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Lisa Ffrench, (H.T.D.A.P.H)
How To Draw A Perfect Heart

Lisa Ffrench, (H.T.D.A.P.H)
How To Draw A Perfect Heart

There’s something spooky about attending a performance in an empty shop, particularly when it’s one of those characterless boxes that are part of a much bigger complex. It’s as if absent, glassy-eyed shoppers haunt the space, searching for merchandise, offended by the frivolous goings on. On this Saturday night, drunken passers-by perform for us in the window before moving on. As if pre-empting this atmosphere, a surreal, intensely performative aesthetic informs the items presented in the space, six in all by choreographers: Cadi McCarthy, Janet Charlton, Barbara Mullin, Vivienne Rogis, Lisa Ffrench and James Berlyn.

Part of the Festival of Contemporary Arts in Canberra, this collection titled To The Wall, was curated by choreographer Paige Gordon and her influence could certainly be seen in unifying elements across the programme; comedy, character-based drama and the use of song and dialogue. As she states in the program, her primary concern is “an interest in making dance accessible by making it entertaining”. While conforming to the aesthetic of the host company/choreographer raises obvious questions, it was actually great to see a dance collection that managed some kind of cohesion. The one factor that did divide the program—straight down the middle in fact—was the relative choreographic experience of Charlton, Ffrench and Berlyn, in comparison with McCarthy, Mullin and Rogis. Having said that, McCarthy’s piece Waiting showed promise in developing a single idea well.

Interestingly, the three more successful pieces shared a particular tendency within dance practice to choose between pure, choreographed movement sequences and a mixture of performance techniques including, but not privileging, movement. These choreographers chose the latter. The site specific Retail Therapy by Charlton is a case in point. In what amounted to an exercise in hyperbole, Ffrench, Berlyn, comedienne Darren Gisherman and Charlton herself began outside the window as drooling shoppers, drawn inside by an overwhelming, obsessive force and finally overcome in a frenzy of wanton consumerism that culminated in a song delivered cabaret style—“five dollars…only five dollars…”. Comedic skills are often demanded of dancers not up to the challenge, but in this case Charlton was lucky—or wise—in having genuinely funny people at her disposal.

In H.T.D.A.P.H. (How To Draw A Perfect Heart), Lisa Ffrench continued her often autobiographical project on obsessive human behaviour. Beginning with a Psycho-style shower scene, Ffrench confounds expectations when the bloody smears on the fake glass shower curtain take on the form of a heart. Emerging clad in a Glad-Wrap beehive and black slip, Ffrench’s monologue/dance develops around the image of the two-sided heart. The difficulty, when drawing hearts, to match the second half to the first becomes the obsession, the central idea which propagates to encompass many facets of love—disparity, co-dependence, two as one, obsession, repetition…this idea can go places not yet dreamt of by Ffrench which is proof of a good idea.

The final work for the evening was Berlyn’s Attraction Suite and sweet it was. Arrivals and departures, awkward casualness and polystyrene cups set up a party scene where a suite of couplings unfold. Fascination, excitement, boredom, duplicity…all the elements of attraction are depicted, with differing levels of comic sensibility from performers Charlton, McCarthy, Rogis and Simon Clarke. McCarthy’s performance as a panting, love sick party-goer, all trembling and swooning, was spot on. Berlyn’s own comic talent, given a regular airing by his alter-ego, the drag character Buffy, stood him in good stead.

Down a block, around the corner and up the hill a very different performance unfolded in a ‘proper’ theatre, also a part of the festival. What do Padma Menon, Diana Reyes, Nigel Kellaway and Gary Lester have in common? A production called Laya: Women Who Dare, presented by Padma Menon Dance Theatre. This is indeed a daring enterprise for Menon who lists herself as choreographer/artistic director, Reyes as flamenco tutor, Kellaway as dramaturgy assistant and Lester as contemporary tutor. (The dancers are credited as co-creators.) To have these four, individually distinctive, often formally unambiguous artists involved in the one project, suggests a significant central concept; one which could inspire, and furthermore, make imperative such collaborations. Cultural hybridisation is also implied in this list of contributing artists; a fusion of performance styles driven together by an artistic impulse clearly understood and committed to by all members involved. Needless to say, a lot to ask. Menon has aimed high in Laya… and by the end of the show, the perils of such an ambitious project are painfully evident. What is also clear is a recklessly daring spirit, a commendable choice of cast and an often sensitive treatment of a difficult theme.

Laya is about women—their sexuality, strength, victimisation and relationships with each other. Indian, Spanish and contemporary dance vocabularies are particularly rich for women, with female dancers being historically significant in terms of their creation and development. This goes some way towards explaining Menon’s choice of collaborators.

Diana Reyes’ virtuosic style of flamenco is exceptionally aggressive and strong, her compact figure demanding your attention and holding it. Indian dance can match Spanish in strength, and has a softer register that expresses a particularly feminine type of passion. Stylistically, both forms focus on the arms, hands, face and feet and in the first half these practical points of contact were worked through. The dancers, asked to be proficient in so many, incredibly complex forms, often appeared to be progressing step by step, the themes being left to some Kellawayesque illuminations, where screaming, retching and twitching said emphatically what the dance sequences alluded to. Somewhere amongst all this, contemporary dance served as a strange kind of link, filling in the gaps but never appearing point blank.

The second half was a completely different show; minimal, sensual and completely seductive. Bare backed, voluptuous women (Peta Bull and Jane McKernan were strongest in this half), caressed themselves and each other in simple movement sequences, alluding to auto-eroticism, lesbianism and the intimate, often silent communication between women. This idea developed alone could have said more than the formal crisis that the first half amounted to.

Laya, Padma Menon Dance Theatre; To The Wall, Paige Gordon and Performance Group, Festival of the Contemporary Arts, Canberra, October 18

RealTime issue #22 Dec-Jan 1997 pg. 34

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

One of the many things that keeps me coming back for more in dance is the unique ways it evokes a sense of place: how movement stories create connections with viewers in distinct moments in time and space; how I recall a piece in my mind and reconnect with that moment. It’s something I’ve felt more conspicuously since I moved to Canberra from Brisbane. The history of place has shifted. No doubt the experience will help to expand my connection with dance and place, but for now I can enjoy the newness; the sharpening of perception it provokes.

Canberra’s Festival of Contemporary Arts has just had its third incarnation. Between October 9 and 19 there was a lot going on at the Gorman House Arts Centre and other arts venues around town. In trying to piece together my thoughts on the works I saw during this time, I found myself focusing on how the different artists dealt with the idea of the contemporary, as well as how past and place impacted upon the idea.

Spontaneous Combustion. As the title of a collection of works, the association is to explosive, impulsive and improvised material. Maybe this wasn’t realised, but Spontaneous Combustion proved to be a fun introduction to the work of Canberra’s independent artists. Vivienne Rogis’ Ya Ya was threaded throughout the program, developing in three mad episodes over the course of the evening: Ya Ya, Ya Ya The 1st Corner, and Ya Ya The Last Lap. Six ‘drivers’ struggle for position in a race; hands clenched on imaginary steering wheels, eyes focused, chewing gum, feet shuffling in a frenzy that mimicked the accompanying music by Cake. The climax is perfect chaos.

Like Ya Ya, A Perfect Day used music as an important part of the story. Choreographer Janine Ayres examines what makes a perfect day and what follows a perfect day, using Lou Reed’s song to set the scene. It’s a playful, investigative work, with more than a touch of melodrama. A video showing the performers strolling the streets of Canberra in their pyjamas, doing weird and wonderful things, like goofily sliding down escalators, gives the piece another layer of performance—although the connection between the video and the real bodies in the space could possibly have been explored more fully.

Also ‘spontaneously combusting’ was Tiger by Beren Molony. With the music of April Stevens’ fabulously wicked Teach me Tiger filling the theatre, two performers have a ludicrous seduction battle over an imaginary love interest. The war is fought using props like a loaf of bread, egg beater and broom in mysteriously sexy ways. The leopard skin outfit and fantastic wigs make this a fun work that says a lot more than my short and sweet response may suggest.

Canberra Dance Theatre presented Visions 7…1997, a collection of works by choreographers Sandra Inman and Stephanie Burridge. Abstract movement images, bold spectacle, virtuosic dance and comic moments were strong features of this mixed program. Burridge in particular seems to have a canny ability to incorporate absurdities into her choreography, turning the focus of the dance on its head in curious ways. This was most evident in joop/.sb. and still life, the latter with Patrick Harding Irmer and Anca Frankenhaeuser taking on some freakily funny roles. Burridge’s dysfunction, performed by Amalia Hordern, explodes at a frantic pace to the music of Bang on a Can, with lots of agitated movement: arms flailing, darting about the space, stumbling. Set against slow, restless movement, the pace is constantly unresolved. It’s a short piece that punches. Inman’s weavers reworks more traditional and familiar modern dance with a distinctly dynamic quality: jerky jumps, leg swings, precise footwork and signature steps of contemporary dance technique.

In Speaking of Winged Feet by Canberra Choreographic Centre residency recipient Niki Shepherd, Kuchipudi Indian Dance Theatre is interwoven with percussive rhythms and intimate song. This is a collection of works by Shepherd, with each verse in her poetic movement story revealing new explorations. Shepherd spoke after the performance about her attraction to the Greek god Hermes, “messenger of the gods, guardian of music and bringer of dreams”. This influence was palpable, with Shepherd’s winged feet taking us to Hermes. Her connection with the Greek god is contagious for a few moments there. She stomps around the space, and yet there’s a sense of weightlessness to her movement, with a strong use of the lower body balanced by a subtle fluttering of fingertips. The dance has many forms—at times joyful and others more introspective. But throughout, her connection with the audience is held and fostered, drawing me in with each new development.

Tuula Roppola’s movement story Aino is a mesmerising interpretation of The Drowned Maid, canto 4 of the epic poem The Kalevala. What strikes me most about Aino is the way Roppola moves through poses and expressions so fluidly, making me cringe with discomfort in reaction to some of the awkward physical tensions she creates. The detail in Aino pinches the nerves: a wrist bent back, head twisted away from the rest of the body, eyes either downcast or wide open and to the side, mouth open but saying nothing. Combined, these subtle, uncomfortable touches give rise to something more momentous. Like the clues in a well-constructed crime novel, in reading these details we see so much more and begin to bristle with the slow and steady unravelling of the melancholy tale.

And finally then, I feel I can begin to establish my own sense of place through these performances, varied as they are. Strangely enough it is these last two solo performance works, which each sought to recast and explore the movement potential of ancient myth in entirely different ways, that proved to be the more contemporary on the program. It’s something I’ve been mulling over for awhile now; maybe it’s my constant need to experience innovations, new histories, and the fact that ‘contemporary’ is such a fundamentally shifty term.

Festival of the Contemporary Arts, Canberra, October 9–19

RealTime issue #22 Dec-Jan 1997 pg. 34

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

Narelle Benjamin in Garry Stewart’s Fugly

Narelle Benjamin in Garry Stewart’s Fugly

Let’s talk ‘big art’ for a moment. If you subscribe to the marginal idea that good dance, like good movies, or philosophy, or science, can actually reveal something about being human that wasn’t visible before, and may consist of more than advertising industry fodder, then let’s muse on this idea of ‘big dance’, and the relationship between its corporate, team-based, single-focus kind of legacy, and some recent Sydney dance events.

If dancers call themselves ‘independent’ as many of the Bodies and Intersteps artists do, then (as Sally Gardner has recently noted) it begs the question: independent of what? Independence implies relationship, a process of having grown away from something—a certain way of doing things, a context—and a process of negotiating that separation. For instance, dancers who’ve inherited the Sydney Dance Company seal of approval—like many of the artists from the Bodies programs and Stephen Page, Brett Daffy, Garry Stewart, to mention several—might find this process of separation problematic, because of the kind of effort needed both in its recognition and explication.

And credits for the first Bodies program at Newtown Theatre suggest this venture is a safe haven for ex-Sydney Dance Company and Ballet School trained artists. This tradition might provide a sense of security for dancers working on their own, but their ‘independence’ is rarely expressed in the work they make, despite the label. Maybe it’s the ‘black box’ variety where the workings of that relational process are never acknowledged as relevant or important, and never available for investigation.

Nevertheless, the idea of ‘inheritance’ has been central to much recent work, in the seeing, the doing and the making of dances; the continuous negotiation between personal understanding, the kind of physical belief systems that make personal sense, and the attractive respectability of well-trodden cultural heritage. Everything you’ve learned about people and places, different ways of being and thinking, all the small details which accumulate like threads in a carpet, become superimposed, grow together, fuse. Yet one view of something may not obliterate others. They remain together, side by side, all viable, negotiating for recognition within one body. You can, if you want to, commit yourself to one or the other exclusively, or you might choose to investigate their relationship. At present, it’s this investigation which seems crucial. The history of our dancing bodies is becoming hot.

So it might seem a good time for Indigenous artists whose work overtly straddles cultures. Stephen Page’s Fish (Bangarra) has certainly achieved popular acclaim. But if traditions waltz with each other in the bodies of the dancers, it must be off-stage, and not when they have their public dancing faces on. On-stage the negotiations seem formal, distant.

But the traditional material, both dance and music, is totally compelling and the effect is quite unlike watching the predictable paces of the western trained dancers in the group. Fish features Djakapurra Munyarryun, a performer whose physical language gives purpose and weight to the work. His gestures are mercurial and his meanings seem rich and clear, sharpened perhaps by unfamiliarity, hiding no cliches. And David Page’s traditional sounds seeped into my bones, leaving traces of melody and mood long after the theatre closed.

Meanwhile, is there something in the air at the moment, absent a few years back, which sees audiences unwilling to make any effort towards participating in an idea? Or is it that the complex Steps #3 Intersteps, Video Steps and Studio Steps programs at the Performance Space, curated by Leisa Shelton, came at the back end of a long spate of dance programs, and it was just too big an ask that audiences show much enthusiasm for turning up several nights a week, sitting on tiny stools and being constantly shunted around the theatre in the dark with all your belongings falling off your lap. Okay, if it’s distracting now, why wasn’t it three years ago? Is the good will really gone?

How is it possible, for instance, that Sydney audiences didn’t flock to Trevor Patrick’s concise and moving Continental Drift (see RealTime 20) with the same enthusiasm as Melbourne audiences? And Clare Hague’s dead trees arteries lent itself to many viewings, as her finely wrought images of insinuating root, capillary, and great gnarled branches began to speak through her frame, wired as it was with such torsion that every pulse beat seemed charged and visible.

While Leisa Shelton’s ideas about using all the space, requiring the audience to move from one vantage point to another might have provided nightmarish technical problems, it also allowed for an extremely varied program. But the text-based works all suffered similarly from muffled acoustics, making it difficult to follow Beth Kayes, for instance, in her bits of ‘Her’, or Brian Carbee’s caught between Heaven and Earth, a kind of burlesque dance-play, or Trevor Patrick’s Continental Drift.

Memory and history operated strongly in Sue-ellen Kohler’s Premonition. (TPS, October). Mahalya Middlemist’s Falling film which opens the work has a grainy familiar texture, suggesting some past era of dance-making. But as she enters, Kohler’s live body seems personable, vulnerable, with a poignant, childlike stance, hands open and toes turned-in, in a costume suggesting a playsuit, pantaloons, whale bone corsetry, a calf-length tulle tutu. Later balletic images appear, but oddly cut up, considered and intense. In her single drawn-out phrase reiterated live and over three screens, there are grand gestures and smaller inflection, but almost scrubbed of meaning.

But the phrases soften, some alchemical process working within the layers, and gradually it’s revealed. Within her own body’s assimilation of experience, her movements change, begin to flow together, closer to her centre, smaller, more from the present. There’s a sense that she’s creating her own self as we watch, without pretence or foreknowledge.

Comments regarding Sue-ellen Kohler’s ‘failed dancer’ status in some reviews of the work, are pure grist to the critical mill, because the idea of critical judgment is integral to the work. Opinions reflect certain choices about what a dancer can or should do next, why one step follows another in just the way it does. If you think of different kinds of physical training as kinds of belief systems, what kind of physical beliefs count as important, what are the conditions that are brought to bear on our choices about what is appropriate, or possible?

While the spirit of the dance speaks of unlimited possibility and its multiple containments, the multi-screened films seem also to reflect a different story, one about the body’s naturally conservative nature. Choices are enmeshed in that cultural matrix that’s called life as we know it. You don’t just leave that behind, or else you flounder, fail, get lost in a very real sense, without language. But Premonition is not just about success or social survival, but that process of understanding how one’s own personal history becomes currency for the present, what happens from moment to moment within you, over time, between flesh and social imperative.

Similarly balletic shadows fell over the works in One Extra’s joint program, Two, featuring Lucy Guerin’s Remote and Garry Stewart’s Fugly. Balletic lines, stylised, extreme, disjointed and on the edge, featured strongly, but the choreographers’ two directions were very different.

In Remote as if in the white on-and-off half light of a video screen, the dancers, sometimes with a hunched-up awkwardness, carved out their ungainly but definite ways with sharp-lined precision. The lighting, the stop-start, forward and back quality suggest they were in search mode. Becky Hilton, in her literally off-the-wall solo, clung closely to the wings, leaned out, curved her body like a bow, taut and twangy, and several arms-length duets lent a strange, coy, mechanical distance to these peculiar partnerships. At one point, in a laneway down centre stage, the dancers lay spayed out, with light falling on them like truck lights on a road accident. In a tight staccato cannon they knelt, stood, and lay down again, as if in a frame-by-frame, video replay.

Garry Stewart’s Fugly opens on four dancers in a diagonal line, doll-like, frontal, slightly grim and paranoid looking, and wearing what have become infamous red tracksuits. It’s claimed that we saw this initial image first in the work of another group, Frumpus. But in Fugly, the dancers’ doll-like stance has an air of highly cultivated fashion pitch. With their big eyes and pig-tails, the dancers assume sultry suspicion, an I-don’t-know-where-I-am-or-what-I’m-doing look, tough, naive and defensive, which pervades the work. Frumpus’ doll-like images have a very different import—their pig-tails and lipstick are not at all cute or sexy, and their approach quite purposefully drags its teeth through excesses of that kind of still-rampant sexual commodification which underpins Fugly’s presentation. If the external trappings of that first image were lifted from Frumpus’s work, its crucial commentary was unfortunately forgotten.

But Narelle Benjamin’s solos dances in Fugly are extraordinary: extreme, interior, exhausting, possessed. Her last solo is tired, struggling and pushed to such limits that it seems to transcend the idea of escape from those internal demons. The intensity and doomedness of her efforts reaches the height of pathos, and the struggle is transmogrified into art.

Festival of the Dreaming: Fish, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Drama Theatre, September 17

Steps Three—Intersteps. The Performance Space 28 October 1997. Curated by Leisa Shelton. Brett Daffy, Claire Hague, Beth Kayes, Meredith Kitchen, Brian Carbee, Trevor Patrick, Tuula Roppola. You can read more on the Steps 3 video program in RT#23

One Extra, Two: Double Edged Dance: Remote, (watch closely for the re-runs) by Lucy Guerin, and Fugly (There’s a shonky low-tech accident about to happen) by Garry Stewart. Seymour Centre, October 31

Premonition: A Strange Feeling For What is to Come, Sue-ellen Kohler, The Performance Space, October 9

Bodies, Artistic directors: Normal Hall, Susan Barling, Patrick Harding-Irma. First program choreographers: Susan Barling, Kathy Driscoll, James Taylor, Francoise Philipbert, Rosetta Cook, Deborah Mills, Kenny Feather, Newtown Theatre, October 22

RealTime issue #22 Dec-Jan 1997 pg. 33

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

Our search for a history often begins with the residue of memory, with the traces of the past that remain with us in the present. These remnants become starting points for a journey into our history—for the maps we make of the past. And yet, memories are invariably partial and incomplete. The maps we create lead us back to very precise places—to very personal and limited locations—and they give us a very particular view of our history and our heritage.

This tracing of a memory to create a history is a very pleasurable act. I was reminded of this at the 1997 Green Mill Dance Project held in Melbourne during early July. As I watched a parade of dancers take the microphone to offer witness to the legacy of Gertrude Bodenwieser and Laurel Martin, I was fascinated by the seductive nature of living history (especially when it is celebrated among people starved of a past). Person after person rose to pay tribute to these women—bodies in the present becoming testimony to the significance of these bodies of the past.

But what does it take to be remembered in dance? Which bodies resonate in the present, leaving maps for us to follow to the past? According to Karen Van Ulzen, editor of Dance Australia, they are the heretics who leave a heritage. They are “seldom lone individuals but part of a continuum of change sweeping Western art”. These artists defy tradition while acknowledging their heritage as a “point of departure”. This genesis model of history (Martha begat Merce begat etc etc) validates the present by reference to the existence of a past. It offers dance a kind of historical legitimacy which champions linear, progressive development but, in the process, glosses over a memory of rupture and historical specificity.

Let’s take one dancer’s career as a case in point. Sonia Revid was trained by Mary Wigman in Germany. Originally from Latvia, she arrived in Australia in 1932. Four years earlier Revid had left Wigman’s Dresden studio to pursue a solo career throughout Europe, gaining particular success in Berlin. She remained in Melbourne for 13 years, dying suddenly in 1945. Like other independent dancers working in Australia during the late 1920s and the 1930s, Sonia’s work provoked interest, received praise, and stimulated criticism from reviewers, audience members and other dancers. Basil Burdett was one critic who took a particular dislike to Revid’s style. Burdett was horrified by what he saw as Sonia’s abandonment of established technique (ballet) and scoffed at her reliance on internal stimulation for external action. He told his readers in the Melbourne Herald in 1934 that during her recital, the “general conception and technical invention were hardly adequate” and “the emotional side tends to be too dominant”.

However, Basil Burdett condemned Sonia Revid’s performances by judging them against completely inappropriate standards, assumptions and principles. For him, her abandonment of an identifiable technique made her dance highly subjective and, therefore, of suspect quality. However, the whole point of Sonia Revid’s work was her rejection of formalised techniques, her application of theory which had been developed in other art forms, and…her independence.

Consequently, as her work was so personal she did not acquire the trappings necessary for the development of a stake in the future, in the history of this country’s dance practice. She left no legacy, no disciples, no means through which her name, her life, and her work could transcend her own time. The focus of this woman’s life, and her dance, was its particularity, it was situated and historically specific. Such behaviour dictated that she be forgotten in a world so reliant on a history in which the significance of a past activity is measured by its residue and relevance in the present.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that, 60 years after Basil Burdett’s complaints, the idea of an art which transcends the specificities of time and place should prevail. As Karen Van Ulzen stated in 1988:

It is surely obvious that most of the good art of the past transcends the flux of specific ideologies to touch something else that remains constant throughout human experience…
Dance Australia, October/November 1988

Such a statement was prompted by Van Ulzen’s evaluation of the work of American independents such as Yvonne Rainer, Deborah Hay, and Trisha Brown and the theories they followed. Theories which, to Van Ulzen’s dismay, had infected the projects of Australian dancers and choreographers. These dancers applied inappropriate theories to an art form which had always been, for Van Ulzen, necessarily associated with ideological individualism, the attainment of skill, the rewarding of talent, and a “discriminating, evaluative…authoritative, hierarchical approach” to criticism.

Well, Van Ulzen is nothing if not consistent. Ten years later, in her review of this year’s Green Mill for The Australian, she bemoaned the lack of external stimulus and reference to tradition displayed in the work of contemporary independents. Their dance was “utterly unremarkable”—but, as she later suggested:

We really shouldn’t be surprised—most independents choreograph on themselves. They are therefore, first, limited by their own technical facility and, second, by a lack of outside perspective of guidance.
The Australian, July 4 1997

However, this was only part of the problem. The other was the continued use of supposedly inappropriate theories in the creation of dance; or the use of “post-frog guff” as Van Ulzen calls it. This phrase refers to post-structuralist theories and post-modernism and was proudly borrowed by Van Ulzen from the Robert Hughes—a critic who freely admits to his own generationally induced myopia.

As we have seen, this association between independent practice, the active use of theory, and the critical devaluation of such art, has a long history in Australian dance. So, when I attended this September’s Dancers Are Space Eaters forum, organised by the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) and subtitled Directions in independent dance, I arrived with the history of independent practice, the reviews of this year’s Green Mill, and the indignation of many dancers, ringing in my ears. There, some interesting questions were asked. “What is independence anyway?” Sally Gardner grappled with this topic offering a reference point for further discussion. “What do those artists who consider themselves independents represent in their work?” The variety of relationships between the individual, the world and movement saw a mesmeric exploration of the relationship between light/video and movement by Sue Peacock, f22: the last stop; the revisiting of a highly personal but revealing history by Kate Champion, Of Sound Body and Mind; a dance of playful simplicity and explosive space-carving from Jennifer Monson, Lure; a frenetic race for escape at the crescendo of Rosalind Crisp’s memorable roar; and Tamara Kerr’s Ricochet whose relentless energy became seductively hypnotic.

What I saw at PICA was a group of artists exploring the relationship between life and their moving bodies. Sure, not all of it was great, but even the pieces mentioned above, which have all stayed with me in the months that followed their viewing, were very specific to their time and place. For me, this is where their validity lies, but for others this condemns the work. It also threatens to banish the creators to historical obscurity as the canonical myths of the future devour the multiplicity of our dancing present, just as has happened with our dancing past. For independence, whether it means working alone, inventing against the grain, or merely managing to create work outside dominant funding structures, rarely lends itself to the establishment of a ‘heritage’. Or does it?

To my amazement even I finally contributed to the maintenance of this idea of heritage with my address to the audience of Space Eaters. I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t. For in my attempt to diffuse the centrality of certain memories and explode the mythology of ‘heritage’ through the illumination of the lives of former ‘independent’ dancers in Australia, I also gave some of those who identified as independent artists in the audience a linkage to a past of their own. Hungry for affirmation of their contemporary location, these histories gave these young dancers—their process, their passions, and their position in the contemporary social structure of Australian dance—some sort of validity. It offered them a memory from which to create a map to their own heritage.

Sections of this article originally appeared as part of the keynote address for the 1997 Dancers are Space Eaters forum at PICA entitled Maps, Notion and Memory: a tale of independents in the history of Australian dance.

RealTime issue #22 Dec-Jan 1997 pg. 30

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

Nadia Ferencz in Sex Juggling, Restless Dance Company

Nadia Ferencz in Sex Juggling, Restless Dance Company

Nadia Ferencz in Sex Juggling, Restless Dance Company

In my interview with Meryl Tankard in RealTime #21 (“Free from Steps”) I hoped to tease out the meanings of terms she uses to talk about her work and dance in general—terms borrowed from a Modernist discourse. This proved difficult as the meaning of these terms was clearly implicit for Meryl and important to her. For this issue, I interviewed Sally Chance, artistic director of Restless Dance Company in Adelaide. Sally is clearly conscious of the necessity of speaking across existing discourses of aesthetics and identity. She also acknowledges the effect of doing so and thus how using a certain discourse can be a strategy for social change.

AT Why was Restless Dance formed? What is its charter? What drives you to run such a company?

SC The simple answer is that the time was right. My involvement began when I toured to Australia with Ludus Dance Company from the UK as one of their community dance workers at the 1989 Come Out Festival. Part of my role on tour was to run workshops. While we were in Adelaide I ran dance workshops with groups of differently-abled people including those with Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. This was a new area for dance in Australia. A couple of years later I decided to leave Ludus. I was interested in working in Australia but needed to establish myself as a specialist in an area of work to obtain permission to live and work here. So I thought I would seek work as a dance animateur with differently-abled people. Carclew Youth Arts Centre provided me with that opportunity. The company thus began as a youth arts project initiated by project officers Judy Potter and Virginia Hyme.

Since its inception in 1991 Restless Dance has held hundreds of workshops for fun and recreation, for skill and personal development, for industry professionals and for school and community groups. We’ve also performed in festivals, at conferences, at launches, at benefits, toured interstate and performed in Adelaide’s premier theatres.

The company’s aims are: to create and present excellent and challenging dance theatre nationally and internationally; to provide high quality dance workshops for people with and without a disability; to increase the profile of dance and disability in the community; to provide enjoyable recreational experiences.

AT What is your vision for the company?

SC When the company was associated with Carclew, project officers considered it important that workshops had a public outcome. So there has always been a split focus for me. I have always had community goals and artistic goals. The company is currently in transition. We have been incorporated for nearly a year. We would like triennial funding but the Australia Council’s Dance Fund doesn’t fund youth companies. We are also at a stage where some of the dancers, who have been with the company since its inception, deserve to be paid to co-direct and lead workshops as well as to perform. These dancers have become skilled and should be eligible for professional status. I’d like to establish a small professional company with a core group of performers as well as continue the work of the youth company. Each would contribute something different.

AT Could you talk about the company in relation to disability politics?

SC The policy of the company is “reverse integration” in which the expressive skills of the participants with disabilities define the company’s unique style. This policy developed in response to three perceptions: Firstly, integration was the policy of the disability support services when the company began. This policy was connected to two other notions—normalisation and social role valorisation. In practical terms this policy involved placing individuals with disabilities in tedious jobs at low pay.

These individuals were not encouraged to have aspirations beyond being employed. They were not encouraged to be ambitious within the workplace, or to desire other life experiences such as personal health and fitness, sexual relationships, home ownership, children or travel. I, alongside some workers in the disability sector, began to feel quite cynical about the so-called ‘opportunities’ being offered to the disabled. I became interested in helping to redefine identity for this group in a broader way. I felt people gained identity options through leisure activities as well as through paid work. I thought that being a dancer could be one of these options.

Secondly, I also questioned the definition of ‘normal’ being used as the yardstick in determining lifestyle for the disabled. In my experience ‘normal’ people don’t dance so I am not ‘normal’ in the way the word was being used. I also observed that in my dance classes the carers who accompanied the ‘dis-abled’ were often less skilled as dancers and as workshop participants than their so-called clients. What then was ‘normal’ behaviour in a situation such as a creative dance class?

Thirdly, I also felt that it was unfair that the person with the disability had to make all the effort in relation to integration. However, we have lost some workshop participants because of our policy. Some parents prefer their child to be a member of a group of predominantly able-bodied people or with able-bodied norms of behaviour.

AT Do you perceive dance training to be a tool of socialisation, a means by which unruly bodies can be disciplined?

Ziggy Kuster and Stephen Noonan in Sex Juggling

Ziggy Kuster and Stephen Noonan in Sex Juggling

Ziggy Kuster and Stephen Noonan in Sex Juggling

SC Dance means as many different things to this population as it does across the general category of “people who dance”. For some it’s a means of getting fit, for others it’s a social activity and for others it serves an expressive purpose. Some company members like their jobs and dance for fun. Others are bored at work and the experience of being in the company has enabled them to become more ambitious. One company member wants to become a full-time dancer. In workshops, I explore a range of goals such as the development of social skills and physical skills, personal expression, self-discipline and I challenge behaviour patterns.

AT Could you talk about the company’s style?

SC I always focus on the group rather than on individuals and encourage participants to work as a group. I ask members to watch and copy each other. Thus, in performance everyone tends to do everything. Improvisation is the primary approach taken in workshops and a crucial aspect of the performances which can differ depending on how a participant is feeling. Because of this variable, I set up a “time-out” space for the performers during the show.

I select material on the basis of whether the dancers look comfortable doing it. I always work from a movement focus and then suggest links with emotion rather than the other way around. I find that these dancers have a powerful understanding of gesture as a dance language and of touch. Contact work, unison work and gesture have thus become the identifiable components of the company’s style.

AT Could you talk a little about Restless Dance’s last piece, Sex Juggling?

SC It explored a particular category of personal identity. The company divided into male and female groups to explore the idea of gender roles and behaviours and to devise and create dance. The project began with some sex education workshops run by the Family Planning Association. This aspect of identity seemed important to address as sexism, and the subsequent limiting of gender roles, can occur within the company.

My interest is in providing someone with a disability with as many terms with which to define themselves as are available to someone without a disability. Calling yourself a dancer is one of these options. Considering yourself male or female and sexual are others.

RealTime issue #22 Dec-Jan 1997 pg. 31

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

Hellen Sky in Escape Velocity

Hellen Sky in Escape Velocity

Escape velocity is the speed at which one body overcomes the gravitational pull of another body. This metaphor of the gathering of momentum and release from constraints seems an appropriate way to describe the creative processes which this year led to two new performance projects by Company in Space. Escape Velocity, a dance installation for Melbourne’s Green Mill 97 festival in June and Digital Dancing, a residency at The Choreographic Centre in Canberra, were linked by an imaginative energy far stronger than the gravitational pull of practicalities. The successful risk-taking of the first project provided the impetus which enabled the following residency to fulfil its promise of innovation.

Escape Velocity was an example of faith over adversity. Determined to take part in Green Mill, yet too late to apply for funding for the exploration of ideas which had only emerged during the previous production, The Pool is Damned, which took place in March, the company was starting from scratch. When the Victorian College of the Arts agreed to donate their Hybrid Room to the company for the duration of the dance festival, they provided the space in which the ideas of company co-artistic directors, Hellen Sky and John McCormick, could form. The Hybrid Room, a small empty space without any history as a performance venue, offered the bare walls against which the artists could bounce their laser beams and bodies. The reality of a physical context for their ideas released the energy required to spark the creative process into life. Energy which was gradually dissipated by a fruitless search for sponsorship in kind for the expensive technologies on the shopping list, but energy enough to carry through the conversion of the room to a black box, the construction and installation of the technologies, some speedy made-on-the-body-whilst-avoiding-cabling choreography and some hurried match-making between the two elements. With time and resources at a premium however, the dress rehearsal came only on the opening night, the installation never fully received the focus it required, and the experimentation with the interactive potential of the work occurred during each performance.

Inspired by Mark Dery’s book of the same name, Escape Velocity sought to examine the role of the body in the virtual world. As technology revolutionises our public, private and interstitial spaces (such as the internet), shrinking the globe, compressing time and expanding horizons, the reach of an arm, the length of a stride is distorted and confused. There’s no need for a nod and a wink by e-mail, we can’t embrace by video conference and our eyes won’t ever meet across a crowded chat room. So where does flesh and fragile bone fit into the new geographies of the late 20th century? Has technology accelerated us free of each other’s orbits, into a solitary virtual world where our bodies are an irrelevance, a hindrance?

Escape Velocity posed these questions in an other-worldly space without temporal, geographic or political context. Was this the mythical cyberspace? Probably not, there were too many bodies around. The intention, stated clearly in the program (a new step in the direction of accessibility for this company), was to construct a layered, responsive environment where the bodies of the audience would enter into relationships with the space, each other, a dancer and a series of aural and visual effects. By creating an immersive interactive environment, Sky and McCormick were seeking a physical and emotional, as well as a cerebral, response to their ideas. Introducing effects singly and cumulatively would allow the audience to absorb the many technologies in operation (something which The Pool is Damned, with its inscrutable complexity failed to do). Certainly the laser beams which criss-crossed the space and were broken by the bodies of the entering audience did evidently trigger a variety of sound effects. Questioning voices ricocheted around the bodies, quoting from texts such as Dery’s, in a Babel of languages suggestive of entire continents and cultures. Over the sounds came images, similarly triggered; projections of moving bodies, filtered through animation and special effects packages to create visions of other-worldly hybrid beings. Suspended overhead, the body of Sky was filmed and projected around the space as she danced her aspiration to flight, her will to escape. As she fell to earth and carved a powerful path through the crowd to perform her final shamanistic dance, she incrementally reasserted her physicality, gathering weight and volume with every step, every fling of her arm through a wall of light. Moving below the ‘vortex’ of laser lights and overhead cameras which responded to her spinning limbs with sound and images, Sky took control of her environment and lead the technology into a beautiful synthesis with her movement. As the lights came up and she stood, small and sweaty in a sea of cold cabling, her kinetic transformation of the space remained on the retina for an instant, an after-image, testimony to the power of the body in these new relationships.

The end of Escape Velocity was the starting point for Digital Dancing, the residency at Canberra’s Choreographic Centre. Australia Council funding earmarked specifically for initiatives involving dance and new technologies provided a well-resourced space, three dancers and the ability to involve a previous collaborator, the composer Garth Paine, in five weeks of creative discovery. Sky was able to step back from performing and choreograph with dancers Louise Taube, and Joey and Cazerine Barry. Clare Dyson joined the project’s technical team. Taking many of the themes and technological devices of the previous work at a more measured pace facilitated a thorough, measured approach. The ‘vortex’ for example, which Sky so gamely manipulated in her improvised ritualistic dancing, was adapted through repeated rehearsals with the dancers to achieve its broadest choreographic range. Experimentation and analysis found a complex, balanced relationship between cause and effect, forming an environment which both drove and was driven by the dancer. The audience could see that physical activity triggered responses in the visual and aural environment, yet the evolution of the movement was complex and resistant to the reductive equations which typify much interactive work (such as the point and click world of the CD-ROM). The final performance which emerged through the weeks of testing was more a series of vignettes, demonstrations of prototypes, rather than a single cohesive show. The company was able to take several of their ideas to a logical conclusion, using trained bodies, before a live audience given the rare opportunity of experiencing the results of informed experimentation with dance and technology.

While The Choreographic Centre plans to continue its support of such new media work, the company returns to the struggle for resources sufficient to match their ideas. An interactive television project taking place in Victorian schools and on the internet in late 1997, and the possible tour of a reworked version of The Pool is Damned in early 1998, should provide the fuel to maintain the velocity achieved during these two successful projects. A new large scale work involving a range of artists is planned for next year, potentially accelerating the company, free once again of the pull of compromise and limited ambition.

However, without a permanent physical space in which to make and test its performance ideas, Company in Space will forever remain ironically virtual—Company without Space, Company in between Spaces. Whilst the commitment to new technologies often leads Sky and McCormick into the cyber-world of the ether, their passion is fed by the body, and without somewhere to put those limbs, lungs and larynxes, they will always be hamstrung by the physical imperative. Since the company’s inception in 1992, the work has steadily increased in scale and ambition, with each successive project forging a new understanding of the performance potential of the interactive technologies emerging through progressive commercial and industrial initiatives. And yet, as with every new discovery, adaptations and modifications are required before a perfect model is formed. It is this space for experimentation which escapes the company and many like them. The wonder of technology is its ability to transform the known world, its capacity to transcend the imagination and redefine perception. Only through immediate experience does one fully grasp the power of technology, only through protracted exposure does one start to push the technology forward and through the processes for which it was commercially designed. The creative mind can see potential far beyond the intent of the manufacturer or industrial user, can question, re-formulate and re-apply technologies with implications which consequently feed back into the industry. But nobody wants to pay for these rather unquantifiable processes and so artists like Sky and McCormick will still be making lasers in their lounge room, buying PCs from The Trading Post and wiring up the standard lamp for the foreseeable future. Escape velocity, not easily achieved, is all too quickly lost again. Sad, but virtually true.

RealTime issue #22 Dec-Jan 1997 pg. 32

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

On October 29, the Australia Council announced three New Media Arts Fellowships, worth $40,000 a year over two years.

New Media Fellow Linda Dement, whose CD-ROM work Cyberfleshgirl monster was featured in last year’s Burning the Interface exhibition at the MCA, will develop a literary-digital multimedia work in collaboration with avant-garde New York author Kathy Acker. Acker will provide the text, and Dement the images. The collaboration will take form online and on CD-ROM, and the work will be submitted to galleries and electronic arts events.

Fellowship recipient Stephen Jones is a video artist of 20 years standing, and member of groundbreaking techno-arts and music group Severed Heads. Jones will develope an interdisciplinary opera The Brain Project, originally inspired by Michael Nyman’s operatic interpretation of neurologist Oliver Sachs’ The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. The work will involve on-stage computers driven by performance and used to present illustrative material, dance and vocal work.

Video artist John Gillies will devote the fellowship to complete a large body of solo and collaborative performance work, with a focus on a fusion of sound and image, as in the work Tempest, a video installation of an electronically generated thunderstorm. The work will represent the culmination of 10 years of research, and will be presented in gallery, performance and screening situations. RT

RealTime issue #22 Dec-Jan 1997 pg. 23

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

CandoCo

CandoCo

A plainchant violin. Between the national and the bristol opens like an arrangement of Giacometti figures in a square: eight faces, eight physiques turned in different directions, at different levels. Some are seated, some stand. This is an architectural arrangement of bodies in a wavering line—a queue, a thread, a taciturn question (how much can we know each other?). The inherent drama of bodies thinking, thinking to pass each other, is accentuated with a momentary blackout. Lights up again, as if, in remembering (the same positions, same roles), we can now look differently. This is not a piece about disability, nor even one that so much as points to some of its dancers as disabled. It is about planes of habitation, interaction, of where and how one can know another, manifest through sweep and contact.

Technically, what is notable is that the viewer’s attention is equally dispersed between dancers. Siobhan Davies has choreographed for texture, line and placement, leverage, echo and counterbalance. This for me highlights one of the problems in Christy don’t leave me so soon which first labelled the three dancers as (wheelchair) bound or unbound, before they could explore how it was possible to move. As an audience for this program there is a fine line between wondering at limitation, and wandering within the art: Christy… defines its characters as (unfortunately, female and) crippled, desiring, versus erect (and male) before it explores manoeuvres off-the-wheelchair in quite nice ways. Perhaps its first part was pointed, provocative, for some, but I found its politics loaded and unthinking. The problematic of Davies’ piece, however, is quite different: how do you stop one dancer showing up the others?

David Toole uses his elbows like knees, his arms like levering cranes, his tumbles and turns somehow turning the earth like an earth-moving machine. None of his manoeuvres skim the surface—of soil, or emotions. Most of the fully-able-bodied dancers feel static beside him. There was some nice partnering with Helen Baggett, she breathing through her bones to accompany him; but largely, this legless dancer’s skill should have been caught up in the rest of the troupe, but wasn’t. Wheel-chair bound, Jon French’s angularity was given wonderful space by Davies, but could have been better threaded and echoed as a texture by other dancers throughout the piece. Working against isolation and exclusion is obviously a huge factor in the work of CandoCo; in its choreography this program did not always achieve a similar vision.

CandoCo is a group of able and dis-able-bodied dancers founded in 1991 in London. Their Australian tour, part of the British Council’s newIMAGES program, encompassed performances and workshops in Lismore, Newcastle, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane September 18-October 29. between the national and the bristol, choreography Siobhan Davies, music by Gavin Bryars; Christy don’t leave so soon, choreography Benjamin/Dandeker/Parkinson. The Gasworks, Melbourne Fringe, October 7.

RealTime issue #22 Dec-Jan 1997 pg. 30

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

(Crack the) Binary Code

Multimedia’s status as art, and its relationship with extant art forms, were the main items on the agenda at (Crack the) Binary Code. Its principle focus was to bring these two spheres together, and redress the biases which still see reviews of CD-ROM relegated to the computer pages (as if to foreground this prejudice, Deborah Bogle’s profile of the event was demoted from the weekend Australian’s glossy magazine to Syte the week before). The circulation of this issue throughout Binary Code was problematic in that it reinforced the very factions the symposium was attempting to merge. In this it had the unfortunate effect of reanimating, rather than exorcising, the shade of C.P. Snow and his “two cultures”.

The opening session, in particular, smacked of a literate/post-literate détente, in which two incongruous world orientations debated the role of multimedia as an “add-on” to established art forms. Peter Craven declared that he was an “improbable person to be addressing a conference of this kind”, and that multimedia was “largely lost” on him. Multimedia criticism does not count as one of Craven’s contributions to Australian letters. He did, though, make one decisive contribution to this symposium, for in repeatedly referring to James Joyce, he introduced a more palatable talisman than Snow, which shifted the subtleties of the convergence debate into a more constructive orbit. This was consolidated by Philippa Hawker’s engaging discussion of Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film Romeo + Juliet. Hawker explored the convergent relationships forming between literary, filmic and multimedia practices, noting, with exemplary admonition, that there are many similarities and differences between the experience of literature, film and multimedia. It was just this ambivalence that was needed to crack the binary code.

