work’ happens everywhere at once (like on the street). In each life, details congregate, and wait, and return. In the end, one man walks slowly from the back of the stage to the front, over the debris, while the others throw themselves around him (in unison), he doesn’t see them, they don’t see him. Then, with nowhere to go, he falls into the arms of another man, who carries him for some time, in different ways. This is a moving segment, bleak and intimate. Soon he is alone again, shaking and shivering. He is his body. A space.

Somewhere here I’ve lost the sequence, I’m not sure if this is the last image, or this: the two men, each gently scratching on a ‘door’, a surface (the set is minimal, pragmatic and evocative). No urgency, but sound, the sound of a small part of the body (the finger nails) against a border, a kind of recovery, a starting point. And one’s body is called—is remembered again—by the sound of bodies in ‘places’ unfolding.

No longer ready made, Meg Stuart/ Damaged Goods; dancers: Florence Augendre, David Hernandez, Benoit Lachambre, Meg Stuart, The Space, Adelaide Festival.

RealTime issue #12 April-May 1996 pg. 14

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

The Internationale Music Zentrum in Vienna is a forum and information network for music and dance executives in the television and recording industries. The people in the room—buyers, impresarios and executive producers—were probably the closest many artists would ever get to reaching a television audience.

The test tape on the screen freezes the conductor in the act of shaking the concertmaster’s hand.

The public television channels represented here are frozen in the electron stream of the information highway as perceived in its internet test-bed stage. Congress sessions were intended to explore the implications of this and other technologies and the impact they would have on the mediation of the performing arts

An archive of some 200 program tapes and a row of booths for previewing them: all were empty.

Independent program makers, the other main group represented at the Congress, deal with anyone who helps to raise their budget. They will become media publishers, matching artists with audiences using the most appropriate medium: book, cable, CD-ROM, cinema, computer network, gallery.

In the multi-channel environment it becomes possible for the consumer to observe, or even live with, another culture.

If publishers are encouraged to nurture their local talent, encourage difference and diversity, the matrix of mythologies from the Irish-language soap opera to the Czech home improvement item, all with English sub-titles, this will become compelling competition for attention on the international networks.

IMZ Vice President asks, “Where are the Asian cultures at this Congress?” IMZ President replies, “They don’t need us.”

Robyn Archer introduced the final day of sessions, “The Artist and the Media”, in terms of the “current tensions between the artists and new technology” and the effect this was to have on “the richness and danger of live performance”.

Technophobia was omnipresent—the main concern that artists working in the performing arts should, it seemed, make sure the new technology was incorporated into their work. Lazy arts administrators of course encourage them in this belief, feeling that if multimedia is the flavour of policy then of course all artists should be using it.

Hans Peter Kuhn, the sound artist, gave a presentation which successfully demonstrated that performance people like himself have been integrating multimedia into their work for many years. As a performance artist he had always worked with the tools appropriate to his needs using the approach which gave the audience…the chance to listen.

Then with a staccato and rapid delivery aided with the authority of the slightest of mid-European accents, he developed a wide-ranging analysis and critique of technological development affecting the arts over the last fifty years. From television to net art, all were demolished quickly as being private forms quietly destroying the broader cultures they touched, their ‘significance as culture’ being suspect as the outcome of political decision. This process placed technology in the service of the more irrational human behaviours—the regressive, the defensive, the paranoid—which had managed to place ‘creativity’ in the position of being a threat to global survival. Scratch, dub and techno he identified as being more socialised, politicising forms, with ‘astonishing things’ on the horizon. Such glimpses of optimism he extended to include the post-historical period which we were now entering: “writing, memory and history followed reassuringly linear patterns. Using non-linear media, post-history would be the outcome”, about which he felt optimistic’!

The lecture integrated three projected video images of Hans Peter Kuhn standing at the podium whilst four channels of surround-sound FX overlayed his amplified address.

Philippe Genty introduced his well known oeuvre as bringing “puppetry into the adult world”, and he emphasised its physicality and its ‘magic’—the inner place, and the outer, or what Peter Brook called ‘empty space’. “Theatre must find other languages”, he felt, and contemporary dance and the work of artists like Laurie Anderson progressed because of the ‘disintegration of words’. The mission of ‘le audiovisual’ was simply to explore the achievements of theatre!

On tape, a naked woman struggles to hide herself inside an enormous brown paper bag—having succeeded, the bag transforms into wodges of fluff flying in the air.

The final session showcased Australian artists. Sydney multimedia producer Bill Leimbach described the ‘market-driven area’ of multimedia with a zany CD-ROM production linked with ‘world music’. Melbourne artist Ian Haig extolled the value of writing code, deploring consumer software and the notion of the Artist in a Shrink-wrapped Box, and showed extracts from Astro Turf, the ‘kooky-looking’ Flintstones of the 21st century. Julie Martin of Bondi had already given a short demonstration of live performance in conjunction with projected images, computer designed to enhance three-dimensional illusion. Michael Buckley, another Melbourne animator, showed extracts from the sublime Swear Club which “elevates the vulgar and precocious 5 year old performer to the status of cultural icon—on which you click to ‘Shut-up!’”

This part of the Congress was remarkable for the absence of TV executives, who clearly considered that actual demonstrations by practitioners of the recent technologies, on CD-ROM or straight out of the computer, were clearly beyond their briefs, especially as the work shown was made by ‘the local talent’. Hard-pressed as ever, these executives, with lists of international contacts to see before jetting-out, what more can a poor artist expect? Well there may be comfort in the fact that these ‘determiners of cultural significance’ are to metamorphose, as broadcast gives way to narrowcast cable and as fragmentation of ‘the audience’ continues. Those of us working at the edge, cutting or joining, have not really known audiences as any thing other than the kind you build and re-build. The computer network technologies, for instance, offer some further potential. The purveyors of cultural spectacle are unlikely to endorse a medium which a priori requires active response, where their notions of audience are based wholly on consumption. The videotape recording as artefact of performance spectacle remains their stock-in-trade—it seems they feel that technology simply aids or embellishes that process.

At the end of the (long) day, it was not at all surprising that no one considered how the audience would be changed by the technologies and their use of them, and therefore how their expectations of live performance would be changed. The sub-cultural precedents are there, they have been actively feeding the dominant culture’s fashions. But the convergence of television and the computer is shortly to move into the mass scale and therefore a different dimension. From which time ‘new technology’ will become ‘new performance’.

RealTime issue #11 Feb-March 1996 pg. 28

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

The Third International Interactive Multimedia Symposium was held over four days at the Hyatt Hotel in Perth, January 21-26. A myriad of sessions ran concurrently in four different conference rooms of the hotel with a major central session occurring every now and then in the main ballroom. Very much the format you see at many of these conferences, especially the ones focussing on multimedia. And haven’t there been a lot of those lately? Seems like every time you turn around there’s one on, and its the biggest and best and for god’s sake, you’d better not miss it or else you’re gonna wind up in the information superditch. With a title like “The Third International Interactive Multimedia Symposium”, one may well have been forgiven for thinking that this was an all embracing encounter with multimedia from around the world with speakers and experts from all fields.

In fact most of the speakers were Australian and many of those from W.A. It was also captioned “The Learning Superhighway” (don’t you wish they’d discard that “life’s a long road” metaphor). The caption actually referred to the fact that this symposium was primarily focused on uses of multimedia in education and issues surrounding multimedia as an educational delivery tool. In accordance with this, nearly all presentations were of this theme.

Typical of the sessions were “An Interactive Multimedia Approach To Disseminating Engineering Standards” and “Open Math: An Integrated Course for the Teaching and Learning of Foundation Mathematics”. Many others were similarly specialised and I’m sure that even some educationalists would have found themselves searching for subject matter of direct relevance. The education professionals did indeed make up the bulk of the audience. The number of multimedia artists and industry people who did attend, may well have found the pickings relatively slim in terms of new and relevant information.

