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Norie Neumark & Maria Miranda Dead Centre: the body with organs

Norie Neumark & Maria Miranda Dead Centre: the body with organs

A travelling resonant hum, skittering tongue sounds, voices speaking, slowed clunking loops, an accordion chord. Amanda Stewart orbits the room, darting behind translucent printed hangings, through reflected shafts of dataprojection, then approaches the double-miked stand in the centre of the space. She scatters streams of sibilant, half-voiced words and word fragments around; with a small sideways head-movement across the microphones her voice pans across the room. The clusters of humming and flickering sound continue, shifting steadily, and Stewart improvises a counterpoint with them; at one point the live voice is absorbed into its recorded double, indistinguishable, before the textural clusters change again. She swivels a nearby monitor, showing animated sequences of figures, lines of text, abstract diagrams which match the projections bounced around the walls. The odd word is spoken whole, or repeated—“the liver”, “nineteenth century”—then dissolves again into fragments of mouth sound. Stewart leaves the mikes and circles the room once more, then slips silently out the curtained doorway; her audience murmurs, and disperses to inspect the installation.

The physical components of the installation form another mass of overlapping fragments; Maria Miranda’s dense, fleshy layerings of anatomical diagrams and circuit boards hang in transparent sheets at either end of the space. A bank of mirrors breaks the computer projection into reflected, twisted strips which intersect with the transparent hangings and form fuzzy mosaics on the walls—a nice change from the normally monolithic new media screen. The animated material, also by Miranda, mixes lush paint or pastel textures (like those that gave Neumark’s interactive Shock in the Ear its distinctive visual style) with more hard-edged, machine-like flickerings. Taken in installation mode, the textural, multi-channel soundtrack gels well with the visual stimulus; things begin to link up with the spoken phrases and their discussions of the cultural specificities of bodily organs. Stand on the large plastic pad in the room’s “dead centre”—where Stewart performed—and a steady throbbing grows and seems to advance along the space. Precise sound reinforcement makes a difference here—the depth and spatial clarity of the soundtrack is a pleasure to hear. It integrates the room enough that it feels like a kind of scattered exo-body, one whose organs constantly shift and reform themselves, but still hangs together.

Of course it is organs, real and metaphorical, which are Neumark’s interest here, and organs of digestion in particular. At the core of the work is a correspondence that is only suggested in the installation: a notion of the computer as a digestive organ, a kind of prosthetic informational bowel (rather than a cyborg brain) that we use for processing email, images, sounds. The metaphor extends outwards into the work’s collaborative form: Neumark describes it as a kind of collective co-digestion, as Stewart’s vocal material trickles into Greg White’s low-end pulses, and Neumark’s soundtrack is redigested in Miranda’s visuals.

A likeable metaphor, and a continuation of a project close to the heart (so to speak) of much recent new media work—to reinvest mainstream cyberculture with the blood and guts of material things. In games like Doom bodies get splattered into an homogeneous pixelated goo; Neumark reminds us of bodies’ differentiations, and of their entanglement in cultural structures (hence the play on the Australian “dead centre”). The installation suggests a cyborg body, but not the dystopian one where the “meat” is nothing but a site for technological renovation. Here, the machines are assimilated by the body and its wandering metaphorical organs.

If there is something dissatisfying about the piece, it’s perhaps that these ideas don’t develop, but rather, remain elusive in the work itself, broken into metaphorical fragments and left for the visitor to reassemble. If a computer is a digestive organ, what value does it extract from its fodder? How do we tell an excretion from a vital nutrient? The metaphors pulse and grumble and flicker richly, but they stay indistinct—only spelt out in Neumark’s written statement. Perhaps this is only fitting since our own internal workings are just as elusive, offering us only the odd pang, gurgle or spontaneous emission as evidence of their operation. As Dead Centre points out, this leaves them open to personal and cultural reconfiguration—shifty, slippery innards.

Dead Centre: the body with organs, Norie Neumark and Maria Miranda, with Greg White and Amanda Stewart, The Performance Space Gallery, Sydney, July 9-22

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg. 17

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

Troy Innocent, Iconica, Byte Me

Troy Innocent, Iconica, Byte Me

An atavistic shudder went through the suddenly-silent crowd. We ‘knew’, of course, we all ‘knew’, the same way everyone always knew already about The Crying Game. But now someone had come out with it and it was discomforting.

We’d done the rounds of the exhibition space and chuckled knowingly at how the art (full of sound and furious interactive multimedia) was so loud we couldn’t properly hear the artists and commentators talking about the art. We’d been patient through the setting up of laptops and the inevitable irruptions of screensavers into Powerpoint presentations. We’d heard some data-packed, sardonic, erudite, passionate, whimsical, burnt-out and solipsistic presentations from artists and critics, and been given a pragmatic info-bite and pitch by Cinemedia on funding practices and venture capital.

And, then, this accidental, or blasé, revelation. “Someone in a car yard in Richmond,” I think it went.

“Fashion designers do it too”, someone said dismissively afterwards, picking over the fallout at a natty Bendigo pub. What crap. Did you see what Jon McCormack did? He’s not a natural nerd you know, he had to teach himself the code and put it all together himself, came up with the algorithms to make it work. And Troy Innocent, making up his own complex comprehensive iconic language and idiom with which his artificial creatures and their human watchers can communicate. For my money and long car ride, he’d obsessively ex nihilo created one of the most inventive and engaging of the exhibits dealing with the widest repertoire of issues in the most concentrated space.

Anyway, we’d had Darren Tofts being Darren Tofts, doing laser-scalpel analyses of the experiential (is it like a TV-flow? what’s ‘intermedia’? are artists outstripping critical idiom?) side of new media, with its recombinant formats dramatising the techno-human interface with a poetics of uncanny, defamiliarising constructivism via bricolage with found object metaphors. In one of the most useful analogies, he phrased the symbiosis of visual/aural and textual as working like the wave and particle theories of light. And Jon McCormack critiquing technology as utopian dream with his pseudo-realist burlesque on the function and idea of the scientific/museum diorama as didactic cinematic spectacle (Julius Sumner-Miller does 3D) taken over by multimedia as the prime, hyped, ‘natural’ successor to olde-educational spectacle.

And Peter Hennessey, who satirised the Oedipal identity crisis of ‘new’ media, dubbing it ‘pubescent’, sending-up the endless search for provenance or paternity among ‘old’ media, deflecting legitimation onto context, reflexivity and simulation, bemoaning prescriptive formulae and—gossip-wise a great step sideways—announcing the irrelevance of ‘authenticity’ as criterion. Kevin Murray spoke on insects and cyborgs as design allegories of social trends, over-generalised psychology, economic rationalism, privatisation, political amnesia and civil anomie. And James Verdon on the recursive DNA-looping of memory, narrative, memorial and camera/monitors by which artwork can respond to your movements.

But it was Patricia Piccinini who came out with it. After an amusing discussion of her work, including the ‘car nuggets’ (miniaturised offcuts from automobile iconography, smoothly sculpted and shiny), a Coca-Cola-ish bubbling-spring animation and a video installation of rust-done-to-look-like-a-world-globe, someone asked how she did it. Apparently the nuggets are done by carpenters and spray-painted by someone in a Richmond car yard. The moving images are by Drome.

Now, without wanting to get all Giles-Auty on you, isn’t there a teensy issue here to do with credit, acknowledgement and transparent processes (to say nothing of authenticity or intellectual property, which is always a good idea in such pro-pomo but ethically-fraught circumstances)? No mention of Richmond spraypainters on the gallery wall, or in the forum paper. If someone hadn’t asked, would we ever have known? Should we? Of course you’ve got the Koons defense, the canned-Warhol argument about artists who conceptualise but don’t do. It’s an argument that joins the dot-points: artisanship, craftsmanship, corporate-art delegation, design and directing. That’s ‘directing’ as in ‘storyboarding’ videos/animations and ‘blocking out’ sculptures/installations with ‘plans’ (trans. sketched outlines for someone else to actually construct). Kevin Murray pointed out that Piccinini’s sketches were beautifully done, artworks in themselves.

So, yes, a bit like a fashion designer, though those are usually ex-draftspeople who have apprenticed themselves in most areas of craft before they become hands-off designers (and some never do). Also a bit like Darren in Bewitched. Or Samantha, for that matter.

And disturbing, like the other issues deftly raised at the forum. I’m still arguing about it.

Byte Me, curator Anonda Bell, Bendigo Art Gallery, Forum, Saturday 24 July 1999.

Just as with the NXT event in Darwin, and MAAP99, so Bendigo Art Gallery’s Byte Me is an important addition to a developing regional awareness of and participation in new media nationally and internationally. Here the key participants were Melbourne artists and commentators in exhibition and forum. Esta Milne comments in experimenta’s online periodical MESH on the same issue raised here by Dean Kiley in her article “Nameless things and thingless names: A review of the Byte Me Forum.” MESH 13: Cyberbully. Eds.

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg. 17

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

Nalini Malani, India, born 1946, Remembering Toba Tek Singh, 1998 (detail), video installation

Nalini Malani, India, born 1946, Remembering Toba Tek Singh, 1998 (detail), video installation

Black and white video images of an old woman in an uncertain landscape. She wears the standard peasant dress with the scarf worn as a shroud. Close-ups of her eyes mingle with land and water, tears, younger women. Are these images from memory, herself as a younger woman? Is it a testimony to unlived lives?

I don’t know if the old woman played by Joyce Rankin in Louise Drinkwater’s moving electronic remembrance is the real subject of this piece but in a way it’s not the point. It is a piece which generates effects of memory and maybe even a bit of nostalgia and, not surprisingly, made me think of my own grandmother, long gone.

This is a Recording is a votive machine repairing “the web of time” as Chris Marker says in Sans Soleil. It is also a deserving winner of the 5th Guinness Contemporary Art Prize for tertiary art students. The Sydney College of the Arts should be congratulated for producing student work of this quality and maturity.

Iconographics: Antidotes to compassion fatigue

The video installations of the 5th Guinness Contemporary Art Project show how powerful good video art can be when it is presented properly. The curatorial focus and integrity of vision here are everywhere in evidence in Voiceovers which presents the work of 4 prominent figures in contemporary video art and suggests that this kind of art has the potential to effect the rescue of our tired media and our exhausted senses and re-humanise aesthetics as an experience of the body.

Nalini Malani’s Remembering Toba Tek Singh uses a triptych of video projections showing images of the atomic bomb blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki—the last orgiastic scenes in the final act of mass slaughter which closed WWII—framed by videos of 2 women holding ends of the same sari. In front is a grid of steel trunks containing bolts of cloth and small video monitors showing amongst other things images of the clear blue sky and the act of giving birth. The voiceover mentions bombs called ‘Fat man’ and ‘Little boy’ and the obscene ‘humanisation’ of nuclear war. Malani also notes that ‘Shakti’ (living energy or life force) was the name given to the Indian atomic bomb tests in the 1970s. Her point is, as the voiceover says, that in “using language as an anaesthetic, feeling dies.”

This installation is designed to counter this loss of feeling, to resist the anaesthesia which alienation induces and to act against the destruction which the dominance of military aesthetics (cf. Virilio) renders banal in our culture. The Benjamin resonance is unmistakeable. In Walter Benjamin’s classic essay of 1936, “The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproducibility”, he attempts the rescue of both technology and the senses from the fascist aestheticisation of politics and its spectacles of seductive power. He calls for a critical use of technology to counter the crippling “self-alienation” of mankind which he says has “reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.” As the smart missiles with cameras attached rained down on Belgrade, who has not participated in this thrill of the destruction of bodies?

But Malani’s polemic is also gendered and after spending any time with her installation the feeling is that the very existence of these weapons is a persuasive argument for feminism, a point underscored in Shirin Neshat’s Turbulent, a critique of the compulsory silence of women in public space in Muslim societies. A simple opposition is generated with the 2 large screens en face. One contains the image of a man singing to an all male audience and then looking across the space at the image of a woman wrapped in a chador, who sings in turn. But her song is incomprehensible, a vocalisation of the body or a kind of semiotic chora. She performs a presymbolic message, running beneath and counter to the male dominated system of generating cultural meaning. For the detail of this piece I recommend the catalogue text by curator, Victoria Lynn, which places the question of the cultural emplacement of women’s voices “at the heart of Voiceovers.”

The pop star of contemporary video art, Mariko Mori, does her own less visceral performance for video. Kumano generates an auratic distance between the audience and the personae she presents. These pieces, like much of her work in video and photography, play with iconographies and project a simulated sense of the sacred, eg in the pastiche of the cybernetic tea ceremony. In a sense she is updating the imagery of the spiritual with the cyber-chick at the centre. And why not? Her task is made easier by her telegenic presence and the skill of the armies of assistants who produce exquisite images. Ken Ikeda’s ambient music score for Kumano establishes the mood of contemplation while we watch this cheeky play of cyborg signifiers.

Lin Li’s voiceover to the video Soul Flight reassures the viewer about the images we see. Her naked body prostrate on a mountain top while vultures tear at piles of blood and meat which cover her is explained as the performance of the sky burial. This is a remarkable piece of intense performance making for video and a powerful re-enactment of a liminal ritual: in between death and rebirth, sky and land, soul and body. The piece is, if anything, too short. We move from the images of the body, flesh and birds to ‘Afterwards we had a cup of tea’ all in a few minutes. It is a mild but pleasant shock and another example of what critic Susan Buck-Morss says is crucial to Benjamin’s enterprise, the restoration of the sensory experience of perception to the field of Aesthetics so that the construction of the modern human as “an asensual, anaesthetic protuberance” may begin to be undone. This is a theme of the work presented in Voiceovers which makes it surely one of the most important recent exhibitions of video art seen in this country.

Voiceovers, The 5th Guinness Contemporary Art Project, curator Victoria Lynn, Art Gallery of NSW, Oct 8 – Nov 14

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg. 13

© Dr E A Scheer; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Prelude: an opening

At the crowded opening of Crime Scene (curators Ross Gibson and Kate Richards, Police and Justice Museum), we move slowly through the key room of the exhibition, curious about the shots of empty streetscapes where murders, rapes and accidents have taken place and been duly documented by police photographers whose constant practice yields a certain eerie artistry. The titles are perfunctory. But there’s still a chill, as if the photographs were records of hauntings—for barely a second your brain involuntarily fills in the fallen bicycle and the body of the 7 year old next to it. Ghosts. Further along the exhibition room, no imagining is required. Or it’s of a different order.

Some of the opening-nighters turn away. Others move in, peering—are we seeing this? A murdered mother and son neatly placed beneath the frame of a bed, posed almost as if in prayer. This is almost too much. How can this be shared with those pressing in around you? You move on. An empty kitchen, mess, a solitary high heeled shoe. Rape scene. It’s a chilling celebration, this opening. A few days later in the Sydney Morning Herald, John McPhee reviewing Crime Scene, worries at what he sees as inadequate notification at the entrance to the exhibition of what it contains (Warning. Some of the images in this exhibition may cause distress.). “No warning can discourage the voyeurs, but what chance is there of a surviving victim or a relative recognising a place that would bring back horrific memories? Do we have the right to use such images to make an exhibition?” (John McPhee, “Still life captures death’s essence”, SMH Nov 24). It’s not inconceivable—most of the photographs are from 1945 -1960. With the review are 2 photographs, one of a badly dented car chassis (Bondi car accident circa 1956), the other, a full size reproduction of a photograph of murdered man in a Balmain living room, 1956, and what looks like blood on the walls. Who might open the Herald and recognise a face, the body, the room…

Crime Scene is fascinating and is about more than its set of carefully selected photographs; it is about crime, about photography, documentation and forensics, and cultural history. Interviews, computer-stored information and on-the-wall documentation open out the exhibition. Nonetheless, the photographs, in their simplicity and their immediacy, are scanned onto your wetware and over the coming days they’re impossible to delete. An uneasy feeling follows you about, like the day after you dream that perhaps you’ve murdered someone, that somehow you’ve been implicated…you are complicit.

Act one: Another opening

As openings go, Dennis Del Favero’s Yugoslavian War Trilogy exhibition at the Australian Centre for Photography last month is a memorable one. Blanche D’Alpuget speaks emotionally about her meeting with a woman who had survived the Bosnian rape camps and how despite her efforts to contain it, the pain of her experience seeped into the detail of her daily life. The speech comes after we’ve viewed the first part of the exhibition, Pietà, in Eamon D’Arcy’s rude structure in St John’s Uniting Church. Inside this room within a room, our perceptions vertiginously up-ended, we watch projections onto a bed on the wall in front of us, and a chair, and a fan, a clock…all white. Tony MacGregor’s soundscore evokes the racking grind of helicopters, surveillance, a sense of urgency, like a song you can’t get out of your head. The images are equally disturbing, especially as their significance unfolds in the narrative loop—a mother tries to trace her murdered son whose body has been used by soldiers for target practice. She wants to bury him. A hospital mends its war victims only to release them to certain death, the murderers await them in the street. Unlike the rest of the trilogy, this footage is raw, the bandages, the blood, the wound, the aerial view of pleasant farms and forests barbarised. It’s good to get out of this sensurround murder scene, though you’ve probably watched it three times before you’ve registered the loop. The nightmare recurs, already.

Outside the room, we’re offered incongruous glasses of champagne. We take them and move through the candle-lit vestry and out into the night where we have the sort of conversations you have at any opening though this time they all begin with D’Alpuget’s speech and how it somehow stilled us. This time there are not too many of us. There’s enough quiet to reflect. Reflection: Pietà is a loaded gun (small dark claustrophobic room, within a church, a vertigo-inducing room, a soundtrack that won’t let you alone, images that are fuzzy, breaking up, but too real). Is someone trying to put the smoking gun in your hand? No. Pietà simply puts you in the picture, or above it; you’re up there, looking down like…God? or the Serbian airforce…?

Act 2: Deeper in

We’re thankful for the time it takes to walk down Oxford Street to the gallery for part 2, Cross Currents. Inside the main gallery of the Australian Centre for Photography our field of vision is filled with huge black and white split-screen images of cities, male and female body parts, landscapes, forests, all stretched across the space, doubled and reversed and Rohrschach Test-like folding in and out of themselves, taking our eyes with them, drawing us in and in.

The disturbing effect of Pietà is at first doubled in Cross Currents by the scale and the device and again, the sound. But this time the view is eye level. We’re on the ground. In a train. In a hotel room. Closer. The black and white photography and the artifice of its showing, however, are a little distancing, this is not as literal as Pietà. The narrative, as you piece it together, seems at first banal. “Cross Currents looks at…(the) aftermath (of the war) through a narrative dealing with the relationship between a young mail-order bride who has fled from Croatia and the Serbian body-guard hired to ‘protect’ her after she is forced into prostitution in Berlin” (Del Favero, CD-ROM booklet). And it’s like a movie, the scale, the black and white evoking an earlier generation of war films; drab landscapes rattles by, soldiers walk ruined streets. But it’s a narrative you piece together and therefore invest in—fleshing out dialogues that speak of emptiness, imagining the relationship between these naked bodies in this neat Berlin hotel room. You watch over and over until it makes some kind of sense. Because you are not given the narrative in a straight line, you feel like an outsider, but out of the banalities you build an enormity. You know what happened, that war, you try to connect it with what you hear and see now…you try to make sense of this aftermath…which never stops.

At home, on the CD-ROM you can worry at it, over and over, discovering new details, new evidence. You start to see the faces of the players, glimpsed in a mirror, or their heads straining back away from their naked bodies. This is a worrying curiosity machine. The devil is in the detail. It takes you in. When you first open it, a widescreen image of a hotel room rotates on the horizontal and your arrow transforms to a viewfinder, on the window, the mirror, the TV and at several points on the bed. You open up slices of narrative voiced over the same imploding doublings you saw in the gallery. You go back to the scenes of the crimes. You know too much, but you never know enough.

Dennis Del Favero tells us later that in the installation of this work at ZKM in Karlsruhe, the lone viewer entered a room with a severely tilted and wedge-shaped floor. Interacting with the viewer’s movements the split-screen video projection beamed onto two intersecting walls of the room—rather than the flat screen at the ACP. The sense of being drawn in, dragged in, implicated, would have been even greater. The triggering of spaces and bodies more alarmingly involuntary.

If Pietà was brutal, and by now it feels like it was, Cross Currents is so darkly melancholic you could drown in it—the size of the images, the depth of the sound, the forever folding images, like currents cutting across each other into nothing (but an invisible force, yes, a black hole). There’s sadness in the telling made moreso by the wavering drone underscoring the dialogue, broken only by a sudden orgasmic groan, an inexplicable burst of children’s play, a woman’s cry, scary male laughter breaking into the room. Of course, when you open the door, the window, the TV, the bed…sound rushes in, the wailing of a high speed train or, quiet again, the simple untheatrical dialogue of the ‘couple’, the clink of glass, ice…The limited lexicon of sounds locks you in.

Act 3: Too deep

Motel Vilina Vlas is the third part of the trilogy and installed in the smallest room of the gallery. Another small room. Again, the frightening effect is doubled in the duplication of means. An horrific story unfolds in a blameless text and a set of cibachrome photographs. A woman survives the atrocities of the rape camps and a soldier who refused to take part is in turn murdered by his own family. After everything else, this, the most detached of tellings has the most murderous effect. It is silent.

Act 4: Penetration

The specificity of the stories, the ever increasing detail you find in the images, the links you make between these and what you already know about the Bosnian war and the eternal question, ‘how could they do it?’ (not quite yet ‘how could we?’—that’s something to wake up to at 3 in the morning), this is the work of the Trilogy. You are implicated by being put in the story/experience, by being told it (that can be enough–D’Alpuget’s story or Motel Vilina Vlas), or by allowing it in—eye, ear, the stomach it hits—and out again—I will tell you what I saw, heard, felt…The Yugoslav War Trilogy is penetrating. Nikos Papastergiadis declares in the essay accompanying the CD-ROM that the works are “more like meditations on the nightmares of modernity rather than they are declarations of abuse and injustice in a specific place.” It’s always good to claim some universality for a work of art, it’s a kind of relief and an elevation of the work as art, and they aren’t accusatory, but the devil is in the detail, and Del Favero and collaborators’ arsenal of devices are too potent, too penetrating, too specific, to induce meditation. Fear comes first, and disbelief, and anxiety that stays.

Act 5: The interpretation of dreams

“Although passed over in the general coverage of the hostilities, these events involving genocide, rape camps and sexual slavery are in many ways defining symbols of a war which consciously used sex as a cultural and military weapon.”
Denis Del Favero, The Yugoslavian War Trilogy CD-ROM booklet

This is a visceral work. It gets inside you and it’s hard to get it out, as if it’s attached itself to your organs. And to your brain—it’s psychological, not in the sense that characters are created with depth or that a narrator explains himself, but in the sense that it does its work on you, becomes part of your psychology. Knowing this of Del Favero’s work, we were anxious about even going to the opening. And in Cross Currents it’s psychoanalytic, as a kind of visual poetic, intended or not, the centre of the screen (where everything doubled is sucked in or pushed out) becoming an engulfing (war) wound, where tangled trees resolve into sudden pudenda, limbs and armpit hair condense into a groin, two breasts merge into one primal one, 2 brows (are they?) fuse into something anal, an eye is fish-eye lensed and doubled into a monstrous animal, that glowers at your voyeurism, but, look, there are tears waiting to fall…every orifice is open, forced or waiting.

Like a dream Cross Currents falls apart, starts up again, is remembered in fragments, is observed, is participated in, is triggered. Like a neurosis, that most waking of dreams, it is something to go over and over, opening the CD-ROM, entering the hotel room, clicking on the door, the window, the TV, the bed, the bed, the bed…

Meditation’s not the right word, the works are too urgent for that, too keen for you to feel their pain, too eager to implicate, to place you at this crime scene and to get you coming back and back…though not quite to pin the crime on you. They are too often noisy, too sudden for reflection. But melancholy, there’s something in that, later on, on the way home, the next day, a week later, a feeling, rather than an idea…the sad narrative of Cross Currents, the sense of aftermath, of unresolvable loss, the nostalgic wartime black and white, that drone, bodies folding into themselves, the sound of children’s play. It was once hoped that the evils of the first half of the century had been conquered, but they have come back and back, slaughters and genocides, astonishing inequities. Our anger and melancholy sit side by side, just barring the way to the black hole.

Dennis Del Favero, Yugoslavian War Trilogy, sound design Tony MacGregor, produced at tthe Institute for Visual Media (ZKM), Karlsruhe, Germany, 1999. Australian Centre for Photography October 1 – 24

Cross Currents, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, August 27 – September 25

Crime Scene, Police and Justice Museum, Sydney, November 13 1999 – October 2 2000

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg. 32

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

East Timorese participants at Nxt Symposium

East Timorese participants at Nxt Symposium

The first day of October is the first day of The Wet in the Northern Territory. And sure enough, Darwin experienced a night time shower after the evening opening of NxT. This multimedia symposium, like the several before in other states, set out to expose ways in which, in the words of the coordinator Mary Jane Overall, “artists have challenged, examined and grappled with technologies in ways never even considered by the corporate world.”

Hosted by the local office of QANTM (the Brisbane-based cooperative multimedia centre—CMC) in close collaboration with Geraldine Tyson of 24HR Art, this complex event involved many more sponsors and partners than the similar events organised by the Australian Film Commission (primary financial assistance for NxT was provided by the New Media Arts Fund of the Australia Council), and gave an overview of much that has occurred in Australia amongst those working with interactive multimedia and also single-channel multimedia.

Like a croc in the Harbour, Darwin bobs out of the waters of the Arafura Sea just enough to focus on the task ahead. It faces outwards—to the bush and to the ocean—and as entrepreneurial trader and fixer, responds selectively to the needs and aspirations of the scattered Territorians. The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, built on the foreshore, is a microcosm of the local diversity with stunning artefacts exhibited within its walls (happily the fantastic annual National ATSI Awards coincided with the NxT event) and outside under the breezy palms and fig trees, the Ski Club on one side and the weekly market and citizens gathering at Mindil Beach on the other. In the clammy air, close to the water and with The Wet due, Darwin epitomised the flux of events, both natural and human. Like the best conferences, the setting invigorated and the talking took off…

Inevitably, with so many artists from interstate and overseas who have been practising in the area of media arts for 10 years and more, history was the other setting. Paul Brown’s personal history included works by filmmakers Jordan Belson and the Whitney brothers, ex-painter Harold Cohen, Nancy Burson, Edward Ihnatowicz, Vera Molnar, Larry Cuba and many others. Coming up to the present he repeated the prediction that is now being heard more widely, that the internet should not simply be regarded as another entertainment medium but distinctly as an evolutionary shift. Amplifying Stelarc’s comments from the previous night (and indeed, the previous decade), the development of the internet can be seen as a direct extension of the human cerebral cortex and will lead us inevitably toward a prostheticisation of the corporeal frame, a process that began centuries ago and accelerates as telecommunications and nanotechnology entwine with the human genome—the wetware evolutionary phase.

Such a migration of consciousness translates for some politicians present, and Sally Pryor, as a need “for humans to control the computers.” In the CD-ROM, Postcard from Tunis, she developed a means of referencing another culture without it becoming a cross-cultural enterprise requiring open collaboration. Such a thread was a strong feature of the NxT symposium and was paramount at the Resistant Media space (programmed by Australian Network for Art and Technology) in the Ski Club premises, where a battery of online computers enabled the conference and visitors to continue to grow the cortex. Shuddhabrata Sengupta explained that in the context of the border war with Pakistan, the net offered access to discussion denied in the public spaces of India and, “like modern ley lines across the map”, used anonymity, or the threat of anonymity, as a telling component of contemporary culture effected by warfare. At the same panel session, Geert Lovink reminded us of the part the net played in the wars in the Balkans, relaying closed radio stations, establishing list syndicates and using the range of media in a tactical manner. If it’s possible to view wars on television from the comfort of your armchair, is it becoming possible to actually participate in violent struggle from the comfort of your own workstation? He maintains a distinction between net activism rather than net alternatives. Communication networks must respond to need and develop a political aesthetic. This is the site of engagement and intervention rather than that of an outsider logging-on to passively read the electronic newspapers.

Meanwhile, just across the sea in East Timor, the United Nations were mopping-up the militias, and Sue McCauley referred to the Free Timor website and others that had a large part to play in keeping exiles and the rest of the world directly linked to events. Sam de Silva emphasised the need for more tactical alliances between artists and campaigns, for websites to provide information countering the claims of corporate interests, and acting as communication points for popular campaigns such as Jabiluka.

Peter Callas showed an early 2-screen video work which, utilising footage from the Vietnam War, demonstrated the subtleties of irony in relation to race and the culture of militarism. The survey of his work fleshed out the complex ways in which the modern electronic cultures of the Japan he encountered inexorably plotted the advances of cybernetic prostheses. He had created electronic horizons in cities like Tokyo where the landscape horizon had long been obscured.

“The computer as an intelligence amplifier” was how Jon McCormack characterised the human evolutionary stage, though his own work concentrates on a move away from carbon-based life forms to those based on the life-synthesising silicon chip. In the pursuit of complexity from simplicity, he demonstrated the ‘Evolve’ interface he has developed which may become a market item offering the experienced user ability to create Artificial Intelligence environments through this code-writing software.

Josephine Wilson described online writing communities, including Cipher (www.ensemble.va.com.au), her recent online project collaboration with Linda Carroli. Josephine Starrs previewed the new CD-ROM she produced with Leon Cmielewski: Dream Kitchen takes the Doom gaming conventions into the kitchen where, equipped with egg flips and other utensils, various 3D animation horrors are dealt with in hilarious style.

“The updated version of Cyberfeminism is more about networking, webgrrrls, geek girls, FACES, OBN, online publishing, career prospects, list servers and international conferences,” stated Julianne Pierce in surveying the work of VNS Matrix, “…to get ahead you must control the commodity. Information is political, it’s a weapon, and the more knowledge we have, the more powerful we are”.

Yolgnu knowledge, from NE Arnhemland, has been the longtime study of Michael Christie. He described the issues surrounding the work at Northern Territory University “to incorporate Yolgnu theories of language, identity, intellectual property and the negotiation of knowledges into the university teaching structure.” This has been pursued through a number of multimedia projects aimed at producing study materials.

Such cross-cultural projects have been a success. In the words of Kathy Mills, the prominent Aboriginal spokeswoman, songwriter and poet of “greetings, respect and language”: “Balanda (white fellas) don’t listen carefully or respond with appropriate structures…” Her work has been concerned with addressing such shortcomings in the health industry.

Staff from Batchelor College discussed and showed work derived from the adaptation of electronic technologies into the Indigenous education environment of that campus, in particular, digital archiving approaches to stories from the communities.

East Timorese refugees in Darwin were hosted throughout the symposium, utilising the online facilities and, during the final emotional session, immersing themselves in Michael Buckley’s CD-ROM collaboratively made with the Melbourne Timorese community. East Timor, Culture, Resistance and Dreams of Return allows a “rich plurality of voices” in a “social interactive documentary” in which the developer had more of a curatorial role in the design and production rather than being its author or director.

The plurality of voices online and in other public spaces was celebrated throughout the NxT event in a spirit of mutual respect for language and cultural difference. However, the impetus of rapid advances into digital culture during the decade by Australian artists is in danger of dissipation through reductions in levels of infrastructure support. The increasing babble from websites is daunting to most potential audiences. Whole areas of research as well as artefact are denied beneath the weight of Microsoft-style marketing. The wetware alliances between artists, scientists and technologists, well established overseas, are hardly heard of here. Indeed, is there a place in evolution for 3D animation?

The NxT symposium showcased a significant national record and described innovation in The Top End setting. The next event needs to be more risky and project into the future with an image of multimedia arts as a form of ubiquitous social interaction.

NxT Northern Territory Xposure Multimedia Symposium, Darwin, September 30 – October 4.

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg. 18

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

Driving through the Moorooka Magic Mile of Motors on our way to Global Arts Link at Ipswich for the launch of the Double Happiness 2_nations website, Beth Jackson (Director, Griffith Artworks) is telling us how academic colleagues were surprised to see her in the Queen Street Mall on Thursday night spruiking with Festival Director Kim Machan and Sein Chew (Macromedia Asia-Pacific), throwing T-shirts to the crowd and cracking jokes to officially open MAAP99. What did one science fiction writer say to the other? The future’s not what it used to be. Real or virtual, places do things to you.

Just last week in Sydney I saw Komninos at the Poets Festival calling in the hollows of the Balmain Town Hall for some new discussions of place that have nothing to do with the well-turned topic of landscape—places beyond addresses, places of the mind, of memory, states of being. Komninos calls himself a cyberpoet these days but for the opening of MAAP99, he’s back on the street and literally a driven man, his programmed video poetry threatening sometimes to run him down. Images from his family album are montaged, magnified and left open to the brisk Friday night Mall traffic. Intimate word pictures of a childhood in Richmond and his grandmother’s undies, cosier online, here die of exposure. More at home is his shout to exorcise the 60s from the collective imagination, “The Beatles is dead! DEAD”!

As Komninos calls up the Richmond streetscape, coloured words duck and weave across the screen—“Cars CAAAAAAAARS.” Gail Priest thinks Sesame Street and Maryanne Lynch wonders if he knows that until the 60s a tramline ran through the Queen Street Mall and, indeed, through the very spot on which he’s standing. Me, I’m searching for a place in my memory bank for “international virtual pop star” Diki conceived in Japan, now living in Korea. Gail says “Imagine if you could do anything you wanted with technology and your fantasy was that!” A pale, gawky teenage girl in big black bloomers dancing on lolly legs perilously close to the edge of some pier. The clip is intercut with vision of the remarkably Diki-like male (?) artist weaving his spell in some late-night media lab. Weird city.

At the Valley Corner Restaurant the new tastes good—shallot pancakes and deep-fried broccoli leaves with shredded sea scallops. On one side of the table a couple of web designers on laptops point with chopsticks at their wares. Artist Richard Grayson’s projections have tonight failed to materialise on the walls of the Performing Arts Complex. He whispers to us across the crispy flounder what the building should be saying to drivers crossing the Victoria Bridge. It sounds like “Slowly you are coming closer to the speed of light.”

For now, websites are still launched by a gathering of people in one place. At Global Arts Link in Ipswich for the opening of Double Happiness 2_nations we are doubly welcomed by Aboriginal dancers in body paint playing with fire and pale Chinese dancers in pink pantsuits waving fans. The mayor of Ipswich speaks warmly of technology while the head of the Australia-China Friendship Society gestures in the direction of the IMAC console and declares the site “launched or …open”. Director Louise Denoon shows us through the space opened in May this year for a sneak preview of The Road to Cherbourg, a remarkable exhibition of paintings by Queenslander Vincent Serico about mission life and life beyond the mission. Global’s vision (“Linking people to place through the visual arts, social history and new technology”) maps Global as a kind of future place and again, not the future we expected. The heritage Ipswich Town Hall provides the framework for the multiple spaces within it. This is a comfortable place, its spaces adaptable. Near Vincent Serico’s painted didgeridoos, Louise points to a hole in the floor and the space below it to take cabling as required. The ground floor interactives offer individual spoken memories of this place—“Talk the talk, not the technology” says curator Frank Chalmers. Upstairs a subtantial space is allocated for children to paint with computers and draw with pencils.

After a weekend of screenings, our bodies spinning with visions, we dive back into the Valley. Sunday night at the Artists [email protected] Zoo Ed Kuepper unleashes a mean version of “Fever” and is joined for “The Way I Make You Feel” by Jimmy Little who these days has moved from “Royal Telephone” to “Quasimodo’s Dream.” For his encore, “Cottonfields”, a didgeridoo player springs out of nowhere and plays up a storm.

MAAP99 may be a festival to experience online but there’s still a lot to be said for being here on the ground

MAAP 99 Launch, Upper Stage, Queen Street Mall, Brisbane, September 3; Official Opening Double Happiness 2_nations Global Arts Link, Ipswich, September 4; Artists Club @ The Zoo, Sunday September 5

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg.

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

Interacting with a CD-ROM is, at its most basic, an inane exploration of someone else’s digitally constructed space. In Linda Dement’s CD-ROM In My Gash, the process of navigation is as penetrative and confronting as the work itself. The user, and it is definitely a user here, has a sense of control that borders on sadism, voyeurism and rape. Each click of the mouse leads to a further wound, slit or cut in a virtual skin. The breaking or intentional rupturing of this pristine surface transgresses a natural boundary between the fluids of our bodies and the outside world. In this work there’s almost blood on the keyboard.

Incorporating chilling sounds, bits of video footage, photography and extremely beautiful animation, the work is a direct confrontation with female disembodiment and sexual horror. The point of entry is the “Gash”, slang terminology for vagina, but also representative of a bleeding slit or wound. The user explores the “narratives” of the character LYING UGLY MESS BITCH by entering 4 different Gashes. The directions are simple: “Go Left”, “Go Right” and “Go In”. The process of entering this gaping, bleeding Gash is not an easy one. It reveals fragments of memory, of the pain and the horror contained within. She’s a young girl. A Dirty Whore. A Junkie Masochist. You journey, as if by internal camera probe, through the landscape of the Gash, triggering images and sounds. Flowers, syringes, cigarettes and metal spikes fade in and out of the screen. The sounds are of severing and tearing, desperate pantings and blood tingling wails. The video sequences are evocative of surveillance footage and clandestine filming. Encounters with a bad cop, trashy hotels, stabbing rages and blood drenched bathrooms.

As in a razor blade to the flesh, Dement seems to slice through the physical boundary existing between the screen and the self. Using the sterile mathematical coding of computer software, she has managed to create a totally visceral, ‘wet’ interior realm. The surfaces are slimy and shiny. Sometimes bleeding, sometimes not, there’s a sense of a never-ending secretion. She overturns notions of a ‘nice’ cyberfeminism; being explicitly female but overtly non-erotic, The Gash has been dismembered from the female body. It is now a portal of memory. And it has reclaimed the corporeal.

In My Gash is not easily accessible. Currently awaiting classification, and with the recent draconian net laws, Dement’s work would find it hard to exist on a local server. Sold, with an R-rating, it would fail to work as a satisfactory form of porn. However, In My Gash is a phenomenal piece of digital art. It may soon exist in a gallery space as her previous Cyber Flesh Girl Monster and Tales of Typhoid Mary have. But the real interest lies in whether it’s actually taken home and played along with the not so life-like Lara Croft.

In My Gash was produced in association with the Australian Film Commission. The CD-ROM launch was presented by dLux media arts at the Museum of Sydney, August 29.

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg. 14

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

CONTACT Unstable Fields of Power is a brilliant piece of cross-cultural melange. Four artists from Bandung (Indonesia) and four from Perth collaborated on a project that is both an experimental artists’ exchange, conducted online, and an exhibition of new media works. Rick Vermey sets the tone and scares luddite internet users with laptop meltdown as his screen interface goes crazy.

The Indonesian artists are really strong on image, composition and colour in more traditional works adapted for exhibition on the web. Their artworks are bulging with meaning and narrative and are replete with theatrical grotesquerie that is finding explicitly modern forms. Rikrik Kusmara presents four compelling wooden sculptural installations that have a forceful sense of space and colour. Diyato’s dramatic works are visually amazing—although they could make better viewing in the canvas. The web hosts these artists’ usual projects and biogs, but where are their online works?

Now if you are not a net-fool like me you will get through to the online works straight away rather than thinking that the Indonesians were given a raw deal. When you do, you will find that there are some intriguing experimentations that betray a wicked sense of humour. Diyato’s little film is an allegoric transformation by fire. While W. Christiawan gets right into funny animal noises, his “postcards from the edge” and “throwing hopes” are intense evocations of how contemporary Indonesian political life pervades the everyday. These are strong, simple applications of the web to represent personal experiences.

Krisna Murti appropriates and responds to the new social stimuli in a more engaged way. She says that “in the last one decade, Indonesian TV’s commercial advertisements have radically pushed a social change, breaking the ethic value.” The lack of warning and the pervasiveness of tampons ads on Indonesia TV prompted Murti to respond with a provocative anti-ad where she re-interprets a tampon commercial in order to show how the tampon can be used for other domestic applications. She also presents an interactive with useful instructions for transforming the tampon into a teabag or a cold compress for use by men to cool their brains.

In fact there was a fair bit of humour in this exhibition, particularly from the female artists. This seems to be something of a prevailing trend in Perth. Amanda Alderson presents a remarkably accurate anthropological study in game format of going out on a Saturday night south of the river in Perth with the scuzzy males that inhabit the region. This interactive and the associated artwork spill out of the ubiquitous and terrifying symbols of suburbia—the big green rubbish bins.

The adventure starts from the invite on the mobile on Saturday afternoon and goes through all the painful rites of choice from brand of bloke to drinks, pick-up lines, cars, clothes, choice phrases and puke places that can be had on the night. At every point there is a choice but the range of choices is hilariously dispiriting. The selection of guys to go out with is big but believe me, after this night, you will never go out with that type again. It is a cringingly correct representation of the Saturday night party scene with superb sound bytes to accompany the decisions that you make. They capture all the proudly nasal mono-syllabic beauty of the Aussie bloke. I went through the ordeal a couple of times to try my luck with different guys. This is potently precise contemporary anthropology (she must be an insider) sprinkled with colourful linguistic and cultural particularities of Perthlings. It’s a classic! I was wondering what the Indonesians made of this piece.

The exhibition is a powerful venture into new territory. It would have been good to see even more cross-cultural experimentation along the lines of Christiawan and Kathy Barber’s collaboration. We can only hope that this program continues and develops in the future. Exciting stuff.

CONTACT Unstable Fields of Power: www.curtin.edu.au/curtin/dept/art/ITBX/ – expired; Krisna Murti, Rikrik Kusmara and W. Christiawan of Bandung, Indonesia and Kathy Barber, Matthew Hunt, Amanda Alderson, Rick Vermey of Perth.

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg.

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

Alice Cummins, No Fixed Point

Alice Cummins, No Fixed Point

Alice Cummins, No Fixed Point

There is an Old Law (God knows where it comes from) that says genres cannot be mixed. Yet, it would seem that the post-Star Wars audience demands that genres be mixed in a big way. So why is there so much policing of the boundaries in foyers around the land? Why is there always a little panic when dancers begin to speak? Perhaps it is something about the limitless intelligibility of rhythm and the abstraction of dance that sits as a burnishing trace element in the minds of the punters and irks them when genres are mixed. But genres need to be mixed. To know the law, we need to test the limit of the law.

Dancers are Space Eaters, the third biennial festival of contemporary dance at PICA, tested a whole clump of limits. Despite the attention to the issue, dancers using spoken text was not really a point of anxiety for this well-balanced festival. There was a strong blend of dance films, forums, performances, Q&A sessions, informal drinks, workshops, overseas guests and local artists with good attendance that created a buzz. A healthy blend of brilliant, promising, stupid, boring, inspiring, witty and contemplative work challenged established orthodoxy. One of the biggest challenges to dance earnestness came in the form of the new genre of stand-up-dance routines.

Grishia Coleman (a former member of the Urban Bush Women) one of the workshop teachers, volunteered a cheeky work-in-progress from NY called Modern Love. This was apparently a selection of scraps and vestiges from her a cappella group’s performances which are terrific, I am sure. This solo performance, however, did not amount to much more than bits of ‘choreographed music’, pseudo-sci-fi-mic jabber, a bit of cello, a pinch of Cab Calloway and a tantalising refusal to dance. However, Grishia did advance the dull dance/text debate by theorising the possibility of incorporating movement, music and song in an integrated whole—I only wish I’d seen it in practice.

Rakini’s R.E.M (Rapid Eye Mudras) were by turn titillating, captivating, thought provoking and yes, she did dance, and I thought how much can be said with just one swirling hand. Yet it was her text that made this a very funny performance. Indeed, if a common theme did emerge in the 3 weeks of this festival, it was the place of stand-up, shimmy-down, movement-comedy in postmodern dance. It all went beyond burlesque and into off-the-cuff, witty soft-shoe one-liners. There was no need for the safety of parody. Strange Arrangements and Sete Tele & Rob Griffin were hilarious. But Wendy Houstoun is the Woody Allen and Dawn French of solo movement theatre.

Happy Hour was an incredibly exciting stand-up site specific performance at the Fuel Bar. Houstoun became barmaid then barfly, bouncer then blousey raconteur in a precise observation of the narrative arc of a drinking session. Happy Hour is made up of all those meaningless fragments of bar room crapola—it is an essay on loneliness, petty stupidities, and poignant clichés. “The artist who wrote this song is a fucking genius” is repeated again and again, spilling the uncanny madness of drinking intimacies across the sodden floor. “It’s just rubbish!” says Houstoun in her perfectly pitched quiet voice (that insinuates this is not a performance), as she points to an ashtray or the performance or what we may think of her performance. Her twisted idioms brim with double shots of humour that gradually transform into strangely insightful mini-tragedies as the perspiration drops slide down the glass. Here there are no questions about the text/movement brew—it’s a heady mix. It is performance at the limits. The audience didn’t know these limits or where the end was—well it was at a Peter Stuyvesant after unceasing applause.

Melbourne’s Trotman & Morrish gave us Avalanche, for the first 10 minutes a sublime dream of cardboard box minimalism taped with pregnant poignancy. Beautiful boxes. Great lighting. Unfortunately, the sublime dripped into the soporific and then into a yawning disappointment. Although along with Morrish, I too fetishise cardboard boxes, his stand-up box-kissing routine did not explore the full eroticism of a big, clean, hard cardboard box. The movement caused no groundswells and did not articulate anything new or old or witty or scopophilic.

Alice Cummins and Tony Osborne’s No Fixed Point was just that, an endless slippery chain of moments, movements, phrases, fragments, passages, blurbs, bits and jokes. I have never before seen so sumptuous a performance retrospective. This was a tantalising journey exploring the artists’ favourite fragments from their solo and collaborative works over the last 9 years that for me have set the standard (but not the limit) for the genre. The chronological segments of the 7 works slid into a cohesive, dynamic unity and allowed an insight into 2 extraordinary performance careers. The extracts from No Fixed Point (1991) at the beginning of the evening looped piquantly with the new work The Perfect Couple (1999) devised specifically for the festival. The measured mad chase, passion and release of the first piece flowed into the desperate possessiveness of the last. Both performers displayed exceptional simplicity and pure madcap. For both the devoted audience and the performers it was a highly emotional evening, rare in this unsentimental city. It may have been prophetic that in tackling the difficulty of recreating old works, Cummins and Osborne signalled new beginnings. (And have left Perth for Sydney. Eds).

A weekend of 20 or more dance films and videos was an excellent and rare introduction to contemporary choreographers, many outside Australia—where this genre is more common. It’s hard to tell in what order these video performances were made—stage and then video or self-sufficient films with movement. Probably a healthy confusion. My favourites included the 2 sexy and robust pieces by Cholmondeleys and the Featherstonehaughs, Cross Channel and Perfect Moment (great art direction); Gravity Feed’s strangely affecting Bridge of Hesitation and The Welsh Men of Canmore’s inspiring Men, filmed in the Rockies with old fellas shaking more than their tail feathers.

But the 2 most powerful, voluptuous and mesmeric films were DV8’s Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men (UK 1989) and Iztok Kovac’s Vertigo Bird (Slovenia 1996). They were erotic in wildly different ways but both focused on the rough trade flat out cool passion of the scrambling escape from concrete spaces. A pregnant woman dancing hard on harder tiles and men hitting hard dance club walls even harder. These were visceral, explosive, full-contact ruminations into social spheres and hard body politics that left me screaming for more. They were even better on second viewing. Dancers are Space Eaters is a vital, edgy festival of contemporary genre-busting that rocked my boundaries.

Dancers are Space Eaters, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, October 18 – November 6

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg. 31

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

A horrifying account of a city. Disturbing(ly), beautiful. Irony: it radiates from my screen. User: outside/r. Sights seen: commerce, religion, prayer, culture/social life, sex/sleaze, citizen, politik, food, poverty. Framed against Shanghai skyline. 1-68.htm images. My choice of image. A tour at my ‘disgression.’ Like a touch screen (almost). To go here. And next. There. Each image, some broken links, a kind of prayer or chant. To walk through, (un)knowing. And how did I acquire this privilege of choice? To enter this simple, elegant image-album of a city. And (reading) language, defined, drawn upon and against the images. French, Chinese, English. Subtitles, translations, parodies of speech and the written word. Many altars, trade, coloured and overloaded. With meaning. Or the extraction of (its) history. To trust the document. To bear witness to an investigation. A circular reference, the recurring picture, assemblance and juxtaposition. Against a glowing (white) background. Empty fallen landscapes, villages, houses in ruin. “Three generations of architecture” (52.htm). A silent photo-file. Statements, too, of possible beginnings, endings, a hope (even lovers walk here), maybe faith, signs of friendship, icons in isolation, little devils appear, unmoveable objects, they pose for the camera (what are the symbols? which way to go? do I go on?). Scene: street market, the people of a city, there is life, daylight, a morning, immersed in it. Beyond, go further, in detail. Out of a dust-storm. A city in destruction, layers of a new structure, a blanket over the past. Villages of poverty slammed against some kind of fragmented future. “This whole city is a workshop” (28.htm). Again, a document. Where to next? This is easy/hard to look at. The neon of Shanghai, yes, everywhere, in photo form (remember) and people, dark nights, crowds glued into a commodified system of progress. Not unfamiliar. Could tell you things. And questions: who tore this all apart and who are the new builders? The reds, the lights, the ancient to the plastic reality of pop culture. Trade offs. “Fashion of evening life” (41.htm). What prayer? Earth and heaven, in denial. Body to the ground. Concrete. The spectators gather, no room to breathe. It’s about filling space. Moving between gaps. Taking a snapshot. Ghosts and cries, remains of a former city. Here, now: bulldozers, construction sites, forbidden (policed) zones of the next stage…Forthcoming city divisions and ‘self-colonised’ sectors, the seepages occur: “…a continuous influx of franscultural influence” (45.htm). Franchised worlds. This investigation circles the city and reports back fear. Loss, deletion, awaiting the upset, upheaval, transgression. Replacement and renewal, removal. 68 essays, clouded by grey dust, stirred foundations and missing persons. Returns to the start. Shanghai N.2 makes no claims yet screams the loudest. The photographer (seemingly) unidentified [Chen Zhen .Ed] but like a guide clock, (ac)counts (for) each step.

Missile: Shanghai N.2l, http://www.shanghart.com/chenzhen/1.htm (expired)

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg.

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

Wayne McGregor, Random Dance Co

Wayne McGregor, Random Dance Co

Wayne McGregor, Random Dance Co

Wayne McGregor is a London-based choreographer and performer whose company, Random Dance Co, has a residency at The Place. He has been commissioned to create works by companies as diverse as Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company and the Birmingham Royal Ballet and has also done extensive choreographic work for theatre companies, film and advertising. He was one of 2 choreographers (the other being John Jasperse from the US) conducting workshops last July in Melbourne for Chunky Move’s Choreolab. The project attracted a broad range of participants including Michelle Heaven, Shaun McLeod, Kate Denborough, Alan Schacher, Sarah Neville and Fiona Cameron. I spoke to Wayne MacGregor halfway through his workshop.

EB How does the Choreolab model for this type of workshop compare with others you have been involved with overseas?

WM There are very diverse choreographic laboratory schemes in Europe. For example, a mentor might come in and work with choreographers and set tasks, and then they work with a group of dancers and that is evaluated—that’s quite a traditional model. Then there might be a mentor who works with a composer and you, as the participating choreographer, have to work with their kind of collaborative choreographic processes. Because I knew it was going to be quite a diverse group of choreographers here in Melbourne, I thought I needed to hone in on principles I work with which still give them enough scope to apply to their own work—a sketch of ideas that they can then take and develop in their own choreography. Some of those principles have just been movement-based interventions generating language and content for dance, and some have been formal concerns—how is it that you structure your vocabulary into a coherent language that communicates with an audience? And we’ve worked with technological interventions that are either computer, video or film-based to give a different perspective on ‘action’ and then develop that choreographically. For example, I have a 3D animation programme called Poser which I’ve used to create some choreography on the computer that has then become a resource for stimulating other choreography. We’ve also worked with digital film to look at the possibility of genuine retrograde—filming something and then looking back at it in slow-motion reverse and re-learning it, but still maintaining the original kinetic information.

EB How did you find the participants’ contributions to the workshop?

WM One of the reasons I like doing these workshops is because I’m not like this great choreographic master coming around and telling everybody how to do it, but because it’s a genuine dialogue you always learn from. For instance I might set a choreographic task or idea, and the participants’ practical solution to the question is completely different to mine. And I’ve really found that with this group which has been interesting for my choreographic development.

EB These types of workshops are still very rare in Australia—we don’t have a great tradition of choreographic workshopping or mentoring. How important do you think this sort of thing is for choreographers?

WM I think they’re completely vital. I don’t think it matters what stage of choreographic practice you are at, if you’re really experienced or haven’t done very much; an opportunity to research and develop outside your own practice is completely critical and that’s why I still keep doing them. I’ve recently done a choreographic workshop with Bob Cohan in London where he mentored me for 2 weeks. You have to choose the right time to do it for yourself—in the middle of creating a new work may not be the right time to do a choreographic research project with someone else, although sometimes it might be. If you don’t have opportunities to extend your process you become very myopic in your approach, and your work becomes very habitual.

EB Is there any difference that you found here in Australia—any qualities that seem unique?

WM There is definitely a hunger for the information and for giving things a go—a really positive attitude to that. I think it’s also clear that the people hadn’t really done that many choreographic workshops because the kind of analysis—the ways in which you talk about, evaluate and positively criticise the work—perhaps wasn’t as forthcoming as in other places where they’ve had a lot of experience at doing that. I think it’s a very hard thing—not only talking about your own work but somebody else’s in that kind of context. And I think the more we go on this week the more vocal they are becoming. Lots of people position themselves in relation to work and say they either like it or don’t, but this is about looking at the work in relation to the task and to see how far we’ve gone in fulfilling it.

EB How did you learn your choreographic skills?

WM I did a 3-year dance degree which was primarily focused on choreography and it really was a kind of ‘craft’ approach. So it wasn’t so much about innovation in relation to language but about the difference between form and content and how you structure language; a formal approach. It was almost like music training—a technical approach like music—where once you’ve got all that ammunition you can really subvert it and explode it. So, I did that and then I was at the José Limon School in New York and while I was there I was able to participate in a range of choreographic workshops with a lot of very different choreographers working in New York. I think the best way to learn about choreography is by doing it and that’s what Forsythe has written—that the only way to master choreography is through practice.

EB But here there is the economic problem of affording the bodies to work on and the space to work in; the opportunities to choreograph are few and far between for a lot of practitioners.

WM It’s interesting…in England a lot of young choreographers, and I’m not just saying they do this for experience, they work in community centres or with young people, and that’s in no way a compromise. It’s actually testing choreographic ideas in a very valid way. And I still do a lot of that work myself—we have a large educational and community program and that’s not to get funding to do other work, it’s actually an opportunity for choreographic investigation. And it may not be—technically—what you are after, but choreographically I’m able to test something new every time. I find the more I do that, the more it’s informed my work.

EB One of the big problems we have here is dancers making the transition to choreography without any real incentive beyond that of creating opportunities to perform. This seems to be due to the small amount of company positions for dancers in relation to the number of dance graduates.

WM I’m sure that’s a problem. In England there are 400 dance companies so a professional dancer has the opportunity to work with a range of very good choreographers, so I guess that’s a big difference. I think it’s a really hard transition and, as a choreographer, you really have to have something to say. For a lot of dancers it’s just the idea of being a choreographer that’s appealing, and that’s not an idea in itself. There has to be a real burning passion to communicate. I do know a lot of dancers who’ve gone through that transition and worked really hard at it and produced not such great work in the beginning, but through real tenacity and work have been able to develop good choreography. But I think dancers can leave companies too early; they think it would be much better to be the figurehead, but it’s a completely different job. A choreographic workshop like this is a great opportunity for young dancers to try it out and get new perspectives and information and openings without exposing themselves to audiences and critics.

EB What was your knowledge of the Australian dance scene before you came over?

WM I didn’t know much—I’d done some work with Company in Space and had really loved that—their use of new technology and development of new software and ideas of presence are really exciting. And my development director, Sophie Hansen, used to live in Melbourne so she gave me a lot of information about the scene here. But we don’t get to see a lot of Australian work in London—the last thing I saw was Meryl Tankard. I think our assumptions are that it’s very American post-moderny, quite traditional in its form. Or we know the real flashy companies like Sydney Dance Company. But it’s been a real eye-opener being here, seeing some of Gideon’s work on video, talking to people and seeing that really innovative things are happening here. The profile isn’t massive but the work is here.

Choreolab 1999, presented by Chunky Move, July 26 – August 6

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg. 30

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

Hong Kong has not disappeared. It has rebuilt. It has rebuilt on disappearance. It has replaced utility with images. Images are now the utility. Images in frames and covered in layers that disappear in a layer of images compressed in frames.

Self-Made Cinemas is a one of these layers. It is a program of ten independent screen works from Hong-Kong curated by Jo Law and currently touring Australia. These dynamic and diverse videos are united by a common city rhythm and a fascination with HK’s multiple layers of change. In her curator’s notes, Law says that the actual experience of a Hong Kong no longer recognised by its inhabitants is disappearing. She claims that “visual images have lost their ability to represent. They have become mere mis-connected signs pointing to a mirage.”

Perhaps this is why these independent video makers try to capture the images of their city to stop its disappearance. But these images are not archives, or documents. They are highly personalised video essays that present the vagaries of remembrance in different forms. In these Self-Made works, HK is not a mirage or a ghost but a colourful, pulsing, busy shawl woven of different threads that are connected by their disconnectedness to stasis.

These videos were made either before or after the ‘hand over’. In some ways, this theme is pervasive, if not in the films then in the way in which we will watch and make sense of them. The granite gray skies of that wet July day in 1997 may have replaced the enduring images of exotic hybrids, British imperial jewels and martial art films, but it is images that shuffle off and disappear, not cities. These works reveal HK transforming through the rainbow of memory and the exigency of speed and need. They are ephemeral, personal paintings in time with little attempt to capture the whole.

Mr Salmon is a dazzling animated symphony of salmon swimming up river and across sushi bars. It is vibrantly textural and colourful. It could be an urban metaphor for swimming against the flow of history as a vital death impulse only to become an appetizing visual delight for video voyeurs.

The ingredients of Hong Kong’s cultural hybridity are far more potent than just Western modernism or traditional Chinese narratives. The vitality of HK is the piquancy of innumerable cultural influences. Fuelled by hyper internationalism, it resists homogenisation in the drive for new taste experiences.

Exquisite video techniques are common to all these works. This manifests the “survival myth” of Hong Kong: life springs from hybrid fusion. Dave Hung’s Love entrances with modern primitivist images set to the incredible driving rhythm of the Balinese ketjak chant. Traditional grotesque hybrids flicker in a ceaseless dance of erotic transformation in this sublime appropriation of the trance chant.

Urban repulsion is combined with morbid fascination with the city. This makes for an uncanny contemplation in the video format. There is an obsession with motion and different forms of communication and transportation along roads, footpaths, depoliticised landscapes, internet sites and city sights. The new flaneur in HK experiences detached contemplation at high speed.

“The road is the same every day. But could I still recognize it tomorrow??”

The drive time of Makin Fung’s Hong Kong Road Movie was exhilarating—my personal favourite. It combined a roaming road video with a memorial to the personalised passage of time in HK, global internet and email interfaces and non-stop textuality. This delicate diary with endless road signs and screen directions about movement, roads, politics and change was incredibly inventive. A virtuoso display of the potential of the screen—split and layered in amazing configurations with a ceaseless polyphony of motion. Any stillness was surprising. The personal became vital. The work was rhythmic and tactile. This was total screen art and a tiger’s leap into the future.

In Frederic Lichstenstein’s One Minute Project an agitated eye peers through its veiny membrane at us. A disturbing offer. A different way of looking—both for the eye looking out and for us looking in on the eye. The challenge for us is to look at this eye with disinterest. To look at HK and not see a reflection of our cities in its myriad mirrored skyscrapers. To see something new and as yet unnamed.

All of the Self-Made films are startling in their originality of vision and readiness to use the video medium in fresh and unpredictable ways. They explode the potential for re-viewing screen space and the texture of editing. The excess of speed, information and image flows did not create a sense of clutter. These works present a completely different cognition of space and pictorial organisations of the moving image. It must be the rhythm of moving freely in small ever-changing spaces. Discordant frames within frames, layers across frames in perpetual motion create an unpredictable harmony of vision. Their highly personalised essayism reveals new ways of seeing that will not disappear in the future rebuilding.

Self-Made Cinemas, curator Jo Law, State Library Theatrette, September 4, MAAP

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg.

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

Producciones La Manga, CRANK La Cultura del Safo

Producciones La Manga, CRANK La Cultura del Safo

Integrated Dance is at last being taken seriously by promoters, reviewers and by the dancers themselves. The form is not a new one but is often perceived as a community sport. I have recently returned from the Art & Soul Festival of Disability Art and Culture in Los Angeles where though viewpoints differed, dance was given high profile in the program of performing, visual and literary arts.

With great reverence to the dance pioneers who paved the way for integrated dance, the international festival did not display an abundance of new work. The most striking new dance came from Producciones La Manga. Their work, CRANK La Cultura del Safo, was described as a “Wheelchair Dancing Investigation Project”. Ten performers from Mexico City with and without wheelchairs powered their teen version La Fura Dels Baus. Delivered with such extraordinary attitude and energy, the work was hard and fast, using effective off-stage dialogue and action. Street fights, rock/paper/scissors images and bullying were running themes for this on-the-pulse representation of Mexican youth street culture.

It is not always the disabled body which makes integrated/disability dance interesting, it is how the performer and/or the choreographer work with that body. The choreography from Gabriela Medina was clever and inclusive and it was often impossible to distinguish who really needed their wheelchairs. They carried each other around the stage and the company’s use of floor rolling and body jumping dramatically demonstrated their strength and endurance. Despite its serious need of a trim, the company performed some of the most abstract and exciting wheelchair dancing I have seen to date.

Artistic Coordinator, Mario Villa, explained that the piece simply came from a workshop project that developed into a full work. The group have been working together and receiving various grants and awards since 1995 and are currently working on a new investigation project. I hope we see them soon in Australia.

CRANK La Cultura del Safo, Producciones La Manga, Art & Soul International Festival of Disability Art and Culture, The Los Angeles Western Bonaventure Hotel, May 28 – June 2 1999. For further info, contact VSA at http://www.vsarts.org/

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg. 31

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

Some notes from a participating filmmaker on MAAP Screenings.

Sick and Dizzy: “I love my country’s sky”— bleached by overexposure, Love a video by Dave Keung Hung, at first practices facetious facials of ‘give us a kiss’. Through pure persistence he breaks down spectator resistance and breaks you up through the jingoistic fervor of the soundtrack’s loop. Faces out of whack dissolve to others equally engaged in this ‘little bit we know about love.’