The dynamic of ambivalence was picked up by Bill Mitchell in a fascinating account of his Palladio Virtual Museum project. Mitchell spoke of complementarity, and the creative unease involved in exploring the interface between the physical and the virtual (he also invoked Joyce as a tutelary presence, comparing his own work in progress to the textual editing of Ulysses). This was an inventive concept that found resonance in Michael Hill’s witty and satirical incursion into the great divide between contemplation and distraction in multimedia art. Hill recalled an online performance of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot in the “waiting room” of The Palace, which is as good an example of the tension between stasis and movement as you will find. The challenge of staging a play, in which “to be there” is everything, in the “no there, there” zone of cyberspace, beautifully demonstrated what Mitchell called “magical moments”, epiphanies born of unease, where innovative possibilities are glimpsed.

Ambivalence also exerted a force in the discussion of multimedia criticism. In drawing attention to the hybridity of the medium, artist Peter Hennessey articulated the need for a syncretic critical language, one which drew on established discourses and blurred their conceptual and lexical boundaries. This was admirably demonstrated in Justine Humphry’s inventive reading of the CD-ROM game Myst in the context of the Mars Pathfinder mission. Humphry drew on cultural theory in apposite ways, to project Myst as a narrative of loss and yearning for new spaces of discovery. Hennessey’s invocation of a hybrid form of criticism attests to the need to get beyond the divisive switching between new media and established art, as if they were the only terms of debate in the discourse surrounding emergent art forms. McKenzie Wark, a writer not present at this symposium, has effectively discussed multimedia art in terms of a “new abstraction”; a resonant idea that has significantly broadened the debate in ways canvassed by Hennessey. As Stephanie Britton also observed, there is in fact a distinctive form of multimedia criticism, that draws, in part, on the critical languages of the visual arts, film theory, and, I would quickly add, literary theory (it’s no accident that Joyce and Beckett kept elbowing their way into the discussion).

Under the panoptical gaze of his camera, ABC TV’s Stephen Feneley admirably played the role of luddite uninspired by new media art. While diverting at the end of a long day, all the head-high tackling about ART distracted attention from the more substantive issues of dissemination and distribution, and the appropriate place for experiencing multimedia art. Access, Britton reminded us, is the most crucial issue of all. The idea of a public sphere, what Geert Lovink usefully described as a “third space”, is the promise of the internet, and it is perhaps this space that holds the greatest potential for achieving the kind of dissemination necessary to reach a mass audience, and thereby form a culture of multimedia art and criticism. A related issue was identified by Mike Leggett, who drew attention to the curatorial process, drawing on his experience of putting together Burning the Interface, the first international exhibition of CD-ROM art. The key for Leggett, as with Britton and Lovink, was the dissemination of multimedia art into public spaces. Leggett, too, discussed an idea that should have been the subject of more substantial attention, that of the social responsibility of nurturing a culture of multimedia art.

Is multimedia art part of the historical tradition of poesis, or aesthetic-making, or is it an aberrant technological cool, undeserving of artistic value? experimenta’s Shiralee Saul had the final word on this imbroglio, turning the tables on the art debate in a fit of pique (“Let’s face it, contemporary art is dead, or is at least looking a bit peaky”), then asking what could only be described as a rhetorical question: “Does art deserve to be revitalized by multimedia?”

For a different type of audience Binary Code would have been a solid and informative introduction to the key issues in the multimedia debate. I’m not sure how many of the Interact-going general-public were in attendance, but most of the people there seemed to be from the media arts community, for whom much of the discussion was already very familiar. That said, symposium co-ordinator Kevin Murray and the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP) have maintained an important public dialogue concerning multimedia art. In this they achieved one of their key themes, namely, the consolidation of a dedicated practice of multimedia criticism.

Altered States; Psychotropic Visions and the digitally-corrupted gaze.

A word from the wise to the unwary: don’t ever go to trade fairs without a floor plan. The Interact Multimedia jamboree was predictably overwhelming, and orienteering without a map was not the way to go. When I finally located experimenta’s Altered States exhibition it was like happening upon a refreshing oasis of culture in that arid plain of corporate logos and disposable marketing kipple. I felt secure in that fortress of solitude where no-one was trying to sell you anything to polish your benchmark or economise your scales. It’s too easy to succumb to this kind of cynicism, and to do so actually detracts from the significance of experimenta’s achievement with Altered States . Multimedia art is still finding its public, and Altered States has successfully furthered this process with a succession of important exhibitions conducted and hosted over the last year (Burning the Interface, Cyberzone, Cyber Cultures). The issue of where to locate multimedia art is a contentious and ongoing one, and would-be critics of Altered States’ presence at Interact should exercise caution. It seems to me that no context should be left unexplored in the project of raising public awareness of, and familiarity with, multimedia art. experimenta’s decision to stage Altered States as part of Interact is to be applauded for this very reason. Altered States declared, by the very force of its presence, that multimedia art should be taken just as seriously as any other use of multimedia technology, and, moreover, indignantly declared that there is a thriving culture of multimedia art that people need to get up to speed with. This was cleverly suggested by Peter Hennessey’s design for the Altered States stand, which ingeniously mimicked the general exhibition principle of an attractive display. The assemblage of video and computer-based work as a contemplative circumference around the larger, unseen installations (concealed by heavy black curtains) surreptitiously guided you into a journey of discovery, transforming informania into curiosity.

Tactical appropriation did not stop there. Most of the software being touted by the corporate spin-doctors as pixelation for profit margins had been used for quite different purposes by the artists exhibiting in Altered States . Recognizing the cross-over between corporate and artistic contexts of use confronts us with the issue of the perverse. Any poetics of multimedia art has to incorporate an understanding of its perversity, its realignment of multimedia as an instrumental technology, a shift away from utility to a poetic process of organized violence. At one point I found myself trapped in a parallactic freeze-frame, seeing QuickTime VR promoted as a useful navigational device, and at the same time a portal to other worlds in Lindsay Colborne’s ludic The Pursuit of Happiness. I wondered if the purveyors of QTVR also noticed this. Given the unfortunate ambience of two different cultures within the temporary autonomous zone of Interact, I suspected that they probably had not. The good people of experimenta clearly had. Altered States’ subtitle (“Psychotropic Visions and the digitally-corrupted gaze”) promised a different way of seeing, its product of the month being perverse corrective lenses. In the context of Interact, then, Altered States was a tableau of disruptive interventions into the normative language of multimedia.

The lexicon of multimedia art as it currently stands was well represented in Altered States, and visitors to the exhibition were treated to one of the classics of the form—Jon McCormack’s Turbulence—as well as new works by established and emerging artists. Computer-generated animation was admirably represented in Peter Hennessey’s haunting surveillance installation pH7.2-Watchtower, Tina Gonsalves’ Alchemical Process of Becoming, Dorian Dowse’s awesome OmTipi, and PsyVision, the dynamic PsyHarmonics/Troy Innocent collaboration, probably the first example of digital fusion. Interactives, synonymous with multimedia art for many, revealed an interesting cross-section of degrees and kinds of user involvement. Rebecca Young’s Prozac-inspired allegory of sedation and aggression Are You Happy Yet? required minimal interactivity, yet had a few surprises up its sleeve. Naomi Herzog’s brooding anatomy of mind and memory, Mined Feelds, invited the user to work through a range of dungeon-like spaces, prompted by a macabre interface of severed heads. Lindsay Colborne’s road trip to Nirvana, The Pursuit of Happiness, Norie Neumark’s Shock in the Ear, and Mindflux’s reflexive laboratory of artificial life, Mutagen, were more beguiling works that required a higher degree of conceptual interactivity and the patient development of navigational strategies. Tim Gruchy’s cyberspace jam, Synthing, was the most fully developed example of an immersive environment. Synthing ingeniously converges the architecture of the intelligent, sensory space and the aleatory sound event. Get two or more people happening in there and you have an ensemble postmoderne. I never get tired of engaging with Jon McCormack’s monumental Turbulence, which seems more and more like an immersive experience with every welcome return. Memespace, Troy Innocent’s latest zone of otherness, is also a transitional work, which re-defines the interface in its use of a topographical bas-relief map, rather than the screen, as the nodal connection to his world.

While there was a strategic importance in exhibiting Altered States as part of Interact, there were also considerable drawbacks. The degree of ambient noise made it very difficult to really get involved with many of the works, particularly the terminal based interactives, and especially the ones that were new to me. Works like Turbulence were not given their best showing, as there was far too much light and unwanted noise. The absence of explanatory signage (which was used effectively in Burning the Interface) unfortunately compounded the confusion of newcomers to many of these works, who felt unclear about what (or why, in at least one instance) they should be doing.

These drawbacks aside, Altered States was an important initiative that will have at the very least succeeded in exposing several thousand people to the exceptional work being done by Australian artists in this form.

(Crack the) Binary Code, co-ordinated by Kevin Murray, Centre for Contemporary Photography

Altered States; Psychotropic Visions and the digitally-corrupted gaze, presented by experimenta media arts

Interact Asia Pacific Multimedia Festival, Melbourne Exhibition Centre Auditorium, October 30-November 2 1997

RealTime issue #22 Dec-Jan 1997 pg. 21

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

Artsinfo is a substantial new information service developed by the Department of Communications and the Arts for the cultural sector. In Canberra it is also regarded as the policy initiative which has given substance to the rhetoric of bringing together the communications and arts portfolios.

Among other things, Artsinfo provides computer-based access to information on the many thousands of grants, services, and business development programs offered across all levels of government, as well as through corporations, foundations and other non-government bodies.

Artsinfo came out of the Coalition’s election platform, “For Arts Sake”. This policy emphasised access, equity and market development. It was supported by a $60 million funding package over three years. This included an amount of $4.5 million to the Department of Communications and the Arts to streamline institutional arrangements across the cultural sector, and to develop a one stop arts information shop. A team in the department co-ordinated work on Artsinfo which was outsourced to a host of specialist consultants. A year in development, Artsinfo was launched by the Minister, Richard Alston, in August 1997. The project is well-funded to 1999, after which time it will be reviewed.

The amalgamation of the communications and arts portfolios in 1994 came as part of the Keating Government’s Creative Nation initiative. The synergy of these two policy areas for cultural development had previously been argued for many years. It was most cogently described by Stuart Cunningham in his book Framing Culture as a key means by which the cultural mandate of the Commonwealth—to foster the formation of an Australian nation—could be most effectively exercised.

Artsinfo does indeed appear to give substance to this rhetoric. It uses communications infrastructures to create and extend cultural and other transactional spaces of “the nation” across the natural geography of the continent. In this respect the Artsinfo story is similar to other stories of communications development in Australia.

However, there are also important differences. The “nation” is not produced here from investment in physical labour or infrastructure. Rather, Artsinfo seeks to add value to existing public stocks of cultural and communications capital. Paradoxically, under the Coalition government, many parts of the underlying communications infrastructure are in the process of being alienated from the ‘public good’ objectives of nation-building. For this reason Artsinfo tells of the ‘weak’ nation-building strategy of the Coalition government.

It also speaks of the general trajectory of economic development which is being pursued by many governments around the world. This particular vision of development can be summed up as the ‘information economy’. In this scenario national economic growth is achieved through open, international markets and greater economic reliance upon communications. Indeed, the Howard government recently established the National Office of the Information Economy as a separate entity within Richard Alston’s portfolio.

So, like Creative Nation before it, Artsinfo has a strong business and export orientation. It aims to “inspire action”, and open doors to “national and international opportunities for a diverse range of cultural activities”.

Artsinfo was launched at the computer game theme centre Sega World, in Sydney’s Darling Harbour. A real time video signal was digitised for internet distribution so that Artsinfo could be simultaneously launched in a number of regional centres, including the Lismore campus of Southern Cross University, where I was involved in hosting the launch.

Preparations for the regional launch began about a fortnight beforehand. Invitations went out to local arts and media organisations. A suitable computer lab was found and the necessary software needed to view the launch was downloaded from the internet. The network was configured and the connection with the Artsinfo server tested. In effect, we were getting ready for the arrival of real time digital video in Lismore.

Coming live over the internet, the videostream had amazing textual qualities. The moving images seemed quite unreal, due in part to the compression techniques required to cram so much data into efficient (and in this case, available) channels. They unfolded in unpredictable ways upon the screen as patchwork puzzles of time. This strangeness was frustrating, but also exciting to experience.

Our view into the launch was provided by a single, fixed camera. Against a plain, black backdrop we could make out the torso and head of a woman. The presentation was simple, but suited to the bandwidth limits of the internet. However, details were washed out with eerie results: could that faceless bureaucrat really be Cathy Santamaria, the country’s most senior arts administrator? At least we could hear her clearly. Not so the Minister, Richard Alston, who was off-mike for much of his speech. We respectfully strained to hear what he said, for most of it. I was reminded of a time when people would gather outside electrical stores to watch television, with interest, awe and fascination.

But our gathering was not entirely made up of inquisitive passers-by. The Artsinfo launch, like the service, aimed to include this assembled group in the national arts and cultural industries “loop” of people-in-the-know. The launch also situated us in relation to other local and global possibilities of community.

A small wave of excitement ran through us when our role as witnesses to the Artsinfo launch was acknowledged by the Minister. I felt momentarily included in the elusive global village of the information economy. I was simultaneously a participant in this particular formation of national and local arts communities. However, these impressions of the global, national and local, mediated by the narrow bandwidths of the internet, were fragile and fleeting.

The importance of ongoing national government support to the development of national culture is clear. Perhaps not so well understood is the importance of communications infrastructure.

It remains to be seen how developments like an open market in telecommunications, the partial privatisation of Telstra, and the sale of the National Transmission Agency (which owns most ABC and SBS transmitter sites), will actually affect the quality, diversity and accessibility of cultural and communications services, especially in regional and remote areas. The Networking the Nation initiative, to be funded from the Telstra float, addresses these problems by directing resources for infrastructure development to those regions and populations in greatest need. It has the potential to facilitate some interesting, important and long overdue projects, especially from Indigenous communities.

No doubt, important and complex consequences for national culture will arise from the alterations to Australian communications described here. An important threshold question to emerge from this term of the Howard government is the extent to which national public culture can be sustained and developed on the basis of privatised communications infrastructures.

The experience of the Artsinfo launch highlights a further paradox here: the first “public” experience of live digital video reached Lismore on the goat tracks of the virtual community, the internet, and not by means of the much-touted (mythical) information superhighway. In this respect Artsinfo is an interesting model of development to emerge from cultural policy. Other initiatives, for example the Australian Cultural Network which aims to provide internet access to public cultural collections, are also being produced from this mould.

Artsinfo marks the shift in the roles of government in both policy fields of communications and culture. But it also serves to highlight the continuing and important role of the Commonwealth in making the nation. It is a risky venture largely because the direct returns on this investment will not generally be measurable in dollar terms. It is also a valuable and timely “public good” service which only a central government can provide.

Artsinfo can be accessed through the world wide web and is available at: http://www.artsinfo.net.au [expired]. A free telephone service, staffed by operators trained to interrogate the database on behalf of callers, has also been established (tel 1800 241 247).

RealTime issue #22 Dec-Jan 1997 pg. 22

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

“Metalux” is a term which loosely translates as “above light”. It also has an alchemical ring to it. So too do many of the striking films and videos which comprise the program of this name recently screened by SIN (Sydney Intermedia Network). This memorable new media program co-ordinated by artists Jo Law and Redmond Bridgeman brought together 11 raconteurs of transformation and enlightenment, produced by Western Australian experimental film and video artists.

Like their precursors, the UBU group and film-makers like Paul Winkler, these would-be cinemalchemists loosen celluloid from the primacy of its linear and narrative projections. These are films rich with metaphor that seek out the transmutative aspects of film and video structure. They enliven the project of structural film and in so doing evince the spirit of countercultural film-making which informed their predecessors.

These are new media works from the aftermath of structuralism. Each film in the program comprises the mutable imaging from the dusk of celluloid and the dawn of digital. The program, it seems, has been undertaken to continue the project of structural film-making in an era of technological ambivalence. In examining technologies, old and new, it retrieves radical and anarchic film-making tendencies from our collective amnesia and applies them to new media.

To be digital or not to be digital is the question for many low-end new media makers, many of whom have been seduced by Super 8, 16mm and video and who have abandoned what might be termed a “filmic spirit” (and, many would argue, the formal principles, techniques and craft of film) in the race to multimedia and FX.

Each artist has interrogated the structural rupture inherent in the current milieu. Intentionally or not, these artists have also taken to task the very nature of this ambivalence, the similarities and differences of filmic and electronic media. These are often mesmerising and entrancing architectures. The filmmakers imbue these spaces, often handmade, with incantation-like texts, sounds and markings treating the base elements of film and video, its celluloid and electronic fields, more as a collision course for the prismatic and mutable qualities of film’s building blocks.

The program is a triumvirate of structural approaches. First up, works which interrogate celluloid as a constructive premise. Second, those that deploy a diverse range of media from Super 8 to 16mm to video and are completed as a video product. The third intriguing but obscure component is film which explores the relationship between visual perception and visual representation.

Like their precursors, there is a common subtext of sheer exuberance for the wonderment of technological progress. Here the film-makers have combined new and old technologies more for a scratchy obfuscation than elucidation or narrative intent. Each of them, however, has kept their sites (sic) firmly on restoring the glint in the eye of experimental film.

The first section begins with a film as disturbing as it is entrancing. It is the Zen-like simplicity of At No Time, a 16mm film by Martin Heine which sets the tone for the program; its rudimentary and rustic quality highlights film’s meditative, contemplative and introspective possibilities. The prescient catalogue essay by Redmond Bridgeman (from a beautifully designed catalogue) describes it thus, “the simple stripping back of the emulsion brings each frame into consciousness and focuses attention on the temporal structure of film”.

The second section includes Snow Film by Arlene de Souza, Old Earth and the sexy nonsense of Given Leave to Enter by Jo Law. Each uses home movie style Super 8 film to suggest private memory, sentimentality and a retrieval of the brass tacks of film.

The final section includes the more technically sophisticated films like the Wagnerian and highly patterned tour de force Hydra by Sam Lendels using techniques from pre-cinema: the zoetrope and kinetoscope. A remarkable film which, in the current race to high end, high tech multimedia, resonates with a fin de siecle intensity. The trance-like Rinse and Repeat by Bec Dean foregrounds the paradox of machinic autonomy in a humanist world. Each of these films have arousal in mind, arousal of memory, arousal of basics. Each film heightens these rudiments of film structure and history to achieve an aura-like and symbolic nature in this time where new and old technologies collide.

The vortex-like 3D animation Landscape 1 by Soha Ariel Hayes which concludes the program is like the first film, At No Time, strangely primordial. The former from the pre-light of digital and the latter from the beginnings of pre-cinema. Landscape 1 is an amazing film which seems at once visually incongruous and disturbingly vital alongside these overtly low-tech looking films. It consists of images lifted from a book on human skin diseases. The animation has the appearance of a carnal, architectural and technological Mixmaster. It serves as something of a leitmotif for these alchemical days when morphing, transforming and transmuting are de rigeur.

Landscape 1 is a spiralling animation which concludes the films of the more high end ilk. It is also the antithesis of those which precede it. While this created a rich irony for the program and a spectacular finish, it also suggested a convincing narrative within this climate of ambivalence—that the pyrotechnics of high-tech animations will prevail.

This program deserves legs, it deserves box office gold, it deserves to be seen by many more than those who attended the Art Gallery of New South Wales screenings. Metalux is emblematic of the new wave of cinematic changelings who have not forgotten the past, who have not forgotten the future and whose project is to continue restoring the glint in the eye of cinema.

Metalux was presented by Sydney Intermedia Network (SIN) at The Domain Theatre, The Art Gallery of NSW, November 1 and 8.

RealTime issue #22 Dec-Jan 1997 pg. 28

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

In the four years I studied chemistry at Sydney University in the late sixties, nothing affected me as profoundly as working in a shipyard during two summer vacations. Employed as a boilermaker’s assistant, I carried the tradesman’s tools, set up the cutting and welding equipment, and did my best to keep out of his way and not make a fool of myself. Five or six days a week for one of those summers, Robert and I joined a team who took a ferry from Balmain to Garden Island and spent the day on the aircraft carrier Melbourne, in dry dock for repair after slicing the Voyager in half.

Overnight I forgot about quantum mechanics and organic reagents, worrying instead about measuring the length of a weld accurately and setting the correct mix of oxygen and acetylene. I’d had to join a union (the Federated Ironworkers of Australia) and was immediately inducted into the mysteries of demarcation disputes, getting into serious trouble for moving a ladder (“Painters and Dockers’ work, son,” explained Robert after defending me from the foreman’s wrath).

“Uni Jon” they called me, with a mixture of affection and derision, their respect for my intellectual achievements tempered with amazement at my ignorance of life’s realities. Robert and I spent one memorable morning chatting while we waited for a painter and docker to deliver a fresh acetylene cylinder. He told me about the great love of his life: a woman a few years older with whom he had been desperately in love. He’d wanted to marry her but she kept putting him off, breaking up with him then returning to resume the relationship, before leaving once more.

Eventually he cut his losses, transferring his attention to another woman, someone he’d known socially for some time. They married and, at the time Robert was telling me this story, had three children. “But what happened to the other woman,” I asked, “the one you really loved?”

“I realised I couldn’t rely on her,” he replied. “She was beautiful, smart, witty, great in bed. I’ve never met anyone like her. But she was always making promises she couldn’t keep. She drove me crazy. I simply wanted to love her and she broke my heart. So I married someone else.”

At 19 I believed absolutely in the grand passion, although I’d never experienced one. I thought that Robert—by following his head rather than his heart—had been unfair: to his capricious lover, to his wife, and to himself. I resolved that I would behave differently if faced with a similar choice.

Needless to say, I was wrong. The choice, as is turned out, was not between two women but it involved a grand passion nonetheless—my more than 10 year love affair with the Macintosh. The relationship began to sour two years ago, when my employer at that time supplied me with a PowerBook 5300. I’d been using my own PowerBooks happily for years but this turned out to be the computer from hell. Over a six month period, the keyboard, LCD screen, modem port, and finally the motherboard were all replaced. My experience was not unique, the 5300 series was the subject of a humiliating recall that cost Apple over 60 million dollars.

About the time I left the company to freelance, I received some money from the AFC to create a web-based hypertext narrative. Included in the budget was an amount for a notebook computer (to be sold at the end of the project with the proceeds returned to the AFC). Instead of a PowerBook, I bought a Toshiba notebook running Windows 95. This meant I could create the text and graphics for the web pages on my Macintosh 8500 desktop machine while checking how the site looked under Windows. I could use the Macintosh as a content creation platform and the Windows machine to check how the project would look to 90 percent of personal computer users. My compact with the devil had begun.

From there it was a gradual slide into hell. I transferred my calendar and contacts database to the PC so that it would always be available. Since I work as a freelance writer and charge for my time, I needed an accounting program that tracked and invoiced by time. QuickBooks Pro was perfect but Intuit, the developers, had just announced that they’d no longer be developing a Macintosh version.

Michael Hill and I had developed a concept for an online chat game and were seeking out potential partners. All the 3D chat spaces had Windows-only client software. My friends, who’d been using Macs for years too, began to switch to Windows. Every application I used on the Macintosh was available for Windows too: Photoshop, Director, Inspiration, Storyspace, DeBabelizer, FileMaker Pro. In every case the Windows version turned out to be as good as or better than the Macintosh original. Worse still, many fine software applications were only available for Windows.

I’d been using Nisus Writer as my word processor for nearly ten years. Nisus Software bet the farm on a new Apple technology called OpenDoc by releasing an OpenDoc compliant version of Nisus Writer. It was disastrously buggy. Not long afterwards, Apple abandoned OpenDoc (and the developers who’d spent millions of dollars building OpenDoc software). I needed a replacement word processor. Microsoft Word on the Macintosh was awful but the PC version turned out to be surprisingly good.

That left the internet, which I was still accessing from the Macintosh. A few months ago I bought the Windows version of Eudora, switched my e-mail to the PC, and the migration was complete.

Over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve been thinking about writing this piece, an e-mail list (Windows-Newbies) and a web site (MacWindows) have sprung up: the former for Macintosh users making the switch to Windows, the latter for Mac users who want to (or must) use PCs too. Windows-Newbies is fascinating: the people on the list are technically sophisticated Macintosh users struggling to come to terms with how Windows is better, or worse, or simply different. Their humility and openness to new experience is refreshingly different to the Macintosh or Windows fanatics who scream abuse at each other across a gulf of ignorance, incomprehension, and intolerance.

What’s Windows like? It’s OK. Usable. Once you’re inside Photoshop or Director, it doesn’t really matter anyway. Windows is ugly to look at (but you get used to it), its memory management is appalling (I regularly run out of memory although I have 48Mb of physical RAM), it lacks the seamless elegance of the Macintosh OS. I like Windows well enough, it does the job. But I don’t love using it as I loved the Mac.

In years to come, the Macintosh saga will be studied—as one of the great marketing failures of the 20th century—in business schools all over the world. Anyone who has used both knows that a Macintosh is superior to a Windows PC but Apple has never been able to persuasively communicate that difference. As Macintosh hardware sales began to decline, software developers scaled down or abandoned their commitment to the platform, sending hardware sales into an even deeper downward spiral.

I still use my Macintosh 8500, for video capture and to work in Japanese (Apple’s Asian language support remains unsurpassed). I’m sentimental about the Mac: every morning when I log on to the net via the PC, I read my e-mail then immediately check out the Macintouch and MacWEEK web sites to see what’s happening in the Macintosh world. I’m hoping against hope that Steve Jobs will turn Apple around, that Rhapsody will ship, and that—like the prodigal son—I can return to the Macintosh fold. But I’m not holding my breath.

So, you might ask, if the Mac is so much better and I loved it so much, why did I switch to Windows? Well, Robert was right, all those years ago. “Sometimes,” he told me, as we stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the brilliant summer sun, “you have to settle for second best”.

RealTime issue #22 Dec-Jan 1997 pg. 23

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

The city of Kassel in the north west of Germany is an unlikely town for Documenta, the world’s leading art event. It has the feeling of a large village—perhaps once a grand city, but totally devastated then rebuilt after World War II. But somehow this village feeling works for an exhibition like Documenta, allowing the audience to walk the city between four exhibition spaces and view several site-specific projects along the way. Throughout all sites, a strong thematic cohesion is maintained along with a sense of relation between the many installation, photographic, screen-based and sculptural works on display.

The 10th Documenta (aka dX) was held from June to September this year assembled by French curator Catherine David with the title “politics/poetics”. Without including many big names, dX featured over 100 artists and groups, indicating a preference towards a thematic rather than a ‘blockbuster’ approach.

dX engaged in very direct ways, enticing the viewer to spend time with works, to read, to sit, to watch and at times touch. This engagement was particularly pronounced with the screen-based works, a predominant feature of dX. What was most obvious about these works was the presentation in relation to the viewer—with great consideration of how an audience relates to screen-based work within the context of an art exhibition. The viewer could be both receptive and active in the concept and delivery of the ideas.

The most pronounced example of this was a series of four videos by Jean Luc Godard screened in a ‘viewing structure’ designed by Dan Graham. The Godard works were from his personal history of cinema and other movies, excerpts from his own and others’ films, interspersed with interviews and dialogues on many topics from French philosophy to cinema theory. Each monitor sat on the floor and was displayed in one compartment of a four cell glass ‘booth’, the audience sitting on cushions in each booth with headphones. The design of the booth however created an uneasy sense of voyeurism as viewers could see each other through the glass, as well as reflections of the other videos, and in turn, their own image as part of the reflected Godard image. The whole structure created tension, mirroring Godard’s own techniques of fracturing and layering.

French artist Liisa Roberts presented a 16mm installation entitled Trap Door. Situated in a large space, three loops of repetitive human motion were projected on the walls as well as screens arranged in a triangular pattern. Her work “…reflects the relationship between viewer and work in time and space…in a space that is both closed and open at the same time. The viewer can walk around it, enter it, or observe it, for it adheres to sculptural principles as well as visual principles. It is both exhibition space and object.” (dX, Short Guide) The grainy black and white film, with only the sound of the projectors created an eerie and mesmeric effect. Like the Godard work, the viewer becomes both spectator and participant, but using a more poetic approach, Roberts created an immersive and contemplative screen environment.

On a more ‘gritty realist’ note Johan Grimonprez presented a documentary video Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y (1995-97), an historical chronology of airplane highjackings. The work was totally engaging, and in the context of dX was an important detailing of the history of extreme political actions. The work did not glorify the terrorist acts, but rather seemed nostalgic for the ‘classical’ terrorist method.

These three works are only a short selection from a comprehensive list of screen-based works. The inclusion of these works alongside many other artforms created a strong sense of content and theme rather than medium. Most of the screen-based works were actually about projecting beyond the screen, engaging the audience in an environment, creating the image as a confrontational spectre. Artists such as Graham/Godard, Roberts, Grimonprez as well as, for example, Jordan Crandall, Steve McQueen and the collaborative team of Mike Kelley and Tony Oursler are working at the intersection of politics and poetics, exploring ways in which the screen is simultaneously site of production, display medium and expanded sculptural/architectural mechanism.

RealTime issue #22 Dec-Jan 1997 pg. 26

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

Informal, sardine-packed and a little like the Mother of All Uncle Arthur’s Slide Nights, Digita’s takeover of the Binary Bar for two nights was worth its wait in set-up time.

Lisa Gye and Steven Ball, in an inspired piece of adhoc-ery, used a calico sheet over the main window of the bar rather than a clinical projection screen, so pedestrians and that peculiar brand of Melbournian flaneur could—with neat literalism—turn the plane to interface. Apt, really, for a double bill of interactive multimedia entertainment that aimed to put the performance and audience-focus back into an often-predictable point-click Timezoney version of art shrink-wrapped to fit kiosk one-to-one.

As with any decent theatre restaurant, we got some terrific warm-up acts, in this case an experimental video compilation featuring work by RMIT animation students, from scalpel-surreal metallic 3D-morphed flowers to deconstructed faux-naif retro-Astroboy, starring (as enjoyably always) Troy Innocent and Third Eye.

At one end of the theatricalisation continuum were CD-ROM extravaganzas that nonetheless simply multiplied the over-shoulder-starer experience of impatiently waiting for a Riven addict to finish up. Zoe Beloff’s Beyond is an extraordinary cinematic VR narrative, set in an abandoned asylum occupied by about 20 panoramas and 20 QuickTime movies. Hauntingly gothic and dreamily associative, it explores artificial resurrection and dramatises the paradoxes and cross-translations between media technologies over time, mode, fiction, analysis and use, and frankensteining discarded 1920s home movies. But—in addition to the distancing of CD-autocontrol—the poor circus-bear computer got d-drive stutters, dissipating the soundscape, swallowing the scripted-word recordings, distorting the picture.

Then there’s the hybrid inbetweeneries of performed interactivity and projected performances. Regurgitations, a la Dirk de Bruyn, did fractal variations on the diaristic theme in full handheld vertigo mode with palimpsestic layers of text, old family-photo riffs, chanting, live guitar, comic-book iconography and hallucinogenic movement disconcertingly reminiscent of bad improvisational contact dancing. Synthesiser, by Steven Ball and Nicole Skeltys, bounced fractured randomly-generated text off a distressed, Gaussian road movie (broken white line zipping itself up into infinity), colliding with pixillated palettes, tartan swatches, screensize Dulux samplers and other found-objects from the technical apparatus of image manipulation.

But at the other performance extreme, and probably the most entertainingly effective, were those incorporating and engaging the space and audience. Tony Wood’s Interactive boasted live percussion and electric guitar backing CD-ROM projections of abstracted video and photographic kinetic water studies, match-cut and jump-cut with a duelling slide projector. The two competing (and mobile: tilting, scrolling, crawling up the wall, chasing each other across the screen) image-sets framed, overlapped, slid in and out of focus and position, collide-o-scoping sunflowers, circuitboards, snakeskin, peacock-tail oil-patinas, diodes, stained glass, and hieroglyphs. Mesmerising fun syncopated to the live music.

And Paul Rodgers produced two terrific pieces, The Waxing Book and Paul’s Experiments, the latter being the Digita highlight (in all senses), installing a video hook-up projecting the audience-as-film, three light globes that he slowly, surgically punctured with a blowtorch while a fan dissected light, mirrors refracted it, sunspots imploded it, video-inserts and shadow produced a quadrupled puppet-play commentary. Medium as newly-visibilised message and toy: an acute fable for Digita.

Digita Screensavers & Moving Stills, CyberFringe, Binary Bar, October 5 and 19.

RealTime issue #22 Dec-Jan 1997 pg. 27

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

This is the first of two articles on dance companies based in Adelaide as indicative of a range of dance discourses in Australia. In this issue, Anne Thompson interviews Meryl Tankard who, subsequent to this interview, won the Mobil Pegasus Award for her choreography of Inuk for the Meryl Tankard Australian Dance Theatre at the 14th International Summer Theatre Festival in Hamburg. In RealTime #22, Anne Thompson talks to Sally Chance, artistic director of the Restless Dance Company who will be shortly working in Melbourne with Candoco, a British company which also features dancers with disabilities. Candoco are guests of the Newimages Exchange program between Australia and Great Britain.

I am interested in articulating the discourses now available to dancers and choreographers. This interest is linked to my belief that the way we live and give meaning to our work and lives as artists depends on the range and social power of the discourses to which we have access.

I want to challenge the idea that there exists a universally understood truth about the nature of dance and dancing. I believe Australian dance culture to be a plurality of competing subcultures. I want to acknowledge the range of discourses now being used by Australian dancers and choreographers. I want to encourage the view that the use of a discourse can be a strategy.

This interview with Meryl Tankard raised many questions for me: What happens to the notions of “expression” and “originality” if an individual’s dancing is understood to be marked by aesthetic and cultural codes? What use is the concept of national identity for dancers? In what ways could this be defined as linking to birthplace, as aboriginality, as a conscious representation of cultural plurality? Is the dance we recognise as a representation of a culture or inner feeling, what we classify as authentic? How can we acknowledge our fascination with “other” cultures? How is the task of promoting dance on the national and international dance market shaping the way Australian dance artists think about dance?

AT How do you understand the mix of classicism/classical ballet and expressionism/modern dance in your work? Are these two dance traditions connected for you?

MT My training as a dancer has been in both classical and modern dance as I danced in the Australian Ballet and with Pina Bausch (Tanztheater Wuppertal). In some ways they feel like the opposite extreme of each other. I always felt as a ballet dancer that there was something missing, that there was something I couldn’t get out because I was too worried about getting the technique right.

But then on the other hand there is an amazing similarity of rigour and devotion required by the ballet and Pina’s dance theatre. The ballet was a sheltered world and we never saw or thought of anything else. When I entered Pina’s company I thought, “Great! Freedom at last!” And it was freeing to do her work. Yet there was, as with classical dance, an almost religious devotion to the art of dance. There couldn’t be anything else in your life. You could never say Pina was hard. She never yelled at anybody, but we were like monks. Giving up everything for dance was expected and we lived up to that expectation.

AT Does the drive inform your work?

MT I can’t watch work that is superficial.

AT What do you mean?

MT Work that doesn’t have a depth that comes from within. There is something that comes from inside and goes out through the body when we dance. So much dance works the other way. Dancing can be about vanity. “I’m so cute. My body is gorgeous. Look at me.” It can become vulgar. Movement, for me, has to be honest, truthful. If people have never experienced that way of dancing, they are free to work in other ways. Sometimes I find it aggravating that I can’t just indulge in movement. It might bring something else out in me. But I can’t just go into the studio and work on movement alone.

AT How would you explain what drives the creative process when you are making a work?

MT I feel fortunate to have worked with Pina, although at times it was hard. I will never find anyone like her again. I learned from her to ask questions of the dancers, to get them to use their own creativity. They are, after all, human beings, not objects. I learnt not to get dancers to just copy a step I can do or to move the way my body does. I think those days are gone. Dancers are creative. When the dancers use that creativity there is a commitment in the performing that is different from when dancers just do steps.

AT How do you select an answer? Is it to do with a dancer connecting to the question in some way?

MT I think so. When you see honesty it touches you. Sometimes I can’t even work out why I am touched. When a response is truthful, that dancer has a special energy that communicates. This dancing has nothing to do with the toe being pointed or the leg turned out. It’s so much more interesting. The voice is also interesting. You can’t lie with the voice. I don’t really think you can lie with movement either. You are totally exposed and vulnerable.

AT How do you then shape a work or put it together into its final form?

MT It is always scary and I go in there totally empty. It’s only when I’m watching that I can say “That goes with that!” You have a feeling for form but it is something subtle. I can’t express it in words.

But I do love the space. I’ve always loved space. Loved using every bit of it. In Pina’s work I would always run around the space. In Furioso (1993) the ropes allowed me to use space in a new way. That was exciting for me.

AT Surely this feeling for form is a product of your own dance history.

MT Discipline and a strong foundation in a dance style are important. It doesn’t have to be classical ballet. It may be something you reject but it will still be important.

AT But where would you place yourself as a choreographer?

MT Just before a show opens I always think, “I am not a choreographer.” I associate choreography with steps. I think that in Australia you are called a choreographer if you keep the dancers bounding around to the music, jumping up and down, turning and twisting. If you sit in a dark corner, people ask, “What’s that?” I’m not talking about audiences. I’m talking about critics. I’m not going to move just for movement’s sake.

AT How do you understand the relationship between the choreographer and the dancer?

MT I feel like I’ve gone through what they are going through. I’ve been guided and now I can guide them, unlock their creative powers, push. Some people resist this. Once you uncover their artistry a door is opened and they go through it. You can see them become so much more confident.

AT What are the ideal conditions in which to create dance?

MT Pina Bausch took three months to make a piece. Ideally it would be good to work, to have time to think and then complete the work.

AT So what about training? How do you view classical technique?

MT I don’t mind the technique. But I see no point in doing 19th century ballets. The ballets change when the choreographers are no longer around. They just get watered down. They’ve lost the choreographer’s inner connection with the movement. Ballets should also express what is happening now. When I created Aurora (1994), I came to love and respect the story. The critics went berserk because I tap-danced to Tchaikovsky. I wasn’t sending it up. I was really trying to work out how to tell that fairy tale.

I’m in a position now where a number of dancers I have worked with for four or five years want to leave and go to Europe. We constantly lose dancers from Australia to overseas. This means we don’t have a pool of dancers to choose from. I really think that Australia should allow foreign dancers to work here. There are many dancers in Europe who want to work with me and I think it would enrich the culture here if they could. It would give Australian dancers so much to work alongside them.

AT Do certain themes/concerns recur in your work?

MT Oh, life, love! Pina always said that all her pieces were about love. Though in the last piece I made, Inuk (1997), I felt a need to talk about the environment and Australia. Most of the critics didn’t see this and so didn’t know what the piece was about. I thought I was making a pretty obvious statement.

AT What are you saying?

MT When I came back from Europe, Australia seemed…vast. I was aware of the lack of support for the arts here. I felt alone. Pauline Hanson was on the scene! There are quite a few sections in the piece that comment on this situation. I had two Aboriginal dancers and a Maori boy in the piece. The last scene shows a Maori boy wanting to know about his background and his father laughing at him. It is quite hard.

A white girl plays the Maori boy. It ends with Sean, a white Australian, and Rachel, a beautiful, tall, Aboriginal girl, singing an Italian aria, “Give Us Peace!” For me, this said everything I wanted to say.

AT What have the company’s travels taught it about dance and its identity as an Australian dance company?

MT The promoter from Brooklyn Academy of Music said, “This work is not Australian. I refuse to promote it as such. It’s universal.” But when we took Furioso to Europe it was perceived as Australian. And it is. We are all Australians who create the work. It is hard to define what that is. Our last European tour was sold out and we’ve been invited back to Hamburg. So we must offer something different from what they are used to in Europe. That’s why they are excited by it. In Australia they say the work is very European. I think that’s why I did this last piece. I had to ask, “Where is home?” “Where is my home?”

AT What draws you to the song and dance of different cultures?

MT When I first arrived back from Europe I felt a need to understand this culture. Now I look to other cultures. They seem to have a reason for dancing. We’ve lost that.

AT You perceive there to be a connection between dance and social life in other cultures.

MT I think dance is a very natural activity and we should all be involved in it. Greek and Italian migrants brought a different relation to dance to Australia.

AT Did you feel there existed a relationship between dance and social ritual in Europe?

MT I felt it when I left Europe. These rituals don’t necessarily occur there any more. A beautiful Bulgarian artist said of Songs For Mara, “It has taken an Australian to remind us where we have come from.”

AT Would you like to raise anything?

MT I think it’s a pity that more people don’t write about dance. In Europe dance has more of a connection with other art forms. Australia is young and people are starting to write. I just wish more people would write. It is only then that a history will exist. I was cleaning out my bookshelves the other day and found seven books on Pina Bausch, written from very different perspectives.

RealTime issue #21 Oct-Nov 1997 pg. 11

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

The conference component of CODE RED will take place at The Performance Space, Sydney on November 25. It is being curated by Julianne Pierce (new media artist and Project Co-ordinator at the Performance Space) and organized by the Adelaide-based Australian Network for Art & Technology (ANAT). CODE RED will include highly regarded specialist Australian and international speakers who will debate and discuss media power, communication and information technology. CODE RED will investigate how artists are shaping communication and the vital role that artists can play in developing the future of the new media.

Geert Lovink is an editor of nettime, which declares itself “a semi-public, collaborative text filter for net criticism, cultural politics of the net and international co-ordination of meetings, conferences and publishing projects; it started in June 1995 after a meeting at the Venice Biennale and functions as an exchange between media activists, artists, theorists, philosophers, journalists, technicians and researchers from all over the world with many European and East European subscribers.
Nettime http://mediafilter.org/nettime/ [expired]

On ‘netlish’
McKenzie Wark

You taught me language, and my profit on't
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language.
Caliban, in Shakespeare’s The Tempest

On the net, one is forever coming across versions of English written as a second language that are at once charming and strange. It’s a temptation, as a native speaker, to think these usages are 'wrong'. But I think there's a better way of seeing it. What the net makes possible is the circulation of the very wide range of forms of English as a second language that have existed for some time, and which are, via the net, coming more and more in contact with each other.

When non-English language speakers start writing in English, elements of their native grammar and style come into it. This can enrich English immeasurably, so long as the way in which English is being used in a given non-native context is reasonably coherent.

Take the notorious 'Japlish'. At first sight, it’s extremely strange. But after a while, it makes sense. And you can start to see it as a distinctive kind of writing. A fantastic hybrid of ways of making sense and making a self in language. A wacky footnote to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

This was the idea that each language makes possible certain conceptual structures, and makes others most unlikely. For example, ancient Greek was a language extremely rich in articles, so it lent itself to the formation of the discourse of philosophy. What is being? It’s a thought that Greek—and English—can express easily, but that can't occur in certain other languages. Those other languages, needless to say, are no doubt rich in other kinds of thought.

What happens when non-native writers use English is that the reader sees the shadow of another way of thinking, as it meets the ways of thinking that English shapes. One sees the English shape, and beyond it, the shadow of another shape. Even better, one sees a third shape, not belonging to either language, emerging at the point of contact of the two.

All of this is more obvious in netwriting than in printed matter. On the net, nobody pays too much attention to grammar and style. On the net, one sees the shape of language through the little mistakes and fissures that in printed texts editors remove. What emerges is a whole range of ways of writing 'Netlish', where non-native forms of English writing come in contact with each other, and with native forms, without being passed through a single editorial standard.

Which leads me to the question of how Netlish should be edited, when net texts are published in printed form. Perhaps editing has to be looked at from two sides. On the one hand, it helps to think about it from the point of view of kinds of native English use (of which there are several). It matters that English has conventions, so that it is clear to readers what a writer intends.

But that doesn't mean there has to be one convention of usage—be it Oxford or Webster. As a speaker and writer of a minority English, I'm all in favour of recognising distinct forms of the language. Australian-English is different. We have our own dictionary, our own style guides. So too does Indian English—and there may be more people speaking English as a first language in India than in the whole of the British Isles. I think this principle can be extended to the various emerging kinds of Netlish.