Some of the exceptions dealt with more across-the-board subject matter. One in particular by Mr Z. Youlo entitled “A Maintaining Solution For Publishing Documents On The World Wide Web” addressed a very real problem: web server maintenance of links once changes have been made. His organisation has designed a database node solution which automatically updates links thereby greatly reducing maintenance needs. Welcome news if you are running a webserver or maintaining a website. In general it was surprising that internet issues did not receive more attention than they did.

The gee whiz prize was taken by the people from the AMES Research Centre at NASA who demonstrated some pretty amazing three-dimensional techniques to illustrate processes in fluid dynamics. Art for science’s sake, you could say. It’s funny how science and education end up using art if they want people to absorb information or pay attention for substantial periods of time.

It’s impossible to attend all sessions at a conference of this scale. Thus, despite some of the intriguing rhetorical titles such as “Multimedia On the Net, On Disk: Are The Universities Ready For It?” and “Clinical Medicine: Can The Computer Replace The Patient?” one was forced to pick and choose those of most pressing interest.

The only artist I could find in the whole four day program was a certain A. Lusk, who delivered a paper at Tuesday lunchtime, “Virtual Reality or Virtual Unreality”. Mr Lusk’s presentation meditated on virtual reality and its implications for art, artists, concepts of illusion, postmodernism and the nature of representation—centrally, the notion that the lines between reality and illusion, art and everyday-life are becoming increasingly blurred. I would have thought a glance at an Oprah Winfrey Show audience would have demonstrated this truism, never mind flash 3D walk-through environments. But the new environments are interactive too, and thus the audience is no longer simply a passive recipient but now a powerful participator in production. The individual genius (dictator?) is banished in favour of the democracy of authorless interactive collaborations. Like ants making an anthill.

This was an interesting paper, for me at least, and I came away wondering why there had not been more of this sort of debate at this symposium. The universities, after all, are home to many extensive art, philosophy and literature faculties, many of whom have taken an active interest and energetic participation in multimedia production and debate. They were conspicuous by their absence. As for international developments in this field, who knows? Murdoch University’s wonderful publication Continuum has, for me, run one of the best forums for debate on these areas in Australia in recent times.

By the end of day four I’d picked up quite a lot about cognitive tools, educational psychology and empirically tested learning behaviour models, (largely against my will), but precious little in other areas. Perhaps the educationalists should have broadened their vision and the scope of debate in relation to what multimedia and online interaction is and can be.

RealTime issue #11 Feb-March 1996 pg. 28

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

Setefano Tele in Untitled Solo for Male Dancer

Setefano Tele in Untitled Solo for Male Dancer

Setefano Tele in Untitled Solo for Male Dancer

In the context of ‘theatre’, dance and movement-based performance have typically been understood, and often practiced, as anti-intellectual and under-theorised. Similarly, dancers have been seen as bodies without minds, having a sort of animal vitality, having a certain commodity value in the market place, but incapable of intellectual rigour or analytical discussion and oblivious to the shifts in interrogative thought in other art forms which may or may not have implications for their own practice.

Hence Dancers are space eaters: directions in independent dance, a three week program which sought to create a context in which information could be shared, ‘intelligence gathered’, the theatrical deployed and the hierarchy between dance and other body-centred practices examined. Week 1 presented the touring program, 4 on the Floor curated by The Performance Space, Sydney. Week 2 comprised four movement workshops focussing on differing approaches to performance. Week 3 consisted of forums, performances, papers and screenings, bringing together self-producing artists from Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.

Generally speaking, what the final week demonstrated was the vitality of so-called ‘independent’ artists—a much debated and closely interrogated term—whose practice would seem to offer not only new physical but also new intellectual challenges; and to suggest just how far the term ‘dance’ might be stretched to encompass myriad practices and concerns.

Beginning this final week was the forum, Don’t Stop at Movement, Part One. Tony Osborne reflected on definitions of independent dance, government policies and funding priorities—don’t stop at movement; don’t stop movement. Nikki Heywood spoke to the issues of performing inside a body that is aging, decaying, that recognises its own mortality. Chris Ryan’s extraordinary video, Get over it; get on with it; get fucked and accompanying paper addressed many issues pertaining to performance, sexuality and gender, censorship and life with intelligence, poignancy and compassion.

Following this were Jon Burtt’s witty choreography performed by Setefano Tele, which moved from self parody to an hilarious (embodied) commentary on the naff earnestness of much contact and release based dance; the muscular grace of Richard Talonga’s That Woman; Sue Peacock’s choreography for live performance and video; and Chris Ryan and Dean Walsh demonstrating, as is their wont, Theatrical Abuse and Other Cheap Tricks.

Another session devoted to performance encompassed the sparse postmodernism of Shelley Lasica and Sandra Parker, Rakini’s classical Indian dance—mutating into a cross cultural hybrid—and the elasticity of Olivia Miller’s Wax.

In her paper, Smart Moves & Dumb Shifts, Jane Goodall invited dancers to stop going somewhere and just flounder. The body is understood, she says, as a series of networks renegotiating movement as a process of intelligence gathering, dance that moves away from species specificity to that of the hybrid.

Lullaby by Alice Cummins is a lament of return sharpened by protuberant bones and the welcoming of internal movements of yearning, a body that showed its familiarity to stillness and yielded to the pulse of its need for location.

Bizircus performed Where There’s Smoke : fire caressing arms, fire in motion, wheeling in darkness, juggling fire and spinning flames, smoke and the intoxicating smell of kerosene. The body became monstrous, spawning three headed hydras, with a woman, a human torch on top, spinning a flaming hoola hoop against her naked midriff.

In Jean/Lucretia by Nikki Heywood, the silhouette of gnarled branches preceded the performer’s entry into the shadowy space, anticipating the knotting of the grandmother’s body. A limb is twisted, the trunk bends and in the crushing defeat a gardener’s soul is broken. Heywood’s bitter sweet singing of The Rape of Lucretia became an elegy for the thwarted growth and neglect of an ordinary woman.

In We’d, performed by Chris Ryan and Dean Walsh, a virtuous woman enacted her sad parody of drag, naked in white heels or sheathed in solemn dress but begging for attention. Her whoring was underscored by the litany of voices from the labels offered in silence from a seated and blindfolded performer. He lifted cards from the table to complete words, all of which began with ‘re’—’reinterpret’ or perhaps ‘reindeer’. The one removed the other bodily from the space.

The program note for Tricia … case study by Bill Handley read, “After 18 years of confinement within a concrete enclosure, Tricia the elephant had to learn how to walk again”. This work is a dancer’s parable with disintegrating wheelchair. His patient observation of the dynamics of flex, boot, ball, broken frame and wheel revealed a tender love of the banal, and the awkward angle of the head and the little rhythms of the feet touched a nerve.

Tony Osborne arrived gruesomely with stockinged head only to become a glittering cabaret entertainer who told racist and sexist jokes that caught out the unwary while others squirmed. His interventions with the audience’s displeasure were unexpected and provocative.

In Closet: Paul Schembri’s attention to a channel of light marked the closet in the space. The stretch of the leg and gentle pull and reverberation of the arm against the body were container and refuge but also exit and escape.

Don’t Stop at Movement, Part 2 exhilaratingly broke through the isolation of dancers and encouraged them to reflect beyond their experience in order to talk about wider issues in performance. Shelley Lasica reflected, “My memory erupts through the holes in my body” so that for her, dancing is a template. Jim Hughes, wondering where movement comes from, said, “Don’t stop at movement; don’t start at movement”. Alice Cummins spoke of working in ways that feel related, responsible and relevant. “My body is familiar to me. Is my body familiar to you?” Jon Burtt, on the rebound from the vertical structures of dance companies, questioned the silent space of the dancer in which one person making the work does all the talking and the person doing all the work does all the steps.

The final forum rather stuck on the politics of the audience, the breaking down of barriers between different groups of dancers, and the necessity for more talk. And why weren’t there any members of the existing dance companies there, the students or graduating students of the dance institutions, or the more general public? But then in any city in Australia, a crowd of thirty on a Sunday afternoon after a glut of fine performances, debating the future of dance would be a good wrap up.