Self-Made Cinema: Mark Chan’s Happy Valley recalls the multiple screens and extradiegetic voice of Godard’s TV and questions of love and identity in Resnais and Duras Hiroshima mon Amour. It’s a bittersweet critique of ‘real estate’ life in the city through the affectionate perspective of Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

In Differences do Matter Anson Mak pans her singing voice from her speaking voice through separate channels. Via technology she re-presents herself in the metaphors of linguistic differences and their concomitant constructs of identity.

Hong Kong Road Movie by Makin Fung is a series of shifting terrains to the throb of a slow flute on soundtrack—landscape whitens on the road going back/going to. The past tense ‘does anyone remember…’ folds over the present tense ‘it’s my birthday…’ over the future tense ‘next week?’ The tension of these troubled times is wrapped up in signs of prohibition and electronic mail two.system@one.country

dLux media arts’ collection D.art projects heterotopias of multimedia practice. In Isabelle Hayeur’s Si jamais la mer digital fx take on biblical proportions in the parting of the sea. A bird’s-eye-view tracks receding shorelines in this time of global warming. ‘If ever the sea’ floods the memory with wasted lands—a memento mori for a global warning on a world at war with itself. As if a scriptural omen on ‘the fire next time’, Hayeur’s work fits with the crackle of D.art’s logo flickering between the works.
The Anemone collection from Imago ripples its interstices with reflective light. The closing days of the 20th century are marked by an acuteness of vision, melancholic humour, and dark beauty. This ‘post’ age of the circuitry of the ‘client’ meets its match in Peter Circuitt’s Post, an animated assemblage of cheap photocopied identities and remaindered yet feisty robots who get in each other’s way. It’s the old private eye routine but this entropic parody has the worldweariness you get from being trapped in the shutters where film noir’s shades clank like worn out projectors.

Rapt is a wrap-up of body bits in virtual space (like ‘Eve’, the homeless woman whose body’s been digitally spliced in service of USA scientific data). Both rapturous and fraught with anonymity Justine Cooper’s imaging scans oscillate with a magnetic resonance between a heaven’s gate spirituality and the black hole of the Despot.

The Anemone collection has many moments of persuasive beauty—from Kim McGlynn’s full-bloom ‘through-the-flower’ sensibility in Eulogy (post debts to Judy Chicago /Georgia O’Keefe) to Dominic Redfern’s Please Wait Here his wandering camera eye searching for something exquisite at the margins of TV’s dross chirpiness “I know how tiring it can be”. Vikki Wilson’s work March-Riever recalls Kristeva’s notion of ‘thetis’—the traversal of borders, and the abject (examined by Barbara Creed in Screen on ‘The Monstrous Feminine’ via Kristeva’s Powers of Horror). Moods of negativity are privileged in dark-stained poetic abstractions of image and readings from Beowulf and Lautreamont transcending time and space. Such a ‘flick’ renders the legitimacy of film problematic, tracing the defacing mark, scratching the surface of the symbolic’s material real.

In Strange Stories curated by Kim Machan David Cox’s Other Zone and Feng Mengbo’s Q3 sit edgily alongside my own film Happiness where the belly of the artist’s gut instinct hangs out in virtual space waiting for alternative developments in the contaminated architecture of screen culture; a waiting room evocatively entered by Joyce Campbell’s Bloom.

Q3 by Feng Mengbo (China) opens with plainsong of Gregorian chant and afterfx simulating B&W scratch film that sets a mood of artificiality and plaintive beauty, a beauty abruptly terminated as Q3 launches into the speed-of-light Sim Life whose POV is down a gunbarrel playing merry hell through the heavenly boys’ own world of GI Joes and Bombay Bandits. Cox’s Other Zone counteracts such wishful Neuromancers with his Molly-type heroine who passes through red silk interfaces to commune with Mother Moon—in the process getting waylaid by the prosthetic Master Stelarc a wannabe Gary Oldman lost in space. From Korea, Young-Hae Chang’s The Samsung Project (Samsung means to come) succeeds simply through text to convey the erotic and comic moments in mother-in-law’s kitchen to a soundtrack that’s jazz!

Self-Made Cinema, Sick and Dizzy and D.art99, State Library Theatrette, September 4; Anemone and Strange Stories, Queensland Art Gallery LectureTheatre, September 5

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg.

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

IGNEOUS, an integrated dance company based in Lismore, recently gave previews of their movement and multimedia performance installations, Manipulations and Hands (works in progress), where the audience were encouraged to move through the space and survey the interaction of drama, dance, video, slides, soundscapes, live music, puppetry and sketching. Directed by Suzon Fuks, choreographed by James Cunningham and created in collaboration with the cast, the works explore the ways we use our hands to express, to threaten, to love and to create. Kath Duncan, star of the documentary My One-Legged Dream Lover, contributed text about hands: “You can’t have a one-armed flower girl. What would people think!” Formed by Cunningham and Fuks 5 years ago, IGNEOUS features adults and children (in the 4 adults there are only 6 functioning arms) and focuses on the interaction of performance and projected image. Possibilities come to life when physical difference and the beauty of awkwardness join forces.

Manipulations & Hands, Northern Rivers Conservatorium, Lismore, October 30-31. For more information, call 02 6682 4015, fax 02 6682 5691

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg. 30

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

Sales of home consoles and software will this year break 20 billion dollars, surpassing the Hollywood box office for the first time in history. What does this mean? It means more people are playing more games more often than ever before. It means that more people are playing games than going to the movies or reading books. It means that games are now quite probably the single most popular form of entertainment on the planet. Most alarming of all, it means that people will soon be forced to acknowledge (at least the possibility) that digital entertainment has finally crossed the line from spotty boy’s wasted time to viable art form.

In October Sega launched its new 128-bit ‘Dreamcast’ console in Australia after selling over a million units in 2 scant months overseas. Not to be outdone, Nintendo and Sony have both announced new systems, pitched (as they always are) as more powerful than their predecessors, capable of dragging twice as much eye candy around your TV screen at twice the speed in half the time. It is doubtful whether this alone will entice reluctant gamers into the fold or convince anybody that games are a serious artistic rival to books or cinema.

The potentially revolutionary aspect of these new systems is hidden in the way their manufacturers (especially Sony) are describing them. If the hype is to be believed, we are on the threshold of a new entertainment age. Sony is calling the processor at the heart of its new system a ‘motion Engine.’ That might be a ridiculous moniker for an inanimate hunk of metal and plastic, but it marks a fundamental shift in the way games are approached by developers and the way consumers are willing to accept them.

But comparisons between video games and other arts are nothing new. In video game circles the term interactive movie has been an oxymoron for years. In the past, the outcome was invariably an unplayable series of set pieces interrupted by simplistic choices leading to fragmented (and badly acted) sequences involving B-grade actors and ex-porn stars. Games developers would benefit from dropping the movie tag altogether and following industry leaders like Square whose Final Fantasy series has long been pushing the boundaries in digital storytelling.

Progressive games developers are already beginning to look for ways to tell better stories and communicate ideas in a non-linear fashion. Game levels are being replaced by game environments, single task orientated goals are being fleshed out with multiple side quests which (in the best examples) actually affect the main storyline depending on what angle the player chooses. New software titles coming soon for the discerning player include Vampire: The Masquerade from Nihilistic Software which allows one player to change the game on the fly, throwing enemies, puzzles and situations into the path of other players at will. Or the recently announced Republic from Elixir which boasts a million unique characters and an infinite polygon engine in its simulation of (wait for it) an entire Eastern European country. If that doesn’t impress you, remember that the game’s detail level is rock solid right down to individual flower petals and autumn leaves.

Whether either game turns out to be any good doesn’t matter right now. What is worth focusing on is how markedly different their approach to software development is to the practices of the past. These games exhibit traits more often associated with movies than entertainment software, providing immersive, story driven entertainment instead of attempting to graft a game onto a film like the interactive movies of yesteryear. Vampire aims to allow players to basically script their own adventure movie as it’s being enjoyed, wresting control away from formulaic computer AI and handing it back to the user. These are software tools more than games as they are traditionally understood, closer (in cinema terms) to a movie camera than a finished movie.

The major draw card for games is interactivity. The blockbusters of the new millennium offer all the visceral thrills of film and schlock novels and then some. If more developers follow the lead of companies like Nihilistic and Elixir (which seems likely) then the gaming community 10 years from now will be a very different place. Imagine being able to create scenarios instead of linear plot threads, world environments instead of single scenes. Imagine taking your friends through a custom designed adventure which you could manipulate to their tastes every time someone seemed bored. The possibilities are immense and their exploitation may eventually make games a serious artistic player.

But first things first. The second crucial ingredient in the equation following the types of games made, are how these software toys are delivered and used. Multiplayer games are the catch cry of the late 90s and Sega has recognised this by including a modem as standard with its new Dreamcast and allowing owners of its console access not only to other players around the world, but to email and net access through their TVs without an expensive PC.

On a very basic level this means more human contact. The PC online world is (at present) a frag fest of Quake death matches and Half-Life mods. Players run around a maze, players shoot each other, players start again. Not exactly advanced characterisation or emotional interaction. But other sites like Ultima On-Line offer at least a small step forward, allowing a reasonably detailed world for dedicated roleplayers to muck about in, filled with literally thousands of other human players and overseen by a simulated economy.

The combination of the 2, providing realistic and detailed environments with the ability to link to other human players in scenarios which offer more than the usual kill-or-be-killed mentality is where the potential to revolutionise entertainment lies. True virtual reality doesn’t need to strap a black plastic box to the top half of your head, it just has to allow you to interact with real people in a world which allows you to make different and realistic decisions.

Primary conclusion. Will this new game depth devour the arts as we know it? Of course not. If you need proof, notice that film did not kill books and TV did not kill film despite various doomsday prophecies. However it does mark the emergence of a new form which is in direct competition with mainstream media. Secondary conclusion. But is it the death of the Hollywood blockbuster and the schlock novel? You never know. How many times can your average 14 year old kid get excited at a larger, more realistically executed explosion? And how many times must Bruce Willis save the world before we can all sleep at night? Because personally I’m doing okay already.

This is the first column in a series on trash and pop culture by Alex Hutchinson.

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg.

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

Beautiful People, D-Faces of Youth Arts

Beautiful People, D-Faces of Youth Arts

The crowd at Whyalla’s Middleback Theatre was buzzing as a warm wash of lights filled the stage and fell on the closed forms of 3 dancers. The heavy bass of a rhythm and blues track vibrated through my ribcage. In a prelude to the main performance of the evening, 4 short dance pieces introduced themes of cultural diversity and turned the audience onto the physical dynamism of D-Faces of Youth Arts, a company integrating performers with and without disabilities. I broke into a sweat just watching the dancers warm up.

D-Faces began their piece with a maze of movement, image, soundscape—sensations of a bustling urban landscape; kids rollerblading, skating, running, playing, traffic blaring. Into this were woven heartfelt narratives of the kind of isolation that sits heavily in your chest and the relief that comes with friendship and acceptance. Schoolyard scenes were re-created, gangs exchanged confidences and angry insults. It is here, within the schoolyard, that young people explore the politics of culture and identity.

Directed by Sasha Zahra, Beautiful People suggested that occupying a polarised position of self-definition is a confined place to be. A warm and wild samba made light of racial debates; in a satire of the mantra of “them” and “us”, D-Faces reminded us that between either end of a social strata lies a dance of engagement and self-definition.

Beautiful People D-Faces of Youth Arts, Middleback Theatre, Whyalla, South Australia, November 6

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg. 30

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

Shelley Jackson, Patchwork Girl

Shelley Jackson, Patchwork Girl

The Board of Studies of NSW recently incorporated Patchwork Girl and other hypertext works into the new Advanced English curriculum for Year 12 for 2000-1. I spoke to Eva Gold from the Board about the implications of this decision.

KK Why did you decide to include hypertext? Is this decision a world first?

EG The new English HSC courses have a much broader definition of ‘text’ to include texts other than print texts. This allows students to study film, television and multimedia texts such as CD-ROMs, websites and other forms of hypertext. This change is in recognition of the pervasive influence of the visual and the electronic on our modes of communication and ways of thinking.

Hypertext is seen as particularly important because of its non-linear structure and the reader’s control of the directions of the reading experience. This makes students aware of their own reading and writing practices of more conventional types of texts. For this reason, hypertext is also helpful in introducing students to the more theoretical aspects of the nature of reading and writing and so provides a sound basis for the more abstract elements of Advanced English and for further study in the subject.

I have been told by several people that this is a ‘world first’ and that the effect of hypertext in the curriculum will be viewed with interest by various educational institutions around the world.

KK What in particular appealed to you about Patchwork Girl and Samplers? Did you consider other hypertexts as well?

EG The committee did consider a range of hypertext fictions but the appeal of these 2 lay in their accessibility to HSC students. The text selection working party considered many hypertexts too difficult or sophisticated for HSC students. They were clearly directed at an adult audience or at university students. Samplers [Deena Larsen] was considered valuable as it played with notions of short story structures in an amusing way. Patchwork Girl is well regarded as a rewriting of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a text that has worked well with students in the past. The committee believed that this connection with what is known by teachers through familiarity and students through popular culture would assist in the introduction of a new form.

KK Also on the curriculum is Manguel’s non-fiction A History of Reading and Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller. Are there connections made between these texts and hypertext fiction? Calvino’s book seems a very useful and sophisticated example of playing with, and subverting, narrative structure, of a text that reveals itself as a constructed object and acknowledges the reader, something that most hypertexts self-consciously do…Are these links explored with students?

EG Yes. The elective in which these texts are found provides students with the opportunity to “explore the ways in which different assumptions about reading and writing affect the language of texts…and consider how language shapes the relationships between readers, writers and texts.”

KK In terms of responding to these works, do students submit an essay? Are they encouraged to experiment with the way they hand in work, eg creating a website or putting their essay on disk and adding hyperlinks? How would this affect teachers’ marking, if students moved beyond the traditional essay and into multimedia themselves?

EG Students compose spoken, written and visual texts in a range of genres and media. This means that while the essay is an important form for responding to texts, it is far from the only one. There are many opportunities for students to develop their skills of composition using computers and blending the verbal with the visual in as many ways as the medium offers.

The new HSC is outcomes-based and assessment is based on the extent to which students achieve the course outcomes whatever the content or medium through which they do so. Students are encouraged to compose in a range of modes and media. To ensure this, there is an outcome that states: “A student assesses the appropriateness of a range of processes and technologies in the investigation and organisation of information and ideas.” This outcome can be achieved through work with hypertext.

Of course, this does not change the fact that teachers’ marking is affected with every change of question. Different criteria are applied to assess the learning outcomes depending on the demands of the question.

* * *

I think I’ve created a monster…

As I insert Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl into the a drive, it’s the first time I’ve experienced hypertext on disk rather than on-line and I’m in an unfamiliar iconic landscape, Storyspace. I have 2 new things to read, the programming tools and the work itself. Reluctant to read the Help menu, I start to explore: ‘Tree map: her.’ ‘Chart View of Patchwork Girl.’ Design and structure. Grid-like maps. Writers as construction workers. A graphical interface dissecting “a modern monster.”

Patchwork Girl looks at the act of writing as much as text itself, “tiny black letters blurred into stitches”, as a creation process not full of Mastery; this is a woman making a monster, this is Mary/Shelley. The metaphors of quilting and patchwork have been consistently used for hypertext writing (eg TrAce’s Noon Quilt project), sewing together nodes, acknowledging the process as much as the outcome, its made-ness. At times, Patchwork Girl seems overwritten, full of churning and astonishment, but perhaps this is to reclaim the monster, to re-outfit her in emotions that fit. Mary’s stitched creation does not resemble her. Fragile yet independent. Strong. Beyond her control: “I crave her company; I crave even the danger.” Exploring what it’s like to be freakish and monstrous—something most teens can relate to—there’s an uneasiness in the text, an eroticism: does Mary desire her own creation? Our monster has on the surface what most of us carry inside, scars, finely stitched, criss-crossed evidence of her making, which “not only make a cut, they also commemorate a joining.”

If this were a film my eyes would be shut. The text becomes grotesque. We slice off, and into, bodies. A pre-cyborg experience. Vines and grafting. Bedroom operations and surgery as control. Patchwork Girl becomes about losing that thing you desire/fear most, a must-read for all parents: “Far from sentimental, we were both testy in the knowledge that we would soon be parted; seeing each other still nearby stuck us both with an ugly shock, like a foolish anachronism in a novel that makes you distrust the author, and regret the time already invested in a world gone paper-thin.”

Shelley Jackson, Patchwork Girl, Eastgate Systems, USA. www.eastgate.com

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg. 19

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

Expect the unexpected. For audiences at the Village Cinema in Hobart who have been scratching their heads over that enigmatic and anonymous little 30-second trailer screening at their cinema since November, wonder no more. Although the work is screened without a title, the Bulgarian-born multimedia artist Antoanetta Ivanova refers to the project as Homo Genesis reflecting the concerns that motivated it. “Homo Genesis is a mysterious visual unfolding of natural forces with a rapid-fire mix of traditional and urban sounds…It challenges our perceptions of art and the media and the detached way we view the uninterrupted flow of images and information on screen. It catches the audience off guard in order to provoke a more primal, unprepared response, and to encourage a multiplicity of readings.” Based in Hobart for the past 3 years, Antoanetta’s last public work Deluge was a large billboard image located at a busy traffic intersection.
Homo Genesis screens at the Village Cinema, Hobart, 18 November – 16 December.

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg.

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

Suzanne Treister, No other symptoms: Time travelling with Rosalind Brodsky, interactive CD-ROM

Suzanne Treister, No other symptoms: Time travelling with Rosalind Brodsky, interactive CD-ROM

Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art received a deluge of entries for its National Digital Art Awards. Judges Justine Cooper (1998 1st prize winner), Amanda McDonald Crowley (director, ANAT) and David Broker (deputy director, Institute of Modern Art) chose 14 finalists and eventually narrowed it down to the winners who were announced by Wayne Goss on October 14. Martine Corompt and Philip Samartzis won 1st prize for their interactive sound sculpture Dodg’em, “an inventive installation that configures the physical space of the gallery as a portal to a richly designed sonic world” (Darren Tofts, RealTime 33). Melinda Rackham’s Carrier (www.subtle.net/carrier), “an experimental website investigating viral symbiosis in the virtual and biological domains” (Melinda Rackham, Working the Screen, RealTime 30), came in 2nd and 3rd place went to Suzanne Treister’s interactive CD-ROM No other symptoms: Time travelling with Rosalind Brodsky, where Rosalind makes her fortune designing and manufacturing vibrators which look and talk like famous people throughout history. The Tertiary prize went to Amor Veneris A, an installation by Mari Velonaki where “a woman’s face is viewed through a magnifying glass…the spectator can activate her by blowing against her face using the breath switch” (Mari Velonaki, Working the Screen) and All Hallows School student Van Le won the Secondary prize with digitally enhanced photographs in Dream Focus Envision.

National Digital Art Awards, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, October 14.

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg.

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

Char Davies, Forest and Grid, real-time frame capture from Osmose (1995)

Char Davies, Forest and Grid, real-time frame capture from Osmose (1995)

Based in Montreal, Canada, Char Davies is best known for her acclaimed immersive virtual environments Osmose (1995) and more recently Éphémère (1998). The works are notable not only for their exquisite translucent visuals and evocative soundscapes but also for their creative interface. In her immersive environments, the user, or more accurately, the ‘immersant’, does not just manipulate a mouse or joystick or touch and point with a dataglove, they are immersed in a virtual world where the body is the navigational interface. Immersants are strapped into a motion tracking harness and breathing and balance determine their movement within the worlds. There is a paradoxical freedom from the physical limits of the body as you float through the world on a meditative journey but this is coupled with an intense awareness of the body anchored by the breath. The works are both literally and figuratively captivating.

Char Davies likens this experience to the bodily immersion of scuba diving where the diver also navigates through body and breath control and the works certainly do share some of the characteristics of a fluid underwater environment. But there are also surreal, otherworldly aspects to the work which induce altered states of consciousness that are more evocative of dream states or the experience of meditation. The environments of Osmose and Éphémère are alternate realities, worlds of the imagination which follow the logic of dreams rather than the rules of real world physics. In real life you can’t float up into the sky or down through the earth. In Osmose and Éphémère you can do both.

Osmose is structured into a series of translucent shimmering world spaces but as well as its startling beauty, the work is also conceptually sophisticated and self-referential. The first virtual space experienced is a 3 dimensional Cartesian grid which dissolves to a clearing as the immersant starts to orient themselves with their first breaths. From the clearing the immersant can journey to a variety of world spaces including Forest, Tree, Leaf, Pond, Earth, Cloud, Abyss and Lifeworld. Underlying these worlds is an area of computer code and there is another upper level or layer of quoted texts which comment on nature, the body and technology.

Although her artistic iconography is drawn from nature and natural processes, Davies presents us with more than a virtual reality representation of nature; her work is a reconstruction of nature, a second nature, where we can see through the underlying grid and code that the environment is based on, and the conceptual overlaying of culture in the upper level of texts to the translucent visuals that explore the inner workings of natural forces and processes.

Like Osmose, Éphémère includes archetypal elements of nature (earth, rock, tree, river) but in this work the metaphor is extended to include bodily organs, blood vessels and bones. The work is structured vertically into 3 levels: landscape, earth, and interior body—each level moves through transformative cycles of germination, growth, decay and death and immersants can also ‘cross’ from underground river to bodily artery/vein. Each journey through Éphémère is different and, like Osmose, the experience is determined by the immersant’s breathing and balance.

In her online documentation of Osmose, Davies introduces her work with a quotation from Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space. “By changing space, by leaving the space of one’s usual sensibilities one enters into communication with a space that is psychically innovating. For we do not change place, we change our nature.”

In documentary footage of Osmose, the effects of this ‘psychically innovating’ experience is evident on the faces of people taking off their head-mounted displays at the end of their immersive experience. The common facial denominator is wide-eyed dreamlike wonder, some are moved close to tears. Most of them are almost speechless after the experience, those who could string a few words together beyond ‘wow, that was amazing’ compare the experience to meditation or to a religious experience. The phenomenological experience of the work appears to induce a contemplative meditative state which blurs the boundaries between inner/outer and mind/body. “The experience of seeing and floating through things, along with the work’s reliance on breath and balance as well as on solitary immersion, causes many participants to relinquish desire for active ‘doing’ in favour of contemplative ‘being’” (Char Davies, “Changing Space: Virtual Reality as an Arena of Being” in The Virtual Dimension: Architecture, Representation and Crash Culture, ed. John Beckman, Boston: Princeton Architectural Press, 1998).

The introduction via the means of virtual reality of new experiential spaces opens up the possibility not only of new experiences but new modes of experience with the potential to change human nature itself. Comments Davies, “Such environments can provide a new kind of ‘place’ through which our minds may float among three-dimensionally extended forms in a paradoxical combination of the ephemerally immaterial with what is perceived and bodily felt to be real” (ibid). Although science fiction literature and film has started to sketch out this terrain, in the real world we are just starting to glimpse some of the possibilities of these new technologies. Exactly what the long-term ramifications of this will be for human nature is a topic that will be of increasing importance as we move into the virtual reality domains of the 21st century.

Char Davies’ visit to Australia in June-July 1999 was hosted by Cyber Dreaming, an Aboriginal multimedia production company based in Queensland. In Sydney, dLux media arts presented Davies’ keynote address at Flashpoint 99 architecture and design conference, University of NSW, July 12. More information about Char Davies’ work can be found at http://www.immersence.com/

RealTime issue #34 Dec-Jan 1999 pg. 14

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

Anemone is a collection of 14 Australian digital video and animation shorts curated by Imago and screened at FTI. These are no TropFest gag flicks but an interconnected series of experimental works that seek to explore the possibilities of a variety of mediums under digital transformation. The digital diversion is combined with traditional methods of video art, 3D animation, music clips and AV-essayism. The alterations enhance the originals while preserving their mutation. The works have a pervasive texture of pulsing chiaroscuro, fragmentation, darkness and decay. This texturedness is the most striking common element. Unlike much recent digital art that can alienate with its sweeping surfaces and impossibly lush wallpapering, these works are gritty, itchy and touchable. This is the “second wave” of digital imagemaking that has tilled the surface and re-sown the loam. Video becomes a claggy scrapbook of memories. A glimpse of ideas, bits, bytes and hints. Recycled carbon from the photocopy bin. The flattened dynamic range, while annoying with some dull soundscapes, allows for a collation of consciousness and a stream of materiality in the visual text. Hence the title, Anemone—the windflower of the sea gathers sustenance from the currents that ebb over its domain.

The curators, Cam Merton and Rick Mason, compare the anemone with modern imagemakers who are inundated in a sea of information, but who pick and choose from this galaxy of possibilities in an attempt to produce something new before relaunching it back into the miasma. These works distinguish themselves by virulent combinations of the trauma of things past. Difference is transmuted into convergence. But unlike other new media shows with their radiant future gleam, the Anemone works are generally bleak and mystical, driven by fragmentation and a palpable sense decay. Vikki Wilson’s darkly mesmeric March-Riever draws on Beowulf to forage in the shadows of monsters on the boundaries of time. She rebuilds the narrative through shreds and scurrying repetitions. Likewise, Kim McGlynn’s Eulogy, Justine Cooper’s Rapt and Vicky Smith’s Rash are, in different modes, corporeal shards and spirals that interrogate the body’s memory and offer distorted, subjective and painful reconstructions. Out of the disturbed pixilation of white noise come recognisable images and personalised ghosts.

In Dominic Redfern’s Please Wait Here we disappear into the private pixels of daytime TV. The ascent into the void of drifting colours is so laconic, so opposed to video’s temporal thrust that the screen transforms into a cozy fireplace before tilting back into the beguiling pulse of daytime channel surfing. As the image speed increases, movement decreases to patchwork quiescence in the alluring Rhythmus 99, Sam Landel’s cityscape animation essay, while in Marcus Canning’s Sumpbapschism movement flows and washes through the surveillance static. Paul Capon’s Digital Decay degrades through feed-back reprocessing the once recognisable body in a box. The junkyard appropriations of the remote surveillance probe draw on the clutter of private eye traces in the uncanny animation world of Peter Circuitt’s Post. Drome toys with genetic transmogrification in the witty LUMPs: Museum of Failures while George Stajsic in Weary Sons of Freud conjures a sequence of sexually charged images hiding within the fur of teddies and bears. The sharp Cheap Blonde by Janet Merewether is a cascading word rearrangement of a famous filmmaker’s twelve poignant words, “cinema is the history of men filming women” against a disquietingly lurid Norsca-blonde foreground. Against this video grain slithers Andree Greenwell’s sumptuous Medusahead, Confessions of a Decapitated Soprano, a beautiful opera clip with striking 3D animation and a potent sound text.

Anemone is a challenging experience. It is a vigorous appropriation of past images fertilised by the prevailing winds.

Anemone, premiere screening, Film and Television Institute, Fremantle, July 9.

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 24

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

Mikami Seiko World, Membrane and the Dismembered Body

Mikami Seiko World, Membrane and the Dismembered Body

The ICC, Intercommunication Centre, in Tokyo is every new media enthusiast’s dream. This sophisticated venue offers a fantasy selection of experiences and resources in a context of optimistic engagement with the ideas and entertainments of new media work, and around the whole place wafts the sweet perfume of money. There are no half measures at the ICC, and what a refreshing environment for new work this provides. By putting cutting edge, esoteric art in such a high quality context, the curatorial and cultural approach of the ICC is as powerfully inspirational as the works themselves.

Launched in 1997, with a speech—by Director Kaneko Takashi—which remains as the centre’s mission, the centre’s objectives are clear; “Intercommunication means communication for creation through mutual exchange and fusion. Contemporary society needs to break free from the dichotomy of technology and art and bring together diverse concerns, transcending the barriers of cultures and systems.” Giving concrete form to this idealistic vision of future syntheses, the ICC is located in an extremely prosperous business complex in central Tokyo, which also houses the National Opera. Gliding past business men gathered around a giant Anthony Caro, one silently ascends to the 3 floors of the ICC, where reasonable entry prices, good design and friendly staff make even the entry process a novelty.

Abundance is key to the ICC’s success, for not only does it house a permanent exhibition of the best of international new media art, but it also presents visiting exhibitions, films, discussions and lectures, commissions new work, supports artists in residence and offers an unparalleled information resource of activity in this field.

Most visitors to the ICC come to see the permanent collection, which reads like a role call of the most successful international art and technology teams of recent years. Eleven numbered installations lead the visitor through a panorama of diverse approaches to interactivity.

The first exhibit is the most accessible, offering a degree of familiarity in the content and the nature of the interaction which enables the visitor to relax to the level where pleasure and play can begin. Iwai Toshio’s Seven Memories of Media Technology consists of boxes each containing a media-related object such as a camera or television. Only the image of the object, projected onto the glass lid, is available for manipulation. Material objects are divorced from their functions by immaterial images, and a whole range of new interactions with familiar apparatus is solicited. Simply by making sounds and lovely light effects, the visitor feels a fresh enthusiasm for the most basic of technologies.

This principle of delight is maintained in Gregory Barsamian’s Juggler installation which uses strobes and sculptures to recreate the child-like thrill of animation. Similarly, Heri Dono’s Gamelan of Nommunication encloses startling new ideas in playful, appealing forms. Dono’s arrangement of Heath Robinson-style instruments liberates a joyful cacophony of sound and motion with its own uncanny, almost indecipherable coherence. With the same easy balance of fun and thought, Luc Courchesne’s Landscape One engages visitors in a muddle of screen-based narratives where ideas about chance, society and control emerge through novel interactions.

In Karl Sims’ Galapagos installation, the relationship between visitor and artwork also hovers curiously between the personal and public, as one visitor at a time steps onto sensor-equipped footpads to manipulate a world of abstract organisms held on a bank of 12 monitors. Complex Darwinian ideas merge with gorgeous, colourful forms and child-like choreography to create a quickstep which is observed by others, impatiently awaiting their turn.

Another work which engages a similar self-choreography of the participant is the Dumbtype Installation OR, which is a version of a theatrical performance of the same name. Video images of Dumbtype’s performers are captured within long slabs of glass laid on a white carpet and surrounded by sensors which react to the perusing visitor. In this chillingly clinical space, the vulnerability of the prone bodies elicits uncommon physical reactions, as visitors perform duets and solos around the panels.

The same inventiveness of movement could well be happening in Maebayashi Akitsugu’s Audible Distance, but one has no way of knowing, for visitors are enclosed in head mounted sensor systems which leave them stumbling around in the dark with only the audible pulses and visible globular shapes of the computer graphics to alert them to the proximity of others. The disorientating disjunction of physical and virtual space recreates a thrilling trippy experience which, even with all its important ideas, is still great fun.

And so is the Life Spacies installation of Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau. On the screens in their 2 rooms, virtual organisms appear and grow in response to the movement of visitors. Email messages are incorporated from the internet as are the interacting images of the separated visitors who become active creators of this teeming new world. Reaching out for a purple bug which swipes across the image of the other startled participant before bursting into a reproductive frenzy creates strange sensations in the participants and their observers.

This collective interaction is taken through another prism in ConFIGURING the Cave, a collaboration between Agnes Hegedus, Jeffrey Shaw, Bernd Lintermann and Leslie Stuck. In this work, groups gather for each timed immersion into a virtual world where the astonishing 3-dimensional environments break disconcertingly over the heads of visitors as they in turn manipulate the large wooden puppet which is the interface.

To echo this group disorientation there is an equally challenging individual immersion provided in Mikami Seiko’s off-puttingly titled World, Membrane and the Dismembered Body installation. Seated on a medical styled chair, the sounds of the body are amplified till they fill the dark, anechoic room and create a “perception-driven architecture.” This, the most theme-park styled event within the exhibition, is balanced by the more intellectual engagement required by Shu Lea Cheang’s Buy One Get One computer-in-a-lunch-box installation, which invites the visitor on a world tour of the artist’s life through ideas and images. The interface is familiar but the anarchy of the content is as thrilling as the most immersive exhibits and disruptive ideas force their way through the familiar mouse and browser connections straight to the visitor’s feelings.

Located next to the Art and Science Chronology permanent exhibit, Cheang’s piece offers a transition into the more theoretical aspects of the ICC’s collection, taking the visitor from the active engagements of the permanent exhibition into the second circle of experiences which broaden the context of the work. The Chronology is a walk-over line of glass cases containing media artefacts of the 20th century representing movements, personalities and events in a sequence which emphasises relationships and connecting influences more than linear progression. Educational yet entertaining is also the theme of the theatre programme which screens a series of original documentaries, with titles such as Travels in Art and Science—A Collection of Wonders.

In this theatre, resident international artists, such as current occupants Do-Ho Shu and York der Knoefel, are given a forum to present their research. Symposia and lectures are only part of a well-resourced program of academic activity lending real weight to the ICC’s mission statement. The curation of the visiting exhibitions also aims to represent the latest discoveries in the field. Contextualised for the visitor by the highly produced work within the permanent exhibition, these shows make the link between high-end research, creative experimentation and outcome in the form of products, whether they be artistic or commercial.

Recently the ICC exhibited the work of graduates of international new media courses in Digital Bauhaus. The International Academy of Media Arts and Sciences and the Inter Medium Institute Graduate School in Japan, The Kunsthochschule fur Medien in Germany, and Le Fresnoy in France presented CD-ROMs, installations and screen-based art in this substantial overview of current directions. The diversity of the formats employed was as fascinating as the range of concerns addressed; there were as many cultural crossovers as there were glaring omissions and much of the experience was disappointing and frustrating. In this confusion of new work you felt the doubts and faults inherent in much artistic engagement with technology as you stumbled with the interfaces and lost interest in the content. And yet following the ready pleasures and inspirations of the permanent exhibition, these failures appear crucial; only from such abundant confusion can real discoveries emerge.

It is in this clear-sighted, inclusive response to new media work that the ICC distinguishes itself from centres sharing its liberal aims. Generous with the visitor, the permanent exhibition is full of gratification and delight. The sense that art offers new experiences is hammered home with each perfectly tuned exhibit. The guiding principle of excellence, consistently maintained throughout the centre underlines the links between the worlds of art and business, science and technology. The visitor is brought into the heart of the equation by the engagement of their creative participation in personal, relevant ways. It is an untrammelled pleasure to roam around the ICC, discovering the many textures of creative involvement with technology.

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 5

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

Australian War Memorial Galleries

Australian War Memorial Galleries

Costing 5 million dollars, The Australian War Memorial’s new WWII galleries were opened in March this year after a 2 and a half year development period. A venerable display which had been there since 1971 was replaced, and attendance has reportedly increased by 35%.

The Memorial’s original function was to show grieving relatives the experiences their lost loved ones had overseas; to allow mates to remember mates; and to tell the story of a nation and its historical destiny. However, recent audience research indicated that its audience, and therefore its function, has changed. Visitors now come to the Memorial from widely dispersed trajectories. Only 10% of visitors are old enough to have lived through WWII, and the ethnic composition of Australia has radically globalised in the 50 years since it was at war.

The purpose of the new display is no longer to reconnect relatives and friends, revive memories, and explain national destiny; it must now create experiences, generate memories and tell subjective stories. The Memorial is no longer the geologically hulking edifice at the bedrock of our common national identity, it is now one institutional attraction competing with others for audience share. The display therefore incorporates a much broader selection of artefacts and information, foregrounding a wider range of personal experiences from the War. And it also relies on multimedia and immersive technologies as never before—deploying over 100 audio, video and sensory devices. The objective of these technologies is, in John Howard’s opening words, to create “a very moving experience…to reach out to younger generations.”

Approaching the WWII galleries you hear a cacophonous roar, a bit like a shopping mall on a Saturday morning. Entering the galleries there’s a sense of bombardment: sound leaks out from a multitude of hidden speakers and bounces from the many hard surfaces. (This problem is now being addressed.) Ambient lighting is low and the objects on display are individually picked out by spotlights giving a visually fragmented, subjectively dislocated feel to the display. Although there is an attempt to create quieter contemplative ‘pavilions’ and chapel-like spaces within the display, generally these cannot withstand the barrage.

The core of the display are the artefacts collected by the Memorial during the War and donated since. As always these provide the indexical charge; but they are surrounded and harassed by technology. The display cases are crowded with flat-screen TVs showing newsreel footage. Data projectors are extensively used to animate maps and models. Few objects are left to their own devices, to mutely exist in their own time. Even the dark wooden top of the table on which the surrender of Singapore was signed is used as an inappropriate screen for a newsreel projection.

The War Memorial produced its own content using audience focus groups, but outsourced the design and installation of the displays to Cunningham Martyn Design, Australian Business Theatre and multimedia consultant Gary Warner. Previously the memorial was a special experience for visitors; its unique model dioramas and uncanny, sepulchral atmosphere permanently marked many a childhood psyche. This new display is brighter and livelier certainly, but it also conforms to a standard corporate display style—the plate glass, steel rod look—that exists in any number of shops and museums. There is now a bigger phenomenological gap for visitors to cross between these didactic history displays and the sacred mnemonic heart of the Memorial—the cloisters and the Hall of Memory (into which Paul Keating conveniently inserted a pacemaker when he buried an Unknown Soldier there in 1993). The Memorial’s original didacticism, the attempt to convey an historical understanding of war—however ideologically compromised—and to encourage a transference of empathy back across the generations, is being replaced by an attempt to technologically create a sense of immediate, individuated sensory experience.

Sometimes this works, if a sense of temporal distance is maintained, as in the disembodied voices of Australian POWs telling their stories in a reconstruction of an empty sleeping hut. But sometimes it doesn’t. The most problematic part of the display is a simulation of a bombing run over Germany in which the floor shakes as though by the airplane’s engines and we look down through the bomb bay doors at WWII Europe sliding below. This recreates the fear of being shot down felt by young Australian airforce servicemen. Reportedly, returned WWII air crew visiting a preview of the installation found it so affecting they had leave. Certainly the kids love it. But they love their experience of it in the present. I didn’t see any emotional transference to, or identification with, the servicemen’s fear which this ‘ride’ was meant to commemorate. It was ironic, too, that the aspect of War chosen for the most ‘realistic’ simulation was the one where the original experience was already most virtual, remote, and technologically mediated.

For me a more successful use of technology is in the new Orientation Gallery where a large, looped, digital video of spectral diggers coming ashore at Gallipoli and fading into History to the thud of sniper bullets, which is projected behind an actual Gallipoli landing boat, creating a suggestive atmosphere rather than a descriptive experience. It let the landing boat exist in its own historical time, rather than be dragged into a perpetual present of technological performance. The use of Digger ghosts (played by keen Memorial staff in costume shot against blue screen, then digitally montaged over video of the actual Gallipoli landing place by the Sydney firm Audience Motivation) grows from an evolving, long standing, visual tradition of ANZAC memory—for instance the freeze frame in Weir’s film Gallipoli and William Longstaff’s creepy Menin Gates painting.

Clearly the displays of national museums do need to change as audiences change. Technologies of video, projection and simulation must inevitably play a major part in these changes. Particularly as so much of our past is known to us through film and video anyway, and technologies have always been excellent at producing phantasmagoric spectacles and virtual spectres. Yet technology must still be made to do what it has only partially done at the War Memorial: create historical knowledge, not just immediate experience; and leave a space for viewers to make an imaginative leap and project themselves into time, rather than be the passive screens for a dislocated series of projections from the past.

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 14

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

‘Intertwingling’ is, first, hypertext pioneer Theodore Nelson’s coinage for the combinatory and path-based (intertextual, twisting, mingling, etc) processes of hypertext and its experience for the user. It’s also an extensive, immersive hyperfictive piece devised by Hazel Smith and Roger Dean with streaming soundtrack from the austraLYSIS Electroband (Roger Dean with Greg White and Sandy Evans) now set up at the overland express site.

Having been somewhat disappointed by the coldly self-reflexive Swatch-watch clunkiness of other web-based fiction purporting to dramatise the experience of hypertext, I was delighted by the narrative drive and zippy, lyrical speculation of Intertwingling. It’s minimalist in design (few pretty jpgs and no swfs: this is not about illustration or simulation, not another game-derivative series of tableaux), just coloured text precisely positioned, so narration and voice provide the hook, and performativity (plus curiosity and fast-track links) the impetus. Mood courtesy the trancy soundtrack.

DK Why and how? Does analysis always happen at the cost of story?

HS Hypertext’s the perfect medium for me because I’m very interested in the tension between narrative and anti-narrative, in crossing genres, mediating between poetry, prose, performance, theory and intermedia work. This kind of heterogeneity works extremely well in hypertext and creates the kinds of tensions you describe. I think hypertext also brought out a different sensibility in me which resulted in a lot of satirical aphorism. I wanted to adapt my writing so that each “screenful” would make an immediate impact. I knew that readers would be impatient and would cycle through the text at break neck-speed!

DK No need to be static or distanced even when mixing modes and minus graphics?

HS You can be as intense or emotional in writing hypertext as you might be in any other medium. But hypermedia is at a very early stage of its history: there is a lot of scope for development of the form.

Much work for the web is very image-based and we wanted to concentrate on the visual possibilities of the words. Also there seem to be new possibilities here: writers have not engaged much with colour historically, even visual poetry has been largely a black and white affair. I wanted to create an aesthetic of cybercolour which engaged with the heterogeneity of the text through a multiplicitous and open use of colour.

RD The web similarly underemphasises sound. This is why we chose to make available a lot of different sounds in Wordstuffs. These sounds challenge the text, the animations, and each other. The screener can play 3 pieces of midi-based music at once, drive them to any point, and hear them all in reverse; or play an assembly of body- and city-related sounds.

DK But in Intertwingling it’s more soundtrack than DIY.

RD Sound is still much less than ideal on the web, because of limitations of bandwidth [speed at which data can flow to the screener-listener]. This means that audio files have to be highly compressed [ie degraded]. On the other hand midi files mainly play preformed ‘instruments’ resident in the user’s computer, which have a limited sonic range, and, as yet, alternative midi-drivable sounds are not widespread and are still limited. So the musical action (as opposed to the sonic structure) has to be the primary feature. In Intertwingling I made a sound work of about 7 minutes from a live performance of the piece by austraLYSIS and compressed it into only a couple of megabytes of RealAudio data. It involved computer manipulations which drastically modified the timbres, so that the loss of fidelity in the subsequent compression was no longer overly problematic.

DK Um. Ah. Right. Your technical expertise sounds as extensive as your combined teaching, performing, writing and art experience. There’s not a helluva lot of grounded critical work on hypermedia available in an Australian context from mature practitioners, or not that goes beyond catalogue-essay or site-specific blurb, but you’ve written a substantial book. What’s it like in less than 50 words?

HS-RD Improvisation, Hypermedia and the Arts since 1945 (Harwood 1997) theorises and analyses improvisation and discusses developments across the arts since 1945. It also analyses the relevance of improvisation to hypermedia work.

DK Great title, to which the book lives up. What’s next?

HS-RD We’re currently working on a piece which combines hypertext and performance called The Erotics of Gossip.

An earlier Smith, Dean and austraLYSIS collaboration, the award-winning Wordstuffs: The City and the Body, is at http://stuff-art.abc.net.au/stuff98/10.htm [expired]

Intertwinglings is a work in progress and will be available for online viewing soon.

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 12

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

Jane Prophet, The Internal Organs of a Cyborg

Jane Prophet, The Internal Organs of a Cyborg

Whereabouts at a film festival would you find “a chatterbox road-movie without the car and without the conversation”? Well, clearly not anywhere near the hype of Hollywood nor the profundity of a weekend conference, but actually in Wax, located in the bowels of the Melbourne Town Hall.

David Blair’s theatrically-distributed electronic 90-minute feature WAX or the discovery of television among the bees (1991) was seen previously in Australia during the Third International Symposium of Electronic Art (TISEA) in 1992. Waxweb, a “hypermedia” version of that work, then passed through various pupations including a version seen on the Burning the Interface International Artists’ CD-ROM during 1996/7.

Now in its final form, the principle of the piece is straightforward enough—“the first time user can watch the movie play from beginning to end. Then or later, any of WAX’s 1600 shots can be clicked, leading the viewer into a 25-section matrix unique to each shot. There, similar pictures, descriptive text, and moving 3D images interweave, coherently leading the viewer from one media to the next, within and between shot matrices, always moving in and out of the time of the movie…the perceived boundaries between the movie and the surrounding composition will dissolve, sending the movie into extended and apparently endless time, as if it were a temporary, grotesque world.”

Now that the work is described as a “micro-fiche lithograph on CD-ROM”, Blair sees other authors of the fantastic (Borges, Rimbaud) as his precursors who worked with words and to which, with words, he adds the “gathered material” of photograph, movie and sound; and employs hyperlinking software to enable through “micro-compositions” the free association of “storyettes” and the fabrication of a “story or writing machine.” A brief engagement with collaborative writing approaches, through the Waxweb website in the mid-90s, was abandoned in favour of the principles of the auteur.

“The viewer need only watch the movie, or click a few times. To completely support this activity, the author has created more than 1 million picture, hypertext, and 3D links; the animated 3D scenes would play 40 hours if placed end to end. But this is not a database…It is a movie composition, made for many sorts of viewer pleasure.”

Waxweb resists any sense of immersion in the labyrinth that might be expected of a neo-symbolist work. It is “a composition” with a foundation of words and word play that, combined with the “faux documentary” of the Wax movie, barely suppresses the absurd and the ironic. The frames launched by the browser become like postage stamps lined up within the pages of an album, providing pathway options a plenty, and eye-watering dismantlement of the girders, struts, plates and rivets of Blair’s composition, each one indexing a virtual point in film time.
Blair identifies the bensai, or narrator-lecturer present at the screenings of silent films in Japan until the 1930s, as the proto-interactive interface designer. Over the last few years, The Telepathic Motion Picture of The Lost Tribes and Jews in Space have been in initial development (mostly in Japan during a 2 year stay), and having secured completion funding, will become more resolutely a “unified cross-media project” encompassing DVD and website elements.

David Blair, an American in Paris, was a guest of The Bug, a title given to a series of events hosted by Cinemedia and the Melbourne International Film Festival during July and August, a chrysalis within the buzzing halls of Swanston Street, attached precariously to a basement room used as the Nokia Festival Club.

Kevin Murray selected 13 interactive CD-ROM works for the now fashionable exhibition element of the film festival, the budget also funding another overseas artist, London’s Jane Prophet, to talk about her work, both guests later giving similar presentations at Artspace, Sydney.

Their work was linked, so to speak, by the honey bees’ hexagonal cell. Swarm, an installation and interactive website by Prophet, offered visitors an immersive entry into crowd consciousness. Using the metaphor of the hive to collect and relate stories, and the simulation of bees on a large projection screen that responded to the presence of visitors by mapping movement around a mat in front of the screen, the experience of telekinesis and noisy play between visitors using the installation contrasted with the quiet area behind the screen in which the collected stories were related.

Technosphere also explored artificial life (AL) paradigms through one of the earliest examples of website interactivity that enabled participants to design their very own ‘critter’, its appearance, its eating habits and demeanour, and then to receive on a regular basis email messages that kept the ‘parent’ informed about the progress of its progeny through a pretty grim daily round relieved only, it seems, by reproductive encounters, eating, combat and finally death.

Jane Prophet graduated in the mid-80s in performance-based art before completing a theory-based doctorate: “I’ve always thought of myself as a visual artist but at this email stage of Technosphere the experience on the net was not a very satisfying visual experience. However, in terms of receiving feedback about my work it has been phenomenal.”

Custom-coded software was developed by Prophet’s collaborators Dr Gordon Selley and Dr Richard Hawkes as there was no money to buy anything off the shelf—”proprietary software at least avoids the headaches of commercial upgrades.” It handles the multifarious commands generated by the site and results in the despatch of 20-30,000 email messages a day.

“In 1995 when we were applying for funding, there was really nothing like it, as art or as AL on the web, and we didn’t know if it would be interesting. In fact it was terrifyingly interesting to people, which is why it is still going, even though it’s ancient in terms of the net world. A month ago we had our millionth creature made now that we’re up to 70-80,000 hits a day—we shift about 2 gigabytes of data a day and replace a hard drive every 6 months—it’s a really busy site still…”

“Probably the most interesting thing about the project is its anthropological/sociological elements and how that has made all of us working on Technosphere think more about work on the net. For instance, whenever the site is closed for short periods regular users get very upset. Or if the site crashes and a backup version has to be restored, we get emails asking about the apparent resurrection of creatures who the system had notified ‘parents’ had perished! The current online version that appeared in 1997 actually responded very much to our users, the suggestions and ideas they had about the site. One of its options provides statistics about the creatures. The direction we’d like to go is more towards the provision of a social space—chat spaces—which currently people find elsewhere, tracing one another via the directory of users on the site. Users have developed their own networks, have even met one another for sex, and discussion of their AL progeny…”

Like Waxweb, Technosphere has become an ever-evolving project. Commencing in the early 90s as an excursion into the sublime and the picturesque of a landscape piece, its latest manifestation has become a real-time rendered, 3D animation which enables the ‘critters’ to be individually tracked through the terrain in which their ‘parents’ have placed them. Based on a modest PC platform, the new version is a permanent installation at the National Museum of Photography in Bradford, England, but still seeks the cash and in-kind investment to become a fully distributable AL artwork.

Internal Organs of a Cyborg shifts into the more familiar territory of the strip cartoon, and the less familiar tribulations of a 12 year-old substance abuser and implant junkie. The paranoid obsessiveness of this interactive futurzine has us traipsing through framings of hospital corridors, film noir streets, the streak and blur of paramedics and emergency vehicles. As the mouse rolls over parts of these images, as images and sounds morph and cut to exquisite medico/scientific 3D animations of, kinda, body and machines, we struggle to build the meta-narrative from the fragments through which we stumble, refracted like William Burroughs’ words and Linda Dement’s images.

Working with interactives on screen, the user struggles to construct within their head frame a sense of the space in which this piece is operating physically. This is not narrative cinema, where we have become accustomed to fragmentation and seek to link the end of one storyette with the beginning of the next, to create a linear whole, out of which a geographical space emerges in plan form that connects what took place on screen.

In Cyborg, as for Waxweb and many storytelling interactives, because what we encounter is fragmented, we have little to go on for the purposes of reconstruction, or rather mental synthesis. We are not sited in the comfortable immersive space of the cinema experience, observing, reflecting, maybe interpreting, but within the flux of possibilities of interactive multimedia, assessing the shards of image and word collisions, and creating meanings and connections that interrogate, like the rhythms and cycles of a mantra, the lived experience of the subject.

David Blair: www.telepathic-movie.org; www.waxweb.org; Jane Prophet, Technosphere.

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 18

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

Watching Mixed Metaphor, the image of John Travolta and Nicholas Cage from Face/Off, staring at each other over their guns, haunted my memory. The dyadic relation of protagonist and nemesis replays the model enunciated by Hamlet to Laertes: “I’ll be your foil.” The relation of self to Other, of the individual to its reflection, recurs as a talisman of perfection/death throughout culture. As in Orphée, the gateway to the afterlife is the mirror, where the doppelganger merges with the subject in an ecstatic act of annihilation. The disparity between self and Other bleeds out of the fissures of dance. The body in performance is forever denied the perfection of Michelangelo’s David; no body is as sleek, powerful or erotic. In Mixed Metaphor, these fissures concealed even in much postmodern dance become the subject of the work. The body is not only anatomised, it is reified.

In Foretaste we see not a body, but bodies. Three figures do not touch; they scarcely relate. In the far corner, a woman (Julia West) searches, but for what? One man (Dean Linguey) moves slowly forward towards us, suriashi-style. We hardly notice his approach as his fierce focus on a distant point leads him to nearly weep. In the foreground we see an ever more frenetic explosion of movement. Dressed in a giant nappy, this over-sized baby (Ben Rogan) (re)discovers the body. He leaps, gyrates, moves in every possible way, his hand constantly returning to his groin in an attempt to ground the body in something: phallus, desire, anatomy. This is Kaspar Hauser in reverse: not a man who is drowning in a flood of words, but the pre-cultural body overwhelmed with sensation and possibility. Too many movements, too many bodies yet all the same body, the ‘me-which-is-not-me.’ West’s eyes search all about, Linguey moves after his gaze, while Rogan searches physically. The audience is drawn into a literally hysterical journey which ends with the 2 men exchanging positions and roles in a way that conflates earlier differences. Active becomes passive, peripheral becomes central, and Rogan moves into Linguey’s light as both men back away from us. Birth and death are smashed into the same psycho-kinetic space as Rogan’s skull peeks out from under his tightly stretched skin: the self-reflexive self as mad.

For James Cunningham in Body in Question the space between the Other and the subject in performance is both more visible and less distinct. Cunningham’s body is a symphony of bilateral symmetry, strong and powerful with hair like a Greek god. Hanging from one shoulder where there should be a second powerful arm, however, dangles a deflated husk, a spidery weight that slips effortlessly into space by merit of its ‘imperfection.’ The Cunningham we see in the archival video projected during the performance is gone. A different body, a different individual, is present. His body is visibly divided, his smaller arm a sign of his brush with death on a motorcycle. Cunningham’s once near perfect body is not only present as archive though. It is both literally and more ambiguously present in the form of a life-sized mannequin. Cunningham dances a melancholy pas de deux with this ‘lost body’, which ends with the flesh/not-flesh hand of the doll guiding his gaze away from itself. He must give up his former self and move beyond narcissistic mourning. The arm remains: only in death will his body regain its unity, returning to the undifferentiated self of the child in the womb.

In Stephanie Glickman’s Tall the Other lies within. Here is a body internally psychically divided. The Other rubs against the actual, creating friction, un/pleasure and desire. Glickman’s legs strive to perform as would the tall, idealised body of classicism, but they cannot achieve this mastery. A phantom body overlays the movement and butts against it. Glickman struggles to reconcile these bodies. The barre is performed on the ground, translating the verticality of ballet into a ground-based, horizontal aesthetic favourable for this body. Glickman moves in and out of an open-faced cube like an insect from an Escher study, placing her body into a space simultaneously inside and outside. Here the self can gaze at itself. Legs, arms and torsos may be compared to the ideal: they are at once ‘me-and-not-me.’ Finally, the actual body is allowed its way, the Other becoming a memory layered onto the experiential. Through erotics, Glickman achieves a fusion in which bent legs and abdominal contortions reinvigorate the body and brush away the need to conform to Michelangelo’s aesthetics. The (self-) desiring body celebrates self-scrutiny. Other bodies, other times, echo throughout the theatre.

Mixed Metaphor: Foretaste, deviser-performers Ben Rogan, Dean Linguey, performer Julia West, sound production Matt Fenton. Body in Question, Igneous Inc, deviser-performer James Cunningham, deviser-director-visuals Suzon Fuks, music Lee McIver, video animation Alex Clarke, non-linear video editing Daryl Davies, lighting Iain Court. Tall, choreographer-performer Stephanie Glickman, sound Trish Anderson, costume Ruth Singer, Dancehouse, Melbourne, July 22 – Aug 1

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 12

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

Robert Griffin, Paul O’Sullivan & Rachael Whitworth, P.O.V.

Robert Griffin, Paul O’Sullivan & Rachael Whitworth, P.O.V.

Robert Griffin, Paul O’Sullivan & Rachael Whitworth, P.O.V.

Have you ever been in a theatre foyer after a show and noticed large parts of the audience articulating the verbal language of pleasure whilst everything else in the body language is saying disappointment? At the post-performance discussion of Rachael Whitworth’s work-in-progress, P.O.V. there seemed to be an inversion of this going on. The work was of a very high standard—complete at times—but what I found intriguing was the disparity between experience and expression in the audience. The strange thing about the post-performance discussions was that no-one really said how they felt about the performance.

The studio showings of P.O.V. at The King Street Arts Centre affected us all profoundly and yet on both nights after the performance the invited audience was struggling to verbalise its obvious pleasure. Both the audience and the artists found themselves awash in a banal Q & A session that undermined the spirit and energy created by this fine work. Questions from the partisan audience expressed great interest in the narrative and technical anecdotes about the dancemaking process but missed the effect on those present which had been expressed so well on both evenings in rapturous applause. It wasn’t simply a case of stroking your mates’ egos, we had been moved by something powerful and tangible which resided very clearly within the movement material—it was reproduced perfectly at the second showing.

So where did the material come from? The 3 dancers (Rachael Whitworth, Robert Griffin and Paul O’Sullivan) made movement phrases and videoed them. Over a couple of weeks Sue Peacock, Sally Richardson and Rachael Whitworth then made a selection from the material and worked through their interpretation of particular phrases to produce 3 different pieces. Only the dancers knew that all 3 were coincidently utilising the same phrases. Although the evening was constructed as 3 discrete pieces, even on the first viewing I read 3 clear chapters of one story, as if a subterranean narrative had been set deeply in the bodies of the dancers.

P.O.V. was a rare dancerly view, an insight into something beyond the eyes and, paradoxically, involving the whole body (dance training is no guarantee of engagement with the corporeal) and a dramaturgical awareness rarely expressed through a dancer’s eyes where the norm is vacancy. But it wasn’t just that the dancers were facially articulate, they moved their bodies in a way that went beyond skill and training and into an exciting realm of meaning.
The dancers reported that theatre-director Sally Richardson had raised their consciousness—the putative notion of “pure movement” displaced or augmented by emotive and psychological imperatives. This led to a discussion about the merits and deficiencies inherent in dancer and actor training. For there was much talk in the post-performance forums about the different ways in which dance and theatre are approached. It’s an odd (Platonic) thing in Western cultures that the 2 processes have been separated which probably has some connection to the mind-body split in the audience reactions described above.

The visible influence of a theatre-director on Rachael Whitworth’s version (part one) was very interesting because although there was no overtly dramatic material, the dancers related to each other with uncharacteristic intimacy. Their bodies, and most importantly their eyes, were engaged with one another at a level that gave trios and duets a spirit and beauty that was never blemished by anachronistic or inappropriate displays of agility (even though the dancers ‘flew’ around each other at times).

The structure of the first section shared similar imperatives to Contact Improvisation, refusing a theatrical ‘front’ and showing dancers in 360° space. I find it rare for choreographed bodily contact to express anything more profound or interesting than another part of the dancer’s technique but in part one of P.O.V. intimate moments and small gestures were seen and often flourished into larger full-bodied and aerial expressions of sensitivity and fragility.

There were many magic theatrical moments over the evening and the influence of the 2 experienced directors on Rachael Whitworth’s intelligent approach to the material made her choreography exciting and the dancing extremely engaging. I like seeing performance without the trimmings and I think it’s a measure of this group’s achievement that their collaboration produced such engaging work without sophisticated production values. So my heart sank a little when Rachael Whitworth suggested that a new phase would be entered into to produce the work into a “presentable” format. P.O.V. went beyond the normal expectations of a development project and its components were more than adequate to move and provoke an audience. It will be a challenging task to retain the powerful performer relations created in the studio when the piece moves into a theatre. What a Faustian arrangement artists have with their funders and what a shame that the logic of developing ideas is to solely make a commodity. In the case of P.O.V. I was entirely satisfied by developments so far but with Sally Richardson and Sue Peacock aboard, this team could probably take their work to even greater heights.

P.O.V. a work-in-progress, concept by Rachael Whitworth, collaboration with Sue Peacock, Sally Richardson, Paul O’Sullivan & Robert Griffin, King St. Arts Centre, Perth, July 17 – 18

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 11

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

Hovering between sea and land, the Royal Naval College was the site of many a seafaring adventure, including the launch of the British assault on the Spanish Armada. Henry VIII was born here, as were his daughters, Elizabeth and Mary. What better place, then, to launch a 3-part performance epic, serially staged along the banks of the Thames River. Take Me to the River began with a piece by Rosemary Lee, an established choreographer known for her site specific work with people of all ages.

Lee chose to place her work, The Banquet Dances, in The Painted Hall of the Royal Naval College. Three hideously long dinner tables flanked a meticulously (over)painted hall; cherubs, angels, semi-nude women, kings and queens. If we were to believe the tromp-l’oeil imagery of the painter, Thornhill, we would be agog at the “splendid illusion of a ceiling opening on heaven.” As it was, the audience preferred instead to watch progressive waves of movement, executed by a large cast of angels and mortals. Led by 2 elderly women, the children spoke of time and space, indices of our mortal coil. Young dancers lapped the limits of the room, whilst the many others seated themselves at the tables, examining anatomy charts, bodies and maps. This work had moments of otherworldly beauty punctuated by the thunder of big and little feet. The untrained but nevertheless very focused cast did not always replicate the rarefied aesthetics which produced the surrounds for this performance.

Next, the entire audience was transported by boat to Canary Wharf, a Monopoly town circa Thatcher’s England, recently bombed by the IRA. This was the choice of Wendy Houstoun (ex-DV8) for her work, Fêted. Upon arrival, the passengers were ushered through a suitably deserted landscape—very Jeffrey Smart—into a tiny, manicured park. Houstoun played some famous nobody, flanked by bodyguards, giving speeches over the microphone whilst her official staff tussled and rolled over each other on the lawn. As time went by, the woman’s facade shifted from posh to dishevelled until, in her bra and nickers, she pleaded with her retreating audience, muttering platitudes about love and life. Fêted had elements of parody and social satire mixed in with energetic dancing which nevertheless maintained a naturalistic façade. A slightly slight piece, Fêted was about the right level for its sterile surrounds. As in DV8’s work, Houstoun allows her dancing to emerge from the everyday.

Finally, we were shipped to London, to an open-air stage at the Royal Festival Hall for Noel Wallace’s piece, Inside Out. This was a very sad and serious dance about migration, racism and institutionalised cruelty. A giant suitcase dwarfs the stage. A woman is constrained by her hospital bed. She thrashes about but none of the staff understands her. Flashback to a young woman, suitcase in hand, recently arrived from perhaps Jamaica—full of hope. Her past betrays her, her present is unbearable, her only future is with the angels. Although the movement was interesting, the unrelenting hopelessness of the piece was difficult to hold emotionally. The end of the work, involving all the dancers in a group movement, was not structurally integrated. This is a young artist’s work and, as the years go by, Wallace will create better and more powerful pieces. He is willing to grapple with painful, political themes which are clearly pertinent for the dance scene as well as its greater social context.

What I did miss in all these pieces was a sustained presentation of really interesting movement. Happily, I managed to see Siobhan Davies’ 13 Different Keys. In terms of kinaesthetic imagination and finesse, this piece bore no comparison to Take Me to the River. Publicised as a meld of classical and contemporary dance (involving a collaboration between the Royal Ballet and Davies’ own company), 13 Different Keys was a site specific work made for a huge gallery space in Brick Lane, East London. The stage consisted of an elevated cross, whose meeting point along one line was smooth, along the other, broken. The dancers utilised that break in their movement, jumping, hopping and bridging its abyss. They also worked the edge of the stage, hugging its corners, slinking onto the floor, transgressing its raised surface.