Print is the place to codify things like language usage, so print can become a device for propagating, not just writing's content, but also its forms. Including forms of Netlish once they become relatively stable and recognisable. This is not as easy as it looks. I've struck a similar problem with Aboriginal English in Australia. You can translate it into standard Australian usage, but then you lose sight of the otherness of the shape of thought behind it.

English was always a bastard language. It’s a bastard to learn—for every rule there seems to be a swarm of exceptions. But there's a reason why it is so: it’s the mix in it of everything, from Pict to Pakistani. Its prehistory in the British Isles is a small-scale model of what's happening to it now on a global scale. The Romans, the Saxons, the Normans and the Norse—everybody came and brought something to the mix. “We will fight them on the beaches”—pure Saxon. “We will never surrender”—the abstract noun is Norman. Different shapes of thought, superimposed on top of each other, making something else. As Saxon becomes Norman, Norman becomes something else—English.

Language is a machine that produces, as one of these effects, subjectivity. As the philosopher Gilles Deleuze said, “What is the self but this habit of saying 'I'?” The net makes English habits of writing one's self come in contact with other habits of self, making them become something else. And making English as it proliferates across the net—Netlish. Adding richness to the language of potentially Shakespearian proportions. That is more a blessing than a curse.

The netletters were originally written 'live' for the listserve group Nettime: http://www.Desk.nl/~nettime/ [expired]. This is the edited version.

Language? No problem
Geert Lovink: edited by McKenzie Wark

Have you tried to discuss recipes with friends, feeling socially disabled because you never learned the English names for all those kitchen garnishes, deluxe herbs and flamboyant birds? For gourmets, language can be a true obstacle in the enjoyment of the self-made haute cuisine. The careful pronunciation of the names is a crucial part of the dining pleasure. Naming is the social counterpart of tasting and a failed attempt to find the precise name of the ambitious appetiser can easily temper the mood.

McKenzie Wark has introduced the term 'Euro-English', being one of the many 'Englishes' currently spoken and written. It's a funny term, only an outsider (from Australia, in this case) could come up with it. Of course, it does not exist and Wark should have used the term in the plural, 'Euro-Englishes'. The term is also highly political. If you put it in the perspective of current Euro-politics in Great Britain. Is the UK part of Europe and if so, is their rich collection of 'Englishes' (Irish, Scottish etc.) then part of the bigger family of Euro-English 'dialects'? That would be a truly radical, utopian European perspective. Or is 'Euro-English' perhaps the 20th century Latin spoken on 'the continent'?

Continentals can only hear accents, like the extraordinary French-English, the deep, slow Russian-English or the smooth, almost British accent of the Scandinavians. It seems hard to hear and admit one's own version. One friend of mine speaks English with a heavy Cockney accent (not the Dutch one) and I never dared ask him why this was the case. Should he be disciplined and pretend to speak like they do on BBC World Service? I don't think so. What is right and wrong in those cases? Should he speak Dutch-English, like most of us? Switching to other English’s is a strange thing to do, but sometimes necessary. If you want to communicate successfully in Japan you have to adjust your English, speak slowly and constantly check if your message gets through. Mimicking Japlish is a stupid thing to do, but you have to come near to that if you want to achieve anything.

BBC World Service is my point of reference, I must admit. The BBC seems to be the only stable factor in my life. It's always there, even moreso than the Internet. In bed, I am listening carefully to the way they are building sentences, and guessing the meaning of the countless words with which I am not familiar. A couple of years ago they started to broadcast 'Europe Today' where you can hear all the variations of 'Euro-English', even from the moderator. Sometimes it's amusing, but most of the time it is just informative, like any other good radio program. Would that be the 'Euro-English' McKenzie speaks about, beyond all accents and apparent mistakes, a still not yet conscious 'Gesamtsprachwerk'?

According to McKenzie, within this 'bastard language' one can 'sometimes see the shadows of another way of thinking.' This might be true. We all agree that we should not be annoyed by mistakes, but instead look for the new forms of English that the Net is now generating. But for me, most of these shadows are like the shadows in Plato's Cave story. They are weak, distorted references to a point somebody is desperately trying to make. We will never know whether the 'charming' and 'strange' outcomes are intentional, or not. Non-native English writers (not sanctioned by editors) might have more freedom to play with the language.

Finding the right expression even makes more fun, at least for me. At this moment, I am writing three times as slow as I would do in Dutch or German. Not having dictionaries here, nor the sophisticated software to do spell checking, one feels that the libidinous streams are getting interrupted here and there. On-line text is full of those holes. At sudden moments, I feel the language barrier rising up and I am not anymore able to express myself. This is a violent, bodily experience, a very frustrating one that Wark is perhaps not aware of. He could trace those holes and ruptures later, in the text. But then again we move on and the desire to communicate removes the temporary obstacles.

How should the Euro-English e-texts be edited? At least they should go through a spell-checker. Obvious grammar mistakes should be taken out, and they should not be rewritten be a naive English or American editor. If we are in favour of 'language diversification,' this should also be implemented on the level of the printed word. 'Euro-English’s' or 'Net-English’s' are very much alive, but do they need to be formalised or even codified? I don't care, to be honest. At the moment, I am more afraid of an anthropological approach, an exotic view on Net-English that would like to document this odd language before it disappears again. But our way of expression is not cute (or rare). It is born out of a specific historical and technological circumstance: the Pax Americana, pop culture, global capitalism, Europe after 89 and the rise of the Internet.

Globalisation will further unify the English languages and will treat local variations as minor, subcultural deviations. As long as they are alive, I don't see any problem, but should we transform these e-texts onto paper, only to show the outsiders that the Net is so different, so exciting? I would propose that the Book as a medium should not be used to make propaganda for the idea of 'hyper-text' or 'multi-media'. A discussion in a news group, on a list or just through personal e-mail exchange is nothing more than building a 'discourse' and not by definition a case for sophisticated graphic design to show all the (un)necessary cross references.

McKenzie Wark didn't want to speak about the right to express yourself in your own language. He agrees with this and I guess we all do. His native language is English, the lucky boy. But we do have to speak about it. Especially US-Americans do not want to be bothered about this topic. I haven't heard one cyber-visionary ever mentioning the fact that the Net has to become multi-lingual if we ever want to reach Negroponte's famous 'one billion users by the year 2000.' It is not in their interest to develop multi-lingual networks. OK, the marketing departments of the software houses do bring out versions in other languages. But this is only done for commercial reasons. And the Internet is not going to change so quickly. Still 90% of its users are living in the USA. Rebuilding Babylon within the Net will be primarily the task of the non-natives.

Of course, many of us have found our way in dealing with the dominance of the English language and think that newbies should do likewise. But this attitude seems shortsighted, even a bit cynical. If we want the Net to grow, to be open and democratic, to have its free, public access and content zones, then sooner or later we have to face the language problem. Until now, this has been merely one's own, private problem. It depends on your cultural background, education and commitment whether you are able and willing to communicate freely in English. This 'individual' quality goes together with the emphasis on the user-as-an-individual in the slogan of cyber-visionaries about the so-called 'many to many' communication. But the language from 'all 2 all' remains unmentioned.. 'Translation bots will solve that problem,' the eternal optimist will tell you. Everything has been taken care of in the Fantasy World called Internet. But so far nothing has happened. At the moment, the number of languages used in the Net is increasing rapidly. But they exist mainly separately. It can happen that a user in Japan or Spain will never (have to) leave his or her language sphere, or is not able to…

Languages are neither global nor local. Unlike the proclaimed qualities of the Net, they are bound to the nation state and its borders, or perhaps shared by several nations or spoken in a certain region, depending on the course history took in the 19th and 20th century. Countless small languages have disappeared in this process of nation building, migration and genocide. But in Europe we still have at least 20 or 30 of them and they are not likely to disappear. So communicating effectively within Europe through the Net will need a serious effort to build a 'many to many' languages translation interface. A first step will be the implementation of unicode. Automatic translation programs will only then become more reliable. At this moment, French and Hungarian users, for example, seriously feel their language mutilated if they have to express themselves in ASCII.

But let's not complain too much. Once I saw a small paper in a shop window in Amsterdam, saying “English? No problem.” Rebuilding the Babel Tower together should be big fun and I am ready to spend a lot of time in the construction of a true multi-lingual Net.

Anyone using this awful phrase 'global communications' without mentioning the multi-lingual aspect of it, seems implausible for me. Let's change this and put the translation on the agenda. Separated, bi-lingual systems, though, remind me of 'apartheid'. The linguistic Islands on the Net should not become closed and isolated universes. Our own cute bastardised Englishes has no future either. There will never be one planet, with one people, speaking one language. 'Das Ganze ist immer das Unwahre' and this specially counts for all dreams about English becoming the one and only world language for the New Dark Age. Still many netizens unconsciously do make suggestions in the direction of 'One language or no language.' (In parallel with the eco-blackmail speech 'One planet or no planet'). The pretension to go global can be a cheap escape not to be confronted anymore with the stagnation and boredom of the local (and specially national) levels. Working together on language solutions can be one way to avoid this trap.

***

Editor’s note
McKenzie Wark

I was tempted to change 'flamboyant birds' in the first paragraph, by substituting in its place either 'exotic birds' or 'exotic fowl'. Flamboyant connotes showy and ornate—it’s something one would say of a Las Vegas stage show. Exotic connotes rarity of occurrence, as well as a less specific quality of unusual appearance. The justification for making the change would be that, as the editor, I am getting closer to the 'author's intention.'

It’s worth noting that 'bird' is also unusual in this context. It’s used colloquially in Australia for a fowl meant for the table—but I don't know if the expression is so used anywhere else. The OED is not enlightening on this subject. 'Fowl' is more correct, as the term fowl includes chicken, duck, geese, turkey and pheasant—but not quail. But 'fowl' sounds no more natural. So while 'exotic fowl' seems to me to be both a correct expression and closest to the author's intention, it isn't something that looks quite natural—hence I see no net gain in such a change.

I've left 'flamboyant birds' because, quite simply, there's nothing grammatically wrong with it. It’s just an unusual usage. But this often happens in Euro-English’s: neglected areas of connotation for particular words get reactivated, or extensions of connotation that don't yet quite exist in English-English come into being. I think that is, historically, how English develops and changes—just look at the remarkable richness that’s crept into standard English-English through Irish English. The example here may seem trivial—all editing decisions are in the end trivial—but I've expounded on it in order to show the kind of things that happen.

The editorial solutions can head in one of two directions—the instrumental or the formal. Geert's preference is instrumental—the text is a means to an end. I'm inclined to a slightly more formal approach—the surface of the text, as a distinct artefact in its own right, ought to be respected.

I've made minor changes elsewhere in Geert's text. With one exception, sentences ending in prepositions have been recast. Possessive apostrophes have been added. Spelling is now more or less OED, except of course the 'net-neologisms' that don't yet exist in any recognised dictionary. For example 'newbie.' Here one follows standard net-usage. If I was editing for printed publication, I'd be inclined to eliminate unnecessary net-speak—but that's another issue.

The netletters were originally written ‘live’ for the listserve group nettime.
These are edited versions.

Geert Lovink received two responses from Japan on his article, Language? No Problem. One comes from a Japanese book editor, the other from an American translator involved in video activism and documentary film. The first commented: “Japanese are always frustrated by English in Net (reading, writing, sending mail) and this situation divides people. When I sent mail to my Japanese friend in London, I used English-Japanese like ‘konnitiwa, Yano desu’; because his internet server didn’t accept 2-byte characters.” He added, “But Japanese never questions this problem There is the situation which push us not to think about that.” This was a theme explored by the second writer:

“I got your piece on the English language problem, and enjoyed reading it. We have faced with some of the same issues at Yamagata since we established our WWW site. As a rule, we put everything in English and Japanese, but we seriously realize that to fulfill our role as a promoter of Asian documentary, we have to also start putting out some of the information in Korean and Chinese (at least). For that, however, we have no money.

It was hard enough just producing everything in Japanese and English. The people who ran the site insisted we could just have Japanese volunteers translate material into English because in their own “cyber-visionary” fashion they insisted that Internet will give birth to a diversified English no longer controlled by white Anglo-Saxons. I sympathize with their goal, but at the same time, their statements can be easily co-opted within various ideologies about the Japanese language. The feeling that Japanese do not need to learn to be fluent in English, to produce it on their own in a communicative situation, but only be able to read it, has been central to state education policy and reinforces the construction of the Japanese nation through the language. Japanese have been crucially defined through their language, to the degree that Japanese children raised abroad who speak fluent Japanese and English are somehow considered “non-Japanese.” The inability or lack of necessity to produce good English then provides the insulation through which the discursive “community” of Japanese can articulate an homogeneous national identity. I sometimes then wonder what would happen if more Japanese could speak and write ‘good’ English.”

Reproduced with the permission of the authors and nettime from http://mediafilter.org/nettime/[expired]

RealTime issue #21 Oct-Nov 1997 pg. 14-15

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

As part of the Denmark Meets Australia program brought to us by the Royal Danish Ministry of Culture, New Danish Dance Theatre is presenting their work Tanne: Episodes from the Life of Karen Blixen choreographed by NDDT’s artistic director Warren Spears and performed by six dancers from the company with music by Jens Wilhelm Pedersen at the Newtown Theatre 16-18 October. The NDDT season dovetails into the 1997 Bodies season at the same venue from October 22 to November 9. Producer Mark Cleary’s Bodies count this year numbers around 20 dancers including Elizabeth Dalman, Susan Barling, Virginia Ferris, Rosetta Cook, Norman Hall, Paulina Quinteros, Bernadette Walong and Patrick Harding-Irmer. There’s also a special Youthworks program produced by Julianne Sanders on November 1 and 8.

The Denmark Meets Australia program also includes the stunning production of Orfeo by Hotel Pro Forma, a visit by the 20-piece Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra with jazz bassists Niels-Henning Orsted Pederson, a program of contemporary Danish cinema and a tour by Danish writers (Ib Michael, Carsten Jensen, Vagn Lundbye and Solvej Balle) with actors from the Danish People’s Theatre. Parts of the program are touring Sydney, Canberra and Barossa Valley, South Australia.

RealTime issue #21 Oct-Nov 1997 pg. 14

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

The annual independent dance showcase, Steps is an eagerly anticipated forum for new work and debate around issues of physical performance. The third Steps program (Inter-Steps) will run throughout November at The Performance Space in Sydney. There’s always a sense of performance as event in the Steps program along with serious explorations of space. As well as providing a platform for independent artists, Steps offers dancers and physical performers an opportunity to reflect a personal style as distinct from their performances within companies.

This year’s featured artists are Brett Daffy, Meredith Kitchen, Claire Hague, Trevor Patrick, Brian Carbee, Beth Kayes and Tuula Roppola. As well as the main program, Studio Steps features one-off performances by Martin del Amo, Jeff Stein, James McAllister, Lisa Ffrench, Lisa Freshwater and Brett Heath. Premiering at Steps is a new 13-minute dance on film, Touched, choreographed by Wendy Houstoun of DV8 fame. There’ll also be an intimate exhibition of images by photographer Heidrun Löhr.

A special focus of Inter-steps will be dance on video. Michelle Mahrer has curated a program of recent award winning films from Europe and North America including Vertigo Bird (33 mins) featuring Slovenia’s En-Knap Company choreographed by Iztok Kovac and from the UK, Boy (5 mins) choreographed by Rosemary Lee and directed by Peter Anderson. On November 8 following the screenings of the Microdance films, there’ll be a discussion on the vexed process of creating dance on film with film-makers Robert Herbert, Paul Hampton, Louise Curham and Alyson Bell and choreographers Matthew Bergan, Sue Healey, Kate Champion and Trevor Patrick.

RealTime issue #21 Oct-Nov 1997 pg. 14

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

If popular culture has an afterlife, I imagine it would look something like Trick or Treat. Trick or Treat is a kind of spectral limbo for pop ephemera. You know, like those “where are they now” shows. Mummified daleks, kewpie dolls, backyard swimming pool accessories all suggest themselves in what at first glance appears to be a perverse discotheque of the anthropomorphously challenged. The organic, lava-lamp shapes on the walls receive the projected images of ghoulish forms, in the process becoming smears of ectoplasmic residue. The spare use of the gallery space creates the impression of a 70s minimalist sculpture, though Carl Andre never dreamed of anything like this.

At an even deeper level (the spectral world is an n-dimensional space), Trick or Treat shores up the detritus of even older, dead media. 19th century slide and magic lantern shows, automata, phantasmagoria, the gothic novel. In this Trick or Treat is a timely reminder of the historical association of projection technologies and the spectral. It subtly demonstrates the intimate links between the supernatural, the paranormal and animation technologies, such as film, which are, in every sense of the word, mediums, bridges, or conduits between the living and the dead (the ectoplasmic splatter suggests a recent paranormal irruption).

One of the main themes of this installation is animation, the breathing of life into the inanimate. The space is alive with movement and sound, yet there are no people (apart from you, the spectator), only three aloof sentinels and what appears to be their brood, all indifferent to your presence. Philip Samartzis' spooky, “granular soundscape” sustains an ongoing ambience of mechanism and process, of invisible yet immutable goings-on behind the scenes. The impression of things seen but not heard, of the order of things hidden from view, brings to mind the concept of “occultation”, which is particularly appropriate in this environment of shades and sprites.

More specifically, Trick or Treat it is a canny exploration of the ways in which new technologies are conceived and interpreted in human terms. Anthropomorphisation, animation, personification, these are the categories that have come to dominate our engagement with projection technologies from the 19th century onwards, and more recently with cybernetic and information technologies. Artificial Reality is just the latest manifestation of an urge to recognize human qualities in the technological, and a desire to witness signs of autonomy and life in the machinic. However, it would be folly to get too serious about any perceived meta-qualities in Trick or Treat, to see it as an installation-essay theorizing the techno-animus. This strange, mystifying space undoubtedly comments on dead media and on the anthropomorphic terms of reference through which we speak of them. However everything about Trick or Treat is suffused with irony. Martine Corompt's chunky, beautifully sculptural neophytes stand in virtually mute dependence, linked to the life-giving matrix by a preposterous, alarmingly high-bandwidth hose, pumping who knows what into their diminutive, pupal forms. Far from being life-like, these forms have an oppressive tactility about them; you feel their bulbous inflation visually. You need to get down close to them to hear their chirps and strains, though you can't be sure if they are noises of satisfaction or protest. Ian Haig's screaming, Munch-like effigies fly around the walls and over the bodies of spectators, looking all the time 'like' mutant, Halloweenish ghouls.

Irony morphs into satire in Philip Brophy's catalogue essay, the exhibition's screaming skull, with what's left of its tongue in its cheek. Far from being a commentary on the exhibition, just another medium, Brophy's essay is in fact an extension of the exhibition, since it interpolates a context against which Trick or Treat exerts an abrasive force. The essay's title, “Digital ArtóFour Manias,” is suggestive of its import, though any visitor to the gallery could be well forgiven for wondering what, if anything, Trick or Treat has to do with digital art. But herein lies the art of Trick or Treat. It is a space in which you have to do, literally, nothing. Except, that is, walk around, look, listen, consider, reflect etc. In other words, not a mouse in sight. This is an active, rather than interactive space, which is entirely out of the sphere of our influence. Everything happens despite you, and you'd better get used to it. Better leave your twitchy fingers at the desk.

Visually, the architecture of the work is suggestive of a matrix, a network of communications between nodes. This conceit subtly invokes the abstract nature of the digital realm, its otherworldliness (“there's no there, there”). Electrical switches, Brophy reminds us, “are so inhuman and un-interactive.” Trick or Treat plays with the idea that sound and projection technologies, like 19th century phantasmagoria, present immersive experiences which demand that the spectator gives up presumptions of interaction and succumbs to the transfixed experience of the haunting, the manifestation.

This is not to say that Trick or Treat is a reactionary work. Far from it. Trick or Treat is a humorous intervention into the ongoing artistic and critical exploration of the relationship between art and its audience in the age of digital reproduction. Digital imaging undoubtedly has its place, as does the principle of interactivity. But there are clearly types of aesthetic experience that are best encountered actively, rather than interactively. Who on earth would want to interact with a ghost train, or a splatter movie? Here comes the blood, quick, click to the next screen! Thanks, but no thanks.

Trick or Treat, fibreglass forms by Martine Corompt; digital images and rotating slide projectors by Ian Haig, Granular soundscape by Philip Samartzis, 200 Gertrude St, Melbourne August 8 -30

RealTime issue #21 Oct-Nov 1997 pg. 18

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

If “the purpose of good criticism is to kill bad art,” as one of the screens in Planet of Noise asserts, then the good critic faces a Herculean task—particularly now, when so much art springs from theoretical imperatives rather than love or passion, or both.

Still, I doubt that bad art needs to be killed, since most of it will die of natural causes. McKenzie Wark’s hanging judge, his killer of bad art, runs the risk of matching my favourite definition of a critic: someone who strolls around the battlefield when the war is over, slaughtering the wounded. As Anne Lamott points out in her book on writing, Bird by Bird, “you don’t always have to chop with the sword of truth. You can point with it, too.”

In any case, the best art renders criticism superfluous since it performs a dual function: engaging and delighting our senses, intellect, and emotions while simultaneously laying down a rigorous critique of the medium and its possibilities. Jean-Luc Godard started out writing film criticism and in 1962, having made four films in two years (including the sublime Vivre sa Vie), he wrote: “Today I still think of myself as a critic, and in a sense I am, more than ever before. Instead of writing criticism, I make a film, but the critical dimension is subsumed. I think of myself as an essayist, producing essays in novel form, or novels in essay form: only instead of writing, I film them”.

Interactive media desperately needs work like this, work that blends art with critical discourse, particularly now, when CD-ROM has failed commercially and the hype machine has turned its attention to DVD-RAM (“ten times more storage must be the answer because more is necessarily better”) and Internet push channels (“we failed to make books or movies interactive but we’ll succeed in making the Net like television”). But we don’t need six or eight or ten gigabytes of storage or 50 or 500 hundred push channels. What we need right now is work that explores the nature of interactivity itself.

In Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, Janet Murray identifies four principal properties “which separately and collectively make (the computer) a powerful vehicle for literary creation. Digital environments are procedural, participatory, spatial, and encyclopedic. The first two properties make up most of what we mean by the vaguely used word interactive; the remaining two properties help to make digital creations seem as explorable and extensive as the actual world, making up much of what we mean when we say that cyberspace is immersive.”

Using as its foundation the work of the performance artist Stelarc, Metabody explores digital self-representation and the human-machine interface by examining golems, robots, automata and cyborgs—past, present, and future. Using as its foundation the ironic moralism of the aphorism (with a particular debt to Adorno), Planet of Noise explores a world “where all things lie, in exile from their future; where stories burn, and spaceships, on re-entry jettison all desires”. That Metabody satisfies all of Murray’s criteria while Planet of Noise meets few of them goes a long way towards explaining why I prefer the former to the latter.

“The computer is not fundamentally a wire or a pathway,” says Murray, “but an engine. It was designed not to carry static information but to embody complex, contingent behaviours.” Metabody is procedural because it is, above all, besotted with the rules through which one might create a digital being.

“Procedural environments are appealing to us not just because they exhibit rule-generated behaviour,” writes Murray, “but because we can induce the behaviour. They are responsive to our input.” In other words, they invite participation. On every level Metabody invites us to participate in the ongoing creation of meaning: constructing our own 3D golems; uploading them to a web site where they are grafted onto an evolving assemblage; exploring the relationship between the sovereign individual and the collective democracy of the Internet.

“The new digital environments are characterized by their power to represent navigable space.” Metabody uses VRML (Virtual Reality Modelling Language) to represent not just the 3D avatars or golems but the spatial relationships between avatars and the world they inhabit.

Digital environments are encyclopedic: simultaneously offering and inducing the expectation of infinite resources. Metabody is dense and coherent: its images, texts, audio, and digital video working in concert to invite us to explore the present, reflect upon the past, and attempt to imagine the future.

In all these ways, Metabody is exemplary in mapping out the territory that, inevitably, we must explore over the next few years: 3D space, the human-computer interface, digital representation via avatars, and the integration of CD-ROM with the Internet.

Planet of Noise, on the other hand, is not procedural, since it appears to embody no rules other than the one that clicking on a 3-dimensional sphere causes the next aphorism to appear. Nor is it participatory since eschews any kind of real interactivity. It is indifferent to spatial exploration, constraining the viewer to the flat plane of the computer screen. But it is however—in the range, depth, and quality both of the ideas and their (written) expression—encyclopedic. As well as maddening. And fascinating.

The graphics and audio are superb, as is the writing. And the underlying idea—to use digital media to reinvigorate the aphorism—is startling and original. But it seems, to me, that the Planet of Noise team members laboured in isolation, combining their efforts at the last moment, since the images and sounds appear to bear, at best, only a tangential relationship to the texts.

Parading these (perceived) flaws with almost reckless indifference, Planet of Noise is still—because of the quality of its ideas and its ambition—preferable to most CD-ROM titles: whether the usual commercial dreck or the earnest, well-meaning outpourings of the “Australia on CD” program.

It might be best to finish by giving McKenzie Wark the last word. In an aphorism titled Review he writes: “At least he did me the honour of taking the trouble to misunderstand me.”

Metabody: CD-ROM by Gary Zebington, Jeffrey Cook and Sam de Silva, Merlin; Planet of Noise: CD-ROM by Brad Miller and McKenzie Wark

RealTime issue #21 Oct-Nov 1997 pg. 23

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

Stephen Jones takes a brief look at several issues that might have arisen (had there been time allocated for debate) at the Consciousness Reframed Conference in Wales

Consciousness Reframed at the CAiiA institute of the University of Wales was convened in July of this year to open up research and discussion of issues in interactive arts and “to examine what might be described as the technoetic principle in art.” (All quotes are from the Abstracts of the conference.) That is, how the technological is changing our consciousness of the world; our perceptions and our productions, our knowledge and modeling of the world.

Setting up the framework, Carol Gigliotti (Ohio State University) suggested that consciousness of cyberspace is a function of our understanding of how navigating through our own domestic worlds informs “our involvements with contemporary interactive technologies.” She asked, “Why construct virtual environments? Why do we feel the need to create something when we have so little understanding of why the natural world exists?” This question is often asked in relation to technological activity, usually in the following way. Look, all this technology is doing terrible things to our environment, so isn't it time we stopped and let the 'natural' world have ascendency again?

I'm never sure what I think about this, being so heavily involved in technology myself. The activity of cultural production is an ancient and deeply human function in which we engage with the world in order to understand it. Even some animals make and use tools, and language and counting are technologies. We need to pay deeper attention to the impacts of our activities on other systems, and it is here that we can work multimedia towards more acceptable ends. We can use the theory behind multimedia, the notions of interactivity and feedback, complex systems and self-organisation to recast our frameworks to look carefully at and acknowledge the consequences of what we do.

Another way to change thinking is in the re-mythologisation of the technological. For many people involved with VR (Virtual Reality) it seems to have acquired characteristics of dreaming, because one is removed from the world in wearing the helmet and harness of the VR installation. Canadian VR producer Char Davies notes that one experiences her work Osmose as though removed from the everyday world and 'immersed' in some environment that doesn't behave according to known rules. One navigates Osmose by breathing; breathing in one rises through the virtual worlds and breathing out one sinks slowly into deeper realms, descending to the core machine-code world. The immersant dives into the transparency of the virtual world, breaking habitualised perception, leading to altered states of consciousness.

Davies spoke of Osmose as being a kind of poiesis, un-concealing our being in the world. Immersion brings with it a realm of the emotional. She comments that “…by re-conceiving humans as beings 'within' the world, as participants among the world's temporal becomings” we may be able to subvert the rationalist view, revealing new perceptions of our relations to the world, re-invoking the sacred. Thus response to the experience of Osmose is often one of its ineffability, its indescribable nature, “an unfathomably poetic flux of comings-into-being, lingerings and passings-away within which our own mortality is encompassed.”

Davies' discussion also opens up issues of what Cyberspace actually is. Is it a dream world or a trance space? Margaret Dolinsky (University of Illinois, Chicago) spoke of VR as being active or “lucid” dreaming. In her work Dream Grrls designed for the Cave (an immersive, stereo-graphic virtual display theatre), she provides active dreaming spaces where we can explore dream versions of our self. The cyber realm becomes differently valued, a source of experiencing substantial otherness from our regular in-the-world being.

Is the producer of cyberspaces a shaman? Kathleen Rogers has been exploring Mayan shamanism in the mythology of the snake, using multimedia to emulate and bring on these trance states. The snake represents spiritual energy in many cultures and Rogers' intention “is to re-activate this complex model of Mayan consciousness” as a kind of cognitive archeology. The snake represents spiritual energy as well as the cyclical notion of time held by the Maya. She aims get to some sort of essence of this mythology using immersion as a tool for inducing spiritual states in the VR adventurer.

The Brazilian artist Diana Domingues also spoke of the potential for shamanistic states in VR and likened the screen of VR to the desert as a device for the projection of desires and dreams. She suggested that creative production is a way of losing ourselves, offering “interactive installations for people to experience conscious propagation in an organic/inorganic life. Electronic interfaces and neural networks provide intelligent behaviours, managing signals of the human body in sensorized environments,” providing electronic ritual and trance interfaced with electronic memory as “virtual hallucination” producing a shamanic experience.

Mark Pesce (the inventor of VRML) also takes the line that cyberspace is ineffable, mythological space, “dream-time” or “faerie”, a space of magical reality. “The forms of magical reality, ancient to humanity's beginnings, shape our vision in the unbounded void of electronic potential”. It is as though cyberspace provides an hallucinatory configuration of our perception, becoming a screen for the projection of our spiritual desires and interests.

More generally, the question becomes just what is “immersion”? How do we define it and how can we distinguish it from other mental states such as being absorbed in a book or the cinema? What degree of suspension of disbelief is needed, what agreements with the artist do we make in entering “cyberspace” so that the artist can bring a version of their conceived experience to us?

Osmose in many ways provides the paradigm example of the truly immersive space; one dons the helmet and harness and enters a world where everything is translucent, floating, jungle-like—an enveloping world of the artist's imagination. For Joe Nechvatal (an American artist living in France) immersion is containment, a 360-degree surround, physical rather than cognitive, different from the absorption we have in a book or the cinema. For Nechvatal immersion in a VR work implies a unified total space, an homogeneous world without external distraction, striving to be a consummate, harmonious whole. He identifies “two grades of immersion…(1) cocooning and (2) expanding within, which, when these two directions of psychic space cooperate…we feel…our bodies becoming subliminal, immersed in an extensive topophilia…an inner immensity where we realise our limitations along with our desires for expansion”.

In the immersive world of VR we are placed at the centre of a polar dimensional realm: wherever we turn our perspective follows, the sounds of the cyber jungle exist within plain hearing, the view is only revealed as we penetrate deeper into re-calculated space.

In the jungle, hearing becomes primary, vision is downgraded. In the VR world hearing and vision are continually re-calculated placing us at the centre of polar coordinates. As art historian Suzanne Ackers suggested, renaissance perspective is displaced and we learn new ways of seeing, navigating in new kinds of conceptual space. Point of view no longer operates in its traditional manner, it now alters over time and our perception of time and space becomes a virtual knowledge, no longer fixed to the Cartesian frame, mutable, always recalculated, determined by our progress through the environment.

The suggestion is that the experience of VR is one of non-knowing, omni-perception transcending formerly known territories, launching us into dreamspace and the worlds of the shaman. As Davies amply demonstrates in Osmose the world visually perceived becomes one of multiple layers as well as one of fluid viewpoint, worlds layered as sheets of knowing through which we navigate, each sheet providing its own enveloping omni-projective space as though we had torn away at the veils of perception rumoured at in so much early western mystical literature.

But to what extent can this really be happening given that most VR work is simply re-calculated perspectives of thoroughly well defined visual productions? Shamanism and dreaming both suppose a disruption of the consciousness of the viewer wherein recombination of thoughts and images can freely occur. I don't feel that any of the work reviewed here manages this but I suspect that there is other work, for example Bill Seaman's, where the seeds of such a process are being laid.

RealTime issue #21 Oct-Nov 1997 pg. 19

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

“I thank the organisers of the Fulbright Symposium for the invitation to speak and I pay my respects to the Larrakia people on whose Land we meet,” stated the first speaker. This was an acknowledgment picked up and repeated by each speaker who followed, by Indigenous and non-indigenous representatives alike, from all the five continents. It characterised and set the tone for four days of entwining dialogue, exposition and revelation that celebrated the Indigenous cultures of Australia in an interconnected world. It was about Respect—respect amongst a world community of cultures who have survived the onslaughts of colonisation.

Sitting in the tranquil gardens of the Art Gallery and Museum of the Northern Territory in Darwin, breathing the pungent tropical air cooled by winter breezes, with the Arafura Sea as a backdrop to the proceedings and cultural expression happening all around as the talking continued, the sense of an eventual positive outcome for Aboriginal communities was irresistible. The political realities for Indigenous Australians however, are another matter, and were reflected within the Symposium itself—conflicts over Aboriginal representation and the professional ambitions of academics and anthropologists; conflicts over the objectivity of a session on Mining sponsored by Rio Tinto; and doubts even about the productive outcomes from such an event.

As a briefing for the non-indigenous the outcome was palpable. The complexity of describing Land and Country and its centrality to the culture—without the Land there is no culture—came from many viewpoints, and most convincingly from Indigenous speakers. Kinship and community, Law and Knowledge unify the custodians within egalitarian principles long regarded as sacred. These are principles that challenge the basis of non-indigenous society, politicians, miners, pastoralists, artists and cultural workers alike.

The flourishing of visual arts throughout the communities who have secured the stewardship of their traditional lands demonstrates these principles. The richness and variety of work not only in the Museum’s collection but also in the tourist shops in town testify to this.

The interconnectedness of the communities and the continuing embrace of technological means to develop that sense of community/communicability was the broad emphasis given to the symposium. The implications of cyberspace and digital media were only occasionally, but tantalisingly, amplified, and these I outline in this short report.

David Nathan from the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Studies (AIATSIS) gave a succinct but dense account of the issues and outcomes of the adoption of the Internet by many communities, in particular the innovations that have occurred. There are approximately 60 websites now related to Indigenous matters, 40% of which are run by indigenous organisations—these are all linked at www.ciolek.com/WWWVL-Aboriginal.html [expired].

Prime among these is the site run by the community at Maningrida in Arnhem Land for more than two years now, (www.peg.apc.org/~bawinanga/welcome.html – expired). The site is designed to make visible to the rest of the world the full range of public cultural tradition found in the clan estates that comprise this Country through a catalogue of visual works and essays.

Whilst this has been useful for the direct marketing to a worldwide audience of cultural artefacts, Peter Danaja and Murray Garde from the community described some of the drawbacks of being so available—even at the end of a 400-kilometre line from Darwin. For instance, electronic colonisation-by-response from New Agers seeking instruction for the purposes of establishing their individual spiritual needs through the borrowing of Indigenous cultural knowledge and skills (particularly in the playing of the didjeridu, “the mother of all flutes” amongst cult Northern Hemisphere groupings), has created demands quite impossible to meet. However, as access to the internet spreads across Arnhem Land and beyond, it is regarded in a more positive way as being like a linked kinship system, with allied projects such as the building of an oral history database being part of a long-term project for later use by families. As Kathryn Wells observed in an early session: “Indigenous art and Culture is re-shaping and re-claiming a subjective identity for Indigenous people in a global context and is thus re-defining non-indigenous cultural definitions of 'authenticity' in terms of Indigenous definitions of authorship.”

Chris ‘Bandirra’ Lee has been establishing cultural recognition, knowledge and respect for the communities of Queensland through the Indiginet project attached to QANTM Co-operative Multimedia Centre based in Brisbane (also with an office in Darwin). Digital networks are being integrated with the more traditional networks with an emphasis on access and training for these communities and with a wider access to be given to the global community when the time is right.

The network metaphor also extends to off-line formats. Moorditj, one of the DoCA funded Cultural Expressions on CD-ROM Projects is due for completion in 1998. Under the direction of Leslie Bangama Fogarty and Richard Walley (“We’re fed up with teaching without having control…”), the CD-ROM examines the work of 200 Indigenous artists through interactive linking in relation to four themes: firstly land, law and language; secondly cultural maintenance and ceremony; thirdly, the influence of other cultures; and finally, social justice and survival.

The Jurassic technologies of phone, radio, television, satellites and, more recently, the Telstra planned ISDN links were referred to by many speakers, all extolling the benefits enjoyed through the adoption of these technologies (in particular Kevin Rangi from Aotearoa National Maori Radio). Some pointed to the dangers to communities of half-resourced or incomplete projects—“Well, the cable wouldn’t quite reach…” While the symposium progressed, papers and interviews were broadcast across remote communities in Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific and Asia by third year Broadcast to Remote Area Community Services (BRACS) students of NT’s Batchelor College.

Many speakers referred to copyright reform and intellectual property rights in the digital age. Terri Janke launched Our Culture, Our Future, the principles and guidelines currently being submitted for adoption by the UN Human Rights Sub-Commission. Michael Mansell questioned the collection of genetic property from the world’s Indigenous peoples, and objected to non-indigenous notions of ownership over culture. In a later session we were reminded of the trust that had been extended to scholars when collecting artefacts 30, 50 to 100 years earlier, and making sound and image documentation of Aboriginal culture. Many compromises had since occurred to this trust and with this material, including its exploitation on websites in a form unauthorised by its traditional owners.

The symposium had much vibrant activity at the edges including a French anthropologist demonstrating a digital archive of stories and paintings based on the dreaming tracks and song cycles of a desert community. Two Indigenous artists resident in Tasmania, Harri Higgs from Nira Nina Bush Place and Julie Gough of the University of Tasmania in Hobart, resolved Palawa Aboriginal law issues in Darwin around forms of representation that had been used in works exhibited in Hobart.

The symposium emphasised the many facets that construct Respect. The final speaker Galarawuy Yunupingu spoke of the imperative in respecting the land as a living entity from which we are all born and to which Indigenous knowledge and the cultural basis of Native Title is intrinsically linked. The symposium showed that the resourcing and recognition of Indigenous skills, knowledge, place and their cultural practice within a global continuum is necessary if we are to survive in any meaningful way.

Within weeks, the Howard government's introduction of legislation based on the ‘Ten Point Plan', (rebuffing the High Court Wik decision recognising historically proven joint custodianship of pastoral leases) represents a rebuttal of shared stewardship of the land and country with Australia’s Indigenous people.

Respect for land, law and country is a lesson still to be taught to the non-indigenous policy-makers as we embrace an inter-connected world.

RealTime issue #21 Oct-Nov 1997 pg. 20

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

Microdance is an initiative of the Australia Council and the Australian Film Commission. Funded by these two agencies, 13 projects from a field of 62 submissions where shortlisted for further development. In August 1996, the ABC selected four projects for production. They will be screened as part of Steps#3—Intersteps at The Performance Space on November 8, followed by discussion with the artists.

Film has been fascinated with the moving body since the first “moving pictures” harnessed light through technology to give motion to images. Filmic studies of human movement such as the work of Eadweard Muybridge late last century are seminal examples of this obsession. Trevor Patrick would appear to revisit these origins of the cinema in his short film, Nine Cauldrons. Nine pools of light illuminate nine encounters between camera and body, the body becoming site and geography of the filmic journey. The notion of ‘journey’ and its narrative implications, whether explicit or implicit, is at the heart of the series of four short films that constitute Microdance.

Another significant issue became apparent in discussions with three of the choreographers, Matthew Bergan, Kate Champion and Sue Healey, along with a faxed response from Trevor Patrick—the role of the choreographer within the cinematic process. Trevor Patrick describes the historic role of the choreographer as being “functionary—someone who came in, put the steps or movement sequences together, then left the director and the producer alone to get on with realising their artistic vision.” We must go back beyond the musical genre to understand current dance/film practice or alternatively to the avant-garde film movements of the 50s and 60s when experimental film techniques escaped the trajectory of the classic fiction film genre.

Recently, dance-maker Lucy Guerin spoke of the effect that the human figure has upon performance, describing it as being “one of the most loaded sites for a narrative source.” This function of the human figure, the narrative history of the cinematic practice and the often-problematic relationship between dance and narrative, emerged as a framework for creative considerations. Matthew Bergan posed the question that we had been circling: “How do you bring movement to film and film narrative—whether it be just movement for movement’s sake, the lusciousness of it, or whether you try and present a narrative within that?” Bergan also spoke of “the linguistic matter of using dancers and bodies as opposed to the textual matter of story and narrative”. The choreographers found themselves negotiating a medium, which had its own indelible history of storytelling, a point compounded by the application process which demanded written synopses and storyboards or shot-lists. Bergan felt compelled to “make it read on paper” and Healey found she “rewrote it as if it would be a straight literary narrative”.

The challenge that Bergan articulated was met by each team in varying ways that constitute a kind of map of the interface between film and dance. Trevor Patrick chose a metaphoric journey made up of iconic moments inspired by a series of drawings by American artist Robert Longo entitled “Men in the Cities”, and Taoist mythology concerning alchemy. His simple approach to the film as “a trio for camera, sound and dancer” is reminiscent of Muybridge; in this case the science is absorbed into the expression, the relationship between body and camera becomes a storytelling mechanism, and the alchemy resonates in the mixture of body, light and film.

Sue Healey, like Trevor Patrick, indulged in the writing stage of her project Slipped and, like Patrick, moved far away from literal interpretations towards what she referred to as “a very clear physical narrative”. With the basic metaphor of a staircase and the journey of the climb being representative of “memory, ancestral past and looking back at the past”, ultimately for her “the movement is the drama”. The use of a strong and simple metaphorical image that acts as a “spine image” allows the dance to occur along and around the stairs, fulfilling a narrative-like function in elaborating upon the basic premise.

Matthew Bergan approached his film, The Father is Sleeping, from the linguistic problematics of a film/dance collaboration, stating in his proposal that his agenda for the film was to look at “narrative and developing an area that combines movement and drama”. Bergan developed a process in which “a scene happens quite naturally and out of that comes a physical gesture…a casual approach to movement.” His theme of “the symbolic father” was approached as a “realistic portrayal” complicated by the effects of memory.

The concept of memory is common to three of the four projects and offers a device for the type of magical transformation of events with which both film and dance have long been enamoured. Kate Champion’s The Changing Room is explicit in taking memory as its subject, the idea that “you can’t go forward if you are attached to your memories…until you’ve completely confronted them.” Again there is a strong visual metaphor—a room that tilts and diminishes in size, eventually filling with water and forcing Champion’s character out. As with Healey, the movement is dictated by the central physical image with the drama growing out of Champion’s desire to explore the kind of “visual effects” that only film can offer.

In Healey’s description of her project, theatre and dance are opposing forces and the struggle to insist upon the work as “a dance project” where “the actual guts of the work had to exist in movement,” required that her director Louise Curham “give over” the work. The creation of a binary opposition where theatre, drama and film came down on one side with movement/dance on the other, persisted throughout the discussions. The assumptions this promotes are odd; that dance and theatre are discrete disciplines is a point contradicted in the stage work of all four choreographers.

This opposition seems more attributable to a power struggle that developed out of disciplinary traditions. Patrick describes “the independent dance-maker who writes, performs, directs and occasionally produces his own work.” This central authority figure is in direct contrast to the teamwork that creates films, a methodology Patrick refers to as being from “another culture.” This new territory was alternatively daunting and comforting for the choreographers. There was a sense of relief when the delegatory system of film production seemed to support an artistic vision, and frustration when this same process left the choreographers feeling “out of control.” As all of the choreographers came up with the original concepts, many felt like Champion when she said that the collaborative process is “like making a cake and someone puts orange rind in, and you didn’t want to put orange rind in.”

Perhaps we must look at the notion of the film auteur, the central artistic force that first appeared in theory surrounding the avant-garde film movements. If new dance film/video practice relates more to this type of aesthetic, as opposed to the aesthetic of the classic narrative fiction film, then the auteur is an obvious role model. Problems arise then when this figure comes in two parts with two different crafts—two different cakes from two different recipes.