Dancers are space eaters, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, November 22-26, 1995, curated by Sarah Miller.

RealTime issue #11 Feb-March 1996 pg. 40

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

In her occasional series on dance studio practices Rachel Fensham interviews Perth’s Alice Cummins

Alice Cummins, a Perth independent dancer, has a studio in the heart of Northbridge, Perth, from which she teaches and develops performance projects. Not only a teaching space, it nurtures a creative community of other artists and city people. Last year she began studying with Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen at the School for Body-Mind Centering in the U.S.

RF When did you first begin to work in this space?

AC Five years ago. I was doing a project which could support me financially and I had already given a series of workshops attended by about 80 women. The studio enabled me to continue my practice and the community classes so they run together, or in parallel. It is a privilege to have a studio and I always have to finance it with other teaching.

RF Describe the studio.

AC It is both light and airy, connected not only to the city and the railway line but to an older and mixed Perth skyline. And the old man opposite always has flowers on his window sill.

It’s near good public transport, and some people cycle from inner city areas. It is fantastic to have close access to PICA (Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts), for me personally, and increasingly, for my students. It is near the cafes and drinks on the hotel balcony after Friday night’s class is a time of rich sharing.

RF Because of the spillover into other networks the class doesn’t seem to end.

AC Another artist Tony Osborne, my partner, shares the studio, and we sometimes feel we are creating a community. Young students I have taught over the years in other places come here and then go on to do work for Artrage and PICA. They set up a lively dialogue with me and the diverse people they meet in the studio.

Now people are starting to work together independently of me, and my long absence this year encouraged one group to hire the space and meet on a weekly basis. I think of it as “naming oneself as an artist”. I am not a little proud that this space which I helped to discover has encouraged people.

RF What about your classes ?

AC I try to offer three a week. On Monday evening alignment and locomotion followed by a separate session of contact improvisation. And on Fridays improvisation and performance. I borrowed the structure of this class from Al Wunder and Lynden Nichols in Melbourne. Positive feedback allows people to discover their own movement by working from their strength. If they are confident with vocal work they can move into other things later.

One visual artist came who was terrified but she had the desire to move. Each student has a private session, in which we can focus on what I have been seeing or what they choose to work on. All I needed to say to her was “your desire equals your fear” and she has never looked back. She teaches painting at the TAFE and has also been a street performer and done performance pieces. She says her body was really missing in her work and I am sure movement will influence her painting.

RF What other activities happen in the studio?

AC I have been able to use the studio for projects, such as an Art in Working Life project and the Big Foot Dance Project with Ran Dan Club. In 1994 we brought Llewelyn Wishart from Melbourne to give Body-Mind Centering workshops. During Space Eaters Chris Ryan and I taught here and while I was overseas, Independent New Choreographers hired the space for six weeks. This not only helped me to keep the studio, but it can also be liberating for emerging choreographers to work in a non-institutional space which offers other ways of seeing.

Two years ago I taught a summer intensive which was very popular. People love to be able to use their bodies every day and they also enable me to develop as a teacher. I have also offered women-only classes and I would like to teach a ‘Dancing with Women over 40’ course like Deborah Hay in the States. It becomes a question of how many personal resources I have left after other projects.

I don’t want to teach from a place of exhaustion, I want to teach from a place of fullness. The rewards are much greater. If I drag my body through the teaching practice, then I teach ‘the exhausted body’, even if as a dancer I can camouflage it.

RF Most people probably never acknowledge they are teaching strain and effort.

AC Instead of playfulness, openness. Strangely, this recent performance work I did has an enormous amount of tension, but I could do it because my personal philosophy is to not teach from a stressed place. It allows more humour to come through. I can attribute that to lots of things, such as my family growing up or that I don’t teach here every day, just to make a living.

From the day I took this studio, it seems the different parts of my work have been inclusive of one another. My performance work informs my workshops and vice versa.

RF So has your art-making changed?

AC My life as an artist in Perth has sometimes been extremely lonely. But I know that other artists, different artists, make your life less lonely. The last five years for me have been filled with great professional friendships, with writers, visual artists, photographers, composers. I have worked with them, taught for them, we’ve set up a dialogue and we discuss our work, and it provides a richer dimension to my creative processes. It has also satisfied the intellectual curiosity I have about dancing, which I haven’t had from the dance world.

RF What about your own practice in the studio? The private part of your work?

AC I have done a lot of solo work or small works with just two people—either a writer or a visual artist. I have an ability to be very generous but I also need this very private, reflective or deep meditation. Once I am in the studio, the space itself takes care of me. On the rare occasions when the work is not easy or the practice is difficult or a huge fatigue comes which you hadn’t expected or it is an emotional time, I give over to those feelings or move through them. I have developed a strong discipline in the gentlest meaning of that word. And it gives me immense pleasure.

It is about me coming here for three hours every morning to focus and to have a deep and slow preparation for moving. I don’t speak to anyone, people ask if they can ring me but I would never have a phone. Rarely does anyone knock on the door. I might do my yoga or write. It continually and quietly gives me space to imagine or to restore my imagination. I know that if I go to the studio, the ideas will come.

It is as if my body holds all my ideas, if I can just be there and listen, then they will arise. I am learning to be very astute and it is almost as if you can feel an idea emerging and to not push it. Just have the pen and paper close. That has given me an amazing sense of assurance and trust. It is always the practice. And it won’t happen at home or in a coffee shop, it will happen in here. Here I am allowed to not think about my domestic life or the turmoil of anything else. Here is like a sacred space.

RealTime issue #11 Feb-March 1996 pg. 40

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

Stuart Lynch, Tess de Quincey, Identity

Stuart Lynch, Tess de Quincey, Identity

Stuart Lynch, Tess de Quincey, Identity

Tess De Quincey and Stuart Lynch brief Keith Gallasch about 100 collaborative, free, unrehearsed performances scheduled for Sydney in May

Posing the questions “Can a city be danced” and “To what extent do artists form the shape, sound and feeling of a city?”, two Butoh-trained performers will collaborate directly and indirectly with Sydney artists (performers, musicians, visual artists etc.) in one hundred performances and sites. The discussion began with Lynch and De Quincey describing where they are working now and why.

SL We had been doing many performances across Europe and Australia and it was becoming difficult to do certain choreographic projects that needed a firmer base. So in a way, the next step was to form one base in Sydney and one in Denmark, and to see if that could work.

TD We’ve wanted to bring our work into some kind of arena which makes sense in relation to an Australian content as well, so that an exchange can take place. I guess I’m fascinated by the sense of a global basis and having people from different nationalities working together. I’ve been doing this for a long time, but I want it to make more sense, with a rich load of cultural referencing. I can find all nationalities in Sydney.

SL The idea is also that the project could form a formula, a module. More like a circle, not so specifically focused on two people. So we are collaborating with many different Sydney artists.

KG Would the same approach translate to Copenhagen?

SL We’re not sure yet. Because of the ‘new’ Europe it’s in a very different frame of mind from Australia. On the other hand, very exciting things are happening in the arts in both places cutting across practices.

KG You’ve added a high level of chance by planning one-off spontaneous collaborations with a lot of artists.

TD This project is really built around people, artists from Sydney who represent varying aspects of artistic discipline and the city. They represent certain areas of language and definition. We wanted to get hold of this whole grid of what Sydney is and represents.

KG How well do you know Sydney?

SL I’ve been coming here since ‘89, My father lives here but I grew up in England and with the myth of Australia. I don’t know it as well as people born and bred, but fairly well.

TD My mother was born here and her family is here. I wasn’t born here but my knowledge is strongly affected by my family background.

KG It’s good sometimes to have a sort of semi-grasp of a place, that outside-inside thing. Even for locals, it’s a tricky city. Like many a metropolis, it’s highly pluralised, hard to define.

SL The most difficult aspect is the size of it. To what extent can we deal with that?