Five dancers, each distinctively adept, performed duets, solos, trios and double duets. Their movements were obviously designed in collaboration for there wasn’t a sense that the one choreographer was imposing moves on other bodies. The performers themselves were really strong dancers, including Deborah Bull (Royal Ballet) and Gill Clarke who performed a beautiful duet. The movements were surprising, involving changes of direction, level, shifts of weight and velocity, although there were the satisfactions of repeated sections throughout the piece. The dancers stayed onstage, resting at times, dancing to silence, not dancing to the music, which was a medley of Marais’ early music performed live. 13 Different Keys was meant to be a promenade piece but sadly the audience refused to budge on its ringside purchase.

On a different note, I managed to see Canadian Ronnie Burkett’s marionette play, Tinka’s New Dress. This piece was motivated by political concerns regarding the emergence of the new right, and is dedicated to the courage and tragedy of Czech puppeteers living under Nazism. Burkett felt that 50 years ago he could have been one of these unfortunates, a fear I have always harboured as an Australian Jew. But then, we don’t have to think back 50 years to find a place where we could be summarily put to death.

Burkett’s puppets lead a double life. By day, their antics amuse the young. By night, they don a more political garb. These larger (or smaller) than life icons vehiculate the most bitter of critical perspectives whilst tossing off a litany of bottom jokes and sexual references. The more repressive the regime, the more the need to fudge these 2 functions and purport a singular intent. Because of its historical juxtaposition of contemporary fundamentalism, as it exists within liberal democracy (the new right), and Nazi totalitarianism (the old right), Tinka’s New Dress slides between a commentary on the politics of consensus on the one hand, and of repression on the other; some of its concerns speak to the production of consensus—how to resist the ‘manufacture of consent’ within Western democracy—and some speak to the perils of living under overt totalitarianism.

The radicalism of Burkett’s work is in his performative style as manifested in the characters of his play within a play: Franz and Schnitzel and his inimitable “Madame.” Burkett spent a year improvising a 2-hour show in preparation for this part of the work; the result, a truly hysterical banter between these 3 characters, composed of local political references, sexual innuendo, stand-up comedy and improvisation. Burkett’s manipulations are always visible. Here, the boundaries between comedy and politics, criticism and satire, script and improvisation, and wood and flesh are rendered fluid. This in the end was Burkett’s radical gesture, one which unravelled to reveal a human embodiment of hope, 2 hours straight. The audience clapped so long Burkett told everyone to go home. And so we did.

Take Me to the River: Rosemary Lee, The Banquet Dances, Wendy Houston, Fêted, Noel Wallace, Inside Out, Greenwich, Canary Wharf and The South Bank, London, July 10 – 18; Thirteen Different Keys, Deborah Bull, Gill Clarke, Siobhan Davies, The Atlantis Building, Brick Lane, London, July 15 – 19; Tinka’s New Dress, Ronnie Burkett, The Pit, Barbican Centre, London, June 23 – July 10

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 6

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

Wim Vandekeybus & Ultima Vez In Spite of Wishing and Wanting

Wim Vandekeybus & Ultima Vez In Spite of Wishing and Wanting

Wim Vandekeybus & Ultima Vez In Spite of Wishing and Wanting

Examining sleep too closely in the theatre is risky—it can lead to shallow breathing, heavy eyelids and a drooping head. But, although it’s inspired by the idea of sleeping as a state of being, there’s no danger of dropping off during In Spite of Wishing and Wanting, which I saw one hot August night in Italy. Directed by Wim Vandekeybus for Ultima Vez, the dance explores the paradoxes of that place where we spend a third of our lives, contrasting the body’s rest and the mind’s frantic dreaming; the relaxation of the muscles and their involuntary movements; lethargy and energy. In Spite of Wishing and Wanting may be inspired by the paradoxical qualities of sleep, but the experience of watching it is as lively as a chase dream and as unsettling as a nightmare.

It begins quietly, with a bare stage and the cast strolling around the wings, banging boxes and kicking trunks. Vandekeybus comes on, prancing. He paws the ground, neighs and raises his head like a horse. For a moment, we’re back in the playground with horsey. Then, under the stony gaze of a grim task-master, the music suddenly kicks in and the dancing begins. For the next 2 hours, the fast-moving dance first raises the temperature, then winds down as one of the dancers comes to the front and talks directly to the audience in Italian, French or English. You begin to chill out, then the frenzy begins again. The music, by David Byrne (once of Talking Heads), is meta-rock. Yes, it makes you stamp your foot, but it also reminds you of world music, jazz, even classical melody. The mix of music and the theme of sleep gives the show an ambitious feel: with an all-male cast of about 10, Ultima Vez reaches out for the big questions: how can we go beyond clichéd conceptions of the male body? Can the crisis of masculinity be expressed through childhood scenes? Do lads dream of testosterone sheep?

Near the beginning of the show, the softness of sleep is subverted by a joke. A large, white cuddly pillow is cradled and handed around. In the middle of the stage, it looks innocent, peaceful, safe. Then it explodes, throwing up a huge cloud of down. Feathers flutter everywhere—for a moment it looks like a winter wonderland. During the rest of the evening, the down is trampled by a dozen male boots. Dreams can mean mystery and pleasure. At one point the dancers hold up lanterns in the dark. Dreams can also mean pain. Ultima Vez’s dancers convey mania and derangement by becoming animals, throwing themselves around, barking mad and hectic. All the time I’m struck by their utter commitment: these boys really mean it. But if some sequences are full-on, aggressive and disturbing, others are much more tender and humorous. A dancer stands still and puts one hand to the side of his face as if resting his head on a pillow; his other hand is between his thighs, vulnerable. But dreaming can also be wild: a series of awkward contortions, with the dancers off-balance and falling with a thump, reminding us of how sleep pulls the body around and how we sometimes wake up with twisted sheets or bent into the strangest shapes.

My only doubts about In Spite of Wishing and Wanting come from the universality of its theme: after all, almost anything can be seen as a dream. And the show does sag at times, especially when the 2 short films are projected. At first, film seemed like a good idea, another way of opening out the stage, a further glimpse beyond the mundane. But during each filmed short, I felt the cool, distracted daze typical of passive viewing—how different from the heat and amazement of live dance. Both films are magic-realist fairy stories about dreams and riches and symbols and last words, populated by characters such as the Scream Seller and the Bungle Tyrant, hooded executioners and fey women. Their brightly lit colours and outdated hippie feel clashed with the greyer stage world and its pulsating life.
Sleep has its own aesthetic tradition—from the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch to symbolist and surrealist poetry. At its best, In Spite of Wishing and Wanting powerfully suggests a world where the body could break loose from its physical limitations and twist and turn into serpentine forms and angular dislocations, where reason has to face irrational fears and deep, dreamy desires. A place where the child in us sleeps next to the adult, a show which shakes awake our perceptions.

Ultima Vez, In Spite of Wishing and Wanting, directed by Wim Vandekeybus; Castello Pasquini, Tuscany, Aug 10 http://www.ultimavez.com

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 6

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

Martine Corompt, Philip Samartzis, Dodg’em

Martine Corompt, Philip Samartzis, Dodg’em

Sound is arguably one of the least developed areas of intermedia art practice. There are positive signs of development, though, as artists explore the ecological dimension of sound and acoustic space as things in themselves and not mere adjuncts to visual media. In Dodg’em, Martine Corompt and Philip Samartzis have created an inventive installation that configures the physical space of the gallery as a portal to a richly designed sonic world. The idea of an invisible environment, suggested by the resonances of an ambient soundscape, is a fascinating one that Corompt and Samartzis have explored before, and to very impressive effect, in their 1997 installation (with Ian Haig) Trick or Treat. As you sit in your dinky, excitingly chunky pedal cars in Dodg’em you are faced with Peter Brook’s “open space”, in which any and every movement elicits suggestions of place, action and drama.

Dodg’em cannily explores some of the first principles of intermedia, navigation and interface. The materiality of squeezing into the modular pedal cars is one kind of interface, in that it relates us to space and the bound environment of the gallery in particular ways. So too is the act of driving (or pedalling) itself, which allows us to perceive an environment and make sense of it. This is relevant to the idea of navigation. The installation consists of 2 fibreglass pedal cars (designed by Corompt) that participants drive in an unadorned, spartan exhibition space. The movement of the cars, which are colour-coded, is tracked by a sensoring device that is linked to a computer and amplification system and triggers particular sound events. Forget the idea of the gallery as a space of contemplation; in Dodg’em it is a space of acceleration, well, sort of (how fast can a pedal car go?).

In this space of apparent absence, an unknown world is constantly suggesting itself with every movement. The activity of moving through the gallery is likened by Corompt and Samartzis to that of a tourist in a foreign place. Navigation becomes a “cognitive interface”, a means of conceiving a place, of bringing a world to mind. Memory, too, is important as part of the navigation process, as there is no visual record of the zones through which one has travelled. Memory contributes to the formation of an internal map of these zones and their thematic and narrative contexts. The print map that accompanies the exhibition is more index than projection, and Shiralee Saul’s elusive and allusive essay is an appropriate baedeker to this strange land.

Suggestion (and, indeed, suggestibility) is a potent stimulant to the senses and the effect of Dodg’em is to create an inner world that one ‘sees’ through the deferral of acoustic information into visual imagination. In conceiving of this imaginative, suggestive world prompted by the sound sculpture, Corompt and Samartzis have constructed a manifold domain that links the actual and the virtual in very intimate ways. The parallel experience of physically pedalling through the actual gallery space and at the same time travelling through “that ‘other’ place” is cleverly exploited in the minimalism of the installation. The nod in the direction of cyberspace is helpful here as it identifies the synchronicity of the actual and the virtual realms. In this sense, pedalling and travelling are 2 very different activities; the former a locomotive act that moves you through the finite space of the gallery, the latter an expansive, imaginative topology that brings to mind a sense of place. Consistent with the dynamics of synaesthesia, listening to the complex, sonic narrative of a high-speed freeway chase, or an injured cyclist on the side of the road, stimulates the inner acuity of virtual sight.

The mise-en-scene of Dodg’em is in the strictest sense a digital space, with discrete sound sequences being triggered by the particular colour of the 2 cars (orange or blue). As in all digital environments, the patterns and arrangements of detail ensuing from this binary interchange are rich and varied. In his construction of the soundsculpture, Philip Samartzis has certainly allowed the street to find its own uses for things. It is a fascinating mix of topical (to do with driving), thematic (suggestive of the specific zones) and found, aleatoric sounds (shouts and cheering sampled from a football crowd).

Dodg’em is a fascinating work that extends an intriguing area of production in intermedia. It is also great fun. Keep an eye and ear out for when it is appearing in your town. Here comes the speedway. In colour!

Dodg’em, a driveable surround-sound space, Martine Corompt (concept, design & direction) & Philip Samartzis (soundscape), Gallery 101, Melbourne, June 24 – July 1 1999

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 17

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

 L to R Stephanie Lake, Shona Erskine, Amplification

L to R Stephanie Lake, Shona Erskine, Amplification

L to R Stephanie Lake, Shona Erskine, Amplification

According to Judith Butler, although we tend to think of bodies as being formed from some material essence, this is not the case. Rather, it is through repeated actions that bodies assume the character which they do. Butler writes of the performative realm as that space wherein bodies enact their being. Phillip Adams’ Amplification can be seen in such a light. His characteristic choreography—in the context of this work—produces a certain kind of body; one which hovers between life and death.

Amplification brooks no nostaligia for humanist notions of the body. Purportedly set in those attenuated moments between a car crash and death, the performers flung and were flung in hyperreal fashion. Sometimes wearing bags over their heads, sometimes not, duos and trios created a highly dynamic interchange. What was distinctive about this intricate and intertwined choreography was that the movements did not divide into active or passive roles. Although it was possible to discern a strong kinetic input from certain parties, the other participants in the dance were equally active. Thus, one could observe manipulative movements being both accepted and replied to in the one moment.

The work as a whole consisted of short scenes whose serial effect was to present and perform bodies on the edge of life. Biologists have long pondered the definition and essence of life. Adams’ work provided a minimalistic conception of living corporeality–active but not affective, interactive yet strangely mute—his final moment, a tableau vivant of naked flesh. One could be forgiven for thinking his dancers lacked the trappings of conventional personality but for that final moment. For it’s in nakedness that one sees very quickly the vast difference between life and death.

Amplification, by Phillip Adams; performed by Geordie Browning, Shona Erskine, Michelle Heaven, Stephanie Lake and Gerard Van Dyck; turntable composition, Lynton Carr; Athenaeum II, Melbourne, September 9 – 19, 1999.

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 2

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

Les Balletts C de la B, iets op bach

Les Balletts C de la B, iets op bach

In 1990, I went to an all-Belgian night at Théâtre de la Bastille, a kind of upmarket Performance Space (great seats, a flytower) in Rue de la Roquette, Paris. The opening ‘act’ was (once started up) a self-driven installation that rhythmically emptied itself of sand and water using buckets and pulleys. Another act was Wim Vanderkeybus, one of the most influential dancer-choreographers in Europe (see Aleks Sierz, page 6), with a small group of male dancers. One boiled an egg and then all of them danced with it in turn as long as they could hold it. Having passed it on, they hung in the air from straps…another test, another suspension.

I’d heard long ago about Belgium’s Needcompany but had almost given up hope of ever seeing them—until the 1998 Adelaide Festival. In the 80s I used to greedily read every word and remember every picture in the impressive arts year books that the Flemish Belgiums put out. Something was happening in Belgium and it still is.

Robyn Archer has done something very brave and necessary—she’s brought back a 1998 success, Les Balletts C de la B into her 2000 program. With their La Tristeza Complice, the company was one of the hits of the '98 festival. In September of the same year Archer and I were in Denmark at the Århus Festival with a group of Australian composers and music artists for a conference on festivals, music theatre and new music. One night we all went to see iets op bach Balletts C de la B’s latest work, possibly their last. After the show, director Alain Platel commented wrily, “the critics like us now. Perhaps it’s time to stop.” That's one good reason why it's necessary to see this show. You might never see Ballets C de la B again.

iets op bach is another sublime work—its beauty is terrifying. La Tristeza… portrayed a frightening life without community in a grey terminal, a point of transition with nowhere to go, and yet, against the almost overwhelming grimness suggested opportunities for touch and compassion, and a unity through music and dance, momentary as they were. iets op bach, on the other hand, immediately suggests community—a rooftop on a hot summer’s day populated by the building’s inhabitants. There’s daring entertainment, very young children at play, wandering, watching; there’s everyday grooming, little romances, dance, more dance it seemed than in La Tristeza…and more fun, more communal dance at that. But there's also tension, outbursts, violence, negotiations, unbearable suspense as any sense of tolerance and compassion seems forever threatened. This time the musicians, an ensemble of players and 3 singers performing Bach gloriously, are much closer to the action—and sometimes in it—than the Purcell-playing accordion orchestra above the action (save for their molested singer) in La Tristeza…. The sense of community in iets op bach is exhilarating, though some of my fellow Australians found this the darker of the 2 works—perhaps because more was at stake. The festival promotion for Ballets C de la B is under the heading of dance but, as Archer has said, this work is everything—great dance, theatre, music, design, total performance, astonishing ensemble work—this is the future.

Rosas, i said i

Rosas, i said i

Another Belgian great, and another I'd almost despaired of ever seeing having missed her Perth visit festivals ago, is Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and her company Rosas. Not since the Pina Bausch visit for Jim Sharman’s ground-breaking 1982 Adelaide Festival, is there so much cause for dance excitement. Bausch presented 3 major works in 3 separate groups of performances. It was an experience still widely talked about, etched even more deeply into the brain by William Yang’s marvellous photographs of Bausch’s company. De Keersmaeker is also presenting 3 major works. In fase she and Michèle Anne De Mey dance for 90 minutes—one performance only. In the second program, in a work created in 1998, the company perform to Steve Reich’s Drumming (a 2 night season). In the third, for 2 and a half uninterrupted hours, the company performs its latest work, i said i, dance with text (from Austrian playwright Peter Handke’s Self-accustation) and live music (from the ICTUS ensemble playing Brahms, Zimmerman, Berio etc, joined by scratch artist dj Grazzhopper and saxophonist Fabrizio Cassol). Two performances only. A necessary experience. A great companion piece for iets op bach.

Already announced earlier this year, from Belgium's neighbour, is de Nederlanse Opera doing the Peter Greenaway-Louis Andriessen collaboration Writing to Vermeer. Europe beckons in this festival with works that pay homage to the past and address the future. In a few weeks, Robyn Archer will announce the rest of her program. We wait to see how Australian artists (and which ones) will speak to us of ourselves and the world. KG

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 4

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

Belinda Cooper & Carlee Mellow, in the heart of the eye

Belinda Cooper & Carlee Mellow, in the heart of the eye

Ever found yourself wondering just what is going on behind the eyes of dancers as they spin and shimmy? In Dance Works’ new show in the heart of the eye choreographer Sandra Parker, lighting and projection designer Margie Medlin, composer Elizabeth Drake and dancers Belinda Cooper, Jo Lloyd, Carlee Mellow, Olivia Millard and Michael O’Donoghue go to an awful lot of trouble to show you some possibilities.

The team aims to create a new choreographic vocabulary based on the relationship between live choreography, the dancer in space and the interplay with choreographic material on film. Sandra Parker says “I guess it’s about the interplay and the connections between them and I suppose the idea of a new vocabulary is that they’re each dependent on each other.” The filmic component doesn’t run all the way through the piece but “it’s there to make sense of what’s happening around it in the live performance. The dancers appear on film along with other imagery, including images of the body.” Dancers dance with themselves and in counterpoint with spaces outside the performance space. “This piece is about trying to get inside the dancer’s head, trying to use film to take the audience into the performer and into another space.” The work builds on an idea that Parker and Medlin have explored previously where film takes on an another sense of time. “This time it’s also taking up another sense of space, another time and place through using a lot of point-of-view focusing for each dancer. Margie’s taken the idea a little bit further so that the POV gets blown out to take in other imagery.” Margie Medlin (who incidentally has recently received a Bessie Award in New York for her lighting design) shot a lot of the film for the piece at the Magistrates Court in Melbourne and did post-production as part of her residency at ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany.

As you’d expect, offering the audience this unique viewpoint is not simple. Parker says “We’ve tried to keep really clear what the physical relationship is between the movement and what you might imagine in say the rhythm of walking and what you can see when you’re walking. When the choreography gets very complex it gets really difficult—even for me—to follow the point of view of the dancer. It moves too fast, becomes the camera’s point of view.”

For Parker this work continues a preoccupation with the embodiment of the self. “I feel like it’s really in there in the movement and I’m interested in finding ways to bring that out.” One for all dance enthusiasts, experimental film freaks and multimedia afficionados. Go see! RT

in the heart of the eye, Dance Works, Athenaeum II, Melbourne, November 18 – 27. Information Tel 03-96961702

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 10

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

Helen Herbertson, Delirium

Helen Herbertson, Delirium

A flicker of light, under cover of darkness—an uncertain chiaroscuro—figures emerge from the ambiguity of night in order to move so strangely it feels like Nosferatu is afoot. Helen Herbertson’s new work, Delirium, explores and presents that state which is in between, neither awake nor asleep, a state represented very differently by Kubrick in Eyes Wide Shut. This is less a landscape of fantasy than a strange land inhabited by strange creatures. These figures wear translucent black and move in a very odd manner. Their hands recite a mantra of weird and wonderful shapes. Herbertson performs a dance in a square space, lowering herself to the ground whilst mobile slits of dusky smoke appear then disappear. The movement of the 2 performers—Herbertson and the versatile, nay virtuosic, Patrick—is revealed and concealed by myriad lighting gestures; a shuttered square of black, a layer of darkness which is peeled away, rippled flesh partly revealed and partly concealed. Patrick performs his movements with fluid precision and a temporality which is other-wordly.

Delirium is a collaborative piece, theatrical (Jenny Kemp), physically complex (Simon Barley), lit by the mind’s eye (Ben Cobham), buoyed by sounds both surreal and ordinary (Livia Ruzic). It sustains itself within a precise groove, turning and rotating its ideas, representing movement which is almost pixilated. Is it all in reverse? Moments of Delirium pass like those tiny notes in sheet music which you play as quickly as you can. This piece is not like others.

Delirium, conceived by Helen Herbertson, realised by Jenny Kemp, Trevor Patrick, Ben Cobham and Simon Barley, performed by Herbertson and Patrick, National Theatre, Melbourne, August 19 – 27

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 11

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

Pascal Magnin, Contrecoup

Pascal Magnin, Contrecoup

Travelling the world watching dance films and videos, the trek culminating in an event where 219 are being watched on 30 monitors by 250 people over 5 days, should bring some clarity to the whole question of what a dance film might be. But the subject of the dance screen events that are proliferating in Europe, both in conjunction with dance festivals and as independent events, had me heading back to the past…and the drawing board. This historically rich and potentially radical interdisciplinary form is in danger of being cornered by commercial success and market demands which have led to the creation of a generic formula for ‘short dance films.’ Some of the clichés of this form are: one sustained physical joke, limitless natural landscapes populated by wild women with long hair and men in shirt sleeves kicking up dirt, figures bombarded with water/wind/fire or lost in desolate warehouse spaces. Arnd Wesemann, writing of this tendency in a special dance screen issue of Ballett International, declares that “the dance film keeps to itself” behaving “like a closed society.”

At the big event, the IMZ Dance Screen 99 in Cologne, a very good dance filmmaker, Laura Taler (whose documentary on Canadian dancemaker Bill Coleman is a real redefinition of such work) spoke of Bob Lockyer (the undisputed ‘father’ of dance screen who programs dance for the BBC) as travelling the world “spawning” short, made-for-television dance/video collaborations that provide bite-sized chunks of contemporary dance for the masses. The other formula popular with television broadcasters is the recorded version of famous choreographic works—for example Petipa’s Le Corsaire and Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, screenings of which were given the red carpet treatment in Cologne.

This is a new development in dance film work. Look through any dance video collection in the world and you’ll find an institutionalised lineage that includes video experimentation, animation and film essays on motion in all its forms. The New York Public Library Dance Collection (which claims to be the largest in the world and which also has the tightest security), includes works by Hilary Harris, Norman McLaren, Nam June Paik and Ed Emshwiller and at the Cinémateque de la Danse in Paris, Ferdinand Leger and Rene Clair provide another history. Look to the periphery—and the real heart—of the dance screen culture and you’ll find a continuation of this more heterogeneous approach.

Ironically, the works which claim the prize-money are the product of contemporary dance and filmmakers’ commitment to a truly interdisciplinary practice. Dust by Anthony Atanasio and Miriam King and Contrecoup by Pascal Magnin and Alias Compagnie shared two-thirds of the prize-money at Dance Screen and a common, intensely cinematic aesthetic. Both Atanasio and Magnin are established directors who have taken on dance for what it can offer their craft. (The other successful approach seems to come from dancemakers who have taken on film in a similar way such as Wim Vandekeybus.) Dust is as glossy as an alcohol ad but its images of the body jar—a face framed by a swimming cap and goggles and sporting false eyelashes blinks through sand; a swimsuit clad body floats up out of inky black water. Contrecoup begins on the street with the gestures of a sharply dressed guy becoming a dance of yelled abuse. The fine line between gesture and dance continues throughout the film and Magnin’s resulting newly formulated ‘musical’ is affective and strong. Both would work well on television which is clearly a plus at an event where half of those attending are producers.

Other brave but less network-friendly submissions include Allee der Kosmonauten by Sasha Waltz, which features a surreal, ‘universal’ family in a home environment that is never physically stable; Les Ballets C de la B’s Eyes on the Back (dir. Yves Opstaele), a pseudo-documentary with dancers on tour amusing themselves in their hotel rooms in increasingly disturbing but oddly familiar ways; and The Way of the Weed featuring the dancers of the Ballett Frankfurt, a sci-fi epic charting an investigative journey to another planet where human movement studies are taking place. Special mention should be made of Australian Michelle Mahrer’s finely crafted documentary on the Page brothers, Urban Clan, which won Best Documentary.

Il Coreografo Elettronico in Naples went crazy, awarding first prize to Lourdes Las Vegas (Bernadetje) by Arne Sierens, Alain Platel and Giovanni Cioni. The Italian festival was small and intimate and there was a Neopolitan anarchy and real pleasure to the proceedings and consequent decision-making. Lourdes… is a rambling mystery of a film, cutting between fun fair shots and quiet moments where individuals share comments or a performance with the camera. The dance is in the film’s telling, not the participants.

At Montpellier Danse 99 in southern France, cinema’s influence on contemporary dance became the main manifestation of the theme, “Image and Dance.” Surrounding the main performance programme were screenings in 5 venues, a video-based installation and “Vitrines video danse”—screenings in shops and cafes. One cinema was devoted to the video and film work of participating choreographers while another screened feature films presented by those same choreographers. Directors chosen included Pasolini, Denis, Fassbinder, Lynch, Kurosawa, Cassavetes, Tarkovski, Jarmusch and Godard…this is not any old cinema and the ‘dance’ implicit in these films tells us more about the actual possibilities for dance and film than the TV snippets promoted as the archetype of the form. On top of this, open forums included “Choreography, essential component of cinema?” and “Film Loving Choreographers.”

Even more telling were the various manifestations of the cinematic in the performance work. Obviously chosen for their relevance to the festival theme, I believe these works do, however, outline specific but widespread tendencies within dance for a generation of choreographers whose primary culture has been one of the screen rather than the stage. The Alwin Nikolais retrospective paid tribute to a peer of Merce Cunningham whose experiments in the 50s with light and soundscapes and video collaborations in the 60s with Ed Emshwiller were technically and aesthetically groundbreaking. Nikolais was invited to Montpellier by French choreographer Philippe Decouflé who reproduced film effects on stage in Triton and Shazam!, continuing his role as the magician of French contemporary dance to the point of duplicating his film Abracadabra in the latter work. His obsession with trickery and turn-of-the-century entertainments connect him to the earliest cinema and the spectacles that were its currency.

UK-based French choreographer Gilles Jobim’s exploration of the body as subject in A+B=X saw the 3 dancers’ upturned rumps and backs transformed into screens onto which the face of Franko B was projected. The naked, sculptural, physical presence of the dancers was upstaged by the face-pulling, absent performance artist who also had the last say in the piece, both as a voice-over and on screen, displaying his self-mutilations that were somehow rendered poetic on film. Nasser Martin-Gousset’s Solarium heralded its cinematic intentions with projected ‘titles’ and ‘credits.’ Populated by cinematic archetypes—the stripper, the cowboy, the spy, the transvestite, the doctor—and featuring a suitcase swapping sequence, chase scene (the danger element being Nasser’s white stilettos) and drugging, Solarium plundered film and pop music for its fragmentary and refreshingly raw end result. Charles Creange aimed straight, but not necessarily clear, with his new work, Movies, which shared the themes of “time, space and substance” with its namesake but also the empty gloss of a certain type of flick.

Belgian choreographer Wim Vandekeybus’ In Spite of Wishing and Wanting and accompanying film programme left the most lasting impression on this ‘motion’ picture mission. (See Alex Sierz page 6.)The film component of the stage production The Last Words figured as the collective dream of the 11 men on-stage. Based on a story by Julio Cortazar, the narrative unfolded as a universal mythology; the prophet, the monarch, revolution, execution and miracles all made an appearance. As in Vandekeybus’ other films, La Mentira (1992) and Elba and Frederico (1993), the bodies tell the tale; actions, gestures and postures speak louder than words. In The Last Words, palace officials scurry around the throne on their haunches and a wife rolls away from her husband in what looks like the warmest bed. In La Mentira, an old man boils an egg, taking us through the ritual with a running commentary and then we are with him at bedtime, right until he flicks off his torch. In Elba and Frederico, the cross-over time in the morning between a night-worker and his day-working partner is multiplied in a montage of mornings, the characters repeating actions that have as many variations as there are days in a lifetime. The common element of sleep across these works seemed to take us back to the body as a home for the imagination that runs rife in the rest of Vandekeybus’ work—both the pause and the flow.

One of the most scary encounters of the trip was discovering that French choreographers Joelle Bouvier and Régis Obadia, who have made some of the most successful short dance films, actually behave like movie stars and that Ralph Fiennes doesn’t behave like one at all…Sorry, did I drop a name somewhere? (Doesn’t everyone want their piece of the movies?)

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 7

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

Talk of a crisis in the Australian film industry is rampant. What about dance in Sydney? Compared with my memory of it in the 80s and early 90s the place is utterly dance-starved. It's enough to make me go out dancing; enough to send me back to the Sydney Dance Company (encouraged by unusally good word of mouth for Murphy's latest) or to the Australian Ballet (especially now that Stretton is seriously developing the company's contemporary repertoire). I'm immediately investing in tickets for Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Les Ballets C de la B at the 2000 Adelaide festival. Save occasional showings at Ros Crisp's Omeo Studio, where in Sydney is the flow of ideas and risks? It's a trickle.

Driven, I pack my bags and go on the long haul west, through rain and open paddocks (I kid you not—signage please!) to Nepean Dance's Cynosure program, a celebration of the forthcoming graduation of Third Year BA University of Western Sydney students. I'm also keen to see the new Centre for Contemporary Performance in operation. The main studio space is impressive, very big, but still intimate (like new generation cinemas), and it can hold plenty of dancers in an ambitious, and what must have been an exhausting program for a number of the dancers, and a very steep learning curve for stage management.

Despite a near overdose of Massive Attack backing the works of student and teacher choreographies, the program revealed enough inventiveness to keep the audience engrossed or at least curious and me happy. The works ranged from not-too-abstract modernist to Indigenous-lyrical to contemporary performance and permutations thereof. Jan Pinkertons' Chain of Life demanded group precision in its interweavings and regroupings and some strong solo work (notably from Brooke Clayton working on the floor, a counterpoint of seizure). Bernadette Walong in Push, pull encouraged the giving way that allows a wave to seem to ripple through the bodies of her dancers, though her material seemed a bit too familiar. Dean Walsh multiplied some of his solo work into a group piece. Instead of one Dean in blonde wig, one high heel shoe, an apron and nothing else—save an ironing board and some exquisite text of his own doing—we had 8 female dancers with same, save the nakedness (some horrible undergarment instead) and silent. No reversals, no inversions, no disturbing erotics (in the way Dean consistently transcends camp). Expertly put together as it was, and thematically consistent, and developed in collaboration with the dancers, there was something missing. However, by Scene 3 things had picked up with Gabriela Horvath Von Castello, Margaret McGillon and Julie Payne inhabiting a bizarre world almost straight out of burlesque (without the tassles!) but with the eerie charm and grace (although not at all imitative) of Pina Bausch dancers, nicely off-centre choreography, and bravely danced. As a bonus, a different group of students altogether performed visiting South African choreographer Sylvia Glasser's Rhythmical Ritual-Resounding Rocks, a disciplined and lyrical shaping of lines and circles to the clapping of rocks by all the dancers and performed with apparent commitment and pleasure. I'm really glad I made the trip.

Nepean Dance, Cynosure, Studio 1, Centre for Contemporary Performance, Uinversity of Western Sydney, September 23 – 25.

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 12

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

Zero, Chunky Move, Bodyparts

Zero, Chunky Move, Bodyparts

Despite their different backgrounds, choreographers Shelley Lasica, Lucy Guerin and Gideon Obarzanek seem to have encapsulated if not the actual spirit of the 90s, then one manifestation which is traceable through their works, reflecting a particular cyberistic quality in our aesthetic culture.

I read the program notes for Shelley Lasica’s action situation with a quiver of doubt at what seemed like overly formal theorising of the work, in the “diffused spectatorship”, “mixed sourcing” and the “tension between the illusionistic space and time of narrative and the ‘presentness’ of physical actions unfolding through real time and space.”

As it turned out, there was a beautifully unexpected and really satisfying irony in action situation which undercut such dryness. All of the above indications might well be present in the work, but Lasica’s wit, in the stage and costume designs particularly, created a drama of small events, a soap opera of moves and relationships to rival Neighbours.

Squares of dressing room lights to the front and side of the stage form the shape of mirrors in which the dancers might watch themselves performing this drama. Their actions seem at first totally unco, with 3 rangy women on stage apparently either getting together or not, sidling around, looking askance at each other, organising their spatial and intentional relationships with all the human doubt, wile and surprise one might reserve for emotional bonds.

The costumes too are out there, the epitome of 90s irony. The look is poor-girl schizoid, clothes which seem to have been pinned on by someone very young, who would rather be seen as proudly enslaved to the necessities of poverty than the trivialities of fashion. Sleeves are all odd lengths, fabric is draped in neither skirts nor pants, but something more indeterminate. They have hoods too, a signature of cred. Perhaps it’s the fact that audiences don’t often get to witness the ironies of contemporary behavioural ethics and demeanour in dancing which provides the humour.

That same gauche, patched-together quality was also evident in Lucy Guerin’s work, Zero, performed by dancers from Melbourne-based Chunky Move, although there was a further choreographic complexity here which created a different sort of pattern. In the tradition of Bladerunner, Zero brought into clearer focus those cyberistic currents running through our visual/emotional culture. In any event, the movement style has become recognisable: a human body might be an invaded thing, having a kind of disembodied action, its own initiative almost renounced, in a fusion of fragile flesh with an inhuman and indestructible will. There is so much sex in the dancers’ doll-like actions, their bodies so much a collection of will-less animated limbs, their stance speaking of brutalised naivety.

I don’t think this is entirely what Zero is about, but it is what has stayed with me. The women often stand splay-footed and stiff-kneed, pigeon-toed, pelvis thrust forward, arms back, fingers held and open like a doll’s. There are tightly bound sequences, legs turned out in wide fourths, crossed wrists like bondage, movements repeated on-off, like faulty electrical wiring, arms which gesture to classical ports de bras in the same way as a 4 year old child’s might. There is an ethic being aped here, a culture being cannibalised. It is really this child-like capacity to take in, adapt and survive with whatever is at hand which seems to be indicated, and comes across in the end.

Similarly, in All The Better To Eat You With, Gideon Obarzanek uses elements of Little Red Riding Hood to examine some fragments of interweaving fantasies which hang around this story and give it power. Here, rape and murder, or at least brutalisation and the death of innocence, become lessons for a child to learn through the monstrous toys and other fantasy characters that inhabit her life. The opening scene shows a naked woman lying on the floor, and a suited man backing away, his spastic actions reflecting a kind of unspeakable horror at whatever act he has just committed. The accompanying sound collage featured both a child speaking the familiar lines, “Grandma, what big ears you have…what big teeth you have…”, and a melody from Amazing Grace, “…was blind but now I see.” This man comes back soon as the Wolf to seduce the child away from her toys and her grandma.

There are other fantasies, too. The grandmother figure is killed many times over, and then magicked back to life by the child’s spells; there is also a scene of sexual fantasy, grandma dreaming, the wolf stripping her of her clothes. At times we wonder just whose fantasy is being played out, Grandma’s, the Wolf’s or Little Red Riding Hood’s. In any case, the child in the tiny red polka dot frock finally makes an effort to preserve her innocence, fights and overpowers the Wolf, but at a cost. The closing scene shows her back in the same fallen position on the floor, perhaps not dead, but certainly no longer innocent. “I cannot feel, I cannot feel…” repeated over and over again gives us the sense that while brutalisation has occurred and she is left insensitive, she is nevertheless alive, if unable to respond. I was reminded strongly of that same expression of cyberistic power and human frailty that permeates our culture, simultaneously protective and exploitative, a fusion of will and terminal weakness.

action situation, Shelley Lasica, The Performance Space, August 24 – 28; Chunky Move, Body Parts: Lucy Guerin, Zero, Gideon Obarzanek, All the Better to Eat You With, Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, August 31 – September 4

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 10

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

The urge to write this article as some kind of hypertext is almost overpowering. Just imagine: I could lay it out in a variety of fonts. I could zig-zag the text across the page. I could get a photo of Ross Gibson, creative director of the major exhibition space in the new Cinemedia complex in Federation Square, and I could colour his face with the reflected light from a monitor, smother it with a thousand lines of Zeros and Ones. We could all look ever so new and exciting.

But that’s not the point. At least Gibson doesn’t think so, and it’s a philosophy he wants to apply to his curatorship of the digital culture focused Platform 1.0 Gallery in Federation Square. While the foundations of the complex are currently being pile driven, eventually the entire basement will be a massive underground space dedicated to new media and operating under the overall definition of the “history of moving image culture.”

It is an approach which hopes to avoid two popular new media gallery cliches. 1) The Staple Gun Technique: in which a ‘new’ collection is attached with duct tape to the fringe of an existing exhibition or gallery space, just to prove that the curator is aware that new media does exist. 2) The New for the sake of New Technique: in which an application is made for funding or space to put together an exhibition of ‘new’ work, and once the project is given the green light the curator feels it necessary (considering his/her ‘new media’ brief) to exhibit only that work which screams out how new and fresh it is.

And while the official opening of the project is not until May 2001, Gibson has already begun negotiations with international artists and is assembling a wish list of local talent. The aim is to create an ongoing environment for art. The building itself is a synthesizer, offering access to shared resources worldwide through the web, and a chance on the floors above Platform 1.0 for seminars, workshops and public search and research facilities. It aims to be the performance of exhibited culture in time, something traditional galleries have never done well. This gallery is aiming to refigure itself in real time and although Gibson shies away from the concept of creating interactivity for its own sake, he wants to “create a situation in which production, interpretation and examination occur simultaneously.”

More interestingly, Gibson wants to give digital culture an historical context, acknowledging that even the newest work does not exist in a vacuum. One of his primary concerns is to create an historical canon for the gallery, a concept which is alien to the more traditional arts for several reasons. Firstly because new media is often not accorded any sense of history—seen instead as a kind of artistic pimple which bursts onto the scene from nowhere, says a whole lot of irrelevant things very loudly before disappearing back into irrelevance—and secondly, because it is an impossible task for virtually any other medium. A gallery of physical culture may be able to acknowledge the history of its medium, but it cannot put it on display. Says Gibson: “The museuming of digital culture is challenging the curators of physical culture who have often seen their task as limiting the public’s access to great works of art, because every time you allow people access to them, the more dangerous it becomes. Not only physically, but intellectually. Repetition devalues the work.”

This is in striking opposition to digital culture, which is often born of repetition, which accepts mass production as one of its strongest points. One of the greatest things about new media Gibson says is its “non-exclusive behaviour.” It is completely feasible to gather a collection of the best digital culture has to offer because the concept of a facsimile or copy does not apply. This is especially important with an art form which already occupies a tenuous position in the eyes of the general public. It is important, Gibson stresses, to “make sure the stuff you show is cogent…people’s opinions are low enough as it is.”

This sense of inclusiveness extends beyond the work itself, to the relationship of the gallery with other groups. Although Cinemedia’s emphasis will be its own presentations, Gibson wants to emphasise its continuing commitment to maintaining and strengthening its associations with other organizations. “If new media teaches anything, it is that communal culture is productive. New media, like pop culture, shares its power with group reference. The more the better.”

In terms of content, Platform 1.0 has no specific brief. The aim is “not to fit work to a label, but to label the work after the fact.” Nevertheless, several themes are already becoming apparent: the representation of the urban environment, of ecological systems, of surveillance and detection exist already in the work produced and will be represented in the final line-up of creators and works. However, although what exactly this work will be and how it will be presented is still a grey area this far out from the launch date, even now two issues seem particularly important: the transience of much digital culture (its location on the edge of a specific time-frame reference point to maintain its relevance) and the removal of much of the work from its native habitat (taking it from the computer screen in somebody’s bedroom and essentially hanging it on a wall). How will the gallery manage to push itself as a permanent collection of the best digital culture has to offer if the whole concept is by definition fluid? And how will the space manage to maintain the integrity of work designed for intimate, close-quarters experience in a room the size of an aircraft hangar?

In an effort to circumvent the first issue, Platform 1.0 aims for a high turn-over of work, a space in a continual state of metamorphosis. Also, the existence of lightning fast electronic delivery systems and the storage capacity of the modern computer means that work can be changed, moved and stored at high speeds. A digital gallery can display and keep work in a far more efficient manner than a traditional gallery. It has the ability to stay much closer to the pulse. Apparent transience is not necessarily a weakness either: it is also its greatest strength, and the notion of disposable or mass produced work does not lessen its value as work which can be re-analysed and re-experienced.

The second issue is more difficult. Digital media, especially on-line works, are designed as highly personal objects to be displayed/experienced on a 15 -17 inch monitor in someone’s bedroom or office. It would be impossible to recreate this environment in a public space, if only because you can’t walk around it naked at 3am with a cup of Milo and believe it or not, this does affect the work. Where other art forms have organised, institutionalised delivery systems, where painters work to be hung and writers to be bound, digital artists can find themselves refigured by delivery systems, by the setup of end-users’ computer systems, by the vastly different types of environment in which their work is eventually viewed.

This is of course not true of all digital media art—an incredibly diverse form —but is an example of just one of the challenges of presenting it. And it is a challenge which Platform 1.0 aims to counteract using the environment itself. In the design phase the space is an underground complex, a dark space, which will be built and re-built to accommodate the needs of each work on a case by case basis. I like to imagine it as resembling the simulated natural habitats at modern zoos as compared to the cement cubicles of yesteryear.

In fact this re-presentation of work in a slightly different context can be seen not only as the gallery’s greatest challenge, but also its greatest asset. It could be argued that what makes Platform 1.0 so exciting is that it will be a dedicated display of digital art not shoe-horned into a space beside other art forms. Galleries, like museums, are laced with value judgements. From their architecture down they are designed to demonstrate the worth of the objects they display. The fact that Platform 1.0 is also a large, government funded project which aims to present as ‘worthwhile’ something the general public might have its doubts about, and to allow a level of interactivity not available in other galleries, provides the space with a rare opportunity.

Where traditional galleries provide end points, a point at which people can look back at ‘great’ art and acknowledge its historical importance, Platform 1.0 could be an opportunity to acknowledge the here and now of digital art, to see it as close to its time of production as possible. A chance to put your feet in the blocks, see art in process, and maybe even start running yourself.

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 4

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

“if [the cartoon film] belongs fully to the cinema, this is because the drawing no longer constitutes a pose or a completed figure, but the description of a figure which is always in the process of being formed or dissolving through the movement of lines and points taken at any-instant-whatevers of their course…it does not give us a figure described in a unique moment, but the continuity of the movement which describes the figure.”
Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: the movement-image, Minnesota UP, 1983

“Animation is not the art of drawings that move but of movements that are drawn.”
Norman McLaren.

Let us work with these two definitions to think about the convergence of cinema and animation that is taking place in contemporary action cinema and television, a convergence which is redefining the relations of production and post-production, and therefore the pro-filmic event itself. The first definition comes from the philosopher, film theorist, Gilles Deleuze and the second from the animator and animation theorist, Norman McLaren. Taken together the definitions indicate a point of convergence, conceptual, but nevertheless real, between cinema and animation. Gilles Deleuze’s definition of the “cartoon film” is presented in the context of a definition of the specific qualities of the cinematic image. The first thing we notice is how close it is to McLaren’s definition of animation—the first proposition of a theory of animation. It presents, I think, an essential inversion of the concept of animation as making animate things that are inanimate. The first thing we notice is how close it is to Deleuze’s definition of the cinema.

For Deleuze, cinema is defined as an art of movement, its distinguishing feature as an art; its distinct modernity is that it introduces movement into the image, “it makes movement the immediate given of the image. This kind of movement no longer relies on a moving body or an object which realises it, nor on a spirit which reconstitutes it. It is the image which itself moves in itself.” (Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: the time-image, Minnesota UP, 1985) Deleuze’s definition of the cinema is “animatic” because its material is movement and movement can only be described not represented.

For McLaren animation is also defined as an art of movement, of drawing movement. This definition is an inversion of the notion of making the inanimate animate because it refers animation to the animate. It is precisely the animate that is drawn, but not in the sense of an outline or in terms of figuration, but, to use Deleuze’s term, figurally. Drawing works with movement, with transitions, with those moments when indistinction is the rule. McLaren’s definition of animation is cinematic because it throws attention onto the relation between images, into the gaps in the frames—the explicit topic of his second proposition. Deleuze and McLaren’s definitions of animation as cinema, and cinema as animation, converge on the concept of drawing movement.

It is in this sense that animation and cinema can be said to be forms of drawing and that drawing is a means of expressing the contours of things and not representing the state of things in fixed images that happen to move. The representation of objects is less important than unleashing the forces that constitute them, and which do not appear on their surfaces. This task of “rendering visible invisible forces”, an aesthetic borrowed by Deleuze from Paul Klee, is the sense in which drawing functions in both definitions of animation. And it can provide the basis of an examination of the convergence of cinema and animation which is presently taking place with the increased utility of new media technologies. Martin Scorsese often refers to the camera as a brush and the shot as a stroke. Film theory has investigated the notion of the camera as stylus. McLaren seemed to eschew the camera by drawing directly onto the celluloid, but it seems in doing so he was not so much replacing the camera as reinventing its function as descriptor not recorder.

From Clouzot’s Picasso to The Matrix

A remarkable example of what I mean by the convergence of cinema and animation can be found in Henri-George Clouzot’s film, The Mystery of Picasso aka The Picasso Mystery. This is an untimely example from film history. It was made in 1956, but it points to the convergence under discussion albeit from another direction. Clouzot sets up a unique convergence of animation and cinema by situating Picasso on the other side of a sheet of glass that is inserted between himself and the camera and which serves as a frame for the camera. Picasso then goes to work drawing in black on the surface of the glass. What is henceforth presented is not so much the process of the production of an image of a bull or whatever, but a temporal series of movements of hand and line. And it is the movement at the heart of Picasso’s drawings that emerges as the strictly artistic component of the film. Drawing is here as an art of movement. It is cinematic and animatic.

We can in fact go a step further and argue that one of the effects of new media technology is precisely the production of this drawing-effect. Clouzot’s film could be used as a model of computer animation. The upshot of this would be that the big budget action-suspense or action-adventure film (which seems to be where the more grandiose animatic effects are happening) would become more and more animated, more and more like the ‘cartoon film’ described by Deleuze and more and more the fulfilment of McLaren’s notion of “movements that are drawn.” One only needs to watch The Matrix to appreciate that bodies and objects can be presented as drawn movements. I am thinking here of the cascading code but also of the Reeves character’s ability to slip in-between and in and out of the motion of things, of the trajectory of objects, and to perceptually liquefy the space around him.

The expansion of post-production beyond the status of supplemental facility (if it ever was this) which has accompanied the rise of outfits such as Animal Logic attests to the possibility of a radical transformation of the ‘content’ of the cinematic image—a transformation which extends beyond the invention of DVD and tele-visual screens to the very definition of the image, and the pro-filmic event. This scenario would not herald the actorless cinema but rather a cinema where the actorliness of the actor is constituted at a very different level.

This is not to say that realism is dead, or even dying. Animated effects play a strong role in sustaining or deepening the sense of reality that the cinema and television are offering viewers. Ally MacBeal for instance, presents an order of mental-caricature through the animation of thought-clichés. Antz offers an infantilised notion of the colony of individuals which is Spielberg’s trademark narrative of American social formation. Animation is being used to resuscitate not only the careers of screen actors by transforming them into voice-sketch combinations but also to strengthen the claim of verisimilitude in a wide array of projects.

The convergence of cinema and animation which is envisaged through the definition of drawing movement does not take place at this level but it is clear that animation is reinvigorating cinematic realism. The Matrix remains realist to the extent that the cascading code seeks to articulate what is assumed to be already there, the matrix and the web of plug-ins, be they objects, bodies, or the actions of bodies on objects and vice versa. If I use my credit card to buy a bottle of wine from a bottlo I set in motion and interact with all manner of cascading codes, the codes of purchase, the codes of credit and debit, of stock control, the linguistic codes of the transaction between salesperson (whose name appears on the register) and purchaser (whose name appears on the bill), the codes on the label of the bottle, especially the one that reads 1.5 litre, the codes which differentiate wine from other forms of alcohol, etc. The Matrix’s use of code seems to place such things in the image, but it does not remove the image from its realist framework.

Surveying Australian animators: drawing with the computer

Let me shift focus and come at this question from a more practical perspective. In a recent survey of Australian animation companies that I conducted on behalf of the AFTRS (Australian Film, Television and Radio School) it became clear that producing reality-effects is bread and butter for a number of computer animation companies and animators. For instance the recent Australian mini-series Day of the Roses had sequences animated for visual embellishment. Sparks and flames were inserted into a crash sequence. One can surmise myriad situations where such embellishments can be used.

In the course of the study the question of drawing by computer came up again and again. Drawing with a computer is a decidedly different task from that which McLaren set himself but it is clearly an issue that confronts today’s animators.

The survey was conducted on behalf of AFTRS Research and asked animators, or representatives of the animation operations of a particular company, to answer a series of questions about their operations. One set of questions pertained to the practicalities of computer animation. What skills are animators looking for in new animators? What skills are they finding hard to get? A good number of animators stipulated that young computer animators do not know ‘basic animation’ or ‘traditional animation.’ And by basic animation they mean, drawing. They referred to modelling, and to design principles, but mostly drawing. To use the words of one respondent, “we don’t need operators, we need animators.” It is not that young animators themselves are somehow bereft of the capacity to draw, but that the amount of preparation that is required before one can even begin to animate anything by computer is forbidding. Animation (read drawing) is now also a question of the operation of new technologies with their own cascades of codes, or to put it another way, the operations which make up the process of animation have been transformed quite dramatically from when McLaren set down his propositions. Images of McLaren at work with his magnifying glass and light table reveal a quite different apparatus from images of animation students working with mouse in hand at their Macintoshes. From a distance, the students look like office workers whereas McLaren looks like a jeweller. It seems that drawing with a computer requires a different set of optics and a different order of gesture, of habit, than drawing with scratches.

It would seem also that contrary to the rhetoric of computers being machines of great speed, objects of the future, new in the strict sense of the term, that they are slow machines, that they do not make the process of generating images any easier but aid in the combination of images. This is probably saying little more than they are the technology of slow beings. McLaren after all had to draw movements frame by frame, a very laborious and slow process, or operation, indeed.

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 8

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

It seems that one of the few ways to see new international film and video work these days is to step offshore from time to time. The artificial and unnecessary separation between film culture and ‘new media’ culture which has occurred in Australia in recent years (due largely to funding policy) has meant that festival events are determined along media lines, which means that little experimental film has been reaching our shores for quite some time. As somebody who admits to being promiscuous (ie working across film, video and digital media) and who enjoys playing with the differences as well as the points of intersection between these media formats, I’m relieved to find some international festivals which strongly support cross-media programming styles.

A few major European festivals with film origins seem to have transcended these boundaries and are providing audiences with strong and varied film and video programming. In particular, I’m referring to Impakt in Utrecht, Netherlands, which also includes an impressive music component, and the European Media Arts festival in Osnabrück, Germany.

The 1999 Impakt featured many works which were creatively exploring the points of intersection between ‘old’ and ‘new’ media, rather than rejecting one for the other. Kodwo Eshun (who also recently spoke at the Cinesonic conference in Melbourne—see RealTime 33, October-November) referred to McLuhan’s “realization that obsolete tech becomes the artform for the present.” This may be true, but many artists working with digital sampling technology are retaining a strong interest in the live performance, the screening event, and the live audience.

Likewise, I doubt that the cinema as a screening site for film and video will ever really become obsolete, since humans enjoy the act of seeing and hearing and communicating in public zones. What is the place of web-based art in this equation? A recent ‘opening’ in Sydney of work attracted a mere handful of visitors. However, at both EMAF (European Media Arts Festival) and Impakt, installation, web-art and CD-ROM managed to happily co-exist with the screening programs, with EMAF also hosting a VRML art exhibition.

Some of the themes regarding technology and degradation evident in the excellent music programming at Impakt (see our website for Merewether’s account of this. Eds) were also reflected in the films presented at both EMAF and Impakt. In Matthias Müller’s Vacancy (Germany), a meditation on Brasilia, the “city of hope”, or “ultimate utopia of the 20th century” (Eco), the filmmaker matches images from 60s feature films with identically framed shots in the present, highlighting the processes of transformation from utopia to dystopia, of the failed modernist social experiment. At Impakt, Gerhard Holthuis’s Hong Kong—HKG used stunning black and white cinematography to explore the bizarre incongruities of scale and context which occur as jumbo jets land at Hong Kong’s (now closed) Kai Tak airport. The planes are both overwhelming and ‘as light as angels’, a threatening presence as they cruise in through the rows of high rise apartment blocks.

David Gatten’s What the Water Said nos 1-3 (USA) was created by placing raw film stock into crab baskets and allowing the sea’s wave action to act upon the surface of the celluloid to create both image and soundtrack. Likewise, Jürgen Reble’s Zillertal (Germany) was created by exposing an old 16mm trailer to the weather and to chemicals, exploring the processes of disintegration and reformation of the image. Jeff Scher’s Yours (USA) also utilised a piece of found footage, a 1950s music clip, to create a stunningly vibrant film overlaid with pop iconography, wallpaper textures and painted surfaces from the period. These are all examples of process-driven filmmaking, deeply tied to the materiality of celluloid, and so much richer than the trend towards digital scratch and dust effects ‘applied’ to video footage to give it the ‘appearance’ of film.

A work which seemed to put pressure on the medium to the point of breaking, was Sam Easterson’s A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing (USA). Intriguing in its presentation of a sheep’s-view of life from within a flock, this work is one of many produced by his Animal Vegetable Video organisation, which aims to capture video footage taken from the perspective of every living plant and animal on earth (ambitious!). Other than the unusual point of view, the most interesting aesthetic quality of this work emerges from the fact that the video and audio apparatus cannot cope with the jerky running motion of the sheep ‘host’, thus when the sheep runs with the flock, violent blackouts and interruptions to the soundtrack occur. The randomness of these digital blackouts and intersected ‘baa’ sounds, caused by violent camera shake, led to an amusing level of absurdity.

Bob Arnold’s Morphology of Desire (USA), also shown at Impakt, and winner of the Best Experimental short at the Uppsala festival in Sweden last year, combined digital and film processes in its morphed imagery derived from romance novel cover art. The complex relationship between the reader (viewer), and the poster-painted romantic heroine, is wittily explored. Arnold’s use of sparse sound effects, breaking the rhythm of the pulsating heartbeat which drives the morphed transitions between images, is, as ever, curiously engaging. The finished work, with its digitally morphed transitions, was filmed as an animation, frame by frame with a Bolex camera, for the final translation back to 16mm.

A special program in Impakt, The Experience, was dedicated specifically to stimulating the body into perceiving unusual physical experiences and mental sensations, for example in Mark Bain’s Transient Vehicle, a shipping container fitted out with various oscillators, into which the audience was locked and vibrated. On another occasion, Klaar van der Lippe led groups of participants on a blindfolded tour though the city of Utrecht. Cyrus Frisch, a Dutch video artist whose work pushes the boundaries between himself as ‘director’ and his subjects, mostly disabled drug addicts, allowed himself to be hypnotised in public to exorcise some of his demons. Joe Gibbons (USA), in his 1979 8mm film Spying, forced the viewer to reconsider his/her collusion with the filmmaker, whilst participating with him in secretly spying on ordinary people in the act of, amongst other things, lovemaking or sunbathing. These varied events successfully extended the range of activities a contemporary festival can offer audiences.

Oddly enough, the most common enquiry I had from curators from the USA and Europe was “Where have all the Australian film and video artists gone?” Obviously, our funding climate, which heavily favours interactive formats, is adversely affecting the balance of local production, and has meant that filmmakers such as Paul Winkler are almost the sole representatives from Australia in these festivals. At the Ann Arbor Experimental Festival in the USA recently, Sydney films took out three of the awards, and all were self-funded by the filmmakers (Winkler’s Rotation, Greg Godhard’s Mind’s Eye and my own Cheap Blonde).

At events such as Impakt, it seems that the integration of film, video, digital media and sound/music events in the one festival encourages debate, and acknowledges the processes of cross fertilisation between formats, a dialogue, which, in Australia, does not seem to be occurring very frequently. The separation of ‘film festivals’ from ‘new media’ events is unfortunate, as digital art screenings are looking more like showcases of visual effects rather than explorations of ideas, and local filmmaking suffers from a paucity of visual ideas. In the meantime, I’ll happily continue to be suspended in the crossover zone, enjoying the best of both worlds.

Impakt, Utrecht, Netherlands, 11 – 16 May; EMAF Festival, Osnabrück, Germany, 5 – 9, May.

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 13

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

Gideon Obarzanek, Chunky Move

Gideon Obarzanek, Chunky Move

You can count on an evening of discombobulation when Chunky Move come to town with their suitcases full of Bodyparts, their new dance season at the Drama Theatre in August-September.

Gideon Obarzanek gets his teeth stuck into Little Red in All the Better to Eat You With exploring “the complexities of power and abuse beneath the familiar fairytale” Yeh, yeh but we know it’s the “psychotic beauty and seriously sensual” stuff we wanna see, “the surrealist tea party cum serial killer pantomime.” Yes! “A delectable fairytale fit for the new millennium” says The Melbourne Times, to which we say, yum-yum.

There’s more discomfort in Lucy Guerin’s Zero described by the choreographer as “an uneasy work that continually censors itself, reinventing its structural identity and the individuals within it.” Using techniques of film camera operation and playback translated into a real time situation, her choreography with Darrin Verhagen’s electronic soundtrack creates close-ups, jump cuts and extreme shifts in focus.
See it on a dark night.

Bodyparts, The Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, August 31 – September 4.

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 2

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

Art and I sit down to sample the delicacies of the internet. We are on a mission. Open up Copernic, a groovy little download which manoeuvres through all the search engines at once, and enter the exact phrase “Australian porn.” Hotbot. Excite. Altavista baby. We’re on the path to fulfilling desire…

1. http://www.erotic-movies.ahost.net/index.html [link expired] Free Nude Teen Thumbnail Galleries. This is first on the list, and I’m trying to imagine the appeal of looking at grotty adolescent fingernails. My own are raggedy around the edges—must book in with Carmel, my nail technician. Click here for more porn than you can shake a dick at. The technological sophistication is astounding. Click on the butt—FUCK my Ass is revealed bottom left of screen. Calling all BUTTmen—some sort of extra terrestrial lifeform perhaps? That’s a banana, Art cries accusingly. This site promotes teen sex which means teen girls having sex for the very first time apparently. While promoted as being very young and all virgins, the disclaimer at the bottom maintains that all models are 18 years or over. Almost teens. Net Nanny software links mean cruising fathers can feel assured that their precious teenage girls are safe.

The women look like aliens. They have strange black blobby shapes over their bodies. Pixelated pussies. Live pornpourri. FREE to all members. We eagerly click on How To Join. Receive FREE newsletter: Sex Files. We enter the required information. Name. Email address. Birthdate. Password. Member name. joblow15 is ready to rock and roll. Other porn sites keep flashing up. Close a window, a new site jumps in the fray. Cafe Flesh. XXX world. Virgin sluts. Jesus Christ, Art keeps exclaiming, they’re popping up from everywhere, his fingers juddering crazily on the mouse. We’re now one step away from seeing live teen sex, but what’s this? Credit card details for legal age verification. Oh, Art moans. He’s never let us have a credit card. Always insists on paying everything in cash. He likes to keep control of our budget and expenditure and you know what women are like with plastic! We can’t get to the tele-fucking level but we can get free XXX pics delivered to our email box. We set up a hotmail account and joblow15 gets delivered. Who can resist the promised land: potty shots—hidden cameras reveal young girls going to the bathroom (a blondie sits on tiles, next to the loo, legs spreadeagled, looking straight at us!). Va Va Voom.

2 http://www.alsscan.com/ [accessed 1999] Warning, warning, warning. Stop. Do not access. You must be 21 years or over: “if you are accessing from any country where adult material is specifically prohibited by law, go no further.” All these reminders are a bit of a dampener to the drive, darling. I sign a form stating that I am not a US postal officer or law enforcement agent and will not use information as evidence for prosecution of individuals or for the purpose of entrapment. Well, it all depends, really. I started hiring a private detective to follow Art when I found various items of my lace underwear missing. I am visitor number 31,759,980, part of an intimate club almost twice the population of Australia.

Art tries to download Jessica’s shoot right to our computer. Here’s Amy, “wild crazy…watch her lean back and piss into a glass bowl.” Look at the quality of that scan, Art cries, zooming into a pierced nipple. They use digital cameras, the site says proudly, giving a quick plug to the Sony VX 1000. See pissing, fisting, bottle and veggie insertions, and a speculum. Which reminds me, I must book in for that pap smear which I’ve been putting off for years. Those blasted ads on TV make me feel guilty. If I do get cervical cancer, apparently I won’t have an excuse if I don’t go every 18 months. I have to certify that “anal sex, urination, vegetable and bottle penetration and fisting, do not violate the community standards of [my] street, village, city, town, country, state, province or country.” I am nervous about this. Perhaps we should do a quick survey of Hope Street, Art suggests. Mmmm Hope Street. I always suspected he had a bit on the side with that tart who lives opposite the RSL, the fake blonde with the German accent and red stilettos. Aaaah, ooooooooh, 2 girls are engaged in a lip pulling contest and then there’s the carrots. Eggplants. Zucchinis. Squash. Art reckons this site’s so hot he’s going to cook a stir fry tonight.

3. Video licking free XXXX SheMales
We want to watch Pammy and Tommy’s home video, see live video channels, find out more about that blonde bombshell lying in a fog filter with a finger placed delicately in her mouth, and look at those millions of hidden cameras: inside toilets, under desks, in the tip of a dildo. But that blasted credit card screen comes up every time. (Meanwhile, Tina Tripoli has delivered our bi-weekly Sex Files newsletter and we reply to receive pics.) Butts, boobs, beavers and more pop ups, “perverse and on the fringe of decadence.” Cheri in The House of the Rising Cum. Teenfacials and tittycities. A flash tour of booptropolis. Use your powers of deduction to select the natural redhead (it’s not as easy as it sounds).

4. http://rosie.ozsex.com/australia/ebony305/porn.html [link expired] At last some Oz porn (which was what we were looking for in the first place but it’s so hard to find). A definite Oz flavour with “stacks of real life roots.” Suck for free samples, lick my whip, and I’m transported back into Penthouseville, circa 1982, with the reader’s input: 1st prize winner goes to Pantyhose vs Stockings where a man seduces a woman in a library who “has A format beautiful breasts.” So that’s why Art spends so much time at the State Library. I always thought he went there to take notes for his Business Management course. We find other Aussie links: Urination nation; Transvestites, “yes, that is both pieces Tackle and Snatch”; and Pregnant women. Adult Check. Age Check. Ishield. Adult Age. Christ, what happened to the age of instant gratification, Art cries, scrummaging in the drawer for his cheque book.