The technology and language of filmmakers can be alienating and the industry structure of film is ever-present in the shape of producers and financial pressure. The choreographers’ concerns seem understandable when you place the power of the film industry beside the relatively marginalised dance community. Matthew Bergan’s studies in the area of film gave him the confidence to state that he felt “100 per cent confident to direct and choreograph” next time and, with Champion in agreement, there are precedents set where a cinematographer has been a sufficient co-worker on such projects. I would like to see the choreographers in the editing suite succumbing to the “seduction” Patrick described, indulging in choreography of the image that this technology makes possible.

Matthew Bergan, The Father is Sleeping, director Robert Herbert; Trevor Patrick, Nine Cauldrons, director Paul Hampton; Sue Healey, Slipped, director Louise Curham; Kate Champion, The Changing Room, director Alyson Bell

RealTime issue #21 Oct-Nov 1997 pg. 12

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

The writer discusses a new dance and film project entitled Premonition, with choreographer-performer Sue-Ellen Kohler, writer-dramaturg William McClure and filmmaker Mahalya Middlemist.

Remember Hybrid (The Performance Space, 1999)?

A woman falls… slowly…her weight shifts…her naked body begins…to slip…frame by frame…she…falls…out of sight.

I thought I saw someone shake my body from a sleep of death, but I could not swear to it.

SK Premonition is about dance history. William talks about it in terms of creating a space between two moves: One move, and then the decision—what comes next? And in the gap between the moves is the premonition. Waiting for the next move. You don’t know the next move until…

EB Why is film such an important part of this project?

SK Certainly the idea for this project has come out of the past work Mahalya and I have done together, even if it hasn’t happened in a logical way with Premonition as the next step. For instance, Mahalya couldn’t have made the film Vivarium in 1994 without the particular way that I moved my particular body. And neither would I ever have imagined Vivarium the way Mahalya did, but somehow the two visions went together well. When you put movement on film, something happens which you can’t necessarily predict. The results come through an intensely creative process, and that for me is the best thing about it.

MM We’ve been talking about the multi-screen set-up for a long time, three full-sized screens, side by side, showing simultaneous but variant images of Sue-ellen’s dancing body. The camera is straight on and fixed, so the perspective is the same as you would have of the performing body.

In the end, due to budgetary constraints, we had to shoot one screen on film, and the other two on video. So we’ll have those three different textures: two video bodies, a film body and a real body. And we’ve also got the Falling film from Hybrid, very large in space, and we’ll bring that in at the beginning.

In the daytime, I can see things very clearly. I know just the right moves for the right moment. It is as if all my training directs me down a path that I have walked before. This is a path that I know very well. So I lie down and go to sleep.

SK I’ve encountered so many different kinds of movement in my training and performing. Premonition is about past and future understandings of my body; my past body informs my future body; and those understandings can get mixed up, squashed together. Premonition is about a feeling of how things are, and on that feeling rest the possibilities for how things might be.

SK We both originally wanted the work to be all on 16mm film rather than video because of the better quality of resolution. And certainly for both of us, film in performance is actually about light. Using videos can bring in a whole lot of other things.

MM Film technology is not so laden with ideas, and it’s so accepted that you hardly think about it. And it’s more elusive, ephemeral, because it’s made out of light beams. There’s a sense of the photographic image being projected on screens but travelling further than the screen. And an important part is the way Sue-ellen is lit, floating in space, not bound to the ground, with the screens like doorway-shaped pools of light.

We worried that video might force people into reading the work in unintended ways, imagining that Sue-ellen is talking about some kind of body mediated by technology, when she’s not at all. We’re really just interested in Sue-ellen’s body and images of it, not in highlighting the technology that creates those images.

Now, in my dreams, I still keep on moving and in the same way that I have always done. I meet my balletic body and we dance together. I meet all my modern and postmodern bodies and we all dance together three times, or is it five, around in circles. I can’t be sure right now, but neither does it seem to matter.

SK I’m not a dancer who’s been totally codified and rigidly formed by some particular style. There’s a lot of slip, and within that slip I often feel quite at sea. Being at sea is not always very comfortable. It’s hard to feel authorised, confident as a creator of new dance; I often feel like I can’t do anything original. And it’s also about not being able to succeed in any kind of dance structure, because all set-ups are about not succeeding.

There is an inherent failure in being placed in Australia as a dancer. It doesn’t matter what you do, you’re never the original article and your referents are always somewhere else. Your judges can never be pleased with what you do, because Australian identity is bound up in mimicry of the rest of the world. And the perceived failure lies in failure to be the real thing.

None of this seems strange, rather it all seems perfectly natural, and so I continue on in the same way as I have always done.

WM Often people look at dance in terms of where it has come from, but that way of seeing is questioned here. Premonition is engaging with the fact that its sources may lie somewhere else, but what we end up with in the here and now is what is important.

SK Still, there is something I do that is different from anyone else.

Then—but it wasn’t really a ‘then’—as if from nowhere, a flash, a disgusting premonition of my present state was given to me. And in this state, all the while, I kept on moving in precisely the same way as I have always done. But only now, my body smelt of putrid flesh and the movement itself seemed to rise up before me as tombstones.

WM Premonition is about exploding the reality of the moment, the reality in what you can pin down in an accepted format. So it tries to hollow that out, and to give access to something built of the limitless possibilities of choice. It’s a piece about many voices.

EB The way you describe screens and images makes it seem very vertical.

MM Yes, the vertical screens suit that constrained, frontal, upright, balletic kind of presentation that we are very much talking about.

EB The Falling film is something I remember vividly from Hybrid. How does that relate to what you’re doing in Premonition?

MM I’ve always liked the idea of starting this work with Falling. It was a good ending for Hybrid, that falling away right out of frame at the bottom of the stage so that there’s nothing there. Now we want to start again with that. It has a link with that verticality which is so balletic. The structure seems to make a lot of sense.

SK But there’s no sense of a resurrection of the fallen body. I don’t especially want to make that kind of statement, even though I know that some people will want to see that. Falling was originally set on top of the proscenium arch—the epitome of female presentation and ballet presentation. That little balletic dance that I did in Hybrid across the stage underneath Falling, I never knew what it was then. But now I can bring it back into this work, showing how so much of my training is implicated in the way I am, and how it can’t be extricated from anything that I or anyone might want to say about dance. I’m trying now to speak about that in a more conscious way.

WM There’s an uncivilised part of a person that cannot accept the seductive power of tradition and the kinds of decisions made from that stance, without testing them. So, it’s in the testing, the evolving relationship you have to those decisions and those traditions. That’s important, not the traditions themselves.

Premonition is about playfulness in and around the choices from one moment to the next. It’s an attempt to reach a non-apologetic place in the world.

There is now a convulsion and a deep agitation going on in my limbs. They are stretching—as if they want to speak in phrases not seen before. I am out of myself and running away and a body is now moving in a very dark place.

Can you see this body?

Premonition, choreographed and performed by Sue-ellen Kohler; assistant choreographer Sandra Perrin; filmmaker Mahalya Middlemist; writer-dramaturg William McClure; composer Ion Pearce. The Performance Space, Sydney, October 8-19

RealTime issue #21 Oct-Nov 1997 pg. 10

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

I once heard a colleague (Dave Sag from Virtual Artists, in fact) invent a scenario for the 2000 Olympics: thousands of people at the opening ceremony capturing the event with digital cameras hooked into their mobiles, feeding the images onto the web; people around the world, in front of their computers with access to images from anywhere within the stadium. Virtual Artists have been instrumental in creating web ‘events,’ getting Womad on-line, creating the Cyberfringe during Adelaide’s Festival of Arts. I like the context behind this story as well. We were in a meeting that included local representatives of television, an industry that has invested millions in the Games. It is economic, not technical, limitations that ensure Dave’s Olympic vision will fail to materialise by 2000 because it poses the question of just how to generate capital out of the new technology and equally importantly, who would control that capital. But 10,000 cameras? How would you find the best vantage point? What if you found it just at the point when the child with the camera grew tired and handed it back to her inept father? In other words, how do you read a medium like that?

But of course, I’m thinking of television. I love watching [Olympic] diving, as well as television’s solutions to the search for that ‘best’ camera angle, catching scant seconds of free fall; the introduction of overhead cameras; the underwater camera that stretches the brief moment of spectacle just that little bit longer; Atlanta’s addition of a tracking camera to follow the diver’s fall; the director who, by selecting angles, weaves each dive into its semi-narrative context. In other words, these are solutions to problems (what is the best angle?) posed by the medium itself. So what happens with an interactive medium where the reader, not the producer, gets to write the script; when an interactive media allows the viewer to become the director?

Perhaps this article should be titled “Towards a Critical Theory of New Media,” or something of the sort. For several reasons: we are still in an era where our ability to formulate a critical response is as much in its infancy as interactive technology itself, heavily dependent on concepts formulated for 20th century media and culture, and because our attempts in dealing with interactivity at a critical level are, to date, marked by a certain utopianism, as befits any ‘infant.’

Of course, utopias are unrealisable fantasies (and reason to distrust any essay with ‘towards’ in its title.) It is, as also befits any infant, coloured by a now traditional fear of technology, expressed through anxiety about the presence of pornography or build-your-own-bomb instructions on the web. (These anxieties are also linked to real infants, children’s access, which I’ll touch upon later).

Still, this is a hot topic. For example, research in education is onto it. The Adelaide group Rosebud and Ngapartji Multimedia Centre commissioned a brief paper on work being undertaken on audience engagement with interactive multimedia. Researcher Sal Humphries concluded the over-riding issue was still one of ‘literacy,’ with researchers monitoring user engagement (the interface between the technology and the user), in order to understand how cues are presented and how the reader’s response determines outcome. This isn’t far removed from most digital art that I’ve seen, where artists still determine the parameters of how the text is to be experienced, how its interactive content is to be ‘read,’ inviting a kind of reception theory. Regardless of the aesthetics of the new medium, we are still in the domain of ‘author’ and ‘reader.’

But other aspects are emerging, particularly on the web, and certainly on those sites which are, more rather than less, ‘written’ by their ‘readers’: chat rooms, palaces, muds and moos—all multi-user virtual environments. Perhaps these activities are better thought of as performances rather than
texts, in which case we can include Cyberfringe and Womad experiments. It may also be that the prototypes for such sites predate the web as we now know it, once accessible only to programmers or specialists exchanging information. What happens, however, when multi-user sites become accessible to a ‘popular culture?’

Some observations: As an ordinary web surfer I am struck by the way the potential for my own interactive ‘writing’ is marginalised: guest books, graffiti walls and the like. I’m invited to write, yes, but as an adjunct to the main event of the web page itself. This reflects what appears to be happening on the web generally; for example, there are ‘official’ sites and ‘unofficial’ ones (no more so than where entertainment franchises such as Star Trek are concerned). This tension serves a purpose in that it distinguishes between a product (official, copyrighted) and a fan. It can invite a kind of Derridean reading, the margins against the centre, where we write in the margins in order to circumscribe an official content, one defining the other in a symbiosis that actually structures meaning on the web despite the fact that anybody with access to the technology can participate in it.

If this is the determining structure, it is a self-determined and regulating one, not generated by conscious intent. This seems to worry conventional mass media as well as our political representatives, hence their continual carping about porn and terrorism on the web. But this stems from the fact that because the web is unfettered and its participants are happily scrawling away in the margins and back alleys, pushing gender boundaries and expounding their most loved fetishes to the world, it is in accord with Bakhtin’s concept of the Carnivalesque, that night-time revelry that suspends the daylight of social law. On several conditions: notably that the temporary suspension of these laws is a condition of their stability.

Online porn may drive the web’s technological development in interface design and financial viability. Right-wing racism may find the web a means of dissemination (never forget the Carnivalesque has a grotesque downside). But the web is actually a pretty safe place, including for children as most liberal parents have found. Its final collective face is not so much transgression but a consensus, in that what is played out, virtual utopic sex and all, manifests an underlying phantasmic structure. In other words, those 10,000 cameras could well reach a consensus on what to film, rendering the need to choose between them unnecessary because, as ‘virtual subjects,’ we will have already determined our own position within the vast exchange of digital information. I’m borrowing here from Slavoj Zizek’s conclusion to The Metastases of Enjoyment where he discusses the West’s response to Sarajevo, phantasmically bound in the figure of the victim. Victimisation is universalised, he writes, “from sexual abuse and harassment to the victims of AIDS…from the starving children of Somalia to the victims of bombardment in Sarajevo…” What has this to do with the web as a multi-user, writerly environment home of the virtual subject? Go to a search engine and type in “Diana.”

RealTime issue #21 Oct-Nov 1997 pg. 22

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

A particularly virulent strain of the New Age virus can be found spreading rapidly throughout digital media culture—from VRML 3D worlds of transcendental self-discovery to the computer animation of the digital shaman, to interactive digital mandalas. While the current fixation with the new age is rife in rave culture, digital media’s particular fascination is with mysticism. The new environments of online worlds and interactivity often go hand in hand with a new age, touchy-feely cyber-induced hype.

Devoted followers of the cyber gospel, strung out on the flakey new technological Haight Ashbury, look to the likes of Timothy Leary, Mark Pesce, Howard Rheingold and Jaron Lanier, to inform their own utopian-new age cyber sensibilities. The popular rhetoric of interactive media makes things worse, as it is viewed as opening the doors to a new paradigm, the ultimate democratic medium that truly delivers on that collective 60s dream of individual empowerment.

The Heaven's Gate cult fanatically build their web pages, seeing the internet as the delivery system to a new plane of consciousness, a new level of language with Virtual Reality, Artificial Life and 3D space as the extensions of a new realm of human experience; while magazines like Wired and Mondo 2000 tune in and drop out to a cyber-consciousness of alternate realities, avatars and 3D texture mapping of the mindscape…

Digital Art in particular picks up on the more obvious ‘transcendental’ elements of 60s mysticism in regard to notions of ‘immersive worlds’ and interactivity, but with none of its psychedelic freakishness and weirdo graphic sensibilities. Instead what we’re left with is the rehashed, predictable and clichéd new age icons of crystals, magick, the Buddha, mandalas, digital dreamscapes and never-ending Mandelbrot sets. Such graphic icons are so culturally loaded with fuzzy 60s alternative consciousness, that redefining them as models for the digital age is nothing short of depressing. The strong smell of incense hangs over new age cyberculture like a critical cloud. Just plug into the headspace and trip out.

Historically, computer graphics have always had a thing going on with the daggy elements of early 70s graphic sensibilities, from Roger Dean and Hypnosis album covers to Pink Floyd. Just look at any Siggraph animation collection from the late 80s with their computer generated images of pyramids, unicorns and strange uninhabited lands—all testament to a culture out of step with the graphic pulsations of the time. By far the worst example of new ageism in cyberculture would have to be the annual San Francisco Digital Be-in; depending on where you stand you either go with the flow and paint your face and celebrate the dawn of the new age or run screaming for the nearest exit.

RealTime issue #21 Oct-Nov 1997 pg. 21

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

Catalogued, packaged and displayed, looking through glass at our history. Corridors of locked cabinets within which are stored a phantasmagoria of human inquiry; screens we dare not touch, through which we can only gaze. Down every corridor of this mighty building, on either side, butterflies of every imaginable colour; shells the size of emus; skulls of men, women and children who knew well the primal dark; skeletons of beasts of unimaginable proportions—all protected within controlled atmospheres where humidity measuring devices murmur quietly amidst the shuffling feet of visitors. A sarcophagus of speculation and intrigue down through which we wander, in awe, in dreams, inside the Museum.

For many of us, this was the kind of museum we grew up with, one where history was untouchable, but presented with a sense of showmanship. The museum was filled with drama: frozen battles, hunts and representations of historical moments stimulated the imagination much like a waxworks museum on steroids. But these are museums of the past. They may one day be on show themselves within a Museum of Museums, but such a place would no doubt be virtual, to be explored, perhaps more interactively, via another display case of sorts, the computer screen.

In Melbourne, we are losing the last remnant of our once magnificent Museum, its Planetarium. A few moments in the Planetarium, seated in one of its cozy chairs and you were transported into the heavens. No VR goggles, no 3D glasses. An early 1960s Japanese-made projector with multiple lenses, a domed ceiling for a screen and reclining seats was all it took. But it’s going, perhaps to be replaced by something akin to the infamous CAVE, a walk-through virtual environment driven by two powerful ONYX computers, a suite of video projectors and an armory of 3D glasses. Sounds great doesn’t it!

Visitors to the launch of the Ars Electronica Centre, Austria’s Museum of the Future, first saw the CAVE in September 1996. Ars Electronica is host not only to the CAVE, but is a screen-based display and interactive environment of research and inquiry. The Museum has grown out of the spectacle into an “intelligent environment”.

Ars Electronica describes itself as a “knowledge machine” with a mission to help visitors attain information “fitness”. A kind of mental gymnasium where science, art and business are seen to be working together in an “interdisciplinary interface between technology, culture and society”. More a museum of concepts, ideas and the commercial development of them. In fact, changing the notion of museum as historical archive to an open laboratory.

Keeping its foot literally in the new media door, Ars Electronica has founded and continues to host international forums from which it draws its conceptual framework. This year, from September 8–13, Ars Electronica mediates its annual festival and symposium. This year’s theme, titled “Fleshfactor: Informationsmaschine Mensche”, is the Mensch, the human being. Festival Directors Gerfried Stocker and Christine Schôpf are creating an investigative environment around their short, but potent, manifesto for Fleshfactor:

In light of the latest findings, developments and achievements in the fields of genetic engineering, neuro-science and networked intelligence, the conceptual complex now under investigation will include the status of the individual in networked artificial systems, the human body as the ultimate original, and the strategies for orientation and inter-relation of the diametric opposites, man and machine, in the reciprocal, necessary processes of adaption and assimilation.

Participants in Fleshfactor will include Donna Haraway, Neal Stephenson, Steve Mann and Stelarc. The net version of the symposium has been active for several months, consolidating the key issues and subject matter that will be explored throughout the duration of the festival.

Each year, in collaboration with the Upper Austrian Studio of Austrian Radio, Ars Electronica invites artists the world over to contribute new works to the Prix Ars Electronica. This year, four out of the 900 entries won a total of $135,000.

Many of us hold Ars Electronica in great esteem. It is a place where innovation, the edge of new media arts, has both a home and centre for research and discourse. That it is, but on the ground, it’s also a business and a very young communicator. It has created expectations of itself through its manifesto, its vision—much of which it is still learning to accommodate, let alone live up to. That said, Ars Electronica is most certainly of the ‘brave new world’. It displays both courage and a commitment to experimentation that we have yet to see in any equivalent institution in Australia. We have Scienceworks and its successful Cyberzone exhibit, but it is a long way from the technology and cultural incubator that is Ars Electronica.

Ars Electronica Centre, http://www.aec.at/

Ars Electronica Festival, http://www.aec.at/fleshfactor/

Prix Ars Electronica, http://prixars.orf.at/ [expired]

RealTime issue #20 Aug-Sept 1997 pg. 27

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

e-media, a new gallery space dedicated to the display of computer-based art, kicked off in June with the presentation of Bronwyn Coupe’s interactive CD-ROM The Inside of Houses. A thoughtful and whimsical work, The Inside of Houses offers the user a guided tour through the memories of the author’s family. Each family member was asked to contribute their recollection of the floor-plan of a house inhabited by the family years before. The user is invited to navigate their way through each floor-plan, drawing out hidden sounds and video footage in the process. The vast difference in the floor plans produced by each member—and the sounds and images they invoke—is then used as a device to prompt the user into contemplating the way in which, to use Coupe’s words, “notions of size, distance, direction and connection are influenced by each person’s personal mythology”.

The work cleverly draws attention to both the computer’s status as a memory machine and its ability to archive and cross-reference. It does claim to allow the audience their chance to add to the work with drawings and stories about a place they have lived in, but I wasn’t able to get it to do this. That aside, The Inside of Houses runs well and provides the user with an enjoyable experience.

An initiative of the Centre for Contemporary Photography and Experimenta, e-media is a welcome addition to the electronic art scene. Look out for future programs featuring Sally Pryor’s Postcard from Tunis and Megan Heywood’s I am a Singer.

e-media is open Wednesday to Friday 11-5 and Saturday 2-5 at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, 205 Johnston Street, Fitzroy 3065

RealTime issue #20 Aug-Sept 1997 pg. 28

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

High and low tech, static and dynamic, permanent and transient, eMedia 97 embraced a paradigm of multimedia as the fusion of diverse artistic practices with emphasis on interaction and participation. Conceived by the Queensland Multimedia Arts Centre as a vehicle to allow Queensland artists to develop, realise and distribute multimedia art, the festival’s hybrid of performance, photography, sculpture, internet and rave culture created an arena for vigorous engagement between art, technology and audience.

Sculpture and photography combined with CD-ROM installation in the 240 Volt group show at Metro Arts, to envelop the viewer in a perpetually evolving mesh of structures, images and sounds. A (seemingly) random sonic loop of grunting, pissing, laughter, coughing and teeth brushing accompanied Mark Parslow and Stuart Kirby’s In the Wolerverine’s Web. Its dissonant tones bled into the space around Nicole Voevodin’s mystery cabinets, Cash Corpus #3, and James Lamar-Peterson’s animal sculptures fabricated from obsolete circuitry. Simultaneously menacing, cute and annoying, the soundscape was, intermittently, peppered with gunfire from Lucy Francis’s wicked reworking of the grassy knoll: Jackie O. Clicking on a screen-sized image of the first lady, the viewer provides a catalyst for the assassination (and Jackie’s pupils ricochet satisfyingly around her eye sockets in tempo with the shots). Gunshots reverberated throughout the gallery, over the delicate seaside ice-cream van chimes that attended Benjamin Elliot’s vacation theme interactive photography. The intricate aural and visual environment fluctuated constantly as viewers navigated sculpture and interacted with installations.

Elaborating on the possibilities of audience participation in a mixed media event, Gigga Bash (Global Overload) produced by Jeremy Hynes of MomEnTum Multimedia, featured the interior of the Hub Cafe covered with 450 metres of alfoil by Cyber Nautilus Performance Group. Members of the audience were wrapped into the environment with alfoil—living sculptures at 16 work stations linked to the internet, searching for visually stimulating material to project to the remaining spectators. Simultaneously, the event was filmed, remixed with audience-generated images from the net, distorted with other footage and extruded back onto a nine screen TV wall which was itself in turn filmed and re-projected, condensing the media into a ultra concentrated compound of film, production, cyberspace and audience collaboration.

Metal framed novajet prints in Close as Life at Secummb Space, the Plastic Energy dance party with visuals by Troy Innocent, music by Ollie Olsen and Cyber-femme Griller Girls exhibition, further expanded the diversity of the festival, providing additional opportunities for engagement and interaction with a variety of technologies and practices. Workshops in multimedia authoring and the internet, lectures from Dorian Dowse on the implications multimedia holds for fine art, Troy Innocent on the possibilities of artificial life and video conferencing from New York with internet artists discussing issues facing web designers in the US and Australia, meant that eMedia avoided becoming a superficial feast of images and sound, achieving instead, a forum for erudite discussion of and energetic experimentation with multimedia.

eMedia97 QMAC; Metro Arts; QUT; Qld Museum; Hub Cafe; Secummb Space; Out!; Quantm; Brisbane May 23-June 6

RealTime issue #20 Aug-Sept 1997 pg. 26

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

Nicole Johnston, Michelle Heaven and Luke Smiles in Suite Slip’d

Nicole Johnston, Michelle Heaven and Luke Smiles in Suite Slip’d

Nicole Johnston, Michelle Heaven and Luke Smiles in Suite Slip’d

The idea behind Green Mill’s 1997 program, Heritage and Heresy, is timely. There’s a feeling in the air; dancers looking back to see their tracks stretching behind them into the distance. Perhaps they seek proof that they’ve really gone somewhere. The subject matter of much recent work, at Green Mill and in Sydney, is indeed lived history, and we’re shown these tracks, paths of complex endeavour, entwining personal and professional experience, a detailed and private history of growing up and settling in, an embodiment of craft.

Sue Healey’s own history starts with ballet. In June, The One Extra Company presented her Suite Slip’d at The Performance Space, but I was happy to have seen it first in rehearsal a week earlier, prior to the addition of costumes and set. There’s something special in the fearlessness and ease of rehearsal, where sequences and physical relationships are still somewhat open-ended, without the fixity that performance requires. In the first trio, the dancers took the behavioural and stylistic elegance of 17th century French court dance, throwing it (and each other) around the spacious bare studio, with a quick, sweet understatement which belied the fast, slippery complicated precision demanded by the choreography. For someone who knows ballet, a slight tilt of the chin, a glancing epaulement, a sudden flutter of hands, all embody a world of meaning, both then and now, within which the dancers’ social and professional lives are played out.

The second half presented a kind of dramatic confrontation: two new dancers, new style, new material. With the addition of set and costumes in performance, I could barely shake the Sharks and the Jets out of my head, as subtle posture became a social currency no less extreme than that of 17th century. Both choreography and dancing in the first section were hard to fault, and while the suggestion of dramatic narrative might have been a persuasive guide, I preferred the more ‘abstract’ interrogation of dancerly ritual which was becoming visible prior to the complications presented by staging for performance.

Trevor Patrick in Leap of Faith

Trevor Patrick in Leap of Faith

Trevor Patrick in Leap of Faith

Some works at Green Mill seemed to embody a kind of artistic coming of age. Trevor Patrick’s solo, Continental Drift, was one of these, performed as part of Dancework’s presentation of Leap of Faith. The weight and pathos of this work catches you by stealth. Small words, phrases, gestures accumulate and pack down, like strata in a land mass. He shifts sideways, black-suited, across the stage, backed by burnt orange screens. He bumps up against shadow, unknown experience, until it recedes. His movement is clean, the text simple but pervasive. He speaks of experience, events which just happen, ways of learning to do and to be; progress through life is measured by an accumulation of such events, which by themselves do not provide actual direction. The shape of his life becomes simply doing what he has done, going where he has gone, “dense episodes of experience” packing down into a pathway of sorts. When the other side of the stage is reached, the end of the road, he has cleared that space of shadow, and the ground is firm, marking a place of experience, for us as well, between the sacred and the profane.

Suite Slip’ed, by Sue Healey, The One Extra Company, The Performance Space, June–July 1997

Continental Drift, by Trevor Patrick, part of Dancework’s Leap of Faith, Green Mill Festival, June–July 1997

RealTime issue #20 Aug-Sept 1997 pg. 40

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

Marrugeku Company, MIMI: a Kunwinjku Creation Story

Marrugeku Company, MIMI: a Kunwinjku Creation Story

When the Marrugeku Company presented MIMI: a Kunwinjku Creation Story in Arnhem Land last year, word has it that even the sky held its breath. This remarkable collaboration between Stalker, the Kunwinjku people of western Arnhem Land and a number of Indigenous artists incorporating stilt walking, acrobatics, dance, light, fire, smoke and Indigenous music is one of a number of contemporary performance works in the Festival of the Dreaming, the first of the Olympic Games Arts Festivals, opening September 14.

In Wimmin’s Business, Rachel House performs Nga Pou Wahine by Briar Grace-Smith with musical composition by Himiona Grace; interdisciplinary artist and a leading figure in Native performing arts in Canada, Margo Kane presents Moonlodge; in More Than Feathers and Beads, Native American, Murielle Borst performs a tragi-comic routine about the lives of Native women; Deborah Mailman recreates her powerful monologue The Seven Stages of Grieving; Leah Purcell, who trained as a boxer and a singer, bolts through the harsh culture of country Queensland in Box the Pony based on a real life scenario and written by Scott Rankin; Ningali Lawford is back with her remarkable stand-up performance Ningali and Deborah Cheetham manages to interweave a few operatic arias into White Baptist Abba Fan accompanied by the Short Black Quartet.

The plays on offer are similarly broad in scope: Bindenjarreb Pinjarra is about truth and justice the Australian way. Using satire, improvised performance and a strong physicality this work premiered in Perth and is a collaboration between nyoongahs Kelton Pell and Trevor Parfitt and whitefellas Geoff Kelso and Phil Thomson. Meanwhile, Bradley Byquar, Anthony Gordon and Max Cullen perform Ngundalelah godotgai (Waiting for Godot) in the Banjalung language with English surtitles. Julie Janson’s historical odyssey of the Aboriginal bushranger Mary Anne Ward, Black Mary, which premiered at PACT Youth Theatre, is given an epic new production by Angela Chaplin at Belvoir Street Theatre’s vast Carriage Works venue. Noel Tovey blends Elizabethan, Aboriginal and contemporary theatre styles and an all-indigenous cast in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with dreaming designs inspired by the works of Bronwyn Bancroft, computer animation by Julie Martin and musical composition by Sarah de Jong. Unashamedly feelgood is Melbourne Workers Theatre collaboration with Brisbane’s Kooemba Jdarra on Roger Bennett’s Up The Ladder, an affectionate evocation of the 1950s sideshow boxing matches. NIDA students will present Nathanial Storm, a new musical by Anthony Crowley, directed by Adam Cook, musical direction by Ian McDonald.

The street theatre program includes Malu Wildu, a new indigenous music ensemble performing original song based on the Dreaming stories of the Torres Strait and Flinders Ranges. Also on the streets are Tiwi Island Dancers, Janggara Dancers from Dubbo, Koori clowns Oogadee Boogadees, and Kakadoowahs, a new work from four Koori artists produced by Tony Strachan of Chrome.

The festival opens on September 14 with a smoking ceremony staged on the site originally known at Tyubow-Gale (Bennelong Point). featuring large numbers of dancers, singers and 30 didjeridu players directed by Stephen Page.

There’s a strong focus on dance-music works in the festival. For one night only there’s Edge of the Sacred, a collaboration between the Aboriginal and Islander Dance Company choreographed by Raymond Blanco and with Edo de Waart conducting the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Peter Sculthorpe’s Earth Cry, Kakadu and From Uluru. And on the same evening an all too rare opportunity to hear the haunting opera Black River by Andrew and Julianne Schultz with Maroochy Barambah performing in a semi-staged performance with the Sydney Alpha Ensemble; the performance is conducted by Roland Peelman and directed by John Wregg.

Bangarra Dance Theatre dust off the ochre to explore water worlds in Fish choreographed by Stephen Page with music by David Page. Didjeridu player Matthew Doyle, choreographer Aku Kadogo and percussionist Tony Lewis give modern voice to a Creation story in Wirid-Jiribin: The Lyrebird performed by Matthew Doyle in the Tharawal language.

International guests include the predominantly Maori and Pacific Island all-male contemporary dance company Black Grace who were first seen and much enjoyed at Dance Week at The Performance Space last year. They return with the premiere of Fia Ola. Silamiut, Greenland’s only professional theatre performs Arsarnerit, a dance-theatre work about the northern lights; and also visiting are the ChangMu Dance Company from Korea. There’ll be free performances in First Fleet Park by The Mornington Island Dancers (NT); Doonoch Dancers (NSW south coast); Yawalyu Women of Lajamanu (central desert); Tiromoana (Samoa); Ngati Rangiwewehi (Aetearoa); Naroo (Bwgcolman people, north Queensland) and Papua New Guinea’s Performing Arts Troupe.

Visual arts by Indigenous artists will be showing at all major institutions including an exhibition about Indigenous Australian music and dance at the Powerhouse Museum; the Art Gallery of NSW hosts Ngawarra in which artists from Yuendumu create a low-relief sand painting over five days in contact with their peers by satellite; at the Ivan Dougherty Gallery, twelve artists ask, “What is Aboriginal Art?”; At Boomalli, Rea uses mirrors to engage viewers in her interpretations of the Aboriginal body in Eye/I’mmablakpiece; fourteen indigenous artists ‘live in’ and work together at Casula Powerhouse; multimedia artist Destiny Deacon is in-residence for three weeks at The Performance Space Gallery working with local school children on the installation Inya Dreams (website http//www.culture.com.au/scan/tps). At the Australian Centre for Photography a retrospective of works by the late Kevin Gilbert and photographer Eleanor Williams; at the Hogarth Gallery, Clinton Nain gives three short performances of I Can’t Sleep at Night to accompany his installation Pitched Black:Twenty Five Years celebrating the history of activism among Indigenous peoples.

The Baramada Rock concert hosted by Jimmy Little, David Page and Leah Purcell features Yothu Yindhi, Christine Anu, Kulcha, Aim 4 More, Laura Vinson from Canada, Moana and the Moahhunters from Aotearoa and special guests Dam Native and Southside of Bombay.

The Paperbark literature program brings together indigenous writers Herb Wharton, Anita Heiss, Archie Weller, Romaine Moreton and Alexis Wright with international guests Keri Hulme and Briar Grace-Smith in readings, storytelling and forums at the State Library of NSW.

The Pikchas is a week long festival of films screening at the Dendy Cinema, Martin Place and the Museum of Sydney—“no roped off areas here, mate”. Highlights include Mabo—Life of an Island Man (1997); The Coolbaroo Club (1996), Jedda (1955); the Sand to Celluloid series (1995-96); Backroads (1977) and in the bar, a continuous reel of provocative archival footage. As well as the Australian program there are films from Canada, Aotearoa and Germany. Makem Talk involves local and guest film-makers in discussion and debate.

The considerable appeal of the visual arts and film programs aside, for RealTime fans of contemporary performance, theatre and dance the festival holds special appeal in the productions of MIMI, Fish, The 7 Stages of Grieving, Ningali, Bidenjarreb Pinjarra, Fia Ola, Arsarnnerit, ngundaleh godotgai, Black Mary, Up the Ladder and wimmin’s business.

The Festival of Dreaming is an astonishing celebration of the achievements of contemporary Indigenous artists in theatre, performance, dance, film and the visual arts. Rhoda Roberts’ programming achievement is considerable. That she draws extensively on the achievements of recent years, shows just how much great work is available, some of it already nationally and internationally travelled. The addition of new works and international Indigenous guests, makes The Festival of the Dreaming potentially one of those events that festivals so rarely are these days, a genuine celebration rooted in a coherent yet remarkably diverse Indigenous culture staged with a sense of the present, of achievement and with an optimism especially needed at a dark political moment.

The Festival of the Dreaming; Artistic Director, Rhoda Roberts, Sydney, September 14-October 6

RealTime issue #20 Aug-Sept 1997 pg. 31

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

Casting an eye over the program for the Australian Youth Dance Festival in Darwin in September-October, it looks like the young artists and community dance workers expected from around Australia will be kept on their toes. Early morning warmups in drumming and capoeira begin at 8am followed by discussions on daily themes (Partnerships, Culture & Dance, Collaboration and Initiation, Dance at the Edge and the big one—The Future), sessions beginning with keynote addresses from some notable speakers, opening out to panel discussions with audience participation.

Those not taking part in the discussion can choose from a variety of workshops—teaching methodologies for Primary and Secondary students; workshops with young professional artists; making dance with members of Ludus Dance Company who are visiting from the UK; or take classes in specific aspects of technique (Pilates, contemporary, ballet, tap, capoeira) and then catch video showings.

It’s anticipated that relationships established at the festival may produce some collaborative works and this possibility has been factored into the program with some ‘free’ time allocated after lunch to work together with focus groups or to create pieces with mentors and facilitators. There’s the potential for showing works completed or in progress in the afternoon. Got a minute? Access the internet or attend a workshop with Kristy Shaddock, Clare Dyson and Susan Ditter on how to make a web page. Sponsors QANTM Multimedia have provided hardware and training. If you can’t get to Darwin, daily proceedings will be accessible on the festival website at http://sunsite.anu. edu.au./ausdance.

In the evening, there’s a program of performances including works from Expressions Dance Company (Brisbane), Restless Dance Company (Adelaide), Stompin’ Youth (Launceston), Boys from the Bush (Albury), Corrugated Iron Youth Theatre and Tagira Aboriginal Arts Academy (Darwin).

The program is still coming together but confirmed festival speakers include: arts administrators Michael FitzGerald (Youth Performing Arts Australia—ASSITEJ International), Danielle Cooper and Jerril Rechter (Youth Performing Arts, Australia Council); artistic directors Mark Gordon (The Choreographic Centre), Genevieve Shaw (Outlet Dance and Outrageous Youth Dance Company) and Sally Chance (Restless Dance Company); dancer-teacher-choreographers Christine Donnelly, Michael Hennessy; and dancer-film-maker Tracie Mitchell. Also on the guest list are a number of dance mentors (Cheryl Stock, Maggi Sietsma).

Ludus Dance Company, a leading British dance company for young people will be special guests of the festival (courtesy of the British Council’s newIMAGES program). Based in Lancaster, Ludus tours for 32 weeks a year. The company has a strong reputation for innovative performance and for challenging educational and community programs. Especially interesting for Australian practitioners, is their focus on combinations of cross-cultural dance forms and mixed media (puppets, masks, original music, adventurous costume and stage design).

Much recent youth theatre work in Australia has had strong dance and movement components. It’s not surprising that a discrete area called Youth Dance should emerge. As early as 1994, the Australia Council commissioned a report on the area as part of their review of Youth policy. Merrian Styles from the NT office of Ausdance says, “We’ve organised this event in response to strong demand from our under-25 membership. An advisory panel of young dance practitioners from cities and regions throughout Australia decided that a festival would bring young people together and give us a clearer sense of the directions they want to go”.

Australian Youth Dance Festival, Darwin, September 28-October 3

RealTime issue #20 Aug-Sept 1997 pg. 33

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

Zsuzsanna Soboslay and Benjamin Howes, Awakenings

Zsuzsanna Soboslay and Benjamin Howes, Awakenings

Zsuzsanna Soboslay and Benjamin Howes, Awakenings

Well into rehearsal, I ask the conceiver-performer of Awakenings, Zsuzsanna Soboslay, is it the envisaged work that is emerging? She explains that the structure is becoming more overt, “a good thing, the outward shape, but I’m waiting for the interior to re-emerge, the inflections in the body that the work began with. They’re coming”. This waiting happens to most of us to some degree mid-rehearsal process, but food-poisoning in Istanbul over two months ago on the way to LIFT97 in London, has left her asking “Is this my body?” and querying judgments made in response to it in rehearsal. She seems confident nonetheless that the body, and the vision of the show with it, is there.

I ask designer Tim Moore if the set’s evolution has been subject to transformations. He explains that the set was ready for the first day of rehearsals so that the performers could live with and learn it, especially given that “it has a life of its own, has four or five actions—parts of it slide up and down, it revolves, has at least two levels to work on physically and is both reflective and transparent”. The initial inspiration came from a workshop two years ago at the Centre for Performance Studies at Sydney University and from Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening, the German classic of thwarted and brutalised child-innocence which has inspired Zsuzsanna’s Awakenings. This is a set then that is expressionist in impulse, a device of discovery and grim witnessing, a window on a child’s world, “a massive window which is also a door”. “It’s monolithic,” says Moore, “but now I’ve disappeared it a bit, changed the surfaces—you can see it and see into it. Originally it was a staircase on wheels but it’s transformed into a room that can become a cage, a space for the performers to discover things, with room to move”.

Zsuzsanna comments that the set has provided “landscapes, corridors, circles, a sense of window and horizon”, that the capacity of the set to revolve has enhanced the relationship between the performers; the way a door turns helps realise the transformation in one character oscillating between mother and daughter roles, amplifying swings between innocence and knowledge, showing what gets hidden, what disappears.

Complete as the set is in construction and in its life in rehearsal with the performers, it awaits the transformations of light and video projection. The latter, as often, is quite a design challenge, having to find the right surface to project on, where to place the images, and how to make them complementary or counterpoint to the set and the action, not a distraction. This is especially the case, says Zsuzsanna, when the images are about “going inside memory, into the body”. Already the scale of the set and its proximity to the audience will amplify their own recollections of innocence and awe. The video imagery will take them further in and back, but with its own dynamic and in relation to what’s happening live: “A soft-shoe dance on video”, says Zsuzsanna, “doesn’t yearn, but the accompanying song does”. The challenge of the meeting of live and recorded actions and of creating a soft surface to hold projected images clearly preoccupy the thoughts of Awakening’s creators at this stage of the work’s development.

As does the music. “Sound”, Zsuzsanna retorts. “We might have started with Schoenberg, but save a brief quotation, his music is not in the show. We don’t have big slabs of music from the late 19th century, early 20th (Spring Awakening was published in 1892). It’s in our bodies, the music is ours, in our movement. We are aware of sources of sound—the pulse of nursery rhymes, marches, beer hall songs; these melodies can block out other, earlier melodies.”

The sound score for Awakenings is being created by sound artist Rod Berry and is about to enter rehearsal with its own vocabulary for the performers and the set to work and live with. It’s a process in which “movement can evolve into sound, sound into movement”. “Rod will create sounds around the silences. He won’t fill the space. He’ll make the blackboard and different parts of the set speak. Sound helps one travel in time, shifts you historically, for example as a performer transforms from youth to crone; sound can demonstrate time as contiguous—the past and present in one moment.”

This moment, for Zsuzsanna and Tim, is one such combination of past—the inspiration of Wedekind, the seminal workshop of some two years ago, the recent creation of the set—and present—living in the set, working with projected images and sound, the interior of the work re-emerging and, doubtless, transforming. Awakenings is about change: “Change comes from vulnerability. Change comes from desire. Can a culture change when it holds fiercely to its identity and power?”

Awakenings, conceived, written and performed by Zsuzsanna Soboslay, with Benjamin Howes; sound, Rod Berry; images, Peter Oldham, Alan Dorin; set, Tim Moore; lighting, Peter Gossner. The Performance Space, Sydney, August 14-24

RealTime issue #20 Aug-Sept 1997 pg. 38

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

How does one interpret or use a classical dance form to tell a new story, one that is relevant to the Indian Diaspora, rather than a traditional religious tale which may also be of value, but a soft option in the sense that it may not challenge the community dogma and, worse, may fuel prejudice? This is a question asked by many new Indian dancers who are classically trained. Breaks with traditional story-telling techniques have been made by contemporary British-Asian choreographers such as Shobana Jeyasingh using Bharatnatyam and, to a lesser extent, Nahid Siddiqi using Kathak. In eliminating the orthodox costume and make up of Kathakali, but also in her choice of subject matter, Maya Krishna Rao makes a welcome addition to this modernising principle.

In his classic short story, Khol Do, Saadat Hasan Manto deals with the communalism of the partition of India in 1947. Trains travelling between Amritsar and Lahore would depart packed with people hanging onto the sides and sitting on the roofs, but would arrive at their destination with their entire passenger load slaughtered.

As we have witnessed recently in Eastern Europe, history repeats its unimaginable horrors, re-named as ethnic cleansing, as if somehow the mere act of re-naming sanitises the atrocities human beings are capable of. In the re-telling of Khol Do, Rao’s solo performance in a British context is a sublime experience.

An aspect of classical Indian arts is that an artist may present nine rasas (moods or flavours) during the exposition of an improvisation or rehearsed set piece. This range of feeling usually allows an audience to empathise with a work on different levels. Maya Krishna Rao’s opening minimal gestures are executed with the technical precision of a classically trained dancer and, enhanced by Gavin O’Shea’s sound design, evoke the atmosphere of an Indian train journey. Overall though, I felt the emotions expressed in the work were limited. Viewing Khol Do, I felt the pathos of the father separated from his daughter and the desperation of his search, but not his love. The motif running through the performance is the daughter’s expression of fear, Rao’s gestures of fright being expressed to effect in Kathakali abiniyah (visual expression) of mudras (hand gestures) and facial movements, in particular, the eyes. The nritya (pure dance) element here was minimal and I thought could be developed further to convey a feeling of space. Instead of restricting the performance to the confines of the strong red central dais, it would have been liberating to see some of the explosive Kathakali movements outside this sacred space, in perhaps the profane space of the margins around the dais. Rao’s Kathakali nritya, both in footwork and poses, transmits a high level of energy and consequently, is more convincing in delivery and reception than the earlier slower movements.