TD Of course, we’d like to take hold of the whole animal.

KG It’s a time of rich exploration of the city in literature, visual arts and performance. There’s the debate about the Burley Griffin vision of Canberra, Richard Sennet’s new book about cities, Peter Greenaway’s big city projects, the 1996 Adelaide Festival focus on architecture, Adelaide and Canberra. Your approach, though, is quite different—involving many locals, very open-ended and looking for spontaneous responses.

TD We’re talking about a compression, a combustion, by bringing many things together. The immediacy of meeting and the ‘non-preparation’ can offer an enormous space to the collaborators. When we work we often have long preparation of basic training but we’ll actually put a performance together almost instantly. So we wanted to see how this would work in terms of meeting other people, A musician might rock in without any preparation and just do their thing on the spot. A visual artist might spend months thinking about it, or as long as we can give them when we first make the actual initial contact. We don’t want to meet and define whole areas of—“Well, are we going to do this, or are we going to do that?” It’s a matter of how we can make this space come together and open up the space for meeting through our practices.

KG How important is your selection of the collaborators?

SL What we’ve done is ask several people to choose for us, adding to the element of chance. We don’t want to send out some stiff questionnaire: “Do you want to be involved in non-narrative/narrative performance? Please include a CV.”

KG So it has to be informal.

SL Yes and no. There’s got to be a middle ground. But I imagine each collaboration will define its own codes and parameters.

TD We did ask our consultants to choose on the basis of finding people who represent different areas, generations and practices. It has nothing to do with whether or not we relate to their work, absolutely nothing. That’s going to be the challenge when we meet these people.

KG What spaces will you meet them in?

SL We’re investigating different venues all around the city, and hopefully many of the artists will also want to choose a specific site particularly for this collaboration.

TD The cross-points that spark: “Oh, my grandmother’s bathroom would be fabulous to do something in,” or “There’s a nook just down the street that I’ve had my eye on for years”.

KG Will you begin these spontaneous collaborations with a performative element of your own which the other person slots into, or do you wait until you see what they do?

SL I think it’s going to depend on the relationships being made as we meet. Probably we’ll have to define new strategies for each collaboration.

KG You write about “assaulting the language of dance and performance’. Now, there has been an ongoing assault on the language of dance and performance in theory and especially in practice for many years. For example, you acknowledge there’s a lot of interdisciplinary work that has happened in Sydney. How will one hundred meetings with a wide range of artists intersecting by chance affect notions of performance and dance?

TD One of the things that sparked this project was talking with a sculptor whose work we were immensely impressed by. When we actually came to mention performing in that space she looked absolutely amazed and said she couldn’t possibly envisage it. Our jaws dropped because the possibility had been so obvious to us. Why is there this gap? It must be possible to bridge. Is the problem because sculpture is assumed to relate to inanimation? So we started out partly from frustration. The issue lies in the relationship and awareness between history and matter and space.

SL We want to work with people who might never have even considered it. Sometimes the practice and theory get lost, they don’t meet, and what we very much want is for the theory to come from the practice of working with these people.

KG So you’d rather work with those who don’t already have some kind of formulated notion of the interdisciplinary? Because in Sydney there’s such a strong interknit performance scene, it’s very easy to create self-fulfilling projects.

SL I hope it’s a danger that we will get over by asking others to choose artists who represent a broad range of language.

TD Yes, but on the other hand, the ‘assault’ is also on our practice: the reality of performing three times a day is a massive assault on us and our language. We’re really wondering what is going to happen.

SL Our language has developed not only from our work together, but also from our experiences in Japan, and from the people we’ve been working with over the past few years. For us it’s very much about how that language can define these collaborations, and meet each performance, but also how it can be changed. How strong is that language, and how will it meet and move with the challenge from artists coming to work with us?

There is a bigger question for us at the moment of the legitimisation of Europeans working within the Butoh tradition. What we see a lot of is European performers who copy the image of a Japanese making Butoh. Without being xenophobic, I think it necessary at present to cut out the middle man. The actual essence of the works can also be found in a non Japanese body.

KG You trained with Min Tanaka and the Mai Juku Performance Company. Did Tanaka’s performance Subject, where he travelled the length of Japan and performed every day for three months, inspire this event?

TD Laterally. This was 20 years ago. He was talking about “dancing the space” and “in the space in which you are the space”. There’s now a great deal of talk of kinaesthetics and the body in the environment. For us, it’s great. Suddenly we’re talking with people who hadn’t hitherto really understood how we work in terms of the body as environment and this is straight from the tradition of Min Tanaka and his company. To go back to your point about Compression 100 being done around cities and whether it’s a physical or architectural sense, I think the body is the city.

KG The word ‘dance’ crops up every now and again in your notes as distinct from performance. Do you make a serious distinction between performance and dance?

TD For me, performing in Japan has often been extremely different from performing in Europe. The nature of the language that exists around performance in Japan is different. There are things which are considered natural in Japan but for which there is no language in the West. If you’re working within a Butoh tradition it has another set of definitions. As soon as you move outside this tradition it can be immensely problematic: the whole question of nothingness and to dance nothingness and to be nothingness and to have emptiness. For a Westerner, there is no language around emptiness.

KG How does that relate to performance and dance?

TD What I would consider to be dance, my audience won’t necessarily consider to be so in Australia. On the other hand it shifts around. If you’re in Paris there’s a lot more language around it because they’ve had Butoh performances since the seventies. But again, this has its own limits and it’s also very Parisian.

SL What’s interesting is that I do know when it’s dance and when it’s performance—I can recognise the differences, and yet where do they meet and where are they totally different? Are they ever the same? It’s a question of semantics. I very much want to go back to Japan and talk with Min again in order to ask him these questions. He’s always talked about ‘dancing the space’, so intrinsically it was ‘dance’ although his relation to ‘performance’ is strongly defined by ‘performance art’. He says ‘I dance the space’ Well, do you not ‘perform’ the space also? Whatever, we’re asking “Can a city be danced?” Or performed.

RealTime issue #11 Feb-March 1996 pg. 4

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

Felice Burns  The Ant Watchers

Felice Burns The Ant Watchers

Felice Burns The Ant Watchers

Graeme Watson explains to Eleanor Brickill the ideas and processes behind The Antwatchers for the One Extra Dance Company

GW I’ve often thought about the notion of surveillance and how it establishes criteria for ‘normal’ behaviour. Anything breaking from normality is questioned, maybe disciplined or punished. Surveillance can be used as a protective device but there’s also a predatory aspect, and there’s the pleasure in looking as well. We enjoy watching a baby grow, protecting that child as it develops. A child’s curiosity might lead to unacceptable behaviour followed by a chastising, but you could be chastising them over a lot of nonsense.

EB You’re talking about a kind of behavioural web or shell whereby somebody’s power to watch another person might limit their experience too severely?

GW That surveillance disconnects us from our senses and they become as if fossilised. We can’t fully explore them and our behaviour alters. Sometimes I feel when I’m trying to make dance, that the dancing body itself has become fossilised.

EB Is it only an issue of the sense of sight?

GW The most difficult sense for the dancers in Antwatchers to work with was smell as a form of surveillance and protection and territoriality. It carries such huge memories of both good and bad behaviour. As they explored ideas of self-surveillance through smell, it started to look the same as self-surveillance with the eyes.

EB Connecting the senses?

GW In public spaces, there’s a certain privacy in, say, walking down the street in a crowd. As an individual you don’t feel totally revealed. But now there are cameras up on the buildings and people accept that intrusion.

EB But it can be very personal even in a crowd: passing a busker, say, who’s playing something with a rhythm that you can’t avoid walking to. You think the busker’s watching you do it, because inviting that response is one thing that buskers occasionally do. Suddenly it’s intrusive. A camera on a wall isn’t like that.