5. http://www.3d-entertainment.com [link expired] Art says he wants to see more multimedia, audio and video. The use of sound has been most disappointing. I guess gasps of pleasure are more intrusive than photos of a woman chained naked to cane furniture, dog-collar-linked to her terrier. So we visit a site which has porn in Stereoscopy and Virtual Reality: “A review of images in stereo format allows us to look at the even common things from a new perspective and get quite different kicks. Especially it refers to Erotica. The sense of reality makes them especially Piquant.[sic/k]” Art immediately perks up and puts on his blue and red glasses, saved from the Three Stooges TV special a few decades ago. The 3D effect reveals a girl tied to a boat backdropped by a beautiful deep blue sky. She looks cold, her goosebumps through the glasses big bright boils. Click to Enlarge. Every man’s dream. She has pubic hair. Art recoils, and it is a bit of a shock after the shiny, sanded and polished pubises of the American teens, as denuded as the Daintree after a bulldozer has torn through. The Virtual chat room is unfortunately out of order, but a new nude avatar world is on its way. You no longer need to go to Gentleman’s clubs or Woody’s car wash to ogle topless women. That’s good news for Art, who pretends he’s going to the TAB, but I’ve seen photos of him at Hooters. He’s gone now…up the street to pick up a few vegies.

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 31

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

Kathryn Mew, Muto

Kathryn Mew, Muto

Muto
Kathryn Mew

Muto is a hyperreal planet, a hybrid of the digital and the organic. Gameplay is highly experimental, using a three dimensional navigation system, textless interface and interactive themes of creation, mutation and destruction. The user is invited to explore Muto’s simulated environments. Red represents corporeal, an environment of breathing, breeding tissue. Green represents earth, a habitat of fertile soil, and flourishing plant life. Blue represents water and the atmosphere. Black represents a world of creation on the smallest of organic molecular levels. White represents an opposing pole of digital reproduction.

Muto, a CD-ROM, began as a post-graduate project (RMIT). The major challenges have been to push the capabilities of the commercially available software (Macromedia Director) to match my vision, and to keep up with new versions of the product as the deadline blows out. Holding down full-time employment and/or freelancing within the multimedia industry during the production process has also been difficult for final completion of the project. Although the work is not yet completed, I have managed to have it exhibited in several national and international multimedia exhibitions (also a lot of work in itself), which helps drive me toward completion.

Kathryn Mew is a Melbourne-based designer. Her main areas of research include interface design, experimental virtual environments and digital culture. Her work ranges from websites to live theatre video support, to CD-ROMs and has appeared in Kabaret Internet in both Munich and Cologne, the Downloading Downunder exhibition in Amsterdam, the Next Wave Festival in Melbourne, dLux Media Arts’ D.art 99 and the ARS Electronica Life Science exhibition Linz, Austria.

Completion December 1999. Australian Film Commission.

Volcano: Shifting Ground
Maria Miranda

Maria Miranda, Volcano: Shifting Ground

Maria Miranda, Volcano: Shifting Ground

This installation will use the volcano and its shifting ground to explore cultural questions of uprootedness. It will play with notions of surface and depth. Volcano is also a metaphor for the way new media art shifts the ground materially and conceptually. Computers normally map geological activity and volcanism; in Volcano a fissure will be opened up by/in the technology.

One of the artistic challenges will be to find a form of interactivity that poetically expresses a shifting ground, its disruptions and eruptions, rather than following narrative paths. One of the main technical challenges is to explore the different grounds and/or materials of an image through scanning and downloading and to explore the interaction of images and sound.

Maria Miranda is a visual artist working in new media art. She was the visual artist on the award winning CD-ROM Shock in the Ear. She is currently collaborating as visual artist on the new media art installation Dead Centre: the body with organs, and on Dina Panozzo’s performance with interactive media, Monster Mouth.

Completion July 2000. New Media Arts Fund, Australia Council

Wunderkammer
Anna Munster

Anna Munster, Wunderkammer

Anna Munster, Wunderkammer

Wunderkammer is an experimental interactive for CD-ROM. Using the visual metaphor of a baroque Cabinet of Wonders, it encourages the user to explore labyrinthine digital spaces and to collect bizarre specimens. These can be used to furnish the user’s own virtual cabinet. While the user wanders and constructs, the specimens take on a life of their own displaying surprising and destabilising behaviours.

Wunderkammer uses both game and behavioural elements programmed in Director and using Quicktime VR interfaces supported by relational databases to inquire into curiosity and wonder. Technical challenges involve the smooth integration of graphics, sound and movie databases into CD-ROM format.

Anna Munster is a digital artist and writer living in Sydney. She has exhibited at Artspace, Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney, Kawasaki City Museum in Tokyo, and most recently at the 1998 Melbourne Festival.

Completion April 2000. Australian Film Commission.

Archiving Imagination
Robin Petterd

Archiving Imagination is an online exploration of the process of collaboration between web authors Robin Petterd (media artist) and Diane Caney (writer). The project incorporates visual and verbal language, utilising and interrogating terms such as intertextuality, interdisciplinarity, net-poetry and the internet.

Documenting the process of collaboration is not a simple task. We have used sound, text and images to record meetings and versions in an attempt to show our thinking processes, but the enmeshing of ideas goes beyond these encounters.

Robin is doing her PhD at the Digital Art Research Facility at the Tasmania School of Art on a project that explores the relationships between what is organisation and dis-organisation. After completing her doctorate in 1997, Diane became intrigued by the medium of html. She began working with Robin in 1997.

www.archiving.com.au Completion August 1999. New Media Arts Fund, Australia Council.

Uncle Bill
Debra Petrovitch

Debra Petrovitch, Uncle Bill

Debra Petrovitch, Uncle Bill

Uncle Bill is an interactive CD-ROM, a semi-autobiographical account of growing up in Wollongong during the 1960s, based on a performance text by Sydney sound artist Debra Petrovitch. It is predominantly a sound and visual artwork set against a harsh industrial backdrop and violent domestic situation. Uncle Bill is aimed to be exhibited within an installation context. A wider audience for Uncle Bill are domestic violence groups and support networks for survivors of child abuse.

Uncle Bill includes text screens, original sound pieces, video, animations and archival footage. Director, Debra Petrovitch; interactive designer, Wade Marynowsky; producer, Julianne Pierce.

Debra Petrovitch is a visual, sound and performance artist who has exhibited widely as well as producing independent soundworks and commissioned film and video soundtracks. Wade Marynowsky is a digital artist currently completing a Master of Fine Arts at College of Fine Art, Sydney. Julianne Pierce is an interactive media artist and producer and part time Project Co-ordinator at The Performance Space, Sydney.

Completion December 1999. Australian Film Commission.

intelligence agency
Julianne Pierce

An online portal, video and performance project currently in development, intelligence agency is an interactive media project, a host site for information corruption and counter-intelligence. The participants are female identities who (under)mine data, capital and IT economy. Currently acting as a research and transmission hub, intelligence agency is a contact point for identities wishing to continue their highly visible activities by remaining totally anonymous.

Julianne Pierce is an interactive media producer, artist and curator, a founding member of the collaborative computer art group VNS Matrix, and has presented work at international exhibitions and conferences including ISEA and Ars Electronica. In 1997, she was a co-ordinator of the 1st Cyberfeminist International (Hybrid Workspace) at Documenta X in Germany. She is currently producing an interactive media project Uncle Bill with sound artist Debra Petrovitch; developing the Digital Artstore distribution project with Jeffrey Cook (3V Media). She is also part-time Project Co-ordinator at The Performance Space, Sydney and is a Board member of the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) and Artspace.

www.intelligenceagency.org [expired] New Media Arts Fund, Australia Council

Escape from Station E
Irene Proebsting

Irene Proebsting, Escape from Station E

Irene Proebsting, Escape from Station E

An interactive CD-ROM based around the themes of industrial decay, work practices and gender issues, coupled with biological and technological experimentation. I have drawn on various ideas from textbooks, news items, cinema and historical documentation and presented them as an abstract series of events using a variety of stylistic elements from collage to sci-fi movies.

Using Macromedia Director as the main assembly program and incorporating scanned images, collage and 3D, I have created an environment which will enable the user to explore various spaces and activate animations linking different images and themes. Lingo scripting, image manipulation, 3D modelling, sound & video capture, editing & animation have been the challenges of this project.

Recent exhibitions: S8 film screenings: 1999, Ultraprojections 2, Melbourne; 1998, XLR8 Summer Salon, CCP, Melbourne, Traceable Emissions, Queen Vic Women’s Centre, Melbourne; 1997, SURPRISE International Short Film Festival, Taiwan; 1996, Dispersions, Erwin Rado Theatre, Fitzroy; Viva 8, London Filmmakers Co-op, Toynbee Hall, London.

Completion late 1999.

As I May Write
Sally Pryor

Sally Pryor, As I May Write

Sally Pryor, As I May Write

As I May Write is an experimental and interactive art-work about writing systems and the human-computer interface. Explores histories (earliest graphemes, “Picture Writing”), contemporary visual languages (Blissymbolics, logos), relevant theories (hypertext, semiotics), and possible applications of “intelligent” icons in an interactive media space.

My biggest challenge is that I make art in order to find out what I think/feel about something. So I can’t do detailed technical and artistic planning before starting. I have to program it, “look” at it, re-program it etc in a spiral process that works for me but makes team work difficult. The medium will probably be a combination of CD-ROM (for the bandwidth) and interactive online (for the connectivity and fluidity).

Sally Pryor is an artist/programmer and independent multimedia developer with an eclectic background including biochemistry and 3D computer animation. Her most recent work was the internationally award-winning CD-ROM Postcard From Tunis.

www.ozemail.com.au/~spryor/write.html [expired] Completion December 2000. New Media Arts Fund Fellowship, Australia Council

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 5

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

alotronic (http://users.dbworld.net.au/~allen/aloxoom/alocore4.htm – expired) is an example of what can be achieved by a personal website with a bit of creative flair. Part promotion, part experiment, Allen O’Leary’s interest in theatre and information technologies informs his hypermedia work The Casino Project. A groovy JPEG of a man running helter skelter entices you to join the pace of the site which is flashy and fast. Although a work in progress (60% complete), it is conceptually sophisticated, using frames to flesh out the inner workings of a man “jagged around the edges”, dealing with a relationship breakdown in the Melbourne Casino surrounds, “a beast with ten thousand eyes.” He drives to “her river”, contemplating ownership and borders, the need to claim spots as lovers’ spaces, as if you’re the first to discover them. Relationship breakdowns are a common theme in hyperfiction (My Father’s Father’s House, Six Sex Scenes), frames embodying in neat visual form the fractured, dislocated identity/emotions suddenly-singles experience post-love. The razzle dazzle of the Casino, “it’s two blocks long and one year old”, and dark murky depths of the Yarra, loom.

Using pixilated locations like the Crown carpark at 9.45pm, O’Leary entices you into a world of online gambling and really, all cruising, both in love and on the web, is a risk. Do you choose to look or buy? Surveillance translates well too. Men and women watch from behind cameras behind closed doors. Seductive and hesitant, like Matthew Condon’s novel The Pillow Fight (also uncovers the inner worlds of a casino/couple), The Casino Project is so far an exploration of male identity, anger and (loss of) control. which drills into the psyche.

Simpler in design, but crafty and intriguing in action, is Tulse Luper 92 suitcases (www.zen.co.uk/home/pagew/ paul.m/tlhome/html – expired). It’s a mouthful but what do you expect from a site rumoured to be filled in around the edges by Peter Greenaway. Confusing graphics of desktop meta-images—folders belonging to Greenaway, David Hockney—lead to small suitcase icons filled with the unimaginable and notions of the authentic. The Luggage Rack has bags added regularly. Stuffed and enticing, the contents are worth persevering for: little jigsaw puzzle pieces, unlabelled portraits, curiouser and curiouser. Click on screens and nothing happens. Numberly fun: letters from PG about Bacon numbers, “a measure of how closely an actor/actress is related to Kevin Bacon”, obsessions with statistics, a 30cm ruler (one foot). The writing crosses all genres but has a detective slant. Who is Tulse Luper? Where are the rest of his suitcases? Which are the real/fake ones? It’s possible to place clues and forge notes. Secret compartments lead to an unmade film about Tristram Shandy, mathematics and fly collecting, translation as art, road kill and buzzards, suitcases filled, as the intro reveals, with deaths, sounds, letters and stolen notices. Check out the feedback form for wry humour, Brit style.

Continuing with the abstract expression, extensive hypermedia works by Miekal And (http://www.net22.com/gazingulaza/ joglars/index.html – expired) focus on the textu(r)al and tactile: a ticking-over-word-puzzle tribute to intermedia composer Dick Higgins (Mesosistics for dick higgins); a typo-city font voyage (after emmett) where letters become characters (weren’t they always), exploring text-based design as language. spidertangle wordround is a hypertext workshop and playspace for creators to muck about in. Some of the works are cold and alienating at first: LogoKons plays with visual noise machines, black and white iconic windmills (or “fans for cows” as a young observer once said) that generate creaks and the spaces between that words create. The most interesting is Ubutronic Audio Faucet + Brainwave Seducer, a concentrated mix of sound, hypertext and graphics, atonal and resonant mouthmusic, building new noise rhythms according to the words you click on. Stumpsitter: a chorus of frogs and swamp boogie. A voice and harmonies appear out of nowhere. Close your eyes and it becomes trancelike, you’re a composer, making your own poem-song. Open up both Internet Explorer and Netscape browsers at the same time for the stereo mix…and my computer has a panic attack…

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 16

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

Michele Barker, Præternatural

Michele Barker, Præternatural

Præternatural
Michele Barker

Præternatural aims to present a genealogical exploration of the cultural, medical, and scientific role of the monster in Western culture from the 17th century to the 20th century. Further, it questions contemporary contextualisations of the monstrous due to developments in the area of biomedical and genetic research.

Originally, Præternatural was designed to be a DVD-ROM work, a platform that would have allowed me to produce the piece without compromising on video and audio quality. Unfortunately, DVD-ROM is not so widely developed for the Mac platform, forcing me back to CD-ROM and all of its constraints.

Michele Barker works as an artist within the area of new media and her recent work on the monstrous will form part of a PhD. Exhibitions include Specimens at Artspace and State of the Heart at The Australian Centre for Photography. A former Digital Media Coordinator for the Museum of Sydney, she currently lectures in Photomedia at the College of Fine Arts, UNSW.

Completion October 1999. Australian Film Commission.

Cooking with Carmen
Tracey Benson

Tracey Benson, Cooking with Carmen

Tracey Benson, Cooking with Carmen

Cooking with Carmen is the latest in an ongoing project titled Big Banana Time Inc. which focuses on notions of identity and the role of tourism in promoting national and cultural archetypes. Cooking with Carmen intersects the relation of identity to self via the act of cooking, by analysing the act of consumption. This is an interactive web-based work aimed at broadening ideas around participation and collaboration by engaging responses from the audience.

There have been many challenges surrounding this project, on a conceptual and technical level. Primarily, I need to present a product which inspires participation. This is a general issue to all web developers, as is defining your audience, let alone getting them to your site.

Tracey Benson is a Brisbane based multimedia artist and curator. She has exhibited her work from the Big Banana Time Inc. project extensively to a national and international audience through exhibitions, performances and conference papers. Her new web-based work titled Bananarama2000 is currently being hosted at the new Experimenta Media Arts online gallery www.experimenta.org.

Completion September.

cipher
Linda Carroli, Josephine Wilson

cipher is a work of hypertext fiction which explores the thriller genre. The enigmatic M receives a series of mysterious emails from the equally enigmatic C over a period of ten days. With each message, M is further drawn into a web of political intrigue.

Challenges of producing online work include keeping it simple and relatively easy to negotiate; maintaining a focus on written text; ensuring that you hang on to your audience, create a readerly flow by constructing pages which download in a reasonable amount of time. Technical challenges include keeping up with what’s possible, trying to blend skills with creative development and decision-making.

Linda Carroli and Josephine Wilson collaborated online to produce the award-winning *water always writes in *plural. Carroli’s writing background is critical and non-fiction, while Wilson writes primarily narrative fiction and performance.

Completion, September 1999. New Media Arts Fund, Australia Council

Dream Kitchen
Leon Cmielewski

Leon Cmielewski, Josephine Starrts, Dream Kitchen

Leon Cmielewski, Josephine Starrts, Dream Kitchen

Dream Kitchen is an interactive installation. The interactive animation incorporates both 3D and stop motion techniques. It starts in an antiseptically clean “Mr Sheen” kitchen and then takes us to those areas where the moral cleansers can’t reach. Beneath the surface runs a parallel interior zone populated with inspirited objects. This subterranean zone could be interpreted in many ways: a catalogue of dread, a cabinet of memories, an archive of fantasies.

The challenge in this project has been to keep the freedom and directness of stop motion film animation while working within a computer interactive framework. Director/animator, Leon Cmielewski; producer: Josephine Starrs; programmer, Adam Hinshaw; sound designer, Panos Couros.
Leon Cmielewski and Josephine Starrs are artists whose work includes the new media installations User Unfriendly Interface and Diagnostic Tools for the New Millennium. Both separately and together they have produced work in various media which has been exhibited nationally and internationally.

Co-production with the Banff Centre, Canada. Australian Film Commission. Completion October 1999.

Los Dias Y Las Noches De Los Muertos
Francesca da Rimini with Los Fantasmos

Francesca da Rimini with Los Fantasmos, Los Dias Y Las Noches De Los Muertos

Francesca da Rimini with Los Fantasmos, Los Dias Y Las Noches De Los Muertos

we were a cipher in the big accounts of capital…the gigantic market of maximum irrationality that trades in dignities Zapatista text Los Dias Y Las Noches De Los Muertos (The Days And Nights Of The Dead); a collaborative online project—Adelaide/New York/Rome/Chiapas. A ghost work of counter-memories, opening thresholds of impossibilities outside of pan-capitalism. A drifting carnival of souls which gathers together the spectres of late capitalism, soft conspiracies, forgotten phantoms and digital Zapatismo.

More cultural and aesthetic than technical, as the technology is relatively simple—HTML code, framesets, streaming audio, CUseeme. Cultural—developing and looking after relationships amongst participating ghosts scattered over 3 continents. Aesthetic—striving towards the creation of a new genre, neither a poem nor a film but something inbetween.

Most of my work happens online—negotiated email relationships, online communities, ghost girls and riverboys, narrative architectures. With Marco Dereriis, recently completed a commissioned work acid test for the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum, Duisberg, Germany. Received a Fellowship from the New Media Arts Fund of the Australia Council for soft accidents, an exploration of some relationships between quantum physics and Indigenous knowledge systems.

All online projects linked to autonomous.org/~gashgirl [expired] www.thing.net/~dollyoko/LOSDIAS/INDEX.HTML
VACF (Visual Arts/Craft Fund), Australia Council.

empiricosis
geniwate

empiricosis is a net-based cycle of text, image and audio which takes as its theme some of the ways in which science and art collide, and how science is visualised in popular culture.

empiricosis is a complex amalgam of text and other media. I am starting to create multiple outcome hyperlinked poetry mainly using Flash. I experience challenges concerning download time and streaming, especially since I am keen to incorporate audio tracks into the poetry, to be played concurrently with other media. A further challenge is presented by my extremely limited programming skills.

I started writing conventional poetry in the early 90s. This soon metamorphosed into performance poetry, and then to electronic ‘poetry.’ This journey has always been about amalgamating different media.
Ambitions for the future include developing a concept of installation poetry. I recently won the trAce/Alt-x International Hypertext Competition for my project rice. www.idaspoetics.com.au/rice [ex[ire]. I work as an editor at the University of South Australia.

www.adelaide.net.au/~slick/sitefrite/emindex.html [expired] Completion September 1999. Commenced during the 1999 ANAT Summer School. Further development facilitated via an online workshop: thanks Christy Sheffield Sanford and trAce (UK).

Joovin8
Michelle Glaser, Andrew Hutchinson, Marie-Louise Xavier

Joovin8, Michelle Glaser, Andrew Hutchinson, Marie-Louise Xavier

Joovin8, Michelle Glaser, Andrew Hutchinson, Marie-Louise Xavier

The Joovin8 CD-ROM is an interactive narrative featuring a series of hyperreal scenes which echo the intense sensory perception experienced by the dying. The thread of one life is depicted in a series of emotionally rich moments which explore the ever present duality of decay and rejuvenation. The episodic structure imitates the selective and non linear nature of memory. This gift of perception is bestowed upon the dying.

After double clicking on the icon to launch Joovin8, the mouse need never be clicked again. Narrative development is achieved by moving the mouse only. In Joovin8 feedback is incremental, not boolean. This means that the closer the cursor is moved to an image’s focus the higher the degree of reaction and feedback.

www.imago.com.au/tetragenia [expired] Completion September 1999. ArtsWA and the Australian Film Commission.

meme_shift#0
Teri Hoskin

meme_shift#0

meme_shift#0

meme_shift#0 is an interactive website. It’s to do with an obsession with all things Japanese, as a site of the ultimate Western Other. The sources are historical, literary, philosophical, social and personal, and this environment, playing with the way we read a text, the way one can write. I’m still (always) working on and with this in the hope that a pattern will emerge. The work continues-in-process. I don’t have a deadline.

The challenge is to use the technology simply and elegantly, in such a way that tests the limits of language and meaning in a digital writing space: to push what I already know. To keep files as small as possible and to utilise all the writing spaces. Next step for meme_shift#0 is sound, simple. I want to make an atmosphere, a cinematic engagement.

Teri Hoskin is a visual artist/writer. She works with text, paper, Adobe Illustrator and a text editor (BBEdit) in contemporary gallery spaces and online. She is Editor for the Electronic Writing Research Ensemble, Adelaide.

http://ensemble.va.com.au/meme_shift An Adelaide Festival 2000 project in conjunction with ANAT, CACSA (Contemporary Arts Centre, South Australia), EWRE (Electronic Writing Ensemble).

Untitled
Matthew Johnston

The two CD-ROM projects are an interactive narrative and an interactive that depends on sound frequency and modulation. The first is a series of short scenes composed in a similar manner to a 3D crossword puzzle that allows the user to jump in-between tracks of video. The second uses frequency modulation to effect a 3D object in its environment.

The development of hierarchical structure needs to be a strong point of these projects to overcome a myopic time-line, but the most challenging aspect of both is the design of a 3D engine for the narrative’s platform and 3D modelling for the other. The programming is the most exciting aspect because of the foreign nature of V-B scripting.

Matthew Johnston originally trained in painting/drawing and sculpture at Newcastle Art School between 1994-5; over these two years he showed in a number of small collective exhibitions. He enrolled at the College of Fine Arts, UNSW, completing a BFA majoring in time-based art (film and multimedia), and was part of the AFC/ABC Stuff-art initiative for 1999.

Completion November 1999.

Observatine
Zina Kaye

Zina Kaye, Observatine

Zina Kaye, Observatine

Observatine is a flying machine that gives a viewer the experience and control of flying, via a bird’s eye view of the landscape. A pilot navigates by a projection on the floor. Since it is managed by a web-server, web-based viewers may be pilots and viewers.

This is an unmanned autonomous flying vehicle, and developing a completely untried system to manage it using the internet requires an enormous amount of team work from people with a great range of skills. Building a “roll your own” aircraft with respected members of the hobby community is humbling. One retired gentleman is the world’s most accomplished forager and has turned his unit into a tooled-up workshop for “greazys” and gliders. It’s like stepping into Chew’s cold room in Blade Runner.

Zina Kaye is a new media artist who uses sound composition, video and communications technologies to muse on the nature of metaphysical boundaries and the secret life of the inside. Integral to her practice is research into spatial interface and transport systems architecture. While broadcasting over terrestrial and internet radio, Kaye maintains a popular net.sound.art website with her partner mr. snow, http://laudanum.net/, housing a large collection of Australian and New Zealand sound content amongst online works and theory presentations.

observatine.net [ex[ired]will come online in August. Completion September 30, 1999. New Media Arts Fund, Australia Council and the Commission for European Communities.

Neonverte
Anita Kocsis

Anita Kocsis, Neonverte

Anita Kocsis, Neonverte

Neonverte is a web based installation built as a garden—sometimes a neon evergreen, a fluorescent terrarium or a thorny ‘K-Mart meets Las Vegas’ undergrowth sewn with an organic structure. Stuff grows and dies, gets used and discarded. I tend to weed, restore, defrag, reload, plant and graft. Neonverte is perishable. A compost of interconnections has begun through working online.

Neonverte is built predominantly utilising Macromedia Flash 4. A combination of animations, sound, and Javascripts are used. QTVR and VRML animations initially for the site have resulted in video format utilised in installation rather than sitting in the ‘plug-in’ dependent corner of the web garden.

Anita Kocsis has worked in installation and painting within a digital context. She investigates “immersion environments” with emphasis on the collisions between spatial constructs in painting and virtual environments. Her own work and collaborations as a nervous_object have furthered her interest in the prismic modality of an online practice.

Neonverte is part of the Login series of residencies at 200 Gertrude Street gallery in Melbourne. Login is supported by the Visual Arts/Craft Fund of the Australia Council and ANAT. It aims to assist visual artists in the development of web based projects.

The Neonverte residency commences August. www.anat.org.au/projects/login/anat_anita/neonverte [expired]

Mr. White’s Diary
Derek Kreckler

“Mr. White’s Diary: an incomplete view of the end interplays text and image in an engrossing unfolding of the last hours/words of Mr White: a bleakly entertaining suicide trip through diary, crumpled notes and screen messages that in another time, other media, might have been scored by a Peter Handke or Thomas Bernhard.” (Ed.)

Mr. White’s Diary is a work in progress in the traditional humanist sense. And…oh…yeh we are still working on it! We have to somehow get it to work on Internet Explorer I am sure the Netscape users will catch up but I.E. users will have to wait because these two browsers are now quite different. This work is impossible to view without Flash 3, QT3 and QT3VR plug-ins; the browser should only be Netscape 4.5+. The site uses mainly Flash and is indicative of where the web will go in the future. The site is experimental, of poor temperament, but delicious.

Derek Kreckler is Co-ordinator Electronic Arts and Information Technology Management; Chairman, Academy Research and Development Committee, WA Academy of Performing Arts. Edith Cowan University.

www.working.com/spaceinvaders/white [expired] Opened June 99, Artspace, Space Invaders. New Media Arts Fund, Australia Council.

Fan Girl
Dooley Le Cappellaine

Dooley Le Cappellaine, Fan Girl

Dooley Le Cappellaine, Fan Girl

Fan Girl is a CD-ROM work. In January 1995 I began to take a photograph each day at a different time of the progress of a building going up across the street. I was waiting for something to happen. Finally it did. The building was complete, destroying half my view of the New York skyline and I began to consider moving. I noticed that due to the remarkably shallow architectural plan of the apartments across the street, the occupants were almost on permanent public display. The building took on the fascinating aspect of an antfarm and I soon had names for my favourite characters. (I don’t watch TV.) My favourite was the “fan girl.” I first noticed her on a bright early afternoon performing spectacular sex almost on the window ledge. This went on with amazing regularity always with a new partner. Eventually she found a boyfriend and gradually the performances tapered off; it must have just been a phase in her life; things change.

One of the things I had been thinking of while working on some interactive projects was how passive and ingratiating most art for walls is and also how “interactivity” is generally just click/reward/click/reward. I began to study programming in Director earnestly for a way to make the “fan girl” an artwork which would operate according to its subject matter, voyeurism. After about a year I was able to write the program: at specific times (day/month) uncontrollable by the viewer the work will change to show a different episode in the life I observed for a time.

Dooley Le Cappellaine is an artist who has exhibited internationally and curated Technophobia, the first independently produced interactive exhibition of original multimedia works on CD-ROM. She is currently curating a program of web art works at http://www.thing.net/dooley [expired]

SonteL
Mike Leggett

Mike Leggett, SonteL

Mike Leggett, SonteL

SonteL (working title) is an interactive multimedia work, a prototype CD-ROM. Landscape is the mediated image, a representation central to beliefs and identity within Australian culture both Indigenous and non-indigenous. Through a dynamic and interactive process of presentation, intersections are made with interpretations and mediations about The Land. In collaboration with Brad Miller, Adam Hinshaw, Alex Davies, Bruno Koenig and Kathryn Wells.

The navigational precept involves the technically complex intersection of four Quicktime movies at any one time—sequenced images which take the user forward through the landscape, or back through the route just travelled. Or a 360 degree view visible from various key zones, panning either to left or right. This continuous pan is a morphed image of landscape which enables, as an option, access to various series of short narratives (topographies of knowledge), associated with the land, its many appearances, its many histories.

Mike Leggett has been working across the institutions of art, education, cinema and television with media since the early 70s. He has film and video work in archives and collections in Europe, Australia, North and South America and practises professionally as an artist, curator, writer, director, producer, editor, photographer, teacher, manager, administrator and computer consultant.

Prototype completed with the assistance of the Australian Film Commission in June 1999, project completion 2000.

The Glass Bell
Sophea Lerner

Sophea Lerner, The Glass Bell

Sophea Lerner, The Glass Bell

The Glass Bell is a gesture-driven, audiographic installation. It comes out of stories which resonate through the lives of three generations of women in the artist’s family. It is a fictional poetic construct, an underwater archaeology which explores the role of stories as placeholders for the unutterable, for what falls between languages and places when we leave. It will comprise a large ‘touchscreen’ (about 1m x 1.5m) with water running across it. Diverse gestures on this surface will effect various changes in the audio, narrative and visual elements. The audio was developed first during a residency with The Listening Room in 1998.

There is no such thing as a touch screen that big so we have to start from scratch designing and building the hardware and the interfaces. Another challenge has been designing the software component to be flexible and modular enough to use as a compositional tool for flexible duration work, not just to stick everything together after decisions have been finalised. To be operated from a Powermac 7300 with a PC running part of the interface to the screen hardware and a K2000 carrying a fair chunk of the audio processing.

Sophea Lerner, an artist and broadcaster with a special interest in flexible duration audio works, has spoken internationally on sound design for new media and was last year’s Australia Council New Media Arts Fund artist in residence with The Listening Room. Collaborators for The Glass Bell include artist/engineer David Bartolo and programmer Ryan Sabir.

Completion early 2000. New Media Arts Fund, Australia Council

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 8

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

Wade Marynowsky’s Diaspora 2000

Wade Marynowsky’s Diaspora 2000

D.art 99 is a gallery exhibition of CD-ROMs and a cinema screening of linear video “made by artists who use digital processes”, both programmed by dLux media arts. The screening was presented as part of the 46th Sydney Film Festival; the CD-ROMs were exhibited at Artspace from June 10 to July 3. D.art will soon tour nationally. The opening also included a performance by Wade Marynowsky and launch of the remarkable CD-ROM Basilisk & a universe of dirt by Wayne Stamp, Lloyd Sharp and Panos Couros.

We haven’t yet reached the point on the curve of increasing bandwidth that will make many of the more interesting forms of digital art easier to distribute, so opportunities to view international works locally are still rare. At D.art 99, CD-ROMs and videos from the US, England, Spain, Brazil, the Netherlands, Finland and Canada were shown alongside work from Australia. It is heartening to recognise that media artists all over the world are striving (not always successfully) to make sensible use of digital tools beyond their preset effects. dLux media arts should be commended for continuing to program international pieces—a practice first tested at D.art 98. It seems obvious that exhibiting the best international pieces benefits local production and critical practice, in much the same way that the major film festivals have offered film practitioners an international context for their efforts. Once the relevant funding organisation emerges from the Hall of Mirrors it may be encouraged to support the exhibition of international digital media art locally.

One of the highlights of the video program was Peter Callas’ work-in-progress Lost in Translation—part 1: Plus Ultra, his first piece since moving his production process out of the video studio and onto the desktop. You have to admire anyone who will learn Unix for their art, and the result of his extensive re-skilling in SoftImage is shown in this piece which seems to offer an expanded dimension to his previous efforts in the essentially 2D world of the Fairlight video synthesiser. While still using 2D sources—images and drawings from the heroic period of Portuguese exploration and consequent non-heroic period of South American colonisation—Callas has managed to manipulate them (figures especially) in a manner which suggests a life in 3 dimensions. In one sequence a Prince-Henry-the-Navigator type of figure is seen hunched over a map and continues to draw and redraw the edges of the world. In another a bed-ridden figure cut from what looks like a Goya is made to buckle in spasms from some deep sickness of the soul. The new tools have allowed for a greater depth of texture and mood. Callas’ new work is more poetic. Lost in Translation seems to escape some of the comic harshness provided by the saturated colours of his early work, while pleasingly retaining the psychotic repetitive actions of the figures and his political concerns, and remains unmistakably a video by Peter Callas.

Michaela French’s Flux is also a beauty, or is beauty. A richly layered and textured series of visually poetic fragments carefully sewn together in the edit suite. It makes you think of all sorts of things—love, loss, longing, ferris wheels, Christ how did they do that and what is that a picture of? We are finally starting to see some spirited use of Adobe After Effects which proves that all those bank commercials with their gliding logos haven’t ruined it for everyone.

Ian Haig’s 2 minute blurt Trick or Treat “ghouls, zombies, bloodsuckers, freaks and demons are brought back from the dead”, looked like 16 different personalities vying for control of the body of Edvard Munch as it squeezed through a sphincter in the space-time continuum. It was comically unnerving in a Tobe Hooper sort of way. But it ended just as its visceral effects (significantly augmented by Philip Samartzis’ soundtrack) were starting to be felt. Hopefully, Haig will turn it into an endurance piece for those people who can’t get enough of his sort of madness.

Tina Gonsalves’ Swelling was another substantial piece in a generally high quality video program that suffered only a couple of lapses.

New media curators always have to grapple with the problem of exhibiting interactive digital media art (CD-ROMs and websites) and linear digital media art (video) in the same program. Recent attempts by film festivals to incorporate both have usually resulted in a batch of PCs with CD-ROM drives sitting in the foyer of the cinema. dLux have gone the more sensible route and put a batch of PCs in the foyer of an art gallery, allowing for a longer exhibition window. The set-up at Artspace was pretty perfunctory—4 Macs on 2 trestle tables with headphones to stop the sound spill and a bunch of chairs scattered around. It looked like one of those laundromats in Chinatown which also offers net access. But the event had people queuing up every day to see the exhibition, and with a lot of people around the unfussy approach worked well.

Cristina Casanova’s Vamos a Contar Mentiras (Let’s Tell Lies)

Cristina Casanova’s Vamos a Contar Mentiras (Let’s Tell Lies)

Someone always seemed to be interacting with Spaniard Cristina Casanova’s Vamos a Contar Mentiras (Let’s Tell Lies)—a popular piece. Through a menu made of happy chocolate-box cherubs, the user was able to gain access to a series of animations which told oblique stories, ostensibly about a group of school friends. It was fun and flirty and always entertaining, but had one of those confusing interfaces which, if you didn’t have a good memory, had you by mistake returning to areas already explored.

A notable tendency within D.art 99 was an emphasis on sound. Visual artists who have taken up video and digital media at art school have not always embraced sound production, especially when taught by other visual artists. There is an old rule of thumb handed down from video artist to video artist that says sound is 10% of the effect and 90% of the trouble. Chris Henschke’s Orchestra of Rust and Michael Buckley’s The Good Cook showed that with CD-ROM production it might still be 90% of the trouble, but you get full value for your effort. Likewise, Panos Couros’ soundtrack for Basilisk & a universe of dirt works effectively with Wayne Stamp and Lloyd Sharp’s bacteriological, alchemical, ahistorical, and proctological imagery.

Chris Hales is an English artist who has long worked with his own brand of interactive movie—poetic (and sometimes comic) linear videos into which he has set hotspots for the audience to select. These provide jumping off points for other scenes or other narratives. The Tallinn People’s Orchestra is a slightly different work in that it uses sound as a basis for its development. A simple locked-off shot of a square in the Estonian capital shows at various points different figures walking into the shot in the foreground, middle ground and background. Planes, pigeons, people all have a separate sound figure and can be turned off or ordered differently to evolve the soundscape. It is not as immediately fulfilling as his previous The Twelve Loveliest Things I Know and others, but still an interesting example of the development of interactivity with linear video streams. Chris Hales remains one of the few artists worldwide who is interested in this area which seems rich with possibility and may reach its height with the spread of DVD-ROM.

Wade Marynowsky’s Diaspora 2000 was both a performance and CD-ROM. The performance was held in the vestibule at Artspace after the opening speeches and during everyone’s second beer. The speakers were cranked up and the video projector above Marynowsky’s head was pumping out a stream of media against the universe. The music was a reasonable sort of bland techno filth thing. It was kind of okay in performance and the energy was up but at times it looked like another virtual anorak going through the motions.

The CD-ROM version of Diaspora 2000 (made in Director) even though the same, is another thing entirely. The user is given a very simple keyboard layout to learn and then get started. By selecting different keys, you can call up different sound samples coupled with images. Some are drum loops, some melodic sequences and some short samples. Not only can you overlay sounds over each other, but the images coupled to the sounds flash alternately, creating a sort of epilepsy-inducing oscillation between images. Eisenstein would have liked the way the images evoke different meanings when placed in proximity with each other, but the broad themes of the piece make you think of the 4 horsemen of Sydney’s Apocalypse—greed, envy, lust and the Olympics. You can build up quite complex layers of sound and image, and experiment with turning layers on and off.

After about half an hour of playing with this thing, you get that sweaty overstimulated feeling you get from video games or loud music and which is strangely satisfying to the adolescent in you. You begin to realise that this program was what Wade was interacting with to make the audio and video streams for his performance on opening night which you previously thought was a bit ho hum. What makes it so different? Why was the linear version a bit familiar, but the act of interacting with the same material so exciting and so fun? Maybe we are starting to see what interactive media is going to be able to give audiences that linear media can’t. Interactive media’s offer not of control but of play as an antidote to the didacticism of linear media will win every time.

With this event, dLux have gone out on a limb by concentrating primarily on the exhibition of digital works, a move which remains unpopular with many camera-using filmmakers. D.art 99, however, must be described as a successful event. It had a focus which its predecessor, Matinaze (1991–97), always lacked, and a breadth, through the programming of CD-ROMs, which D.art 98 couldn’t achieve. With the possible inclusion of a sound component next year, D.art seems to be morphing into a separate event altogether. And now that other film festivals are sweeping up all those pesky short dramas, dLux can concentrate on exhibiting digital media art in all its forms. And this is a prospect which is not at all unpleasant.

D.art 99 screenings, produced and presented by dLux media arts at the 46th Sydney Film Festival, Palace Academy Twin, June 18; CD-ROM exhibition, Artspace, June 10 – July 3; D.art 99 will tour nationally and internationally

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 19

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

Melinda Rackham, carrier

Melinda Rackham, carrier

Carrier
Melinda Rackham

Carrier is an experimental website investigating viral symbiosis in the virtual and biological domains, focusing on the hepatitis C (HCV) epidemic. A Java applet, named infectious agent, navigates the viewer along a unique site pathway, dependent upon the viewer’s interactions.

The major technical challenge on Carrier has been for Damien Everett and John Tonkin who have worked on the stable implementation of both Java and sound on the site, which has required many alterations to the original concept because of Browser, Browser Version and Java inconsistencies between the Macintosh and PC platforms.

Melinda Rackham, an artist and writer residing on the east coast of Australia, has been working online since 1995 in her domain www.subtle.net. Her earlier sites a.land, line and tunnel have been widely seen both in Australia and overseas. She is currently a Doctoral Candidate at COFA, UNSW.

www.subtle.net/carrier Completion 31 July. New Media Arts Fund, Australia Council.

Elementia
Kate Richards

Kate Richards, Elementia

Kate Richards, Elementia

The interactive CD-ROM Elementia is an allegory for our obsessive search to reconcile matter and spirit. The tale unfolds through Anax Helio’s private collection of Elementian maps: cartographs bizarre and eerie, urbane and greedy, of metal and stone and skin and luxite. Elementia is an experience inspired by Bahktin’s chronotope: “A time/space, a fictional setting, where time thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible.”

Interactive multimedia is especially demanding in its conception as both “architectural” space and time-based media. The artist needs to create discrete sequences that can connect to multiple others, and yet are integral to an overall scheme. Thinking in this modular way is easier than developing rigorous concepts and themes across linear media, and yet more difficult if one doesn’t want to create a mere patchwork. Once this is solved, “process” is still fairly uncharted terrain. We have a way to go before art IMM will have the well-tested production and technical processes of linear media.

Director/producer, Kate Richards; programmer, Ryan Sabir; designers, Chris Caines, David Lawford, Ayca Smith.

Kate Richards is a multimedia artist and producer, and an Honorary Research Fellow in New Media at University of Technology, Sydney. Current projects also include: Life After Wartime (CD-ROM), as producer, with writer/director Ross Gibson.

Completion December 1999. Australian Film Commission.

Pretty Aprons
Alyssa Rothwell

Alyssa Rothwell, Pretty Aprons

Alyssa Rothwell, Pretty Aprons

From the creator of the award-winning Three Mile Creek, Pretty Aprons allows you to ‘sew’ your way through stories and explore the lives of rural women. Narrated by a young girl, you are asked to help sew aprons as Christmas gifts for all the ladies she knows.

The emotional engagement that narrative in film can offer is something I try to include on CD-ROM. Maintaining an audience’s sense of immersion in the interactive non-linear format of the stories, and using layered sound to provide a cinematic quality, are constant challenges due to the physical limitations of the medium and the computer screen.

Coming through dance and the visual arts, Alyssa graduated from the Centre for Animation and Interactive Media, RMIT in 1996. She has exhibited internationally, was a winner of an ATOM award in 1997, and represented Australia in the New Talent Pavilion at MILIA, Cannes in 1998. Between lecturing in multimedia at UNSW and producing her new CD-ROM, Alyssa freelances as a new media artist. www.ozemail.com.au/~alyssar/ [expired]

Completion late 1999. Australian Film Commission.

The March of the Photobots
Dave Sag, Mike Cooper

Dave Sag, Mike Cooper, The March of the Photobots

Dave Sag, Mike Cooper, The March of the Photobots

The idea: small ‘artificial’ creatures consisting entirely of colour are fed an image which they use as a basic foodstuff. In a matter of days they will gather in large ‘caterpillar balls’ which act as a whole, sucking all colour and light from the image. Dave is evolving the work into two projects, one called V-Aura, a wearable networked photobot environment, and one called The yard, which is an online persistent playground for Java based life.
Dave developed the concept and wrote the specification for the bugs’ initial behaviour. The scientist, Mike Cooper, coded the photobots in Java and devised the viewer for examining the bugs in detail.

The challenges faced. Technical: the photobots can learn without having any memory, thousands of them will run within a single web page. Theoretical: conflicting theories of intelligence, machine learning and memetics. We succeeded in building creatures which can learn without having any memory of their own.

Entrant in the mcmogatk 1999 Arts on the Net exhibition, Japan. Self-funded: cheap to make, just takes ideas and a little time. The March of the Photobots exhibition is up in prototype stage at art.by.arena.ne.jp/mcmogatk/1999/d_sag [expired]

My Room Le Grand Canal
Philip Samartzis

My Room Le Grand Canal is a DVD-ROM-based project examining the specific flow, texture, space, tone and dimensional qualities unique to the city of Venice. The project will expansively draw upon these qualities in the development of a physiological, spatial and psychological portrait of a city which simultaneously acts as an anthropomorphic metaphor.

The technical aim of the project is to explore the potential of the DVD format by combining Dolby digital surround sound with full motion and full screen digital video, and digital imaging and graphics in an expansive audio visual presentation. Another aim is to combine both analogue and digital processes in the abstraction and manipulation of sound and image, so that strategies may be developed which will create a rich and unified experience of action and space.

Philip Samartzis is a Melbourne-based sound artist. He recently co-ordinated and curated the Immersion series of 35mm Dolby encoded surround sound performances. He also recently collaborated with Martine Corompt on Dodg’em, a driveable surround sound installation presented at Gallery 101, Melbourne.

Completion December 2000. Developed in co-operation with the Studio for Room Acoustics, IRCAM, France. New Media Arts Fund, Australia Council.

blue in the bluebird
Jennifer Seevinck

Jennifer Seevinck, blue in the bluebird

Jennifer Seevinck, blue in the bluebird

blue in the bluebird is a computer animation loop of 6 minutes, intended for gallery installation. Concept and animation by Jen Seevinck and sound by Tim Kreger (see interview in RealTime #32).

After modelling birds in 3D computer space these were animated in specialised animation software, Houdini, as flocks. ‘Forces’ in cyberspace were modelled to animate both individual birds and the flock. Successfully integrating these layered, fluid movements inherent to the conceptual structure within the limitations of computing and rendering large data streams was a challenge.

Originally trained in architecture, Jen Seevinck has worked in theatre design, independent filmmaking, dance and digital media. Her research interest in ‘cyberplace’ complements her computer animation work and collaborations. After teaching and submitting her Masters in Electronic Arts at the Australian Centre for the Arts and Technology, ANU, she has moved to Deakin University to continue lecturing in animation and multimedia.

Completed June, 1999. Will be installed as part of the contemporary media exhibition Probe in Beijing, October 1999.

Scar tissue
Jason Sweeney

Scar tissue is a sound installation/online performance/net audio project investigating the veneer of background music, everyday noise, speech and electronic hum—one that questions systems, confronts the codes and digits, infiltrates the surface of sound construction, by breaking into the codes of the media lying at my disposal.

During a residency at Banff in Canada I will investigate, pull apart, reassemble, argue, discuss and research the nature of sound/music/noise as a tangible, changeable, permeable and highly volatile entity—taking a scalpel to technology, confronting the problems of techno-accessibility and viability of sound and performance in an online environment. The lo-fi vs hi-fi possibilities…

As an artist I work across disciplines of audio/sound art, the internet, performance and writing. My work interrogates the processes and implications of technologies of the past, present and future, technology that simultaneously throws itself in my face, without invitation, triggering me to push back and question its intrusion.

Completion mid-2000, Australia/Canada; to be developed at Banff Centre for the Arts, Canada as part of an Australia Council New Media Arts Residency.

Sensory Overload
Kevin Tham

Kevin Tham, Sensory Overload

Kevin Tham, Sensory Overload

Sensory Overload is an experimental, promotional, multimedia CD-ROM for Senses Interactive Pty Ltd. Filled with an array of animations, text, sound, video and special effects, it utilises the latest in digital video technology to create a fully realised Video Interactive (VI).

In attempting to create a full screen moving, Video Interactive, we have had to completely re-learn and rethink the way we usually create multimedia. We are utilising a combination of Director, Videoscript and Custom code to enable full screen video interaction, working out seamless video menu loops and transitions, multi-layered video scripting, quality compression and data rates, multi-video masking and animated video rollovers.

Kevin Tham, New Media Designer/Interactivist, Bachelor of Design degree, College of Fine Arts, UNSW. Trade shows and conferences, software packages, broadcast TVCs, CD-ROM Magazines (This! Zine Issues 0,1), CD Case Studies, CD Tourism interactives, interactive banking, corporate and government sales presenters and demos.

Spatial Emergence
Paul Thomas

The concept behind the project is the transphysical city, an exploration of the spatial intervals and boundaries between autonomous architectural structures. If one was to view the buildings within the city as words, then the street could be seen as a sentence. The spaces, or pauses, between the words give the sentence added meaning. Due to telecommunications, architectural infra-structures no longer need to remain in their present form. The ability to renegotiate perspectival constraints is vital research for artists at this point in time. The work is completed in its CD-ROM form but is also linked to its own developing website: www.imago.com.au/spatial [expired] Technology has assisted in articulating the range of emergent spaces subtly operating within every metropolis, exposing and revealing them. The challenges to visualise this were many, for instance understanding various software packages and creating video, sound, still images in an interactive format. As well there was the challenge of making the work crossplatform and having the CD-ROM link to the internet to access the website as well as download images.

My art reflects a conscious and unconscious construct of dislocation. This sense also appears in my work as social and cultural critic. Works include Media-Space (1981-86).

www.imago.com.au/spatial/spatialdir/ss.dcr [expired] CD-ROM project funding: New Media Arts Fund, Australia Council.

A Grand Unified Theory of Self
John Tonkin

John Tonkin, A Grand Unified Theory of Self

John Tonkin, A Grand Unified Theory of Self

A Grand Unified Theory of Self is a study of complexity theory. Interactive data analysis and visualisation tools will correlate personal details (amount of sleep, consistency of faeces, heart rate at moment of orgasm) with global indicators harvested from the web (Microsoft’s stock index, barometric pressure in Cairo).

I write software using languages such as C++ and Java. For this project I will need to develop Java-based data storage, analysis, charting and visualisation software. This will draw from source code and reference material available on the web, and involve consultation with research scientists from the Supercomputing Lab, ANU. The medium will be an interactive (Java based) online website but will also be exhibited as a more technically sophisticated installation with realtime 3D graphics and live data feeds.

John Tonkin began making computer animation in 1985. Animations include air, water parts 1, 2 & 3 (1993-95) and these are the days (1994). meniscus (1995-99) is a series of works exploring ideas relating to subjectivity, scientific belief systems and the body (http://207.225.33.116/meniscus -expired).

The project is the major component of John Tonkin’s Australia Council New Media Arts Fund Fellowship. Completion mid 2001.

memo
Sarah Waterson, Anna Sabiel

how can I touch you if you’re not there…
memo is an experiment about taking a performance installation environment and its incumbent physical experiences into a virtual environment. Conceptually memo draws upon ideas of physical memory and image triggers that are felt or interpreted in the body.

Through a VRML scaffold structure, memo presents short vignettes of image-based movements triggered by the users or, more accurately, the cursor’s proximity. memo is also an audio environment with specifically located sound. The user is immersed in a virtual ‘instrument’, their movement triggering a unique soundscape and mix depending on the path chosen. memo consists of multiple nodes branching out from the central scaffold structure. At present there is a VRML textspace with spatially presented hypertext links. Other nodes are planned to extend the present scope of the work.

Sarah Waterson is an installation/multimedia artist whose work deals with possible cyborg futures and the influence of electronic technologies on subjectivities. She is a lecturer in digital media, UWS Nepean and was a participating artist in the Brandon Project, Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA. Anna Sabiel is a Sydney-based performance/installation/sound artist. The interaction between body/movement and the production of sound has been a major concern of her work. Works include Tensile (originally devised for SoundCulture 1991) and Internalised Cities series (with Sarah Waterson and Shane Fahey). Currently Sabiel works authoring and designing educational CD-ROMs for the Board of Studies, NSW.

www.artspace.org.au/spaceinvaders/memo [expired] Launched June 99, Artspace, Space Invaders. New Media Arts Fund, Australia Council.

bodyssey
Gary Zebington

Gary Zebington, bodyssey

Gary Zebington, bodyssey

bodyssey is a CD-ROM (metabody phase 2) about corporeality’s meanderings through an ecology of post-and-pophuman ideas. Body forms transmute to thoughts and utterances encountered in a space of technological and wordly wanderings.

One challenge is to coax patterns or schemes of text/body relations from the intertwinings of a number of elements—vrml, responsive text, text-to-speech, speech recognition and non-linear sound. Another is then to let the schemes wander freely.

Gary Zebington arts and programs technological semi-fictions at travelling outposts and rarely encounters steering committees. Fellow bodyssey collaborators are Mary-Anne Breeze (mez), electrostatic artist and hypertext wordsmithess, and Andrew Garton, sound and media artist who creates net and generative works.

Completion 2000. Australian Film Commission.

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 9

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

Mark Dery

Mark Dery

Mark Dery has built a remarkable reputation as one of America’s leading cultural critics. With a vocabulary that would terrify Barry Jones, Dery happily dives into realms that most critics avoid like the plague. He roams the cultural landscape like a geigercounter searching for radioactive material. As J.G. Ballard has put it, “the ever growing pathologies of millennial America show up clearly on the X-ray screen of his penetrating analysis.”

His first book, Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century remains a watershed work and one of the only ‘cyber’ texts to retain its relevance as the seconds tick by to the end of the millennium. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, 21*C, World Art, Suck, The Village Voice and Rolling Stone and his latest offering The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium, American Culture on the Brink (Grove Press) is a tome of collected and reworked magazine essays. Its bizarre meanderings have caused a storm of debate. He has been both savaged and lauded with many mainstream critics obviously left wondering where the hell he is coming from or going to. Meanwhile Howard Rheingold, Andrew Ross, J G Ballard and Bruce Sterling have lined up alongside Dery, with Sterling writing in Bookforum that, “Given its utterly bizarre terrain, this is a very lucid book—I can only imagine the effect of these essays on, say, some bright but sheltered 17-year-old male Southern Baptist. It would likely cause the kid’s skull to spontaneously rupture. The book is also extremely funny. Mark Dery has a hammerlock on the Zeitgeist. He may be the best cultural critic alive.”

There is no doubt however that the range is bizarre; from cloning to clowns, from degeneration to digerati. There is a distinct aesthetic running through these subjects and it is decidedly morbid. According to Dery, he is “using millennial memes like the psycho killer clown, disposable archetypes like Edvard Munch’s The Scream, and media mythologies such as the horror stories about flesh-eating bacteria and ‘hot’ viruses as prisms to refract the social, economic, and philosophical trends that are shafting through American culture at the fin-de-millennium.”

Talking to Dery is spell-binding. His vocabulary is no affectation, just the expression of an individual who truly loves words and ideas. However his ideas are far from average.

“I chose the exhibits in my postmodern Odditorium (P.T. Barnum’s name for his famous museum of monsters, marvels, and patent fabrications) because they seemed like the best examples of the media freakery, postmodern fakery, tabloid grotesquerie, and increasingly gothic social conditions all around me, here in the Evil Empire,” says Dery. “For example, Damien Hirst’s cut-up meat animals, floating in formaldehyde, seem to embody our ambivalent attitude, a sort of contemptuous nostalgia, toward the melancholy ‘meat’, as the body is derisively known in our ever more virtual world. Of course, Hirst is British, so his pickled cows can’t help but remind us, as well, of mad-cow disease, the Cronenbergian horror that has become cultural shorthand for all our dearest fears of airborne pathogens and invisible contaminants in our age of product tampering and toxic Coke, multiple-chemical sensitivity and anti-bacterial scrubs.” More and more, says Dery, public space, from our drinking water to pay telephones, “teems with microbial menaces in the paranoid imagination. At the same time, the body itself is increasingly seen as a septic nightmare, its unseen contaminants exorcised through the New Age ritual of colonic cleaning. On my dissecting table, Hirst’s pickled animals become a way of talking about these things.

“As for the ‘morbid’ aesthetic you mention, it’s a conjunction of individual temperament and Zeitgeist, I suppose. We live in gothic times, as Mark Edmundson points out in his marvellous book, Nightmare on Main Street: Angels, Sadomasochism, and the Culture of Gothic. He sees American culture as fraught with Gothic assumptions, Gothic characters and plots, from The X-Files to the O.J. Simpson trial, recovered memories of satanic ritual abuse to right-wing conspiracy theories. I’d add that we’re also witnessing the resurrection of the Gothic’s conjoined twin, the grotesque. The grotesque is the Gothic with a sense of humour. We see the grotesque in the carnival-midway mix of horror and hilarity that is a personality trait of the late 20th century—the endless replaying of R Budd Dwyer’s on-camera gunshot suicide for laughs on the web, for example.”

In an era when New York City has gone from Gotham to glisten, when President Clinton gets away with personal mayhem and announces the healthiest economy for many a year, Dery’s position, if anything, has become more extreme. It is not difficult to perceive Dery’s cultural reading in part as a reaction to political correctness.

“Don’t you mean a reaction to political in-correctness?” says Dery in response. “Namely, New York mayor Rudy Giuliani’s ongoing transformation of the ‘mongrel metropolis’ into a gated community for the mega-rich, a police state ruled by Michael Eisner, while quietly shipping the homeless off to suburban holding pens, turning a blind eye on police brutality, and cutting tax breaks for the real-estate barons pricing the lower classes out of Manhattan?

“As for the ‘extremism’ of my critique, what’s the alternative? A playful slap on the wrist for a nation rotten with power and bloated with wealth that prizes B-2 bombers over prenatal care, corporate welfare over public education? A homily from William Bennett’s Book of Virtues for a country that subverts democratically elected governments and coddles dictators, rewarding the nightstick justice meted out by pariah governments like the Suharto regime with arms shipments, the better to drive striking sweatshop workers back to their posts? I may be an egg-eating rat gnawing on the tail of a Tyrannosaurus, but as a politically engaged intellectual, speaking truth to power is part of my job description.”

Dery’s approach to cultural criticism is remarkably inclusive. He scans popular culture as comfortably as high brow theory, from Disneyland to Deleuze. In this he shares a number of qualities with such writers as Mike Davis in City of Quartz, Greil Marcus in Lipstick Traces, Erik Davis in Techngnosis and McKenzie Wark in Virtual Geography.

“I think we’re beginning to see the faint footprints, in mainstream and alternative journalism, of the first few graduating classes to cut their intellectual teeth on postmodern philosophers like Baudrillard, Foucault and Deleuze,” says Dery. “Erik Davis is an exemplar of these smart, young, incurably informed academy hackers. McKenzie Wark, who began as a rock critic and is now a card-carrying member of the professoriate, represents the trajectory from the opposite direction, namely academics who stage-dive into the mosh pit of popular culture and media exposure.”

There’s a precedent for this trend, says Dery, in 60s pop intellectuals such as McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller, Susan Sontag, Norman O. Brown, RD Laing, Leslie Fiedler and Herbert Marcuse, “all of whose stock-in-trade was typically ideas, not theory, as Andrew Ross points out in No Respect: Intellectuals & Popular Culture. (Interesting to recall a time, not so long ago, when the “critical theory” trust didn’t have a Microsoft tm monopoly on the operating system for intellectual discourse!) I think this sort of mental miscegenation is all to the good. Inbreeding, whether literal or intellectual, is a recipe for monstrosities.”

Dery comfortably hops around the cultural terrain, jumping from comparatively ‘mainstream’ subjects as the Unabomber and Heaven’s Gate to the far less publicised Mutter Museum and the grotesque comic books of Renee French.

“I’ve always been interested in unnatural history and unpopular culture,” says Dery. “It’s an obsession that springs, I suppose, from the implicitly political assumption that what’s removed from the official version, the eloquent holes left by the censor’s scissors, is more informative than what’s left in. I’m interested in the repressed truths, whether visceral or political, buried in the Freudian boiler room of mass culture: the unconsidered, like the ‘Doll Hour’ on the Home Shopping Network; the unspeakable, like the wax models of venereal horrors in medical museums; the unacceptable, like the statistics about runaway personal bankruptcies and credit-card debt downplayed by the media, lest these sour notes clash with the received truth that we’re all rewarded by the Long Boom, not just the top 20% of American families.”

Dery begins Insanitarium with the brilliant metaphor of crumbling Coney Island. It is incredibly apt for millennial culture. However one could argue in the opposite direction, that rather than the lights going out and a healthy rot setting in we are seeing the creation of soulless citadels; the cleanliness of New York, the puritanical vigilantism of Los Angeles, the plastic re-make of Singapore. It is impossible to escape the gigantic hamburger M almost anywhere on the planet and if anything the lights seem to be going on, making the ghosts and freaks scuttle away so the tourists are safe.

“Well, as your comments imply, the waking nightmare of America, late in the 20th century, with its media feeding frenzies and its copycat killings, its urban pathologies and its exurban desolation—what James Howard Kunstler calls our strip-mall, convenience-store ‘geography of nowhere’—can be every bit as scary as the night terrors of the Gothic imagination. Baudrillard hints at this in America, in his ontological vertigo in an air-conditioned Hell that exults in ‘the liquidation of all culture’ and rejoices in ‘the consecration of indifference’, an Audio-Animatronic dreamland so ghastly that even ‘dreams of death and murder, of suicide motels, of orgies and cannibalism’ offer blessed relief. Baudrillard’s fits of the vapours are a little hard to take, sometimes, but he’s hilariously on target when he suggests that nothing is spookier than the hysterical fear of nature and the body, the mysophobic sterilisation of the unconscious symbolised by the Disneyfication of public space and the creeping corporate monoculture you mention.

“I chose Coney Island at the turn of the last century as my master metaphor because it’s a janiform symbol, embodying the dualisms that are a hallmark of fin-de-siecle moments such as ours. As I note in the book’s opening essay, turn-of-the-century Coney was 20th century America in miniature, a carnival of chaos whose trademark blend of infernal fun and mass madness, technology and pathology was quintessentially American. It was transgressive, a mad, Dionysian whirl of emotional abandon and exposed flesh, speed and sensory overload that mocked the hidebound proprieties of the vanishing Victorian era and signalled the rise of a new mass culture no longer deferential to genteel tastes and values. Steeplechase, Dreamland, and Luna Park were, in today’s parlance, ‘temporary autonomous zones’ where genders, classes, and ethnicities commingled more freely than they did outside its gates.

“At the same time, Coney was also a machine for mass-producing masses—the workers and consumers of the coming age of mass media and mass consumption. Like today’s Disneyworld, the Burning Man festival, and body piercing, it was a safety valve for proletarian energies that might have been channelled into less playful, more political outlets. It instructed the immigrant working class in the machine-age pleasures of conspicuous consumption, guilt-free waste, gadget worship, and the push-button gratification of infantile desires. This is the ‘Coney Island of the Mind’ that inspired Henry Miller’s literate, liberal shudder of revulsion, the peeling pasteboard temple of cheap thrills and vulgarian pleasures. So there was a Foucauldian mechanics of transgression and repression at work in Coney that is still in effect in the millennial America it helped beget, a pyrotechnic insanitarium torn between escapist simulation and social reality, democratic promise and corporate oligarchy, the restless rabble and the power elite.”

Mark Dery, The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium, American Culture on the Brink, Grove Press, USA, 1999

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 26

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

We were reminded early in the day that art and technology were once one and the same in the Ancient Greek ‘techne.’ Project 1 was an intensive, one day Online Australia forum for cultural organisations and web-developers. As Federal Minister for the Arts Peter McGauran put it in his opening address, “Project 1 aims to encourage dialogue and interaction between the cultural and the online sectors. Ideally today’s workshop will produce new partnerships, new opportunities…”

The forum was timely, lively and sometimes overwhelming as vocabularies were shared, upgraded and our mental spellchecks failed to recognise. In the morning keynote speaker Tiffany Shlain, Executive Director & Creative Producer of the Webby Awards and President of the International Academy of the Digital Arts and Sciences (US), defined online culture and panels of speakers briefly commented on their online cultural and business goals and experiences. In the afternoon, small, informal groups gathered in 45 minute Breakout sessions to discuss topics posted by those attending the forum. Any one of these sessions could have become the subject of at least a half day’s discussion. To this extent, Project 1 provided for artists and cultural organisations starting points that warrant continued consideration and debate. Also evident was the disparity in levels of knowledge, not just between business and the arts, but within the arts where the range of experience with new technologies runs from naive to expert. At the end of the day the most frequent comment heard was, “We need more of this.”

Putting the words together

Project 1 was an intense wordfest, a word wrestle, a yoking together of terms and concepts not often used in each other’s company. In the red, plush comfort of the Sydney Opera House’s The Studio, words that we thought we knew lunged at us like dark strangers, others fell apart like drunks, some staggered about high on overuse (what industry other than the net describes its customers as users, someone asked) and metaphors got dangerously cocktailed. Strangest (though who should be surprised as we dizzily fight off ever recurring bouts of economic rationalism) was the way key words from the communalism of social responsibility and the kingdom of capital overlapped and intersected or crossed the line or put an uncertain foot in each camp. Words like community, trust, heritage, cultural identity and diversity served all-comers, and mixed it with brand, industry, delivery, value-adding, currency, bonuses, marketplace and consumer, though more than one speaker stumbled over ‘arts industry’ and ‘culture’ stuck in a few voice boxes.