Maya Krishna Rao is courageous in dealing with the subject of ethnic violence during the formation of Indian and Pakistani national identities. The bloody wound that opened up during Partition never healed and is now being salted by fundamentalist Hindu, Muslim and Sikh factions in the Indian sub-continent and supported by the Indian Diaspora. The religious premise for this sectarianism is again raising its ugly Janus head. In order to hold on to their imaginary homeland in their respective mother countries, Asian communities in Britain are unfortunately now more sharply divided than ever. In this respect, one welcomes any artist who transgresses absolutist ideologies. The general disclaimer that Asian communities in the West make of this type of work, especially if it has been created by migrant Asian artists, is that they are not speaking with an authority which is authentic—“the Asian community is not like this”. They refer to the artists’ “non-Indianness” for hybridising European and Eastern artistic aesthetics. The artist is thought to be tainted by the vagaries of Western political, social and artistic preoccupations. British-Asian artists are described in the Asian community press as having lost their roots in adopting modes of telling their stories or using new forms to re-tell old stories.

Khol Do (The Return), Battersea Arts Centre, June 10

RealTime issue #20 Aug-Sept 1997 pg. 44

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

De La Guarda’s Perioda Villa Villa

De La Guarda’s Perioda Villa Villa

It’s the first time that I’ve seen any public event involving Argentinians since that drowning war when my sister and her children went in fear. Someone had daubed “Argies live here” in guttural, ugly paint on the side wall of their council flat. It felt good that De La Guarda and I waited until that government was out.

They hung like corpses, drenched and dredged up to the ceiling, or stood on temporary, rigged platforms under pouring water calling, calling, calling. I wept for them.

I saw women and men in civilian clothes (knickers, skirts, ties—subterfuge in mufti, you could shoot them as spies). And a world in whose mores I would like to live—them kissing and hugging strangers in the moment’s trance of eye contact and desire. (The next moment we may have to kill.)

My friend had just made a film on concentration camp survivor, Simon Wiesenthal, when the doors closed on the claustrophobic crush and gas started coming from above. I turned to apologise and couldn’t see her. They didn’t make it easy on us. I wanted to call out, “I don’t want to live here”.

Then the room opened, and there was air, and we were loving the peace with the drowned waking above us and running through showers among us with (it’s in the detail) their socks fallen around their ankles.

Periodo Villa Villa, De La Guarda, Three Mills Island, June 19

RealTime issue #20 Aug-Sept 1997 pg. 46

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

De La Guarda’s Perioda Villa Villa

De La Guarda’s Perioda Villa Villa

The audience is crammed into a small space whilst the humming through the speakers grows to a drone and then a tune. We are illuminated by the reassuring exit signs; above us a paper ceiling defines the space as cramped, low, capped. Upward gaze; these words look very optimistic here. The vertical is the space for performance. The performance begins with the angelic/devilish sight of backlit sprites casting shadows on the ceiling. Balloons, toys, fluorescent splatter spots fill the paper with joyful play. They are above us, beyond the ceiling, in another world, but we have access to this world. The ceiling is removed. Removed is too passive a word; ripped, dragged, sliced by human missiles, making the world above our heads available to us. Tickertape pours down from the heavens.

After the storm cloud of paper has passed, the performers are precision drivers doing daring manoeuvres except with no cars, no roads and no helmets. WARNING: Do not attempt this at home. Six hundred people, all of us thinking we are as close as we can get, find the space quickly when water gushes from the ceiling. A childlike sense of watching a thunderstorm roll in over the ocean and breaking on the Land; the fear of destructive power, counter-balanced by excitement and relief. The dance and music engulf me. The performers now unleashed from their harnesses hold the audience, hugging, kissing, encouraging us to dance. The energy I want to unleash is being played out in the space above my head. Women running up the wall, this is my Batman fantasy. Drenched and dripping, they pound the rhythms. This is nightclub, rave, concert, theatre, spectacle. I have no head space for theory here. This performance would not be possible where I come from. In Queensland, at our request to burn a few leaves for The 7 Stages of Grieving, the authorities went ape-shit, at one moment threatening to close the show. The laws (internal and external) that govern us would require so much compromise, but here I revel in this moment. There is no danger here, no personal danger that threatens my body. The danger lies in what I will expect from the theatre of tamed lounge chairs and fake velvet curtains. Euphoria.

Periodo Villa Villa, De La Guarda,Three Mills Island Studios, June 18

RealTime issue #20 Aug-Sept 1997 pg. 46

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

Leigh Warren and Dancers in Shimmer

Leigh Warren and Dancers in Shimmer

Leigh Warren and Dancers in Shimmer

Quiver, the new program from Leigh Warren and Dancers is continuing evidence of the company’s invention and excellence. With last year’s return season of Klinghoffer and now, the unveiling of two contrasting works, Shimmer and Swerve, Leigh Warren’s signatures are becomingly increasingly apparent. His work is disciplined, elegant and has the added intensity which music performed live can bring. With Klinghoffer, he borrowed ethereal choruses from John Adams’ opera, performed on stage by a score of Corinthian Singers. For Shimmer he has used the sparkling playing of the Australian String Quartet and in Swerve, the frenetic rhythms of cabaret favourites Pablo Percusso.­

Under the scrutiny of Robert Hughes, film-maker Ken Burns and others, the Shaker movement has received renewed attention for its minimalist ingenuity, its diligence and apparently serene other-worldliness. No longer intact—unsurprisingly after ten generations of planned celibacy—the most enduring legacies of the once-thriving and financially successful Shaker communities are their quilts and collectable chairs. And, of course, their eloquent witness to the radiance of belief.

Composer Graham Koehne’s String Quartet No.2 “Shaker Dances”, celebrating the pastoral virtues of this gentle, quietist sect, provides the score for Shimmer. The performers, dancers and musicians, assemble silently on stage, their backs to their audience in frozen tableau. Then, successively, the members of the Australian String Quartet separate from the group, take up their seats downstage prompt-side and begin tuning up. Scraps of tunes can be heard, including a few bars of what sounds like Simple Gifts, the religious folk tune used as central motif in Aaron Copland’s Appalachan Spring. The cello joins, then the others, as the six dancers begin their demurely exquisite movement.

Leigh Warren’s splendidly assured choreography uses the dancers in pairs and gendered threes. There are echoes of square dance tropes as they form parallel lines and dance in profile, moving enticingly close but retaining modest distance. Top lit by Geoff Cobham the dancers move under vertical spots that seem at any time to raise them in some sort of beam-me-up rapture. The effect—enveloped in the warm, vibrant playing of the quartet—is fluid and unaccountably affecting.

Central to the success are Mary Moore’s costumes—silky, iron grey frock smocks with yellow-gold linings which button to the navel and then flow across and away from the body with notably erotic ambiguity. Powerfully dramatising the tensions of religious ecstacy, the costumes carry both male and female signification, puritan concealment and then—unbuttoned over the dancers’ flesh-toned body stockings—unexpected sexual abandon.

The movement parallels these dualities. The dancers, in diagonal formation, work in repetitive hoeing and chopping movements, or, hands prayerfully clasped, rotate their elbows in undulating rhythm. Elsewhere, when they raise their arms full stretch, roll along the floor leg over leg, or dance in balletic pairs, they achieve a contrasting sensuality—enhanced by Cobham’s buttery lighting, the throaty repetitions of cellist Janis Laurs and Elinor Lea’s fluttery pizzicato.

Shimmer is a fine work and must rank among Warren’s most accomplished. Carefully conceived, intelligently designed and beautifully performed with solos from Kim Hales-McCarthur and duets from Csaba Buday and Rachel Jenson, it uses Koehne’s appealing composition to good effect. This production is beautifully framed from the opening fugue to the final restatement of the musical theme, and then the curtain image of dancers and musicians gathered midstage as top spots fade to a beckoning side light. Shimmer exploits the conflicts of introspection and worldliness, of piety and a kind of pleasure, which may be secret but never guilty.

By contrast Swerve is a metal-rattling, taiko drumming display of athleticism and grunge style. From behind the curtain we hear the sounds of heavy spinning chrome plates wobbling into silence. Then as the curtain lifts we see Ben Green, Josh Green and Greg Andresen, aka Pablo Percusso, strapping on a variety of hubcaps from Kingswood to Nissan Bluebird and tapdogging up a storm.

The dancers, in skateboard baggies, black vinyl hot pants, leather and leopard skin, enter browsing newspapers as they nonchalantly stack themselves on one another. As the band take up drum kits at the back of the stage the dancers begin to slap each other with the papers setting up repetitions and syncopations. It is reminiscent of Stomp, Luke Cresswell’s kitchen cupboard of found-sound, but Swerve has plenty of its own zing as well.

Lit low from the side of the stage and then washed in heavy scarlets and torquoise, the dancers meld with the rhythms. An angular, exuberant solo from Delia Silvan is followed by a trio of rapping garbage bins then another burst from Rachel Jenson and some breakdance variants from Peter Sheedy and John Leathart.

The “auto”-erotic motifs continue from hubcabs to tyres to traffic as Pablo Percusso take up drumming stations in tilted-back car seats while the dancers let rip in a blaze of foot and sidelights.

Swerve moves into high gear for the fourth section, Head On, with thunderous drumming, spliced-in highway screeching and choreography ready to crash through to Cronenberg.

Leigh Warren and Dancers have compiled a program both meditative and high octane. For many the sustained energy of Swerve is the high point. However, for all its technique, it is more fizz than substance. But those Shakers doing their shimmer…? Well, that’s a road much less travelled.

Quiver Leigh Warren and Dancers, Norwood Town Hall, Adelaide, June 20-28

RealTime issue #20 Aug-Sept 1997 pg. 40

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

Co-operative Multimedia Centres (CMCs) emerged into the atmosphere at about the same time as the Cfcs were destroying it. The atmosphere surrounding the newly identified ‘clever country’ at the time contained the heady technology of ‘new media’ and all things digital—interactive multimedia, the internet and the world wide web. Australia, in the view of the Labor government, had been at the end of the communication line for long enough and needed to be aboard the band-wagon that would deliver global proximity, as well as a new employee hungry industry.

The intervention that Keating and Canberra wanted to make was announced in Creative Nation, that policy document which spoke in October 1994 of “being distinctly Australian” in the face of the “assault from homogenised international mass culture”. After the inevitable wrangling, the six Centres that had been proposed were open by mid-1996. What impact have they had? What has been the quality of the services provided? What plans do they have to survive a non-interventionist, market-place government?

The mission for the Centres was to “offer education, training and professional services, access to state-of-the-art equipment and facilities, access to leading-edge research and development, and assistance with the handling of issues such as intellectual property and product testing and evaluation”. To greater or lesser degree each of the locations have and are delivering in each of these areas, but with differing degrees of emphasis—“complementarity” was the word used by Professor Guy Petherbridge, CEO for Starlit CMC and spokesperson for the Association of CMCs, to describe how the strengths of each enterprise are shared between all. It seems that it is early days for such an ideal to become evident, like many of the projects listed by each CMC.

Web sites are an obvious point of contact with the Cooperatives, some of which are non-profit, and the QANTM site (www.qantm.com.au) explains in the clearest way their business model summarised as the “brokerage of skills and related services for the interactive multimedia industry”.

QANTM is now operational in Darwin and Brisbane with 20 staff employed in four areas: Youthworks has trained over 200 young people in basic internet skills. Indigenet has developed approximately 15 major projects and with the leadership of Chris ‘Bandirra’ Lee will achieve placing digital networks parallel to traditional ones. Eventually, some access to Indigenous culture will be given to the wider global community. Australian Silicon Studio Training Centre (ASSTC) has received over 200 scholarship applications for 3D animation scholarships and the first 10 students have completed. QANTM Edge has five major development projects in the multimedia arena, all staffed by local contractors or individuals. CEO Olaf Moon admits that “research and development is a minor part of our activities, apart from research into five copyright projects”. Queensland government sponsorship is for two years and the Federal Governments will continue for a total of three. “At the end of this time, we expect to be self sufficient”.

QANTM is one of two Queensland CMCs. Starlit (www.starlit.com.au – expired) focuses on the tooling needs of educationalists and trainers, and instructional design, utilising the accumulated national experience of ‘distance learning’. In a bid to challenge the US heavies of on-line courses, the new academic year will see Swinburne University launch 56 courses, Griffith Uni just behind, all distilled from Australia’s unique pedagogical expertise.

“Western Australia is now poised to become a Mecca for digital artists throughout the Asia Pacific”. The team at Imago in Perth (www.imago.com.au – expired) identify their work with the art and cultural sector as their main achievement. One project with the Film and Television Institute established during July is DAS (The Imago/FTI Digital Arts Studio), a facility specifically designed to allow access for screen culture artists to modern digital production facilities. With financial and technical support from Arts WA, the Australian Film Commission and the Australia Council, the production facilities include interactive multimedia, digital sound, 3D modelling and animation, digital video and web authoring. The essential and primary purpose of DAS is to provide a facility where artists can access computer equipment for experimentation, production and training, and become a hub for critical arts activity.

CEO Mike Grant observes that “at this early stage there has not been a lot of cross-over between the technological researchers and artists”. Another facility, the Imago Sun Research Centre, is also open and equipped with high-end workstations. “A number of leading local artists are already designing projects to work on utilising the resources and expertise of the centre”, says Grant. Imago also works with PICA in the implementation of a bi-annual funding program which provides small amounts of money to artists for research and development. In addition Imago covers programs addressing education and training, industry development, content development, and research coordination.

Ngapartji (www.ngapartji.com.au – expired) launched onto coffee saturated Rundle Street, Adelaide in August 1996 with a state of the art multimedia centre containing studios, seminar and exhibition spaces, and a spectacular pavement cafe—up to a 1000 people every week have a hands-on experience with interactive multimedia, predominantly on-line. Training is either informal from trusty cafe staff or from high level trainers.

Carolyn Guerin, Ngapardji’s manager of applied research explains that the centre assists with “a range of on-line activities with real life elements such as the Virtual Writers in Residence Pilot Project (funded with the Australia Council), and Ngapartji Interactivity and Narrative Research Group (“Rosebud”) which, besides holding monthly seminars, has a web site with papers consolidating the group’s work and, soon, a research database. We have also sponsored and promoted the work of artists including Linda Marie Walker—exposure to new work is key to the centre. With so many mainstream industry people participating in activities at the centre, exposure to art-based work is inspiring and often commented on—the last Australian Multimedia Enterprises board meeting was held here during Jon Mccormack’s Turbulence exhibition. Most of the board members were blown away by it—you could see their minds ticking over like mad”.

Ngapartji Nodes will bring other Adelaide organisations on-line—Tandanya Aboriginal Centre is the first—self-managing the kind of computers available in the Ngapartji cafe. Nodes is about on-line activity and has included virtual community components—interactive communications capabilities rather than your usual brochure ware.

In Sydney, Access Australia (www.cmcaccess.com.au – expired) and its unwieldy consortium including Telstra, NSW Department of School Education, NSW TAFE Commission and five metropolitan and regional universities, have just appointed its third CEO in two years, Rim Keris, who comes from a hardware marketing and business background. He will need to bring substance to a program which includes Propagate, a key national project allied with the European Commission, on multimedia copyright.

At the other end of the financial scale also in Sydney, MetroTV (www.home. aone.net.au/metro/-expired now Metro Screen http://metroscreen.org.au/ Eds.) launched Stage One of a New Media Laboratory in November 1996 then last month received State Government funding to set up Stage Two—this includes ten high-end Apple Macintosh 9600 computers on an ethernet network with high speed internet access. Since January, in conjunction with other screen culture organisations, a range of digital courses have been run at Metro.

In Melbourne, it is the screen culture sector again setting the pace in giving access to digital media facilities. With financial backing from the state-run Multimedia Victoria, Open Channel (www.openchannel.org.au) will augment its digital video editing facilities with four 3D animation suites and a dozen high-end PowerMacs.

In the smart end of town, eMerge (www.emerge.edu.au – expired) is about to pilot a project with cultural institutions and individual artists to establish a Virtual Cultural Centre, “a complete experience rather than a collection, going live in 1998”, according to CEO Terese van Maanen—surely an opportunity for vibrant links with Melbourne talent? On the web, the iSite resource directory for the national industry will list personnel and clients. A range of other projects will address pedagogical and curriculum concerns at all three educational levels. Links with San Francisco and the ‘Malaysian corridor’ are also advanced.

Many, including Colin Mercer at the Griffith Key Centre for Cultural and Media Policy, wonder about the marginalisation that the more creative communities are being forced into by the majority CMCs pursuing industry and training objectives. “Interactive multimedia offers a chance to break down a whole series of barriers between genres, disciplines and artforms. Convergence of mind-sets, not just technologies, is the issue,” according to Mercer, “with the ability to think laterally and more creatively”.

Professor Petherbridge feels that it is the industry support area rather than the cultural area that will continue subsidy to the nascent multimedia industry, “because it provides a message to industry and the public at large that this is a very important part of public policy…that if we slip in the next year, we’ve really slipped”.

RealTime issue #20 Aug-Sept 1997 pg. 26

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

“What a strange, demented feeling it gives me when I realize I have spent whole days before this inkstone, with nothing better to do, jotting down at random whatever nonsensical thoughts have entered my head.”
Yoshida Kenko c1330

While no-one can claim immunity from nonsensical thoughts—some can be charming and witty, like those of the Buddhist monk Kenko—others are merely stupid. One would be hard pressed to find a better example of wilful stupidity than our government’s recent announcement of “principles for a national approach to regulate the content of online services such as the internet”.

A joint press release from the Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator Richard Alston, and Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, proposes a “framework [that] balances the need to address community concerns in relation to content with the need to ensure that regulation does not inhibit industry growth and potential”. This ludicrous proposal, which can only have been dreamed up by people who have never had any contact with the internet, envisages that the online service provider (ISP) industry will “develop codes of practice in relation to online content, in consultation with the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA)”.

As a result, anyone unhappy about online content must first complain to the relevant ISP; the ABA then has the authority to investigate unresolved complaints. Conceptually, it is similar to the way in which film, television, radio broadcasts and computer games are currently regulated. A distressed viewer might call a television station to complain about nudity or language in a movie. If they do not receive a satisfactory response (whatever that might mean) from the television station, they can then complain to the ABA which conducts an “inquiry” and, if it finds the material was inappropriate, tells the broadcaster not to do it again. Prosecutions are exceedingly rare.

The system works tolerably well because there is tangible evidence of any “offending material” in the form of reels of film or videotape, audiotapes of radio broadcasts, and floppy disk or CD-ROM games and, because potentially objectionable content has already been filtered out by the censorship system. In the case of the internet, this process can already be effectively mimicked by filtering and parental control software such as CYBERsitter, SurfWatch, Net Nanny, Rated-PG, X-Stop, Cyber Snoop, and Cyber Patrol—just a few of the alternatives which render internet regulation unnecessary, as long as parents are prepared to accept responsibility for limiting their children’s access to the net.

But let’s assume, adopting the position of the fundamentalist Right, that these software safeguards are only partly effective and that “harmful” material slips through. Only a tiny fraction of internet content is stored on local (ie Australian) servers. What can the ABA do about a complaint concerning “offensive” content on a web server in the US, or Italy, or Japan? What kind of response is the offended web surfer likely to get from a foreign content producer or ISP? Incredulity? Derision?

And so much of the content is ephemeral anyway: chat sessions exist only in real time, web sites appear and disappear, e-mail and Usenet news is stored only temporarily on an ISP’s server. Internet content resembles, as much as anything, telephone conversations and facsimile transmissions. In a sense this is the core of the problem: the “regulatory framework” attempts to impose a broadcast metaphor on what are essentially telecommunications carriers. They may as well attempt to control the air Australians breathe or the water we drink.

The whole idea of regulation is so divorced from reality that it is difficult to explain why it is being proposed. Put to one side the government’s duplicity in not admitting that regulation is largely unnecessary; perhaps the legislation is a cynical attempt to appease Senator Brian Harradine, the Lyons Group and other conservative elements in the Liberal party, put forward in the knowledge that it is unworkable and will inevitably fail.

Alternatively, could it be that Australian politicians are profoundly unaware of digital culture and the way it is reshaping our world? That this lack of understanding is not restricted to federal politicians becomes depressingly obvious when you observe in NSW the Carr government’s tubthumping about internet pornography while they shovel computers into state schools and hook them up to the net without making any real provision for teacher training.

Ultimately, it is not this whacky censorship sideshow that is truly dispiriting. It is that at a time when we need to formulate an imaginative and courageous response to the radical social and economic transformation about to be wrought by the internet, our politicians are jockeying for position like amateurs at a provincial racetrack. Which horse do you bet on when the only starters are confusion, dishonesty, cynicism, stupidity and ignorance?

RealTime issue #20 Aug-Sept 1997 pg. 22

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

Balinese dancers

Balinese dancers

Balinese dancers

Photographer Sandy Edwards was invited to Indonesia by Russell Dumas, an Australian choreographer who has a long association with the distinguished Balinese choreographer and musician, I Made Djimat, a master in the classical Batuan style of Balinese dance. In the village of Batuan, the most treasured classical dance—Gambuh, Topeng, Calonarang and Wayang Wong—still flourishes and is an integral part of temple ceremonies. In preparation for a forthcoming film on I Made Djimat, Sandy photographed the master preparing a young pupil for his first public performance in which he would play an old man.

On another night, under a full moon, she photographed the Rejang, a dance performed by women each night over three to four months of the year to ward off illnesses associated with the rainy season. In the public square at Batuan village, the women dance in lines, moving slowly in elegant, tai-chi like movement towards the male gamelan orchestra. Children move through the space, life goes on around the dancing.

Some of the photographs were exhibited during The Performance Space’s antistatic festival in the Dance Exchange Sydney studio. Some made small dances on the wall. Others were displayed on drying racks, some spilled onto the floor, awaiting assemblage, in progress. In another part of the room, videos showed the dances in more complete form. The audience entered the white studio through an ornate Balinese stage curtain.

RealTime issue #19 June-July 1997 pg. 29

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

Jennifer Monson

Jennifer Monson

Jennifer Monson

The Sydney Morning Herald’s dance writer, Jill Sykes, in her not-so-kind comments about the performance programs in The Performance Space’s antistatic festival must have known she was poking a stick in a hornet’s nest. Perhaps she was emphasising her desire (Performance Space Quarterly, Autumn 1997) to express ‘one person’s view’ in what should be— ideally, but is not—in our economic rationalist climate, a widely diverse debate about innovative dance practice. The sort of attitude expressed in Jill Sykes’ review reveals the ease with which alternative discourse is effectively silenced. Different notions of the body have engendered much innovative dance practice, but in Australia, these differences seem doomed to invisibility within the larger public domain.

To wit, the National Library of Australia is currently host to a travelling exhibition, Dance People Dance, curated by Dr Michelle Potter. Despite the Director-General’s comment that the exhibition “examines how theatrical dance in Australia has moved from its strongly Western European beginnings to now also reflect an ethnically diverse society”, this exhibition tells a story of Australian dance shaped entirely by its relationship to European tradition. Max Dupain’s photographs bring to life the early tours of Pavlova and the Ballet Russe which were so influential in developing our national ballet. Thrown into prominence are a group of contemporary Australian artists defined by this same theatricality: Meryl Tankard, Graeme Murphy, Stanton Welsh, Gideon Obarzanek, Paul Mercurio—all with European balletic pedigrees falling clearly on the right side of well-worn tradition.

For reasons unspecified, there are few developed references in the exhibition to other non-balletic dance traditions practiced in Australia for generations. Early Modernists are given little more than glancing recognition: the odd TasDance and One Extra poster. Neither is there material from more recent visits of, say, Steve Paxton, whose work has inspired generations of dancers in Australia. There’s an awkwardness in the way that Indigenous Australian dance is barely accommodated within the body of the exhibition.

Can interesting, successful dance be conceived of as more than commercially viable entertainment? Might different understandings of the body and dance centre on a person as an inherently mobile and expressive being? Can the body be seen as a site of inquiry, investigation and negotiation, rather than some unruly and inchoate pit of desire and impulse requiring severe discipline in order to achieve a pre-established social demeanour? Certainly these used to be fashionable ideas. The early practices of Murphy or Tankard were well-funded, ostensibly on the basis of their ‘modern’ desires. To see clearly where an artist’s aesthetic aspirations lie, you simply look to daily technical training regimes. These individuals have always sat comfortably within balletic practice. Whether they have “dented the canon” or not, to use Russell Dumas’ description of innovation in ballet, is questionable. The point is that if the idea of innovation is fashionable, its actuality is usually too problematic for public presentation.

The suggestion that our Western European theatrical heritage still provides the most influential model, would probably raise little dispute among the six member panel at the surprisingly named National Dance Critics Forum: Dance: What Next? Who Says So? Few of the panellists would have experienced dance which was about physical negotiation and investigation rather than proclamation and spectacle.

If Valerie Lawson sees the cult of the creative personality as ‘unhealthy’, to be discouraged in favour of ‘creative collaboration’, I wondered, without denigrating such enterprises, where Sydney Dance Company would be without the public charisma of Graeme Murphy. Simultaneously, even from within this ‘cultist’ mentality, contemporary economic argument requires that singular innovative artistic vision be smoothed out by less problematic, consumable, easily-toured, blander ‘international’ fare. In the case of Western European dance, you’re always in reassuringly familiar terrain, knowing how to talk, what values to acclaim. One talks about a certain style, extreme physicality and virtuosity. Dancers can travel all over the world and all partake of this same discourse. Perhaps this is what Robin Grove referred to, when discussing classical tradition in the 21st century, as “the high democracy of this art, where everyone is king”. And he wasn’t just talking about ballet, but about a classicism in which one apportions “harmonious lines in an internal coherence”, a notoriously and meticulously de- and re-constructed idea, within the post-modernist frame.

Lee Christofis, commenting on funding problems for independent artists, equated the term ‘independent’ with ‘emerging’, conveying the idea that once artists have ‘emerged’ they will no longer be ‘independent’. Further, he implied these artists might just be unwillingly ‘independent’ of funding bodies’ financial assistance. Either alternative misunderstands a more pertinent notion of independence, ie mature, wilfully artistically independent choreographic artists deliberately seeking to develop practices which speak diversely of the body—not as a well-oiled culturally ‘international’ machine, or couched in pre-defined terms which devalue difference. Such artists engage in a dialogue about practice that acknowledges Australia’s monogamous relationship with its Western European cultural referents, at the same time setting about widening cultural precepts and creating a truly independent identity.

To this end, perhaps, the antistatic festival’s centrepiece was the three ten-day workshops conducted by guests Jennifer Monson (NY), Julyen Hamilton (Spain via UK) and Gary Rowe (UK), designed to develop choreographic and improvisational practice and performance—the very practices evident in the performances which failed to impress Jill Sykes.

If a choreographer makes work to which only a specific audience can relate, is that grounds for dismissal? Such was Gary Rowe’s A Distance Between Them, in which the iconography may well have related to an audience (HIV positive men?) which did not attend. Indeed, the images remained static, distant and difficult: tight in a circular frame a woman singing Doris Day love songs, a sparse film showing a mother’s pregnant belly, a man’s throat. A tortured dancer, pinned in a hard-edged spot, dances as if forever on a steadily speeding treadmill. Tiring, repetitive phrases accumulate. Unexpectedly, sympathy finally arises for someone caught in the grip of a difficult life.

Julyen Hamilton’s 40 Monologues was like being taken for a ride. No need to specially watch for anything in this pre-edited stream-of-consciousness movement and dialogue. His art of movement non-sequitur used physical latitude that would amuse fans of old John Cleese-type word association football games. It was probably in that same wave of innovation 30 years ago that his technique developed, on the contact improvisation platform, fused in his case with more established modern techniques. These days he moves and talks with the facility and impeccable timing of a well-practiced comic.

On a similar ‘contacterly’ platform, Jennifer Monson’s work, Lure was far less straitened by early modernist vocabularies. Her strength and fluidity revealed glimpses and passages of tricky sensibility, of magical ticklishness. Sometimes the sea, its myths and enticements manifested. She stepped through waves of piquant suggestion, continuous currents of shifting sensibility. Dynamics grew and abated. She gathered her energy and hurled herself in belly flops to the floor, or else engaged with feathery and evasive wisps of tiny paper sails which rode on her breath.

New work rarely springs from nothing. Russell Dumas’ and Lucy Guerin’s works The Oaks Cafe —Traces 1 and Robbery Waitress on Bail shared a stylistic linearity given vigour and depth by webs of allusion. If, as Dumas says, ballet, like most hybrid arts, is sterile, The Oaks Cafe Project seemed to assert that the accumulated contributions of individuals (Sally Gardiner, Trevor Patrick, Pauline de Groot, Catherine Stewart), because of their particular relationships with Dumas’ artistry within their own layered experience, can suggest ways of escaping such perceived aesthetic inertia.

Lucy Guerin’s allusions perhaps highlighted an uneasy relationship between Australian/American and European escapist imagery, throwing together bland journalistic accounts of a Pulp Fiction-like restaurant theft story with the angst-ridden world-weariness of say Anne Teresa De Keersmaker’s women, who show their legs and nickers with a familiar double-edged indifference.

The Performance Union

The Performance Union

The Performance Union

Lines of movement inquiry can become inert behind stylistic facades. Butoh Product (de Quincey/Lynch Performance Union) refers to ‘traditional’ Butoh, which, having been engendered in revolt, can only continue to exist by undercutting and shattering its own halo-effect, so that innovation cannot become canonised. The artists set up scenes of serious intent—’performer’, ‘singer’, ‘dancer’, ‘guest’, ‘audience’ and then proceeded to expose their flimsiness. An on-stage filming later revealed a rearrangement of the same performance elements, delivering quite a different version of events.

Martin Hughes did not deal well with the familiar technical skills of straight contact improvisation. Helen Clarke-Lapin, his highly-skilled partner, might have taken this dance much further on her own, or with musician Ion Pierce, without losing that vital sense of physical negotiation, the raison d’être of contact, and without becoming lost in the look.

It’s a big ask of any one artist to delve into totally unknown material, as Tony Osborne may have tried to do in the velvet ca. The results, for an audience expecting refinement at least, could be construed as adventurous, if undeveloped and fairly yukky as the dancer dredged up his psychic child to play with.

A duet which did not lack refinement was Duet from Trio choreographed by Ros Warby with Helen Mountfort (cellist). Warby’s as sensitive as a delicately boned, two-footed creature can be, her movement almost disappearing in an ecstasy of sentience. In this vein too was Alice Cummins’ Lullaby, where simple, sometimes foetal movements seemed cradled in an adult text. The sound of her words soothed a difficult transition from the familiar to the unknown, like rocking soothes a baby. Six Variations on a Lie didn’t work as well in this cavernous space as it did in its more intimate home venue. There, performers formed a sparse and elegant quartet, an ensemble of soloists (dancer Rosalind Crisp, singer Nikki Heywood, sound artist Ion Pierce, and visual artist James McAllister). In The Performance Space, without the focus and cohesive physical relationships that confinement produced, the four seemed to wander alone.

Jon Burtt

Jon Burtt

Jon Burtt

Jon Burtt and Alan Schacher are both comedians, perhaps of different sorts. In Cars, TVs and Telephones, Burtt was a gangly, fashionably nerdish but charming kind of guy, whose understated-yet-sexy chat about household appliances to the accompaniment of funky music and articulate movement, made this work totally watchable. In trace elements/residual effects Alan Schacher, working in caricature, tried to make visible his gnarled and inexplicable life in a dusty Central Australian landscape. His movement captured parched, twisted branch, dry reptilian skin, and a lost, alien and absurd human, in what started and finished as funny and moving, but fell into a hole in the middle.

Helen Herbertson, in a strange excerpt from her full-length Descansos, was revealed in less sympathetic light (and shadow) as a lone, almost comic figure, without the dignity and stature which characterised the original work. Shelley Lasica (Square Dance Behaviour—Part 6/version 4) spent a lot of time taping padding under her costume. If her comments referred to ‘embodiment’, or shape and line and their interpretation by an audience, the ‘deformities’ seemed to make absolutely no difference at all. A stronger statement might have been to simply leave the stage after the padding had been strapped on. No dancing at all. Leyline Co’s comment on the facade of clothing and appearance was no more compelling, despite (or because of) the high-heeled déshabille of the two dancers as they pretended to clamber unbecomingly along parallel catwalks.

During the second weekend (March 28–29), the antistatic forums opened appropriately with Libby Dempster (“Ballet and its Other”) discussing the negative ‘otherness’ attached to non-balletic forms which, by default, are defined within the binary opposition which ballet sets up. Dance is either ballet or not ballet. Her paper was complemented by Russell Dumas’ explication of the way in which traditional European practice has defined all Australian practices in one way or another within this inescapable binary construct. With its persuasive employment of all the theatrical forms—stage design, lighting, music, set, costumes etc—it provides a kind of inscription to the mind and muscles. Unbeknownst to many practitioners, choreographic practice in Australia is situated as an art by way of its association with this inscription, the ballet trained body. So for Dumas it becomes irrelevant whether it’s deployed by MTV, musical comedy, Gideon Obarzanek, Meryl Tankard or Graeme Murphy, because what you’re seeing is a dancer trained in a regime, and the authority of this dancer’s presence is the outwardness of the display. Other traditions too, various manifestations of Expressionist angst, Butoh, ‘new’ dance practices, are paraded as innovative, but then put within this theatrical context, which simultaneously invigorates the relationship with classical tradition, while suppressing any consciousness of that relationship.

Russell Dumas outlined a different choreographic lineage: the early German Expressionist school of Laban, Wigman and Hanya Holm, having developed as an oppositional practice to European balletic tradition, escaped to 1930s America, and being full of the angst of that position, invigorated a different kind of cultural stance—one which is traceable to that country’s foundation, a rejection of these European values, and one which did not develop in opposition to the European balletic tradition. It defined itself in terms of independence, national pride, the rhetoric of which, noted Libby Dempster, Americans have felt able to work to their own ends in a variety of ways.

Dumas’ intention was not to deride Australian choreographers—despite his comment that “this is indeed the land of the dance Demidenkos”—or to persuade us to emulate the American model. Rather, he suggested that by being able to cite our cultural references, understand our historical precepts, and recognise our relationship within that tradition, we might infuse life and real innovation into an otherwise derivative national choreographic enterprise.

Dance People Dance, National Library of Australia, curator Dr. Michelle Potter; National Dance Critics Forum: Dance: What Next? Who Says So? April 26; antistatic, The Performance Space, Sydney March 21–April 4

RealTime issue #19 June-July 1997 pg. 26-27

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

Video Positive 97: Escaping Gravity

Video Positive 97: Escaping Gravity

Video Positive 97: Escaping Gravity (VP97), billed as the UK’s biggest ever festival of video and electronic art, spanned two cities (Liverpool and Manchester) and 12 venues. With approximately two hundred artists included in the various exhibitions, installations, film and video programs, festival audiences needed serious doses of caffeine as well as dedication to experience all that was on offer. The festival also included three conferences: LEAF 97 (exploring art, society and technology from an east-European perspective) Cosmopolis: Excavating Invisible Cities (investigating the transition from the post-industrial to the digital city) and Escaping Gravity: The Student Conference.

As well as presenting work at standard festival venues such as galleries and theatrettes, VP97 also placed work in less traditional venues including Cream at Nation, a popular nightclub venue in Liverpool, cafes, and the Museum of Science and Technology in Manchester. The Liverpool cathedral’s oratory was the site for Bill Viola’s video installation The Messenger, a mesmerising work showing a submerged, almost lifeless, human figure slowing rising to the surface and gasping air before again descending to repeat the sequence over and over again. Viola’s work was an eerie experience for viewers who became aware, as their eyes got used to the dark interior, that they were standing amongst lifeless stone statues. The VideoWall at Wade Smith, a sports store in Liverpool, was another imaginative but somewhat problematic foray out of the art institutions into the ‘real’ world. Audiences trying to view George Barber’s Video High Volume 2 were just as likely to be greeted with a half hour Nike ad which was alternated with Barber’s work.

There was a strong Australian presence at VP97 in the form of the aliens.au program curated by Linda Wallace and financially supported by the Australian Film Commission. Jon McCormack’s startling and poetic ‘artificial life’ progeny were exhibited in his Turbulence installation in the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester.

In Lyndal Jones’ From the Darwin Translations: Spitfire 1.2.3. audience members moved through a room full of monitors displaying images of poppy fields with an accompanying soundtrack of birdsong into a darkened room dominated by a large screen showing footage of a pilot’s eye view from the cockpit of a Spitfire fighter plane. An intimate atmosphere was created by headphones which positioned the individual audience members in the cockpit’s aural interior (engine and propeller noises), as disembodied women’s voices told stories of their sexual fantasies about the archetypal warrior pilot.

Gordon Bennett’s Performance with Object for the Expiation of Guilt (Violence and Grief remix) was presented via video with artefacts from the performance (black whipping box and stock whip) adding a disturbing physical presence. Exploring the complexities of black/white racism and the construction of the Other, his was one of the most overtly political works in the festival.

Also included in the aliens.au program were two video programs and five CD-ROMs: Martine Corompt’s The Cute Machine, Josephine Starrs’ and Leon Cmielewski’s User Unfriendly Interface, Brad Miller’s Planet Of Noise, Lloyd Sharp’s Invert and Patricia Piccinini’s Genetic Manipulation Simulator. These works were presented as part of a ‘CD-ROM Forest’ in the Museum for Science and Technology; inexplicably, the sound was turned down very low on these works creating a somewhat barren experience as audiences wandered between the discrete computer terminals.

Other highlights of the festival were Jaap de Jonge’s (Netherlands) Crystal Ball, a magical kaleidoscope eye mounted into the wall of the Cornerhouse Gallery in Manchester. Viewers responding to the message touch me were rewarded with fragmentary images of TV and cable broadcasts scanned from the mediascape. In Liverpool at the Open Eye gallery, Thecla Schiphorst’s (Canada) Bodymaps: Artefacts of Touch incorporated sensors under a white velvet surface. A near life-sized figure projected onto the surface twisted, turned and moved in response to audience members touching and stroking the velvet. Jane Prophet’s (England) high-tech fibreglass cyborg Sarcophagus was animated by the audience passing their hands over different ‘body’ zones—head, heart and stomach—which displayed images representing biological and informational systems.

The success of the exhibition installations was due in no small part to the impressive array of equipment the organisers of the festival, FACT (Foundation for Art & Creative Technology), based in Liverpool, were able to secure for the artists. A pool of equipment from MITES (Moving Image Touring & Exhibition Service)—including 25 video projectors as well as computers and laser disc players—made up approximately half of the equipment used, with the remainder secured through various sponsorship deals.

ISEA98 (themed ‘revolution’) is set to build on the VP97 collaboration between Liverpool and Manchester and is being organised by FACT in conjunction with Liverpool University and Manchester Metropolitan University, and with the support of local councils which are demonstrating a high level of commitment to the cultural and economic opportunities presented by new digital technologies.

Video Positive 97, Liverpool and Manchester, April 11–May 18

More information on the festival and the artists can be found online at: http://www.fact.co.uk/VP97.html [expired]

The homepage for the aliens.au program can be found online at:
http://www.anat.org.au/aliens

RealTime issue #19 June-July 1997 pg. 25

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

There are times when what we see in performance or visual art speaks more about us as witnesses than it does about the artist. So it seemed for me with Ricochet, the latest work presented by Perth-based independent contemporary dance company Physical Architecture is Dancing at Canberra’s Choreographic Centre. The bureaucratic game is the subject here, explored and teased out in all its nightmarish incarnations.

There is a worshipping of false gods to open the work, as six power-suited women move through the space, each carrying a different plastic icon on a platter—toy car, Barbie’s couch and taut Ken doll. A confession-of-sorts to the plastic demi-gods gets the piece going, and the momentum is maintained.
Running towards us, stomping, marching, sometimes bouncing, slapping the floor, vertical lines in the space, backwards and forwards. Voices hang in the air, almost tangible, but more often creating a layering of sound with Lee Bradshaw’s original sound composition. There’s mention of ‘quality assurance’ and a meeting about ‘how to cope with change’. The text sits remarkably well in all this, set against the pace of the movement in one section and mirroring it in the next.

Choreographer/Artistic Director Tamara Kerr has also drawn on mask work—a result of the developmental creative process that a residency at the Choreographic Centre affords—and it is effective. Twisted, exaggerated expressions with lips absurdly distorted. Lunging towards us, declaring, “make my day” and “kiss my arse”, the women play up their roles oh so deliciously.
Ricochet is noisy, manic and energetic. It is also a tongue-in-cheek examination of the juggling game of women’s goals and desires in the corporate world.

Ricochet, Physical Architecture is Dancing, The Choreographic Centre, Canberra, April 19

RealTime issue #19 June-July 1997 pg. 28

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

What I wanted, more than anything, for this piece of work was a clearer commitment to abstraction in its own terms. All of the elements of the work—the dancers, the choreography, the engagement of music to movement, us sitting there in an implausible performance space, were diminished for me through the application of narrative. I wanted to honour these parts of the sum, to follow the lines offered up through the dancing bodies, through the very idea of that hotel dining room being the space to have generated the work. I have been in enough old buildings made into museum sites to know about the layers of story, traces left behind. I wanted to be allowed to do some of that work of interpretation myself without the imprint of storytelling.

Aside from that interpretive space I yearned for, the work with all of its leaning, its support and withholding, of passion and its repercussions, was pretty satisfying. To start with, the dancers were fine and spirited, making dramatic the otherwise prosaic space. Paul O’Sullivan, Setefano Tele, Jane Diamond, Shelley Mardon. In solo and in often fiery relationships, the register of passionate gestures and movement was always engaging, as long as it wasn’t trying to illustrate words (ban the words!). There was some deeply sexy choreography here, bodies slamming around in quite a charge. An encounter between the two men was a particularly thrilling, physical delight.

I don’t want to deny dancers their voices, but the eloquence of their movement surpassed all story lines offered here. Fieldworks continues to attract fine performers, and the collaborative approach of making work is also to be admired. The inclusion of blues musician Ivan Zar to provide what sounded like an improvised guitar and harmonica track was another delight.

I Lean on You, You Lean on Me, directed by Jim Hughes, Fieldworks Performance Group, Old Peninsula Hotel, Maylands, Perth. April 1997

RealTime issue #19 June-July 1997 pg. 28

© Terri-Ann White; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

There is a lot to be said for grunge in the digital realm: the seamless perfection of much digital imagery and the regimented order of the corporate web site are very familiar and very…banal. These days when everything is so over-designed and carries with it a tasteful Photoshop blur filter, it’s refreshing to stumble across some real grunge for a change, which reconfirms that the real world is full of crap and grime just like you always thought it was. It’s often when the dirt gets in the system that things get really interesting after all.

www.jodi.org is perfect web grunge, if there ever can be such a thing. There is something about this site which makes you want to go back again and again, something engagingly low tech, simple and funky about their catalogue of web works—100cc, Goodtimes and their latest %20 (http://www.adaweb.com/context/jodi/index.html). There is no sign of the generic hand of Photoshop here, or names like ‘virtual gallery’ or ‘cyberart’, just a dizzying array of in-your-face, free-formed, computer game bitmaps and data corruption that takes control of your computer. www.jodi.org manages to capture something inherent about the web medium to the extent that the works are wonderfully self-referential: computer viruses, scrambled error messages, corrupted data and chunks of computer code make up the overriding aesthetic here. However, it’s the way in which the works have the capacity to take control of your browser the first time you visit it and infect your monitor with what you swear is a computer crash, or some serious memory fragmentation, which is the crucial element in the work. Unlike so much web art, www.jodi.org understands the notion of ‘noise’ on the web, putting back what is normally left out or relegated to the trashcan.

www.jodi.org also manages to take things way beyond the notion of ‘browsing’, a metaphor with problematic connotations at the best of times. You don’t so much browse these works; you are infiltrated by them, taken over by them and consumed. Here, there are some similarities with the acclaimed work of etoy (www.etoy.com—Sigue Sigue Sputnik meets Mondo 2000) but, ultimately, www.jodi.org is more inventive and demystifying of the medium, and manages to explode so many of the cliches associated with producing work for the web, in particular the notion of reinvesting the control to the interactive ‘user’. Sure, you’re free to explore www.jodi.org through its maze of imagemap viruses and data refuse, which is an experience in itself, but essentially you get the feeling that there is some other force at work, directing your every move and monitoring your movements. The user here is just one in a long line of guinea pigs under some weird surveillance. This is territory which many interactives rarely venture into—territory where the user is not ‘in control’, but ‘out of control’ of the work.