GW A camera can “steal” your image because you’re not aware of it. But if a busker does it, that’s like kleptomania. Surveillance has become insidious in our lives. Dance itself has become increasingly market driven: surveillance of the type of material you create. If it fits within the prescribed image then you’re fine. If you depart from it, challenge the criteria set up, you feel like the right for your body to have an imagination is being questioned, that it’s suspect, or perverse.

So we’re basing the work very deliberately on the idea of morphing movement. How do you establish something that’s public, and then how do you discreetly morph it so that the surveillance system can’t identify it any more?

EB You mean that change from one thing to another is not able to be tracked?

GW Yes, you can’t track a human image morphing into being an ant because attached to that human image are all these behavioural criteria. And an ant doesn’t behave like a human being.

EB The paradigm’s changed?

GW Yes, but rather than using video-image-making, I’ve turned back to the body and its extraordinarily rich imagination. In one exercise we looked at the idea of shifting scale, how an ant moves through space, its speed, its definition of time. We define the ant by our sense of time. If you were to bring it up to human scale, it would be four times the size of a cheetah and be able to travel at the speed of a cheetah. The dancers tried to morph their human movement into ant time.

Also, if you look at ant motion, really you’re just looking at the top of it. To examine it you might have to get down to the ant’s level, still maintaining the visual scale. However, if you bring in some technology like a magnifying glass you can see more detail and so forth, but in doing that you start to separate that individual from the larger picture. You might see someone behaving in a particular way, and surveillance says, well look, this is not normal, or this doesn’t meet the criteria, but that’s looking at an individual out of context. You have to understand that the video frame is very selective. It only shows you part of the picture.

One thing that we are trying to do is to turn that surveillance onto the process of making dance itself. I’m trying not to go into a storytelling narrative process; I’m letting the body establish its own feeling, do its own thinking.

EB But even then, the body has already been created in the image of the watcher.

GW Here’s a question I was asked yesterday: “Do you want it to be dancey or pedestrian?” Another comment was: “You know that section there? Well, we’re only improvising”. You just have to hear the words “We’re only improvising” to know that fixed material is seen as much more important.

So this week, I created a little eight pulse phrase. I made it very “Graeme Watson”, my idea of how I approach space and movement. I said to the dancers, “This is the public version. Now, you escape from it. One dancer’s response suggested to me that she was feeling torment. Then there was a vomiting motif. When I looked at another dancer I felt like I was intruding. In breaking the phrase down, they were making a comment about my categorisation of myself: “You’ve set this so I have to move in a particular way. Now I have to break it down and make it invisible, re-assess it.”. In this process, they seem to have developed an extraordinary sense of the internal, as though that is the area of the body that feels most protected from surveillance.

The One Extra Company, Antwatchers with dancers Felice Burns, Lisa Ffrench, Rachel Roberts, Alison Dredge, Taryn Drummond, Charlotte Moar. Choreography and direction by Graeme Watson, music by Antony Partos, set by Eamon D’Arcy, lighting by Rory Dempster, costumes by Jacques Tong. Live music by Ju Ju Space Jazz and DJ Zeitgeist. St George’s Hall, Newtown, from Thursday March 7.

RealTime issue #11 Feb-March 1996 pg. 41

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

AJ First, could you tell us a little about ANAT—its roles and functions?

AMC ANAT was established as a project of the Experimental Art Foundation in Adelaide in 1985, and its brief is to support artists working across a range of scientific and technological media. As an organisation with a national brief to foster links between the arts, sciences and new technology, ANAT essentially acts as a networking, advocacy and service organisation. We are principally funded by the Australia Council, and we undertake a wide range of functions including intensive skills training programs, grant programs through our R&D fund, publication, and exhibition and conference organisation, for example, hosting the Third International Symposium on Electronic Art (TISEA) in Sydney in 1992. ANAT also maintains a database of artists working with new technologies throughout Australia, and we publish information in our newsletter and on our website. Since its inception in 1985, ANAT has been at the forefront of the movement to position artists as active participants in the ‘information age’.

AJ You took up your position in November ‘95. Could you reflect on ANAT’s track record prior to your directorship?

AMC ANAT has always been in a difficult position. One of its primary problems is that it’s always been seriously under-resourced, so that, with its broad national brief, its profile is not what I think it could be. However, the outcomes of its training programs have been fantastic for artists who have skilled up and gone on to develop national and international reputations. Similarly, in the grant programs, quite small amounts of money have supported many innovative artists who have subsequently achieved national and international acclaim in the media.

AJ ANAT is based in Adelaide, yet the focus of much new media activity, and particularly now, multimedia development, has been along the east coast axis.

AMC I think it’s an overstatement to suggest that the focus of activity has been on the east coast. There’s certainly significant activity on the east coast because of the critical mass of people, but there are also exciting developments throughout Australia, exemplified by the fact that ANAT grew up in Adelaide, and that one of the first two successful Cooperative Multimedia Centre (CMC) bids was a Perth-based bid.

However, developing a higher national profile within the arts community, in industry and amongst the broader community, is something that’s high on my agenda for ANAT. For example, I’m establishing a national advisory committee which will assist me to formulate policy on the development of ANAT’s profile nationally, and that of artists working with new technologies across all artforms.

AJ As you’re aware, recent cultural policy has established a range of initiatives to support the development of a multimedia industry in Australia. What is the role of ANAT in the development of such an ‘industry’?

AMC Creative Nation had a very strong focus on multimedia. However this focus has been economically driven, and the support has predominantly gone to industry development, not to art and cultural imperatives. Many artists are understandably finding that problematic. ANAT has a role to play in making clear that the only way we’re going to develop a sustainable industry is by ensuring that artists are integrally involved from the developmental stages. The CMCs for example should be supporting artists’ research and development and providing digital skills training opportunities. We clearly cannot establish a genuinely innovative and viable industry unless artists have opportunities for R&D and experimentation within that industry sector.

AJ There’s also been criticism of late of the Australia Council’s response—or lack of it—to new media and technology-based arts practice in the wake of Creative Nation. As director of an Australia Council funded organisation, what is your assessment of their response?

AMC I’m pleased to report that the Council has recently provided ANAT with a one-off allocation of $90,000 to increase support to artists working in this area. It’s not a vast amount, but it will double our research and development fund to $80,000. The funding will also work towards helping me to establish a national profile for the organisation.

I think the Australia Council was particularly slow off the mark in developing policy: I haven’t seen any demonstration of any Australia Council policy on art and technology presented publicly to date. At the same time, Council was put in a difficult position, insofar as it was presented by Creative Nation with an imprimatur to support artists working with new technologies—in order to get ‘creative content’ onto the ‘information highway’—but it wasn’t provided with any financial resources dedicated to this area. As far as developing effective and responsive policy, it will be critical that Council looks to genuine consultation with artists—not just policymakers, but artists working with new technologies in formulating policy directions.

AJ What is the current state of technology-based arts practice in Australia?

AMC Australian artists have been experimenting with new technologies and digital media for many years, and there’s a great diversity of practice, from installation work in conventional gallery settings, to online work, to video exhibition, to interactive CD ROM, through to electronic sound. There’s also a groundswell of extremely interesting work at an ‘underground’ level in collectives like Clan Analogue who produce electronic sound and installation: work that doesn’t fit into an ‘art’ milieu but is culturally very interesting. There are established digital artists like Jill Scott and Peter Callas who are absolutely at the forefront of these areas internationally. There’s also online work: ventures like Parallel in Adelaide which runs an online gallery and a journal developing discourse around these areas. I’m particularly interested in supporting the grass-roots experimental edge of technology-based practices that are emerging in Australia.

AJ What are your plans for ANAT over the next couple of years?

AMC My first priority is to develop the profile of ANAT nationally, because I believe that by doing that you assist in developing the profile of artists working in new technologies. ANAT also has a role to play in enhancing Australian artists’ capacity to network internationally, and I’ll be furthering our relationships with international networks such as ISEA.