After setting the scene—“The development of communications technology this century has done much to weave the tapestry of Australian society by combatting the tyranny of distance which we inherited so long ago and bringing Australians together in new and often unexpected ways”—Peter McGauran coolly brought home the dialectic—”…in this increasingly globalised world we must ensure that all Australians continue to participate in our diverse cultural life and heritage”—which we worried at the rest of the day along with the business/arts tussle.
Back(s) to the future?

It was a day in which time as well as language was subject to delirium. How many times were we told that everything would be okay when we got the bandwidth we wanted, any day now, or later than we hoped, much later. Or that the arts online were three years, no five years, ten even behind business and that Australian business was five years, no seven, eight, behind America and Europe. Keynote speaker Tiffany Shlain mused that we were enjoying a New Renaissance, one analogous to the first, but with our technology at last matching our stream of consciousness. Others painted bright futures of community and access and profitability, some of it already here, some of it Australian and battling big US counterparts. One speaker gloomed that it was a future for some, but not for others as “the big five” prowled, buying up the future—small media arts companies. The same speaker, Jeffrey Cook (Director, 3V & Merlin Integrated Media), took us back to the idiosyncratic emergence of the Australian film industry (and our current international film reputation) as a model for working the net. At that moment Cook and McGauran seemed unlikely allies. Cook said, “Australian film is unique” and, by analogy with what can be achieved online, “that’s all that can save us in the future.” McGauran had declared, “our challenge is to ensure a distinctly Australian voice is heard amongst the hubbub of global discourse.” We all looked back to look forward, we looked in to look out.

Facts? What facts?

Statistics also eluded us with their instability and unavailability. It seems that the arts (the ABC aside) in this country have no idea at all who their audiences are. Business, however, does know its clients. But when it comes to the net, even business in Australia develops websites but will never market them. Peter McGauran said, “At present it is estimated that 70% of internet content accessed by Australians has been sourced overseas. It’s clear therefore that we have to develop new ways to promote our culture to ourselves and the rest of the world.” Peter Naumann (Manager Multimedia & Public Program, National Gallery of Australia) said that 50% of visitors to the National Gallery of Australia’s online gallery were from the US, 70% overall from overseas. Victoria Doidge (General Manager of the impressive Chaos Music online store, our first serious taste on the day of e-commerce for artists) said they were doing impressive business nationally but also with overseas customers (how many?).

Of course, thanks to email, to its engrossing sense of intimacy and communality, we have a means of finding out like never before who’s out there. And the AFL (Australian Football League) is right into it, engaging millions with pure information, including a weekly injuries list. Could theatre companies offer the same (instead of the atrociously quaint newsletters they print)—updates on hoarse voices, sore backs, critical thrashings. It seems the online means are there to find out more and more about our audiences and to project potential markets, but the work on it in the arts has barely begun except with some film organisation and youth culture programs.

Social good and capital success

‘Intimacy’ and ‘community’ resonated across the day with overtones of social good and capital success as we learned of the desire to belong that the net fosters through news and gossip and sensitively constructed list server levels of access (‘trust’ again). A new subjectivity emerged too, amplified in an advertising scenario where we no longer have to project onto archetypes. No. We are scanned into promotions as ourselves, like Martin Lindstrom’s (Executive Director, Zivo) story of a NY child’s face mapped onto a Barbie doll purchased through the net, and his own image (sent to him online) adorned in the latest fashions after he’d been scanned in a fashion store.

Equity and social justice occasionally surfaced from their steady subtext, humble Davids toppling corporate Goliaths in winning Shlain’s Webby Awards—anyone can succeed and it doesn’t have to be with every plug-in in the book. On the one hand, there was a happy free market belief in the power of individual will and creativity, on the other a serious concern to create systems responsive to those with “only a phone and a microwave” or the cheapest of computers. Email, said Tiffany Shlain and Ruby Blessing (Group Creative Director, Spike), was seriously under-utilised. Occasionally there was a myopic globalism—we’re all in this together, it’s universal, we’re all speaking the same language (html)—oblivious to the new class lines defined by who has the technology and who doesn’t, and to the millions in the world who have never seen a telephone let alone used one, and then there’s UNESCO’s recent report on the limited global uptake of the net. But the curious mix of laissez faire energy and the drive for social responsibility in the context of apparent technological inevitability kept issues on the boil and one’s vocabulary on red alert.

Speaking each other’s language

Key words kept recurring all day—partnerships (tied to bartering), value-adding (along with bundling and bonuses), community (whether referring to a social group, a virtual one or company employees, and tied to intimacy and trust), access (how to reach as many people as possible with the simplest technological means), currency (keeping your site ‘fresh’, or what you can barter with—’the arts are sexy, business needs you’—I never quite believe this), portals (are they working, how can we make them work for us?), lists and filters (helping direct users to areas where they can then make choices) and branding (arts companies having to look beyond their logos). These fuelled much of the afternoon discussion. But there were other words used approvingly like ‘chaos’ and ‘junk’ that reminded us of a net free of ‘convergence’, of creative mess, and, as several speakers noted, work on the web as an ongoing experience, an evolution, something unfinished.

It was a day of anecdote, hyperbole, vision, caution and timewarps, and a wobbly lexicon—not a bad thing when you’re trying to get a handle on a newish world, and not a little Shakespearean when the language is rich, silly, technical, pliant, shifting and often barely defined. Not that I left Project 1 happily branding and value-adding: I guess I like that tension between the arts and business. If we have something to learn from each other, Project 1 was a glimpse of some intriguing possibilities needing further thought and more dialogue. True to the promise of Project 1, web developers and business managers met with artists and members of arts organisations in a dialogue worth continuing. Of course there are many artists who are web designers by the very nature of their online work and more than a few intersect the worlds of commerce and art.

Go online for more of Project 1 [no-longeer available] . It includes a detailed account of keynote speaker Tiffany Shlain’s address on online culture and how the Webby Awards work (for one thing as another kind of filter, she suggested), plus summaries of talks from Richard Fidler (panel chair, writer, performer, TV host)—“the lovely thing about the web is that it’s such messy business, genuinely chaotic. Business men want to impose some elegance on it”; David Thompson (Senior Consultant, Deloitte Touche Tomatsu)—“creativity in new media hasn’t yet delivered…hasn’t hit on a winning formula”; Claire Byrnes (Producer, ABC Arts & Culture Online)—the need for “a content that everyone can see, therefore not reliant on plug-ins…”; Tess Dryza (Creative Director, Multimedia, Open Training & Education Network)—the task of building online communities generating trust and intimacy; Ruby Blessing (Group Creative Director, Spike)—“define different groups within your database rather than using a blanket approach”; Martin Lindstrom (Executive Director, Zivo)—“Now it’s a matter of the customer becoming the star. I’m the centre”; Victoria Doidge (General Manager Chaos Music)—“we’re selling Australian music to the world and it’s working well for us—the top 5 on the chart are Australian independents. We create a web page for them for each of their products. They can go in and manage that page and link it to other sites and list performances”; Jeffrey Cook (Director, 3V & Merlin Integrated Media)—“For years I’ve been trying to get cultural organisations to work together. That’s supposed to get a laugh…If we had one arts portal—not a damn government one—everyone would go to it! e-commerce you haven’t seen anything yet.” Peter Naumann (Manager Multimeda, Australian National Gallery)—“The gallery has 100,000 works in store rooms, has launched 5,000 on screen, and by the end of year will have 10 – 16,000 accessible.”

Also in the online report from the afternoon Breakout sessions is a detailed account of the discussion of the future of the Australian Cultural Network which included issues of research and marketing, mega-portals, the success of the AFL site and why the Australian Cultural Network includes Skippy and Neighbours sites (thousands of hits for them). Very briefly summarised too are sessions on youth culture online, regional needs and branding, along with a few of the notable provocations including, “Only Victoria is forward-looking in new media—the rest are casualties”.

Project 1 was presented by OnLine Australia (a project of The National Office for The Information Economy) in partnership with the Australia Council, RealTime and the Department of Communications Information Technology and the Arts.

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 10-

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

McKenzie Wark’s ongoing contribution to a contemporary understanding of Australia’s social and cultural condition cannot be underestimated. His third book, as its title indicates, paints a huge canvas and like most of his astute commentary in newspapers, academic journals and magazines, seeks to provoke reaction and stimulate further debate.

An amazing array of what at first appear to be unrelated topics make up this impressively researched opus. Both individually and collectively, the topics formulate important questions. There is suggestive analysis of the meanings generated by the likes of Kylie Minogue, Nick Cave, Peter Garrett, the Kellys (Ned and the 2 Pauls) and Natalie Imbruglia. There’s also an assessment of the “post broadcasting” era we are fast approaching, which forcefully challenges the dominance of suburban myths and values.

At the core of these matters lies Wark’s chief concern: that the ALP today has lost touch with what its constituents actually desire from everyday life. The answer lies, he argues, in an awareness and understanding of popular media-generated images through which people formulate ideas and aspirations.

Here indeed is a thinker who uses very broad brushstrokes in his view of the big picture. He examines the way new media technologies are embraced by a growing proportion of Australians as we approach the new millennium. Wark argues that being both more aware of and comfortable with cyberspace allows for a new way of seeing as well as providing newer forms of information. Yet to argue that this constitutes an end to the broadcasting age and presumably to the end of mass media is highly contentious.

There is little evidence presented here to suggest that the birth of new media automatically assumes the death or even the steady demise of old media. The internet, pay-TV and the phenomena of niche and narrowcasting may well mean that there are more choices than ever before. Yet this does not preclude the possibility that most of us will still get the majority of our news and information from traditional media sources. As he cites more and more examples of celebrity culture on mainstream TV networks, newspaper and magazine chains, Wark perhaps inadvertently proves that we are not in a post-broadcasting age.

His argument goes deeper when he proposes that those who inhabit and embrace “fortress suburbia” are largely resistant to social change in general and to new flows of information from cyberspace in particular. These citizens, he argues, are essentially inward looking, fearful of the massive changes which globalisation has brought and generally intolerant of difference. Meanwhile, those who dwell in inner city developments represent a new urban and outward looking generation who are much more adaptable to all forms of the massive changes occurring around them.

The problem with this analysis is twofold. There is no evidence presented which supports such generalisations about community attitudes, let alone usage of new media forms. A recent Rural Industries Corporation report notes that at least 20% of Australia’s regional farming community is currently online (and for longer periods of time) while the national average is 18%.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has indicated that generation Xers are leading the way in taking up rates and overall usage of the net. Wark seems to be suggesting that the propensity to embrace new media technologies results in new and dynamic flows of information which, in turn, allows forward, adaptive and more creative thought processes. Yet in very recent Newspoll findings these same 18-24 year olds are increasingly more fervent in their support of Prime Minister Howard. If he represents the most exciting and forward thinking federal politician to the most switched on media savvy generation ever known, Wark’s overall argument loses some momentum.

There is no strong evidence to suggest that spending more time with new forms of information and entertainment correlates in any consistent way with specific attitudes or behaviour patterns to do with social, political and/or economic issues. Indeed an overview of many of the most popular chat-sites around the web reveals an amazing lack of tolerance, goodwill and openness to new agendas.

I remain unconvinced that place of abode, propensity to go online or indeed age—another of Wark’s apparent obsessions (shared with Mark Davis)—have much on their own to do with the way we feel or behave. There are far too many other variables which come into play here.

Finally it is the political implications of Wark’s acceptance of many of young ALP maverick Mark Latham’s so called “third way” approaches which I find most troublesome. Much of the current economic orthodoxy shared by both major political parties is supported by Latham who goes further to urge continuous anticipation and positive adaptation to the ongoing changes brought upon us by the “natural” forces of globalisation.

These changes are somehow seen as inevitable, as consequences of the forces of nature. Those who oppose these seemingly gravitational movements are quite clearly naïve in clinging to tired, out-of-date social principles once endorsed by the Labor Party.

This brings us back to the question of how we relate to the celebrities we encounter in all vectors. Wark argues that the Labor Party must come to understand the needs and wants of its constituents by coming to terms with the meanings and messages we receive from our celebrities. But how all of this is supposed to connect to future ALP policy formation remains rather problematic.

Throughout his book Wark remains optimistic about the sweeping changes we are all experiencing. “I write for dancers not mourners”, he stated in a recent Age interview. Clearly there are many of us who remain more sceptical about the directions we are heading in. Yet while we can disagree with and be puzzled by some of Wark’s arguments, he has raised and made readily accessible many pertinent questions about crucial issues which affect us all.

McKenzie Wark, Celebrities, Culture and Cyberspace; The Light on the Hill in a Postmodern world, Pluto Press 1999

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 27

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

Arena Theatre Company, Eat Your Young

Arena Theatre Company, Eat Your Young

Eat Your Young
Arena Theatre Company

A lush, futuristic action adventure set in a privatised fully automated institution for minors in state care. Three children struggle to stay together in a climate of rapid change, a culture of fear where the young have come to represent the perpetrator, the icon of a society out of control.
The screen is often used as a backdrop in performance, but a performance that truly engages notions of screen culture in its evolution is much more challenging. Eat Your Young plays with the notion of real time by creating inherent formal questions in the viewing of the work. These questions are asked via a seamless vision mixing between the projected pre-recorded and live image (shot on robotically controlled tracking to allow precision repetition of X and Y axis pathways through space and time), design integration, live and pre-recorded vocal dub, computerised show control and continued use of mixed high tech and low tech aesthetic allowing effect and machination to be read simultaneously. Main challenges—our appetite exceeds our purse, clarity of dialogues across collaborators.
Arena Theatre Company aims to create multidisciplined performances that reflect the complex multiple nature of human experience. Arena’s manifesto cites young audiences at the fore of new cultural expression, fluid in their skills of deconstruction and symbolic comprehension. Recent work includes the anthroPOP trilogy AUTOPSY, MASS and PANACEA. Winners of the 1999 ASSITEJ International Honorary Presidents Award.
Completion March 2000. Arena is funded triennially by the Australia Council Theatre Fund and annually Arts Victoria.

Triple Alice
Tess de Quincey

Lake Mungo, 1991

Lake Mungo, 1991

Lake Mungo, 1991

A gathering in hard space and virtual space, Triple Alice engages with Australia’s Central Desert as a burning point in its mapping of the future of artistic, cultural and media practice. Held over three years 1999 – 2001, Triple Alice convenes a forum and three live, site and temporally-specific laboratories staged over three weeks each year.

We are finding that remote broadcast and networking demands a cultural delicacy but also a technical capacity which as yet is under-resourced in its ability to meet the vision of this event. The KOZ online Community Publishing System will be fundamental to the project. Linked to the main site, KOZ creates an online congregation minus html phobia, and gives each visitor or, rather, ‘online resident’ their own web page and email address.
Triple Alice is initiated by Tess de Quincey, current recipient of the Australia Council Choreographic Fellowship. She has worked extensively in Japan, Europe, India and Australia as solo performer, teacher and director.

Triple Alice is a partnership between BodyWeather, Desart, Centre for Performance Studies (University of Sydney) and The Performance Space.
www.triplealice.net [expired] September 20 – October 10. Workshop component Australia Council funded.

Humanoids in progress
Arthur Wicks

Arthur Wicks, Humanoids in progress

Arthur Wicks, Humanoids in progress

This is the early stage of a mixed media work where a group of “humanoids” are mobilised by remote control. The next stage of the project is to implant sensors which respond to a variety of inputs. The humanoids will then be able to interact relatively independently with an audience. Control of the physical servo mechanisms will be through a series of micro processors programmed to relate sensor input to specific physical responses. This phase of the project requires collaboration with an electronic engineer and the testing of stronger and more intricate physical servo mechanisms (such as those used in aerodynamics). This will enable the humanoid to perform more intricate physical responses over a longer period. Project time frame approximately 1999 – 2002.

Arthur Wicks has been involved with performance since the early 1970s. More recent works have involved the construction of machines which are “barely engineered, nearly built, narrowly operative. They teeter on the edge of collapse.” (David Hansen on Wicks’ Last Work,The Daily Advertiser, 1992)

Tower of Light
Melbourne Workers Theatre, The Institute of Complex Entertainment

Tower of Light explores gaming culture and corporate responsibility in a world where winning is everything and losing is invisible. It incorporates live performance and music, community groups, large scale puppetry and soundscape with projected digital video, slide and other electronic media. Director Susie Dee, visual media designer Chris Harris and lighting designer Nathan Thompson explore the role of immersive media spectacle in creating the illusory promise of gaming culture. They have been working in close collaboration with the writer, musical director and set designer to create an environment of images designed not only to seduce and dislocate, but also provide another effective layer of truthful communication within the performance itself.

The challenge for the creative team has been to use technology to build an environment of light and projection which successfully interacts with all the other elements and maintains the performance’s integrity.

Chris Harris studied sculpture at the SA School of Art and was a core creative member of desoxy Theatre for four years. He now works in Melbourne as theatrical stage and projection designer and a production manager. Nathan Thompson runs The Flaming Beacon, a small lighting design office in Melbourne. He has created lighting designs for performance, architecture and new media in projects on 5 continents. His recent piece with Christian Möeller, Audio Grove, installed at the Spiral Gallery Tokyo won a prize at last year’s Prix Ars Electronica and was re-mounted for Cyber 98 in Lisbon.

October 17 – 30, Melbourne Festival, Royal Melbourne Showgrounds. New media component funded by New Media Arts Fund, Australia Council

White Collar Project
Nerve Shell

A sound/performance installation to take place on a rooftop site in Sydney’s CBD. A hybrid of telecommunication devices, dance, spoken word, film and soundtrack. The audience, issued with personalised aural receivers, will experience a relayed series of live mixed and ever changing events emanating from remote performance sites. Primarily driven by the sound, the performance will implicate the invisible traces of the digitalised human and the gridded exchanges of the millennial city.

Among the challenges for White Collar Project are ways to immerse the spectator in a constructed world using real architecture, sights and sounds in a responsive way so that the prefabricated elements spark ‘incidents.’ Some of the challenges will be purely practical: negotiating fierce environments for access to city space during 2000; sourcing the most flexible technology: and interlacing, through live mixing, all the strands of this experience.

Nerve Shell is Caitlin Newton-Broad and Gail Priest. Together they created Dead Girls’ Party (The Performance Space Gallery 1997), a sound performance installation exploring the lost lives of famous artists’ wives. Caitlin is a writer/director. Gail is a sound designer/performance artist. Other artists contributing to this event include Samuel James, Shane Wynter, Regina Heilmann, Joel Markham and Ben Rogan.

April 2000. New Media Arts Fund, Australia Council

To Eat Flowers and Walk on Glass
Salamanca Theatre Company & syt (salamanca youth theatre)

A performance and installation with video,To Eat Flowers and Walk on Glass resulted from an 8 week creative development process involving STC artistic director Deborah Pollard, guest installation artist from Indonesia Hedi Hariyanto, Sean Bacon, Sally Rees, Poonkhin Khut and other emerging Hobart artists. The title is inspired by the Javanese trance dance called Jatilan in which the male dancer falls into trance and become possessed by horse spirits. The horse spirits are fed flower petals. The project will examine the many subcultures that exist within contemporary youth culture and compare them to some traditional counterparts.

The work will stylistically explore the interface of live action (tattooing and piercing) in relation to pre-recorded and live video. The ability of the video eye to digitally bring the action to a scale that is larger than life will be pitted against the effect of real action in real time. The installation will take place over 4 hours. Just as a tattoo slowly transfigures the body, video installations will create an atmosphere of constant transition as they imperceptibly change over the course of the work. A constant beat drawn from myriad trance cultures will continuously build and subside. The sound installation comprises live mixing and percussion.

CAST Gallery, Friday 27 August. Hedi Hariyanto courtesy of an artist-in-residence program, University of Tasmania. Australia Council, Arts Tasmania; with support from CAST (Contemporary Art Services Tasmania).

States Of Kinship
Doppio-Parallelo, Sustenance Productions

 Lynne Sanderson, States of Kinship

Lynne Sanderson, States of Kinship

States of Kinship was created as an adjunct to Doppio-Parallelo’s live theatre performance of the same name, written by Melina Marchetta. Based on a journey of cultural/personal discovery, the website relates to the rites of passage of the main character, Francesca. Enhanced by animated images and sound, the user explores her inner world. The script is set someplace between sleep and waking, between the physical dimension of live performance and the virtual space accessed via technology.

Beyond the technical difficulties of multiple platforms and browser differences was the challenge of condensing and distilling the essence of the script into a website to complement the live performance. We wanted to look at new approaches to performance writing and ways of engaging our communities in both urban and rural centres. In 1998 we brought a national group of cultural workers to our On Contested Ground public seminar at Ngapartji Multimedia Centre to discuss the notions of kinship, memory and racism—themes that are influencing our work over the next few years. Discussions were held with both real and online communities about what these issues mean to them today in Australia.

With the support of the Australian Film Commission, Ngapartji, Media Resource Centre and Australian Network for Art & Technology, a research group called Rosebud was established to undertake study regarding narrative and interactivity for performance. This group would later inform the practice for the States of Kinship project.

As Sustenance Productions, Lynne Sanderson (Digital Artist) and Peter Sansom (Sound Designer/Composer), have collaborated on computer animations Need and Primal Debug which have been exhibited extensively including MTV Australia and the touring exhibition An Eccentric Orbit which opened at MoMA, NYC and is currently touring nationally. Other works include the multi-screen installation …mutant!… exhibited at the EAF and the website Somnolent Fantasies (www.unisa.edu.au/sleep/art/title.html) created during a residency at the Centre for Sleep Research, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Adelaide. http://sustenance.va.com.au/-Sustenance Productions

www.doppio-parallelo.on.net [expired] States of Kinship, the performance, July 26 – August 7 1999, EDS Centre, North Terrace, Adelaide. Australia Council and ArtsSA.

Monster Mouth
Dina Panozzo

Dina Panozzo, Monster Mouth

Dina Panozzo, Monster Mouth

A live performance with CD-ROM. In a state of psychic torment, a woman searches the internet for spiritual guidance. Along the way she encounters a female Jesus, a ghost turned body snatcher and finally her own personal apocalypse.

For the writer the challenges have included negotiating the different languages of computer graphics and text for a live performance. A sketch for a scene involving the snatching of my body almost wrote itself when I saw Maria Miranda’s images. For Maria, creating a trashy net-like world as well as a set of surreal images for large scale projection meant stretching the capacity of her low-end equipment to the limit: “For this scale of projection it’s all silicon graphics these days, but I enjoyed pushing Photoshop to do something wilder than normal. And the fact that the work is not timed for an interactive user but for an audience watching a live performance has sometimes meant more precision in the design.” Yet to be encountered is the challenge of Greg White’s programming and his sound design as they relate to the rhythms of spoken language and Elena Katz-Chernin’s music, followed by the interactions of live performer, a very large screen and an audience.

Dina Panozzo is a performer and writer living in Sydney. Her performance work with live video camera, Varda Che Bruta…Poretta (Look how ugly she is, poor thing) was produced with Open City in 1995, premiered in Sydney and toured to Adelaide and Melbourne.

Creative development of the CD-ROM component funded by the New Media Arts Fund, Australia Council. Dramaturgy and administration, Open City. Additional support from Playworks.

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 15

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

Transit Lounge, Keith Armstrong/Ross Anderson

Transit Lounge, Keith Armstrong/Ross Anderson

Foyer: a place of impermanence, change, transition. Right now I need a coffee to settle my stomach. Black cushions, black cave; crawl into Saturday morning. Recovery via Art. Glossy fake turf; two screens beaming out licorice colours. Someone sticks their head around a temporary wall: “Excuse me, can you please tell me where the workshop…?” De-dede-de-de makes a happy kitsch-pop tune. Multimedia artist Keith Armstrong and I meet and greet each other.

We are in a space within the space of the Metro Arts foyer, Edward Street, CBD of Brisbane, an artifical space constituted by an installation of sound, vision, dance, 3D animation and captioning. The 2 of us begin to chat while lolling on cushions in the surrounds of this thing called the Transit Lounge: a world of many worlds and crazy characters. Keith: originator, digital video artist and artistic director.

Ling Change: a strong young woman who commands attention and investigates other worlds and ways of doing things.

What was the impetus for the project? I was on a Metro residency in 1998-99 and at the same time participating in the Jabiluka protests. In both instances I came face to face with the question of change, ie what are the conditions in which individuals or organisations can flourish and how are these conditions realized? This question’s also a bit of a follow-on from my previous project, Public Relations [from the IMA’s Art on Line series]; I’m interested in how systems lock together and influence their constituent parts and vice versa.

So, in the residency I wanted to look at how the tenants of Metro Arts might interact with the greater environment within which they operate so as to achieve a dynamic between diversity and equilibrium. I went around and spoke to tenants asking them open-ended stuff like, “How do your private ethics impact on your organisational management?” and “Do you play games?”

The Humatix: unemployed cleaners who live in decommissioned toilet blocks and dance to any available audience in the hope of picking up a tip

How did you focus this? Originally I was going to use the whole building as an installation but narrowed it down to the foyer, which allowed external traffic as well. And I conceived of the installation as a nonlinear world which would be affected by audience activity. So I’ve located it in an area where the environment is always changing and yet people have some ownership, however abstract, of the space.

The Cock Blockies: mummylike characters permanently coiled in lotus position in the tunnels of the honeycomb plateau

What was the authoring process? I wrote a script, with Lisa O’Neill (choreographer-dancer) in mind, and together we began to build storyboards. The script had the fundamental idea of a series of different worlds, with a description of each one. There were some adventures but it was a totally absurd piece. Some people asked me if I’d been on acid when I wrote it!

Lisa was very instrumental in the characterisation of the inhabitants of the worlds. She took it in directions I didn’t anticipate, such as giving a cartoonlike quality to the characters. We shot her in a TV studio, putting the 3D camera in the same spot it’d be in in the animated world.

I sketched the environments and then Sean Young, Andrew Goode and Ross Anderson [3D modelling animators] developed the Y-frames in 3D. It was at a later stage that we decided to render them in a cartoonish style. This wasn’t only because of Lisa’s work but also because I wanted something of that quality that The Simpsons and South Park have and, again, the ‘reality’ factor of the original renderings somehow flattened out the narrative.

Young Macduffles: suave salesmen who are forever seeking new opportunities to sell their product, the honey drink ‘Core’

Why did you develop a narrative? I wanted to play around on the boundaries of artistic and commercial design and to create an installation that had a broad appeal. Given the conceptual underpinnings, I wanted people to engage with the ‘artwork’, not just look at it. Of course, the narrative isn’t linear; this would’ve been contrary to my interest in change and how it is measured. I’d like, ultimately, to make a play station.

Old Macduffles: slaves who package ‘Core’ in the niche markets

What was the role of sound? Guy Webster [composer] came in to the project at a later point—mostly due to money or the lack of it! (We all contributed hours of unpaid labour and got a lot of in-kind support from the likes of QUT and Apple.) He basically had a responsive role although he contributed lots of great ideas. We decided that we’d go for a ‘music’ rather than ‘sound’ style, a soundtrack, this year’s model so to speak. He worked with miniatures of the animations and with Lisa.

Rinston, Bruce Canon & Dogs: preoccupied, unaware and insular neighbours of Ling Change

How did you structure the space? Originally I’d wanted to use the whole foyer. However, once you bring in the screens, you have a problem with light so Callum Lui [installation designer] created this cavelike structure we’re sitting in. These cushions invite people to relax and not have an us/artwork dichotomy. I’d intended a walkthrough space but this is contingent on the door at the far end being left open by Metro! The space is more enclosed than I’d originally envisaged; hence the turf as one way of bringing different environments together.

The large screen hanging above us shows the narrative as it unfolds, detours and so on. The smaller screen set up like a TV gives background information about the worlds and the characters, and the captioned thoughts of the main character Ling Change. It also includes a digital garden, the state of which is affected by the audience, and which in turn affects the narrative journey. So movement, temperature, sound and light make the flowers bloom or wither away, and these changes influence the adventures of Ling Change. The interactive code was created by Gavin Sade [interactive designer] on a Director [multimedia authoring] system, and the engine of it all is in the basement below the foyer.

The Fiscalities: narrow minded empirebuilders who restrict others but themselves get stuck on the honeycomb plateau.

Our conversation dwindles to its end. Keith and I sit there, watch the flowers grow, see the Humatix do their dancing-girls routine once again in sexy short uniforms and brassy wigs, give each a goodbye after a short black, and go our separate ways. In transit: on the go, between destinations, journeying into the…

Ling Change Thinks: line dancing is so passe

Transit Lounge, Keith Armstrong, Lisa O’Neill, Guy Webster, Callum Lui, Sean Young, Ross Anderson, Andrew Goode, Gavin Sade, Nat Abood, Raniah Haydar, Metro Arts (foyer), Brisbane, May 26 – June 19

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 29

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

Hellen Sky, Company in Space, Architecture of Biography

Hellen Sky, Company in Space, Architecture of Biography

Architecture of Biography
Hellen Sky, Company in Space

Architecture of Biography (working title) is a multiform interactive performance work and installation constructing metaphorical relationships to architectural space and universal biographies.

Collaborating artists: Hellen Sky, concept and direction; John McCormick, computer systems, design; Margie Medlin, image & light; spatial design, Simon Barley; dramaturgy/text, Margaret Cameron; sound design, David Chesworth; performers, Ros Warby, Louise Taube, Alan Widdowson, Margaret Cameron.

The challenge is in collapsing traditional relationships between movement, text, image, space, score, and in defining appropriate digital interactive systems, audio and image, and their methods of delivery through traditional and responsive digital means.

Hellen Sky, Co artistic director Company in Space, is a choreographer, performer, image maker creating performance and installation work using dance and new media. These works have been extended as telematic performances, bringing new relationships between performer, audience and site, most recently in Escape Velocity at IDAT ‘99 (International Dance and Technology), Arizona/Melbourne. Hellen is also Co-artistic Director of Dancehouse.

Completion 2000. Collaborative development funded by New Media Arts Fund, Australia Council.

Lampscape Fate
Cazerine Barry

Cazerine Barry, Lampscape Fate

Cazerine Barry, Lampscape Fate

Tools: 1 dancer, 1 computer, 1 camera, 1 video projector. Psychological evocations of the historically infantile. Technically speaking, this is a solo performance; the use of projected multiple performers, however, leaves the audience with the impression of a much larger ensemble. Ethereal and layered images are projected into the performance, literally and conceptually. Sequential video images are used to create a spatial context for the movement while simultaneously exploring temporal and spatial distortion.

Challenges. 1. To perform by myself and sustain interest. 2. To create an image-story in seamless and illusory partnership with the performance. 3. To employ a process which alternates between digital and performance creation, allowing each to reinform the other. 4. To be realistic about the time it takes to adjust moving image compositions that could have taken days to make. 5. To defer the yearning for more time, money and hard-drive space.

Cazerine Barry is a choreographer, performer and video artist. Awards have included a Scholarship to the American Dance Festival, Australian Cinematography Award for FEAR co-produced with Adrian Hauser; an Asialink Fellowship and a residency with the Australian Indonesian Institute co-directed with Kate Mackie. New Media Fellowship, Choreographic Centre 1998.

Work in progress performance, KYKLOS cultural event, September 3 – 4, North Melbourne Arts House. Complete performance for Tokyo International Festival of the Arts, October 1999; Taipei and Hong Kong for Little Asia Tour produced by Hirano Pty Ltd and Melbourne City Council.

At Home Not Alone
John McCormick

An interactive online environment (developed out of company in space’s The Pool is Damned) allowing a global audience to construct the realities of four characters and the effects of power on their lives. Realities are constructed in realtime by choreographing gestures and rhetorical audio soundtrack.

Challenges: to maximise global audience interaction through web TV delivery systems; to ensure sound and video environment are malleable over the modem; to create a multi-user environment allowing more than one person to communicate through the site simultaneously.

John McCormick Co-director company in space and currently a visiting artist at RMIT Interactive Information Institute. John has been designing interactive dance works and computer systems allowing performer and audience to influence outcomes in the work. He is currently researching networking systems, ISDN and WEB Broadcasting for current and future projects.

Completion September 99. Arts Victoria and AFC New Media.

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 16

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

Sadie Benning, Flat is Beautiful 1998

Sadie Benning, Flat is Beautiful 1998

In her introduction to Captured, curator Clare Stewart describes Experimental Cinema as “a contested and elastic term” tracing the parameters of her definition from Bruce Conner to Jim Jarmusch, including the Cantrills, Warhol and Len Lye, while stretching the term to suggest work produced beyond cinema, video and multimedia.

The historical relationship between experimental film and video and digital media practice, the real or potential intersection between them, has often been ignored as experimental work has become redefined in the spectacle of the digital media showcase. Captured goes some way to redress this in favour of work which does not trumpet its media novelty over other concerns.

Stewart’s elasticity is actually less than genre-busting and the works don’t exactly stretch definitions. Why not, for example, programme websites, or even a camera obscura for that matter? The programmes are also largely US dominated with a European coda. However such questions are somewhat churlish as Captured follows a distinctive and necessarily partial course, gathering some of the dominant strands of experimental film and video of the last 10 years or so with deftly imaginative programming.

It is an inspired decision to programme a mini Sadie Benning retrospective (Pixilated: The Oblique Vision of Sadie Benning). Benning’s early work with the Fisher-Price Pixelvision toy camera resembles the intimate, small scale personal documentary/drama that one encounters these days on websites using QuickCams. This teenage lesbian grrrl shot to recognition in the late 80s, the usual adolescent rites of passage skewed through a queer filter in suburban Milwaukee. From the bricolage bedroom video A New Year through to the ‘road movie’ It Wasn’t Love and the women’s health education, animated/live action hybrid of The Judy Spots, Pixilated tracks the development of a style as sophisticated as her older sisters’ (such as Su Freidrich, Greta Snider, etc). The new Flat is Beautiful consolidates this: a wry, affecting film about growing up queer in the 80s combines sharp takes on cod-pop psychology with some quite audacious character masks, as Benning transplants Chantal Akerman’s ‘flat’ approach into the ordinary flux of smalltown middle America.

The Ways of Being programme concentrates on the convergence of performance and video and the appropriation of popular forms. Joe Gibbons’ Multiple Barbie extends the pop-psychological theme in a Pixelvision therapy session framing an exorcism of a Barbie doll’s multiple personalities; a neat parody of tabloid obsession. The Halflifers’ Actions in Actions turns material-action performance into slapstick, or vice versa, the properties of certain foodstuffs taking on a new, metaphysical significance. One with Everything by Daniel Reeves is a technically polished ‘mockumentary’; a fast, iconoclastic ‘deconstruction’ of popular Buddhism. Zen-inspired punning culminates in the ‘punchline’ title. Anne McGuire’s I am Crazy and You’re Not Wrong, spoofing a desperate cabaret singer, drips with deadpan irony and pathos. Singing “a song for all of you who don’t fit in” (introducing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer), she could be Cindy Sherman doing stand-up. The threads of barely suppressed tension and humour that entwine Ways of Being are intensified by the hallucinatory psychological landscape of Nocturne, the latest in Peggy Ahwesh’s series on sexuality, violence, nature and mortality. The promiscuous Pixelvision is again used as a formal/narrative device, its high-contrast providing occasional noir-esque intensity.

Recycled: Old, Used and Abused, consisting of work from Vienna, surely the European capital of Experimental Cinema, begins with Alone. Life Wastes Andy Harvey by Martin Arnold. Arnold, a virtuoso of the optical printer, takes fractions of old Hollywood movies through extraordinarily controlled repetitive forward and reverse reprinting; microscopic moments become tics, stuttering and breathy gasps. Alone…. follows his earlier work in the exploration of the perceptual possibilities of this technique. The extended song, utterances and exhalations of the triangle of Fay Holden, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney become oedipal erotic tension in a distillation of structuralist aesthetics; a sinister reconstructive revisionism of cinematic language. Film Ist by Gustav Deutsch reworks a staggering catalogue of found footage into a lexicon of cinematic technological form and function; choreographed concrete construction transcends its research-based premise as an elegant post-humanist poetic essay. The final film of the programme, Lisl Ponger’s déjà vu, frames old super 8 holiday movies from ‘exotic’ locations with voice-over tourist stories. Accidental and naive complicity imbues the problematised relationship of the post-colonial ‘gaze’ with subtle nuanced reflexivity.

It is a credit to the Melbourne International Film Festival and the Australian Film Institute that they are respectively premiering and touring Captured; an altogether considered, coherent and accessible package, serving both as a progress report and captivating introduction to a rich seam of experimental cinema.

Captured, curator Clare Stewart, Melbourne International Film Festival, Treasury Theatre, Melbourne, July 28 & 30, Aug 3 & 7; Perth: Film & Television Institute, Aug 13 – 14; Adelaide: Media Resource Centre, Aug 21 – 22: The Art of the Improbable (forum + local experimental films), speakers: Edwin Daughtry, Margaret Haselgrove, Janet Merewether, Clare Stewart; Sydney: Chauvel Cinemas, Sept 2 & 3

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 30

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

Norie Neumark and collaborators, Dead Centre: the body with organs

Norie Neumark and collaborators, Dead Centre: the body with organs

Dead Centre: the body with organs
Norie Neumark and collaborators

This sound/performance installation explores and plays with bodily organs as they are being reconfigured in computer culture. It explores computers as one particular incarnation of organs. The work also plays with the way art, not just science, can create metaphors through which we understand and interact with the biological and technological world.

Collaborators: Norie Neumark, sound, direction; Amanda Stewart, text, vocals; Maria Miranda, images; Greg White, sound design, programming.
A conceptual and technical challenge was to have complex, integrated but dynamic sound including composed, performative, and interactive sounds. Another was to create an affective interactivity that is a tendency rather than a trigger. It was also a challenge to have non-representational visuals that respond both to the sound and ideas.

Norie Neumark is a sound and new media artist. Her CD-ROM, Shock in the Ear, won major awards in Australia and internationally. Amanda Stewart is an experimental poet and sound artist. Maria Miranda is a visual artist. Greg White is a composer and programmer. (Maria and Greg also collaborated on Shock in the Ear.)

Completed July 1999, exhibited at The Performance Space, Sydney. New Media Arts Fund, Australia Council, NSW Ministry for the Arts.

Marine
Rodolphe Blois, Randall Wood

Marine is about our ambivalent relationship with water, the emotions it inspires of attraction and fear. A collaboration between soundscape composer Rodolphe Blois and filmmaker Randall Wood, Marine is in the early stages of creative development. It combines electro-acoustic music, cinematic and theatrical elements—a 50 minute “cinema for ears” work. Projected onto 3 screens almost enclosing the audience, the images are being constructed in response to electro-acoustic compositions from abstracted or anecdotal views of water showing natural or techno-based fluid qualities and the movements, reflections and distortions of forms and sources. Marine questions conventional relations between sound and screen and the omnipresence of visual images in cinema, proposing an alternative by giving the sonic dimensions a richer and more prominent role.

Randall Wood is a documentary filmmaker and a visual theatre projection artist. He produces documentary films with a social and humanitarian focus for education and television. His most recent film production is Selo! Selo! for SBS TV (see OnScreen in RealTime #32). His visual theatre work integrates large multi-image projection with dance, puppetry and drama. He is a key collaborator with Brisbane based visual theatre company Brink Performance (Under the Big Sky 1997).

Completion 2000.

The Invisible Songs Project
Steven Ball

Steven Ball, The Invisible Songs Project

Steven Ball, The Invisible Songs Project

My current work in progress researches ‘digital materialism’, a term coined to suggest the ‘raw material’ of media, and translating the code between sound and image. The animated results will be integrated with investigations of the nature of particular places as a series of short video ‘songs.’ An extensive treatment of this work can be found in the latest Cantrills Filmnotes (no. 91/92, 1999).

As an unfunded (to date) project the working process is necessarily opportunistic and utilises whatever available resources I can freely access. Consequently the biggest technical challenges are largely practical and logistical ones of the storage and transportation of large files and finding enough time to work on it.

I have worked as a film, video and installation artist intermittently since graduating from an English art school in the early 80s. For some years I was closely associated with the Melbourne Super 8 Film Group and produced a large number of films in that gauge. In addition I have worked as a writer as well as curator and administrator with a number of local screen culture organisations

www.starnet.com.au/sball [expired] Completion 2000.

Public Art
the building that speaks
Robyn Backen

Robyn Backen, the building that speaks

Robyn Backen, the building that speaks

the building that speaks is a public art project proposed by Robyn Backen and is at present in the development stage with its principal commissioner, the Brisbane Powerhouse Centre for the Live Arts. This project focuses on the facade of the building. the building that speaks has an interior and an exterior. The exterior utilises the existing windows/portholes on the boilerhouse facade as a frame from which to blink Morse Code out towards the city. The interior will house a computer which will host the messages. One of the possible messages may be the final Morse Code transmitted by a French vessel (1997) “calling all, this is our last cry before our eternal silence.” The public will also be able to send messages from the computer to the facade.

The interior and exterior will be married by a computer interface. The facade lights will be generated by a computer interface and a Morse Code translator/switcher. Director will synthesise texts generated by the interaction of members of the public with a touch screen. These texts will be displayed and compiled into histories.

Robyn Backen is a Sydney-based artist focusing on installation and public art projects. She is one of the artists commissioned to develop a public art work for the Sydney Sculpture Walk; this work is in its final stages of completion. Robyn Backen is represented by Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery.

Likely completion: early 2000. Brisbane Powerhouse Centre for the Live Arts.

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 17

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

Helen Herbertson, Trevor Patrick, Delirium

Helen Herbertson, Trevor Patrick, Delirium

Helen Herbertson, Trevor Patrick, Delirium

Helen Herbertson’s new dance theatre work, Delirium explores the schism between the worlds of sleep and waking. “The disciplines of dance, improvisation, theatre, music, visual arts and film inform Herberton’s work. However the language she creates”, says her press release, “is something quite unlike any of the original stimuli. It’s a personal approach, deeply embedded conceptually in an emotional and physical world and brought to the surface via a delicate interaction and collaboration with several other artists.” In this case the collaborating team includes some of the best in the country—performer Trevor Patrick, writer-director Jenny Kemp, optical illusionist Ben Cobham and composer Livia Ruzic.

Experience Delirium at the National Theatre, St Kilda, August 19 – 27.

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 37

Jennifer Newman Preston, Young Woman Glass Soul

Jennifer Newman Preston, Young Woman Glass Soul

Jennifer Newman Preston, Young Woman Glass Soul

Two long-legged bodies lie, hips curving under dappled light, rolling gently together; a face appears, up high to the side, like a phantom, disembodied and peculiar. It takes a while before I realise that this man, Joseph Stanaway, is producing most of the overpowering, long resonant drone and harmonics we hear. It goes on and on, the dancers’ soft movements rippling underneath like snakes at the mercy of an almost impenetrable sound.

Young Woman Glass Soul is a work of contrasts: piercing, immediate imagery alongside movement material that seems stuck resolutely in some other mindset, loaded and unrecognised. Even so, the dancers, Georgia Carter and Jennifer Newman-Preston, move well together with meticulous grace and an unforced unity of stature and timing. But because there is such polish and completeness in the production you get the sense that there is nowhere else for this work to go, as it is. It’s a full piece, seemingly crammed into a finite stage belying the complexity of the subject matter and giving it hardly any space to breathe.

A multitude of Cinderella stories, from ancient Brazilian to comic Disney, have been researched and pored-over for this production. Newman-Preston wants to unearth the richness of pagan symbolism where ashes stand for cleanliness and purification; whereas the cinders of Charles Perrault’s story in the time of Louis XIV are dirty and polluting, and only fit to be touched by those of low birth. The search for the mysterious woman who fits the glass slipper turns out to be the Ash Girl’s search for herself, her own innate wisdom.

The symbol of the serpent in the story is not so well known to us, but provides rich imagery for the dance work. With perfect grace and timing, Newman-Preston herself suddenly appears in a remarkable and insinuatingly beautiful dance, long-legged, in black high heels, bare back arching, her arms dancing lithe and intricate steps as she sidles on all fours up to a comic and cowering Cinders, rubbing her feet ecstatically in ashes.

Another striking image: a woman-serpent half climbs and half falls, a step at a time, down a diagonally pitched and precarious ladder, her looping heavy limbs dropping suddenly like the coils of a snake from a tree, and, like a snake, supporting itself by a fierce, unseen muscular grip wedged in the angled branches.

The most beautiful of all images depicts the fairy godmother, with her small white mask/face and beckoning arm, shrouded in a dark blue cape of sleep, tall and hovering over the sleeping Cinderella. A simple puppet brings an unearthly magical reality to the character.

Outside in the foyer, there are drawings by Vinn Pitcher on the wall—seen as slides in the work itself—and texts of some of the different Cinderella stories giving a stability and depth to the performance. There may be more, possibly 350, all versions of the same story: a woman’s search for strength and inner wisdom. The illustrations seem comic sometimes, trying to incorporate both the spiritual richness of the pagan cultures and our own mass market mentality and material desires. A well-edited collection of these stories and drawings would be perfect for audiences to take home.

Young Woman Glass Soul, choreography Jennifer Newman-Preston, music Alexander Nettelbeck, performers Georgia Carter & Jennifer Newman-Preston, vocal harmonics Joseph Stanaway, word Victoria Doidge, lighting Tim Preston, images Vinn Pitcher, projections Tim Gruchy, videographer Jo Griffin, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Sydney, July 1 – 10

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 37

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

Mari Velonaki, Amor Veneris A

Mari Velonaki, Amor Veneris A

Amor Veneris A
Mari Velonaki

Amor Veneris A is a breath-activated installation (hard disk, breath sensor, various electronic media). A woman’s face is viewed through a magnifying glass which is installed on the top of a wooden box. The spectator can activate/awake her by blowing against her face using the breath switch which protrudes from the box and connects the spectator with the screen woman.

To use the breath switch to activate the quick-time movies, adaptations had to be made due to the fact that the switch was initially designed as an assisting device for people with paraplegia. These adaptations were implemented by means of a differential communications interface (RS-422) in a fully custom made electronics box. Breath sensor (switch) supplied by Enabling Devices-Toys for Special Children, NY, USA.

Mari Velonaki lives and works in Sydney. In a series of installations she aims to engage the spectator with the digital character in an interplay activated by sensory triggered interfaces (speech recognition, eye-tracking, breathing/blowing). Her work has been shown at Artspace, PICA and Ton-Bild Spectakel/Greifensee. Amor Veneris A is a derivative of Amor Veneris, Herringbone Gallery, Sydney, Mardi Gras, 1999.

MAAP 99, Science Centre, Brisbane, September 3 – 12.

A very Pentatonic Scale
Damian Castaldi

Video, installation and tuned aluminium bars. “The video plays the instrument” as light intensity levels vary depending on the changing video image of Curl Curl rockface and the spectator’s body movement between the screen and five transducers (mounted on a pentatonic scale).

The challenge is to program a MAX patch that will successfully coordinate the triggering process. This involves translating source data from Low Level 2 transducers to an analog to MIDI digitiser and outputting to actuators which play the pentatonic scale, to create an intriguing synergy between video, body and acoustics.

Damian Castaldi’s work explores audiovisual and instrumental crossroads between gesture-based, interactive audio systems and digital image for installation and the web. He was the 1997 recipient of the Australia Council New Media Art & Technology partnership with the ABC and works independently and in collaboration with the national artists’ collective nervous_objects.

Completion August 1999.

self remembering—optimal viewing distance
James Verdon

This is the 4th in a series of digital screen based installations interrogating memory and the electronic viewing screen as utilising common technologies of re-presentation and simulation. The installation seeks to articulate connections between memory and the electronic screen as viewed through the sieve of these technologies.

The primary technical challenges relate to the use of relatively unproven digital video delivery technology. The project utilises broadcast quality random access digital video and audio data from dedicated “black boxes.” This data is mixed with live video feed signal and lighting controls all triggered by a visitor’s jumping through a hopscotch court. No one in Australia has used this particular hardware before, and so the project has been a series of steep independent learning curves.

James Verdon is an artist working primarily with electronic media and emerging technologies, often utilising light as a primary interactive element. He is Course Coordinator and teaches theory and studio components of Electronic Design and Interactive Media (EDIM) in the Arts Department at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne.
Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), Melbourne, August-September 1999. Australia Council.

Facemen
David Cox

Utilising small ‘panasonic’ video LCD projector, commercial doll, video camcorder and face peep hole, Faceman is an installation which uses a small video projector to project the face of the onlooker onto a small puppet. By placing his/her face in a peep-hole cut in a flat surface the viewer then sees a puppet figure with a video-projected face. The work examines the complicity of the viewer in the form and nature of spectacular society.

In playing along with the implicit request of the work (to poke one’s head through the hole) the viewer automatically finds her face and speech transposed onto the symbol of manipulation—the puppet. The work aims to playfully examine the complex relationships between viewer and work, and by extension the role of video imagery in society as a whole.

The work extends ideas explored in earlier work, such as my 1990 black and white film Puppenhead. This and my 1998 film Otherzone examined the overall themes of identity, paranoia and technophobia. David Cox is Digital Screen Production Lecturer, Griffith University, Brisbane.

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 18

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

Arc, Stockton-on-Tees

Arc, Stockton-on-Tees

Arc, Stockton-on-Tees

Arc in Stockton-on-Tees in northern England is a new arts centre, a key promoter and commissioner of local, national and international contemporary artists, and a state-of-the-art digital media centre. Arc is also an example of the regions of England doing it for themselves in these times of confusion in national cultural policy-making. The Arts Council of England (ACE), the English equivalent of The Australia Council, is currently restructuring its relationship with the Regional Arts Boards (RABs), the equivalent of Australia’s state bodies. A policy of devolution of means and methodologies to the RABs has been ACE’s response to criticism of its increasing irrelevancy to and isolation from regional constituencies. The RABs, all operating divergently according to the varying prerogatives of their region, remain mostly undecided upon their interpretation of devolution.

Northern Arts Board, however, with typical Northern gusto, has wasted no time. With perhaps the most to gain from distancing itself from the London-centric policies of ACE, NAB has finished its consultation with regional stake holders ahead of its fellow RABs and will distribute its funds through regional promoters, rather than directly to organisations in 1999.

Arc is a regional promoter with strong credentials, taking over from the small scale Dovecot Arts Centre, which for 25 years battled to provide for Stockton. Looking like a UFO in its chrome and steel incongruence with this drab, post-industrial city, Arc is one of the first wave of major capital developments funded by the National Lottery. It may have opened several months behind schedule, and over budget, but it has opened on this side of the millennium and that is a triumph for the North, as other beleaguered projects, such as the Royal Opera House in London, sink ever deeper into compromise.

With the ambition which has characterised the Stockton International Festival, also directed by Arc’s Chief Executive, Frank Wilson, Arc has set its world class standards, with an inspirational programme to match its superb facilities. Arc’s curving circumference contains a theatre, a music, comedy and cabaret venue, a cinema, a studio theatre, dance studio and recording studio for community and education use, 3 bars and a health club. Most importantly, Arc boasts a digital editing suite and all the equipment needed for the production and distribution of video and multimedia arts throughout the building. These facilities distinguish Arc as one of the first venues in the UK to place new media arts in a mainstream context, and the Mirror Images programme which opened the venue in January 1999, proudly celebrated the central role of digital arts within the organisation.

The season took its name from Richard Land’s interactive video installation, which was commissioned by Arc to showcase the potential of its facilities. Triggered into action by the images of passing viewers on a monitor screen, the installation evolved over time as ghost images of previous visitors accumulated. Architect Richard Wilson’s intervention into Arc’s facade, Over Easy, was another example of the playful nature of the opening commissions. Wilson’s first permanent installation in the UK revolves in Arc’s glass frontage, inviting visitors to sample the non-stop artistic activity within. Again employing ideas of access and community, Arc commissioned Danish group Hotel Pro Forma to work with local people to create imagery and sounds for the audio visual spectacular Tall Storeys High which illuminated the building over its opening week. Marcel Li Anthunez from Barcelona performed his Epizoo mechanical masterpiece of Stelarc-like physical manipulation; Motherboard from Norway presented Maggie’s Love Bytes, an internet link up with remote international participants; and British multimedia collective Black Box set up an exhibition of interactive sound and video work in the studio. Random Dance Company presented the world premiere of their new dance and digital media production Sulphur16, featuring graphic animation and film edited in Arc’s virgin studios.

Complementing the digital season, Arc’s inaugural programme features exciting new work in more conventional media: Jumping the Waves was commissioned from local playwright Gordon Steel; The Gandini Juggling Project premiere their new piece Remembering Rastelli; amongst several visiting national touring companies, Union Dance and Northern Broadsides Theatre present Dance Tek Warriors and Twelfth Night respectively; there is an extensive music programme and the comedy, club and cinema calendars are full of events likely to bring mainstream audiences into contact with new media work. Arc’s commissions will tour internationally and artists everywhere will benefit from this pioneering approach to new media programming. Symbolism aside, Arc seems set to play an inspirational regional, national and international role.

New centres for digital arts mean new opportunities for media artists to create and present their work in conditions conducive to their appreciation. Funding from the National Lottery has significantly improved audio and video technologies in auditoria and public spaces across the UK, and in several cases, such as Arc, included digital production facilities for the creation of work on-site.

The facilitation of digital arts creation is happening across the board, in venues large and small. In 1998, The Junction, a small arts centre in Cambridge, reopened with an impressive international digital programme. The new Sadlers Wells in London included a multimedia screen and an interactive installation in its foyer and is planning a digital programme for its studio Bayliss Theatre. In March 1999, The Lowry Centre in Salford Quays opened its doors to artists from MIT Media Lab, with a programme of residencies developed in conjunction with the commercial Digital World Centre next door. Future openings, such as The Baltic Flour Mills in Newcastle or the new Tate Gallery in London promise great opportunities for digital artists, with better residencies, showcases and schemes for audience development and marketing of media arts. Existing organisations, such as arts festivals, are catching the new media wave and offering commissions to performance and visual artists to create site specific interventions, often employing the digital media they have also acquired from smaller National Lottery capital applications. There is much to excite the British media artist at the moment, and more to come.

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 28

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

Feng Mengbo, Q3, 1999, digital video

Feng Mengbo, Q3, 1999, digital video

Satisfying physical and cyber-needs

Talk about working the screen! By the time MAAP99 (Multimedia Arts Asia Pacific) Festival hits Brisbane and the Asia Pacific region from September 3 – 12 the organisers will have considered over 180 proposals (quadruple last year’s content) for more than 50 projects showcasing the latest in digital arts in the Asia-Pacific region. From over 60 submissions from Australia alone, the curatorial team selected 4 artists who have been supplied with Macromedia and Metacreations software valued at nearly $10,000. MAAP will bring the artists to Brisbane to participate in the festival.

The work in MAAP99 covers a range of art forms and practices with an emphasis on interactive multimedia, web, video, animation and projects integrating new media. It encompasses a range of public events, online projects, cinema screenings and exhibitions both on-site and online and forums addressing issues of audience awareness and critical engagement with artists working with technologies and screen-based media. MAAP99 is the ultimate co-mingling of the real and the digital, satisfying both physical and cyber-needs.

As you’d expect, such an ambitious project requires major support and MAAP99 has this from Online Australia, an initiative of the National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE) promoting the development of information technology throughout Australia. They’re also partnering the Third Asia Pacific Triennial’s Virtual Triennial exhibition which will be APT3’s official online art content and screen culture provider. Macromedia is again a major sponsor making available just about every tool they produce including Generator. With help from Firmware’s Generator server, live image and text updates to the web will be used extensively during the month-long online festival.

SEE, SEEK and SPEAK

The program has 3 streams. SEE is the national and international screening program at The State Library Cinema, September 4, and Queensland Art Gallery, September 5. It includes recent works from Korea, Malaysia, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Feng Mengbo from Beijing will present recent video and web interactive works. Videotage features the One Minute Video Festival, a selection of works from China curated by the Hong Kong Video and New Media co-operative. D.art is the annual showcase of experimental film, digital video and computer animation from dLux media arts in Sydney. Visual artists are creating short works for television to be broadcast in Art Rage. The Art Rage For Kids edition is available to schools as an introduction to creative uses of new technologies. The Samsung Project from Korean artist Young-Hae Chang will feature in a narrative program session titled Strange Stories; Self-Made Cinema. It incorporates recent works from Hong Kong curated and presented by Jo Law and will be toured by the West Australian Film and Television Institute. Digital Degrees features showreels of current digitally produced projects by multimedia and design students from Singapore, New Zealand and Australia.

SEEK is the interactive exhibition program including gallery, public spaces and online exhibitions. net.works/ MAAP99 Australia/Asia Artists Exchange is an online residency project aimed at generating dialogue, exchange, and collaboration between Australia and the Asia Pacific. Rather than run ‘real’ residencies which result in artists making works for the web, net.works/… is a habitation of the web, where the internet is used as a beginning point, a space from which to proceed, to commence a dialogue, to speak an idea, to live and work. It’s hosted by Multimedia Art Asia Pacific for the MAAP99 Festival and funded by the New Media Arts Fund of the Australia Council. Feng Mengbo (Beijing); Young-Hae Chang (Seoul); Rick Vermey (Perth); Tina Gonsalves (Melbourne) are partnered to interactively create joint on-line work.

Xi’an/Ipswich: Double Happiness is a unique cross-cultural internet exchange program with young web explorers from Australia and China. The project involves the joint design and construction of a website that will help create a link across cyberspace and between cultures. The project is managed by Arterial and Global Arts Link in association with the Bremer TAFE and the Xi’an Translators College with software support from Macromedia.

SPEAK comprises a conference, forum and training program. Presented by MAAP99 in association with ANAT and the Queensland Art Gallery, the conference Collapsing Geographies will take place at the Brisbane Exhibition Hall and Convention Centre on Saturday September 11. The focus will be on 3 artist exchange projects involving over 15 web artists from the region. MAAP is sponsoring international guest speaker Naranjan Rajah (Malaysia) at a forum discussing current and future strategies for digital art networks. This is part of the Asia Pacific Triennial Conference, Beyond the Future. As well, at the 30th World Congress of INSEA (International Society of Art Educators) MAAP will present an address and series of workshops to highlight the uses of technology for arts educators.
A real/digital night out

Opening night is Friday September 3 where special guests and late night shoppers will mingle in the Queen Street Mall in Brisbane’s CBD. The program includes large projections and a special opening program netcast live on the web. Melbourne curators Shiralee Saul and Helen Stuckey will present Pre Fab: Invisible Cities and Photon Palaces comparing and contrasting the digital architectural practices currently being developed by Australian artists and architects with those of their Asian peers. This virtual architecture exhibition will be projected onto buildings in the mall area. Cyberpoet Komninos will perform and project his poetry onto the main wall of the Queensland Performing Arts Trust. This will be netcast on the web. There’ll be computer games for those wanting to test their motor coordination. MAAP has also been trying to lure an international pop-star to Brisbane for this high-tech evening. “Diki”, the virtual pop star (originally from Korea, but often holidays in Japan) has promised a new world release for the MAAP 99 opening!

Stay online

Events physically held in Brisbane and in other parts of the region will be available to view from any location with a series of netcasts on the internet. Forums, artists’ live performances and intimate interviews will stream through the MAAP99 festival site to achieve a web festival experience. Each day of MAAP Month an online art project will be launched onto the MAAP website. Thirty online projects have been selected to enliven the web festival experience.

Fame too is on offer with The National Digital Art Awards staged at the Institute of Modern Art. And participation: a “People’s Choice” page will be housed on the MAAP website for judging the best Artist’s Website. These awards are open to all computer artists working in any digital format. Submit entries to the IMA.

MAAP99 is the perfect stay-at-home festival for the avid onliner but it’s also a seductive program for see-ers, seekers and speakers who want that special in-the-body festive experience. RT

MAAP99, Multimedia Arts Asia Pacific Festival, Director, Kim Machan. Brisbane and online http://www.maap.org.au/, September 3-12

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 24

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

“If new media teaches anything, it is that communal culture is productive. New media, like pop culture, shares its power with group reference. The more the better.”
Ross Gibson*

It would be right to say, the tiredness of the metaphor aside, that there has been an explo- sion of new media activity in Australia, an enormous amount of it online. It’s hard to keep up with, hence the importance of Working the Screen to help anticipate new works and com- prehend the breadth of activity. But explosion is not the right word. In her critical survey of the nurturing and development of new media, Sarah Miller argues that there’s been a great deal of teaching, learning, researching and experimenting going on for a very long time, and, despite funding cuts and some curious spending directions, artists have created many sig- nificant and innovative works throughout the 90s.

When we sent out messages requesting information from artists all over Australia about their works-in-progress the response was immediate and overwhelming. (It was interesting to read recently that the number of new media submissions for MAAP 99 (Multimedia Art Asia Pacific) quadrupled when compared with last year’s figure.) For Working the Screen, over half were works online, the rest installations (working from hard drive), CD-ROMs, a DVD-ROM, films and videos. There were also submissions from artists working in performance, spec- tator-activated installations, public art, dance and sound. Among the creators of the works- in-progress detailed in this liftout were some who once called themselves visual artists but are more likely now to label themselves media artists.

We were unable to contact some artists (overseas, too busy) and some felt that their projects hadn’t developed sufficiently to be reported. However, there were enough queries after our deadline passed to suggest we could immediately produce Working the Screen II. Jack White, producer of Museum Victoria’s Digital Planetarium (Scienceworks Museum, Spotswood) emailed us recently to report that “The new Melbourne Planetarium is cur- rently preparing a series of productions for its opening in September. We are employing 6 local digital artists and a couple of programmers for the job. The new facility is equipped with a 16 metre dome, 3D Star projector, 3
Barco projectors motorised for motion paths, a heap of slide and sfx projectors and six channel surround sound. The visuals are driven through DVMs. Production elements include 2D and 3D animation, multi-layering and all types of compositing, 3D star render- ing etc.”

We’ve just received Chunky Move’s CD-ROM (reviewed in RealTime 32), an Australian dance first exploring the collaborative creation and performance of the dance work C.O.R.R.U.P.T.E.D. 2. It was developed in collaboration with Peter Hennessey and Drome. Sound artist Nigel Helyer is working with Lake DSP in a 12 month partnership to create a 3D audio space with artistic and commercial potential. Justine Cooper, winner of the 1998 National Digital Art Award for Rapt, is developing a Biological Maze, with ramifications artistic and medical. There are also a number of dance new media projects by Jesse McNicholl, Chrissie Parrott and the new artistic director of Australian Dance Theatre, Garry Stewart, that we hope to follow up soon.