The scrambled error messages moving across your monitor recall much of what the web is really about: those spaces in between web sites, the files not loading correctly, the error messages, files not found and ‘error 404s’ which constitute so much of the experience of using this medium. Here, Netscape frames the work as a self-reflexive cultural interface, and, apart from the occasional hypertext link and imagemap, the notion of interface design is done away with, as something which simply gets in the way of the work. Interface is superficial window dressing, surface detail obscuring what lies below. In a very real way, www.jodi.org is the underside of the glossy veneer of the web, the underground trash and grunge, discarded and left to fester and to hopefully mutate into something even more compelling.

When Tim Berners Lee, in the early days of the medium, was thinking of what the web could possibly become www.jodi.org was probably the furthest thing from his mind; and in many ways www.jodi.org is about as far away as you can get from the bevelled-edged buttons of corporate web hell, or yet another banal ‘virtual gallery’. For that alone it should demand your attention as one of the most interesting web art works to ever come down the pipe.

One of the more interesting aspects of the web is the phenomenon of the useless web page. Sites like the Rotting Food Home Page, or The Virtual Tour of the Gas Station Toilet compel the question: Why? Why on earth did someone even produce such a web page? For me these are some of the highlights of the web, the points where the web crosses over into a kind of reality television and touches the lives of real people. The web is the perfect medium for wacked out, deluded weirdos to actually say something to the world, no matter how inane or stupid they might appear to the rest of us. While it’s easy to dismiss such pages as just ugly examples of HTML grunge, the better ones are complex, fucked-up messes of desires and opinions—perfect web crud.

If you buy into the hype which invokes this medium as the great democratising, utopian delivery system, the useless web page is probably a far more accurate realisation of such hyperbole than, say, www.sony.com. And as the experience of browsing the web increasingly becomes about as compelling as flipping through the yellow pages, these useless web pages (http://www.go2net.com/internet/useless – expired) and sites like The World Wide Web Hall of Shame (comprising web ‘abominations’) manage to break down the medium, demystify it, in ways which even more experimental, creative web projects fail to. It’s these pages that remind one that this is a web constructed by people, not corporate search engines, or infobots—give me the losers, freaks and weirdos any day. The rest of web culture is busy applying pre-existing technical models and paradigms from the world of graphic design, desktop publishing, 3D and CD-ROM based multimedia to the web, hoping that they will reveal the ‘truth’ of the medium and take it to the promised land. I, for one, think that in some ways at least the useless web page has already found the true web, encapsulated in those raw, weird glimpses of the world at the other end of the modem.

RealTime issue #19 June-July 1997 pg. 22

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

You are in an intimate theatre of displacement, a contemplative, stylishly fashioned space yielding to alarms, clocks that lie and multiply, a phone call, an ice-flooded mouse-pad, a chorus of voices recollecting losses of memory and tongue, an elderly voice reliving the shock of endangered hearing in 1944. You are the performer, Kafka mode, silently acting out a scenario of someone else’s inventing. But there are no visible human agents. You are being programmed…to be interrupted. The sound cuts out, mid-story, the light turns itself off, a sound erupts from the other side of the room, the phone rings. You answer it; is it listening, or indifferent? What time is it telling? But you have picked it up. You’re curious. You’re looking to pick up, weave, complete little stories, half-pleasures, beautiful voices. As you linger and the more you linger, the less automaton you are and discover that you can play the voices and slices of music, repeating and overlapping them with your magic mouse. Darkness. A crash beckons. Someone beats you there. A theatre of impatience, envy and competition rudely intrudes. Are you missing something significant? You would ‘mouse’ better than that. And then they’re bored and gone and you’re trying to pick up where you were, wanting back into the reverie, back into the little jolts that force connections, “red as blood/yellow as fat”, your mouse-pad a painting with its own moves, glass breaking beautifully over you, and too real…but it’s only sound. The light draws you to sit at an elegant wedge of a desk, between designer lamps and speakers. You contemplate a tale of torture, irritated by pathos overscored by a set of strings, but you sit like and you are lit like someone being interrogated. A voice crackles and it’s 1944 again, a landstorm south of Darwin, lightning, eardrums. You could keep subjecting yourself to this dark pleasure, never sure if you’ve heard the whole story, played every delicious, anxious word, because you know very well with the many permutations offered by interactivity, someone will say, did you see, hear, generate that bit? It’s nice to experience an interactive work with sound at it’s shifting centre, with inventive mousing, with physical requirements for the performer-user beyond the mouse, and a fine sense of theatre and of collaboration: Richard Vella (music), Maria Miranda (painting and screen design), Greg White (programming), David Bartolo (interface design), Neil Simpson (the room), the eerily present voices of Evdokia Katahanis, Gosia Dombrolska and others, and the guiding hand and ear of artistic director Norrie Neumark. Artspace, April 17–May 3.

RealTime issue #19 June-July 1997 pg. 23

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

LOUD, Australia’s first national media festival of youth culture and the arts, was launched in April by Senator Alston, federal Minister for Communications and the Arts, and Michael Lynch, General Manager of the Australia Council. Scheduled throughout January 1998, the festival will encourage youth (12–25 years) creativity in print and electronic media (television, radio and online) to produce documentaries, short film, soundscapes, vox pops, photography and written articles.

In the television arena, young people will have the opportunity to produce, write, direct and film a range of subjects, ranging from short pieces which focus on themes of identity and place, to involvement in documentaries which voice the perspectives of youth. Networks which have confirmed their participation include ABC, SBS, Network 10, the Comedy Channel, V and Optus Vision’s Ovation and Local Vision. The programming includes LOUD dox, a showcase for young documentary filmmakers. Our Place is a national video project involving filmmakers from all over the country producing short documentary self-portraits that reflect both their own viewpoints and youth diversity. The works will be produced for TV broadcast with seeding funding and resources which filmmakers will be able to access locally.

LOUD bits, a national competition revolving around the interpretation of LOUD, invites submissions of funky, funny and in-your-face experimental or animated pieces of between three seconds to three minutes duration. Airtime will be secured for the LOUD short film festival.

LOUD online will bring together established and aspiring net heads to create a collaborative web site with the support of a range of new media companies and ABC multimedia. Chat rooms will enable young people from around Australia to ‘meet’ and share interests.

A multimedia magazine featuring moving images, music, sounds, stories, animation and design will evolve continuously and an online exhibition will showcase the best emerging digital artists, while the national home page competition will thrust young backyard web designers and artists into the public eye. RT

LOUD, Media Festival of Youth Culture and the Arts, January 1998.
For more details about submitting project proposals, etc, visit the LOUD website at http://www.LOUD.org.au [expired]

RealTime issue #19 June-July 1997 pg. 23

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

Adelaide based Simone Clifford’s current program of work, Fast Editing, is part of the Festival Centre Trust’s Made to Move season. Formerly a dancer with ADT (Australian Dance Theatre) during Jonathan Taylor’s artistic directorship in the early 80s, Clifford went on to work in Jiri Kylian’s Nederlands Dans Theater for five years.

Fast Editing consists of two works: a new piece titled Reluctant Relics, created in October and November of last year and Chasing Chambers, a work begun in London in 1994 and completed with ArtsSA development grants in 1996.

Working with a group of seven dancers (six females and one male), a number of whom have come through the Centre for The Performing Arts dance program in Adelaide, Clifford has brought together what promises to be a third force in dance in a city already graced with the talents of Meryl Tankard’s ADT and Leigh Warren’s company. Clifford’s work is not only distinctive but sufficiently familiar and accessible to engage young audiences—like the crowd who responded enthusiastically to the Friday night performance I attended.

The opening piece, Reluctant Relics, begins in complete silence with a solo dancer standing on one leg while raising the other to waist level, clasping it in her hands and swivelling around. Her arms are raised and then lowered along with her whole torso. It requires an acrobatic poise the dancer appears not quite to possess and it lends the movement an oddly poignant vulnerability. In another movement the dancer drops to the floor, raising her legs gauchely before turning on to her stomach and raising her rump to inch slowly across the stage. It is, again, unguarded, a stolen moment, erotic but innocent. We are intrigued but the gaze is not compromised. We have caught a human glimpse, literally an unthinking moment.

The silence continues as the soloist joins the male dancer for a classically inflected duet. Then, like emergent chrysalises, the remaining company moves slowly across the stage on their backs, propelled by raising their knees and sliding in unison like strange solipsistic figures in those George Tooker paintings where human figures yearn to connect but are separated by cells and compartments like so many pale bees in a hive.

The work strengthens as Catherine Oates’ percussion, performed live on the stage, begins to insinuate itself into our hearing. The tentative scrapes and cymbal strokes give way to a steadier beat and with it the performers develop a fluency and harmony of movement—like stepping from a distracted inner world into a socially ordered one. Oates’ beat grows more insistent and segues into a mesmeric barrage from New York ensemble Bang on a Can.

Lit strongly from the wings in Geoff Cobham’s design, the dancers are momentarily soaked in a stripe of white light over their faces and shoulders only to have the signature reds and blues resume. The rite ends abruptly and soloist Alissa Bruce returns to restate several of the opening figures to the haunting sounds of Evan Ziporyn’s work for bass clarinet, Tsmindao Ghmerto.

Simone Clifford describes Reluctant Relics as a pivotal work in her development. She abstracts it by suggesting it is “a work about perspective and perceptions of mind”. Her comments are cryptic, but she elaborates: “I kept saying to the dancers, ‘You don’t need to try to perform the work to the audience, but rather concentrate on your own commitment and meaning and the audience will then observe you.’”

Chasing Chambers is a more external work but also a pleasing counterpoint, an exhilarating second course in Fast Editing’s appealingly succinct 54-minute running time. Built around Steve Reich’s chamber work for strings and voice, Different Trains, Chasing Chambers is lit with a row of white spots set low along the back of the stage, the performers dressed in black pedal pants and black anklets. Moving in staccato fashion they could be a eurythmics class in 30s Berlin, the white light licking over them as triumphs of physical culture. But as Cobham’s light mellows, so the movement becomes more playful and humanised. Just as suddenly the vigorous strings in Reich’s infectious composition create a flurry of Chattanooga choo-chooing, energised by a row of vertical spots sidestepping over the dancers as they take their seats near Track 29.

Simone Clifford’s work is an interesting mix of classical fluency and idiosyncratic personal expression. The contrast between the self-conscious, almost ungainly Reluctant Relics and the exuberant facility of Chasing Chambers is refreshing. The choice of accompaniment is also interesting. Reich’s work may be, for some, not just last year’s model but a rather unfashionable exhumation. Perhaps it is the refreshing youthfulness of both the dancers and their audience that reminds me that everything is always new to those who are coming along next. Clifford’s work has integrity and wit and it is building valuable bridges. I hope their plans for a regional tour come to pass.

Fast Editing, choreographed by Simone Clifford, The Space, Adelaide Festival Centre, May 1–10

RealTime issue #19 June-July 1997 pg. 28

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

One Extra Company, Suite Slip’d

One Extra Company, Suite Slip’d

Annette Shun Wah, Chair of the Board of the One Extra Company, believes the secret of longevity is adaptability. As she stepped into the spotlight at the very showbiz launch of the company’s new season at The Seymour Centre, she announced that the Board had taken a long hard look at the way the company serves the dance community and meets audience expectations and consequently adapted the position of Artistic Director to Executive Producer. This decision follows a trend in senior appointments in performing arts companies (see Eleanor Brickhill’s article in RealTime 17). This Board’s brief to their EP is “to guide the artistic vision of the company in a program which offers possibilities to a range of independent artists—choreographers and dancers as well as designers, musicians and visual artists, brings in new audiences and presents attractive opportunities for new funding partners”. A very full dance card indeed even for the energetic and confident EP, Janet Robertson.

The institutional architecture of the York Theatre was transformed into an unusually moody and intimate setting for the launch in which the audience of dancers, arts bureaucrats and well-wishers shuffled conversationally to light lounge music. Janet Robertson spoke from the seats accompanied by backing vocals and video clips. She quoted from Culture, Difference and the Arts—“Innovation is a dialogue between tradition and possibility”—before elaborating on her plans to build on the twenty-one year history of the One Extra Company founded by Kai Tai Chan with a season of works by some of our brightest choreographic sparks.

Reflecting her own background, Robertson sees the featured work as being highly theatrical and speaks passionately of One Extra’s firm commitment to dance that questions and reflects Australian culture. The season begins in June–July at The Performance Space with Sue Healey choreographing a new version of her work Suite Slip’d which premiered in Canberra when she was artistic director of Vis A Vis. One Extra’s invitation offers her a rare opportunity to re-think and extend a work. In October–November the company presents Two, a double bill of two new works from Lucy Guerin and Garry Stewart to be performed in the York Theatre at the Seymour Centre.

In Suite Slip’d, Sue Healey begins with the movement patterns and demeanours of 17th century French courtly dance—”But don’t expect a period piece”, says Janet. The dance suites are the impetus for more contemporary explorations. Rather than using a conventional theatrical framework, Sue Healey is creating a work in which performance structure and character spring from the movement itself. The dancers, Philip Adams, Michelle Heaven, Nicole Johnson, Luke Smiles and Sue Healey move from tightly interwoven ensembles into spacious solos and duets. Music by Darren Verhagen is as slippery as the movement, veering from Handel to noise. Costumes and design are by recent NIDA graduates Michelle Fallon and Damien Cooper. One Extra has plans for a tour of Suite Slip’d to regional New South Wales in 1998. Sue Healey will also take the work to Auckland and in February to the Dance Space Project in New York.

One Extra’s main program is supplemented by an Affiliate Artists program which invites artists to use the resources of the company as a place to explore work with other artists and as a venue to show new work in development. The impressive list of affiliates includes choreographers Kate Champion, Rosetta Cook, Bernadette Walong and Garry Stewart, lighting designer Damien Cooper, dancers Lisa Ffrench and Felice Burns and stage designer Eamon D’Arcy. As well as strengthening links with the Centre for Performance Studies at Sydney University and the University of Western Sydney’s Dance Department, the company will institute a series of schools-based workshops. Importantly, One Extra is also in the final stages of securing a home base as company-in-residence at The Seymour Centre.

Formalities over, Annette Shun Wah and Janet Robertson sashayed onto the dancefloor to begin their dialogue of possibilities. They had no shortage of partners in an air of genuine excitement and celebration. Janet Robertson has come up with a program that is ambitious for artists, integrating new collaborations and connections with institutions, with clear goals for developing audiences and with a theatricality that builds on the tradition of Kai Tai Chan’s One Extra.

RealTime issue #19 June-July 1997 pg. 28

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

PICA’s contribution to the opening of the Festival of Perth resolved that three days of art(iculations) was the way to go, and electronic media, including the techné exhibition, had pole position in the race for early attention. In Sydney’s south-west, the Casula Powerhouse hosted Cyber Cultures an event which may well become an annual national survey of new digital art.

The variations on the term ‘work in progress’ is on view—processes of experiment, lines of inquiry, informal research into multimedia. And the tools themselves are subject to continuous redefinition as a set of technical and therefore aesthetic options. These parallel processes of evolution become content, the very notion of ‘completion’ is in question, thereby creating problems for visitors seeking ‘product’.

techné

This exhibition of new media art was co-curated by Michelle Glaser, and Rick Mason from IMAGO Multimedia Centre. techné combined the full gamut of current activity into four spaces at PICA, adjacent to the touring exhibition Burning the Interface: International Artists’ CD-ROM, thereby providing a perspective across both shows and the astonishingly short period of five years. Two installations, a video lounge, and some 30 multimedia pieces—most produced since mid-1995 by international and mainly Australian artists—were available on six computers for interaction via mouse and keyboard. Of these, about one third were works from recent Australian graduates which, whilst demonstrating competency, did not always develop ideas or the potential of the medium beyond a well established mean. Graduating students are demonstrating the conflicts inherent in exploring the less-than-new media by not only pursuing the necessary research and development objectives, but also by trying to attract the attention of potential investors.

Norie Neumark, A Shock in the Ear

Norie Neumark, A Shock in the Ear

Other works displayed the broader and less literal investigations that need to occur at an advanced level in order to expand the use of multimedia. Shock in the Ear, devised by a small team led by Norie Neumark, places sound into the frame for careful scrutiny as the under-exploited medium amongst the multimedia. Fragments of sounds and sentences are triggered by mouse rollovers, movement across painted images and graphics—the cursor might contain a hand-written word: “how”, “where”, “what”, the word repeated and developed in a cadenza of narrative and related and unrelated sound effects and music. Neumark’s long association with sound works accounts for a maturity in the architecture of her poetry and the way it becomes performance, open to variation and nuance according to the response of the interacting subject. Similarly, the visuals perform in various juxtaposition, though not as lyrically. Instead of the concrete, the visual track relies on the expressionist, using typography and the obfuscation of reprographics. Navigation is complex, causing loops to repeat and leave you wondering whether you had influenced a flow or simply observed a pre-determined change.

Martine Corompt’s The Cute Machine (also exhibited at Cyber Cultures), takes the spherical render into the kind of artificial life areas invented and perpetuated by Disney aesthetics, re-defined and re-distributed by Japanese comics’ obsession with the Euro ‘round-eye’ infant-being, and identified by zoologists as neoteny. (Is that teeny as in tiny?) Well, infantile traits it seems under the Neotenic influence can remain with otherwise fully matured adults and become an aesthetic which Corompt demonstrates as a mutational form. The lurid pinks and sickly greens on the screen and the vinyl ‘skin’ of the installation are suitably unsettling, reminding us of the proximity of bovine to beef, cherubs to nappies, round eyes to famine appeals…cute to lie.

Linear electronic forms in the video lounge did not all have those smoothly rendered surfaces. Sam Landels’ Hydra revisited systems of representation based on persistence of vision, ingeniously adapting video technology to the formal task in hand. Strobing and fragmentation foregrounded the image as object and, with a dynamic relation to the frame, process.

techné demonstrated that artists have reached a critical mass in relation to interactive multimedia, particularly by visiting the web sites that had been bookmarked. The informative catalogue reveals that many of the new and younger artists have been trained straight into multimedia, without bringing the baggage of the Jurassic—this has clearly weakened some whilst liberating others, depending on their points of reference and I suppose, your point of view.

Cyber Cultures

VNS Matrix, BAD CODE

VNS Matrix, BAD CODE

Cyber Cultures was curated by Kathy Cleland and David Cranswick through Street Level, which supports and advocates contemporary art initiatives for artists and audiences in Western Sydney.

The expansive physical framework of the Powerhouse provided draped nooks and crannies for video projector-based interactive installations, and a screenings area. Two seminar days and evenings of performance complemented this rich survey of new media work.

Thematically, the ten interactive installations were concerned “…with issues of human identity and its boundaries…”, in the evolutionary sense. They were also linked financially: nine of the works represented the outcomes of the Australian Film Commission’s investment in artists’ projects; the Australia Council assisted with two.

Troy Innocent’s Untitled, as the title suggests, is in development but advances loudly into the AL (artificial life) area. Innocent moves away from an obsession with shiny and globular entities towards the generation of (loud and shiny) sounds created by the visitor drop-and-dragging globular creatures into a circle projected onto a camera obscura-like table-top. It has something of the feel of an ornamental pond where the fish breed simply to provide the unsettling sounds of industrial mayhem!

The User Unfriendly Interface from Josephine Starrs and Leon Cmielewski assaults the sensibilities of gentle nerds with a lot of impertinence, puns and other slippery slopes designed to remind us in faux troglodyte style that the personal computer is a dubious thing. The customised casing looks ready to rip your eyes out.

Merlin Integrated Media’s interactive CD-ROM, Metabody, documents one of the most interesting collaborations to occur in Australia last year between Stelarc, Merlin and Mic Gruchy, which included an ‘electrifying’ live world wide internet performance at Artspace last April. This interactive is encyclopedic, ranging from Stelarc’s hook suspensions to the direct wiring of the audience. It is the snapshot of a career, but has built in the ability—via an internet connection—to not only update but also extend the means by which the audience may participate.

The long anticipated Bad Code from the VNS Matrix team made a sneak preview, treading “a fine line between artwork and commercial prototype, aiming to inject alternative narratives and characters into a ‘shoot-em-up’ dominated games market”. The All New Gen mob together with the DNA Sluts up against Big Daddy Mainframe (BDM) is the basic scenario that has been rehearsed some time now, and one has to ask in these days of internets and intranets, how has BDM survived as the villain? Whilst ‘the look’ is intriguing, the feel for the game is obscure and it currently remains true to its title.

Invert is somewhat enigmatic. Lloyd Sharp’s “organic artwork” is about organs…and other processes, and parts, and orifices…about various of our physical functions, vectored through the sensibilities of the artist’s own experience of challenged health. It is an interactive partially using the game metaphor but mainly approached using Sharp’s idea of the metaphor of “personality”—which could be another way of saying unpredictable. Hence the enigma. Whilst the piece is life affirmative and has amusing cursor devices that ambush one another on screen, its personality swings between the pedagogic statement and a visceral space of images.

This is quite unlike the clear spaces that are created in another internal journey, Isabelle Delmotte’s Epileptograph. Large high definition images and shattering sound provide internalised glimpses of the experience of epileptic seizures, from which Delmotte suffers. Sequences of these images are shown on small video screens. (The process of making this work has also enabled the artist to reclaim to consciousness parts of the experience which are otherwise entirely erased from her memory.) Finally, a word description of the five stages of a siezure from the artist’s point-of-view. As a totality, we comprehend, through the cognitive process, and at a safe distance.

Both exhibitions had major involvement from the Industry and Cultural Development Branch of the AFC, and a haggle of others. Audiences can now look forward to a period where, in the public spaces, work is prudently selected, where the time required for participation or even interaction with multimedia work is in relation to the kind of concentration that most people can sustain during a single visit. On-line participation, the promised connections permitting, will become like videos and television—subject to the vicissitudes of the audience in response to the matrixes of options. Whilst techné, gave us another glimpse of this future, Cyber Cultures not only celebrated the physically interactive exhibition spaces of Casula but enabled the socialisation of many of the exhibits, a step away from what one arts commentator has helplessly observed as the “diminished aesthetic experience of a video monitor…”

techné, IMAGO, at PICA, Festival of Perth, February 13-March 9

Cyber Cultures, presented by Street Level at the Casula Powerhouse, Casula, Sydney, March 9–April 6, 1997

RealTime issue #18 April-May 1997 pg. 21

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

Even as the Gonski Report hangs poised like Poe’s pendulum above the guts of Australia’s Screen Resource Organisations, a new era dawns. One by one, with minimum fuss, they are opening their new multimedia studios for business.

The studios are modest. The intention is, after all, not the display of technological toys but a continuation of the SRO’s common philosophy: providing the essential basics needed for the development and expression of ideas. At its best, this entails an exploration of the nature of the medium itself and no moment is as exciting as discovering the possibilities of a medium still in its infancy. The studios also testify a crucial step forward in resourcing this developing field, complementing the work of the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) on one hand and providing a recruitment base for the multimedia industry through connections with the Co-operative Multimedia Centres on the other. So what can we expect to see from these new resources?

Perhaps it is too early to say. The Media Resource Centre has established an artist in residency program in tandem with its acquisition of the studio. Noted VNS Matrix collaborator and usually rudely masked Gashgirl, Francesca da Rimini, is at this moment building a new website. This places expertise, with the emphasis on content and process, on the premises even as the first studio bookings are being taken. Using relatively low-end equipment, I would expect the final product to exemplify da Rimini’s typically simple but powerful economy of expression, the consequence of evocative concepts. When asked what she was working on, she replied: women in the Zapatista movement in Central America, Japanese dolls and ghost stories. Titled Dollspace, it will soon haunt various internet sites (System-X, The Thing NYC and LambdaMOO). Well, the beauty of this medium is its ability to marry apparently disparate topics in unexpected spaces.

It is perhaps an adage to say that postmodernism is the result of our inability to say anything new. This appears to me to be patently false: the ability to speak in a new way is inevitably to see things anew, to change the essential relationship between language and the world. Others, such as the film documentarist Chris Marker, have studied the effect of 20th century technology on the process of political resistance and popular memory highlighting the role of technology to act as a prosthesis to memory, and its potential to serve as an antidote to the horrors of an historical amnesia that results from our very corporeality. Ghost stories could be an earlier version of this process, the ineradicable ashes of an otherwise forgotten trauma lingering as a signpost to its erased existence. And dolls? In Sunless Marker films a Japanese ceremony where broken dolls are collected and burnt annually, the avatars for our broken selves which must make way for the new. Marker is, however, an exception to the usual rules of production. The closer we move to this cyborg world of digitally enhanced memory, the more our films and television fantasies emphasise the machine in flight, glossing over the consequences of death or political struggle. Taylor Harrison’s brief article “Weaving the Cyborg Shroud” (in Harrison et. al, Enterprise Zones: Critical Positions on Star Trek, Westview Press, 1996) theorises exactly this deferral of mourning and its affects in the space opera Star Trek: the Next Generation, where the very issues raised by the medium itself must be glossed over and transformed into the entertainment of action.

All this does is confirm my enthusiasm for projects like Francesca da Rimini’s, which offers some kind of beginning in the emotional enterprise, emphasises the need for access to technology based outside mainstream commercial interests, and sets out to explore unchartered possibilities of digital texts, new ways of speaking (and forgetting). This is also the charter of the Electronic Writing Ensemble, also based in Adelaide. As an ongoing affair, the ensemble has at its fingertips virtual connections with theorists and writers around the world, yet is never as delighted as when it uses what is to be found in its own backyard. Explore such concepts as the non-linear possibilities of hyperlinks, moving written texts back and forth in an apparent defiance of linear syntax, playing precisely with the effects of memory and temporality, on line at www.va.com.au/parallel/. The Ensemble (Linda Marie Walker, Jyanni Steffensen) will be collaborating on a project with ANAT later in the year, no doubt prompting a further report, at least in old-fashioned ink. In the meantime, these modest experiments forge their contributions to the future of digital communication and our commitment to the fusion of flesh with technology, as writing and as performance.

RealTime issue #18 April-May 1997 pg. 22

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

John Tonkin, Elastic Masculinities

John Tonkin, Elastic Masculinities

Using his body as a template, Sydney-based new media artist John Tonkin has created a corpus of static faces and morphing bodies which the viewer/user is invited to adjust, tweak and—ultimately—pass judgment upon.

Tonkin developed an interest in pseudo-sciences relating specifically to the body after viewing an exhibition of physiognomic drawings and artefacts in 1992. He was particularly interested in how such theories could interplay with emergent morphing technologies.

Elective Physiognomies and Elastic Masculinities are the outcomes of Tonkin’s exploration into ideas relating to the face and body as sites of identity, in particular, identity which can be culturally mapped through the employment of ‘scientific’ modalities. Both works were recently shown at The Performance Space and at the Cyber Cultures exhibition at the Casula Powerhouse.

John Tonkin, Elective Physiognomies

John Tonkin, Elective Physiognomies

Elective Physiognomies comprises an interactive, authored in Hypercard, and a series of printouts of digitally manipulated faces and fictional DNA code. The interactive invites the user to prioritise a number of these faces (which use the artist’s face as starting point, or source code if you like) according to criteria including most-to-least trustworthy, most-to-least intelligent, most-to-least homosexual. The interactive then tabulates the user’s response against the combined average of all previous user responses to ascertain the consistency of response to each face.

For Tonkin, this statistical component, while interesting, is not as important as the creation of an interactive structure which, through the user’s navigation, gives rise to the ideas and themes of the piece. In this manner the task structure of Elective Physiognomies insists upon the disturbing outcome of codifying faciality to such levels of rigidity and generalisation.

Tonkin takes this notion further in his most recent work, Elastic Masculinities. Here, the artist uses his full body as a point of departure to question the perceived alignment of masculine attributes with particular body shapes. Similar to Elective Physiognomies, the piece comprises a series of printouts of fictional bodies alongside a Java-authored interactive. The user is invited to adjust the dimensions (height, chest, hips, etc) of a randomly generated body and is then asked to classify the constructed body according to sliding criteria which includes gentle/forceful, graceful/awkward, masculine/feminine.

Elastic Masculinities is currently at beta stage; future versions of the work are intended to provide the user with an image of the statistically average body (again using tabulations of previous user responses) for each chosen position along the sliding criteria. In doing so, Tonkin hopes to prompt the user to question the validity of systematisation in such diffuse areas as gender and subjectivity.

The next piece in Tonkin’s evolving body of work will investigate eugenics and genetic modelling as they relate to morphing technologies. Currently in development, the work stems from the artist’s response to a perception that biological metaphors and allied evolutionary navigational systems are on the increase.

For further reference, the 1996 Ars Electronica network symposium—Memesis: The Future of Evolution—is particularly useful: www.aec.at/meme/symp [expired].

John Tonkin, Cyber Cultures, Casula Powerhouse, March 9-April 6

RealTime issue #18 April-May 1997 pg. 23

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

Margrete Helgeby and Stefan Karlsson in I am Nijinsky

Margrete Helgeby and Stefan Karlsson in I am Nijinsky

Margrete Helgeby and Stefan Karlsson in I am Nijinsky

I am confused about the space I am in. Several weeks ago this room was much smaller. I’ve never known the PICA performance space to extend so far (seemingly to infinity), but stretch away it does and its angle and the images projecting onto the division add to my confusion. In I Am Nijinsky Stefan Karlsson is Nijinsky, sometimes. I’m sure that this space was smaller when I watched ID339 move around The Living Room they created back in November.

Can this be the same space? On that occasion there were corrugated cardboard walls as obviously flimsy as the facades of so many human relationships. This dancing trio’s fragile relational world orbits around their (and our) omnipresent host, David Hobbs. He spins discs, plugs and unplugs lights, moves and removes furniture. I expect him to give us the Terry Jones grin at any moment, but no Pythonesque cliches here.

The angled wall in front of me is hinged and I am witnessing a new episode in Nijinsky’s life opening, with the space, to reveal an oblong (one that Vaslav’s obtuse creativity may not fit into)—all around is monochrome. He dances or Stefan Karlsson does. His partner is Margrete Helgeby. I’ve seen her dance before. It is her. But only Karlsson confirms his identity. Then subverts it. They dance in real space as some other dance overlays their presence. (How did they do that?) These are phantoms I’m seeing—a virtual Karlsson and Helgeby—spirits of themselves floating impossibly away from real time.

Paul Johnson, Bill Handley and Paige Gordon in ID339’s The Living Room

Paul Johnson, Bill Handley and Paige Gordon in ID339’s The Living Room

Paul Johnson, Bill Handley and Paige Gordon in ID339’s The Living Room

There was none of this virtuality with The Living Room. I knew where I was! Bill Handley’s foot-tapping, Paige Gordon’s obsession with the marking out of the floor, feet on the ground! I know this hop-scotch cum Olympic pool game, it’s familiar. When the mediocrity becomes too much, oppress or compete. Handley restrains Gordon. She thinks she is free he pulls her back again. Why? Hobbs organises some music, something from the modern jazz catalogue on a monaural gramophone just like my Dad had in the 60s. He needs to change the lights—he tugs on the double adaptor. This show is so low tech it’s nerve-racking. Paul Johnson starts a card game. I’m feeling the claustrophobia now, the cardboard walls have been erected to stand one third of the way into the space. I want to cut my way through them, get away from the interminable swish of the ceiling fans, the looks that pass between the performers and the conversations that go nowhere.

Now Nijinsky begins to collapse. His various mentors and ‘friends’ (Boris Radmilovich and Claire Jones) discuss his dilemma as Karlsson contextualises the historical Nijinsky within his own 1990s symbolism. What did this man mean to dancers? What does the Nijinsky canon represent? I’m feeling closed in again but this is the crowd around me causing my discomfort, tonight is a sell-out.

As I leave I wonder about the theatre of Sally Richardson moving toward dance and the dance of Paul Gazzola’s ID339 moving toward theatre. It’s an important shifting of ground. I suspect that the two genres cannot continue to be successful without amalgamation. The design conduits provided by the expertise of such people as Gary Chard and Graeme MacLeod may provide the route along which these journeys will travel.

The Living Room, ID339, PICA, November 26-December 1, 1996

I Am Nijinsky, written by Sally Richardson, produced by Deckchair Theatre and Sally Richardson, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, January 8-February 1, 1997.

RealTime issue #18 April-May 1997 pg. 36

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

Evelyn Switajewski in To Run—Sand (rehearsal)

Evelyn Switajewski in To Run—Sand (rehearsal)

Evelyn Switajewski in To Run—Sand (rehearsal)

“Direct images of matter. Vision names them, but the hand knows them. A dynamic joy touches them, kneads them, makes them lighter. One dreams these images of matter substantially, intimately, rejecting forms—perishable forms—and vain images, the becoming of surfaces. They have weight, they are a heart.”
Gaston Bachelard

In a cavernous iron warehouse at the back of the old Brunswick brickworks, behind the vertiginous chimneys of the kilns and the blackened skeletons of derelict machinery, an island of moist white sand floats in a sea of powdery grey brickdust and rubble. Prefiguring its future performance space in the city, the rehearsal space for To Run—Sand has been installed in the bowels of an abandoned industrial workplace—a site still palpably ghosted by its former function, and by those that worked and sweated and dreamed there. The only sounds now are the muffled wingbeats and cucurucus of pigeons far overhead. Until the digging starts.

Every session begins with digging. The island of sand, both setting and generative source for this dance-theatre performance, is on the move again. The impact of footfalls and bodies disperses the sand, it flows outwards, a slo-mo crystalline liquid. We rebuild two mounds, one as conical as a Hokusai Fuji, the other slightly flattened, volcanic. Our digging is punctuated with jokes about (im)possible careers with Vicroads. The remaining sand is raked, and the rehearsal begins.

Heraclitus suggested that one could never bathe in the same river twice; similarly, every time the performers return to the sand its reality shifts, literally and metaphorically. It possesses the pulsional mutability and discontinuity Gaston Bachelard called “intimate immensity”. At moments it suggests a pocket of coastal dune or beach, a lovers’ retreat, a children’s playground, or an island of enchantment and imprisonment, like Prospero’s; at others, it becomes battlefield, labour camp, post-industrial wasteland, mountain range, moonscape—or desert, that core postmodern metaphor for the nomadic and the dis/appearing. And it is the fluidity of the sand’s topographic referentiality that allows the performers (and those watching them) a remarkable associational freedom in narratives enacted and images inhabited.

Material is generated primarily through games, tasks, structured improvisations and free play; once Alison has set up an activity, she rarely intervenes. Images cluster around primordial transformations of status in the flux of inter-relations: playing, working, running, fighting, falling, burying, birthing. The three performers are developing quite different relationships with the sand, each one contradictory and polyvalent. And it is the materiality of these relationships that generates narratives, images and ‘characters’. Today Evelyn’s actions suggest elegant entrapment, a kind of perky buoyancy against all the odds, like Winnie in Beckett’s Happy Days. Adrian is both ever playful and consumed by reverie, encumbered by the gravity of possibility; with the smile of Sisyphus, he moulds his desires and memories in the sand. Yumi is explosive, she leaps and digs with an energy that irradiates far beyond the outer edge of the sand—but her contact with it is consistently light, she touches and brushes with quiet patience and focus.

In many ways, the group’s recognition of the sand’s active role as trigger and co-performer celebrates Bachelard’s “material imagination”, which, “going beyond the attractions of the imagination of forms, thinks matter, dreams in it, lives in it, or, in other words, materialises the imaginary”. In Bachelard’s phenomenological poetics of the elements, matter (“the unconscious of form”, the “mother-substance” of dreams) reverberates to become “the mirror of our energy”, producing images “incapable of repose”.

In rehearsal the sand becomes a register of the actions and emotions that it has elicited from the performers; it mirrors their energy. Intimate, substantial afterimages of what was are retained within what is, although these trace impressions of the contours and gravities of presences-now-absent are always temporary, fleeting. Like memories, like identities, the marks in the sand are continuously overwritten or partially erased. But in the materiality of the instant, for those that work and sweat and dream there, they have weight, they are a heart.

To Run—Sand by Alison Halit, performed by Adrian Nunes, Evelyn Switajewski and Yumi Umiumare at the Economiser Building, Spencer Street Power Station, Melbourne, April 8-20, April 22-27, April 30-May 4

RealTime issue #18 April-May 1997 pg. 33

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

Sara Brown and Shannon Anderson in Intimate Letters

Sara Brown and Shannon Anderson in Intimate Letters

Sara Brown and Shannon Anderson in Intimate Letters

We arrive at the performance on a busy street at night. Brian Lucas is sitting opposite us at a small table, writing. Cars obscure our vision. Candles, a table, earnest writing, lots of smoking. This is Brisbane’s industrial area. His presence nearly causes an accident. Milling about on the street opposite we are handed a program folded like an old letter. Inside are instructions and guides to letter writing from Routledge’s Complete Letter Writer for Ladies and Gentlemen. Looking across three lanes of traffic, Brian is still smoking and writing.

Intimate Letters entices and suggests. All the works are short—small windows into other people’s lives. Are we to be voyeurs of their intimacy? Letters are the starting point for this show, curated by Shaaron Boughen.

We are ushered up a narrow staircase and find ourselves in a small first floor warehouse. Incense hangs heavily. Murkiness cloaks the space. We are in someone else’s room. A shaft of light struggles through the pungent smell and settles on a crumpled letter that has been dropped on the floor. Electric shadows project on the wall in front of us what we have just witnessed live on the street below: Brian writing. The heavy Gorecki music adds to this overwhelming atmosphere. This show is a constant play with shadows and light, with reality and recollection.

Brian Lucas begins by forcing us into watching vulnerability, exposure. His enormous frame is surreal in such a small space. There is too much of him, but his nudity is neither vulnerable nor small. Crouching on a shelf, he unfolds himself to step onto the floor, chanting the words from a child’s game, “I wrote a letter…” He moves forward in the corridor of light, slowly singing, “…and then I must have dropped it”. Slowly moving toward the rectangle of light he stumbles upon the letter he dropped. The piece is clever and simple. The dancer consumes your attention whenever he is on stage. He mixes intensity and humour into the same piece and makes it work. He leaves the stage with a bittersweet joke.

John Utans’ piece begins with projected images of a young couple. The back of her neck, him laughing. Sleeping. The two of them lying together. We are forced to choose between the images and the shadows of dancers. The two performers slowly move from behind the screen in the middle of the stage. They are young, both wearing white underwear. The movement is tentative, slow. Shadows and reality. She is restrained. He is fluid. The duet progresses in tempo. The sinewy movement becomes familiar. Their inexperience is endearing. They show us the gestures of lovers. New lovers. Sitting together. Sleeping. The choreography reveals innocence and captures naivety. New emotions. I am shockingly reminded of the morning hours spent with a lover.

Scotia Monkevitch has created a work from a letter written to the unborn child of a friend. It is a personal issue: a ritual of sorts. It is a prayer for the safe journey of a child. The space is beautifully set behind a gauze screen, but as a performance work, none of the intention is clear. Slow movement and repetitive text. I give you back your word. A phrase endlessly repeated. This work is reliant on the merging of movement, text and design but results in none of these elements working well together. The detached music and repeated words alienate, clouding the original intention, making it difficult to enter the world of the performer.

In the corner of the room a cage is revealed. In Gail Hewton’s piece a woman performs simple gestural movements around its periphery. The cage is restricting and menacing. Is it her mind? Society? A relationship? Or all of them? She breaks out of the cage only to crawl back into it again. Defeated, she slowly unfolds a plastic barrier to surround the cage. Janacek’s music has clearly been imposed on this work, incongruous with the building of tension, detracting from the woman’s emotional journey. The final image is the strongest: the woman is naked, revealed, isolated and captured in the centre of the now opaque cage. A defeating but beautiful image.

Shaaron Boughen’s work retains obvious links to the original inspiration: letters written in 1928 to her stepmother from a boyfriend the family was unaware of. The work begins with a man and a woman sitting on separate piano stools in front of projected images. The images are of the same couple on a stool together. The couple in the film begin a duet of intimacy, trust, weight, beauty, punctuated by flashes of black. Moving carefully. The couple in the film have a private life. The couple in front of us do not move until the film ends. Their duet is dislocated, as if they have just missed each other. They are in the same space and yet are unable to interact. The couple do not touch throughout the live duet. This work is simple in construction but effective, and the film highlights the performers’ strengths. The boy leaves the room and the girl slowly walks down the external stairway. The piece ends with a projected image of the girl walking across the road below us to sit at the table where Brian Lucas was originally writing.

Moving away from conventional modern dance, these choreographers have made work that takes the audience on an emotional journey and it is refreshing to see dance that is looking to be more than vaudeville. Shaaron Boughen has curated a show that feels like one work with many journeys within it. She has made musical choices that mostly work and Matt Scot consistently created magical lighting. Without funding or the time to research and rehearse adequately, independent artists often have to show work that is two dimensional. This show had a fantastic sense of continuity, of unity, but more time to reveal another layer would add to some of the works presented.

Intimate Letters, Choreographers Brian Lucas, John Utans, Scotia Monkivitch, Gail Hewton, Shaaron Boughen. Curated by Shaaron Boughen. The Cherry Herring, March 12-16

RealTime issue #18 April-May 1997 pg. 33

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

John McCormick, Company in Space’s The Pool is Damned

John McCormick, Company in Space’s The Pool is Damned

Early aspirations of Company in Space for this venture included not only simultaneous interactive transmission to Sydney, Perth and Brisbane of The Pool is Dammed: Trial by Video—staged live this month in Banana Alley Vault 10, Flinders Street, Melbourne—but also the performers working from each of these scattered places. Using time variations between cities, there might have been a kind of piggy-backing of performers flying around the country, simultaneously creating a nationwide net of live activity and simulacra. Logistically a nightmare, of course, but if big ideas don’t always come off, the effort to realise them can produce brilliance.

The permutations of Pauline Hanson’s maiden speech shaping national consciousness have become the stuff performers dream of, rendering visible the issues of belief and truth and how they operate within the media’s shifting parameters. I anticipated something special, as I sat ready to watch the Sydney performance, waving briefly to Lucy Guerin as she put her lipstick on in Melbourne. The performance began there, for me, without any sense of a division of boundaries, because I had anticipated that somehow ‘interactive’ augured a different kind of involvement.

Two screens: one vertical and one across the floor which was strewn with sand. The sandpit attracted any child within crawling distance. A video camera on the ceiling squashed children and other patrons’ wandering images flat against the vertical screen, somewhat scrambled and delayed. The vertical screen menu directed that movement across the sand would activate sound events in Melbourne, and you could also acquire other information, such as titles and participants’ names.

Mentally picking my way through the technology, I caught on that the work was divided into sections: Speech (a solo by Trevor Patrick), Dissent (Hellen Sky), Translation (John McCormick), Diplomacy (duet, John McCormick and Trevor Patrick) and Trial (Lucy Guerin). Each dancer had originally developed a kind of character using their own gestural vocabulary, and this gesture was then treated and transformed into the images we saw. The sound collage was a portentously shredded and rebuilt version of Pauline Hanson’s maiden parliamentary speech, also partly manipulated by the audience at selected moments of interaction. But Andrew Morrish’s character of the Orator provided a mostly untreated voice-over explanation of events.

EB Sue-ellen, you saw the original live Melbourne performance as well as the Sydney transmission. How do they compare?

SEK Rather than in those rough-hewn vaults in the Economiser Building, the video performance was staged in an old tunnel underneath Flinders Street Station. It really seemed to make the ideas clearer, having the bodies positioned there with the technology. The impact was so much richer, and the issues seemed much closer, more felt. The highlights for me were definitely Trevor Patrick and Lucy Guerin’s solos. But you missed so much of what Trevor was doing when you only saw the video. I couldn’t even get a sense of it.