It’s critical that we continue to support the development of art practices through our art R&D fund by providing direct funding to artists. But it’s also critical that we develop exhibition opportunities for artists to present work in a critical context, whether that be in conventional gallery spaces—there’s a major need in Australia for venues properly outfitted to show technology-based work—or online, which presents fantastic opportunities for experimentation with the medium. I’m particularly keen in this regard for ANAT to develop its online presence so that we can further develop the profile of artists and assist them to better promote and market themselves. The development of the field relies on the potential to promote, exhibit, discuss and develop a critical discourse around technology-based practices. I’m aiming to achieve that critically important balance between support for artists’ production, research and development, and support for presentation opportunities within a critical discourse, while working to build the profile of the organisation.

RealTime issue #11 Feb-March 1996 pg. 21

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

In the wake of the Creative Nation cultural policy document, launched in October 1994, the much touted new media technologies of our post-computer epoch—especially the current hyperbole heralding the internet and CD-ROMs, amongst other popular forms of emerging computer-inflected media—require a sustained deconstructive analysis of the complex dialectic existing between electronic media, culture, gender and power.

We live in an increasingly mediated world where the computer and its related techno-utopian myths of artifice, control and rationality are instrumental in creating a sense of reality that is becoming more intricate, more contingent. Given that we are becoming more reliant on digital languages of representation—where the discourse between images and knowledge, cognition and epistemology is being radically transformed—it behoves us to formulate the awkward questions that analyse the cultural mechanisms of Western representation, questions about our socio-cultural institutions and ourselves and our prevailing dependency on spurious modernist paradigms and their legacy to Cartesian perspectivalism.

When examining interactive CD-ROMs as the popular mode of digital media technology, we have to ask why this is so? How do we precisely locate them in consumer culture, contemporary art practice and the older cultural forms and outcomes? How do we approach interactive CD-ROM art in a meaningful dialogic manner? If we are going to probe beyond the current penchant for defining CD-ROMs as something more than an expedient commercial down-loading technology so Australia may enter the post-broadcast world of satellite communications, then we should not avoid addressing the difficult cultural, gender and phenomenological issues. We need to remind ourselves (something that Creative Nation conveniently overlooks) that our academic and popular discourse about electronic media (including CD-ROMs) should negotiate the key problem of aesthetic and ethical abdication (Felix Guattari) and the substantial significance of the more marginalised artists and their oeuvres, artists who have been central (since the historical avant-garde) to the little understood, (in)visible historical narrative of electronic art.

The forthcoming show Burning the Interface, curated by media artist Mike Leggett and curator Linda Michael at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney is the first major survey exhibition of international and local artists’ use of CD-ROM technology that seeks to address these critical issues. It will italicise through its 30 or so diverse examples the range of ideas, forms and approaches informing this new interactive multimedia medium.

Curatorially, as a comprehensive showing of interactive CD-ROM, the exhibition thankfully does not subscribe to the worst critical excesses of intellectual fashions of the post-aesthetic, post-auratic and post-philosophical strands of contemporary thought. For it also contests the glib euphoric double-talk and ethical solipsism that still characterise our critical approach to the digital arts and the persistent tendency to evaluate them in terms of the more established forms of cultural production. This signifies the hermeneutic necessity to question how many examples of new media—including interactive CD-ROMs—exemplify conceptual, formal and technological facets of a “boy’s own adventure narrative” and the overall problematic cultural mind-set that the personal computer suggests “a dialogue with the infinite” (Iain Chambers), or if you prefer, the thematic premise of Disney’s fully computer-animated feature Toy Story (1995) of “infinity and beyond”.

Burning the Interface aims to advance popular and specialist interests in examining the potential of CD-ROM interactivity for experimental artistic expression and casts a fairly wide net over artists who are already navigating the medium. The curators decided not to include works that are archival/documentation or artist CV in emphasis, nor works that are primarily developed as computer games. From over 130 proposals from fourteen countries (publicised through the internet that is metamorphosing into a gallery space—a curatorial phenomenon that will rapidly expand as we witness the dynamic growth of cybersalons, etc.) the show will exhibit works from overseas artists like Eric Lanz, Luc Courchesne, George Legrady, and David Blair, and locally Troy Innocent, Phil George/Ralph Wayment, Linda Dement, Brad Miller and John Colette.

These works were chosen for their experimental engagement, reflexivity and humour and share a major conceptual and technical interest in using the CD-ROM interface to permit the user to navigate (with varying critical success) image (still and moving), word and sound, to experience differing levels of conceptual and technological immersion. In the main, this show is interested in exploring the complex aesthetic facets and possibilities of the CD-ROM interactive encounter and in presenting works that explicitly address a reflexive take on the limits, contradictions and experimental innovation of interactivity. It endeavours to go beyond Creative Nation’s mistaken corporate emphasis of CD-ROM technology as a marketing/instructional medium.

Amongst the eight or so Australian exhibits, three examples of local interactive CD-ROM art come to mind : Michael Buckley’s elliptical sound-driven The Swear Club (1994), Brad Miller’s Deleuzean-inspired A Digital Rhizome (1994) and Phil George and Ralph Wayment’s interactive installation meditation on cultural displacement and memory Mnemonic Notations 5 (1996).

Buckley’s humorous and inventive The Swear Club displays a diverse cross-disciplinary interest in experimental film, sound art, animation and graphic design. Its pronounced visual and verbal pun-encrusted concerns and minimalist audiovisual style reflect Buckley’s non-didactic playful critique of the more familiar ‘point and click’ technological determinism that often flaws CD-ROM art. The Swear Club’s Art Brut influenced graphic and typographic features are ideal for its autobiographical subject matter based on Buckley’s personal father and son motif.

Miller’s reflexive computer-generated screen and mouse interactive A Digital Rhizome, is structured on the central notion of the rhizome as stated by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s “schizo-analysis” philosophy, and represented by their book A Thousand Plateaus (1987). The evocative digital images of this exhibit are based on sophisticated image-processing software and operate as a fairly reflexive digital collage. Its Quicktime movies, still images, sampled soundtracks and multilayered graphic design allow the user to form his or her own elaborate connections and links. Further, the artist’s digitised appropriation of Deleuze and Guattari is structured on an unobtrusive interactive interface, so as we follow numerous flights of intensities and relations we have entered into an interzone where identity, the body, space and scale are in constant transition.

George and Wayment’s Mnemonic Notations 5 (1996) is an interactive installation in a darkened room consisting of a large screen, a fish tank, and a black plexiglass table where the user can utilise a mouse to manipulate the work’s highly compressed collage images of cyberpunk mythology, postmodern science, Tantric Buddhist symbols, Celtic mazes and Orthodox Greek mysticism. Inspired by John McCrone’s 1990 paper “The Ape that Spoke” this installation explores in vivid spatial and metaphorical terms George’s long standing interest in postcolonial identity and memory. Between the table and the screen is the fish tank featuring carp that activate (via surveillance software) the installation’s soundtrack.

The international CD-ROMs, like the local examples, feature an experimental inventiveness that suggests a questioning approach to the orthodoxies of modernism, postmodernism and the computer tools of interactive multimedia production. Characteristically, they also display a diverse array of thematic and formal interests: cybernetics, cultural histories, subjectivity, the body, autobiography, language, and sexuality.

Luc Courchesne’s deftly constructed Portrait One (1995) features a female ‘virtual being’ conversing in three languages (English, French and German). The conversation that unfolds as we interact with the exhibit’s minimalist interface depends on the answers, questions and comments we select from the available sets on the computer screen. Portrait One’s ‘face to face’ encounter with the virtual subject resonates with irony considering the complex philosophic issues relating to computer-generated interactivity, choice, and participation. Nevertheless, its overall engaging textual approach suggests an inventive humorous simplicity in terms of interactive design.