We also received many requests for reviews, given the limited availability of critical responses to new media art works, and even a job description redirected to us from recode: “A project between the Song Company and Martin and Peter Wesley-Smith to develop and write a new multi-media work exploring the scientific, ethical, social and political aspects of biogenetics and genetic engineering using the 6 singers of The Song Company and real- time computer processing of sound and images. The project URGENTLY seeks expressions of interest from artists working with video and multimedia wishing to contribute to this project. Further information: Roland Peelman, c/o Eugene Ragghianti.” Don’t hesitate.

We hope that Working the Screen excites interest in the range and complexity of new media work in Australia both as part of our rich screen culture but also right across the arts.

Our thanks to the Australian Film Commission, in particular to Kate Ingham and Julie Regan, for initiating Working the Screen, and to Brendan Harkin and Thea Butler of Online Australia (The National Office of the Information Economy) for their support.

* “Spacing the digital”, page 4

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 3

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

Caroline Dunphy & Lisa O’Neill, Oily Nights in Strathcliffe

Caroline Dunphy & Lisa O’Neill, Oily Nights in Strathcliffe

In recent years, Brisbane’s been long on shorts. Diverse events have been memorably programmed by Metro Arts, Kooemba Jdarra, Renegade, the brilliant if defunct Crab Room, Cherry Herring, Zoo, LIVID and more. Director Lucinda Shaw marks the territory of CAB/SAV II as “a group of queer-aligned performing artists into difference, making unconstrained theatre that celebrates full humanity and expresses and transcends sexuality.” In the context of what else is around, this sense of unconstrained difference just never materialised —even if the final triptych was worth the wait.

The Lisa O’Neill choreographed Lino Cuts, performed by Caroline Dunphy and Christina Koch, opened the show with something less than a fanfare. Intensely gestural and ritualistic, O’Neill’s choreography usually works its way beneath the skin but this piece seemed blunt and incomplete—an anxious duet for competing ids, Lino Cuts was well performed but too long, or perhaps not long enough, to reinforce and work its themes.

Beneath a projection of Lucinda Shaw’s tidal film Shells, Jem Coones recites his poem “Postcard From a Butcher’s Window” accompanied, and finally silenced by, cellist David Sills (playing the Wesley-Smiths’ White Knight) who in turn is silenced by a kiss. Coones himself, lolling about in a hunky, singleted kind of way inside the image of a projected shell, may have provided just one allusion too many, sentimentalising what might have been a memorable telling of sexual initiation where “the ocean’s hush spoke like a foul-mouthed poet.” A multimedia concoction rather than reconstitution.

Singer/pianist Barb Daveson, accompanied by Sills, performed a charming lament of longing and leaving from her Highways And Hangovers but was poorly programmed in the middle of a set. Daveson was followed by the Babel-esque confusion of Untitled Spoken Word by poetess (sic) Jess Godfrey whose energised performance was full of self-obsessing verve (self/alienation/self/representation/self) and included a memorable moment of retort with her own projected image.

The second half momentarily stalled with Remembering Eve, a terminal film memory by Kris Kneen, but was finally hot-wired by Lucinda Shaw performing “Everywhere I Go Someone’s Reading Poetry.” Sharp, witty, monumentally present, Shaw’s gothic take on the insouciance of art and its paradoxical capacity for banality and pain was a much needed creative call to arms.

The tragi-comic fable of porn hero Joey Stefano (sex, drugs, sex, love, loss, drugs, death) in Psycho The/Rapist #2 Joey Stefano introduced a welcome queer physic. Conceived and performed by Brian Lucas, this is the second in a series of 3 works by an accomplished storyteller whose body is as eloquent as his clever use of prologue, snatch-narrative and sound-bite.

CAB/SAV II concluded with Lisa O’Neill’s powerful Oily Nights In Strathcliffe performed with intensity by O’Neill and Caroline Dunphy (with a soundtrack by Tom Waits, Beck and powermad). Ritual, and the ritual of performance itself, is at the heart of O’Neill’s work. She and Dunphy perform like giants behind miniature picket fences, isolated and out of reach of each other’s screams, playing out rites of desperation and arousal to escape the rites of emotional atrophy. In Oily Nights In Strathcliffe performance and conceptual intelligence come together—O’Neill’s choreography lures, suspends, creeps and catapults.

CAB/SAV II promised queer concentrate but never turned itself over to queerness as an event. The conscious rejection of format, the allusion to and rejection of cabaret, caused its own problems of flagging energy, restless un-anticipation, no sense of celebration or commentary and problems with set ups which a ce n’est pas CABaret attitude might have subverted with fun and SAVvy.

CAB/SAV II, a season of short works for the 1999 Pride Festival, Director Lucinda Shaw, Metro Arts Theatre, June 30 – July 3

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 37

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

Atomic Fuzz
Ian Haig

Ian Haig, Atomic Fuzz

Ian Haig, Atomic Fuzz

Video clip. Animation: Ian Haig, 3 mins. Psychotronic grind….two headed transplant mutants, 50s monster movies, flying saucers, creatures from black lagoons, laboratory experiments, brain operations, invaders from Mars and lots of fuzz…

The biggest technical challenge in this project was working with Atomic Fuzz, because of their recent brain surgery.

Ian Haig is a media artist working across the areas of video, computer animation, and installation. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, most recently at VideoBrasil, Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Pandemonium Festival of moving images, UK

Completion September 99.

Tracking
Denis Beaubois

Tracking is an installation exploring the reading of an event through the facial expressions of the viewer. The response of the viewer formulates its own narrative which we, as observers, attempt to decode. It questions the role of documentation as representation and in its place suggests a process of translation.

The proposal is to devise a system of video monitoring which makes use of infra-red technology and night viewing equipment to scan and record audiences viewing performances. The video signal will be relayed in real time to the front of the venue and displayed outside (in the street) via a monitor. All who pass the theatre at the time of performance encounter a real time displaced electronic audience symbolically observing the pedestrian and transient traffic.

Born in Mauritius in 1970, Denis Beaubois lives and works in Sydney. His practice includes performance, video and photography. He has performed and exhibited throughout Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the United States. He has also worked as deviser and performer with Post Arrivalists (1993-95) and Gravity Feed (1994-99). His work titled in the event of amnesia the city will recall… won the Bonn Videonale 8 in Germany. He is presently working in Germany as Artist in Residence at the Artist Unlimited Group in Bielefield.

This work was tested as part of Space 1999 in May this year. It will be presented in Germany in October 1999.

Please Wait Here
Dominic Redfern

Please Wait Here is a video which also forms the central component of an installation piece. It takes as its subject matter daytime television, daytime talk in particular. It examines TV as a sort of campfire onto which we project our thoughts, drifting in and out of the content. The work is not, however, a negative critique of daytime TV’s opiate qualities. It seeks rather to embrace and explore some of the possibilities for a contemplative mode of awareness while in the viewing state.

The work took about 6 months to complete, pushing my home system to its limits, often taking up to 23 hours to preview minor changes to a minute or less of work. A 24 hour working method developed in which I would set the computer to render and then go off to bed, setting the alarm for a time when the computer predicted it would complete its rendering. Once completed the work cannot be backed up as a single file due to it’s size and has to be reconstructed from component parts each time I wish to copy it.
Dominic Redfern is a lecturer in Video Installation at RMIT in the Media Arts course area. He has exhibited work in galleries such as First Floor, Project Space, @lt TV and Westspace, and the Sydney Film Festival, Melbourne International Festival and the Anemone Program (WA).

To be screened at the Film and Television Institute of Western Australia and tour regional galleries as part of the Art’s Edge touring program.

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 18

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

Online Australia is involved in an astonishing range of initiatives, partnerships, forums and peak events, across business, government and culture. Amongst its cultural patnerships and sponsorships are the following: MAAP (Multimedia Art Asia Pacific), the online multimedia festival emanating from Brisbane in September is supported as one of its peak events. Online Australia hosted Project 1, a one day coming together of arts organisations, web developers and online business (see page 10). It has also declared the Apple-sponsored Fourth National Entertainment Industry Conference (Sydney, August 6 – 7) as The Peak Music Event of Online Australia Year. The National Cultural Festival Online (see page 7) is another cultural event supported by them.

Online Australia Year 1999 is a Commonwealth Government initiative designed to: help Australians succeed online; build Australia’s online communities; involve Australians in determining and participating in the nation’s online future. Online Australia 1999 comprises a national program of events and activities from March through November 1999 which will focus national attention on information economy developments and issues.

Each month of Online Australia 1999 has a theme, based on key areas identified in the government’s Strategic Framework for the Information Economy. From March to November these themes are: Information Economy; Regional and Rural Development; Small and Medium Business; Government Online; Employment Skills and Y2K; Education and Health Online; Culture and Communities; E-commerce; Australia and the Global Economy.

Here is a selection from Online Australia’s program for August – September:

August. Education & Health Online; Internet World Australia 99, Sydney, Aug 2 – 4; Telecommunications Online Forum, ACIF, SPAN & Telstra, Sydney, August 4; Fourth National Entertainment Industry Conference, Sydney, August 6 – 7; Royal College of Nursing Expo, Sydney, August 14; DTV & Datacasting: TV’s New Dawn, Sydney, August 19; Business/Banking Working in Partnership, Melbourne, Aug 20; Interact 99 Asia Pacific Multimedia Festival, Melbourne, August 20 – Sept 3; Online Australia Agenda Series: Education Online, Sydney, August 26; Health Informatics Summit, Hobart, Aug 29 – 30; Health Services CEO/PECC Forum, Hobart, August 31. Also in August, State Departments E-Health & Telehealth Workshops, Hobart, Perth Darwin, August; and Skills for the Information Economy, National.

September. Culture and Communities: Multimedia Art Asia Pacific Festival 99, Brisbane, Sept 3 – 12; Adult Learners Week: Seniors Online Day, National, September 7; Online Australia Agenda Series: Culture Online, Brisbane, September 9; Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Brisbane, September – January. Online Australia Agenda Series: Access & Participation, Melbourne, September 21; Business to Business Trade Show, Perth, Sept 21-23; Online Australia—SBS Multicultural News Portal, Online, September 24; Communication Research Forum, Canberra, September 27-28; Community Networking/Networking Communities Summit Ballarat, Sept 29 – 30; Online Field Day, Ballarat, September 29 -30; The Australian Virtual Centre for Women and the Law, Online, September; Australian Schools Web Challenge Winners Announced, National, September; NOIE IT & T Skills Website launch, Online, September; Online Australia National Cultural Festival Online (see page 19)

Online Australia is coordinated by The National Office for the Information Economy within The Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.

For more information visit: www.onlineaustralia.net.au [expired]

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 3

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

“Wilson: But what shall we dream of when everything becomes visible?
Virilio: We’ll dream of being blind.”
Louise Wilson, interview with Paul Virilio, “Cyberwar, God, and Television”, in Kroker, Arthur, and Marilouise (eds), Digital Delirium, St Martin’s, NY, 1997.

Perhaps too much has already been claimed for the benefits that new media technologies, the web and internet bring to the arts, and the media arts in particular. But a maturing audience, a growing “catalogue” of online work and resources, and the burgeoning of partially or wholly web-based media arts practitioners are gradually creating a lively and diverse online media arts culture.

And this in spite of the well-documented failings of the computer-based communications media of the internet and its colourful and noisy cousin, the web. This online culture is the seed bed for many of the most exciting developments in the media arts—the ways they’re practised, received, and ultimately, experienced or lived within a particular culture by its citizens. But it is still early days for this new form of cultural expression.

The digital realm’s ubiquitous influence extends to many media and arts practices and forms allowing the artist to create, manipulate and present work in new ways, and the audience to view and interact with work and exhibitions from anywhere on the globe. The web also presents many opportunities for the media artist and curator to distribute their works or collections widely and to new audiences.

The key change here is the aggregation, in potentially many new ways, of the relatively marginal and fragmented communities of artists and their audiences through the internet. This effect of integrating previously dis-integrated audiences, combined with technologies that enhance audience/viewer engagement and feedback (interactivity) may, in the end, have a far greater impact on the media arts than that of the powerful new technologies of media creation and presentation. Importantly, these different aspects are interdependent and need to be considered as a whole, both for the benefits, and the problems, they bring with them. However, there is currently a lack of knowledge about new distribution channels and the likely future of new media forms.

The recognition of this lack of knowledge has had a significant effect on Australian media arts culture by highlighting the need for government arts funding bodies to address the “downstream” of the production process, arts distribution, with the same commitment they have show to the “upstream” of the process.

The Australia Council, the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA), the Australian Film Commission and Cinemedia, among others, have begun to grapple with the intricacies of global distribution assisted by the internet by supporting a range of media arts resource organisations, sites and marketing projects.

The National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE) also has a program, Online Australia Year, to catalyse online culture, with aims that include the idea that, “artists need to be recognised as innovative contributors to the information economy. Encouraging links between cultural institutions, cultural workers and commercial content producers will help to increase the variety and quality of digital content, improve Australia’s visibility in the global online environment.”

But the internet is a vast and restless space and there are many issues that need to be taken into account in addressing distribution and access, such as:

1. The greatest issue that faces the artist, curator or arts organisations for media arts practice and culture is a simple one: access to sufficient bandwidth and resources, including sufficient knowledge of distribution and new technologies to make the right strategic and planning choices that will enhance their creativity, career and audience.

2. ‘Version 1.0’ of the internet is about to become so-called ‘Version 2.0.’ Version 2.0 will not only converge media and audiences, it will also diverge into different kinds of broad and narrow band access with different prices, platforms and audiences—just as free and pay television have become two different domains with different audiences and media forms. The low capacity internet we use today could be overshadowed or marginalised by high speed, high capacity networks that only paying subscribers can access, such as Telstra’s Big Pond. (For a rather technical but very interesting overview see the review on Ester Dyson’s site at www.edventure.com/release1.cable.html – expired)

3. To address this fragmentation of audiences as internet and other delivery platforms diverge, and failing government intervention to ensure a proportion of bandwidth and access is made available for cultural use, artists and others participating in media arts cultures online must develop online audience development and maintenance skills, or plan to work with like-minded public organisations and private companies to achieve these objectives—standing alone will no longer work, except for the biggest players.

4. To address the fragmentation of Australia’s online culture into myriad directories and independent sites (mimicking the competitive environment fostered by competitive funding policies of government support bodies), cluster or so-called cultural portal sites and strategies need to be established that bring together organisations in larger online domains that can attract sufficient audiences to gain sponsorship and support.

Visitors, customers, users or audiences come to a website primarily because of quality, innovative, unique and engaging ‘content’—not to save or make money, but to have a unique and ‘special’ experience, something artists and curators understand well, utilising theatrical and ‘entertaining’ or absorbing elements that are similar to those used in mass-market or more ‘popular’ forms. However, and most importantly, this ‘experience’ is provided in unique ways that are unlike those used by purely commercial websites.

As Stephen Ellis said recently in The Australian (15/5/99), “…brand and reputation [read identity, uniqueness and quality] may be more important on the Internet than in the [physical] world, since buyers and sellers [read the arts and their audiences] are so emphatically separated.”

Uniqueness is the media arts’ greatest resource, and used wisely and well, will ensure a future for media arts online by achieving a respect and position with audiences, government and sponsors that guarantees them a vital place in the new distribution networks, and the skills and resources to maintain this position.

* * * *

In terms of new areas for distribution, two of the more comprehensive reports are Stephen Hall’s 1997 “Performing Arts Multimedia Library: Marketing Study” for the New Media Section of DCITA (then DoCA), part of a collaborative project with Cinemedia (see www.cinemedia.net/PAML/); and the 1997 AFC report Other Spaces by Rachel Dixon (www.afc.gov.au/; to order look under “resources” and then use the search engine to find ‘Other Spaces.”

Jeffrey Cook is a director of 3V, an electronic production and publishing company. He is also a researcher and writer on media futures, an independent mediamaker and is currently undertaking postgraduate studies for a Research Masters in Art Theory at College of Fine Arts, UNSW, in digital media arts.

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 5

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

3V Media is developing the Digital Artstore: a distribution outlet for Australian and international digital arts and media work, primarily CD-ROM based, but also including DVD, video and other media forms. The aim of the Digital Artstore project is to provide specialised online and physical channels for the promotion and distribution of digital arts and media work, including work funded by the AFC, Australia Council and other work distributed by other local and overseas organisations and artists. The project is to be carried out in collaboration with leading Australian independent book stores which will provide the physical exhibition and sales points supported by special e-commerce websites.

We are also currently seeking work for the Digital Artstore. If you are aware of work that should go into the Artstore, or working on a project, we may be able to assist you in distributing that work, locally and globally.
The Artstore is part of an Australian Film Commission initiative to develop distribution strategies for digital arts and media work. Completion December 1999. In the interim, some work is already available through the gleebooks global online bookstore www.gleebooks.com

Enquiries: 3V@media.com.au or visit www.digitalartstore.com [expired]

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 7

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

verve Fr, from L, verva, the head of a ram sculptured then something whimsical or capricious; poetical or artistic rapture or enthusiasm; great spirit; energy; rapture.

As I read and write I am thinking about the convergence of visual, aural and verbal literacy. Gregory Ulmer’s word/concept (puncept) for this is ‘electracy.’ He writes, “electracy is to the digital as literacy is to print technologies.” (Gregory L Ulmer, Choragraphy (a map) ensemble.va.com.au/enslogic/text/ulm_lct.htm) An electrate language would be one that works in–between oral and literate cultures. He proposes that literate thinking organised itself around shapes and forms that evolved into conceptual classification systems. Alongside literacy, electrate thinking is coming into existence via felt moods or atmospheres. Felt moods or atmospheres are the space of non-closure, generative spaces that allow a reader to write with a text, that allow an other writing.

Helene Cixous’ textual practice of écriture féminine comes into play here too. This way of writing has no exchange or market value, it falls outside of the economy of use. It suggests a writing that comes from the relationship of the body to the social world, its practice is an undoing of the limits of logic. This is a feminine that moves around, between and amongst genders and genres.

In her generous introduction in the preview brochure for the Telstra Adelaide Festival 2000 Robyn Archer notes, “In 2000 there will also be a lot of flaming rhetoric surrounding ‘new’ this and ‘new’ that.…we also need to question the new. What exactly is new? Is there any such thing as a new idea? Would we recognise it if we saw it?” This is a salient questioning that Robyn has backed up with her commitment to a consideration of writing that does not usually fall into the domain of the book. VERVE :The Other Writing, a celebration of online writing as part of the Adelaide Festival, will be an opportunity to consider the places where writing and the visual arts intersect. This writing finds its place in net art, CD-ROMs, video, film, comics, performance and music.

Derrida has asserted that writing comes before speech. Artists, musicians, performers, filmmakers, thinkers have known this for some time. What constitutes writing? In 1967 he wrote, “…we say ‘writing’ for all that gives rise to an inscription in general, whether it is literal or not and even if what it distributes in space is alien to the order of the voice: cinematography, choreography, of course, but also pictorial, musical, sculptural ‘writing’ (Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, 1974).

The space and place of electronic writing is highly speculative. Many things are being played out: changes to the ways we read and write—meaning how one makes thinking. The conceptual apparatus that draws discernible lines between content, meaning and style as yet lacks the light touch necessary for a critical engagement of hyperscreen works/writing. We are participants in the process of inventing a new critical faculty for reading and writing the art of new technologies. Perhaps a digital age offers possibilities for reclaiming and inventing forms of communication that have been eroded or are not possible via systems of alphabetic logic.

A few different shapes:
Electronic writing as poetics

Poetics leaves from the middle, it writes fragments and seeks to rupture the stability of syntax, sentence and narrative. Writing in this way is like constructing an object; it is like making something sing. Current marketing strategies in book publishing do not welcome shorter formats or writing perceived as ‘difficult’ (ie neither narrative nor poem). The web has provided an opportunity to circulate poetic practices and opened up new networks of exchange. The work may exist on a single screen, the movement and associative/poetic logic happening within the writing itself. One can leave, return, print out the work and hold it close. Linda Marie Walker is preparing a piece called The Sadness Prayer. She talks about “writing as composing, in the way of making a score for musical instruments or an opera. That is with many parts, threads. It is a spatial architecture, working from the ‘inside’ out, constructing a mobility at home, an inner home.”
Electronic poetry

Adelaide writer geniwate, co-winner of the recent trAce/alt-x hypertext competition, is currently working on lost/found, a series of poems that will draw on her recent travels. Stick Figures is a component of lost/found based on childhood nightmares. In a recent email geni wrote, “As an aspect of lost/found, this would be the panic session! It would overtly draw on some part of my experiences of Asia but I’m not clear about that yet. Obviously it’s not really about Asia at all, but being a late 20th century western beast in a complex world.” In an interesting twist on ‘anthology’, components of lost/found will be published simultaneously at different sites. geniwate is good at this writing. She manages to resist the overly literal visual trickery that is fairly prevalent in other e poetry (as in jump jumps). Economic use of Shockwave files ensures a fast download ensuring the interface works well with the intent of the poems.

Cinematic engagement

Michael Atavar’s **** (four stars) has written many a long horizontal scroll. In this UK site links lead away mapping a topography of the body via its movements and practices. A possible identity is created via an inventory of objects and possessions: a ‘narrative’ emerges from a process of repetition and list making. This narrative is not closed, it has no beginning and no end. This indirect writing has the effect of creating an incredible intimacy. The text is minimal, via gaps narrative seeds are sown. (www.atavar.com/)

cipher is a work in progress by ‘collaborators’ Josephine Wilson and Linda Carroli. Email conversations are the anchor for this engagement with a rhetoric that queries the value and the a/effects (now and/or eventual) of desire in the realm of electronic communication(s). There’s a bit of detective work going on. Reading here is a process of constant folding, unfurling of the text. The writing manages to be both playful and deadly serious. Read the story of M (cipher/letterM.html) for a musing on the violent beginnings of alphabetic rule in the classroom.

Mayan hieroglyphics from a codex dated at 998AD are the source for The Plagiarist Codex by Miekal And. Utilising a playful logic, curious cartoon-like hieroglyphs are coupled with an English ‘translation’ eg “real meaning involves another’s thoughts.”

The Artist as Programmer

Australian Melinda Rackham is constructing a site around a theme of some currency. carrier is about viral symbiosis, a play between the organic and machinic. In an email Melinda wrote, “I’ve tried to create an intimacy in the language with an infectious agent applet at the bottom of the screen. This is the intelligence of the site and calls its self “sHe” and addresses you by the name you choose, questioning the user almost seductively as to their preferences, which then guide them through a specific and unique site pathway, dependent upon these answers.” The graphics and sound are mesmerising and I look forward to spending more time with this one on a machine faster than mine.

Linda Marie Walker, The Sadness Prayer and geniwate, stick figures, will be published at the electronic writing ensemble site early September, ensemble.va.com.au where Josephine Wilson and Linda Carroli, cipher, can now be viewed in-process. See page 11. Miekal And, The Plagiarist’s Codex on Gravitational Intrigue, an anthology of emergent hypermedia, CD-ROM, The Little Magazine, Albany, NY. www.albany.edu/~litmag [expired]. Melinda Rackam’s Carrier is now in preview release. www.subtle.net/carrier See page 9.

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 12

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

Traditional art forms have embraced new media in varying degrees, at different speeds. In most, progress has been stop-start, cautious, moreso than with artists who work direct to screen without the variables of, say, performance to take into account. New ways of working (programming, scoring), of presenting work (positioning screens in a performance space, in an installation, in a gallery, in relation to the bodies of performers and audiences), of researching, have had to be learnt from scratch by many artists wanting to explore the multimedia effect of other forms on their vision.

The term ‘multimedia’ has been challenged, at least in principle if not in usage by ‘intermedia’ (Darren Tofts, “Cutting the new media umbilicus”, RealTime/OnScreen #27), suggesting the importance of interplay (rather than the mere multiplicity) of forms and new technology, of the material and the virtual, and the importance of open-ended collaboration.

Under these circumstances, traditional forms blur, intermedia experiments generate hybrids and new works become difficult to categorise. For example, works by Norie Neumark, Philip Samartzis, Nerve Shell, Rodolphe Blois and Randall Wood promise striking visual and environmental experiences but have sound well and truly at their centre, framing and driving their works. It’s not surprising that the word installation has risen to such prominence (and been treated with such critical wariness). The installations listed on these pages are variously sound or video responsive but require participant movement, hopscotch or breath (quite different from the interactivity via mouse and click listed elsewhere in Working the Screen).

In dance and performance, the number of intermedia ventures is steadily multiplying, with notable contributions from Arena Theatre Company, skadada, The Party Line, Company in Space, Brink Visual Theatre, Salamanca Theatre Company, Doppio-Parallelo and others. Dance company Chunky Move have just released a CD-ROM, and choreographers Garry Stewart and Chrissie Parrott are engaged in new media investigations. Visual artists have not been slow to turn to the screen: galleries and contemporary art spaces have become first homes for a large number of new media works, either with one-off exhibitions like Mike Leggett’s Burning the Interface for the MCA, or Artspace and PICA’s continuing hosting and curating of new media shows, or the Bendigo Art Gallery’s current exhibition, byte me, with conference (speakers: Troy Innocent, Jon McCormack, Kevin Murray, Patricia Piccinini, Darren Tofts, James Verdon, Peter Hennessey). There’s Globe e the online journal/gallery. Michael Keighery explores ‘digital ceramics’ at the University of Western Sydney. And recently there’s been an impressive surge in innovative writing ‘in’ the web (tracked in RealTime’s regular hyperfictions and writesites pages) with some significant Australian contributions, prize-winners, and an Adelaide Festival presence in 2000. Public art too has taken to the digital with Patricia Piccinini’s Protein Lattice—Subset Red, 1997, a huge digiprint on a Melbourne building; Robyn Backen’s work-in-progress, the building that speaks, detailed on these pages; Melbourne’s Federation Square outdoor screens; and David Chesworth’s sound installation for the Olympic site (see Keith Gallasch, “Game to play” RealTime #29 page 42). The promise of new media across the arts is steadily being realised—we offer only a few of the many works to be seen shortly.

RealTime issue #32 Aug-Sept 1999 pg. 15

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

Company in Space, Escape Velociy

Company in Space, Escape Velociy

Company in Space, Escape Velociy

Ferocious debate characterised the third international dance and technology conference, IDAT ’99, before it even began. Hosted by Arizona State University in Tempe, this event sought to maintain its status as the foremost international platform for this ever growing field of work—on a tiny budget. So the dance-tech internet mail list blazed for weeks in advance with dramatic vitriol from far-flung artists, angry at the lack of bursaries and fees.

In the event, the international turn-out was impressive, with a strong Australian contingent done proud by Company in Space’s sublime telematic performance in the internet cafe, and the intelligent debate of artists such as Sarah Neville of Heliograph. Whilst there were many Europeans, in particular Brits, who appear to have suddenly woken up to new media in dance, there was naturally a preponderance of Americans and an overdose of academics, so that many of the panels deteriorated into navel gazing. Fortunately the pace of the conference was hot, with 3 events occurring simultaneously at every slot throughout the weekend, so those with an aversion to semiotics were able to busy themselves with workshops and demonstrations.

The potential for creativity offered by pre-existing or artist-invented technologies was clear in the diversity of the performances. The scale of quality was equally well explored. In well-equipped studio and theatre spaces, the presentations ranged from Troika Ranch’s now seminal demonstrations of their patented MidiDancer suit, which alters images and effects in live performance, to the work-in-progress sharings of emerging artists, such as Trajal Harell, dabbling with gadgets in their relation to his mature choreography. There was overwhelming poetry in The Secret Project, a text and movement solo in a Big-Eye environment created by Jools Gilson-Ellis and Richard Povall. The quirky Geishas and Ballerinas of Die Audio Gruppe from Berlin struggled onto a bare stage, to interpret the deafening feedback created by their interaction with Benoit Maubrey’s home-made electro-acoustic suits.

Isabelle Choiniere from Canada offered a terrifying neon-lit Kali figure in her full evening performance, Communion, which scored high for sound and fury but low for the slightest discernable meaning. Local hero, Seth Riskin, took his Star Wars styled sabres to their logical conclusions in Light Dance, an Oskar Schlemmer styled series of tableaux vivants which traced an instructive attention loss curve, where the decline of audience engagement was predicated on the initial impact made by each newly introduced effect. The more we saw, and the more dazzling it at first appeared, the more quickly we grew bored. Jennifer Predock-Linnell had a crack at the good old partnership of dance and film, with strong imagery provided by Rogulja Wolf, and Sean Curran made a small concession to technology by tripping his virtuoso solo in front of some projections. Ellen Bromberg provided the choreography in a collaboration with Douglas Rosenberg and John D Mitchell, and yet her production suffered for its all too well integrated media and fell somehow, slickly slack. Sarah Rubidge and Gretchen Schiller both created touchingly personal environments with responsive performance installation works, and Johannes Birringer and Stephan Silver opened their interactive spaces to marauding dancers in a workshop context.

Many other excellent performances added to the impression of an energetic and abundant art-form, encompassing a dizzying array of practices. There were few shared starting points to be found in any of the events, and this became even more apparent in the debates, which stirred up some exciting disagreements. A panel of artists took on the provocatively titled, “Content and the Seeming Loss of Spirituality in Technologically Mediated Works.” Presentations demonstrated a grounding in the sensual (Thecla Schiphorst’s enquiries into touch and “skin-consciousness” through interactive installations) and the religious (Stelarc’s shamanistic suspensions.) There was talk of the potential for abstraction contained in digitally mediated realms. The informed exchange inspired as many “back-to-basics” anti-technology comments as it did eulogies for hard-wiring and hypertext. Much was made of the fact that new media work in progress is often forced into the guise of finished product, when really it is only the start of a dialogue. The debate polarised; the artist should just dive on in, only this “hands-on” approach will get results; the artist must always approach technology with an idea in mind; technology can only ever facilitate, never create.

At the round table titled “The Theoretical-Critical-Creative Loop”, British artist Sarah Rubidge nailed her struggle to make work and theorise simultaneously by inventing the phrase “work-in-process.” Rubidge is searching for a new way of thinking about the evolving dynamic of productions such as Passing Phases, her installation which offers a route out of authorial control and into the newly imagined realms of genuine audience interactivity. Something innate to the complexity of the technology and its intervention into the experience of the viewer has taken Rubidge’s choreography out of her hands. Still struggling to escape her analytical roots and wary of the ‘inflatory’ language appended to much theorising about this work, Rubidge presented a tentative and thoughtful approach to her parallel roles as artist, academic and writer.

Another British choreographer, Susan Kozel, dissected her approach to the potentially restrictive technology of motion capture. Strapped up with wires, Kozel explores the margins of the technology, testing it to its point of failure. She spoke lucidly about artists working intimately with technology to counteract the idea of depersonalisation. The radical individualism of her appropriation of the motion capture system (to the extent that the bouncing cubes of the animated figure could be “named” according to who was wearing the sensors) was evidence of the vigour of the relationship between the body and technology which she believed to be at the heart of all the work on show in Arizona. There was no shortage of strong opinion at IDAT, and none of it simplistic. Let me leave the last word with a cynical critic from the fiery final panel. Her double-edged sword summarises the conference experience, by provoking exasperation and exhilaration in equal parts, “The more I see of technology, the more I thirst for live performance.”

IDAT 99, International Dance and Technology Conference, Arizona State University, Tempe, Feb 22 – 29

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 35

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

Joyce Hinterding and David Haines, Bruny Island

Joyce Hinterding and David Haines, Bruny Island

Joyce Hinterding and David Haines are Sydney-based artists who have been exhibiting internationally for over 10 years. With an eclectic background that includes a diploma in gold- and silversmithing and a trade certificate in electronics, Hinterding is best known for her work with installations utilising electricity, electromagnetics and acoustics and for the manufacture of idiosyncratic aerials which render visible innate atmospheric energy. Haines specialises in combining apparently incompatible elements into works exploring landscape and fiction and presenting a “constructed world of the imagination.” His work includes painting, video installations, soundworks, computer-generated pieces and text-based conceptual work.

Last summer, Haines and Hinterding arrived in Tasmania for a 3-month residency at the lighthouse on South Bruny Island, south of Hobart. Bruny is a small unspoiled bushland island. Accessible only by vehicular ferry, it has a limited permanent population but is a popular holiday destination. Like the entire southern coast of Tasmania, Bruny is often described as being “as far south as you can go—the last stop before Antarctica…” Haines and Hinterding share a passion for the landscape and the environment so the South Bruny Lighthouse was a logical location for their residency, which was commissioned by Contemporary Art Services Tasmania.

The lighthouse site was made available by the Tasmanian government’s Parks and Wildlife Division and the Arts Ministry, providing a series of artists’ Wilderness Residencies throughout the state. As local arts administrator Sean Kelly notes, the scheme is very appropriate—if somewhat overdue—and should permit a variety of artists, from different backgrounds and disciplines, to work within and from a wilderness base. It could also extend the discourse on landscape art in the state and counteract its tendency towards the purely representational.

Joyce Hinterding describes the lighthouse as a place “where sky, sea and land meet in a space of watchfulness, beacons and signalling.” She explains that the aim was to “create an environmentally low-impact work that involves the use of fictive and imagistic elements directed by environmental data to create a meta-world, an interior and contemplative space, affected by the surrounding environment.”

In essence the work uses the sensitivities of the local environment to “activate an interior space of the imagination”, the interior of the lighthouse containing a light and sound work generated, created and affected by the passing of all sorts of weather and technologies.
The installation utilises computers, data projectors, a sound system with mixing desk, wind monitoring and radio scanning equipment, a digital video camera and editing system plus assorted microphones, modems, data and antennae. The work monitors and decodes the automatic picture transmissions from passing polar orbiting satellites, translating the data into a sound event and a triggering mechanism for other elements of the installation. Wind-monitoring equipment on the lighthouse determines the speed of footage shown, so that shots are shorter and sharper when the wind is strong and more meditative when the wind is low.

Sound and video footage taken from the local landscape is composited with 3D generated systems where the natural world collides with synthetic imagery. The work grows and evolves over the time of the “exhibition” as the database of real and 3D footage increases. Haines and Hinterding regard the work as a contemporary slant on the tradition of remote landscape works, existing outside the gallery system. In effect, the whole lighthouse becomes a multi-layered high-tech installation artwork, a sort of shrine to the possibilities of new media.

During their residency, the artists became part of the Bruny community, welcoming numerous visitors to the site and interacting with the Hobart arts fraternity. The project coincided with the 2-week Curators’ School in New Media organised in Hobart by CAST and ANAT (Australian Network for Art and Technology). The 50 participants from all around Australia visited the artists at the lighthouse to observe the work in progress, an experience highly regarded by all involved.

At Hobart’s School of Art the pair participated in the weekly public forum (in which influential and interesting contemporary artists, designers, curators and arts administrators, both Australian and international, discuss their work). These sessions are usually enlightening, but Haines’ and Hinterding’s presentation, in which they spoke about the residency in the context of their earlier works, was certainly one of the highlights in the forum program to date. With their self-deprecating humour and enthusiasm, the artists were able to take a difficult, even obscure, science-based, specialised subject, expound it to an arts-and-humanities audience, and make it accessible, intelligible—even entertaining and amusing. Like the installation itself, this was quite an achievement.

All quotations from the artists’ statements.

New Media Residency and Installation by Joyce Hinterding and David Haines, CAST, Bruny Island, Southern Tasmania, March – April 1999

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 38

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

Ishmael Houston-Jones, Without Hope

Ishmael Houston-Jones, Without Hope

Ishmael Houston-Jones, Without Hope

antistatic 99…on the bone put on substantial flesh (the programs were labelled Femur, Clavicle, Axis, Atlas and, interestingly for the contemporary performance component, Spur) over its 3 weeks with performances, installations, talks and workshops, bringing a welcome intensity and added intelligence to the Sydney dance scene. Guests from the USA and Melbourne added bodies and dance cultures in perspective. As you’ll read, a few observers and participants thought antistatic’s focus somewhat narrow, ‘homogenous’, lacking in ethnic and aesthetic diversity. In the case of Ishmael Houston-Jones’ querying the cultural breadth of the event, he applies the word festival, which in fact might not fit the event model of antistatic with its focus on very particular dance issues, forms and, inherently, independents and their innovations (as opposed to, say, MAP’s deliberate coverall approach in Melbourne in 1998). For all of its probing, essentialist leanings, antistatic nonetheless displayed some remarkable hybrids, artist and reviewer anxiety over text spoken in performance was much less in evidence than a couple of years ago, and collaborations with composers and lighting designers had clearly made considerable progress with greater integration and dynamic counterpointing of roles. antistatic might not have been a festival in the conventional sense, but it certainly was a feast. Appropriately, one of its highlights was an on-the-floor meal and discussion shared by performers and audience on the penultimate evening of an intimate and open dance event.

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 10

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

Geoffrey Dunstan, Kate Fryer & Rudi Mineur in Risk Reduction

Geoffrey Dunstan, Kate Fryer & Rudi Mineur in Risk Reduction

Geoffrey Dunstan, Kate Fryer & Rudi Mineur in Risk Reduction

RealTime and Next Wave jointly commissioned the writers to talk to the artists and to attend rehearsals and presentations of 4 festival works-in-progress.

Alex Hutchinson:
Adam Broinowski’s Hotel Obsino and Geoffery Dunstan & Kate Fryer’s Projections of Fear

A description of the promo for inVISIBLE energies. A single piece of coloured cardboard, the promo is surprisingly subdued for a youth-related project. It avoids both the spastic application of Photoshop and any of the usual painfully deliberate misspellings which so often haunt similar projects.

A Biography of Adam Broinowski. As a performer Broinowski has worked for many companies, including Stalker (Blood Vessel) and Playbox (Thieving Boy/Like Stars in My Hands) for which he received the 1997 Green Room Award for best lead actor. Work as a devisor/writer includes Gherkin and Bucket of Blood Hotel.

An initial impression of Adam Broinowski. He sits with his legs crossed on the armchair at Bar Open, his fringe rising up from his forehead like sea grass. He talks fast and uses his hands a lot. He seems like the kind of guy you could take home to meet your mother, although you probably wouldn’t want to take her to his play. More on that later.

What is Hotel Obsino? Hotel Obsino is a play based on the real-life Hotel Hotham which squats in the heart of the city on the corner of Flinders and Spencer below a 5 lane train track beside the Yarra at its most effluent opposite Crown Casino and an active police station. The Kennett government wants to demolish it. Broinowski wants to write a play about it.

Where Hotel Obsino is at about a month before the work-in-progress presentation at the North Melbourne Town Hall which takes place about a year before the final presentation in May 2000 at the real-life Next Wave festival. Actually that last part is a lie. Broinowski has already written a play about it. Most of a play, anyway. He describes it as a portrait of an inverse Dante’s Inferno. A hotel populated by retired alcoholics on the ground floor, rising through middle-aged ex-cons to peak at young addicts. He says it’s about another time, another dimension, a sanctuary from Kennett’s dynamic Victoria.

A Biography of Geoffery Dunstan & Kate Fryer. Dunstan and Fryer have performed for various circus theatre companies in Australia including, between them, Circus Oz and Rock‘n’ Roll Circus. They have formed a new company, Dislocate, to create “quality narrative driven productions that combine acrobatic and aerial work simultaneously with text.”

An initial impression of Geoffery Dunstan. Geoffery Dunstan isn’t certain why he’s talking to me at all. It’s a work-in-progress, he says, and the article will come out after the presentation. What is this publicity actually doing? I tell him it’s all about process, about giving people a look at how a project goes from almost nothing to something. That seems to placate him. One of the first things he tells me is that he’s currently working as a body double in a circus themed Neighbours spin-off. I find the idea vaguely terrifying.

What is Projections of Fear? For a start, it might not be called Projections of Fear at all, but could in actual fact be titled Hug Your Monster or Risk Reduction. It’s a performance piece which combines writing with circus acrobatics in an effort to take a different look at the world around us. Dunstan talks about interviewing psychologists and the distance between traditional theatre and circus, and how there are groups on both sides who’d like to keep it that way.

Where Projections of Fear is at about a month before the work-in-progress presentation… Dunstan has just finished a week talking story with his navigator, playwright and director Michael Gow. He says he wants to find a way to create a more physical type of theatre while still hanging on to a sense of narrative. He wants to physically express ideas of social dislocation and try and uncover who it is that the city trains us to be. “Look at kids. From day one they’re taught that everything is terrifying. If people want to contain themselves, that’s fine, but when society does it…”

A note about Navigators. Each of the groups is assisted by a navigator. For Broinowski, this is filmmaker Tony Ayres. For Dunstan and Fryer, this is Michael Gow. Their roles vary. To Broinowski, Ayres is somebody to discuss the play with. For Dunstan, Gow takes a more active role. It’s his job to thread a story through Dunstan and Fryer’s acrobatics.

What’s so fascinating about process? It’s a question posed in various ways by both parties. Says Broinowski “Looking at another’s ‘process’ or the workings/mechanics of something fascinates people. Revealing things, uncovering things, showing the making of things, deconstructing things, pulling things apart.” Maybe it’s the next step along from selling productions by pushing the story of the author not the story itself. Now we can sell the story of how the production was put together. Maybe soon we won’t even need a final product.

Where Hotel Obsino is at a few weeks later. Broinowski’s biggest problem is finding a way to convey the essence of the finished play in a reading. While the final production will be fleshed out with movement, the performance at the Town Hall will be static. “I’m torn between linking the passages with summaries of what would happen there, and just telling stories about the 10 days I spent in the hotel.” Perhaps the most interesting point Broinowski raises is that before he went to the hotel it seemed to him as though the occupants really lived, “unconcerned with careers etc because that had been taken away from them. But afterward, I realised that it was a world I could never be a part of.”

Why show a work-in-progress at all? Broinowski: “In relation to Hotel Obsino, it seems to be very democratic to show a first draft to an audience and to listen to their responses. It gives the maker a feel for what they feel, gives the audience an option to voice an opinion before the work is done and brings a wider opinion than just the maker into the making. Anti-auteur I guess you could say.”

Where Projections of Fear is at a few weeks later. The preparation for Projections of Fear has been cut into 3 parts. The first involved Michael Gow and Dunstan sitting in cafes for a week, getting down on paper what was in Dunstan’s head. It was Gow’s role to build a narrative from Dunstan’s chunks of story. The second stage was Dunstan, Kate Fryer and Rudi Mineur working at Circus Oz, figuring out what they could and couldn’t do together physically. The last period was spent selecting the best aspects of each.

Part of an email from Broinoswki the morning of the presentation. “[Hotel Obsino] is still about poverty and fear in Australia, and the invisible distance between the classes—you could still say Alice in Deroland but less overtly ‘magical.’ It’s another perspective on Melbourne, on life. One that is authentic, though translated through the writer’s eyes. You could say the project has become less about humour, although I have concentrated on keeping it in there, and more about fear, more than I initially expected. And when I think about it I’m not surprised. We’ll see what you get. See you tonight.”

A Description of the North Melbourne Town Hall. A high-ceilinged, wood-floored, typical inner suburban town hall. Not quite a lecture theatre, not quite a stage. All the chairs are portable. The stage curtains are heavy and sea green. There is a kind of Juliet balcony jutting out from the back wall. Dips and cheap red are served at every interval. Thankfully there are no gym mats.

An interesting but mostly irrelevant tidbit about Michael Gow. His greatest fear is becoming an artistic dinosaur.

Ruth Bauer & Katia Molino in Hotel Obsino

Ruth Bauer & Katia Molino in Hotel Obsino

Ruth Bauer & Katia Molino in Hotel Obsino

What the canary yellow photocopied flyer says about Hotel Obsino. Apparently Broinowski is confirming a “present day underclass of political zealots, junkies and assorted dispossessed souls” and has “taken these authentic voices and is interested in moving their stories beyond documentary into his own work of drama.”

What the canary yellow photocopied flyer says about what probably won’t be called Projections of Fear. “Fully integrating acrobatic and aerial work with a narrative”, Projections of Fear explores how “fear affects the way youth relate to society and how the city space informs these fears.”

Hotel Obsino. Filled with foul mouthed fuck-ups and presented in a series of vignettes, Hotel Obsino is dominated by religion, pornography, requests for cigarettes and a character called Nigel. Nigel moves through the work as a kind of initiate, progressing from wide-eyed novice to the point where he begins to take on the strange and wayward logic of the hotel.

More a portrait than a deconstruction, Broinowski pulls out some of the filthiest (and funniest) caricatures of various pieces of human flotsam you’re likely to see. The scariest thing is they were probably not caricatures at all.

The reading by Ruth Bauer, Katia Molino, Ross Thompson and Broinowski is loud, heavily accented and pretty damn good. Although Broinowski says that “the next draft will focus less on the words and more on the theatricality of the events in the play”, there’s already enough there to get your teeth into.

Projections of Fear. For the first half hour Michael Gow summarises the sad, pathetic tale of Country Boy and his unhappy (and sometimes imaginary) relationships with Hitch and Mr Muscle. Using physical confinement to symbolise the emotional and intellectual constraints imposed upon Country Boy by the city, Gow describes an attempt to act out acrobatically a very intellectual deconstruction of the role of society in shaping our personal phobias.

In the physical section of the performance, Country Boy is forced to board a vertical tram after his car breaks down by standing on Mineur’s shoulders. Hitch boards by standing on his. In a nice touch, the rope hanging from the ceiling has 3 real tram hand straps attached. He has elaborate fantasy sex on a photocopy machine and flees an enraged human-sized cockroach. All the while Mr Muscle attempts to protect him from the dangers of germs, bugs and contact with other human beings.

Heavy on the acrobatics and light on the dialogue, it’s a high-energy display of (mostly) non-verbal ideas, and it works. The tiny snippets of dialogue reinforce the acrobatics and better still, the acrobatics actually contribute to the story. Although the performance will likely change before it’s finished, there’s already a lot to be excited about.

A Post-Coital Moment. Afterward Broinowski complains that the audience didn’t talk about the content of the work. All the criticism and suggestion was aimed at the structure and form of the piece. I say maybe this is an extension of people’s fascination with process. Maybe because it’s a work-in-progress presentation the audience feels like it’s on the inside. They all think they’re editors. Fuck that, he says. Did they like it?

A bizarre objection recounted to me by a strange woman in a kaftan after Hotel Obsino. Apparently somebody had left the Town Hall with the following complaint: It just hadn’t been what they expected at all. They wanted a more obviously youth production, more verve, and apparently a much shoddier production. Quality and a decent story weren’t in keeping with the work of people under the age of 35. Apparently.

What You Should Take Away from this Article. There are 2 points I want to emphasise. One: The productions I saw were great pieces which just happened to be put together by young people, not young people’s work being sponsored merely because they were young. And two: There’s a long way to go to May 2000, but please try and remember.

Viviana Sacchero’s Innate

Viviana Sacchero’s Innate

Viviana Sacchero’s Innate

Clare Stewart: Innate and City Blood

This is the way the Concept-city functions; a place of transformations and appropriations, the object of various kinds of interference but also a subject that is constantly enriched by new attributes, it is simultaneously the machine and the hero of modernity.
Michel de Certeau, trans. Steven Rendell,
The Practice of Everyday Life University of California Press, 1984

Let me get this perpendicular: I am a grid girl. I choose a cartesian lifestyle because it satisfies certain fundamental requirements: it keeps me centred. At any point in time I can say “I know where I am”, which substitutes for “I know who I am.” Questions of identity have always disturbed me. A reference point—like map 1A, coordinates G7—is all people really need to think they know me. Leaving Melbourne’s CBD, I experience an immediate sense of vertigo. Taking the No. 57 seven stops to North Melbourne Town Hall for this series of works in progress makes me nervous, disoriented.

The city (its true name) is the topography of my imagination: I live its everydayness and love it as Ideal. In my laneway people dream, fuck, piss, die. People sleep and shoot-up in doorways. People watch each other watch TV. People design lofty visions for future cities. People give birth and bring up children. In my laneway buildings transform, house, leak and crumble. Buildings give surface on which the sounds of occupation and pleasure compete. Buildings block and reveal light. Buildings define the space I name ‘my laneway.’

In this city of people and buildings I am a pedestrian, a resident, a worker, a player—I move in the city and the city moves me. I am part of its machinery and it is my hero. I am part of its process and it is the result.

Viviana Sacchero and Carl Priestly share this sense of citizenship. It is manifest in Innate and City Blood, their respective works for inVISIBLE energies, the city in performance in development. Sacchero’s movement work and Priestly’s soundscape take ‘the City’ as material. They understand it as a physical space and an intellectual concept—they transform it into an object of study and a subject of representation. The city is not backdrop, it is not locale—it is the fabric of the work. Sacchero’s collaborative vision and Priestly’s individual noise do not mess with ideas of utopic or dystopic cities: they put forth clear, valid, interpretations of the city as it is experienced.

Viviana Sacchero’s Innate

“In approaching the curatorial brief of ‘the city’, I wanted to address the pervading sense of things ending—virally, atomically, philosophically…” Sacchero tells me. She is working with 10 movers aged 15 – 24. We are meeting while the work-in-progress is in its first stage of development. I ask her about the group’s perception of the city and she says: “I do not identify with this postmodern notion of ending. The young people on this project have their projections, memories and desires for the future. Dance culture and raves create a very exciting time for movement.

“Innate gives form to the city as a battery of design, icons and iconography and rhythm. It’s about the imprinting of culture, of thoughts and projections, walking, space, medic forms of communication, the ebb and flow of the city, and the idea that the city turns over.” Collaboration is central to the development of Innate. Sacchero worked previously with this youth ensemble on Distance for the 1998 Next Wave festival. Distance was itself a collaboration between Danceworks (director Sandra Parker) and Stompin Youth Dance Company (director Jerril Rechter). [RealTime 26 p. 8] Sacchero’s experience on that project as performer/facilitator led her to choose Jerril Rechter as navigator on this, her debut work as choreographer. She is careful in elucidating her position as a young person developing a piece with this ensemble: “I’m working with 10 young people. We are not participating in this project because of the semantics of youth arts, we are valid cultural participants.”

It is this idea of the ensemble as cultural participants, as citizens and artisans that motivated Sacchero to develop a piece through workshopping: her role as choreographer is to “cut and paste” the experience of the performers. The individuals in the group bring their own ideas of the city to the overall work: Fiona—the experience of the individual and the mass; Elise—the criminal underbelly; Damien and Kyle—the signposts of culture, graffiti; Kimberley—the shadows, the cyclical nature of light; Duncan—the architecture, the permanent edifices of culture; Jasna—the city defined by the interaction of its participants. Sacchero tells me: “their bodies are inscribed with the city and its forms. This document is relevant to the 10 bodies performing it—it does not matter where it is located, it belongs to those bodies.”

This sense of ownership is evident in rehearsal, and even moreso in the staged piece. These movers are not flawless, but they understand what their work is about: a very visible energy, an interpretation and structure that emerges from everydayness and that gives form to difference.

I see the huddle of transport in peak hour, the long shadows of the buildings as they stretch and fade in magic hour. I see the habitualised stamping and stowing of incidental objects. I see danger and pleasure. I see a city defined temporally, spatially. I see narrative in these bodies: the narrative of a lived day, of the strategies and tactics a body uses to negotiate the city. This is not some grand, totalising narrative—it is inclusive and provisionary. Innate makes me feel like moving through the streets of my city.

Carl Priestly with Philip Brophy, City Blood

Carl Priestly with Philip Brophy, City Blood

Carl Priestly with Philip Brophy, City Blood

Carl Priestly’s City Blood

The raw material of City Blood is gathered through pedestrian activity, through communing with real sounds. Priestly tells me: “the use of location recording and surround sound are very important choices. I wanted to capture sounds that would be sonically imprinted, that would activate memories—visual and spatial.” We are meeting toward the end of the first stage of development. I ask him about the importance of location to the staging of the sonic event, concerned about positioning the audience for a sound work. “I want to set up the piece so that sound will move left-right, forward-backward establishing the audience as a relative point, in the same way that an individual in a city is a relative point.
“City Blood configures the pattern of visiting, of arriving, travelling through and leaving a city. This is the pattern of young people, it is my experience of the city. It is experience through a filter: iconic sounds are transformed digitally into metaphoric sounds.” Priestly is a graduate of the Media Arts faculty at RMIT. Over his years at RMIT he has been influenced by his chosen navigator on City Blood, Philip Brophy. During that period, his work has gone through a transition from rock’n’roll to the musique concrète form that City Blood appropriates and reworks. “City Blood reflects on the ‘natural’ sounds of the city, which are not what might usually be considered ‘natural’…what I’m doing is kind of in opposition to new age stuff which takes natural sounds out of context and puts them in a sterile environment. I’m taking machine sounds and making them natural.”

We discuss the limited opportunities for presenting soundscapes, the barriers pushed in order to get work heard, and understood. It is important that City Blood is perceived as a sonic event. Although Priestly has finished recording, and almost finished the pre-performance mix by the time we meet, he points out that the work is not complete until the moment of the live mix. This is essential to the project: “The work takes the body as its central metaphor of the city, especially arteries. It attempts to transform city sounds into neurological information…it is important that City Blood capture the life energy of the city.” The performance enacts that life, that energy—a synchronicity of the pulse of the mix and the mixer, it defines the ‘eventfulness’ of the piece.

I hear the mediated babble of railway announcements, the lurch and blur of traffic momentum. I hear the fetishised hum of communication, the distortion of faxes and modems transferring information. I hear ritual, collision and fear. I hear the city insinuate itself: speak its functionality and its history. This is the expression of the city as a body: morphing and fluxing. This is the city so abstracted, it becomes readable, recognisable. City Blood makes me feel I am walking the streets of my city.

City limits: inVISIBLE energies debated

Innate and City Blood have been developed and presented in a very specific context. The City of Melbourne’s endorsement of Next Wave, its message to its constituency, is that projects of this kind “nurture a culture of contemporary ideas into the 21st Century, support the work of a new generation of artists and encourage young people to engage in the arts” (Cr. Peter Costigan, Lord Mayor, City of Melbourne, Next Wave 1999 program brochure). inVISIBLE energies is itself a political strategy, a component part of the metanarrative of urban and cultural planning. However, the complete project title—inVISIBLE energies the city in performance in development—has so many qualifiers, its position is rendered ambiguous. On the one hand, it wants to make visible the work of young and emerging artists (I take “inVISIBLE energies” to refer to both the idea of surfacing artists and to the subject of the works). On the other hand, it (the title and the project support material) polishes the semantics of youth arts with the rhetoric of the urban designer and practically apologises for the provisionary nature of work in development. It is my disposition to find this precautionary language irritating, to read it as an attempt to contain the participating artists within the boundaries of the project. The problematic nature of this contextualising mode was ardently addressed in the panel discussion, “The Ubiquitous Program Note and Other Working Dilemmas”, where artists, navigators and audience members passionately dissected the difficulties and benefits of developing and presenting material within this framework.

This is Next Wave’s historical (and perhaps, inherent) contradiction: it provides a solid infrastructure for the presentation of new work, an infrastructure designed precisely as a safe zone for young and emerging artists to push limits and test ideas. inVISIBLE energies takes this one step further, using Next Wave’s downtime to construct, and financially support, a space for the development of such works. Next Wave transforms this contradiction into something to live with. It allows practitioners to tactically employ the City’s strategy to their own end, secure in the knowledge that the City requires them in order to be able to celebrate its diversity, in order to be able to lay claim to the political by-line: Melbourne, City for the Arts.

This dynamic was further addressed in “City Views: Where We Live Today, How We Want to Live Tomorrow”, the first of the 2 panel discussions which took place over the 4 days of the presentations (putting North Melbourne Town Hall to good civic use). Fiona Whitworth, Project Officer for the City of Melbourne, put forth her view that council policy positions itself as a concerned guardian or parent, “containing young people and their use of the city.” She cited the CBD skate park as a key statement in the development of a “youth precinct”, the provision of a safe, but not sanitised, space for young people. This is a space (or ghetto) endorsed by urban planners and policy developers rather than everyday users. The small, but vocal, audience argued that skaters would always transform the obstacles designed to deter their activity in public spaces (stepping, benches, ridges etc) into props for new tricks and moves, that they would continue to use the city tactically, illicitly.

Let me get this straight: the act of skating, like walking, “affirms, suspects, tries out, transgresses, respects etc the trajectories it ‘speaks’ (Michel de Certeau)”. Skating and walking are urban tactics which appropriate and transform the space they traverse. Innate and City Blood use movement and sound to articulate the myriad of narratives these appropriations and transformations create. Sacchero and Priestly have actively, and creatively, protected (through representation) the concept of the city as a site of difference and diversity. They have employed the framework of inVISIBLE energies to develop performances which knowingly give form to the city as everyday and Ideal.

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 9

© Alex Hutchinson & Clare Stewart; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Lucy Guerin in 25 Songs on 25 Lines of Words and Art Statement for Seven Voices and Dance

Lucy Guerin in 25 Songs on 25 Lines of Words and Art Statement for Seven Voices and Dance

Described by Felber as “a music/theatrical installation for seven voices” this work explores the liminal zones at the edges of sculpture, painting, dance, sound art through a playful reinscription of Ad Reinhardt’s 25 Lines Of Words On Art: Statement of 1958 into a late 20th century hybrid aesthetic combining retro fit design invoking both earlier avant gardes and contemporary cutting edge graphics. The audience enters a Futurist mise en scene of huge swinging steel rods with light bulbs at the end of them and 7 steel tubes suspended from the ceiling each broadcasting one of the voices from Elliott Gyger’s composition. But one of the most effective elements is the video projection of Lucy Guerin’s 3 movement pieces which haunt the space silently, interrogating the audience from the floor beneath their feet.

The opening of the event featured a live performance from Guerin, one of Australia’s most sought after dancers, whose choreography also echoed elements of the Reinhardt text (#16 verticality and horizontality, rectilinearity, parallelism, stasis). The space (not designed for live arts) was absolutely packed which meant that for most of the performance parts of the audience were unsighted. This resulted in a strange theatre of frustration where members of the audience shrugged their shoulders, huffed and puffed, rolled their eyes, unconsciously entering the piece as they unexpectedly reacquired their bodies in the absence of a line of sight. Reinhardt would have loved it…#24 the completest control for the purest spontaneity.

Though all the disparate elements of the work arise from a reading of the Reinhardt text, no attempt has been made to force them into a hokey mimetic relationship. They simply accompany each other and gaze at each other disinterestedly, allowing room for an audience to move, at least in an intellectual sense…The piece is accompanied by a beautifully finished book which features interviews with the artists and reproductions of Felber’s images, stills from Guerin’s dances and the musical scores for the 25 songs with a CD. Credit Suisse (among others) sponsored this piece and you can see where the money went! Thankfully it has been put to good use.

25 Songs On 25 Lines Of Words On Art Statement For Seven Voices And Dance, artist Joe Felber, composer Elliott Gyger, dancer/choreographer Lucy Guerin, curator Victoria Lynn, AGNSW, March 28 – May 2. The work will tour other galleries throughout 1999 and 2000.

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 40

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

“If we never meet I hope I feel the lack…”
James Jones, Thin Red Line

Fingers poised on the keyboard. Ready. Set. Log in. These days I have to wear a wrist support when I work: this body is making a protest about speed and repetition. Internet Relay Chat and email are fast and random. Channelling through the limited bandwidth of online communication text prevails in email, IRC, MOO/MUD or Website, shifting the vernacular of the ‘written’ word if not its preponderance. Online communities are most obviously communication-based and driven, formed of meetings which emerge from these hectic flows.

In 1998, the Adelaide-based Electronic Writing Research Ensemble produced a project called Ensemble Logic, curated by Teri Hoskin. As an introduction to online writing communities, it presented an opportunity to venture into unknown writing terrains with a cohort of like-minded strangers. For 4 months, Ensemble Logic engaged theorists, artists and writers to consider an electronic poetics. They presented ‘lectures’ and met regularly to discuss, participate in and produce writing. All of these activities took place online. Throughout the project an email list was maintained for ongoing discussion, investigation and writing. Running through the telephone lines connecting the machines at which we worked and mused, a writing nexus developed.

There are faultlines and we cross them, making connections, affinities. In this context, the ‘virtual community’ is formed, as Sandy Stone claims, as “a community of belief.” (Michael Benedickt, Cyberspace: First Steps, 1992)

In Ircle, the command for entering a chatroom is ‘join.’ Meeting convened. Chat bounces between a half dozen or so writers: an extract from an Ensemble Logic Internet Relay Chat lecture/discussion:

Sue: do you think the web offers new opportunities…
Sue: for writers to experience fiction for real?
mez: makes for confused email pardners;-)
amerika: yes, definitely
amerika: without it I never meet any of you & that would be a much less interesting life!
tink: i agree…
ti: im wondering how some conceptual artists see this environment, clipper, got any ideas on this one?
mez: art m-ulating write m-ulating life m-ulating…..?
clipper: im thinking of 70s events and happenings
ti: yes, the connectivity is very important

Writing. Community. Virtuality. Each word catalyses and interacts. Virtuality, as some kind of ontological register, seems to renegotiate traditional and generational ideas about both writing and community. Simultaneously, I am sympathetic, nostalgic and agonistic. I use the term ‘community’ sceptically and charily.

Community is a term I distrust even though the values it evokes—participation, belonging, trust, civility, etc—appeal to me. How do you measure a value? Founded on assumptions about consensus, rationality and collectivity, community seems to be a calcified myth of rational society which privileges and edifies the normative and unitary. An unnecessary tension exists between the individual and community. Virtuality traces and splits difference along paths.

And writing? It confounds me. Operating as a communicative contingency, the virtual writing community forms (in and as) a networked environment, a cyberspace for writing with no horizon. For Donna Haraway, “this is a dream…of a powerful infidel heteroglossia (Simians, Cyborgs and Women, 1991).” Through and across this space we experiment with and negotiate connections, networks, collaborations, difference, language, writing, virtuality. These experiments are undertaken under the auspices of community for the purposes of writing: to boldly go where? McKenzie Wark argues in his recent book, Celebrities, Culture and Cyberspace, “cyberspace contains within it many possible forms of community and culture that have yet to be actualised” (Pluto Press, 1999).

Writing communities, public forums or online writing resources are established as adjuncts to university programs: courses are conducted or resourced in part or whole online. These days, so many universities are offering online programs. An example is the Networked Writing Environment (http://www.ucet.ufl.edu/writing/nwe.html – link expired) at the University of Florida where Gregory Ulmer works and consults (http://www.elf.ufl.edu/~gulmer – link expired). Another example is the Hypermedia Research Centre (http://www.hrc.wmin.ac.uk), a loose collective of artists, writers, academics and designers developing hypermedia as an artform. Partly, such initiatives are the result of funding restraints, decentralisation, R&D, open learning and flexible delivery. They are also driven by the promise of pedagogical and cultural innovation and inquiry offered by online environments; the opportunity to adapt and divide the culture of higher education. Universities can be considered ready-made ‘communities’, so the shift online can seem supplementary, a means of extending a collaborative, learning and communicative environment via email list and IRC or MOO into virtuality, attracting new or different ‘markets’ or constituencies. As well, publics tend to form around various journals, e-zines, homepages and other cultural ventures. Seemingly, these nodes become organising, connecting or focal points for a multitude of networks.