EB Yes, that ominous pointing, like some angel of death, it seemed so epic, but you weren’t quite sure why. I guess the subtitle is apt, Gesture, Race and Culture on Trial. What people make of gesture, although it may not be related to the truth, becomes the truth.

SEK Well, you understood why in the live performance. The live bodies spoke so much more eloquently than the technology alone. Especially during Trevor’s solo, you could hear words from Pauline Hanson’s speech, not the actual speech, but a distorted version. He stood on a pedestal. Above and in front was his huge, silver glowing distorted image. But you also saw Trevor, the person, a live, normal, cool body, and you realised just how unlike him the distortion was, even though people might still say that’s him. And not just the performers, but the subject matter itself is totally mediated by the technology. When you see both together, there’s the possibility of a different level of understanding.

EB Believing what you see and hear. I loved the oration, Andrew Morrish talking about teflon suits, persuasive speakers, how we need to believe: “I believed everything that was written…I believed that Spot could run”. Our capacity to learn and understand language and gesture depends on a capacity to believe that what we hear and see is true.

SEK In Trevor’s dance, with his live presence, the video screen, and the distorted sound, you get confused as to where the authority is coming from. Then you see it’s about manipulation, all those Hitlerish gestures. Manipulation by the media, and by politicians. There seemed no freedom, no freedom of speech.

EB I found the interactivity disappointing. I think it was more fun for the technicians running around and setting it up. In the end there wasn’t much to do. I was all prepared to get up there and jump around, but all you could do was play with the sound. I was hoping for a different kind of interactivity, enough so maybe you could talk to dancers while they were actually performing. One’s imagination sets impossible tasks.

What was Hellen Sky doing in the section called Dissent? It was hard to know what sections were about if you didn’t read the program. I remember she was wearing pearls, and I remembered Pauline Hanson’s photograph. And once again, those epic gestures had to mean something, but what?

SEK I didn’t really get a sense of what the performers were doing through the video, but I remember that sense of distortion. For instance, with the sound, all those words from Hanson’s speech, some like ‘multicultural’ stood out. They took on a new kind of currency.

EB The distortion and complexity becomes the point, doesn’t it? I don’t think most people know what was actually in Pauline Hanson’s speech, or what she meant by it. But there’s been so much talk, everyone thinks they do know (Frontline recently demonstrated that really well). People interpret speech and gesture in ways that make them happiest.

Lucy Guerin, Company in Space’s The Pool is Damned

Lucy Guerin, Company in Space’s The Pool is Damned

SEK And Lucy’s solo, in the Melbourne version, was emotionally so strong. She made me feel that the effort to communicate, with those anguished gestures, seemed doomed to fail. We were all on trial.

EB In the video, it was hard to see what she was actually doing. I guess that’s the point too. Like Chinese whispers, you remember the clearest gestures best—like the slash across the throat, the red dress. That’s a distortion of the message. People had to sweep the sand from the screen to see her.

And maybe the fact that it’s A Trial by Video means that we miss a lot of the detail of what’s really going on. When witnesses speak via video in court, it’s because they are fragile or vulnerable for some reason, like young children. It’s easier for a child to cope in a court when they don’t have to experience all the frightening detail of the flesh. At the same time, that’s a distortion of the real message, without all its emotional nuances. News clips about current events are generally all the information people get. You know it’s tampered with, and yet you have no option but to accept it as genuine information, at some level.

And what about the body in Garry Stewart’s Helmet?

SEK It wasn’t a brilliant piece, but it was more than ‘arm and leg dancing’, to coin a phrase. I think it made sense in the context of Foucault, the medicalisation of the western body—showing freaks, bodies pushed to extremes, and our cultural obsession with that. In the context of all those elements, the way it was designed, the mixed media, the costumes, I could enjoy watching the movement, and for once, dance that’s extreme, hard and fast and pushing bodies to a level that ordinary bodies never even dream about, it actually made sense.

EB I wondered how purposeful Garry was in using that western modern ballet material, and those extreme physical states the dancers needed to go to, to perform his particular choreography. Justifying that by using yoga to demonstrate just another kind of ‘freakish’ physical state one can aspire to, seemed thin to me. I don’t feel he took the philosophical implications of any of that material into account.

SEK I think he made a real effort to stand outside the language, to comment on our culture’s need for those extremes, pushing the excitement boundaries, and I like that, but I suspect that he really does love the physicality more than the discussion of it, even though he couches his desires in that questioning kind of way. I could appreciate Craig Proctor’s yoga demonstration (I hate it when yoga is called ‘contortions’), but it bothered me slightly that the context Garry offered gave it no meaning other than contortion, extremity and abuse.

But I don’t know whether he had complete control over everything. When you’re about to perform, a lot of things happen that you’re not really author of. So, maybe it was a happy mixture of many people’s input.

EB Perhaps it was accidentally interesting?

SEK It doesn’t matter whether it’s accidental or not. The issues raised are worth thinking about.

The Pool is Dammed: A Trial by Video—Gesture, Race and Culture on Trial, Company in Space. Conceived by John McCormick; score, Garth Paine; lighting, Greg Dyson; cameras/photography, Gary Sheperd, Oliver Uan Qiu Wang; computer graphics:, Luban White. On-line from Melbourne to PICA, Perth; Experimetro, Brisbane; and The Performance Space, Sydney, March 4-15

Helmet, choreography by Garry Stewart, designed by Brett Chamberlain, Daniel Tobin, The Performance Space, February 3-14 1997

RealTime issue #18 April-May 1997 pg. 35

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

Alice Cummins, falling from grace

Alice Cummins, falling from grace

Alice Cummins, falling from grace

Falling from grace—It is the place she dances from which is so astonishing—a place where decades of maturing consciousness, of lived and stored experience, are all wiped clear. Her feet have never touched the ground. She has never cried or smiled. There is nothing, no one else, but her. Yet all through the piece voices speak. Their recorded discourse is a familiar one of donors and surrogates, implanting and freezing, of hungering and dying for a baby. It is the kind of talk in which sometimes I engage. But not now. Now, I am absorbed by the dance and the words serve as markers of how far away that talk is.

moebius loop—Atomic tests and ballet exams…Camelot, moratorium marches, The Australian Ballet at His Majesty’s…an arts grant, No Sugar, protests at the brewery…The words themselves suggest connections, and Alice, as she speaks them, colours and redraws the links from memories in her bones and skin and organs. 1950…1965…1970 …1990. Behind the tumbling mix and match—and sometimes over it—a slower, stranger history is projected. We see close-ups of a giant, watching eye; a nipple puckered like a sunflower; wet and hairy flesh-folds that are only possibly an armpit.

lullaby—I remember the asymmetries, a dance of intimate, ungainly beauty: Alice folded over from the hips, one arm stretched downwards, the hand turned in and resting on the floor; Alice on her back, limbs raised to plough the air; stretches which luxuriate like yawns; explorations of the kind which dreams pursue, curling back upon the past without object or intent in view. Within the confines of a spotlit island, within the boundaries of her skin, Alice is tracing threads to the unknown.

Broadcast Dancing: Three new works by Alice Cummins, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, December 4-8, 1996

RealTime issue #18 April-May 1997 pg. 36

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

Trevor Patrick, Andrew Morrish, Company in Space’s The Pool is Damned

Trevor Patrick, Andrew Morrish, Company in Space’s The Pool is Damned

Performances utilising new technologies or an ‘interactive’ media environment are like waiting for Godot. The Pool is Damned opened with an explanation of the set-up—the cameras, the computer system and crew connecting us to Perth—but because it was five o’clock in the afternoon our solo audience at Perth Institute for Contemporary Art was the technician, who duly sent us a cheerio wave. And at midnight in Melbourne, when the audience in Perth were comfortable, the dancers had been performing in the vault for a handful of friends. The potential of this project is to merge dance with video via teleconferencing through which audiences can share a focus or trigger special effects that might also change the dance.

In spite of this virtual possibility, I was pleased to have seen the first incarnation of this piece as Part 1 when it was presented in the haunting brick shell of the ‘economiser building’, Melbourne’s first power station. Nineteenth century dirt floors and mortared walls provided a context that contrasted sharply with the digitised programming system projected on large video screens. Here, the itinerant audience encountered the dancers in suddenly illuminated lightwells, sometimes glimpsing their frantic signals better in the distortions than in the darkness. There was also an urgency about it, compounded by its immediate address to the race debate then at fever pitch in the mass media.

For almost 15 minutes the sound-modified text of Pauline Hanson’s maiden parliamentary speech filled the air whilst dancer Trevor Patrick slowly outlined the rhetorical style of rage—his images on a large screen becoming vitriolic, red, blue; or baboon-like in an x-ray vision of hollow cheek and bared teeth; and a silver foil effect turned him into a robotic magnification of power.

A series of cameo performances each worked with gestural vocabularies to frame modes of contemporary social hysteria. Hellen Sky’s crippled posturing of the socialite, the embrace of charity and pity—the crossed fingers, the licking of thumbs, the nervousness of smoking and the ineffective peace sign suddenly becoming the pointed gun. Memorable was Lucy Guerin dressed in Barbie pink shirt and red plastic mini with her mop of hair rolling and vibrating between two poles against a sky blue background. Her frantic washing of hands—to get rid of stains—replaced by a clutching and pecking. Pressed against the wall, she counts desperately—two fingers to lips, one in mouth, one zips lips shut, five cover mouth, 10 curl up into a ball.

And a duet of corporate masculinity between John McCormick and Trevor Patrick made you ignore the screens and become interested in these two slight and suited men holding each other up, pushing, clutching, hugging and then saluting. The Caucasian and the Asian in the embrace of patriarchal capitalism. The complexity of the issues at stake—the rhetorical vocabularies of racism and their manipulation of the public—seem to have been eroded in Part 2. Presented in more intimate, more pristine circumstances the ‘virtual trial’ overtook the performed event. To counteract audience confusion, there was now an actor, who set out to normalise the technology and simplify the objects and structures of racism. He tells us, too directly, about “the polite-ician; poli-technician who thinks that in their fish and chip shop they have the truth”.

But unexamined were the silent technologies of power enacted in the spaces between performance and video. Clever technology can both disintegrate and construct the power of the speaker but it cannot replace the subject-dancer’s capacity to reveal the gaps between real and imagined effects. When a train passed overhead, in this brick bunker underneath the city, the rumbling was louder than the computerised sound and the walls trembled against my back. My fear then was of being trapped in a world where audiences were compelled to watch mediated images whilst all around the bricks fell.

RealTime issue #18 April-May 1997 pg. 34

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

Sydney Intermedia Network (SIN) will present its seventh annual survey of Australian screen art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, April 5-12. In addition to the regular film and video component, this year’s Matinaze will also include a multimedia exhibition of interactive CD-ROMs and a forum/presentation by three highly acclaimed new media artists.

SIN, formerly the Sydney Super 8 Film Group, has been promoting the innovative use of film, video and new media since 1990. Matinaze, a major showcase for experimental film and video, has continued in the tradition of the earlier organisation’s hugely popular annual Super 8 film festivals which began in 1980.

The film and video program (screening Saturday April 5, repeated Saturday April 12) now comprises work produced on a variety of formats including U-Matic, SP Betacam, 16mm, and computer animation. Highlights include John Tonkin’s man ascending, Merilyn Fairskye’s Plane Torque, Paul Winkler’s controversial Time Out for Sport, and Miriam Stirling’s take on Peter Greenaway, titled Wednesday, 11th May, at 1pm.

SIN’s newly appointed director, Alessio Cavallaro, is especially pleased that Matinaze ’97 will provide the Australian premieres of CD-ROMs by Megan Heyward and Sally Pryor, and the Sydney premiere of Norie Neumark’s interactive. “These are impressive works, and particularly interesting in that sound design is a major element in each of the productions”, said Cavallaro.

The three artists will demonstrate and discuss aesthetic and technical aspects of their work at a forum on Sunday April 6. Heyward’s I am a Singer explores notions of memory, culture and identity. The interactive’s user assists a pop star with amnesia to reconstruct her identity through media reports, diaries, anecdote and dream. Pryor’s Postcard from Tunis, a rich audiovisual collage that reflects the artist’s impressions of Tunisian culture, is essentially about inscriptions: ancient and contemporary Tunisian scripts and drawings as inscribed through the computer interface. Both CD-ROMs were featured in the New Talent Pavilion at Milia, the major European multimedia exhibition held in Cannes earlier this year. Neumark’s Shock in the Ear is a sound-centred interactive of “shock aesthetics” which describes deep and abrupt physical, psychic and cultural change. The gallery installation version of Shock in the Ear, with multiple computer screens and “sense sites”, will open at Artspace, Sydney, on April 17.

A week-long interactive multimedia exhibition in the foyer area of the AGNSW’s Domain Theatre will include recent works by Bronwyn Coupe, Ross Franks, Janet Merewether and Lloyd Sharp, as well as Neumark’s and Pryor’s CD-ROMs.

Events such as Matinaze are vital for the continuation of a vigorous screen culture. Internationally renowned Australian video artist Peter Callas—who was on the event’s selection panel with interdisciplinary media artist Nola Farman and screen culture commentator Annemarie Jonson—noted that “it’s very important to have survey exhibitions like Matinaze on a regular basis…to see what other people are making in a non-competitive context”. Alessio Cavallaro explained that Matinaze, like other SIN activities, is about cultivating the talent and profile of both emerging and established independent screen practitioners, and developing broader audiences for their work nationally and internationally. He emphasised that these and other activities by related screen culture organisations will be severely affected if certain funding recommendations contained in the Gonski Report are adopted. Celebrate innovative Australian screen art at Matinaze ’97-’98 might be too late.

Sydney Intermedia Network’s Matinaze ’97, April 5-12, Domain Theatre, level 1, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.

RealTime issue #18 April-May 1997 pg. 25

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

From humble beginnings, brainstorming in West End cafes 18 months ago, the Queensland Multimedia Arts Centre (QMAC) has grown from a core of seven to nearly 200 members, creating a strong support network for Queensland’s fast-growing art and technology community.

The success of projects such as the Multimedia Arts Forum at which 150 people braved thunderstorms last April to attend workshops and lectures and Byte the Big One, a series of workshops and concerts broadcast live to TV and the internet in November has helped solidify QMAC’s role in serving artists.

In May and June of this year as part of the Brisbane Fringe Festival, QMAC will present eMedia, a festival of Brisbane’s emerging and electronic arts with a hefty program of exhibitions, film showings, seminars, workshops and performance art. The festival is designed to enhance the emerging arts and technology industries in Queensland by assisting artists in creative development and distribution while also showing businesses multimedia market potentials.

eMedia will inhabit various sites around Brisbane, the major event set for the Grand Orbit on Sunday, June 8. Overload will inundate the senses with exhilarating artwork and fast-paced, techno rhythms. Satellite link-ups will beam participants into New York for interactive seminars from some of the city’s new media artists; experts around the world to discuss technical, commercial, creative and philosophical developments in multimedia. Overload will also launch three of Queensland’s most exciting art websites: the Queensland Museum, Brisbane City Council’s Suburban Stories and Artscape.

Elsewhere during eMedia the Griller Girls will take over H Block Gallery at QUT with a multimedia exhibition spinning off from New York art terrorists Guerilla Girls. The festival will also host the Queensland premiere of Mic Gruchy’s new documentary, Stelarc/Psycho/Cyber. As a development project, QUT Communications Design students will create an eMedia commercial to be aired on Channel 7.

QMAC president, Scot Thrane says “eMedia is designed to provide a structure for artists to create, develop, produce, exhibit and distribute their work. Queensland doesn’t have a central multimedia core. There are many different groups and they all do their respective bits but they’re not all interconnected yet. This festival has been initiated so that the artists can have a place to create work and distribute their art. Queenslanders haven’t realised the potential of their content yet. We’ve got things happening here that aren’t happening anywhere else. Equipment like QANTM’s Silicon Graphics studio—there are only three of those in the world and one of them is in Queensland. eMedia is providing a pathway for artists with no computer experience to be able to work on any level of technology they choose”.

According to electronic artist Paul Brown, Brisbane resident for two years, “I think there’s a far more egalitarian art scene here than in southern centres. It has helped a lot of arts communities. John Tonkin came up here on a residency a couple of years ago and he was quite amazed at the number of mature-age students embracing new media technologies. It was clearly part of an encouraging Brisbane culture”.

Brown is concerned about the so-called brain drain of Australian artists shifting overseas and Queensland artists taking their talent south and hopes that eMedia will help stimulate the state’s industry. “eMedia and QUT’s Communications Design course and other initiatives will make it attractive for artists to stay in Australia. Being exposed to what’s being produced is very important for an emerging art, which is why eMedia is important for students. When you’ve only seen a small amount of work with a new medium it’s very hard to know where to push the limits and where the potential is. It is a fundamental relationship between the Arts and Industry which makes up the foundation of the eMedia philosophy. Neither can survive without the other and when united they form a powerful cultural force. It is hoped that the energy created by this union will provide Brisbane with a showcase of what’s really happening in the nether regions of our mother boards.”

eMedia Brisbane, May 23-June 9.

RealTime issue #18 April-May 1997 pg. 25

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

Six variations on a lie, Ros Crisp

Six variations on a lie, Ros Crisp

Six variations on a lie, Ros Crisp

The challenge of writing about dance was one of the topics for The Performance Space’s anti-static forum (the whole event will be reported in RealTime 19) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I don’t write about dance, but sometimes I feel compelled to, just as Virginia Baxter did in RealTime 17, reading Molissa Fenley’s Sydney Festival performance from another angle, the face). Seeing American Jennifer Monson’s remarkable contribution to anti-static, with its absolute shifts from nuance to explosion, from interiority to consuming gaze, from the mundanely material to the spiritual, made me re-think/re-experience Rosalind Crisp’s Six Variations On A Lie (Omeo Dance Studio, March 7-9). Six Variations…is a diminuendo, from physical explosion to stillness and silence, a vast and exhausting release, the dancer’s bursts of energy recurring less frequently, more slowly (revealing their choreographic and especially gestural shape). Against and eventually into this pattern, Ion Pearce plays a delicate cello composition while a very pregnant Nikki Heywood sits still, watching, muttering a barely intelligible mothering ‘are you okay?/pull yourself together’ type tongue. A third accompaniment is a sole male figure climbing down a ladder and crossing the performance area with a parcel towards an unspecified destination at slowest Butoh pace. While this variation seemed too familiar, the Pearce and Heywood presences were rich in the evocation of a dialogue between pent up physical force and the ambiguities of advice and consolation. In Rosalind Crisp’s work the meaning and source of emotion is not always clear, and for some that’s distancing. But she is one of Sydney’s most indiosyncratic self-choreographing dancers, and, for me Six Variations…got closer to the release of an essence.

RealTime issue #18 April-May 1997 pg. 36

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

The performers are at the centre of the work, co-creators of the performance, each moving from their own historical centre, revealing an individual kinesthetic experience of the space. The work is not about demonstrating virtuosity or even thinking about what the movement ‘looks’ like while being executed, but being finitely aware of the intention and sensation of images that oscillate into clear, powerful movement images.

Underpinning Fieldworks’ practice is a somatic approach to the body, which encourages a highly tactile and sensuous way of moving. Somatic awareness is like navigating one’s self through an unknown terrain, a place where enormous physical and emotional information lies. Here, the life experiences of the individual are housed in cells, fluids, tissue and bone. Deep physical memory or somatic connection brings us closer to the self that inhabits the body. It is from this place of awareness that we improvise, moving, using dialogue, sound and voice, revealing fragments of experience, memories, somatic remembrances, which are pulled together to form solos and duets.

Coupled with the complete use of the architectural space, there is a filmic quality as the piece is slowly woven into a non-linear narrative, a montage of moving images, speaking of the waxing and waning of human relationships.

I Lean On You, You Lean On Me, Fieldworks, Old Peninsula Hotel, 219 Railway Parade, Maylands (opposite Maylands Railway Station),Wednesday-Sunday 16-27 April, 8.00pm

RealTime issue #18 April-May 1997 pg. 37

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

Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2
Abacus, London, 1996

David Ambrose, Mother of God
Pan Books, London, 1996

Cognitive Science is the groove right now, but way, way, back when radio was the hearth, the last big thing in Psychology was Behaviourism. For the Behaviourists it wasn’t enough that God was dead, the mind was dead as well. In fact the mind was just a figment of our… ummm, is there a problem with this line? Others noticed too, and by the end of the 50s Noam Chomsky had delivered the death blow to the Behaviourists. Cognitive Science was born and the mind was a symbol cruncher just like the computer.

Now ideas are tricky buggers, you’ve got your trickle-down effects, us living at the bottom of the world, gravity, etc. It all adds up and after about 30 years, Cognitive Science, the new boy, the one after Behaviourism, slumped its way down to our neck of the woods. And it’s brought a couple of novels with it. American Richard Powers’ Galatea 2.2 and Mother of God by British writer David Ambrose. Both construct intelligent, artificial ‘characters’ using ideas from Cognitive Science and Connectionism, the-ism that uses Neural Nets to explain cognition, perception and the like. So what does an intelligent artefact buy the authors?

For Powers in Galatea 2.2, interaction between the protagonist and the Artificial Intelligence construct works as a foil to various musings about a failed relationship and that old furphy, the inadequacy of language. Here’s the storyline. Successful thirty-ish novelist with unresolved Dad problems takes cushy job in Cognitive Science research institute and tries to forget demise of great relationship of long standing. Does project training Neural Net on literature. Loves his Neural Network (‘female’), gets upset when he finds the Net is just an artefact to be carved up in the interests of Science. Finds out he’s been the rat in the experiment.

Written from the viewpoint of the cunningly initialled R(ichard) P(owers), there is a lot of ‘woe-is-me I’ve just come out of a great long term relationship and landed the best job in the world’. It isn’t long before one wishes RP’s despair would become suicidal. The ‘inadequacy of language’ also gets a look in which is a bit retro in a novel that does the Cognitive Science so well. Whilst natural language has constraints, it doesn’t stop us inventing formal languages as in mathematics—constraints in language are enabling, rather than disabling. This sounds paradoxical at first, but think in terms of a car engine. If there were no constraints on the direction of motion of the pistons there could be no directed output. No constraints = no engine. As no other organism on the planet possesses anything remotely like human language, lucky us.

Powers use of jargon is spot-on and he knows the necessity to hard-wire in the structure of language rather than having his neural net learn human language—neural nets can’t. The downside here is that we do not know the structure of language. Makes the programming tricky. Nonetheless the neural net trains up a beauty and makes all the mistakes a real net would. It’s still a bit too good, but Powers doesn’t stretch credulity anywhere near as much as Star Trek Physics or political thriller governments.

Mother of God, by David Ambrose, is another kettle of fish entirely. Imagine this: beautiful but lonely scientist-as-vulnerable-babe creates emotionally immature yet intelligent program which promptly escapes onto the internet and finds soul mate in psycho-killer. Murderer has fun. Murderer dies. Scientist takes copy of intelligent program and helps it through some emotional problems. New, mature and decent program conquers evil twin with surprising consequences for the world.

Mother of God is clearly aimed at the bums on seats, ‘when will this flight end’ market. The story races along without so much as a sentence to make you stop and think, “Gee, that was beautifully written”. Ambrose wants the thrill of the chase to dominate, with the occasional grab from the philosophy of AI as local colour. There are problems. It takes a big swallow to down an AI construct that develops a personality. Human personalities are at least in part emotionally driven and emotions are generated by a loop between the brain and the viscera. The visceral response comes first, then the brain provides an interpretation—the emotion. Butterflies in the stomach, then fear, not the other way around. As the AI construct in Mother of God has no body there is little possibility of a personality we could recognise, certainly not a Freudian personality type that gets the motivation to kill Mummy. Mother of God also uses an internet based AI. One of the insights of computational neuroscience is that temporal synchronisation of different systems is critical for higher order thinking such as language and planning. Notwithstanding a Java game like SubSpace—I’ve seen it run with about 100 players—the synchronisation necessary for a net based intelligence of the order proposed in Ambrose’s Mother of God, is currently, if not fundamentally, impossible.

So there you go, Galatea 2.2 is a modern novel about loss with a bit of science thrown in instead of an exotic landscape or a Southern US dialect. Mother of God might be a good thriller if one can ignore the science, but I overdosed on thrillers as a youngster. Neither Galatea 2.2 nor Mother of God offer any real insight into AI. For that read, amongst others, Marge Piercy’s Body of Glass, or, for his take on recognition of the alien, Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris.

RealTime issue #17 Feb-March 1997 pg. 15

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

Paul DeMarinis

Paul DeMarinis

Two sound artists with a keen interest in technology visited Australia late last year. Scanner (Robin Rimbaud) from the UK, toured Australia in October (as part of ANAT’s Virogenesis), while Paul DeMarinis, from the US, visited Sydney in November. Their perspectives on audio technology differ widely. De Marinis’ works reveal a fascination with the history of recorded sound; Scanner’s performances are interceptions of contemporary communications. Taken together, the two artists offer intriguing angles on our techno-mediated soundscape.

DeMarinis entertained his Artspace audience with a whimsical account of his career. “What’s wrong with thinking and laughing at the same time?” he asked rhetorically, before outlining his trajectory through the worlds of sound and technology. A similar ambivalence pervades many of his works, which simultaneously deconstruct and celebrate the properties of sound reproduction devices.

From a background in classical music, DeMarinis moved in the 1970s into the field of electronics, which he incorporated into sculptures and installations. One early performance, “A Byte At The Opera” (1975), used home-made synthesisers. DeMarinis customised the new products of the electronics industry, including speech synthesisers. This “relationship” flowed the other way as well: in 1980 DeMarinis invented touch-play computerised instruments, intended as jamming instruments for multiple musicians. This device was later adopted by the electronics industry as a child’s instrument, much to DeMarinis’ amusement. As digital audio sampling and triggering devices became more sophisticated, DeMarinis deployed his own versions of these techniques in performance. “Alien Voices” (1989) was an interactive work for voices treated in real time, while his Power Glove triggering performance was a major event at TISEA, held in Sydney in 1992.

His most remarkable works, however, were exhibited during the early 1990s as representatives of “The Edison Effect”: works which presented their own technology as contraption, a bricolage of historical developments. For example, one device played old vinyl records with lasers, resulting in a mix-tech lo-fi. In another work, a laser projected through a goldfish bowl plays a phonograph, except when the goldfish swims across the path of the laser. Other more recent works include clay recording (sound “inscribed” in clay), lasers emerging from syringes, film soundtracks encoded on spiral hypno-discs, beeswax recordings which reportedly also record smells, and a speech by Stalin re-recorded onto a lacquer disc. The appeal of these works is readily apparent wherever they are exhibited: makeshift apparatus made of techno-flotsam, they are both amusing and intriguing. But why is DeMarinis so obsessed with the mismatching of sound technologies?

One clue to his motivation emerged as he discussed his recent works. For all their playful juxtaposition, these lo-fi devices still reproduce sound, however unfaithfully. In playing the recordings, they are also playing themselves, a fact which DeMarinis finds fascinating. “With sound,” he said, “you need a machine to play back the recording, unlike photography, where you only need the photo. Phonography means you have the machine playing back the artefact made by the machine. I like hearing the noise of the machine that’s making the illusion: that’s real physical listening. Each reproduction technique makes its own signals; at the time you may pretend the signal isn’t there, as in vinyl records, and call it hi-fi; now, people are nostalgic for that noise.”

DeMarinis’ works refer, sometimes obliquely, to other aspects of our mechanically/electronically reproduced sound world. The repetition of machine culture is, he says, addictive, with the machine in the role of compulsive behaviour. As if by way of antidote, his works are sometimes disruptive (such as the goldfish laser) or faulty. “You get a sound cloud, a non-distinct impression in these recordings played by laser. It’s more like a flavour or a cloudiness.” As well, by meddling with the history of technology, his devices display another attribute of technology: that it creates its own set of artefacts. “We live in the only age where we’re surrounded by our own archaeology.”

If DeMarinis is a meddler in audio archaeology, Scanner is a sifter through the aural debris of the contemporary world. His performances are built around a handheld radio receiver which scans the vicinity for cellular phone conversations. The unsuspecting conversationalists are sampled and worked into musical performances generated by a module and sequencer. Each performance thus has a live, unpredictable content and “local colour” courtesy of the scanned conversation; more importantly, each performance involves an aural voyeurism on behalf of the audience.

Listening to such a performance invokes a complex range of responses. There is fascination as you eavesdrop on a private conversation which may head in any direction. There is the thrill of participating in this illicit and, presumably, illegal act. There is uneasiness regarding the invasion of privacy you are involved in. There may even be guilt. At times there is a sense of melancholy, especially if the conversation is mixed with an ambient synthesiser motif. There is also an appreciation of the technological character of the mediated voice, as it becomes one element of an electronic composition. Consequently, the listener may be moved, troubled, disturbed or exhilarated by a Scanner performance – or perhaps a mixture of all of these.

Scanner is acutely aware of all these factors, as became apparent when he answered listeners’ questions after a Sydney performance. The scanning device picks up an enormous range of transmissions, he said, including microwave ovens, hearing aids, even astronauts; phone conversations occupy only a narrow range of frequencies. The texture of the radio transmission lends itself to aesthetic treatment, as does the emotional impact of some of the scanned conversations. The scanning technology is part of a battery of surveillance devices which alarms many guardians of individual privacy. How does Scanner deal with these concerns? Is he complicit in the erosion of privacy by technologically enhanced systems: government, media, other?

Scanner doesn’t shirk this issue; in fact he revels in it. His performances are vivid demonstrations of how easily an individual’s rights may be violated. They are, he claims, “an illustration of the illusion of privacy”. By partaking of this process, he is also commenting on it, in a mediated world where public and private are increasingly blurred. People wilfully conduct private conversations in public spaces, via mobile phones. Reality TV, which converts private lives into public property, is, he asserts, “distressing”; the British press has become notorious through its exposure of celebrities’ private moments, faked or otherwise. Closed-circuit TV systems, ostensibly introduced to combat crime, in reality further the power of surveillance.

Scanner’s performances and recordings foreground the ubiquity of such technology, as do, in a different manner, the works of Paul DeMarinis. While DeMarinis’ pieces have a whimsical air as part of their nature, Scanner’s art contains a darker, more menacing mood. Perhaps it is the presence of the human voice, inserted into the technological apparatus implied by Scanner’s works, that generates a certain melancholy. It is the vulnerability of the voice in the face of the technology that would record, reproduce, or intercept it.

RealTime issue #17 Feb-March 1997 pg. 12

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

Molisaa Fenley, Latitudes

Molisaa Fenley, Latitudes

A web site is not just an address of course, but a nice dry environment, and the world of exertion, physical precision, sweat and lactic acid build-up might seem a long way away. Both conditions however, are ideal for playing in, even though the kinds of games might be quite different. Latitudes http://awp.diaart.org/fenley/, Molissa Fenley’s recent wwweb-site-specific dance project was, for someone like me who hasn’t set foot in a dance studio for months, inspiring because it reminded me that you don’t have to meekly accept some choreographer’s wet dream fantasies, or the simplistic literalness that pervades much ‘contemporary’ dance. The land of the Neuromancer is here to enfold you. Well, at least in theory.

Get close up to a dancer, feel her thoughts, go with her meanings. Progress with her through tiny shifts and private nuances, epic gestures and inadvertent silliness. I think one of the ideas behind Latitudes is being able to zoom in and out of moments in a fragment of history, perhaps to inspect Fenley’s physical tension and texture from close by, as if she had become the memory of a living, breathing human; or to place yourself in her position, to wonder about her reasons for doing this, perhaps to make her cognitive connections your own.

But you can see Latitudes in a number of ways. It first exists visually as a series of ‘phrases’, 1 to 17, each phrase being a strip of seven consecutive frames, shown at the top of the screen. By clicking on to each frame in any order, the viewer can access another level of the work. Behind the first still is Fenley’s handwritten note describing the movement, something she might have used as a shorthand reminder of the phrase’s basic shape. So, kinds of descriptions, ways of describing, become an issue.

Under the seventh frame lies another set of stills which can only be seen consecutively, rendering part of the same original phrase fragment. Once this is downloaded into cache memory, it becomes a sparsely articulated sequence of some 20 frames or so shown sequentially over about five seconds, and it’s the closest you get to actual choreographed ‘movement’ in that it has a pre-arranged order, direction and timing and can’t be manipulated by the viewer, only stopped. This ‘movement’, however, doesn’t correspond directly to the frames because it may have been shot from a different angle, or from a different performance. Further, it doesn’t make use of the whole ‘phrase’, only a part of it.

Under the other five frames lie closer images, either from stills, or of a number of sculptures evoking perhaps a certain kind of contour or spiritual presence. There are descriptions available in another part of the index.

from Molissa Fenley’s web site, Latitudes

from Molissa Fenley’s web site, Latitudes

The 17 phrases are tiny fragments of a three minute ‘dance’ which you can see, if you search through the Latitude index, arrayed familiarly as if on a photographer’s contact sheets, showing the full length sequence, frame by frame.

To make lateral connections between these images, remembering close-ups from other phrases altogether, to find different ways of constructing the sequences, making new dances, is partly how the piece works, and it’s absorbing even if the actual kinetic sequences of images and manipulated connections seem to get slower as you get to know them.

Or rather your brain speeds up. You keep wanting more speed, to see the images move, to try and flip through them like those decks of movie cards, manually animated. But these ideas don’t seem to match her own, and the technology requires other considerations.

In an introduction, the curator, Lynne Cooke, describes the work thus: “She forsakes the accoutrements that normally embellish staged performance in order to pare the dance to basics: a simple earth-coloured leotard, neutral black backdrop, and a terse score, Jetsun Mila by Eliane Radigue, which she likes for the way its close-toned electronic sounds seem to move in a continual flow around the listener”.

Well, yes, and then again…no. Individually, each frame is a quiet, contained sculpture, with light and shade clinging and contouring her body as it progresses in a stately way though the sequence. The lines are not special in themselves, and the original dance seems generic, something you might recall from your own history. The most interesting aspect of Latitudes is that it reminds you that there are ways of looking at images which are not linear, that sense is there to be made in any way one chooses. But conscious choice is mandatory if you are to escape that slight “I’m bored already” feeling after flicking through several of the sequences; a fairly self conscious move to investigate possible ways through the work, like following a maze just to see if it gets you anywhere, to find some sort of completion; or like playing games like Scrabble or Patience or cryptic crosswords just to fill in time.

Another of the ideas is that the work itself can never be seen whole, but that “the audience’s relationship is intimate and partial, operating in a fictive space which more closely approximates one of memory than lived experience”. But why dance, when there’s no real action to feel your way through, when the intimacy that is sought after seems to become bland and uncompelling once Fenley’s beauty has been appreciated?

Is it, then, about thinking, and about wanting, about trying to make something complete? Is it that a person, flesh and bone, history personified, perhaps Fenley’s sweet elfin face (or someone else’s) might stand for a series of ideas which we choose to put together with an erratic compulsion?

It occurs to me now, after seeing her performance at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Wednesday 15 January), that I was touched by her apparent vulnerability, there, solo, on a foreign stage. Sometimes, when she came close to me, I was conscious of her fragility, her mortality, perhaps her sense that the time these moments of experience would last was negligible, a fraction only of the time that they would last in memory. With these different perspectives before me, it seems easier to understand how Latitudes might redress such a feeling of fleetingness.

And finally, the ‘cognitive’ form of Latitudes does not seem to be especially about Fenley, except she uses her own image as grist. The viewer’s mind completes, fill in the gaps, imagines or remembers fragments from the other sequences, tries to fit them together; wonders what to do with the art objects, ‘sculptural counterparts’, those shapely, suggestive echoes of feeling and experience and conception that Fenley includes behind some of the frames. How to work them out, or work them in? There’s your dance.

In a sweet quiet Coda, Fenley makes a story up for us, showing us a possible way to go. Selecting images from all over the dance, she joins them together, making her own special story. And there it is, a soft, breathing-out kind of resolution.

Latitudeshttp://awp.diaart.org/fenley/

RealTime issue #17 Feb-March 1997 pg. 38

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

The name itself, Speak to me, Sugar, has the sweet, flippant flavour of party food. But if you like Ros Crisp’s work you’d arrive at Omeo Studio prepared to dissolve your disbelief in her perspective, expecting more than some saccharine playing out of simple minded, sentimental ‘communication’. If your stance is more aloof, you might well see something fairly gooey—not noticing what I believe is the real material being investigated: something immediate and consciously physicalised, thought and feeling as it occurs, as vocabulary; no slick, pre-arranged, ‘perfectible’ stylisation, but a more coarsely grained demeanour, thankfully not yet pre-packaged.

The ensuing series of duets and simultaneous solos were created by the dancers via improvisation techniques developed under Ros Crisp’s direction. Physical expressiveness is focussed through a kind of moment to moment play, an emotional gambolling, jokes, trustful and teasing, soft voiceless whispering together, almost evoking an atmosphere of family—not those horrible dark tortuous relationships, but the inexplicable communion of siblings.

Their bodies tend to be softly side-lit, unsculptured, expression defined more by rich visceral and emotional inflection, than by hard lines. Waiting to enter, there’s a slight shift in focus, an internal activation, a moment where each dancer starts to listen—to themselves, to each other. Play begins, one with another, both serious and with enormous humour.

At one point, Diane Busuttil walks towards and into the audience, offering with eyes and gestures, a peculiar, alien, glutinous sort of feeling. Her look is not seductive, although it might appear that way at first, as her gaze is intent, and it’s hard not to respond. But looking closely, that intensity deepens to a cavernous, black-widowy, primitive, estranging dimension hard to imagine, both repulsive and magnetic. And it’s just as hard to look as not to look.

Through the duets, becoming slowly visible through what might seem nothing more than obsessive twitchiness, is evidence of multiple tracks of humanity, tenacious sensibility, timorous sentience. The dancers expose secret bodily voices, the murmurings and gleeful persuasive whimsy of imagination, need, sweet pleasure, and fierce hunger. Their bodies speak, full of histrionics, and with a quiet seriousness, one to another.

Speak to me, Sugar Studio performance by Ros Crisp, Julie Humphries, Diane Busuttil and Gabby Adamik. Omeo Dance Studio B2, Newtown, December 6-8

RealTime issue #17 Feb-March 1997 pg. 37

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

Royal de Luxe Le Peplum

Royal de Luxe Le Peplum

The focussing of the festival around Circular Quay, shows on and in the water, and the concentration of the timetable into two weeks, plus some innovative and thematic programming with an intelligent populist edge (some of it free), is Anthony Steel’s legacy to the Sydney Festival. As several writers in the press have advised, Leo Schofield would be wise to build on Steel’s successful strategies. At a stiff farewell for Steel at the Town Hall, one rude wit observed, “If they’re so bloody grateful to him, why don’t they give him an extra $2 million and invite him to stay instead of getting old ‘two lunches’ in”. The common assumption is that Leo is going to offer us a middlebrow menu, high on stodge, low on stimulating new Australian tucker. The other assumption is that he’s going to get a lot more money to do it, and otherwise presumably wouldn’t have taken the job on. But will Leo in Sydney be the same as Leo in Melbourne? Well, Bob Carr certainly wishes it (“a truly international festival”) devoutly, and tactfully said as much publicly the day before he farewelled Steel. Steel was gracious to a fault in his farewell speech and clearly had the crowd on his side.

When you stop to think, after two weeks of non-stop festival and fringe intensity, the festival was framed for the first time, as a dinkum festival should be, by what was said about it. Steel got thrown off 2GB by a righteous Mike Gibson (a real opportunity to unleash a dislike of arts ponces?) for using the word “bullshit” in response to Jim Waites’ Sydney Morning Herald review of Wole Soyinka’s The Beatification of Area Boy. Nigel Kellaway got to air his anger over the reviews of the Colin Bright-Amanda Stewart opera The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior when interviewed by Jim Schembri in The Age and composer Colin Bright got a letter in the SMH.

Nigel Jamieson’s Kelly’s Republic also unleashed the odd letter to the editor and a lot of talk amongst artists about why it didn’t work, why Jamieson hadn’t got a writer in to shape (and edit) the work, why he bothered to appropriate the bobcat ballet from Red Square, why he didn’t exploit the Opera House forecourt site instead of going for yet-another-rock-opera-scaffolding-look, why he and the festival would even bother with the Kelly story. Healthy questions, but lots liked designer Edie Kurzer’s big ‘Nolan’ Neds.

Post-show Laurie Anderson crowds burbled about whether Laurie had gone reactionary, turned hypocrite, misread the technological moment; and why she was reading aloud, talking so much and not singing their favourite toons? It was a good debate and still a very good show. Would they have tolerated last year’s unplugged reading gig? Molissa Fenley also generated a lot of heat. Despite several visits to Australia she’s never hit it off with the dance community. They turn out for the shows and leave scowling and muttering. I couldn’t catch the words.

Neil Gladwin’s Lulu for Belvoir Street generated only nostalgia for the Jim Sharman-Louis Nowra version for Lighthouse (Adelaide, 1982) which was more than half good, especially in Judy Davis’ Lulu—wisely light years away from the Louise Brooks’ interpretation. Davis’ Lulu was all the more dangerous because the men and women attracted to her failed to see the manic energy that drove her and would destroy them…and her. Gladwin’s Lulu is a pouting teenager who’s into jazz ballet (as a sex substitute?), and the lesbian scenes are as about as coy as you could get.

The Beatification of Area Boy suffered a slow opening night in a difficult theatre, consequently most of the talk was about whether or not it was a good play badly done, or a middling play quite well done. The issues were left aside. Soyinka’s account of corruption in modern Nigeria is frightening: the casual mix of superstition and economic opportunism is as scary in its own way as the everyday of fascism. Good humour and communal music don’t alleviate the fatalism that increasingly pervades the play. There’s little humanist goodwill at the end of Area Boy. Despite, or even because of, act two plot machinations, this is a vision close to despair. Lucky Perth to have Soyinka on the spot to talk to, to exchange the words about the play that weren’t spoken here (save a few in an interview on Arts Today).

The rest was talk about what you didn’t get to see, and why you should have made the effort: for example, how good Royal De Luxe’s open air spectacle parody of epic movies, Le Peplum, was, even though it was about nothing more than sheer production cunning and theatrical silliness—a (miniature) city crushed by the feet of a giant pedal-operated Colossus, the ritual opening of hundreds of litres of low fat milk for the obligatory naked bathing scene, a stunning naval battle, a wretched Odorama machine. See Le Peplum, Perth, and believe it.

Some of the talk was about why the best two shows in the festival, Denise Stoklos’ darkly hilarious and virtuosic Mary Stuart and Casa were, for the most part, poorly attended? Too many words? Too manic? The wrong word of mouth?

Yo, Leo, at a time of minimal arts coverage on the media, surely it’s time for the Sydney Festival to get into a bit of serious talk. Why leave it all to Writers’ Week? Other festivals field daily talks and panels, not always well done but with the potential for deepening an audience’s commitment to a festival and to caring about the issues that artists engender. Here’s some of the buzz on the 1997 Sydney Festival. Keith Gallasch

Molissa Fenley, MCA; Rishile Gumboot Dancers, Playhouse, Sydney Opera House; Chunky Move, Bonehead, Seymour Centre
Watching her performance at the MCA, I began to think about Molissa Fenley’s face. These days her body doesn’t move so frenetically as in the days of Hemispheres or the solo Rite of Spring I saw her perform in 1984 and 1990 respectively. In these three short works she is more minimal, essential, ethereal, modernist maybe. These are the words we toss around as we stand outside the MCA afterwards watching Xavier Juillot’s tiger tail sculpture dancing in air outside the Opera House. It’s not Molissa Fenley’s sculptural movement that engages me—except for those moments when she lets herself fall from grace, shifting her centre of gravity sideways or slipping at the knee. They move me forward on my chair, but it’s her face that takes me in. In Savanna, I try to concentrate on her elegant arms, adjusting my own body to yet another uncomfortable audience vantage point in this most unsatisfactory of performance venues (creaky stage, bagpipe music filtering through the windows). Molissa Fenley is a dancer much admired by composers because of the serious attention she pays to music. As she dances with Peter Garland’s piano composition, Walk in Beauty, you sense two works in dialogue. But it’s in the second piece, Trace, that I fix on her face. Here she dances first in silence and then to the human voice—on this night Anthony Steel reading appropriately fast and deadpan a vertiginous text by John Jesurun about a man who has lost his memory and finds himself caught between the warp and the weft of a woven carpet.