Tamas Waliczky’s The Forest (1994), like Courchesne’s work, manifests an uncomplicated design approach to CD-ROM interactivity (particularly if exhibited as an installation). Its intricate 3D forest imagery and appealing soundtrack of bus or tram sounds suggest the work’s prefigurative tradition of the ‘ride’ movie of the early twentieth century. In this context, it also suggests many links with virtual reality arcade games (especially the “third window”(Virilio) variety of racing cars and jet planes). Through its omni-directional ‘clicking’ design emphasis we can journey through Waliczky’s atmospheric forest in any given direction. In another critical sense, interacting with The Forest resembles an elaborate long take or dolly shot in classical cinema: there is a pervasive sense of unstoppable movement as in the case of the celebrated extended long take in Murnau’s Sunrise where the couple travel by cable car from the country to the city.

Finally, George Legrady’s documentary styled An Anecdoted Archive from the Cold War (1994) represents an “inventory-archaeology” of home movies, personal objects, recent collage videos, archive propaganda films, and stories delineating the artist’s own history in the context of the Cold War. The main structural motif that defines the exhibit’s interactive interface are the floor plans of the Former Hungarian Workers’ Movement (Propaganda) Museum Palace of Buda Castle (Building A) Budapest. These floor plans constitute Legrady’s memory-aid text (echoing similar conceptual and formal interests in Woody Vasulka’s subjective documentary video The Art of Memory) as we navigate through the various rooms of the artist’s personal history. Its ‘non-linear’ subject matter functions as a paradox in the context of the CD-ROM’s colourful linear floor plans.

Burning the Interface is not only a survey showcase exhibition of the more creative instances of personal CD-ROM art but it illustrates how these multimedia exhibits are transforming many of our assumptions about what constitutes art and to be ‘human’, and are an integral part of our ‘lifeworld’ and its growing non-neutral deep technological concerns and textures.

Burning the Interface, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney March 27-June 30

RealTime issue #11 Feb-March 1996 pg. 22

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

One of the most quoted aphorisms of the century, ‘The medium is the message’, comes from Marshall McLuhan, joint founder of ‘media studies’ worldwide and anticipator of the ‘new technologies’. Derrick de Kerckhove, associate of McLuhan and now director of the Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto, in his recent book, The Skin of Culture, continues to use aphorisms. Besides being economical with language they impose that moment of reflection which allows the reader to explore and extract a full meaning, if not several. Such interaction is at the core of de Kerckhove’s concern and is both the form and content of his book.

The discourse covers the ‘era of television’ to the ‘Age of the Mind’ (or the collective intelligence made possible by the meeting of minds via the net). The work of various theorists and scientists, many unfamiliar but intriguingly presented, aid in the development of the description. The currently converging aspects of our technologies and systems of communication are inflected by de Kerckhove’s acknowledged expertise on language and literacy theory. The alphabet as software for the platform of Western culture is the paradigm maintained—literacy is the attendant who has strapped us into a straitjacket. Other cultural practices and beliefs are either similarly trapped or provide clues to movement for the new social architectures.

He describes, for instance, two modes of listening: “…oral listening tends to be global and comprehensive whilst literate listening is specialised and selective…Greek tragedy is nothing but the literary and dramatic response to new sensory conditions introduced by alphabetic literacy”. Similar conditions accompany every new technology, and are tracked to the present day with much extemporising on the consequences of developing world-wide telecomputers and other “psychotechnologies”. These “define any technology that emulates, extends or amplifies the powers of our minds”.

The cultural shift that comes about with a new medium marks movement away from the (literate) “private universe of mind to the public world of the cathode ray tube”. It is here that for the first time a collective intelligence is being developed and tested. It is where modes of ‘listening’ are being re-defined and he mentions the work of some ‘media’ artists, though too few—David Blair’s Waxweb project for instance—who develop in the oral tradition many of the issues raised by this book.

Empowerment and the ability to participate is raised at various points but little reference is made to the ‘psychotechnologies’ developed by the corporates through the earlier period of the ‘Age of Information’ and which were, and remain, significantly participatory—8mm film, sound recording, video and more recently the handycam and snapshot photography phenomenon. Practised at a popular and artisanal level these recent mediums might have provided illustrative as well as evidential material.

Maybe it is De Kerckhove (or this reviewer), who is happiest with the sections that communicate in the ‘literate’ tradition. Besides various cognitive aspects of ourselves, topics also include an insight into Japanese culture, and a description of the bogey-world of neural nets. As a long-time and frequent visitor to Japan he usefully describes the phenomenon of ma, which “connotes the complex network of relationships between people and objects”. Based on analogue rather than digital processes, these nets respond to a range of values, rather than the binary values which characterise the digital computer, and mimic the human brain’s skill at comparing patterns of interconnections between thousands of sets of variables. The series of interconnected neurodes or receptor/decision points adapt and learn. Already neural nets have many industrial applications and move ever closer to the HAL machine of Kubrick’s 2001.

De Kerckhove suggests that we “create political mechanisms to protect universal access and freedom of expression as well as right to privacy on the net”, having established a few pages earlier that as an organic, self-organising entity, “Our obsolescent political notions are going to be thoroughly trashed by it”. The creation of many such mechanisms are long overdue—and we are yet again confronted with the option of the commune. De Kerckhove’s general optimism may overcome, but he advocates ‘business’ as the ‘collective mind’ to determine and build the wired world he clearly favours. In support of this notion we should remember that it is a commercial computer network operator that the German government has recently made moves on in order to restrict access to the internet’s vociferous newsgroups.

Ironic that it was a German, Georg Lichtenberg, who in developing the art of the aphorism in the 18th century devised one which the advocacy associated with the McLuhan Program would appreciate: “There are many people who won’t listen until their ears are cut off”.

In his book De Kerckhove addresses the psychological and cultural most convincingly—by directing us away from the prescriptive of the literate ear and towards the associative of the oral ear—again with another aphorism: “Our neglect of the ear may be one of the prices we have paid for literacy”.

Derrick de Kerckhove, The Skin of Culture: Investigating the New Electronic Reality, Somerville House Publishing, Toronto. ISBN 1-895897-45-9 Pbk

RealTime issue #11 Feb-March 1996 pg. 24

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

http://www.merlin.com.au/stelarc/ [expired]
The Stelarc Web site is a triumph of simplicity. Given the weighty complexity of the technological and theoretical terrain inhabited by Australia’s most enduring and original performance artist it could easily have been otherwise. Images of the artist suspended sixty metres above a Tokyo street; operating his robotic third arm; or microfilm representations of his internally implanted ‘stomach sculpture’ elicit the kind of fascination reserved for the truly exotic, in respect of which Stelarc is in a league of his own. The artist’s Web site is useful in that it allows the viewer to understand something of Stelarc’s intentions in making works of art which can be so viscerally affecting as to obscure the intellectual property which supports them. It does so with the simplest of devices.

The Home Page presents an arresting collage of images from Stelarc’s performances which can take some time to download, so after an initial visit it is advisable, if using Netscape, to switch off Auto Image Loading. The menu offers a selection of documents, each a brief statement from the artist, alluding to a particular phase of his work. Titles include: Amplified Body, Fractal Flesh, Obsolete Body, Redesigning the Body, The Hum of the Hybrid and The Shedding of Skin, among others. The statements are succinct, transparent and provocative. For example:

It is no longer a matter of perpetuating the human species by REPRODUCTION, but of enhancing male-female intercourse by human-machine interface. THE BODY IS OBSOLETE. We are at the end of philosophy and human physiology. Human thought recedes into the human past.

Stelarc’s preoccupation is with the transcendence of the body beyond its biologically determined, psycho-physical limits in preparation for an extraterrestrial future. On this point he is quite explicit, particularly when referring to his Shedding of Skin project, the intention of which is to develop a synthetic skin capable of photosynthesising chemical nutrients. In Stelarc’s work, Deleuze and Guattari’s Body Without Organs strives to find a material form.

Off the Earth, the body’s complexity, softness and wetness would be difficult to sustain. The strategy should be to HOLLOW, HARDEN and DEHYDRATE the body to make it more durable and less vulnerable.