While based at a university, trAce Online Writing Community (http://trace.ntu.ac.uk – link expired) is an independent writing environment and resource delivering a range of programs courtesy of lottery-generated funding (US$500,000) from the Arts Council of England. trAce operates out of 4 rooms in Nottingham Trent University in the UK. It sustains a global community in real and virtual space for writers and readers. trAce’s Director, Sue Thomas, has been writing inside the text-based world of LambdaMOO since 1995. MUDs and MOOS are designed to encourage the shared construction of an environment in which writers/players can interact with others and with objects. The environments are immersive, collaborative and polyvocal. People come and go.

At trAce, interactive technologies are used for multiple purposes. While there are MOO rooms, hosted by LinguaMOO, for engaged writing, there are also online lectures, meetings and tutorials, writers in residence, conferences and a discussion email list. trAce also publishes the online journal frAme and hosts webpages and projects including the Noon Quilt and the recently announced trAce/alt-x International Hypertext Award (see WriteSites). For the uninitiated a range of linked resources and instructions explaining MOO are a link away. trAcespAce at http://crash.tig.com.au/~garu/ts.htm – link expired) is a site dedicated to representing the experiences and interactions of trAce members. During Ensemble Logic, Thomas delivered ‘Imagining the Stone’, a MOO-based presentation and tour of 4 rooms:

.nathan. says, “one also has to be electrate too…”
dibbles says, “virtual disappeared faster…..almost faster than the eye can read”
teri says, “the transcience, the timeliness”
spawn says, “a girl (or two) could very easily get left behind in this conversation”
You [Sue] say, “this idea of electracy – can you explain it for posterity and the cap file?”
dibbles says, “there is no trace… pardon the pun”
smile dibbles
You smile at dibbles.
teri says, “[Greg] ulmer writes that electracy is to the digital what literacy is
to the book”
teri says, “that is, we must become literate in the peculiarities of this environment”
You say, “let’s move to the next room and hear your thoughts”
teri says, “and maybe learn to touch type:-)”
You say, “type on”

Emerging from these encounters are practices which are ‘grammatological’, which interrogate Writing, Community and Virtuality from within. It’s so tempting to put some kind of mathematical symbol between these words which adds, subtracts, multiplies, divides or equals. It’s tempting to turn them into an equation for a better life that strives towards an idealised ‘other-world’ rather than live, make, imagine and play with them as part of this multifaceted and networked world. Writing, Community and Virtuality are apprehended in lost and found ways in a lost and found world.

Linda Carroli is a Brisbane-based writer, visual artist and curator whose works and work-in-progress can be found at http://ensemble.va.com [link expired].

An m-pression of interacting online at trAce by Teri Hoskin. Source: trAcespAce. Reprinted with permission of the artist.

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 15

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

As part of antistatic, choreographer-dancer Julie-Anne Long and I created Rememberings on Dance, a performed conversation in which we attempted to harness a little of the electricity generated by the event. Looking at the ways memory operates in performance and its reception by audiences, we began by admitting to personal lapses: when Julie-Anne is taken by a particular movement, she has a strong desire to see it again and finds it difficult to see the rest; whereas I retain overall atmosphere and feel but rely on conversation to recall precise moves. We spoke from a table covered with books (about memory and dance), notes, pens and markers. Julie-Anne had a knot around one finger with a large ball of string handy beside here. At one point she rolled up her sleeve to reveal more reminders scribbled in biro.

We began with “Doing a Dumas”, a conversation about Julie-Anne’s recent experience working on Russell Dumas’ Cassandra’s Dance which opened antistatic. I quoted Russell from an interview in Writings on Dance: “(The dancers are) not trying to produce how they’re being seen. The trick is to have the work just out of grasp so that the dancers’ focus is just on doing the task rather than displaying the task or mastery of the task.” In answer to my question about the task, Julie-Anne demonstrated a fragment of the process:

JAL “Well, okay, you might take a move like this (SHE LIFTS WEIGHT ONTO THE RIGHT LEG, LETTING THE LEFT LEG ROTATE BEHIND AND SWING BACK OUT TO THE SIDE). We’ll go over and over it for hours, days to learn where the weight is, how the muscles respond to this particular way of moving. The next day, Russell might come in and teach the move in an entirely different way as if the other had never existed.”

VB So you’re forgetting at the same time as working towards a deep memory of the moves…And is the audience witnessing your remembering?

JAL Once we enter the frame we concentrate fully on executing the task. The audience is peripheral.

Along with memory in performance, the idea of the audience and its acknowledgment in the works presented at antistatic became a focus for our talk. In “Susans”, we concocted a conversation which might have occurred following the performance of Ros Warby’s original home. The conflicting memories of 2 women with almost the same name competed with Dionne Warwick’s of Always Something There to Remind Me.

Susan: I felt I had entered some strange terrain in which time had stopped. The bodies had forgotten themselves. Movement was absolutely ineffectual.

Suze: I remember something unnaturally “natural” in which 3 performers were either totally uncomfortable or too comfortable.

Later I confessed to a theory I’d started hatching as I watched original home. One of the pleasures of events like antistatic is the opportunity to see a lot of work and suggest some connections.

VB When Shona Innes rolled across the floor and landed against the wall and seemed stuck there as though she’d forgotten what happened next I was wondering why dancers would be feeling forgetful about their bodies? Why now?

JAL Oh, I think they’ve been thinking like this for a while—too long I’d say.

VB Thinking what?

JAL How the dancing body feels to the dancer, simple as that.

The ensuing awkward pause in the conversation forced us into the next section, “Something else”, in which the hazy memories of one were prompted by physical clues from the other. The topic—Rosalind Crisp’s work proximity.

VB I took a friend who said to me afterwards—(SHE STOPS AND JULIE-ANNE GESTURES WITH HER EYES) “I’ve never seen a dancer so self-absorbed. She almost didn’t need an audience”…I was shocked. Then she said this didn’t mean she hadn’t enjoyed the work. On the contrary she admired the dancing…it’s strength and lightness.

JAL Why would that shock you?…The audience watches the dancer…(VIRGINIA FEELS HERSELF ALL OVER)…feeling how her dancing body feels to her.

In the same program, Lisa Nelson’s remarkable work Memo to Dodo produced more divergent memories.

JAL I couldn’t work out whether this was Lisa Nelson or a personification of something else. Was she looking at us, was she seeing us as those eyes shifted in and out of focus…

VB This one added some more to my theory. So did Ros Crisp’s “dead hand” as you call it. Lisa Nelson’s body looks like it’s asleep…it’s alert, then barely conscious, forgetful. It moves to instructions from an invisible presence on a crackly recording.

JAL The movement is expert but it has no ulterior purpose.

VB Meaning bounces round the room, just out of grasp.

(Later in the week, Lisa Nelson said of this work “My dances are vision-guided, not eye guided. At first I saw this as a way to flex my visual muscles and to stimulate the imagination in my body. The muscles, the lens—it’s the full orchestration. I just have tremendous sensation there. I always have had, ever since I was kid.”)

Jude Walton’s elegant Seam re-surfaced in slow stabs at memory—screen, film, pen, hand, writing, hysteria, translation, paper, pins, breathing, a body beneath, breathing, a curtain revealing, red, screams red, slip, screen, ocean, endless ending…

Whereas our memories of Helen Herbertson’s Morphia Series—Strike 1 tumbled over each other.

VB That sense of senses deprived. Forced to peer, squint into the dark, into the ghostly glow of the proscenium and…

JAL Love, love, LOVED the fire!

But when we tried to remember precisely—

VB Do you remember what Helen Herbertson was doing? How she was moving?

JAL (ATTEMPTS THE MOVEMENT BUT CAN’T CAPTURE IT). Whatever it was, I know I just loved it.

To elicit a bit more detail from our memories of the Femur program which featured highly memorable works by Ishmael Houston-Jones, Jennifer Monson and the improvising duo Trotman and Morrish we tried Lisa Nelson’s workshop technique in which dancers create complex improvisations triggered by a set of instructions (Enter, Play, Reverse, Repeat, Exit) called from the sidelines. We improvised with a set of sentences, discovering our memories of these works were less conflicting.

JAL They take the space. Demand our attention.

VB Her body is charged, circuits kicking in, synapses snapping. Body at full stretch.

JAL Presentational. Acknowledge the audience. The dancers stood in front of us. I settle when I feel that.

VB She goes about her work, as we watch. Like that song, “Busy doing nothing working the whole day through, trying to find lots of things not to do.” Occasionally she acknowledges us. Just enough. Dean Walsh swears she winked at him.

In the final sequence in the performance, “Butoh Memory”, we substituted objects on the table for memories of the performances in Spur.

JAL Needles in eyes (scissors).

VB Speed contained (a book of matches).

As we lifted each object/memory we placed it in a bag and left the room and the table empty.

As always, the conversation continues. Julie-Anne’s memories affect my own recall of antistatic as do other conversations had at and after the event. At the dinner conversation on the penultimate night, Lisa Nelson talked about the dilemma of people being able to look at dance. It’s “so removed”, she said. She thinks dancers need to re-invent, reframe the ritual and share some of the incredible things that happen in a dancer’s body-mind, to show the intelligence at work behind the movements. Dancers need to ask themselves, why do that? Why add another move? And sometimes, “Oh, God, take some away!” The aim should be to make something visible not to support “an illusion of necessity.” She says, “Sometimes it feels like it’s important to someone but it’s hard to say why. And sometimes, let’s face it, it’s hard to watch someone so….committed.”

On the same night, Ishmael Houston-Jones talked about performing his work Without Hope. “It’s changed a lot. Sometimes I find it too emotional to tell about my friend who’s dying. Suddenly one night I find myself talking instead about a picture I’d seen about what elephants do, how they go off by themselves to find a place to die…” Having felt the power of his performance, such a significant change was at first inconceivable. And then it wasn’t.

Axis: Julie-Anne Long & Virginia Baxter, Rememberings on Dance, April 11

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 14

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

Peter Sheedy & Csaba Buday, II (two)		video capture

Peter Sheedy & Csaba Buday, II (two) video capture

Peter Sheedy and Csaba Buday have worked together before, but never like this. As the Choreographic Centre’s first Fellows for 1999, they had a few weeks to explore the national capital, workshop their ideas, and then bring it all back to the studio to create II.(two) New to Canberra, they brought a keen eye for the strange quality of the place—the beauty, the linear/circular nature, and even the sterility. Choosing sites of interest, they worked with composer Ben Walsh and video artist Bridget Lafferty.

Airport. A visitor’s first impression, the Canberra Airport is captured here by night in an opening video. From a static vantage point, the camera picks up the blurry lights of the runway and the distant trucks and cars as they move slowly across the screen.

Railway. They sit, backs to each other, on 2 standard railway platform benches, waiting, fidgeting, thinking, never making eye contact. When movement begins, it is small but rapid, startling in the scene. Balancing on the back rim of the chair, suspending the moment, before flying into each other. As they confront each other through increasingly daring eye contact and physical closeness, it’s athletic, aggressive even. Their heavy breathing carries through the tiny space, hanging over the stillnesses in between the energy.

Brickworks. The film projected on the back scrim shows one of the many caverns in the disused Canberra Brickworks. Buday and Sheedy appear, sweeping the sand with their feet. The pace escalates as they kick the sand and it goes flying, and they seem to jump up the walls. The score uses sounds of machinery, bells clanging and hollow rumblings, evoking a sense of the history and atmosphere of the site. Then they are in the space, in reality, with the projected image of the Brickworks hovering behind. They use contact work that progresses to visual contact only, with Buday’s shadow playfully exposing and covering Sheedy.

Sculpture Garden. Projections of the Fiona Hall garden in the National Gallery of Australia illuminate the space. Sheedy’s solo is first. He hangs from a crude set of monkey bars, one arm holding his limp body, feet dragging beneath him as he twists to spin himself from the structure. He climbs, jumps, and falls sharply; the momentum increasing and diminishing randomly. Buday uses the space differently, with sculptural movements between the shadows and projected images. Both men have an awareness of the quality of their every movement and how this relates to the performance environment.

Olympic Pool. Fully clothed, with goggles, Sheedy and Buday are filmed from within the Olympic Pool at the National Institute of Sport. It’s a playful, absurd moment: they run in a distorted slow motion, move about ridiculously, Sheedy checks the time on his wristwatch, and it all happens to a remix of Elvis’ Suspicious Minds. II (two) works well for these unique choreographers, in many ways thanks to the rare luxury of research and development provided by the Choreographic Fellowship.

Peter Sheedy and Csaba Buday, II (two), The Choreographic Centre, Canberra, March 18 – 20

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 35

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

Georgia Carter, Jennifer Newman-Preston in Young woman glass soul

Georgia Carter, Jennifer Newman-Preston in Young woman glass soul

Georgia Carter, Jennifer Newman-Preston in Young woman glass soul

Young woman glass soul is a multimedia work conceived by Jennifer Newman-Preston in which dance is the governing thread with puppetry, illusion, images, sound and words as integral elements: images are by Vinn Pitcher; words and storytelling by Victoria Doidge; music by Alexander Nettelbeck with vocal harmonics by Joseph Stanaway; projection by Tim Gruchy, video scripting and direction by Joanne Griffin. Young woman glass soul explores the Cinderella fable for contemporary resonances taking on no less than six versions of the story—the goddess Isis; a Brazilian fable in which a sea serpent plays godmother; a Cinderella variant in the context of a Muslim women’s ritual; the German folk tale of Aschenputtel or Ash Girl; Charles Perrault’s “The Little Glass Slipper”—commissioned by Louis XV—as well as the Walt Disney version. Young woman glass soul opens at Bangarra Theatre July 1.

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 36

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

Lisa O’Neil, Cityscapes

Lisa O’Neil, Cityscapes

Lisa O’Neil, Cityscapes

Brisbane Riverside development—a maze of boardwalk, white cement, grey bollards, busy eateries and granite steps. A deep melancholic note like a foghorn at world’s end draws my attention to a phantasmic pair of Gothic characters (incongruous in the midday bustle). With a hauntingly lyrical flourish from vocalist Christine Johnston and a desolate jangle of her beckoning bell, the Gothic heralds (with Lorne Gerlach on trombone) wordlessly lead us off on a tour of the dance life that abounds in the crevices and crannies of this unlikely habitat, thanks to Cherry Herring’s Dance Week offering, Cityscapes, 5 site-specific works by 5 choreographers bringing dance to a public space.

First stop: a deserted beach. Barely washed ashore, a half submerged human corpse shudders, and gropes, rising from the shallows, tearing at the plastic bag that contains its head, dragging itself from its swampy death. So far Brian Lucas’ Golum has me convinced. Standing now on the river bank, Golum moves, Golum dances, Golum even points its toes. Now something gets lost; the piece flickers between dancer, Lucas, and swamp-monster Golum. Aside from intrusions of contemporary technique, Golum is mindful of his stagecraft. Odd. From our off shore position we observe from afar Golum’s private moment of returning to the world of the living. But Golum the dancer turns back towards the water from whence he came, to face his audience, to dance to us, before stalking off, away from us, into the city…This crepuscular being, who might have emerged from the Paris sewers, is glimpsed again later, more sustained, haunting the tour, still capable of invoking a chill spinal response despite the executive workaday atmosphere.
Jean Tally and John Utans use contemporary vocabulary in more conservative ways. Tally utilises a shallow moat of ankle deep water in a beautifully lyrical, if safe, formalist expression of the aesthetics of wind and water. Less dancerly and self conscious, Utans’ Boardwalk proves memorable in its simplicity; an unaccompanied celebration of movement in particular spaces. Viewed from a distance, the exploration of perspective and architectural feature becomes the viewer’s role. On a second viewing, I am disappointed to find that its ‘a capella’ effect was due to technical problems. With its intended soundtrack of contemporary music (inappropriately positioned behind the audience) Boardwalk loses much of its subtlety.

Katie Joel abandons technique for comedy. Her Cinderella-cum-luxury car ad gone wrong certainly amuses, amongst others, a black suited tableaux preset on the steps of the Brisbane Polo Club—4 matching executives who, a theatrical setting in themselves, become implicated by chance into Joel’s choreography. After all, we are outside the lobby of Brisbane’s most prestigious corporate address.

Around the corner Lisa O’Neil emerges from her ultramarine satin hoop-skirt and threatens to dive into the lobby fountain. With signature Suzuki physical control, she advances toward the glass exterior wall. Facing us from the inside, her staccato duet with the window uses contrasts, repetition and a strong sense of rhythm and playfulness to evoke desire, frustration, and resistance until, stalled in her repetitions, swamp-man reappears to carry her limp body away. A brilliant sense of drama inherent in movement detail and dynamics informs this well-crafted performance by a consistent and self-assured choreographer. Then the whole is closed by a requiem hymn for trombone and voice from our Gothic hosts.

Except for O’Neil’s Foyer, contemporary dance vocabulary was the bottom line here. One wonders what different juxtapositions might have been precipitated had a more diverse movement language been explored. Reflecting on Cityscapes, I can’t help feeling that contemporary technique, like guitar music, is one of the great beige equalisers of performing arts.

Cityscapes, The Cherry Herring, curator Shaaron Boughen, choreographers Brian Lucas, Jean Tally, John Utans, Katie Joel, Lisa O’Neil; performers Christine Johnston, Lorne Gerlach, Brian Lucas, Joseph Lau, Michelle Spearman, Danae Rhees, Glen McCurley, Sara Toso, Samara Skubij, Katie Joel, Phil Knight, Helen Prideaux, Lisa O’Neil, Riverside Centre and environs, Brisbane, April 23 & 30

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 36

© Indija N. Mahjoeddin; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

The Mercury Cinema was the venue to host the final manifestation of bergbau, a 4-part series of chance-based art events held at the Lion Arts Centre in Adelaide’s west end. Presented by elendil, MRC’s new media coordinator, bergbau and its ensemble of local sound engineers, filmmakers and artists set out to experiment with the synergism of sight and sound through developmental combinations of old and new media technology.

Throughout the performance I felt myself shifting restlessly from anthropologist to engaged participant. The dexterous display of geekery from the technical crew hunkering around elaborate consoles in the shadows beneath the screen, was often far more captivating than the hypnotic streams of light and sound resulting from their adroit manoeuvres. After attempting to consciously collude with the gaudiness of the techno-wizardry going on around me, I began to grow weary, reaching for fleeting windows of escapist immersion.

Picture theatres invite a physical lethargy that forms part of the entertainment, as cinema audiences trade the vulnerability of their static bodies for the sanctified and total engagement of mind. To wilfully partake in this hoaxing of consciousness we require the complete collaboration of the senses. Theatres harbour the ritual grafting of external narratives to the individual experience of self through the acquiescence of bodily comfort and safety. If the collaboration of body and mind is in any way interrupted (if your bladder is about to erupt or someone in front keeps rustling that chip-bag) it is impossible to attain that state of lethargy required to really transpose your conscious beliefs into the psychic space the film is attempting to invoke. Filmmakers have made their life-work out of convincing audiences that what they see and hear occurs simultaneously and without mechanical intervention. The artists within bergbau, however, attended to the amplification of mechanical intervention within the duration of the performance, creating a noticeable rift between the cueing up of sensory input and the delivery of sensory output. The quilting of archived film snippets with what appeared to be live web-cam grabs and DJ’d sound generated some gorgeously bizarre dialogue: the resulting compositions made for some delightful aural and pictorial experiences. Unfortunately, the architecture of the Mercury Cinema made little contribution towards sustaining the audience’s involvement or augmenting the atmosphere bergbau would have attained, had the audience been able to move around within the space. I felt it may have been interesting, given that the ‘operation room’ of the show was exposed, to display the images appearing on the screen in reverse, as if we, as an audience, were tapping into the back projections of a spectacle directed at an audience on the opposite side of the screen.

Within the context of a rave, revealing the performative ‘means of production’ of sound artists, musicians, visual and performance artists is a major part of the art itself. In the context of a sit-down theatrical event, however, I feel that the experience of those audience members within the physical parameters of bergbau may have been sacrificed for the benefit of a remote audience receiving a live stream of the event across the internet via r a d i o q u a l i a. As often is the case with art ‘happenings’, fixed and catalogued documentation will hard-wire the forms our memories seek to recreate them. The documentation of bergbau (http://www.va.radioqualia.com.au/
bergbau
) would make for an exquisitely beautiful aural/pictorial if treated not as false advertising but as another plateau for the work to spread.

bergbau, Mercury Cinema, April 11, online at www.radioqualia.va.com.au/bergbau

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 26

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

If the installation Shock in the Ear (Artspace, 1997) and the subsequent CD-ROM of the same name are anything to go by, Dead Centre: the body with organs, a new installation from Norie Neumark and collaborators should entertain, disturb and certainly make you think—re-think, that is, your relationship with your body and with computers. The usual analogy between brain and computer is out. Norie Neumark thinks that scientist often get the analogies wrong. What if we thought of the computer as a body instead of a brain—we feed it, it ingests, digests, processes, absorbs, erupts, excretes. What if we re-thought our bodies instead of living out the Anglo model of bodily experience. As Lynn Payer in Culture and Medicine has described it, the British are bowel centred, the French look to their livers, the Germans to the heart and the circulatory system, the Americans see the body as a machine, the East is elsewhere altogether. As for Australians, that’s something to reflect on, but it’s not surprising that Neumark has invoked the Dead Centre. She has written: “I first understood my body as cultural one day when, after overeating in Italy, I complained of a stomach ache, but my Italian friends bemoaned their livers. How did they know where their livers were? I wondered…a decade later and thanks to acupuncture, I not only know where my liver is but experience its symptoms and can even track it to various tender points on my feet and legs.” Historically and culturally our organs travel about. And therefore one of the key figures in Dead Centre is travelling, the other is the computer as an organ of digestion and transmission.

To encourage this reconfiguring of our metaphorical habits, Neumark works through stories she’s collected, performances, sounds, still images and projected animations, “that fracture the ‘natural’ body.” The images by digital visual artist Maria Miranda entail X-Rays, scans, the skeleta of the computer and body organs, but avoid the literalness of western images of the body. The vocal track (pre-recorded by sound artist/performer Amanda Stewart to text by Neumark but also performed live improvising with herself on several occasions during the installation’s gallery life) also fragments and transforms. Stewart, a distinctive poet, reports that she’s enjoyed the rare process of working to someone else’s text and is looking forward, says Neumark, “to reacting in a lateral way to a mixture of memory systems.” Composer and programmer Greg White, writes Neumark, “creates the pulses which hold the room/machine together and has designed special software to enable the complex sound design.” Neil Simpson lights the space in which Miranda’s image-printed sheets of copper and silk will hang. Six loud speakers will “express the organs”, drawing on Stewart’s performance and sounds from the Dead Centre sound art piece Neumark produced earlier for ABC FM’s The Listening Room.

I ask if the radio work forms the template for the installation. Neumark says yes and no, a lot of other things happen as the work transforms from one medium to another. She likes the creative accidents that happen The one thing that is constant, she insists, is her preoccupation with sound. For all the visual appeal and drive of Shock in the Ear and Dead Centre it is sound which is at the heart of these works. The voice too is of the body and carries its own cultural baggage. An important part of Neumark’s ongoing project has been to see how sound artists can work with visual artists. In a few months, Neumark, a Senior Lecturer in Media Arts Production, University of Technology Sydney, will return to the United States for a year on a Society for the Humanities Fellowship at Cornell University, teaching a course she’s designed and doing a lot of work on her next project, about the envelope making machine—her grandfather invented the device and also the envelope with window—and the genealogy of email. It’s a work about the desire to create ‘envelopes’ and the culture of invention.

Dead Centre: the body with organs, The Performance Space Gallery, July 8 – 22. Live performances with Amanda Stewart July 8, 11 & 18.

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 28

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

Working between the ‘physical’ space of the gallery and the ‘virtual’ space of online environments is something I expect we will see more of as visual artists seek to inject some of the differences and possibilities of online environments back into the gallery. As a website Diagnostic Tools Corp.™ effectively utilises the now familiar corporate interface to offer the user an array of well plotted paths. The critical intent is quite literally stated with all the hyperbole of intrusive and marginalising www advertising. Autocratic questionnaires construct consumer profiles for your future shopping ease; banner ads flash their banal messages begging you to ‘up’ their ‘hit’ counter; the promise of all—the return of little.

The much vaunted ‘interactive interface’ (ie a form) invites the user to ‘input’ a paranoid episode to the Paranoid Poetry Generator. Text gleaned from user submissions return in the gallery as sound bytes emanating from the Paranoid Interface. This imposing black edifice reminiscent of large machines built to view small things (or Darth Varda perhaps) is replete with conspiratorial surveillance theories. The viewer climbs the black rubber clad steps and looks through a distressed-metal framed slit and beholds an eye. One could hope that this horribly beautiful eye in the centre of the inky black was actually winking, but I think it is a little more sinister than that.

Four large light box panoramas (Blueprints for Diagnostic Tools for the New Millennium) are mounted on the gallery wall. The composite images aptly summon what Paul Mann in “Stupid Undergrounds” calls the “whole dumb hollow of culture.” Online they exist on a smaller scale as Quicktime VR files (Quicktime VR places the viewer [by dint of their mouse] at the pivotal point of the picture. The pivot is central). Each panorama has a sales pitch, for example “‘Technologize’ nature and ‘Naturalize’ technology with this bi-directional consciousness filter. Blur the boundaries between the two, collapse the categories and profit from the undifferentiated mess.”

“FUZZY LOVE DIAGNOSTICS…confirming that technologically enhanced love is logical and data dating is the future love vector.” The Fuzzy Love dating service for both gallery and website visitors (dis)functions differently in both spaces. Details can be entered in either environment. The gallery interface is more complex and entertaining. The prospective client can devise their own ‘image’ (depending upon their imagination as to how best to meet the eye in the eye so to speak). The snapshot then joins an array of flickering portraits of other fuzzy clients. Within firmly set paradigms (the quintessential being the assumption that net users are chiefly in search of love) one can construct an identity based on values and sexual preference. Without a net connection the gallery service fails to deliver a result. This is by design but perhaps this intention is a little overstated and unnecessary.

As an indication of how quickly things change in the domain of internet parlance, the 1997 work comes across as slightly dated. The artists’ intent in the gallery was to isolate the user and stress the solitary nature of these love match pursuits. It becomes instead a site for light relief and chat (of the flesh kind) amongst those who wish to break with the dead-end narratives of humanism’s losses represented by the other works. It is quite likely that new networks amongst gallery goers would actually be made if, charged with a wine or 2 and the encouragement of flesh world friends, you could follow up on your perfect match immediately. Perhaps now Diagnostic Tools has finished its round of gallery tours (Adelaide was its last stop after Berlin, Canada and Sydney) Fuzzy could be developed into a fully functional web dating service.

In the realm of utility Diagnostic Tools for the New Millennium could be very useful for teaching. The hands-on critical approach to the colonising of the web by the corporate apparatus is unique. Here every component of the monstrous culture machine is a device or a tool. The project revels in the bipartite realms of private/public (inside/outside); original/copy (intellectual property/information wants to be free); flesh world/virtual world (innocence/culpability). Binaries are always a good place to leave from.

Diagnostic Tools for the New Millennium, Josephine Starrs and Leon Cmielewski, Experimental Art Foundation, March 25 – April 4, online at http://starrs.banff.org [expired]

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 27

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

Jennifer Monson, Keeper

Jennifer Monson, Keeper

Jennifer Monson, Keeper

Comparing each artist’s entrance, I watched the tiny envelopes of ideas unfold in those first few seconds. Jennifer Monson made a racket climbing down a ladder in the dark, a hand-held light bouncing off chunky bare legs, strong feet; but also a feeling of precariousness, a rattling looseness, of missing her step. Ishmael Houston-Jones did not want us to see him at all, yelled to make the lights go out, sang a song in which he called a moth, “Here mothy, mothy, mothy.” He calls our focus to his voice. Trotman and Morrish entered with all the subtlety that epic minimalists might muster, quietly opening doors onto soft cross-roads of light, their de rigeur portent and tracksuit pants making us immediately remember every dance workshop we’ve ever been to.

In Keeper, Monson extends physicality into sound: vocalising and resonances like slurping, blowing raspberries, whistling, laughing, breathing, stamping, humming, guttural and animal-like. Her movement often seems comical, burlesque. We wait for the punchline but there isn’t one; the dance itself is that. Her sounds give her movement a feeling of clarity and form. At first, with a kind of childish simplicity and demand, she plays at the obvious, wanting grand gesture, practised physicality. A child’s imagination might aspire to finding form, making sense of things that way; an adult might want innovation and breaking that form up in order to find sense. Monson has captured both these levels.

Her movement can be fast, powerful and complex, integrity without a falter. Sometimes she finds soft, peculiar muted sounds, odd archaic movement, more fantasy than animal. At one point she is dancing with her shadow on the wall, not with that abstracted visual artistry that we have seen before at The Performance Space, but with the kind of immediate, gutsy demand for attention, a foil for high art.
In the Dark, Houston-Jones’ first work, gives us the sound and effort of movement, boots crashing round on the floor, uneven breathing, his voice telling us about Darryl who could only criticise dance in purely visual terms. We can’t see his body, but the amount of distortion in his voice and breath shows what sort of energy there is. We know where he is; we have images; there are things going on. Rather than invisibility, the work seems more and more to be about exploring what is revealed.

Rougher is really softer. Wearing a blindfold, he sees only by the direction of light and the shadow of his hands in front of his eyes. He randomly switches a hand-held light off and on, illuminating parts of his body: palm, calf, chest, under-arm. He swings it around, shifting the shadows, creating lines, setting up images of flesh, fleeting art. In a spotlight, we watch as he lifts his long shirt to reveal his crutch, a peculiarly vulnerable gesture.

In Without Hope a heavy concrete brick becomes a tool with which Houston-Jones vividly illustrates a series of horrific injuries suffered by some fragile human. He speaks clinically, an autopsy report, but the weight and roughness of the concrete is real and felt. Sometimes it pins him down; it is cradled, kissed, drunk from, dropped. Sometimes he lies over it, as supplicant or penitent we’re not sure.

Other no-win, no-choice stories: a New York law—if someone is dying, then doctors may prolong that life by mechanical means. But then, removing that mechanism amounts to manslaughter. Frida Kahlo’s text provides the title, “Without Hope.” Her suffering, while sometimes thought to be self-inflicted, is still real, both subject and impetus for her work.

As a subject of scrutiny, a body that is just itself, flesh, nerves, hormones, is defenceless in a way, open to whatever description an audience provides. To be scrutinised, to come face to face with mass judgment, does not seem to be a choice that ‘people who do gigs for a living’ can make. It is a heavy weight to bear if you know it can also destroy you.

Lastly, we see his eyes for the first time, looking up, engaging. His gestures are protective, indicating exposed jugular, glands, areas of fragility. It is then we know that this body, substantial, weighty, but full of the delicacy of nerves, breath and blood, is a vulnerable thing, capable of immense complexity, but easily damaged. The reality of humanity is not something one has a choice about.

Peter Trotman and Andrew Morrish, Avalanche

Peter Trotman and Andrew Morrish, Avalanche

Peter Trotman and Andrew Morrish, Avalanche

The practice of ‘reverend awe’ and a sense of the ‘moral high ground’ have often been visible aesthetic qualities to which serious students of new dance apparently aspire. The wit of Trotman and Morrish lies in their expert physical capacity to reveal such idiocy, having an eye for every pretentious nuance and cliché in the new dance and theatre improvisation hand-books. Epic meaninglessness, vacuous intoning, deeply felt superficiality, or just standing round looking enigmatic, are faithfully reproduced in Avalanche, along with impeccable timing, flexible structure, compelling story telling, and some really good tricks with imagery, which make Trotman and Morrish’s commentary priceless.

All deal with more than the visual. Images and ideas coming to the mind’s eye give substance to the works. The tail ends of these pieces have brought us quite a way from their beginnings, but always with that palpable feeling of the body moving, causing, acting, creating.

Femur: Jennifer Monson, Keeper; Ishmael Houston-Jones, In the Dark, Rougher, Without Hope; Trotman and Morrish, Avalanche: The Convolutions of Catastrophe and Calling, the Creeping Spectre of Chaos and Collapse; Antistatic, The Performance Space, March 25 – 27

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 10

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

The 2 installations presented at antistatic consisted predominantly of film screenings. Anderson, Bram and Doig’s films were projected onto entire walls, Medlin’s films were scattered throughout the space in conjunction with lighting features and sound, and Everitt’s films were projected onto 3 screens as a triptych accompanied by a soundscape.

A common element across the works was architectural structures and space which interweaved tightly with the filmic dimension throughout. The situating of action within architecture, the projection of the work onto the walls of the building and the incorporation of structure as sculpture (including Doig’s staircase and arch which fractured the projected images) created a striking theme. I thought about dancing bodies I have seen drawn into a purely filmic space and live dancing which rigorously reworks the body’s surrounding space and the contrary tensions represented here—space and movement, volume and elasticity come up against each other in these works rather than integrate.

Medlin’s Choreography of Space exemplified this effect with its multiple approaches. She managed to convert the entrance hall into a cinematic simulacrum, the flickering lights combined with the progression along the corridor mimicking the cinematic apparatus with the participants/spectators themselves becoming the ‘moving image.” Upstairs and in the foyer Medlin created encounters with oversized body parts; an arm that beckons, appearing on a dark wall like a miracle and writhing across it before retreating and repeating; huge feet that measure out the guttering above the foyer.

A beckoning arm (or is it shaking off?) again becomes an anticipated moment in Everitt’s triptych, A Simultaneous Retracing. It reaches out of the dark centre screen towards the audience, disembodied and plastic, before withdrawing. Another theme emerges now—the representation of the dancing body. The dancer in this case is Rebecca Hilton who also almost appears in Doig’s work. Libby Dempster is the dancer in Medlin’s piece and Lucy Guerin features in Anderson’s Black and White and Animation. In all these cases, the dancers are subsumed into a choreography of images, providing articulate body parts, singular gestures and abstracted dancing figures within fields of motion which cover structural and sculptural surfaces.

Bram’s film, Kuala Lumpar 1998, is a landscape dancing with micro movements created through fast-motion. Anderson’s Eisenstein-esque montage featuring stone statues brings a kind of impetus to the static through rhythm. Hilton turns a corner again and again in Everitt’s work, figure and landscape hammered onto the same plane through repetition; beside this a hazy view of a room shaded from afternoon light imbues the domestic space with potential action. Collectively, these fields of motion seduce the spectator into participation—moving around the rooms, up the stairs, catching beginning/middle/end.

Doig’s The Other Woman featured alone before the Clavicle programme. Its sculptural dimension—a staircase and an arch—produced odd details; Doig’s painted lips in a close-up came to rest on the lowest step of the stairs. Close-up shots featured heavily in determining this ‘woman’—an-other woman who Doig plays in various guises. The close-up turns her face into a plastic surface whose micro movements constitute a kind of disembodied field of activity. She appears in harshly fabricated places; fake bricks and astro-turf provide a background for her heavily made-up and bewigged characters that seem caught mid-scenario. In striking contrast to Doig’s appearances in this work, Hilton is a faceless body moving through an indefinite space. She ‘dances’ in this work in a full-bodied, rhythmic way not seen in the other collective installation and the treatment of Hilton here brings to a head issues relating to ‘the dancer’ in such work.

The dancer is removed in these installations from a live performance space but included in an investigation and reconstruction of a performance space, putting the dancing body into a kind of productive crisis. This results here in disembodiment, fragmentation and transformation, a play with appearance and disappearance and a dispersion of the figure to become one amongst other moving elements. These observations arise due to the context of the installations within a dance festival. The conscious play with motion, space and the choreography of bodies and images explains their inclusion in antistatic and they represent an important interdisciplinary area of development. My question—why dancers—is perhaps about the fascination of the figure in such work and what the skills of the dancer bring to that.

Doig went some way towards answering this question in her discussion of The Other Woman as part of Atlas—a mixed programme of talks, screenings and the antistatic workshop showings. Doig said that she had brought Hilton into her project to develop a series of gestures for Doig’s characters, gestures demanded by the melodramatic tone of the work. The links between melodrama, movement, gesture and dance are logical but Hilton’s performance within the work sits outside this system. Doig explained that she wanted to keep Hilton anonymous so as not to complicate the already profuse collection of characters. All this amounts to an interesting and telling play within this work between drama and dance, face and body, character and movement.

Lisa Nelson, in discussion with Rosalind Crisp, spoke about what video has offered her as a dancer. Nelson picked up a camera when she stopped dancing for a while. When she returned to dance, she says that what she took with her from that experience was a new awareness of choice-making processes. From using the camera as an eye she developed an acute sense of focus and frame which informs her improvisational work—the imperative to move, to follow, to change. “Movement” has come to equal “choice” for her; she has worked her way back to this point. During the supper discussion later that night, the “thought” involved in this “choice” became the focus as she spoke of a “mind-body-dance” and joked about the intelligence going on behind the “narcissistic display” of dance performance—an intelligence that has had to be “outed.”

The struggle between movement and a verbal or written account of it which Nelson signals here (Nelson is co-editor of US magazine Contact) was an issue which developed further throughout the supper discussion (and indeed into the next day). Jennifer Monson struggled to speak—she provided a clear, straightforward voice throughout the festival for me—settling on dance as her ‘language.’ This reminded me of her comments at Susan Leigh Foster’s lecture at UNSW where we had worked our way back to a body released from technique which was heading towards being released from habit. Monson intervened to save the dancer’s own specificity—the peculiarities of physical language which make someone like Monson the remarkable performer she is.

Margie Medlin, Stephen Bram, Jacqueline Everitt, Ben Anderson, Elasticity and Volume, The Performance Space Gallery and surrounds, March 25 – April 4; Adrienne Doig, Rebecca Hilton, Peter Miller, The Other Woman, The Performance Space Gallery, April 1 – 11

Atlas: Tracie Mitchell, Adrienne Doig, Surething; Vikki Quill, Rosalyn Whiley, MaryAnne Henshaw, LayLeisurelyLay, The Performance Space, April 10

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 11

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

I remember when I started as a lecturer at Macquarie Uni in 1990 coming across some research on the effectiveness of the lecture format which informed me that students on average retain around 10% of what is said in a lecture, more (around 30%) of how it is said (intonation patterns, delivery, timing…) and much more (around 60%) visuals (how the lecturer looked, their gestures, what images they presented etc). This underscored what I’d always thought about the lecture format, not just that it had to be performative, but that it was, in the eyes of its audience, already a type of performance and that those of us who were going to engage in lecturing as a mode of transmitting data were also (perhaps even more so) to be engaged in mobilising a perceptual framework about performing that we needed to take on board.

Jump forward 9 years to Susan Leigh Foster’s 2 recent Sydney gigs (lecture performances or the other way around) and I found a thoroughly planned and impressive model which responds to this very dynamic. Anyone present at these events at TPS on March 28 and UNSW’s School of Theatre Film and Dance on the 29th was forced to confront the lecture space as a kind of pedagogic mise en scene where the lecturer’s words were interrupted by sudden though rehearsed movements and gestures which sometimes underscored a discursive point and sometimes undermined it, manifesting a playful irresponsibility of language to its objects and of the authority figure to their underlings in the crowd. Irresponsible because the response is not obvious, only a hybrid response will do justice to the performance. A simple registration of the data will not help in understanding what is at stake in this type of lecture. One must enact a creative response of one’s own. I find this a very generous style of communication not least because the lecturer has placed their own physical capacities on display, but because a plurality of focus points emerges depending on the specific concerns of each spectator. There was plenty to look at and to think about even if you were losing the thread of the argument.

Other receptions of these pieces were not as enthusiastic. Some argued the obvious point that it was hard to just listen to the words, others said the words were too prescriptive of the moves she made (and presumably that she shouldn’t have been speaking at all), others said it was comical, “like John Cleese lecturing on movement while doing his silly walks routine”, others said the movement was too technically precise and that while the pieces were exploring a hybrid form their choreographic elements paradoxically served to reinforce traditional modes of moving which were unemotive, detached, purely formal displays of technique. In my view one shouldn’t begrudge Professor Foster her training and in any case, the variety of moves she made suggested something other than pure formalism, eg moving through an audience and taking pens, bags and personal objects from the spectators then redistributing them throughout the space. Neither was the text purely discursive. Often language was used in an explicitly performative sense. In the TPS lecture the audience was asked to stand up, run on the spot, stand close to someone, stumble, stretch, duck, balance, pose, run stealthily and touch someone’s hand…nor was it possible to ignore the generous spirit with which she engaged with the varying audience reactions to her work, reactions which sometimes verged on the bloody minded not to say bizarre.

In her 2 performed pieces in Sydney, she presented the performance of knowledge as something more than a bombastic parading of facts or a bewildering discharge of concepts; as an embodied array of learned and unlearned behaviours which seem to permit more freedoms than they constrain. In this model spectators can choose elements of the mise en scene to focus upon, and elements of the text to listen to, triggering a sense of lightness in the learning situation, rather than the weighty, dour and humourless lecturing styles which we have all been exposed to and wish to forget. In short it is a knowledge performance which expresses a desire to animate debates, a crucial pedagogic task in the age of the info-byte.

Middle Ear: Susan Leigh Foster, Kinaesthetic Empathies & the Politics of Compassion, Antistatic, The Performance Space, March 28

Choreographer, dancer, writer, Susan Foster is Professor of Dance at the University of California campuses of Davis and Riverside. She is author of Reading Dancing: Bodies and Subjects in Contemporary American Dance, and Choreography and Narrative: Ballet’s Staging of Story and Desire. She is also editor of Choreographing History and Corporealities.

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 10

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

In Russell Dumas’ Cassandra’s Dance, at the Opera House Studio, one sensed the enormous discipline, focus and specificity. Dumas located this dancing in a visceral sound score by Paul Healey and in a provocative set of references—columns (suggesting Greek architecture), the walls and floor of the Opera Studio (a space which profiles high art) and in relation to the myth of Cassandra. Watching this dance I reflected on art as doomed prophecy, classicism as a relic and the frailty of the body, knowledge and history. Could performance be an intense, agitation that passes all too quickly? This was a rich offering.

In Helen Herbertson and Ben Cobham’s work, morphia series—Strike 1, light partnered the dancer, at times barely illuminating her and at other times framing her. Watching this dance was like that stumble from sleep when the house seems strange and part of a dream. Herbertson, like a wind-up doll, moved and stopped, changed rhythm and her stiff gestures, and was intriguingly, beguilingly flesh and mechanical at the same time. Cobham sat in the large space and brought to life this picture show on the distant stage. I was drawn into some sort of relationship with my own terrors and childlike wonder. Again a specific cultural heritage was invoked; this time, German expressionism and its troubled relationship to fascism. I also recalled Gordon Craig’s vision—the performer as uber marionette.

In contrast, works by Ishmael Houston-Jones and Trotman and Morrish in the opening program have the impulse to yield ‘an effect’, in particular for the speech of the performer to direct the audience’s experience. In this kind of improvised storytelling performance I feel drawn into a social relationship with the performer. I feel obliged to laugh, be entertained or empathise. Interestingly, Eleanor Brickhill deliberately invoked a specific social context, the cocktail party, to speak about the act of performing. I enjoyed the juxtaposition and conflation of these 2 places of interaction. I was reminded of the pleasures and discomforts of both settings and of how difficult it was to ‘simply be’ in either. However the text and dancing were arranged in such a way so as to allow my relationship to the event to keep shifting. I was glad never to feel that ‘pinned against the mantelpiece’ party feeling.

In KunstWerk, Alan Schacher searched as if hunted, feeling his way, fitting in, moving on to an industrial soundscape by Rik Rue. This image of a body mapping a place which offered no rest, an alien place, resonated with me. It came close to an image of my current experience of watching performance.

I like dancing to be framed. I like dancing to conjure up a field of references and associations, to provoke reflection. I don’t like to be too specifically positioned by my, or the performer’s, personal history. I don’t seek nor trust ‘empathy.’ I want instead that shock of having a feeling I didn’t expect. In a world where I am asked to empathise continually I want something more from live performance. I fear I have, as Philip Adams describes it, compassion fatigue.

Russell Dumas, Dance Exchange, Cassandra’s Dance, The Studio, Sydney Opera House; works by Herbertson, Brickhill, Schacher, Antistatic, The Performance Space

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 12

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

Rosalind Crisp, proximity

Rosalind Crisp, proximity

Rosalind Crisp, proximity

These dancers seem to be moving away from those pleasantly concordant relationships particularly with sound and light design, of simple support and elaboration. In Clavicle, there’s a real hybrid growth in the fusion of those elements with choreographic design, so that new things are being said. Particularly in the first 2 works, original home and morphia series, the collaborations produced a brilliantly intense language of action and imagery.

Inexplicably, I found myself describing original home as the South Park of dance, prompted by its oblique cartoonish humour, gangly truncated demeanour, randomised interruptions of gesture and dissipated gravitas. The performers seemed to have composed themselves accidentally in a hail of instruments, objects and events—a rock rolls off-centredly across the floor, small rattling gourds, snare drums, a bowling ball, a piece of rope, cymbal, a small one-stringed instrument, pieces of wood—all exquisite, self-made, found or outlived, dancing included, which spill over the stage with a tightly orchestrated nonchalance, into an endless array of both finely-tuned and careless disturbances of space.

In morphia series, there are sudden contrasts: black-out, yellow flames, black hair and fabric over white glowing skin, concentrated stillness and fast-forward flickering sequences. Ben Cobham uses the light source like a camera, producing grainy, black and white, film-like effects on the small framed stage, revealing Helen Herbertson’s actions with textural variations, sometimes thin and stiff, too fast, not life-like, or else the image appears as if through a window, with small inexplicable, ambiguous gestures, but solid and 3 dimensional. Is she repeatedly washing her hands or warming them by a fire? Sound seemed elemental: a tinkle of bells, rain on a roof, a single light clicks on, tiny bird calls, the click of fingers, once, twice; you might see her eyelash flicker; the soft billowing light of wind-blown flames.

In Lisa Nelson’s Memo to Dodo, it’s the seeing, the visual sensing, the cycling of perception in and out through the eyes that holds your attention. The audience is implicated in her dance, you feel; a strong link, but just what that relationship is, it’s hard to know. She is holding something firmly, placing it just right, sorting things, noticing in the periphery, perpetually catching sight of something in the light; small registers of awareness, working it like breathing. Not insubstantial space, but there’s something solid she’s making from what’s around her. She sends it back in direct and exact parcels of energy.

Another section, a voice playing an old game, telling Nelson to halt, continue, reverse, repeat actions, while still carrying on that breathing in and out of light and shadow as she moves: small deliberations, holding, placing, delicately weighting a stick in hands and arms, making the windings of her body around it sometimes difficult to undo.

Graham Leak & Ros Warby, Original Home

Graham Leak & Ros Warby, Original Home

Graham Leak & Ros Warby, Original Home

Compared to Nelson, Warby and Herbertson, Rosalind Crisp’s dancing in proximity is fluid, romantic, with a softly restrained dramatic abandon. There’s elegance in her physicality, and an emotional luxuriance more pronounced than in previous performances. Elegance too in Ion Pearce’s rarefied soundscape, dry and windy at first, but in the second section, strident, piercing. Simplicity and measure settle over the work, with a single stream of light falling across the stage onto Crisp’s moving hands as if they are in water. They seem close up, in focus. Later a handspan, 2 arms’ lengths, the reach to feet and floor. Like Nelson, Crisp works with her eyes, encompassing the details of limbs and what they surround: side by side, near and far, measuring the course of her action before she’s been there, and the traces she leaves behind.

Jude Walton’s Seam (silent mix) is full of white and black, a heavy curtain and white screen side by side, and shocking red splashes in the fabric of costumes. It’s full of text (Mallarme’s notes on the poem Les Noces d’Herodiade: Mystere) which I read long after the rest of the work was seen, and an echoing English/French vocal mix; it seems not designed for immediacy. Now I don’t recall the words. I recall how conscious I became of my own breathing as I watch a film of pinned paper seams pull and rip apart as my own ribs expanded, and edges reunited in relieved exhalation. I remember the luminous white foetus-like flesh of dancer Ros Warby, as she manipulated a tiny camera over her body, the image like an ultra-sound of something internal, soft and vulnerable, not quite formed. I remember her red dress against the black curtain, pulled back. I remember the ocean, washing over the screen in increments of flowing tide, rising higher and higher up the wall of the screen. We wait for the seam blending one wave into another, finally with a kind of inevitability, until the screen, and our minds, are somehow complete, the pieces put invisibly together.

Clavicle: Ros Warby, Shona Innes, Graeme Leak, original home (returning to it); Helen Herbertson, Ben Cobham, morphia series – Strike 1; Lisa Nelson, Memo to Dodo; Rosalind Crisp, Ion Pearce, proximity, sections 4 and 5; Jude Walton, Ros Warby, Jackie Dunn, Seam (silent mix), Antistatic, The Performance Space, April 1 – 3

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 10

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

Here is a metanarrative-free text which is seriously intertextual, idiosyncratically fragmented and dangerously challenging notions of authorship. It wouldn’t be stretching the point to make claims for its flavours of bricolage, (re)appropriation and even the ludic. While (sadly) lacking in irony, parody or camp, it is possible to detect an ecstasy of excess, an inferno of intergenericity, a nose for nostalgia, a quire of “quotations”, a ream of repetitions, and a penchant for pastiche.

A Baudrillardian wetdream? A work by Imants Tillers? The poster for The Truman Show? Nothing so obvious—but you might turn to another article if this one began by revealing the text in question as Get The Picture, the Australian Film Commission’s 5th edition of their biannual “essential data on Australian film, television, video and new media” (AFC, Sydney, 1998). But if statistics, pie charts and line graphs are not your accustomed fare, postmodern or otherwise, don’t be put off. Where else could you discover the media facts and figures to dazzle your friends? Did you know, for instance, that Australian women beat their menfolk by 6 percent in terms of bums on cinema seats? That our consumption of popcorn and cola represents a mighty 17 percent of exhibitors’ income? Or that while Sydney television viewers in 1997 preferred True Lies and Speed to Muriel’s Wedding, in Melbourne they sensibly opted for Muriel and the Crown Casino Opening Ceremony in preference to either Schwarzenegger on a bad day or Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock on an even worse one. This may all sound like media trivia to you—but to the industry it’s life and death.

To everyone who cares about the future of screen culture, reliable data about production, distribution, exhibition, audiences, overseas sales, ratings, video rentals and sell-throughs and awards is crucial. Without it, wheels will continue to be reinvented, mistakes remade and, perhaps even more potentially disastrous, successes turned into persistent formulaic codes and conventions.

The AFC and the editors of Get The Picture, Rosemary Curtis and Cathy Gray, should be more than congratulated on this excellent book, they deserve to be hugged. This is a model book of its kind. It proved to this normally chart-allergic cultural analyst that the mantra ‘style equals content’, ritualistically chanted to media students and cultural producers, applies to sets of statistics as much as it does to films, television programs, videos, digital media products, or any other text.

The book provides overviews of each chapter, a beautifully simple cross referencing system, enough historical background to make sense of the present, and clearly designed visual material in the form of charts, graphs and columns (plus the occasional production still) to make browsing an attractive proposition. In addition, the introductory sections are written with verve and style—in particular those by Sandy George, Garry Maddox and Jock Given. In short, the data collected in this book is peerlessly presented, can be effortlessly acquired and understood and provides a comprehensive survey of our screen industry and culture.

So much for the formal characteristics of Get The Picture. But what, as Grace Kelly crucially asked of James Stewart after he had (somewhat tediously to someone wanting to be kissed) adumbrated a series of observable, empirical facts in Rear Window, does it all mean? For without this question there wouldn’t have been a movie—not a movie worth watching. This point is raised by AFC Research Manager, co-editor Rosemary Curtis, in her introduction:

Then there is the issue of what the data means—what it is telling us. This question is not unique to Australia—there are few international standards of performance indicators in this area—but it is vitally important. While the breadth and width of the data collection must be maintained, the new task is to develop methodologies for analysing and contextualising it.

This, of course, is where the fun (or pain) begins. It is perfectly possible to draw complacent conclusions from the array of data about the state of the industry a couple of years ago. Total employment in the media industries had increased since 1986 by 53 percent. The size of the industry in number of business terms had expanded by 70 percent since mid-1994. The number of feature films produced in the 90s was almost double what it was in the 1970s. Screens and admissions have both steadily increased over the past years. On the whole, the data apparently provides cause for celebration.

But we can’t ignore what the data doesn’t (or can’t) reveal. Worrying tendencies or patterns are emerging. There may be more women employed in the screen industries than the average for all industries, but there are also more women earning less and more women working only part-time. Who knows if this is from choice? Feature film production may be almost twice what it was in the 1970s, but it’s down—and decreasing—from the 1980s. Is this the result of increased budgets in an unsuccessful attempt to compete with mainstream blockbusters?

It may be precipitant to celebrate the increase in screens and admissions: in 1995 the number of US screens per million population stood at 106 while we had only 64; Americans visited the cinema an average of 5 times a year while we went merely 3.9 times. Clearly growth in Australia has to be carefully nurtured if the stasis the US is experiencing is to be prevented.

What can be deduced from the fact that between 1993/4 to 1996/7 the number of films classified MA rose from 8 percent to 18 percent? Does this mean excessive classification criteria or more violent movies? What is the significance in the levelling off of video rentals and the increase in sell-through purchases? Might this lead to fewer video classics as some fear?

Nor does data alone shed light on Australian screen tastebuds in terms of both production and consumption. There seems little to celebrate in the reduction in the number of Australian movies in the top 50 from 2 in 1996 (Babe at 2, Shine at 20) to one in 1997 (The Castle at 13). Undeniably, the films themselves leave some screen culture analysts with an unpleasant aftertaste and raise questions about the commissioning and funding process which no amount of data will answer.

As Rosemary Curtis states, the bringing together of an extensive array of information and commentary on Australia’s audiovisual industries—film, video, television and new media (as she quaintly calls what is, by now, a medium fast reaching maturity)—is part of the effort to develop methodologies for analysing and contextualising the data. She is clearly aware, by her use of the plural, that there is no single thought-frame for any industry or government body to adopt. It would be disastrous if we failed to espouse a pluralistic approach to either the production and funding processes or the analysis of our screen culture.

Get The Picture: essential data on Australian film, television, video and new media, 5th edition, Australian Film Commission, Sydney 1998.

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 21

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

Elements similar to Susan Leigh Foster’s were at work in the set of events comprising Spur in which Tess de Quincey’s Butoh Product #2 – Nerve showed how to stare down a crowded room while text effects splashed around her, courtesy of performance poet Amanda Stewart’s textual montage and projection. In this as in other of Stewart’s works the sounds and images of words are collapsed back on themselves and we have the bare material of language on display. De Quincey worked within a similar paradigm to return the performing body to its being on stage. Standing squarely, facing off the spectators, holding ground until the impulse to move took over…a more powerful performance presence is hard to imagine and even without locomotive movement the pulses of the body’s capacities for movement are in evidence. Jeff Stein and Oren Ambarchi’s Aphikoman re-staged the audience/performer dynamic with a dada style theft of the performative moment. Hidden beneath the seating Stein stole personal objects, then dumped them on the stage forcing the spectators to leave the darkness and claim their property. This was done with great humour and energy which carried the concept along though there wasn’t much else to experience in this piece.

Alan Schacher’s spasmic movement piece came with an industrial noise sound track by Rik Rue. This was not a harmonious technoshamanic ritual but a pulverising attack on the body. Schacher’s body duly sought out dark spaces as if to hide from the technoscape which threatened it and emerged into the light only to express its crisis. This was a strong and unsettling piece which again revealed the capacities of body, light, sound to sustain an audience’s interest without the supplementation of excess effects. Yumi Umiumare and Tony Yap provided an antidote to the harshness of the Schacher/Rik Rue collaboration in a lucid and meditative dance in the TPS studio space. Commencing in a chair seated on top of one another the pair slowly extended past the flickering laser beam guarding their resting place and into the audience. Yumi’s laughter caught me by surprise but suggested that the human core in this work was at peace with itself. I noticed something I had missed in their earlier work which is that these 2 can control their movements and lyricise them at the same time in breathtakingly subtle ways.

Stuart Lynch closed the night with the equally breathtaking but totally unsubtle Without Nostalgia, a virtuoso piece staging, among other things, his concern with TBS (Total Body Speed) as the centre of the actions which determine his performance work. The notion comes from his connection (through De Quincey) with Mai Juku in Japan but also reflects the emphasis on speed in contemporary considerations of bodies (Deleuze) and culture (Virilio). It is spectacular to witness an artist engaging at this level with current theoretical debates in media and performance studies. I hope we get to see this piece in another context as it is packed with ideas that only a repeat viewing could adequately process. In a way this piece represents the opposite of Foster as a conceptual interrogation of cultural forms through movement and image rather than through text combining with gesture. Both are hybrid forms with a different emphasis but you wouldn’t want to do without either of them. The praxis of performance, which ever way you receive it, got a real boost from these events.

Spur: Tess De Quincey, Butoh Product #2 – ‘Nerve’; Stuart Lynch, Without Nostalgia; Alan Schacher with Rik Rue, Kunstwerk (Trace Elements/Residual Effects – part 3; Jeff Stein with Oren Ambarchi, Aphikoman; Yumi Umiumare & Tony Yap, How could you even begin to understand? Version 2, Antistatic, The Performance Space, April 4

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 11

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

Cyberspace is the ostensible topic of this book. It is really a kind of Cook’s tour of space as it has been conceived and visualised through the ages, from the soul-space of Christian theology to the hyperspace of multi-dimensional physics. It is important to keep any discussion of cyberspace within a historical framework and Wertheim has done an admirable job in providing an extended cultural history into which cyberspace can be situated. Her argument is a fairly simple one and, as the title of her book suggests, it measures cyberspace against a quasi-Christian view of space as being transcendent, immaterial and other. “Cyberspace is not a religious construct per se”, Wertheim suggests, but “one way of understanding this new digital domain is as an attempt to realise a technological substitute for the Christian space of Heaven.” There is nothing particularly innovative about this suggestion, as cyberspace has been theorised elsewhere as a “spiritualist space” (Michael Benedikt’s “Heavenly City”, William Gibson’s Vodou pantheon in Count Zero). What perhaps is new is the sociological spin Wertheim puts on the emergence of cyberspace at the end of the 20th century: “Around the world, from Iran to Japan, religious fervour is on the rise.” But Heaven is something to be put off for later, so I will return to this issue directly.

How has the West configured space? This is the question that shapes Wertheim’s discussion and the book is structured around a series of discrete moments in the history of space. It is a very linear, tidy history, beginning with the theocratic world-view, as articulated by Dante and Giotto, which, via the Copernican revolution, Newtonian mechanics and Einsteinian relativity, incorporates the outer reaches of contemporary cosmology. As earthbound physicists such as Stephen Hawking contemplate the infra-thin spaces of quarks and virtual particles, they once again turn our attention to the sphere of abstraction that exists beyond the physical world-view that has dominated consciousness since the Enlightenment. Wertheim’s contention is that with cyberspace we have returned to a realm not dissimilar to the Medieval conception of “Soul Space.” Consistent with the transcendent motivation of this space of spirit, Wertheim refers to “cyber-immortality and cyber-resurrection.” Enter the “cyber-soul.”

There is a certain kind of logic in Wertheim’s account of a re-emergence of a conception of space that dominated an earlier age. However I have a number of problems with her anachronistic misuse of cybercultural terminology. For instance, Dante does not represent himself in The Divine Comedy as a persona but as a “virtual Dante”; the Arena Chapel in Padua is a “hyper-linked virtual reality, complete with an interweaving cast of characters, multiple story lines, and branching options” (the italics, which are telling, are not mine); Medieval thinker and theologian Roger Bacon was “the first champion of virtual reality.” To be fair, such throwaway lines detract from what are otherwise interesting discussions of the ways in which the techniques of representation yielded to the pressures of verisimilitude and the desire to create in the Medieval viewer/worshipper a more vicarious sense of presence, of actually being in the scene or space being described. This is in itself a fascinating issue, for as writers such as Stephen Holtzman and Brenda Laurel have suggested, VR concepts such as immersion have a respectable ancestry and their logic has hardly changed. This doesn’t give us licence, though, to return to the Middle Ages armed with cyber labels for our predecessors and certainly not with such abandon (The Divine Comedy “is a genuine medieval MUD”). Giotto was without question a pioneer in the “technology of visual representation.” He was not, though, our first hypertext author. We can perhaps claim that there was something hypertextual in the way the narrative is presented in the Arena Chapel, but we have to evaluate this against the rigid, hierarchical manner in which the Medieval mind read the world. Wertheim is sensitive to this, but fails to account for it adequately. She also fails to note that just because we have hypertext it doesn’t follow that it represents an episteme or way of seeing that residents of the late 20th century all share. Most visitors to the Arena Chapel today would more than likely read its narrative as a causal sequence of events. More to the point, they would presume that there was one.

The other major problem I have with Wertheim’s argument is the contention that cyberspace is “ex nihilo”, a “new space that simply did not exist before.” Contrary to Wertheim’s surfeit of space, I simply don’t have the space to take issue with this position. However as a statement it points to a worrying element of contradiction in her argumentation. In the same chapter we are informed that with cyberspace “there is an important historical parallel with the spatial dualism of the Middle Ages” (we are also informed that television culture is a parallel space or consensual hallucination and that Springfield, the hometown of the Simpsons, is a “virtual world”). In a book that attempts to synthesise such parallels and account for cyberspace as a return to a Medieval type of space, it is odd to read in the penultimate statement of the book that “Like Copernicus, we are privileged to witness the dawning of a new kind of space.”

The book is very distracting in this respect and it testifies to an unresolved tension within Wertheim’s assessment of cyberspace. While she is sensible and articulate in her delineation of space as it has been figured throughout history, she is still caught up with the novelty not of cyberspace, but of cyberspeak. There is not enough analysis of what type of abstraction cyberspace involves and how we actually relate to it spiritually or any other way. Too many of the familiar themes of cybercultural discourse are simply recapitulated, such as the possibilities for identity and gender shifting in MUDs, the liberatory potential for “cybernautic man and woman”, of avatars and interactive space and the hackneyed whimsy of downloading the mind into dataspace—et in arcadia ego. Any force that is generated by Wertheim’s main theme is lost as a result of the book’s straying off into the already said. How is data-space like the Christian concept of Heaven? This is an interesting question, but beyond the tropes of cyber-dualism and cyber-transcendentalism; nothing original in the way of a convincing answer is forthcoming.

The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace is consistent with much cyber-utopian criticism in its evaluation of cyberspace as a positive, therapeutic phenomenon: “There is a sense in which I believe it could contribute to our understanding of how to build better communities.” Well, I suppose we are still waiting to see if this will be the case or not.

In the meantime, how do we account for the fact of this new space? In response to this question, Wertheim advances her least convincing argument. Unsupported by any research and reliant entirely on speculation, Wertheim suggests that at a time of global religious enthusiasm “the timing for something like cyberspace could hardly be better. It was perhaps inevitable that the appearance of a new immaterial space would precipitate a flood of techno-spiritual dreaming.” As sociology The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace just doesn’t cut it. Despite the reservations I have with the book, it is nonetheless a useful study of the contemporary fascination with space and the historical legacy of Christianity, the history of ideas and the visual arts.