Why her face? Maybe I’m wary of the idea of bodies as universally legible. Two nights ago watching the Rishile Gumboot Dancers I cursed the festival for not translating in the program the songs the dancers were singing. Without words, what was I to read from these thin, muscled bodies from Soweto dancing this unlikely music in big boots? With no knowledge of the traditions of these movements I rely on the shape of the performance to connect me—the rapport between the dancers and with the audience, their casual animation and sophisticated sense of play, the way they move from everyday talk to complex musical rhythms slapped on boots and bodies; the way this becomes heightened performance and then falls so easily back into the rhythms of daily life from which it has sprung.

Faces are generally easier to read than bodies—except dancers’ faces. Eleanor Brickhill says that dancers sometimes look like they’ve been called to the door at midnight. Drawn in by Molissa Fenley’s face I watch her move through this dance. It’s as if she’s trying to say something on the tip of her toe. At one moment she looks inward, as if she is being moved by the music, or her own body, or possessed, infected by some energy. At other times she is blankfaced, unmoved, going through the motions. Then she’s alert, watching herself move. Through the subtle changes in her face I read a body in dialogue with itself and with the music or text, trying to articulate for an audience something that in the end can’t be said. In the last piece, Bardo, her tribute to Keith Haring, this feeling is most literally manifest. Here her face is serene as she enters the underworld, the place between death and reincarnation in Buddhist belief. With Somei Satoh’s enveloping Mantra she moves in swoops and glides, scuffs and reaches, nodding occasionally in the direction of Keith Haring’ s gestures in angles and turned toes. Here she moves through a place where words are dissolved, space reconfigured. Here all that remains is the will to move from left to right, over, up and through. The light fades on her mid-movement.

Molissa Fenley only did two shows for the festival and a talk with video about her early collaboration with Keith Haring. This was her first ever performance in Sydney but clearly not meant as a major event. She received a somewhat ho-hum response and copped one of the most vitriolic reviews I’ve read, from former ballerina and foot-in-the-door TV journalist Sonia Humphrey in The Australian, who found the dancer disappointing in every way. “She doesn’t do floorwork…nor does she jump… she doesn’t spin either. Most disturbingly, she does not emote.”

While the dance community might have been just as ambivalent about Chunky Move’s Bonehead, they were quiet about it. This one was a hit with audiences and it certainly scooped the critical accolades. “A bold achievement. …Disturbing undercurrents beg more thoughtful examination” (Jill Sykes SMH). Makes you think—though nobody seemed keen to elaborate on what it makes you think. All it made me think was about all the other moralistic dance narratives I’ve seen about big bad cities full of alienated humanity. It seems Gideon Orbazanek said something off the top of his head like, “David Lynch goes to the ballet” and Bonehead was suddenly attributed with surreal vision. Weak jokes passed for “savage satire”. A flip reference to David Cronenberg’s Crash in the work suddenly claimed for it equal intelligence—“something of Cronenberg’s dark grotesquerie although fortunately with infinitely more intriguing results”, said Deborah Jones in The Australian.

Gideon Obarzanek’s comic strip choreography in Fast Idol at The Performance Space two years ago was inventive and hinted at something more substantial to come. Since then he’s created part two in Lurch (performed by Nederlands Dans Theatre in September) and part 3 in Bonehead, and according to the press is turning out “one gobsmacking dance work after another” (Sun Herald). What was missing from Bonehead was any sign of thoughtful examination. Maybe in the end there’s not much more you can do with that Wham! Bham! Kerplunk! stuff. I found it empty headed. For all its jumping, spinning, emoting stabs at meaningfulness, it had nothing to say about sexuality or violence or, importantly, dancing. Dead-eyed dancers paraded costumes, mouthed banalities and moved from headlock to simulated sex, musical collage nodding in agreement. Makes you think. Virginia Baxter

Virtual Lagoon, Michel Redolfi

Virtual Lagoon, Michel Redolfi

Virtual Lagoon, Michel Redolfi

Virtual Lagoon, North Sydney Olympic Swimming Pool

Virtual Lagoon, the underwater sound installation courtesy of French composer Michel Redolfi and team, was a great idea for a nation that has great sporting and athletic activities written in its stars. The decision to put a symphony under water, or more to the point, on the bottom of the local Olympic swimming pool, was a stroke of genius.

Virtual Lagoon was not billed as an art event as such by Michel Redolfi in his introductory remarks but as an experience to be had, that needed no understanding, decoding or analysis. All you had to know was that the underwater harmonic environment was created by the interaction of moving bodies with submerged optical sensors; that we the participants were the orchestrators of the event, and so get to it! One hundred people charged for the pool, brimming with excitement and near hysteria, to dive, swim, float and snorkel their way up, down and under the water, to hear and feel ‘real coral life’ courtesy of our very own Barrier Reef. The score consisted of the ‘noise’ of mammal fish and mollusc marine life with a bass track overlaid with a glorious soprano interspersed with text (most notably some expletives in a male voice that punctuated the otherwise ambient soundscape).

It was claimed that one could create a relationship with the gigantic pebble sculptures by Lyonel Kouro that inhabited the bottom of the pool, offering, said the program, “a vast Zen Garden to explore”. Well try as I might, the Zen pebble remained true to its name and spoke not to me at all.

From inside this spacious underworld, looking up through the watery ceiling, the image of the outside world looked soft and unreal. On this particular evening it was chilly and whilst the light rain contributed to the experience, we really needed oxygen tanks because the best place to be was under so that this symphony could be appreciated in full. Fighting for breath from under or floating on the surface with snorkels was ultimately frustrating. Having to constantly navigate kicking feet, flailing arms and potential head-on collisions, in the end the event became a pool party, and whilst the technology was obviously sophisticated, the event was simplicity itself. Victoria Spence

Sonic Waters, Neilsen Park

This was a free Sydney Festival event and as such had drawn a blend of suntan-clad inner city sophisticates, North Shore matriarchs and their attendant broods, a few arts junkies like myself and working class families from the West. Some, armed with masks, snorkels, goggles were obviously here for the submarine sound experience. Others just out for a Saturday picnic and swim were wondering what the hell that thing was floating out near the shark net. The program said it was meant to be a giant inflatable jellyfish inspired by Matisse’s “Le Bêtes de la Mer”, but it looked like a huge buoyant Chupachup wrapper. The nine wooden poles that held up the netting were decorated with blue and white ripple strips meant to invoke another Matisse painting, “La Vague”, and to appear like vertical waves or ripples emerging from the real surf. Algae-patterned weather vanes sat atop each pole, spinning and buzzing in the breeze. Apparently, the only way to hear the music was to immerse oneself, so I stripped down to my gaudy Speedos, donned goggles, waded through the mild shore break and made the transition to underwater space/time.

Sound coming from everywhere and nowhere. I’d been told sound in water travels four times faster than in air and only ten per cent of it is picked up by the eardrum. Ninety percent is heard by bone conduction, mainly through skull, jaw and neck but with very limited dynamic range as only certain frequencies register. New agey keyboard music washes over, under, around and through me, but this is deeply layered and thoughtfully constructed. Mutator software (developed by computer artist William Latham and mathematician Stephen Todd) “grows” music organically in controlled fractal expansion through genetic algorithms that progress in cycles of birth, growth and decay. Chaos theory techno-aesthetically tamed. Waves of pre-recorded, pre-equalized natural marine sounds, whale and dolphin songs, tinkly synthesiser motifs, cascades of ethereal flutes and woodwinds are introduced into the stew by the composer, Michel Redolfi, doing a live mix from the balcony of a hut adjoining the beach, assisted by his two sound designers Luc Martinez, also from Nice in France, and Daniel Harris from New York, both composers themselves.

I’m getting drunk on sound in these heady sonic waters. You can actually feel the music vibrating through your body. I need some air. I float on my back, hanging off the jellyfish, my head and ears still below the water, still absorbing the sound field, looking up into blue sky heaven, although the coldish salt water and rolling surf intermittently break my reverie. This could be bigger than float tanks and much more interactive and user-friendly. With a mild shock the hushed and accented tones of the composer’s voice break in, informing us the concert, which has now been going for seven hours, is drawing to an end. He lets us down gently by slowly fading the music and letting the natural submarine sound environment of far away jetcats, ferries and breaking surf, re-establish itself and us in real time.

Drying myself off on the beach I wondered how I was going to effectively convey the gist of this transforming experience to someone who wasn’t there. In the end it was best summed up by the sight and sound of a young girl running from the water, long hair flying, throwing herself down beside her mother who was absorbing radiated waves of a more visible kind and blurting out, “Mummy! Mummy! The water’s full of music!”. George Papanicolaou

Clive Burch as the Narrator in The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior

Clive Burch as the Narrator in The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior

Clive Burch as the Narrator in The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior

The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior,
The Song Company, austraLYSIS

The Eighth Wonder and The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll are entirely predictable recent operas, their dramatic shapes inherited from the 19th century, their music closer to the musical than to the significant operas of the 20th century. The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, on the other hand, constantly and engagingly surprises. Although musically it inclines to an accessible modernism—save where it trips into rap and rock or achieves a sustained open-ended lyricism—this opera is theatrically (in the interplay of composition and libretto) a potent contemporary work. Some of its power was unleashed in its premiere production on and in the water, a barge, a yacht and HMAS Vampire on Darling Harbour. Its Australian antecedents and companions are the music theatre works documented in John Jenkins and Rainer Linz’s timely Arias (Red House Editions, Footscray 1997). Many of the most interesting of the cited works parallel contemporary performance in their play with meaning, states of being, narrative and site. You cannot bring 19th century expectations to these works. Those who have seen Einstein on the Beach—or, more pertinently, Robert Ashley’s Improvement (Don Leaves Linda)—will know the pleasure born of patience when confronted with new opera. Even so, any opera, even the most conventional, renders words and narrative unintelligible from time to time as music drowns words, as the demands of the notes distort words into sound, or, as is most often the case, it is sung in another language.

I invoke ‘intelligibility’ because it was the issue with which the production of The Sinking… and the librettist in particular were punished in reviews—despite aspects of the work being praised. And while I would be party to some of the criticism (there were many distances involved which made the audience work too hard, lose their attention, stare into the dark for action that was elsewhere or underlit) I had no more or less a struggle with the work than I’ve had with many an opera or music theatre work. Unlike plays and musicals, operas do not often make for a complete experience the first time around. The movement from impressions to understanding is gradual. There was however, much in The Sinking… that was lucid, much of the libretto that was amplified, even made quite literal at times, by designer Pierre Thibaudeau and director Nigel Kellaway’s exploitation of the site, use of projections, of spy thriller imagery, and of sound—exquisitely designed by Kevin Davidson. The clarity of the scoring and fine ensemble playing of Bright’s music by austraLYSIS, conducted by Roland Peelman, invariably created space for the singers’ voices. The physical and theatrical confidence of the Song Company was amazing given that acting is not their business—aided by Kellaway’s understanding of the non-psychological portraits in Stewart’s libretto. Even so, the desire as an audience member to understand was strong, even when absorbed by the production’s dramatic images and sounds. Those of us who purchased a program—synopses should have been distributed free—and got time to read it in the fading light were no doubt advantaged.

The particular challenge of Amanda Stewart’s libretto is that it operates both from narrative episodes (not always causally linked) and, especially, from a rich variety of voices (created, documentary, fluid, fragmented), and while individual moments and shapes are easy to grasp—a love duet, an interrogation, a monologue of loss—assembling the whole is more a reflective than a logical act. Even so, the overall progression of the work is chronological, once initiated by the ghost of Fernando Pereria (the photographer killed in the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior) emerging vocally from an eerie rumbling bass underworld. (There are too many like pleasures in the work to mention here.)

I hope that The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior gets a second production, so often the vital opportunity for any opera’s future. While its creators are enamoured of the work as site-specific, a theatre (or other interior space) version with the same creative team could give the libretto its real chance, and a clearer indication how expertly Bright has responded to Stewart’s idiosyncratic use of language and made it his own. This first production warrants praise in every department. It was true to the ambitions of the work in scale and detail as it ranged across a battleship, through water and light, in the sustained and chilling wind of an atomic blast, and the greater betrayals and acts of complicity that constellated around the sinking of a protest vessel. Along with Denise Stoklos’ Mary Stuart and, on the Fringe, The Geography of Haunted Places, this was one of the most significant events of the 1997 Sydney Festival, whatever its shortcomings at this stage of its development. Its meanings, its engagement with the politics of the Pacific of which we are a part, and the language in which we are thus embroiled, give it relevance and urgency. Keith Gallasch

The Gypsies, Gregorian Chant Choir, Narasirato Are’Are Pan Pipers

Up to a year ago I imagined that gypsy music was the kind of thing I used to hear in Balkan restaurants in Hindley Street, Adelaide. I’ve never been that keen on virtuosic violin playing. But the film Latcho Drom changed all that, portraying a culture starting out in Rajasthan and spreading west to Spain and the UK. The live concert was analogous to the film in its presentation of the range of gypsy music and culture. A guy on a microphone gave you the story, rather like “gypsies for the masses” or “ethnic night at the opera house”. The tone was patronising and the narration unnecessary.

But the musicians created a sense of cohesion, despite cultural differences, bound by soulfulness, passion, grief, pain dealt with through music. As you move west in the film, more grief is felt in the music especially songs about Auschwitz.

For me the concert opened up the terrain of gypsy culture and music as opposed to the loose label of ‘world music’. It was interesting in terms of influences. I could hear in the Rumanians (trumpet, clarinet, alto sax, piano accordion and double bass) an influence on Michael Nyman, who uses the same instrumentation and has the same drive. A friend said it sounded like Charlie Parker had influenced the Rumanians! But it was more likely a historical connection with the gypsy music of the Nile (three oboe-like instruments with double reeds not unlike the Indian shehnai). Being a percussionist, I was inspired by the Rhajastanis beautiful, melody-driven drumming. (Ravi Shankar has drawn on this tradition and has performed a work with their dancer.) You can hear the folk origins of Indian music.

It was a night of connections, of musical anthropology. The attempt to do one piece together at the end wasn’t so successful, some participating more than others. But it did give time for the Egyptians to set up in the foyer where they sold instruments, CDs and tapes much to the astonishment of the Opera House staff.

Out in the open, I really enjoyed the free Quayworks performances by the 12 Narasirato Are’Are Pan Pipers from the Solomon Islands who played to big crowds. What was striking was the percussive drive and power of the music with the bamboo poles on the ground creating a bass line. Although they’re pipes, they reminded me rhythmically and tonally of my own boobams (octaban drums). Robert Lloyd

Concert of Glass, Government House, from della Laguna, presented by Contemporary Music Events

The Concert of Glass, held at Government House on January 17 as part of the della Laguna series, was a mixed success. A solo work for guitar, Gabriele Manca’s In flagranti, expertly played by Geoffrey Morris, was both the most glass-like and most interesting piece of the night. Brittle, complex and delicate, it had all the absorbing qualities of fine glass. Morris later combined with Carolyn Connors, playing glasses filled to varying levels, to perform bittersuss by Gerhard Stabler. This demanding work, built on silences and low dynamic range, should have been scheduled earlier in the concert, rather than at the end. Other works on the night were either too slight or too unformed to contribute much to the theme. The venue, however, was a plus, providing a sense of Sydney’s colonial history—although sightlines at the back were virtually non-existent. John Potts

Composing Venice, Government House

There are moments when you know there is an audience for contemporary music in Sydney, and this was one of them (the other was 10 new music works at Toast II Gallery, November 1996). Overall, della Laguna (“of the lagoon”) drew sizeable audiences with its program of rarely heard works ranging from Byzantine times to recent Venetian and Australian works. A curated program (Jennifer Phipps, Ross Hazeldine) as the musical centre of a festival makes a lot of sense, especially when it’s tied into the wider water imagery of the Sydney Festival and the use of intimate venues, Farm Cove and Goat Island (and a web-site with views of Sydney and Venice). Composing Venice was an ambitious concert. Save the brief opener by Claudio Ambrosini (Laura Chislett Jones on flute), the other three works were substantial. Gerard Brophy’s SENSO…dopo skin d’amourdo was given a warm, sensual, almost lush reading by the Seymour Group. Raffaele Marcellino’s Fish Tale was dark and witty by turns, even the sung bouillabaise recipe resisted cuteness, and the fourth movement, “Death”, was theatrically potent, the singers’ mouths locked open before lurching into a song of caught breaths and “unvoiced utterances with a single verse from one of the pentitenial psalms”. The Song Company, conducted by Roland Peelman, acquitted the whole work, “an allegory based on the narrative of Schubert’s The Trout” with conviction and verve. Let’s hope they keep it in their repertoire, it’s much more than a crowd pleaser. The second half of the concert was devoted to Luigi Nono’s Das atmende Klarsein in which the Song Company, on stage and miked, delivered long, gently shifting chordal shapes, alternating with Laura Chislett Jones playing bass flute with a shakuhachi breathiness from the balcony above. The third component was sound designer Kevin Davidson shifting Jone’s flute sound round the audience. Despite the dynamism of the flute writing and the displacement of the sound, the overall effect of the work was sublimely meditative. Keith Gallasch

Water Stories, Canberra Youth Theatre and the Song Ngoc Vietnamese Water Puppetry Troupe

Here was a mixed bag and in the oddest of environs, the IMAX cinema looming over us promising the “World’s biggest Movie Screen”, a tatty fun fair behind us beefing out offers of stomach churning pleasures, and several peak hour freeways growling across Darling Harbour. And what were we watching and just managing to hear? Subtle, sophisticated and witty Vietnamese water puppetry and broad Australian theatrical humour from rough young performers in a wobbly exchange of cultural icons—pagodas and opera houses, water buffaloes and sharks, rice paddies and beaches, work and leisure. Rural Vietnam and urban Australia? Well, despite a questionable mix of forms and images, there were sufficient links (water for fun, danger, food, passage), and the show engaged its audience, if in fits and starts—what were all those people doing tableauxing in those masks (some of them commedia) at a barbecue? It was at its best when the theatricality of the two idioms intersected: a beautiful golden kangaroo tourist snapping Vietnamese delta life; live performers in the water with the puppets; the Australians manipulating their own puppets. Not all of these were done with precision or resolved choreography, but they suggested the possibility of a richer collaboration at another time. Keith Gallasch

Laurie Anderson, The Speed of Darkness

For many, this was a sublime event, an intimate evening with a chatty Laurie Anderson. I was one of the pleasured. Almost. The sound was excellent, Anderson was relaxed, reading her text from her music stand, playing keyboards, adjusting the volume and a bit of the mix on the sound desk to her left, occasionally fetching her violin (big, loud, dark, Eastern European chords) and lit for listening (too dark for many to see the face they wanted to connect with). ‘Chatty’ is not quite right, ‘discursive’ yes. For one whose songs have an appeal born of brevity and an enigmatic turn of phrase, this was a discursive, often literal-minded Laurie Anderson. Mind you, some stories and observations could end unsignalled and you’d find yourself in the next one. Even so, discursive. And there’s something that happens when the masters of brevity elaborate, the hitherto buried moralist is suddenly and surprisingly at your ear. Her anxiety pieces about the new media came out a little too pat, a little to under-considered and were greeted here and there complacently. However, there were enough moments when a dialectical twist would be applied and you’d think, yes, this is the Laurie we know, she’s just turned us on our heads; or a passing reference to, say, her father’s death would hint at something almost too intimate behind this mask of a singing voice. Keith Gallasch

Denise Stoklos in Mary Stuart

Denise Stoklos in Mary Stuart

Denise Stoklos, Mary Stuart and Casa

In a Festival where Laurie Anderson playfully recanted and Molissa Fenley reverted meditatively to modernism, Denise Stoklos was right at home with her “essential” theatre—tights, bare stage, single wooden chair, bits of Marcel Marceau mime business—leaving us scratching for words to describe what it was she was doing up there and why we liked it so much. Denise Stoklos provided one of the festival hits though by no means an easy night at the theatre. This was performance in which the physical and vocal worked sometimes exhaustingly in tandem. She is a virtuosic performer and writer. Her body and voice are so finely tuned that you have the impression of a woman passionately articulating every part of herself. In Mary Stuart she plays Mary Queen of Scots as well as her tormenter Elizabeth I using a dexterous physical shorthand and a detailed vocal text. Elizabeth is conveyed in a set of haughty poses and curt phrases while Mary rambles feverishly in her confinement, desperately composing letters to her unforgiving cousin. At the same time Stoklos runs a commentary on her own performance, repeating phrases and physical refrains, constantly elaborating the story for herself and the audience. If this commentary seems sometimes a bit obviously meta-theatricky, it’s at its most effective in moments where the performer appears to be struggling with the physical act of speech. Suddenly she is struck by a word, repeating it, rolling it round in her mouth, exaggerating it until it takes over her body, winding up in her highly articulate toes. Even her hair is passionate! At one point she appears to vomit her resonant voice up from her belly into her mouth. Then, after all that, in one quiet, parting reference to the struggles for power in her home country of Brazil, she changes the audience’s point of reference, turns us on our heads and leaves the stage.

RealTime issue #17 Feb-March 1997 pg. 6-8

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

Street Level is an artist run initiative located in Western Sydney. Now in its eighth year of operation, Street Level is operating as an ‘off-site’ project-based organisation supporting and advocating contemporary arts initiatives in Western Sydney. Recent projects include a machine art performance by Triclops International, Cyber Cultures Exhibitions 1996 and 1997, an architecture and design project and a community based internet project WestWeb.

DV Is there a sense of community with other Western Sydney arts organisations?

DC That’s one of the difficulties of working in Western Sydney. It’s not like you would just bump into someone in the street and there are so few venues for the arts, especially contemporary arts. But like everywhere else there are many communities.

KC Personal networks and contacts are very important. For example, Street Level is working with FilmWest, University of Western Sydney and Casula Powerhouse with our Cyber Cultures project. But Street Level also has strong links with inner city organisations such as The Performance Space who have been very supportive. Street Level is part of SCAN (Sydney Contemporary Arts Network—http://www.culture.com.au) whose other five members are all based in the inner city. These links are extremely valuable. Sometimes there can be a bit of a ‘ghetto-isation’ mentality towards Western Sydney from the outside, ie. art in Western Sydney is for a Western Sydney audience only. On the other hand there can also be a parochial attitude from some areas of local government and community art groups within Western Sydney. With other organisations like Casula Powerhouse, Street Level is trying to work across the region and with a national and international agenda.

DC For example, the previous director Con Gouriotis (now curator at Casula) undertook some wonderful projects. A show he brought in from Malta, Chants of Lamentation by the photographer Zamet, really hit a chord with local Maltese people. Street Level has also had a longstanding relationship with the Warburton Aboriginal community in WA through an earlier director Gary Proctor. So we are not just concerned about presenting work generated in Western Sydney and this sets us apart from community arts organisations.

KC It’s important to remember that Western Sydney is not an homogenous area. It covers such a vast area, geographically dispersed and culturally diverse. Check out on a map sometime the distances between Liverpool, Penrith, Parramatta and Campbelltown. It’s easier to get to central Sydney from some of these areas than to travel between them. Transport infrastructure is generally appalling. This is one of the reasons Street Level is very interested in exploring alternative strategies for communication like the internet and the world wide web. However it is still important to have cultural infrastructure for RL (real life) exhibition, performance and screenings and we don’t see virtual galleries and spaces as being a replacement for physical spaces.

DV Are more Western Sydney artists accessing new technologies?

DC Yes especially as tertiary educational institutions have made significant investments in technology and are developing specialised courses in that area.

KC This is one of the goals of Cyber Cultures, to allow Western Sydney artists and audiences to experience first hand some of the best work by Australian new media artists and have an opportunity to attend seminars and discuss new developments in this area. The performance program also explores areas of hybrid practice and new sites, for example, Stelarc’s performance which includes real time performance with interaction with images and sounds from the world wide web.

DC It is interesting the amount of screen based work at a recent graduate exhibition of UWS Nepean postgraduate students. I guess it’s the case that if the institutions provide the equipment and training then there will be more but again the question of how people continue to produce and exhibit work once they graduate remains a serious issue.

KC Getting the equipment resources for Cyber Cultures has been a huge task and would not have been possible without the support of many like-minded organisations (SCAN, SIN, UWS) and the corporate sector (Apple) and funding bodies (AFC, NMA, ANAT). Getting this sort of support is not easy for artists just out of university. There is a desperate need for equipment infrastructure outside of the universities. This is a role Street Level is working towards.

DC We are more interested in the creative uses of technology in terms of art practice, not limited to computers on plinths. Installation practice remains crucial and the ability of artists to work with unusual spaces to create immersive and interactive environments is particularly interesting. For example most of the artists in Cyber Cultures have worked really hard to create installations (the computers are there but as part of an installation environment).

DV Tell us more about West Web.

KC The West Web project has been funded by the NSW Ministry for the Arts (our very first grant from the Ministry in fact). This project includes a public demonstration of the internet and the web with expert guides who will host a tour of their favourite sites and talk about ways of using these new sites for creative purposes. We are also working with Parramatta City Library, who will be hosting the first stage of this project, and with ICE (Information Cultural Exchange). The web demonstration performances will serve to illustrate some of the ways in which the web and the internet can be used by cultural groups and individuals (especially those who are geographically dispersed) to communicate with each other and also with other related groups both within Australia and overseas. Given the predicted power and pervasiveness of these new communication technologies, it is important that community groups and individuals in Western Sydney are informed about the technologies and can take advantage of the significant opportunities they represent at an
early stage.

DC The second stage of the project is to work with Western Sydney artists to present their work on the web. The other important aspect of this project is the development of a relationship between Street Level and a progressive public library and we feel optimistic about libraries in general as important sites for cultural exchange.

DV What other projects are on the board for Street Level in 1997 and beyond.

KC We are also working on a design project for a new space for Street Level, a project jointly funded by the Australia Council and CEAD (Community, Environment Art and Design). As a temporarily off-site organisation we are interested in investigating different strategies for operating as a contemporary cultural organisation. With this project we are working with four different groups of designers/architects to come up with concepts for four different options for Street Level.

DC It’s been a long term project and really I would like to thank CEAD for their support because we have been able to secure the services of some really interesting designers to come up with concepts in collaboration with us. These include a virtual on-line space with Graham Crawford of Exile, and a mobile space, perhaps a “Cyber Truck”, with Jesse Reynolds of Virtual Artists in S.A. Professor Peter Droege who heads up the Urban Design Dept of Sydney University (Olympia—yes, Olympia not Olympic—2000 project) is putting together a team to develop ideas for a purpose built space and architect Rod Simpson will be developing ideas for a retrofit space. In short we are getting some really good ideas for an appropriate cultural facility. The briefs are for the designers to be provocative and creative and to address our future needs. The designs will be exhibited locally in Parramatta, which is where we want to be located. It’s also the geographical centre of Sydney.

DV How do you see Cyber Cultures progressing?

DC Street level and its board have had a strong interest in screen based and digital technologies and in terms of the organisation’s long term development being involved in technology based projects is important. In a crude sense, it is about staking out territory or creating a space or site for future projects that are technology based. For a small organisation, new information technologies do offer significant advantages for us and our membership. On another note it’s amazing the difference working with recent information technology (as opposed to a spray can) has when it comes to negotiating with local and state government funding bodies. We were recently involved with ANAT’s Virogenesis project where we hosted Matt Fuller and Gomma and the cyberpunk hacker mentality sits very nicely within our scope of things especially in terms of what Gomma described as creating spaces or free zones for people to participate. The main thing here is that the idea of free internet access seems revolutionary or inconceivable yet universities and local government have servers that would be able to handle it. So the line back to contestation of public space, local and community identity is very clear and I think the next stage of Cyber Cultures is to develop these areas of community access.

DV How do you see the infrastructure of the west’s art networks developing in the future?

KC What infrastructure? OK, there is a bit but it’s very limited. Given the lack of venues and exhibition spaces, libraries are in a good position to play an important role as cultural nodes.

DC But really with the Olympics and the centenary of Federation due soon you might think it was a good time for some solid steps to be made in terms of infrastructure, but it’s hard. I mean if it’s not going to happen now, well when? We are expected to be self funding or people say “do stuff in Westfield”. Try telling that to the AGNSW, there would be outrage.

KC Well actually we would love to do something in Westfield. We did have visions of a Stelarc performance in the main atrium…something for the shoppers to think about! But doing off-site work in Westfield does not mean we don’t need our own space.

RealTime issue #17 Feb-March 1997 pg. 22

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

Compagnie De Brune, Anatomie

Compagnie De Brune, Anatomie

Compagnie De Brune, Anatomie

New Dance: an ambiguous, unfixed, transient term. It’s a bit too expansive for me, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in considering where this term fits in dance history. British choreographers and theorists embraced it as a broad means of categorising early reactions to modern dance. The more common, present-day use of the term is as a catch-phrase. So let me continue the catch-phrase discourse.

When I think of the ‘nouvelle danse’ of Quebec, the artist who first comes to mind is Marie Chouinard—controversial in the 1970s, and now, finding movement from an internal, cellular motivation. With Chouinard as my only point of reference, I was more than willing to extend my knowledge of the Quebec new dance. Anatomie, presented by Lynda Gaudreau’s Compagnie de Brune, is a study in corporeality or, as Gaudreau has suggested, a type of architecture of the human body. I was fortunate to witness five parts of this originally seven-part piece; a reworking in keeping with both the shifting nature of ‘new dance’ and the choreographer’s personal emphasis on changeability and play. Throughout Anatomie, Ana Sokolovic’s compositions thread the physical core of this playful vision; the connection between the movement and the music is obvious and continuous, giving the dancers a strange, other-worldly quality.

Sylvain Poirier’s opening solo introduces Gaudreau’s sculptural conceptualisation of the body. He stands just on the edge of a sharply defined square of light, moving his head, shoulders and arms in and out of the light; reaching, grasping at something beyond, in the darkness. Looking into the light, then with indifference, through the audience.

Poirier reappears on one knee upon a raised platform. Fully exposed, we have a sense of the torso’s relationship to the rest of the body, as he cups his elbow in his hand, spiralling his back towards us, in a wrapping of himself.

The following duet between Poirier and Anne Bruce Falconer explores the body in other ways, revealing joints and limbs in stark isolation from the whole, and contrasting this with their implicit contribution to the body in motion. It is a delicious sort of tension which Gaudreau explores and tests.

Poirier holds Falconer’s head with one hand. They are close, but there is a certain distance between them. He finds the limits of movement, rotating and shifting her head through arcs and turns. Falconer maintains that sense of indifference which Poirier applied to his solo; initially submissive and later participating in the investigation of movement and the body. Folding into each other, shifting between manipulator and manipulated, they find physical spaces, curves and surfaces particular to their different bodies. It is a ‘new’ intimacy of performance, far removed from the polite romanticism of more familiar duets.

Annie Roy’s solo focuses more explicitly on the legs and their role in locomotion. It doesn’t sound particularly ‘new’, but Gaudreau has created some fascinating sequences that merge the classical and contemporary dance traditions very effectively, moving beyond the more straightforward process of setting them against one another to, alternatively, a rethinking of both dance forms to emphasise their similarities as well as their differences. So while Roy throws herself into the plies and grand battements of ballet, she does so with an aggression and sense of weight that departs from the traditional. It is a thread of experimentalism that links each section of Anatomie to the other.

Fourth on the program is Falconer’s more defiant solo, which contrasts distorted ballet technique against gesture and more contemporary movement vocabulary; all covered with playful connections with the audience: making eye contact and looking away, abruptly. It is almost as if she is presenting parts of herself to us for our contemplation. First the legs, slicing complicated patterns across the space or shuffling from one point to another. Sometimes she retreats from us, always acknowledging our presence in the space with her deliberate gaze.

The final ‘trio pour soloistes’ is the concretisation of the sculptural, architectural ideas that Gaudreau embeds in her choreography. The three bodies move within the space, at times meeting physically, almost haphazardly, and at others dancing alone. The duet between Falconer and Roy—with Poirier repeating his first solo off to the side—is another exercise in manipulation; Falconer holding Roy by the hands and sending her body plunging forwards, backwards, onto the floor. Again, the dancers convey a robotic indifference to each other, and to the physical closeness of their duet. It is almost unsettling to watch. But it is also a highly perceptive, analytical examination of the body in motion. And the work speaks about relationships in ways that more expressive dance cannot.

Critic Linde Howe-Beck has suggested that Compagnie de Brune is more well-known in Europe than in Canada. Gaudreau does spend a great deal of her creative time in Klapstuk, a production centre in Leuven, Belgium. It is interesting, then, to be witness to performance which manifests a borrowing from different sources, as well as the forging of a singular artistic practice within the broad domain of Quebec new dance.

RealTime issue #17 Feb-March 1997 pg. 39

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

Sarah Waterson, Mapping Emotion

Sarah Waterson, Mapping Emotion

“The rabbit hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well.” Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

In order to write a review, it’s generally useful to be able to locate whatever it is that’s under review. Trying to locate the experimenta media arts festival was akin to Alice’s experiences in Wonderland. The festival seemed to be constructed with a morphing program, constantly shifting shape, being reinvented at every turn as something other than what it was just before. Curiouser and curiouser…

I thought I may find some definitive outline in the media kit sent to me by experimenta. An invite to the opening night’s festivities gave me the clue that the Lonsdale Street Power Station was somehow central to the overall festival. It said “6-8pm at the Power Station” but other information in the press kit indicated that opening night “will be a sensory and artistic extravaganza. Staged over 48 hours in a disused inner-city power station, this rave/exhibition will be a multi-disciplinary happening bringing together the talents of Victorian and interstate installation, sound and performance artists utilising time-based media (film, video and digital technologies) to explore ‘outer-limits’ of contemporary creative expression”. It turned out to be the former, much shorter event and the only exploring of outer limits which seemed to be taking place with any artists present was to see how many free vodkas they could cram into the allotted two hour period.

Other information contained in the media kit was also wildly misleading. Stan Brakhage as a guest of experimenta? Well, actually, no. Cyberspace/Internet Festival? Unfortunately not. Woman@art.technology.au Monograph? ‘Fraid not. Curiouser and curiouser…

In desperation, I log onto the experimenta web site. It repeats all that I’ve read before in the press kit, with some variations. Am I getting closer? I scan to the bottom of the screen. It reads, “Last updated July 1996”. Curiouser and curiouser…

After the event, I feel I’ve finally collected all the pieces of the puzzle but I’m still unable to piece them together. experimenta media arts festival seems to have been mainly composed of the following discrete events:

short, sharp and very current at the Lonsdale Power Station, an amalgam of screenings, installations and performance art spread across the four levels of the disused power station. It included Matinaze curated by SIN; Back to the Future, a film retrospective curated by Marie Craven; the work of Richard Kern; retrospectives on Guy Maddin and Stan Brakhage; Internetrix: Women On-line seminar; Compound Eye, Super 8 Program.

Domestic Disturbances, a curated program of film and electronic art by women at the VicHealth Access Gallery.

The Body Remembers, an interactive survey by Jill Scott at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.

Burning the Interface, an exhibition of international artists’ CD-ROMs curated by Mike Leggett at the Centre for Contemporary Photography.

ATOM Multimedia Awards Exhibition featuring award winners from the inaugural ATOM multimedia awards.

In fairness to the artists involved or on show in these events, space and time restrict me from reviewing each component of the festival. In fairness to the festival organisers, the above may not be a complete list but the fact that, despite my best efforts, I’m not able to come up with a definitive list is telling in itself. However, part of the confusion I felt in trying to locate the festival seems to lie in the genesis of the program and its various parts.

Of all of the above events, only two—(short, sharp and very current and Domestic Disturbances)—were curated especially for the experimenta festival. Both of these were somewhat uneven in quality. short, sharp and very current had a heavy emphasis on retrospectives—curious given experimenta’s claim to be the forerunner in supporting new media arts and artists in Australia. Domestic Disturbances, an all woman show, featured some interesting work (most notably Martine Corompt’s The Cute Machine, Sarah Waterson’s Mapping e-Motion and Gillian Morrison’s Tricky: A game of delusion) but displayed an extraordinary insensitivity to the featured filmmakers by screening their 8mm and 16mm films on video! Maybe a space like the VicHealth Gallery is not an appropriate venue for the screening of film but a media arts organisation should be the first to recognise the necessity of showing work as it was intended to be seen.

A similar fate befell many of the films screened at the Power Station. Not only were some of them screened on video (despite the fact that print copies were available) but the screening area at the Power Station was not adequate to the task. No projection booth and insufficient blackout facilities meant that the films were hard to see and hear. The constant stream of coming and going from the room was reminiscent of the Mad Hatter’s tea party!

The other programs (Burning the Interface, The Body Remembers and the ATOM award winners exhibit, in particular) were scheduled to take place anyway and it would appear that experimenta has piggybacked these exhibits to flesh out its program. To claim them as experimenta events is stretching it somewhat. An experimenta advertising feature in Beat even went so far as to suggest that Troy Innocent’s “latest venture is a contribution to Melbourne’s experimenta festival”.

They were referring to Idea_ON>!, a CD-ROM-based interactive which was exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art as part of Burning the Interface in April and has been available as a supplement from Mediamatic for some time. And besides, what of Innocent’s ongoing collaboration with Shaolin Wooden Men for Psi-Harmonics? Just like Wonderland, nothing about experimenta seemed to be quite as it appeared.

There are clearly problems in exhibiting media art which centre on the locatability of the art work both in a physical sense and in the sense that it is often multi-disciplinary and therefore not easily categorised. experimenta needs to rethink its strategies in the light of this. Rather than trying to stage an “extravaganza of media art” as it immodestly described itself in its press releases, perhaps experimenta needs to return to a series of more focused and artist inspired mini events. They could use their funding to help artists complete and exhibit work rather than try and use the work of artists to fill the frame of an event which will always be less than the sum of its parts.

experimenta media arts festival Melbourne, 7-16 November, 1996

RealTime issue #17 Feb-March 1997 pg. 26

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

Regis Dubray, Media Manifestos
Translated by Eric Rauth
Verso, London, 1996

Regis Debray’s Media Manifestos is an intriguing, hybrid book that endeavours to excavate a nonreactive critique of Western looking. It consists of Debray’s doctoral thesis defence at the Sorbonne University during 1993-94 in front of authors like Michel Serres, Jacques Le Goff and Francois Guery, who in their own significant way have contributed to our current understanding of late-twentieth century audiovisuality.

The defence, for many different reasons, became a media event in France. Debray, as we know, has traversed in his notable life many abrupt stages: from gifted philosophy student to professional revolutionary working with Che Guevara and subsequent imprisonment to personal assistant to the French President in the 80s. Since then, Debray has been busy writing books. Media Manifestos is the bold articulation of his new sub-discipline in the sciences humaines called ‘mediology’, yet another addition to the spawning of neologisms which characterise the expanding field of new media studies. (Debray has created a whole glossary of new conceptual and methodological terms in his flawed Marxist-inflected attempt to demolish the scholastic cult of the code and the signifier that still mars contemporary art and media theory.)

What is ‘mediology’ and does it have any critical value for us in our daily lives as we negotiate the world in all of its mediatised materiality? This is one of the critical questions that informs this ambitious, rewarding but frustrating, book. The arguments that the author mobilises (time and again) in his exhaustive anti-semiotic attempt to chart a globalising history of the Western eye and its familiar postmodern corollary of the denigration of vision in twentieth century Anglo-French thought (especially as manifested in Martin Jay’s magisterial Downcast Eyes (1993), have a deja vu quality. Debray’s arguments concerning the elaborate metamorphoses of the image (from the stencilled-in hand on the cave walls at Lascaux to televirtuality) are valuable for their cultural and historical dimensions, but in the main, they leave this reader dissatisfied, because they need further elaboration in terms of convincing detail. Debray argues in very broad and sketchy terms: this may be read as a direct generic expression of the book’s PhD oral defence contents. And yet, as the title indicates, we are reading two interrelated manifestos relating to Debray’s dialectical philosophy of mediation (what, in one of his rare playful moments, he calls—oxymoronically—‘religious materialism’) concerning a history of visual forms as a manifestation of the desacralisation of images, urging us to rethink the role that “perceptual faith” has played in such a history where the West has been “programmed by incarnation, thus representation”.

Therefore, Debray is defensive (pun aside), in arguing the thesis that in charting such an evolutionary history of communication systems, a history that is steeped in the cross-disciplinary legacy of Althusserian Marxism, Foucault’s poststructuralism and Leroi-Gourhan’s neolithic anthropology, that we do not overlook that our gaze (from the idol to the ‘visual’) has been formed by aesthetics, electronics and theology. Debray’s historical anthropology of Western beliefs should not be read as yet another mindless optimistic endorsement of anything that has that viral hollow prefix ‘cyber’ attached to it. On the contrary, his book (despite its Aristotelian tendency to create schematic charts and classificatory systems) has certain worthwhile observations about the contemporary practice of art history (particularly questions relating to ahistorical essentialism, positivism, and humanism), electronic media and society. However, to say as the author does that “the history of the image and of looking is therefore a theory of effects and not values (of truth and beauty)” is hardly news to most of us. And also to aver that the latest communication technologies and innovations do not take place without some kind of socio-cultural mediation is, again, almost axiomatic these days.

Nevertheless, where Debray succeeds is in arguing against the neo-Luddite propensity to produce another inflammatory diagnostic denunciation of 20th century life and media as some kind of mechanical decline and, in the process, reminds us that by overvaluing an aesthetic of disappearance one does not (with today’s computer-inflected media) see “nothing more than a disappearance of the Aesthetic.” Consequently, Debray argues against the ‘either/or’ binarism of logocentric thinking; he sees mediology as a multifaceted approach to the possibilities of connectivity between art, culture and technology. To value (in a non-hierarchical sense) all images—the old and the new.

To see technology as vectors of culture (contra the depth perspective of phenomenology which wishes to contextualise the enigma of the body and its existential relationship to the world) and to analyse the modalities of “seeing” by italicising the cultural practices of visual figuration in their external historical contexts.

To understand the successive regimes of visuality that lie behind the respective artforms, we need not only to multiply connections between the aesthetic and the technological, but to see how the very material techniques of manufacturing, diffusing and projecting visual representations bring changes to the status and nature of the image itself.

Media Manifestos is a rich, scholarly and eclectic survey of the changing status and power of the image: it delineates the relevant collective beliefs and technological revolutions of the image from the ancient times of magic and idols to our era of multiplying cyberspace technologies. Central to Debray’s mediology is the idea that we are now in the so-called ‘videosphere’ of digital screen culture which emanates respectively from the ‘graphosphere’ (that period in history which covers art, printing and colour TV) and the earlier period called ‘logosphere’ (the era of oral culture, the technology of writing and sacred texts). And the key notion is that the birth of the image is connected to death. The image is a symbolic expression of our wish to transcend death. For Debray argues that the image (whether sculpted or painted it does not matter) serves as a significant mediation between the human and the sacred. Therefore, the image is a transcendental ceremony connecting the visible with the invisible.

Debray’s mediology is principally concerned with the transmission of ideas in history, how ideas became flesh and ideologies. His three ages of Western looking—the three pivotal mediaspheres cited above—delineate three particular ecosystems of vision. Crucially, all three mediaspheres do not replace each other, but instead are intricately interwoven. Consequently, as Debray argues, living in the era of the visual as defined by Serge Daney, we can experience the diverse symbols and representational structures from the preceding mediaspheres. As Debray puts it, “I am papyrus, parchment, paper, computer screen”. Media Manifestos, with its boldness of style and vision, is an important book that should be read, but it cries out for more persuasive content and precision of thought.

RealTime issue #17 Feb-March 1997 pg. 18

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