Elsewhere the artist has suggested that to remain on Earth would be a suicidal mistake for the human race and that the best option is extraterrestrial migration facilitated by a hybridisation of biology and technology of the kind speculated on in Stelarc’s work. In holding these views the artist finds himself in the company of luminaries like American spacecat Dr Timothy Leary who, since his ‘halcyonagenic’ days in the 60s, has busied himself as an advocate for and investor in the intergalactic removal business.

Stelarc proposes, without a hint of the romantic, that redesigning the body should be driven by its need to match the efficiency of technology, which at present it does not. Instead of moaning about post-modern disorders such as ‘information overload’ we should hybridise machine and body so that the human form can function efficiently in the face of unrelenting, technological forward motion. Once the skin is shed we literally begin to exist outside the obsolete construct of the self. Even our dreams, imagination, images will run more efficiently in a technological as opposed to a biopsychic medium. According to Stelarc:

Virtual reality technology allows a transgression of boundaries between male/female, human/machine, time/space. The self becomes situated beyond the skin. This is not a disconnecting or a splitting, but an EXTRUDING OF AWARENESS. What it means to be human is no longer the state of being immersed in genetic memory but rather in being reconfigured in the electromagnetic field of the circuit—IN THE REALM OF THE IMAGE.

The Web site, which also contains brief biographical notes, forces the visitor to engage with the ideas which dwell behind the raw shock of Stelarc. In this respect it is well conceived and designed with a minimal elegance by Gary Zebington of Merlin Integrated Media. Having gained an insight into the motivations and intentions of the artist one is better equipped to appreciate the power of his performance work. However, those who enjoy the exquisite kiss, the quiet joys of digesting a long lunch or the sensation of time as vapour in daydreaming may not be so enthusiastic about Stelarc’s preferred future. Indeed, some would suggest that Stelarc—who has unsuccessfully applied for inclusion in a NASA mission—should get on board the next departing Timothy Leary Intergalactic Express.

I have secretly held until now a hairbrained theory that Mars was once occupied by Europeans who, having expunged that planet of all carbonaceous life to the point of a chafed redness, transmigrated their way of life to the nearby blue planet. This would explain the current preoccupation with effecting a similar scenario here on Earth in the late 20th century. Stelarc’s work and the Blade Runner ideas informing it represent the most blatant form of abdication of responsibility for the viability of human life cloaked in a rational, dispassionate discourse. Having visited his Web site I suspect my hairbrained theory is at least as plausible as his nightmare vision and, for the record, I for one have no intention of surrendering my organs nor quitting the exquisite kiss.

RealTime issue #11 Feb-March 1996 pg. 25

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

If there is any single connection in the diverse offerings that forms the Adelaide Festival’s film season In Spaces Unsuspected, it is a theme of dislocation. This is not intended as a reductive comment: the season is diverse with films from Australia, Eastern and Western Europe, Japan, with a feature from Israel and Tunisia thrown in for good measure. The selection includes a couple of international premieres (Rolf de Heer’s The Quiet Room) as well as films that have already had at least limited releases, such as Tracy Moffat’s Bedevil. A variety of genres have been selected: features on both 35 and 16 mm, work shot directly onto video, a performance piece by Adelaide artist Stephen Housten, shorts both local and international, experimental work including a retrospective from the Brothers Quay as a prelude to their inaugural feature Institute Benjamenta, and a comprehensive selection of electronic art. Even a current release, Emir Kusturica’s extraordinary Underground, has been included, an indication that program director Cecelia Cmielewski has aimed for works which may sit somewhat uncomfortably together but consequently are required to enter into an intense dialogue with each other.

Eastern Europe’s tentative experiments with Western democracy form the most obvious examples of dislocation. It also reveals that this is not so much experienced through space, but history. The former Yugoslavia currently represents the bloodiest outcome of ancient wounds both real and imagined, but for that very reason it is the hardest to understand: it is the unimaginable brought to life. Our own media certainly prefers to represent the Balkans in ethnic terms (as if those concerned weren’t all Caucasian), therefore something naturally inevitable. History in this context is rarely mentioned.

But this is where the program’s thesis comes into play. It extends well beyond issues of representation into its role as historical process: time, memory and enigma. Gary Lane’s trilogy of shorts The Stream, The Lake and The Bridge expresses this perfectly. Each film uses striking visuals to set up a conundrum of protagonists caught between impossible choices. The first and the last draw on the Balkan experience: a bridge no longer connects but becomes a site of callous betrayal, a beautiful forest stream is where a woman is driven to murder those she loves just to survive. It is Lane’s centre-piece that recalls that such horrors are not the prerogative of the former Communist block. The Lake depicts Western democracy’s own historical aporia. A young Jewish woman who conducts tours of a concentration camp is horrifically attacked by a neo-Nazi. Her successful attempt to escape leaves him drowning in a lake. Should she save him? In depicting history as personal aporia, Lane succeeds in representing it not as linear inevitability but as a riddle, as profoundly disturbing as the oracles of the Ancients. History is not what we remember, it’s what we forget.

This is also central to I Was Hamlet, in part an extended interview with the German playwright Heiner Müller. It is impossible, he says, to speak truthfully about what was East Germany. He can’t condemn it—everyone else does—nor defend it. It represents the cause celebre of the moment, the ultimate criminal state, unique in that its secret files have been exposed for all to see. Its real function now, he argues, is not to reveal the truth but to overlay the memory of Nazi fascism, to disrupt the accuracy of an already imperfect memory of Germany’s recent past. That I Was Hamlet also uses a variety of digitally generated effects to build on Müller’s commentary is no accident. It recalls that ultimate essay-film—Chris Marker’s Sunless—which examines the role of cinema and, by implication that technology which will supersede the cinema, in filling in our historical aphasia. Like Marker’s project, In Spaces Unsuspected uses cinema to investigate these aphasic effects in a variety of situations: the women of Tunisia, the experience of contemporary Japan, the experiences of Australia’s migrant and indigenous peoples.

As Marker shows, it requires extremely sophisticated accounts to successfully apply concepts like aphasia, repression and foreclosure to history, let alone to connect the massive shifts of historical process to the intimacies of personal recollection. Accordingly, the program undertakes an exploration in interior worlds, mapping phantasmagoria as a mirror of more material forces. Included here are diverse films: Chantal Ackerman’s Portrait of a Young Girl at the End of the 60s in Brussels, and Rolf de Heer’s The Quiet Room. It includes a selection of electronic work curated by Kari Hanet under the rubric of New Territories, dedicated to notions of memory and identity. It also provides the perfect place to insert the Brothers Quay, whose films extend the Surrealist’s pre-occupation with the unconscious into their own uniquely visceral landscapes.

Such intersections of the personal and the political lead to two Adelaide produced shorts: Tony Kastanos’s In Search Of… and Patricia Balfour and Joya Steven’s Atavistic Traces. Traces renders this intersection in mythic terms—the newly dead gathering up the footsteps of their mortal lives—thereby rendering the familiar as strange as an analogy for the migrant experience. Liz Burke’s salute to Australian horse-racing, The Needy and the Greedy traverses similar terrain from a very different cultural perspective. And anyone familiar with the films of Ross Gibson and the videos of Geoff Weary and Mark Jackson will also understand how their own pre-occupations fit this theme.

Mark Hawker’s Zombietown returns us to the former Yugoslavia, specifically Belgrade. It demonstrates how resistance to history’s relentless tanks genuinely does occur in the least suspected places. In this case it is Belgrade’s youth adopting a post-punk culture centred on a quasi-legal radio station, an act of cultural defiance in the face of the inexplicable, and in a city that should by rights be browbeaten and haunted but is surprisingly dynamic.

The relationship between memory, record and technology which marks out the cinema’s unique powers has been given full throttle. Given its context within a festival dominated by live performance, this provides a particularly suitable emphasis.

In Spaces Unsuspected screens at the Mercury Cinema, Adelaide March 7-13 with session times of 5.30, 7.30 & 9.30pm plus Saturday March 9 at 2.00pm.

RealTime issue #11 Feb-March 1996 pg. 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RealTime issue #11 Feb-March 1996 pg. 27

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