Margaret Wertheim, The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, A History of Space from Dante to the Internet, Doubleday, 1999, ISBN 0 86824 744 8, 336 pp.

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 20

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

The workshop showings were an appropriately informal affair and gave non-workshoppers an insight into the work of the 3 imported practitioners—Nelson, Monson and Ishmael Houston-Jones—who we had seen in performance and had been the focus of much discussion. The showings unfolded for the audience like a game of charades we were invited to view but not participate in; each artist had developed tasks, methods and rules that the viewer could attempt to decipher or merely watch the results of. The similarities and differences became striking.

Nelson was the first up and the ‘video’ commands she had used in her performance, Dance Light Sound, were employed here en masse, dancers either participating in the “stop”, “reverse”, “play”, “replace” commands or waiting and watching. The choice to participate or not became as interesting as the choices about moving, and the role of the ‘commander’ began to slide around the group. The dancers often had to move with their eyes shut becoming instantly tentative, exploring the space around themselves anew. The participants kept to the back of the performance space engrossed in the details of their tasks.

Monson’s group made more of a spectacle of themselves in the exciting way Monson can in her performances. The display of energy and contrasting dynamics were relentless and the participants completely engrossed. It was difficult not to follow Monson here whose self-confessed attraction to the comic had her flitting about the space in pseudo-balletic hysteria. There was an energy-engagement between the dancers and an awareness of the observers that sparkled with possibilities.

Houston-Jones’ group showing was an “almost-performance-piece” made up of a succession of ideas. Music was introduced to the proceedings (Ishmael giggled as he DJ’d behind us) and the dancers moved closer to the audience. Language was also introduced as something more than functional, introducing narrative and emotional registers, and was interrupted through yet another system of spoken commands (“shut-up”). Movements became correspondingly more gestural and scenarios appeared; the group posed for a camera, revolving slowly as they changed positions, drawing out the moment of ‘presentation’; a line-up of apparently expert botanists described their favourite flowers over the top of each other and the line began to sway organically.

Atlas: Workshop Showings, The Performance Space, April 10

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 12

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

Philipa Rothfield & Elizabeth Keen, Pensive

Philipa Rothfield & Elizabeth Keen, Pensive

Philipa Rothfield & Elizabeth Keen, Pensive

The primacy of the body as matter for thought has become a tenet of poststructuralism. Likewise the notion that embodiment is a form of knowing. Philipa Rothfield’s ‘thought experiment’ at Dancehouse was to bodily explore these ideas, by allowing a little ‘Pensive’ reflection to take place in performance. She and dancer Elizabeth Keen began with a right turn logic that marked out a progression of squares on the floor—their soft footfalls diminishing lines to perimeters. Keen speaks of Descartes, who else? For isn’t he the man who caused the problems…He asks “what then am I?” Keen watches. Rothfield is an arm/arc/archipelago. She is more beautiful than Descartes in her shimmering shot fabric, fake fur and leopard spots. She is a lioness while ‘he’ observes and speaks—utterance seems to defy movement.

Soon the 2 find moments of overlap. There is a licking, sliding, pawing—they become a conjoined woman. A Siamese twin with 2 heads, 2 hearts, 2 hands, 2 feet—how does she think? This is a problem for psychology—‘both hands are holding the mouse of the computer’—but would philosophy have them torn apart? The dancers are locked and knotted through and around until their heads appear to rest, one against the other. They are like-in-like with a certain coyness about their private discoveries. Their gaze is direct and beyond reach but not far away. I am struck by an intentionality in their looking which suggests a certain kinesphere—a thought realm that can be held in and around the body. It stays quite constant throughout, the way that thoughts venture forth only so far and then return.

Dancing separately, there begins greater variation—thoughts exist in contradistinction, thinking like no other, thought in a hand held up or thought holding itself in a cupping at the back of the head. The body and mind we are told is a ‘fissure’, a word-sound. Possibly a wound, or possibly something to be filled. Their final duet is a reply to this gap in thought—but it is filled with ugly words that end with -ity or -acy or -ility and -ation. They hook toes and elbows, they investigate ‘incorporation.’

The piece was like a hieroglyphic—sketches of women, eagles and crescents drawn in sandstone and therefore, a little flat, following a single narrative line leading us from proposition to proposition with interludes of wonder in between. I am very fond of Descartes’ thought meditations and although we might be troubled by his conclusion “I think therefore I am”, there is a wonderful delirium in his questioning of self, of God and of reality—in his writing he lets himself go to the limits of thinking through his body. Pensive suggests a more measured contribution to thought and it seems that Rothfield’s work was the preliminary sketch of a meditation that is still to ‘hallucinate’ the dialogue between an I and a body. The conclusion with its postmodern emphasis—an incantatory resolution drawing the binaries of bodies and thought together—arrived too soon, historically and artistically, to shift the influence of Descartes from this self-conscious dance work.

Another approach to the problems of the cogito, the defining of the human subject by the thinking I, is evident in desoxy Theatre’s DNA 98.4% (being human). This major work asks the questions ‘what thinking has made the human species regard itself as above all others?’ or more directly ‘what makes the human genetically different from other animals?’ Their answer is not so pretty, in fact what you watch is disturbing, if also funny peculiar, as Teresa Blake and Dan Whitton become ape, reptile, bird and transhuman. This project has been reworked over 4 years and the complexity of the research shows in the extraordinary bodies of the artists, androgynous but even less than sexual, andromorphic. What they do on the horizontal and vertical planes of movement confounds categories—climbing walls as a body of upper or lower legs or looping over themselves in a spiral of links in the chain between DNA and the exoskeleton. At one point they put on genitalia to distinguish man from woman, with their converse heights presenting a further confusion of sexual roles. They enact a courtship dance—the fundamentals of mating are necessary after all to further the species but the distance between our socialistion of those needs and their function is immense. The more disturbing reality is that it could be dispensed with altogether if the scientists of the human genome project advance their supremacist biological thinking. Suspended in cocoons, desoxy await their dying so that the human DNA can be incubated for future generations. I am confronted by the work to consider evolution, its inexorable hold on science and its relationship to humanness.

There is too much to take in, to absorb in ideas and in looking from desoxy’s sometimes didactic presentation of this material; but I am grateful that they are artists whose living is to make art that asks seriously hard questions. It seemed ironic that this production which played to small audiences was pitted against the Melbourne Comedy Festival—will we really laugh ourselves into oblivion.

For more on 98.4%DNA, see Mary-Ann Robinson, “Double helix of tricks and ideas”, page 32

Pensive, Writer/deviser/performer Philipa Rothfield, performer Elizabeth Keen, designer Like Pither, costume design Heidi Wharton, Dancehouse, April 23 -25; 98.4% DNA (being human), desoxy Theatre, David Williamson Theatre, Swinburne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, April 13 – May 1

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 39

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

antistatic as a whole event exposed, problematised and critiqued the current and ongoing negotiation within dance between movement and words. This project has become central to new dance practices and is a significant area of investigation which dance is pioneering within the broader context of the performing arts. The relentless necessity to reveal dance—to provide commentary on the display—described by Lisa Nelson and the newer necessity for the community to move from the defensive and assume its role as innovator in this regard, could be traced through the festival from Foster’s experiments combining movement improvisation and empirical discourse, to Monson’s incoherent vocalisations in Keeper, to the very format of this eclectic event.

The last day of antistatic, Atlas, was like a culmination of this apparent, but perhaps implicit theme. A combination of performances (incorporating texts, choreography and or improvisation), presented papers and the less easily defined “performed commentary” by Julie-Anne Long and Virginia Baxter, exposed most lucidly the curators’ task. How can dance remain the primary discipline, its conditions and knowledges the most influential forces, when combined with discourse and all this entails? To slide across types of language, methods and modes of performance provided the curators with one answer.

While Anne Thompson used language and theory (particularly psychoanalysis) to consider a notion of spectatorship (in which she found empathies with contact and ideokinesis) in relation to the work of Pina Bausch, Yvonne Ranier and Robert Wilson, Sally Gardner probed the implications of language itself in relation to government peer assessment documentation to ask Can Practice Survive? Gardner described the Australia Council’s “philanthropic” activity as creating not a shelter from the mainstream marketplace, but a new economy, which deals in reductive terms: “innovative”, “independent”, “creativity”, “pioneering.” She provided an interesting alternative economic option; rather than putting money into publicists, why not just pay the audience directly?

References to Australia’s lack of historical context for terminologies such as those outlined above circled back to a notion of Australia as suffering from a condition of “lack” or “ignorance.” Surely official language cannot represent the actual situation within which work is produced and received in any country. Performance aritist Mike Parr, in challenging the academic approach of Thompson’s paper to Bausch’s work, assumed, I would argue incorrectly, that most audience members had never seen her work live. Russell Dumas, in a later session, revisited this subject of context and Australian audiences by criticising the “guru” status he believed antistatic’s visiting artists to have been granted. The arguments represented here are recurring within the dance community and assume a condition of inadequacy in our audiences and practitioners, which in turn suggests an authority “elsewhere.” Such assumptions stagnate discussion and progress by rendering the majority of participants deficient.

A later discussion grouped together 3 practitioners whose solo works were performed as part of Axis; Eleanor Brickhill, Julie Humphreys and Susie Fraser. Unfortunately I missed Fraser’s piece, Stories From the Interior. [In this work-in-progress, Picking up the Threads, Susie Fraser retraces a dancer’s body changed by childbirth and motherhood. Her recorded voice speaks eloquently from a tape recorder. When asked afterwards why the speech is in the third person, she says “Sometimes it feels like that.” The illumination for her subtle movement comes from a video monitor running home movie footage. Meanwhile stretched across the back wall are the beginnings of her video manipulations into a painstaking choreography on the family from her place within it. Eds.] Brickhill provided the most satisfying combination of spoken word and movement in antistatic, The Cocktail Party. Her analogy of a party was accurate; she tentatively entered the space and presented a dance and a kind of commentary: “What is that…it looks important…why don’t you just say it…I know where that comes from…” A dance about making a dance, in her words. Words revealed movement revealed words in a moving and strikingly personal confrontation of the two. In the discussion Brickhill said she was “trying to write while thinking of dancing.” Fraser said she had tried “writing from movement” but “needed another pair of hands.”

Long and Baxter had the last say in event and left everyone speechless; an attempted closing discussion was aborted after valiant attempts from the Masters of Ceremony, Trotman and Morrish, which were met with a request for alcohol. The irreverent tone and attitude of Long and Baxter was a welcome change from the earnest intentions of the weekend, but their performance was an odd experience seated as I was between Lisa Nelson and Jennifer Monson who were not spared the duo’s humour.

What they dared to do was admit to other preferences within performance, both through their comments and their mode of delivery, which provided a healthy intervention within a relatively homogeneous festival. Not to deny the vast differences in the approaches of say Houston-Jones and Crisp, but antistatic engaged framing notions of dance which created an exclusive environment. Long and Baxter’s piece suggested other ways of dancing and performing which, at the same time, displayed a real engagement with the proceedings. A certain frustration was aired here but always with good humour, such as Long’s comments on the Clavicle program that it all seemed so “Melbourne” and her exposition of exactly what “doing a Dumas” entails. Even Russell Dumas was rendered speechless.

Axis: Susie Fraser, Stories from the Interior; Sally Gardner, “Can practice survive”; Julie Humphreys, Involution; Anne Thompson, “Rainer, Wilson and Bausch as markers in a mapping of the border terrain called dance theatre”; Helen Clarke-Lapin with Ion Pearce, Alice Cummins, Rosalind Crisp, Orbit; Eleanor Brickhill, The Cocktail Party; Julie-Anne Long & Virginia Baxter, Rememberings on Dance.

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 13

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

Rice

Jenny Weight’s Rice is an assortment of cultural odds and ends—dominoes, spearmint chewing gum wrapper, a portrait in a red checked shirt, calligraphy, television coverage, 4 year-olds and Shockwave animations. “The time has come for action” says a United States president and it’s American imperialism full steam ahead with a voice I do know—Jimi Hendrix—and a journey into archives of memory on war. There’s a sense of displacement. A woman screams in the early morning in a hotel room. She won’t stop.

We’re in North Vietnam now, listening to the static, “In Vietnam/we swallow the future whole./But digested/is different/from dead.” The dominoes start to topple and we become “the supertourists. We stand outside, bigger than our own history.” Vietnamese fighters and quick hopping doves. An endlessness of clicking, cameras, keyboards keys, dirt and heaven. Like a game of patience, surprises are turned up and over, yet framed in circles by distance. Images are ambiguous, nothing appears as it seems, but each link lays a brick, solidifying speculation.

“If you are childless/and you visit Vietnam/it is best to lie…” A cybertourist, too, wants the authentic experience. Rice plays games with our need to know, vomits up images of truth and desire, tampered with, and then punishes us for believing. Its jewels, “the beauty of junk”, the collected past makes, and is resistant to, us. We continue searching for the poem factory in a creaky cyclo.

The Unknown

While Rice looks out from Australia, the other competition winner, The Unknown, in typical United States fashion, looks deep within, into the bowels and beyond. We’re all goin’ on a…another road trip folks and we’ll take up where Kerouac and De Lillo left off…to frontier fiction with a special travel itinerary, with 3 academics who can’t change a tyre, on a book tour to flog The Anthology of the Unknown. (Who says that Americans don’t understand irony?). Starting from write-about-what-ya-know (downside: “we are often unaware of the scope and structure of our ignorance”—Thomas Pynchon quoted), The Unknown is a satire on publishing and promotion as well as a tough and funny look at the nature of creating hypertext: “the reader becomes a sort of satellite taking photographs of a huge and varied terrain.”

Largely text based, the site cleverly uses audio of the ‘writers’ speaking at conferences, debates topics as crucial as that criticism can be as much an artform as literature (okay, so they are laughing hash-hysterically at this point). Hilarious shots of 3 suit-and-tongue-tied men dwarfed by huge public sculptures add to the rich subversive mix. They even criticise one of the trAce/alt-x competition judges Mark Amerika (they meet him at Tennis Home, a Rehab centre for Hollywood starlets and hypertext dropouts). The live readings with audience murmurings and applause which play throughout give the work a sense of movement and wit and, although this territory has been traversed before online, what Americans excel at is BIGness and this mammoth chunk of cyberspace defies, and plays with, expectation and The Dream: “I sat up and stared at an American landscape we had not yet named.”

Rice (Jenny Weight) and The Unknown (William Gillespie, Scott Rettberg, Dirk Stratton, Frank Marquardt) were joint winners of the trAce competition. Jenny Weight lives in Adelaide. She received a new media artist residency at Media Resource Centre to develop Rice.

The trAce/alt-x hypertext competition prize is for 100 pounds. 152 entries were received including many from Australia. Submissions had to be web-based with high quality writing; excellent overall conceptual design and hyperlink structure; and ease of use for the average web surfer.

The above winners can be found on the trAce website http://trace.ntu.ac.uk/ hypertext/ [expired] with further information on the competition. Three sites also gained honourable mentions: *water always writes in *plural by Josephine Wilson & Linda Carroli, (Australia), Kokura by Mary-Kim Arnold (USA) and Michael Atavar’s calendar (UK). The competition will re-open at the end of 1999.

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 16

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

Ishmael Houston-Jones, Without Hope

Ishmael Houston-Jones, Without Hope

Ishmael Houston-Jones, Without Hope

Eleanor Brickhill asked Ishmael Houston-Jones about his impressions of antistatic 99.

I often feel like a member of a band of vagrant minstrels, criss-crossing the worldwide countryside of postmodern dance. We steal into a town, dance for our supper and a place to sleep, and then move on. Because the friendly villages are few and well-known to members of my merry band, we invariably run into each other at semi-regular intervals. I might see David Z in Havana, then David D in Glasgow; I’ll have a dance with Jennifer M in London, and the other Jennifer M in Northern Venezuela; I’ll watch a performance by Lisa in Arnhem, and she’ll watch my dress rehearsal in Sydney. This has been my life for 20 years.

Of course New York is my home. It’s where the answering machine is. It’s where the cheques with a variety of postmarks come. It’s a city that inspires and drains me. It is a city, however, that will never support me, nor the majority of my downtown dance compatriots. Thus roaming from small festival to small festival has become a necessary pleasure for survival. While the road can sap as much energy as being broke and over-stimulated in Manhattan, it does make it possible for me to make my work.

In April 1999 I travelled midway around the world to take part in the second antistatic festival in Sydney. As a safe haven for dancing, this turned out to be a welcoming and genial way station. The production of my performances at The Performance Space was done with exacting professionalism combined with compassionate attention. The programs were well curated. While audience size varied, it was clear that the organisers had done a lot, through receptions, an attractive flyer and other publicity, to bring out the New Dance public in Sydney.

The workshop I taught, “Dancing Text/Texting Dance”, were well run by antistatic. It attracted a near perfect assortment of those interested in sharing my process for the 2 week period. The “dancing paper” presented by Susan Leigh Foster was thought-provoking and added a context for the work that was being presented and taught. The events attracted (curious) reviews in the mainstream press.

As an antistatic participant, I feel the main fault of the festival was its overabundance. During the 3 weeks, there was very little downtime or space for processing. With workshops running 5 days a week for 6 hours a day, and a variety of shows, showings, lectures etc taking place in the evenings and all weekend, I often found myself feeling tired and stretched (or guilty for skipping out on an event). This may have had to do with the fact that this was my first journey to Australia, and I wanted to get a little sight-seeing and night life into my itinerary. Also suffering from this being my virgin voyage Down Under, is my ability to adequately critique the breadth of the local work. The program of which I was a part also featured pieces by fellow New Yorker, Jennifer Monson, and the Melbourne duo, Trotman and Morrish. This program was varied in its scope within the narrow frame of “new dance.” The works evocatively contrasted one another, while they seemed to accidentally provide some complementary subtext for the evening.

The works on the following weekend were a different story. Although Lisa Nelson is from the United States and Ros Crisp is from Sydney, several of my students described the program as a “very Melbourne evening”. While the works varied greatly one from another, they had a disquieting similarity of tone. I found this to be most true with the “the gaze” and how it was used, or not used. Except with Nelson, the only non-Australian on the program, there seemed to be a determined effort to not acknowledge the audience through any overt eye contact. This lent an air of “art school lab experimentation” to several of the pieces. Again, I’m not sure if I’ve seen enough local work to justify even this stereotype, but this inward focus did seem to be a less refined echo of the performance personae of Russell Dumas’ dancers, whom I saw as part of antistatic at The Studio at the Sydney Opera House.

Ishmael Houston-Jones, Rougher

Ishmael Houston-Jones, Rougher

Ishmael Houston-Jones, Rougher

What I found different about antistatic, as opposed to, say, The Movable Beast Festival in Chicago, was its lack of both artistic and ethnic diversity. In 1998, at Movable Beast—a small festival of new dance in its second year—I performed 2 of the same pieces I did at antistatic. But while there was an emphasis on “pure movement” pieces, there were also works that veered toward performance art, multimedia spectacle, spoken word, drag, cabaret, and site specific. The latter 2 genres were encouraged by having multiple venues for the festival. While the main performances took place in a traditional black-box theatre, each festival participant was required to also present “something” on a tiny stage in a jazz club between sets, and also to make a site specific work for the Museum of Contemporary Art’s 24 hour Summer Solstice celebration.

Another difference was that all performers taught, and there was a lot less teaching by each person: 2 days apiece for the visitors; one day for the Chicagoans. While this greatly lessened the intensity of the workshop experience, it did allow for the participants to take one another’s classes, and for the students to get a taste of many different approaches to making work. I think something between the antistatic workshop stream in which a student signs up for one teacher for the entire 2 week period, and the Movable Beast’s workshop sampler would be preferable.

A striking difference between the 2 festivals was in their ethnic make-up. This is influenced by my American perspective, but it is not likely that such a festival in the States would ever be as “white” as antistatic was [Yumi Umiamare and Tony Yap were also antistatic participants. Eds.]. There were no international artists involved with Movable Beast, but besides myself, there were African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic artists teaching and performing. Several were gay. The teacher/performers came from 5 states outside Chicago. Like the audiences and artists of new dance, the majority of workshop students were white, but there was some ethnic diversity in most of the classes. While I try not to place an over-arching significance on these statistics—and of course I realise the demographics of the 2 countries are very different—I still feel that some creative outreach to different populations allows a festival to be more richly diverse and less restrictively insular.

antistatic was a very positive experience. It allowed me to present my work through performing, teaching, and discussing it with a new community in a very nurturing environment. It can only get better as a festival by widening its embrace of new dance.

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 14

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

Chunky Move’s Melbourne Fashion Festival showing

Chunky Move’s Melbourne Fashion Festival showing

For Chunky Move’s contribution to the Woolmark 1999 Melbourne Fashion Festival Lucy Guerin’s group work, Zero, is a sophisticated and daring piece. Made for the entire company, it is an episodic but not literal progression of large and small group and solo sections, comprising a work that makes for compelling viewing. Guerin has set up a formal but abstract structure that defies our expectations. There are continual surprises—your attention is drawn from one part of the space to another, from big movements to tiny details. Sometimes a trio in a downstage corner is mirrored in the opposite corner upstage. Sometimes the ensemble work is crisp and tight, other times it is looser.

The work subtly builds to its conclusion when Phillip Adams and Luke Smiles perform a virtuosic duet. Adams manipulates Smiles, asserting his power by containing and constricting Smiles’ movement. They remain physically connected and confined to a tight square of light centre stage. The dependency play is riveting and one of the more obvious emotionally charged moments.

It is clear in Zero that Guerin’s decision to work without a theme has actually freed her to make more potent choreographic decisions than in her last work, Heavy (1998). However, I was acutely aware of every lighting cue and change in the soundtrack tempo, which I found distracting.

In complete contrast to Guerin’s abstraction and clarity comes Gideon Obarzanek’s All The Better To Eat You With, a late 20th century panto-style presentation of Little Red Riding Hood. Dancers sporting exaggerated character costumes recreate the narrative through mime and rather hackneyed interpretive movement sequences. Given the desensitisation of us all (children included) to violence and death through accessible popular culture forms, this interpretation of what is a scary children’s story goes no further than the basic expectations of how this story could be read in current cultural context.

It is literal and simplistic in its storytelling and lacks the dynamic movement vocabulary we have seen in some of Obarzanek’s previous works eg Bonehead (1997) and C.O.R.R.U.P.T.E.D.2 (1998) The set, however, is stunning. Also designed by the choreographer, it is a series of simple, stylish aquarium-like installations, that bubble, slosh, reflect and absorb light, complemented by a large pool table-sized slab of light—sometimes used as a screen and perpendicular to the floor, sometimes horizontal, hovering above. It tilts, turns and creates a fascinating diversion to the live performances happening around it.

Obarzanek’s effective design for That’s Not My Movement, But this One Is (a short work with Guerin) also provides much of the interest for that work. Small, candle-lit perspex boxes clustering near the 2 dancers, but gently swaying, exude a warmth that does not exist in the unsatisfying solos these choreographers have created for each other. The sense of incompleteness leaves me wondering why the clarity of the design is not as apparent in the movement.

There were some breathtaking and believable performances, especially from Fiona Cameron, Luke Smiles and Phillip Adams in Zero, but I missed the worldly understanding inherent in the performances of Obarzanek’s first Chunky Move ensemble. The loss of key performers like Narelle Benjamin and Brett Daffy, who have been replaced by some technically able but less experienced performers, has created a less individualistic approach to the performers’ interpretation of the work. The strength of Chunky Move in the past has been this sense of the personal within an ensemble setting.

Chunky Move, Bodyparts, choreographers Gideon Obarzanek and Lucy Guerin; performers Luke Smiles, Lisa Griffiths, Phillip Adams, David Tyndall, Byron Perry, Fiona Cameron and Kirstie McCracken; collaborators Damien Cooper, lighting designer Audra Cornish, fashion designer Peter [email protected], composer Darrin Verhagen, costume designers Laurel Frank, David Anderson; Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse, Melbourne, February 16 – 27

RealTime issue #30 April-May 1999 pg. 32

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

Ros Warby, original home

Ros Warby, original home

Ros Warby, original home

A trio of objects begins the piece, their arbitrary motions engendered by some offstage intentionality. An oval stone rolls onstage, wobbles, rolls, wobbles and finally rests. Quiet reigns. The passage and beauty of the stone’s journey says it all about this piece, wherein a setting was created which made space for the contemplation of this simple, moving object. We slowly meet the protagonists in this medley of objects, both animate and inanimate.

original home is improvised. It has movement, objects and sound; 3 people and many artefacts, both natural and constructed. Graeme Leak is credited with the sound objects but all the performers use them. Ros Warby stood on a weathered stone, a limpet extending her limbs against a white canvas. Shona Innes wielded enormous seed pods, ridiculous weapons in a comic duet. The objects made music but they also sang their own presence. I almost felt the plethora of objects was too much—transported on and off stage—they tended to break with the chaste atmosphere of the space. But then I decided that their transport was like a Brechtian device intended to mark the boundaries between particular sections of the work, and to allow the performers to be their ordinary selves.

The performance space had been reconstructed for the event, an interior layer of walls, gaps, pleats, and a wide rectangular window at the back from which spilled darkness and light. Warby stood against the window, not doing all that much. So much is conveyed in-between. Leak’s sense of musical timing was voluminous, allowing for an interweaving of kinaesthetic content.

The 3 performers made duets and trios, showing their year’s work together. Yet they didn’t blend into one another. At one point, Warby and Innes were bent over, each with one arm up. One arm so different from the other, animated according to 2 distinct corporealities. Innes’ opportunistic humour—lapping up the possibilities of the moment—was not mimicked by anyone else. The performers coalesced in the space of a single performance whilst listening to their own muse.

The trace of Deborah Hay’s recent visit was manifest here: no rush to get anywhere, always already there. Although it could be argued that all dance is a form of improvised movement, when you watch an ‘improvised work’ there is a sense of something over and above established choreography. Perhaps the difference lies in the observer. But the felt quality is of indeterminacy, a lack of predetermination, of multiple and not singular pathways. The point at which this is conveyed is when nothing is happening—for in that moment there is a vacillation between freedom and anticipation, between future and past, a pair of extremes which is only ever resolved in the present.

original home, (returning to it), director Ros Warby, choreography/composition /performance Ros Warby, Shona Innes and Graeme Leak, lighting design Margie Medlin, design Ros Warby, Margie Medlin; Dancehouse, Melbourne, February 5 – 14

RealTime issue #30 April-May 1999 pg. 32

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

Body Weather workshop, Lake Mungo, 1992,

Body Weather workshop, Lake Mungo, 1992,

Tess de Quincey is a choreographer and dancer who has worked extensively in Europe, Japan and Australia as solo performer, teacher and director. The strongest influence on her performance came from her work over 6 years (1985-91) with Butoh dancer Min Tanaka and his Mai-Juku Company. Tanaka founded the term and philosophical basis for Body Weather, a broad-based and comprehensive training that embraces and builds on concepts of environment. Body Weather proposes a philosophical but also practical strategy to the mind and the body that is not just for ‘professional’ dancers or performance practitioners but is an open investigation that can be relevant for anyone interested in exploring the body. Drawing on elements of both eastern and western dance, sports training, martial arts and theatre practice, it is a discipline that develops a conscious relation without conforming to specific form. In solo and group works as well as her work with sculptor-dancer Stuart Lynch, Tess de Quincey proposes this practice within a contemporary western perspective as a training that can be applied as a pure body/mind research or aligned to dance and/or performance training.

De Quincey’s major solo productions, Movement on the Edge, Another Dust and is.2 have toured extensively in Europe and Australia and among her group pieces, Square of Infinity, a film and large-scale performance work, was the culmination of reflections on the specific time and space of the dry lake bed of Lake Mungo in the ACT. De Quincey/Lynch’s recent site-specific and time-based works include The Durational Trilogy, a series of pieces lasting 6, 12 and 24 hours) and Compression 100, a series of collaborative performances in and around Sydney.

Currently recipient of the Australia Council’s Choreographic Fellowship (1998-99), Tess de Quincey has initiated another large scale project focused this time in Australia’s Central Desert. The Triple Alice Project in partnership with Desart, the Centre for Performance Studies (Sydney University) and The Performance Space spans 3 years (1999-2001). It involves a forum as well as 3 live, site- and temporally-specific laboratories staged over 3 weeks of each year. The forum and laboratories are accessible through an interactive website, www.triplealice.net which is formative of and integral to the event.

Triple Alice 1 (September 20-October 10 1999) is a laboratory focusing on contemporary arts practices of the Central Desert and brings together Indigenous and non-indigenous artists from the Northern Territory and local guest speakers to contextualise the site. It includes a 3-week intensive Body Weather workshop in which participants will make sensory and experiential mappings of space—in this case, the landscape 100 kms north west of Alice Springs at Hamilton Downs in the MacDonnell Ranges. “The workshop involves some strenuous workouts to develop strength, flexibility and a strong physical grounding. The ground work provides insight into the different speeds of the body and the function of time. These practices also aim to sharpen sensorial focus, spatial awareness and coordinative perspectives”, says de Quincey. The workshop will be joined by a dance-performance unit and theorists and writers will maintain an onsite theoretical debate. The website will transmit the laboratory and invite remote participation—a cross-cultural, interdisciplinary meeting of theory and practice.

Triple Alice 2 in 2000 will involve a number of collaborative artists creating performance for web and screen. This second laboratory will build on the experience and language developed in the first and invite a wider range of responses, particularly from new media artists through physical attendance at the lab as well as remote interactive networking with it. Participation from remote sites will include live interstate linkups with art venues in the major cities. The emphasis will be on performance and art works specifically designed for electronic media.

Triple Alice 3 (2001) is an online international laboratory, seminar and festival. This event will correlate ideas of space and time in the different traditions of artistic practice and performance work with those of other disciplines including astrophysics, philosophy, astronomy, military research and navigation. In parallel with this exchange, live online performance and artworks will synthesise the results of the first 2 labs.

For more information on the Body Weather Workshop www.bodyweather.net

RealTime issue #30 April-May 1999 pg. 35

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

Pink Floyd, God Flesh, The Beach Boys, Canadians David Cronenberg and comic book artists Seth, Chester Brown and Joe Matt. This strange alliance of music and cinematics is typical of the diversity of works that inspire Tasmanian video artist Matt Warren.

His most recent piece is a video installation titled I Still Miss You, which has only recently finished showing in the new gallery belonging to CAST (Contemporary Art Services Tasmania). The work occupied a corner of the main gallery as part of the exhibition Transmission, curated by Jennifer Spinks, featuring the work of Sarah Ryan, Troy Ruffels, Leigh Burnett, Matt Calvert, Kate Warnock and Warren.

Within a screened-off section of the gallery, a suspended video projector beamed deep into a darkened 4 by 6 metre space carpeted with road metal an inch thick. A step onto the heavy gravel, and I was confronted by the amplified crunchings of my footfalls issuing from speakers in the ceiling. Here I stopped, turning my attention to the pool of flickering images on the wall.

Backed by a deep thrumming chord with an almost metallic edge which completely filled the space, the video unfolded as a series of impassioned monologues enacted by a man and a woman in a car in heavy rain. We see them from a distance at night, and yet cannot hear their dialogue. While the camera position remains stationary, the view closes in to focus on each face, sometimes pleading, sometimes ranting, while all the time washed by red and yellow sheets of light sprayed from the night traffic spilling past, periodically punctuated by a convulsive strobe that lit up the cockpit of the car like the wing of an aircraft.

A series of hypnotic sequences evolve that explore the dynamics of what seems like a relationship break down, all held in the tight confines of the steamy domestic sedan. The entire drama is seen through a foreground of luminous waves animated by the sweeping pulses of the wiper blades across an incandescent ocean that is the fish shop window of the windscreen.

A central thematic of Matt Warren’s’s work is an investigation of his own experiences of absence and loss, through a subtle and confident manipulation of his medium. Both of the characters occupy the driver’s seat in the argument (physically and metaphorically), and this device is used to explore a series of alternative developments of the conflict. The viewer realises the arbitrariness of his/her own narrative assumptions, and this results in a process of reflection upon one’s own existence, and beyond to the link between Warren’s own work and the autobiographical montage of the comic artists mentioned earlier.

Warren has been working with video and sound composition since he taught himself to edit with 2 VCRs while at Hellyer College in Burnie, and his qualifications now include a BFA in Painting and a Graduate Diploma in Video, both from the University of Tasmania. Warren has just been offered a Samstag Scholarship to undertake postgraduate study overseas, and he is currently negotiating with Simon Fraser University in Vancouver to pursue an MFA in Interdisciplinary Practice, beginning late 1999. I have no doubt the Samstag Scholarship and associated travel experience will add to Warren’s eclectic nature, and I’ll be very keen to see how new influences enhance the elegant processes of layering and synaesthesia that characterise his work.

See review of Matt Warren’s short film Phonecall which screened as part of the recent Multimedia Mini-Festival in Tasmania,

RealTime issue #30 April-May 1999 pg. 23

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

Ros Warby & Graeme Leak, original home

Ros Warby & Graeme Leak, original home

original home is the second in a series of works by Ros Warby, exploring the possibilities that lie within (or between) music and dance.

At first there is the question of how to begin. A double question. How to begin to make the work and how to begin the work. When neither sound nor movement are privileged, nor developed separately. Right from the beginning they are allowed to interact and to cause events to happen, crossing over from one discipline to another. A kind of cross-stitching.

The rhythms and ph(r)ased collisions of sound and bodies, are both decidedly musical and intensely human. There is an interchange of impulses. We meet the body as composer in its purest sense.

There is a question of how to begin and there is a question of how to proceed. It begins quietly, or at least the space is quiet, or at least empty. There are sounds coming up from underneath the floor, underneath the seating. Instruments warming up, air being forced down a long tube. This is theatrical. Someone is waiting in the wings. We fall silent.

And then a rock rolls across the floor. This rolling stone (rock) is awkward, unsymmetrical, noisy. There is a certain rhythm. Its trajectory is unpredictable. The rolling of the rock gives us a direction as to how to enter the work. The haphazard movement of the rock suggests that anything might happen, where one sound or movement does not predict the next and cannot be fixed. A work premised very much on receptivity.

The dancers are placing objects against the side wall. These objects are treasures. They have a history, detailed histories of their own. A seed pod was found in the Queensland Botanical Gardens and brought to Melbourne. The seed pods with their promise of new life, dried and clattery on the wooden floor. There is on old drum, and the head of another old and broken drum. Some of these objects have been waiting for repair for years, broken and (apparently) of no use. They have been broken and taken apart. Other instruments have been built out of them and these bits of wood are the offcuts.

The objects (instruments) are brought in without caution. The dancers are dropping things, without reference to the sound they make. Without reference or reverence or caution.

Objects remain on the floor where they have landed, silent now. Once or twice they are kicked out of the way. The debris on the floor is never really abandoned. But it is nevertheless scattered, dropped, strewn across the empty floor. The objects are treated with a certain carelessness, something (very) difficult to achieve.

One of the dancers lies on the floor, alongside the (other) objects. She becomes one link in a chain (of objects). Bodies and objects are transferable. I remember standing next to the sculptures of Louise Bourgeois, at an exhibition in Perth. I was tempted to talk to them, such was their human presence.

Drum sticks fall like fiddlesticks onto the wooden floor. Dancers step in between the sticks, careful not to cause movement, careful not to allow a stick to move. Just as in the game, you can remove the sticks so long as others do not move. In this case if one stick were to move it would betray itself. By making a noise.

She moves along a straight line, her footsteps are marked, in time, by the sound of two pieces of wood being struck. The spinning ring, like a small miracle, grows louder as it comes closer to the floor. It makes a kind of crescendo before it lands, stops, falls silent. The whining of the bowed metal plate, reminding us of Pierre Henri’s saw. Its weary lament.

The rock is one brought back from Europe in a suitcase. “Has this got rocks in it?” There is a question of weight.

I am thinking about contact dancing, only here it is to do with things, or more exactly the sound(s) of things. Contact dancing involves the shifting of weight from one body to another, sharing the weight and moving according to the shifts between these two bodies. In original home, the sound, as body, could be imagined as the other partner, whose materiality could be trusted and lent on as the body of another. Sound as body, body as composer. This play between sound and body points to the weight of sound just as did the weight of the rock. The rock rolls for a second time. It makes a(n unintended) direct line for the back wall and crashes into it. Again it takes forever to settle. A kind of balancing and falling at the same time.

There is a stillness as one of the dancers perches on the rock. Her stillness is allowed to crack and she falls and moves on. Against the back wall she balances on a disk. This back wall is miked. She whips the wall with an electric extension cord given her by the composer. Slapping the electric cord against the wall. She lifts the rock steadily while balancing on an hour glass shaped drum. As she stands up the objects fall over, knocked over in her carelessness. There are abrupt endings and unexpected linkages. Objects, like ideas are dropped when no longer useful, and without ceremony, you move on.

The final image is one of breath. At first we hear a long drawn out blurt, a kind of Tibetan blasphemy. The breath is being forced through a long metal tube. We see the man lifting a made-up instrument of 3 pieces, almost too long to hold, almost out of reach. With the introduction of some small valve or flute into the core of the tube, the sound transforms into a fragile, wavering, sliding, musical line. We hear the frail wanderings of the breath, as the lights die down.

We are reminded (again) of the fragility of being human, of the body, of our closeness to death. We feel the frailty of the human body, with all its limitations and fallibilities.

Imagine that, still alive, after all these years.

Ros Warby, original home, performers Ros Warby, Shona Innes, Graeme Leak; sound objects, Graeme Leak; Dancehouse, Feb 5 – 14

RealTime issue #30 April-May 1999 pg. 37

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

Peter Callas, Lost in Translation

Peter Callas, Lost in Translation

In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx spoke famously of the “tradition of all the dead generations weigh[ing] like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” Similarly, there is an overwhelming sense in which the video works of Peter Callas possess an electro-organic force, one so imbued with the archive of mediatised debris of geo-political and popular culture that the ecstasy of an encounter with his video works might lead to meteoric apoplexy in perception on the part of the viewer. This, if you will, is but one constellation of a dialectical imaginary that negotiates the complexities between the premodern and the (post)modern in Callas’ topo-videographic lessons on history.

Peter Callas: Initialising History is a 3-component national touring project centred around Peter Callas, electronic media artist and curator. Produced by dLux media arts, the project features Initialising History, comprising 12 of Callas’ video works 1980–1999; Peripheral Visions, a selection by Callas of contemporary international video art and computer animation; and An Eccentric Orbit, a 3-part survey of Australian video art made during the 1980s and early 90s, curated by Callas and produced by Ross Harley and touring internationally since its launch in 1994 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

The short black & white video Singing Stone (1980) holds a curious pivotal position as the opening piece in the Callas retrospective. Prior to embarking into the world of video art, Callas trained at the ABC as an assistant film and then sound editor for TV news and current affairs programs. He then studied printmaking and sculpture at art school in Sydney. Singing Stone seems to translate some of the technical and ideological properties of these otherwise distinct media into the poetics of video art. For almost the entire duration of this work, we hear a harsh scraping discord as we see a hand brushing a stone in a circular motion. The image of the hand and stone literally disintegrates, recomposing as a mutable collage of imaginary terrains anchored by noise which eventually folds over the obliterated image to include a veritable murmur of voices and honking traffic intruding from the street. At least that’s how I heard it.

The layered dimensions of sound and imagery in Singing Stone are made possible by the unstable nature of magnetic tape as a recording surface, yet one assumes these layers are the result of the place of a kinaesthetic between the hand and the stone. As such, a metaphor is created on the dialectic between inscription (or representation) and the contingencies of history. In yet another way, the work can be seen to refuse the fragmented spectacle of TV news images held together in a universal order by the voice-over of a news reader or reporter. The referent seems to speak itself.

In the context of a selected retrospective, Singing Stone can perhaps more crucially be approached as anticipating some of the recurring stylistic motifs and critical concerns Callas’ later works present. First, there is a recognition of the instability of representation: Callas shows that even images unfolding in real-time—that supposedly ‘unmediated’ time not subject to the intervention of the ‘edit’—are, however, subject to the peculiarities of a communication technology and the way historicity is attributed to cultural phenomena. Secondly, is the way a grid of manga warriors or shifting troupe of dancers appears to emerge in the regenerating images of Singing Stone. (Callas himself hinted as much in his introduction to Initialising History at the Festival of Perth’s ART(iculations) symposium, and revealed in the discussion after the screenings that he sees the bearded face of a Chinese man.) An apocryphal dimension attends such a readerly desire to enact order out of chaos. Indeed, Singing Stone invites uncertainty, or rather the certainty of differentiated perception —for both operate as a dialectical trope across the Callas oeuvre.

Callas’ ‘singular style’ developed while living in Tokyo during the ‘bubble economy’ of the mid 80s. In this harmonious correlation between cultural production and imagined economies, video artists were commissioned by department stores, with electronic billboards and shop display windows operating as potential conduits out of urban environments for the passer-by. The staple icon articulating the animated brilliance of Callas’ multi-dimensional work from this period is derived or, as Scott McQuire aptly puts it, “mined” from the ubiquity of manga culture in Japan. The use of techno-hybrids of traditional and popular music as an editing strategy is predominant in these signatory video works. As Callas commented during the Perth screening of Initialising History, the structure of music dictates the editing of images; what distinguishes these works from pop music video clips is the situated resonance of history reconfigured. Callas alleviates a possibile rigidity in the dialectical image by deploying sound to create a fluid dimension for political expression.

Bilderbuch für Ernst Will (Ernst Will’s Picture Book): A Euro Rebus is one of Callas’ last works produced using the Fairlight CVI (Computer Video Instrument)—the primary tool through which Callas honed the complexity of fusing disparate cultural histories into topo-videographic arrangements. Made in Sydney and Tokyo from 1990 to 1993, Bilderbuch für Ernst Will follows Callas’ earlier work and doesn’t conform to any apparent narrative structure. Instead, as Rudolf Frieling suggests, Bilderbuch… is a work of “possible logics of construction and perception that need to be explored through multiple viewings”. Herein lies a paradox of Callas’ video art: while these texts can be seen as a highly aestheticised and at times horrific and sublime pastiche of images referencing a mass of art historical, pop culture, and what Ross Harley astutely calls “ideogrammic objects” of US mediatised culture (Art & Text 28 (1988), p. 78), his texts nonetheless resist the easy digestibility of aesthetics we often associate with recent digital and photomedia artworks. Within this tension between familiarity and abstruse syncretism, the problematic of history and memory is once again foregrounded as a politicised terrain. Moreover, Callas contributes to cultural debate the importance of reconsidering the critical place of aesthetics. And he’s been doing this for some time now.

An attempt to unravel the encyclopedic histories intricated throughout the video work by Callas can only be an interminable one. And herein lies the pleasure of his work. In any case, the program notes by Rachel Kent, read in conjunction with the essays by McQuire and Frieling in the forthcoming monograph, have to be commended for their critical acumen.

I’d like to finish by turning to Callas’ current work in progress, Lost in Translation. During the ART(iculations) symposium, Callas made frequent mention of what he observes as the institutional and commercial outmoding of video art by digital media in many contemporary art festivals. A pressing concern for Callas involves the cultural, social, and memorial implications that come with the excision of one communication technology as it is replaced by another. A fundamental question emerges: what happens when the communicative forms of cultural articulation are ‘exiled’ through instituted means? What is lost (and what is found) within new terrains of expression?

The syncopated “architectronics” emblemised in Callas’ CVI work are extended in Lost in Translation, where smooth transitions in 3-dimensional space envelop 2-dimensional planar images. A considerably slower pulse tracks a refiguring of ‘magic realism’ usually attributed to Latin American writers and photographers—the labyrinthine tales of Borges, epic parables of García Márquez and poignant images of Alvarez Bravo spring most immediately to mind. With claims nowadays that the novel is long dead, and the reality-effect of photography no longer tenable, it is perhaps no surpise that Callas’ translation of Brazillian history through and within the spatio-temporality of digital media evokes questions of ‘truth’ as it pertains to the mode of representation and the position of the observer.

Lost in Translation is by definition a work in progress, as it will always be. This is not to say this current project will remain incomplete. Rather, its purpose is the creation of a fractal universe in which the singularity of the event is registered in the multiple dimensions of a history on Latin America in which the perception of the viewer is folded into its topology.

Peter Callas: Initialising History, commissioned and produced by dLux media arts in association with Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA), Festival of Perth, PICA, February 10 – March 7. Program touring nationally: ACCA (Australian Centre for Contemporary Art), Melbourne until May 2, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, from May 27.

RealTime issue #30 April-May 1999 pg. 22

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

The Hobart Fringe Festival was set up several summers ago as a means for performers and practitioners in the experimental and non-mainstream arts to gain greater exposure. Tasmania has a rich vein of talent, across all the arts, but rather too few opportunities for these talents to be showcased. This goes for the experimental arts in particular. The entire Fringe Festival functions on a lot of enthusiasm and goodwill and a limited budget. Happily, the organisers are able to bring together a variety of smaller arts events, some of which would be taking place in any case, giving them a wider profile by including them within the Fringe, which runs for 2 weekends and the intervening week.

One of the best resolved and most professional events within this year’s Fringe Festival was the Multimedia Mini-Festival, curated by local video and performance artist and musician Matt Warren. Warren, current recipient of a Samstag Scholarship, will soon undertake MFA studies in Canada. Over the past few years he has been very active, statewide, in presenting individual, collaborative and specially-commissioned innovative public arts events combining elements of performance, sound, video and installation.

With few film events currently being held on any regular basis in Tasmania, the Mini-Festival was a terrific opportunity for artist-exhibitors and audiences alike. We have only limited opportunities to study film and video making in any depth—and professional openings are rare—so the existence of an enthusiastic culture of film and video artmaking and appreciation is doubly impressive.

One of the highlights was Film & Video on the Fringe, a well balanced evening screening of short films and videos, by mostly local artists, held at the theatre at the Hobart School of Art. (At the School of Art itself, the popular and well equipped Video Department, run by highly regarded video artist and musician Leigh Hobba, has been for some time teetering on the brink of threatened closure, ill-advised and unpopular though such a move would be.)

The stand-out works included the video Where Sleeping Dogs Lay by Peter Creek, looking at the consequences of domestic violence. Its absorbing 2-hander dialogue format is jeopardised by a tacked-on bit of drama, designed (probably) to provide some visual variety and ‘action’, but not a total success. Tony Thorne’s amusing animation Serving Suggestion is a subversive piece about consumerism and physical stereotypes. Its humour is from the South Park bodily fluids and functions school of wit, but it manages to present its own, original take on this well-worn theme. The closing credits are amongst the most fascinating and well executed I’ve seen.

Prominent emerging local filmmaker Sean Byrne’s Love Buzz takes a familiar if far-fetched plot device and makes it fresh and credible. There is some interesting—and deliberately self-conscious—dialogue, marred, however, by the technical limitations of the soundtrack. Dianna Graf’s short (3 min) video-collage of still photographic images is a simple idea seductively brought to fruition. But perhaps the most engaging work is Matt Warren’s short video, Phonecall, another very simple concept actualised, in this case, into something Kafkaesque in its disturbing unreadability.

It is night and a pyjama-clad Warren has clearly been woken from sleep by the ringing phone. The audience then simply listens as he responds; warily, laconically, impatiently and so on, to whatever is on the other end of the phone (which is never revealed). Something a bit suspect seems to be being discussed, but we can never quite tell; nothing is spelt out or explained. As in a genuine phonecall, there is no concession made for eavesdroppers; we get this tantalising, one-sided conversation, a monologue in effect, delivered by Warren in exasperated tones that hit just the right subtle comic note. The work is at once cryptic (in its spoken content) and familiar (the scenario of being summoned to the phone at an inappropriate moment, or for an unwelcome encounter). A minor masterpiece of observation and commentary.

Another interesting festival event was the setting-up at Contemporary Art Services Tasmania of a small video/digital art space, to remain in place after the festival, with a changing program of high-tech work. For the Mini-Festival, this multimedia room presented interactives and a quicktime movie along with examples of websites, all by local artists. For artlovers less than familiar with new media, this engaging program was a good introduction to the web and to computer-generated and interactive works. It is pleasing that CAST has taken the initiative to provide permanent exhibition space for this popular artform which is rarely shown at commercial or major public galleries. In its main gallery, CAST featured a challenging group show, Transmission, with the high-tech arts represented by Matt Warren’s hypnotically atmospheric video, I Still Miss You, minimalist digital prints by Troy Ruffels and intriguing lenticular photography from Sarah Ryan.

Arc Up, a rave party featuring a multimedia presentation It felt like love (music and film projection by Stuart Thorne and Glenn Dickson, with animations by Mark Cornelius and ambient video by Matt Warren) completed the main Multimedia Mini-Festival, but a Super 8 Film Competition and the event Celluloid Wax, held at the quirky cabaret-style venue Mona Lisa’s, also helped ensure that media arts had a high profile as an important component of the Hobart Fringe Festival.
Festival curator Warren observes, “I jumped at the chance when I was asked to curate the multimedia segment of the 1999 Hobart Fringe Festival because it’s my area of expertise and I thought it would allow me to check out lots of new stuff I hadn’t seen before. This new work needs to be seen and a festival is the ideal way to draw attention to it. The Film and Video on the Fringe screening attracted a full house and the Mini-Festival at CAST had a steady stream of visitors, so I believe my area of the festival—like the Fringe overall—was a success.”

Despite the difficulties confronting new media in Tasmania, the outlook is encouraging: connoisseurs can look forward to the Australian Network for Art and Technology’s 2-week masterclass/seminar in new media curating and theory to be held in Hobart in April. A highlight will be the associated exhibition of work by up-and-coming Tasmanian multimedia artists curated by Leigh Hobba, for the Plimsoll Gallery at the Centre for the Arts.

Film and Video on the Fringe: The Fringe Multimedia Mini-Festival, curated by Matt Warren, various venues around Hobart, January 30 – February 7.

RealTime issue #30 April-May 1999 pg. 25

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

Stelarc and the exoskeleton

Stelarc and the exoskeleton

Stelarc and the exoskeleton

The laugh starts somewhere deep in the body and you can hear it on its journey through the chest and throat before it bursts out of the mouth of the artist like an alien creature. Then it vanishes and you wait for it to re-appear. The famous laugh of Stelarc has a life and reputation of its own, paralleling that of the artist himself. It seems natural enough but can he produce it at will? Is it the body’s natural expression surfacing or a performative behaviour designed to counter the expectations of a contemporary audience desiring outrage, extreme technical detail, physically dangerous actions and any of the other provocations associated with Stelarc’s work over the last 20 years. These questions of the performative are repeatedly raised in his work and they surfaced again at his presentation to the recent dLuxevent at the Museum of Sydney where Stelarc presented elements of his most recent work and offered the assembled a reading of it in his offhand, almost apologetic way (maybe it’s because he knows that the laugh is imminent…).

Despite such a distinctive laugh, Stelarc always depersonalises the experience of his body; he always refers to it as “The body” rather than “My body” and this is consistent with his sense of it as an organisation of structural components infused with intelligence, a smart machine. But what separates his thesis from, say the discourse of VW Kombi owners, is the idea that the body is not simply a vehicle to transport a disembodied consciousness through space/time. As Stelarc said, “We’ve always been these zombies behaving involuntarily” and this is partly why we have such endemic fears about the discourse of the body that his work opens up as it exposes the primal fear of the zombie, bodies animated by a distant alien intelligence (Descartes for example) in our imagining of the body and its function. On the other hand he raises the anxiety of the cyborg, for instance in his most recent explorations of the physical system in his Exoskeleton project which features “a pneumatically powered six-legged walking machine actuated by arm gestures.” The clumsy but alarmingly sudden movements of the machine compose the sounds it makes with those of the body into a kind of live soundtrack. This merging of the body’s sounds with those of the mechanical milieu into an ‘accompaniment’ to the performance is a signature element of Stelarc’s aesthetics in recent years and underscores his interest in the cybernetic potentials of art and behaviour.

One of the topics raised in the panel discussion (Chris Fleming, UTS; Jane Goodall, UWS; Vicki Kirby, UNSW; Gary Warner, CDP Media) following Stelarc’s presentation centred on the anxiety his work seems to provoke in audiences. Both the figure of the zombie and that of the cyborg disturb insofar as they seem to displace our sense of the humanistic self. Stelarc relentlessly pushes this concept to the margins and the space he opens in the field of body imaging and performance is breathtaking and a little scary for humanists because it is a field of future possibility and becoming rather than being and nostalgia.

Stelarc’s ideas were presented to his usual packed house—no doubt attributable to a combination of his appeal and the dLux organisational flair—who were shown video footage of recent and projected future work including Extra Ear. Much more will be said of this extremely controversial project which involves the ‘prosthetic augmentation’ of the human head (Stelarc’s) to fit another ear which could speak as well as listen by re-broadcasting audio signals, or just “whisper sweet nothings to the other ear” as Stelarc said so disarmingly. His other work-in-progress is the Movatar project which is an attempt to extend the use of digital avatars (virtual semi-autonomous bodies) to access the physical body (Stelarc’s) to perform actions in the real world. In this event, the body itself would become the prosthetic device. Yet none of this would be the same without the presence of the artist himself, with the big charming smile and booming laugh, animating a discussion which is sometimes too close to a tech-head’s wet dream. There is a necessary embodiment here of which Stelarc, as a performer, is acutely aware: “These ideas emanate from the performances. Anyone can come up with the ideas but unless you physically realise them and go through those experiences of new interfaces and new symbioses with technology and information, then it’s not interesting for me.” For Stelarc it is the task of physical actions to authenticate the ideas.

In her excellent and encyclopaedic study of contemporary performance art in Australia, Body and Self (OUP), Anne Marsh situates Stelarc in the recent history of the body in Australian performance in terms of a deconstructive journey from the opposition of body as truth/body as artefact, based on a dichotomy separating the natural from the cultural, to the place where these boundaries blur. From catharsis to abreactive process, from technophobia to the cyborg. In fact Stelarc is emblematic in this trajectory. Yet he has been widely misunderstood and misrecognised: as an uber shaman, who talks of the end of the organic body while performing elaborate rituals of pain and transgression of pain on the body in his 25 body suspension events (“with insertions into the skin”) of the 70s and 80s; a kind of electric butoh practitioner in his Fractal Flesh and Ping Body events; and more recently a “nervous Wizard of Oz strapped into the centre of a mass of wires and moving machinery.” (The Age, January 1 1999)

Stelarc has consistently challenged the way our culture has imagined the body, whether it is seen as a sacred object, a fetish of the natural, an organic unity…and the culture hasn’t always kept pace with him. Marsh’s book is also guilty of this as it attempts to situate Stelarc in terms of an enunciation of a particular subjectivity rather than reading it in its own terms. While Stelarc is certainly of the generation of major artists who have used the body as the work of art itself (Jill Orr, Mike Parr), manipulated it as an artefact rather than as a biological given (and therefore a kind of destiny) he is more concerned with the cybernetic body than with subjectivity, and more involved with pluralising and problematising the ways we speak of bodies and imagine them, and how we get them to do things and how they might move differently.

But I wanted to ask Stelarc and the panelists about what animates us? What of the emotive as well as the locomotive? These are questions of affect and energy which this type of work cannot really address and maybe we shouldn’t insist that it does because in so many other ways it is pushing us into new territory. Instead Jane Goodall raised the notion of motivation in relation to movement and suggested that Stelarc disconnects the links between them, so that motion becomes mechanical rather than psychological and does not reflect the motivation of the mover. A manifestation, she said, of the unravelling of evolutionary thinking.

So is Stelarc a post-evolutionary thinker? Well perhaps he is a post-evolutionary artist…As he is fond of saying, Stelarc is interested in finding ways for the human system to interact more effectively with the increasingly denaturalised environment this system finds itself in, and extending the body’s capacities for useful (and useless) action. And don’t forget this latter point. It’s easy to get caught up in Stelarc’s spiel, brilliant and provocative as it is; it is nonetheless an artist’s statement and the suggestive utility of much of his thinking should not stop us enjoying the spectacle of a genuinely creative mind at work and a laugh which is so richly suggestive of Stelarc’s profoundly ambiguous view of the world.

The laugh returns us to the basic contradiction of all Stelarc’s actions in their return to the image of the artist’s body in a way which reinforces the effect of its presence and its adaptive capacities. If the body really were obsolete, Stelarc would be of no greater ongoing cultural relevance than Mr. Potato Head. Adaptivity is the real message but Stelarc knows that obsolescence is a better long term sales strategy.

Stelarc: extra ear | exoskeleton | avatars, presented by dLux media arts and Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Museum of Sydney, February 20

RealTime issue #30 April-May 1999 pg. 18

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

A major aspect of technoculture comes from “mystical impulses behind our obsession with information technology.” That, in essence, is the central thesis of an ambitious tome entitled TechGnosis by San Francisco writer Erik Davis. Davis has written numerous snappy articles in this field for Wired, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, 21 C, Lingua Franca and The Nation. However in TechGnosis he attempts to touch upon the entire history that connects the spiritual imagination to technological development, from the printing press to the internet, from the telegraph to the world wide web.

In the process Davis discusses in detail myriad cultural and religious figures and movements, from Plato to Marshall McLuhan, from Jesus Christ and Buddhism to Timothy Leary and Scientology, from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to William Gibson. What is surprising is that, despite the density of ideas in this tome, it is always readable, inspiring The Hacker Crackdown author Bruce Sterling to comment that “There’s never been a more lucid analysis of the goofy, muddled, superstition-riddled human mind, struggling to come to terms with high technology.”

According to Davis, “TechGnosis is a secret history because we are not used to dealing with technology in mythological and religious terms. The stories we use to organize the history of technology are generally rationalistic and utilitarian, and even when they are cultural, they are rarely framed in terms of the religious imagination.”

On a general level, says Davis, this has to do with modernity’s “ultimately misguided habit of treating religious or spiritual forces solely in terms of the conservative tendencies of various institutions, rather than as an ongoing, irreducible, and indeed, irrepressible dimension of human cultural experience, one that has liberatory or avant-garde tendencies as well as reactionary ones.”

Davis’ ability to shift from popular culture to historical fact peppered with pop terminology fits an intriguing trend in cultural studies. TechGnosis sits comfortably alongside such books as Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces, Mark Dery’s Escape Velocity, Mike Davis’ City of Quartz, Andrew Ross’ Strange Weather and Darren Tofts’ Memory Trade. In this regard TechGnosis narrowly escapes the categorisation of being a book about ‘spirituality.’

“Although I deal more sympathetically with religious material and ideas than most of those authors, I feel far more affinity with their approach than with more self-consciously ‘spiritual’ books, which tend to deny the role of historical, economic, and political forces”, says Davis. “I just happen to be drawn to that peculiar interzone between popular culture and the religious imagination.”

That interzone inevitably draws Davis towards some dangerous realms where ‘popular culture’ and ‘imagination’ are all too prevalent. While Davis carefully explores the genesis of such movements as Scientology or the Extropian movement and points out the totally bizarre substance (or lack) of both, he manages to avoid the pitfall of making harsh value judgments. “When I embarked on this project, I decided that developing a cogent critique of spirituality would add yet another layer of complication to an already dense investigation”, he says. “Confronted with a curious belief system, I am more interested in how it works than I am in criticizing it; I wanted to allow the power of the various world views to arise as fictions.

“It’s like camera filters: what does the world look like if you momentarily wear the lenses of a conspiracy theorist, a UFO fanatic, a conservative Catholic? By allowing eccentrics and extremists their own voice, I hoped to lend TechGnosis a kind of imaginative force that more explicitly critical works lack.”

In the burgeoning world of ‘secret histories’, the shadowy figure of ‘sci-fi’ author Philip K. Dick looms as a major influence. Dick’s work, riddled as it is with visionary belief systems tinged with perpetual paranoia, never sat comfortably in the cliche-ridden world of pure science fiction. “I emphasize the visionary acuity of his works, which have influenced me as much as McLuhan or Michel Serres or James Hillman”, says Davis. “I am especially drawn to his ability to treat religious ideas and experiences in the context of late capitalism and our insanely commodified social environments.”

Similarly, McLuhan is a “complex figure, full of bluster and brilliance”, says Davis. “He deserves a complex engagement, and I certainly distinguish myself from Wired’s simplistic recuperation of McLuhan, which turns on the same sort of selective sampling of his work, only in reverse. For one thing, McLuhan nursed vastly darker views about electronic civilization than most people believe—his global village is an anxious place. But unlike most of today’s media thinkers, he considered himself an exegete rather than a critic or theorist. That is, he wanted to uncover the spirit of electronic media rather than provide the kind of structural political critique that people are more comfortable with these days. To do that, he used the imagination of a profoundly literate (and religious) man, allowing analogies as much as analysis to lead him forward. He read technology, whereas most critics describe or deconstruct it. And though he said a lot of stupid stuff, and participated too willingly in his own celebrity, he laid the groundwork for our engagement with the psycho-social dimension of new media.”
The power of the word runs throughout TechGnosis—from Guttenberg’s printed Bible to the study of the Kaballah, from Gibson’s Neuromancer to the use of hypertext on the net.

“A troubling aspect of the new technologies of the word is the invasion of technological standardisation into the production of writing”, says Davis. “Behind this problem lies an even larger one: the invisibility of the technical structures that increasingly shape art and communication. As we use more computerized tools, we necessarily engage the structures and designs that programmers have invested in those tools. Then there is the issue of the internet; an immense writing machine that, for all its creative power, encourages sound-bite prose, superficial linkages, and the confusion of data and knowledge. The Gutenberg galaxy is finally imploding, and we have yet to come to terms with the psychic and cultural consequences of our new network thinking.

“Of course, invisible structures have always been shaping thought and expression, in one form or another. The trick now is to explore ways to let the creative, recombinant and poetic dimension of language express itself in an electronic environment where the monocultural logic of a Microsoft can hold such enormous sway. I still think that hypertext and collaborative writing technologies have enormous potential, but in the short term I see a rather disturbing dominance of standardisation, as American English continues to transform itself into an imperial language of pure instrumentality.

“It’s my hope that the net will enable us to move through the gaudy circus of superficial relativism into a more serious engagement with the ways that different institutions, practices, and cultural histories shape a truth that nonetheless hovers beyond all our easy frameworks”, says Davis. “The way ahead, to my mind, involves the synthesis or integration of many different, sometimes contradictory ways of looking at and experiencing the world. The endless fragmentation of (post)modernism is boring: we ourselves are compositions of the cosmos, a cosmos we share in a manner more interdependent than we can imagine, and that cosmos calls us to construct new universals. Perhaps they will be universals of practice rather than theory; if you do certain things, certain things will happen. A new pragmatism. If we need religious forces to bloom in order to feel our way through this highly networked world, so be it.”

Erik Davis, Techngosis, Harmony Books (Grove Press), 1999

RealTime issue #30 April-May 1999 pg. 23

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