MAAP01: new media in excess

Kim Machan talks to Keith Gallasch

Gong Xin Wang, My Sun, 2001, 3-data-projector installation

Gong Xin Wang, My Sun, 2001, 3-data-projector installation

“The road of excess leads to the place of wisdom”, wrote William Blake some 200 years ago. Kim Machan, director and curator of MAAP01 (Multimedia Art Asia-Pacific) seems to have taken this line the Proverbs of Heaven and Hell to heart, titling her 4th annual new media arts festival Excess and packing 3 days at the Brisbane Powerhouse with a plentitude of digital media experiences ranging through viewing, interactive participation, dark-room listening and rave.
Machan’s focus is “on the extreme positions adopted by artists in their engagement with new media.” She sees this as substantially different from the conventional excesses of mainstream media which are desensitising and make the whole idea of excess meaningless: “when artists take an idea and push it continually, we are refreshed with ways to re-engage with electronic media [encountering] deeply personal positions speaking from richly different cultural positions.”

MAAP is in its 4th year, heroically directed, curated and managed by the mercurial Machan, an intrepid seeker of sponsorships, in-kind deals and hard-to-get funding. She has a good eye for innovative new media art in Australia and across Asia, and has steadily built ongoing connections in the region. This year’s partners include the Digital Media Festival (Manila), Arts Centre Nabi (Seoul), The Loft New Media ArtSpace (Beijing), Videotage (Hong Kong) and Experimenta 2001 Festival (Melbourne). Like the Asia Pacific Triennial (its partner in 1999), MAAP reaches out, drawing a disparate region together, linking artists, organisations and audiences.

This year, the Brisbane Powerhouse will be home to MAAP01 while a wider audience will join the event online. The huge Turbine Hall will show CD-ROM works and online events on a big screen and a host of large screen Mac G4s and iMacs. Artist Di Ball will play host with a guided tour of a CD-ROM sampler. Machan says that these and online works like Melinda Rackham’s empyrean will be “given the zoom treatment”, transported onto a big screen, no longer “a tangled tight bunch of information stuck on a computer…but sumptuous.”

This program includes Excessive up close and personal featuring Lucy Francis (with the artist providing a live cello track) and Keith Armstrong (of the transmute collective). Ball will also introduce young artists who will talk about their work. The net cost forum on digital media issues will be broadcast in collaboration with the ABC’s online Headspace and Experimenta Media Arts.

Also in the Turbine Hall, Dion Sanderson’s installation, Work for the Office, will comprise 10 computers. Users activate programs to create what Machan calls “an orchestra of computers.” In the adjoining Sparks Bar, small monitors on the tables will feature video works including contributions from Singaporean-Australian artist Emil Goh, and New Zealand’s Raewyn Turner.

A selection of installations will be found in various parts of the Powerhouse. In a stairwell, Korean artist Oh San Gil’s video looks “like blood dripping,” says Machan, “an excessive red projected onto the floor…Then, finally, you realise what you are looking at.” (Machan’s not saying.) Elsewhere, an empyrean installation and an untitled Ruark Lewis video work will sneak up on audiences wandering the building. Also featured are dLux media arts’ d>art01 program (RT44, p24) and Andrew Kettle’s selection of sound works from across Australia. The latter will be played in the darkened AO-Audio Room (for Audio Only) with the additional luxury of eye masks for the sense deprivation that makes the most of sound.

Music and performance are to play a vital role. At the launch Melbourne’s Toy Satellite Collective (video artists 2Loops [Kim Bounds, John Power], producer/sound designer Andrew Garton) will collaborate with composer/DJ Jimi Chen and video artists Vince Chung and Austin Wang from the Eyedrink Collective, Taiwan. The collaboration debuted at the 2001 Taipei International Arts Festival as Undercurrents. Also appearing will be Japan’s Candy Factory who work internationally on web projects and new media installations (www.trans.artnet.or.jp/~transart/). Each night an Art Rave will be created with massive sound and vision mixes.

A significant contribution to MAAP01 will be a video installation by Chinese artists Gong Xin Wang at the new Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Art (soon to be the home for IMA, Arterial, ELISION ensemble and Rock’n’Roll Circus). MAAP has invited Wang to show his latest video installation My Sun, a 3 screen panorama that poetically investigates questions of society and the individual through presenting a Chinese peasant woman’s relationship to the sun. The woman works in a large open field, repeatedly reaching up to grasp the light as the sun rises, enters the landscape and leaves its traditional orbit. Her image multiplies, creating an army of replicas. The individual becomes the mass, or does she?

The internationally exhibited Wang (born 1960) lives in Beijing. He spent nearly 8 years in the late 80s, early 90s living and exhibiting in New York before returning to China to continue his practice. His work is seen as integral to the history of video art epitomised by Bill Viola and Gary Hill (whose Tall Ships is an eery highlight in the AGNSW Space Odysseys, see p25). In recent years Wang has focused on video portraiture. Machan writes in her essay on Gong Xin Wang that in The Fly (2000) a person struggles to fight off a fly. The fly’s path is traced across the screen and is heard on the audio track. The camera slowly zooms in to reveal that the face is constructed from pixels…each revealed to be that of a single fly—an individual face made of a mosaic of flies.

MAAP’s vision of close new media and cultural relations with Asia has been carefully sustained. Machan speaks of “incredible Korean interest in MAAP…The Koreans look on Australians as new media experts.” She fantasizes about the possibility of running a version of MAAP from Seoul at some stage and describes The Loft New Media ArtSpace (China’s first new media space) as “damn sexy, scary.” As an extension of a giant night club, it features digital art works embedded in the floor and on monitors running down the walls. Live performance includes German and Dutch experimental musicians, guest international curators and regular experimental screenings”. Machan’s MAAP presentation at The Loft was reviewed and broadcast on CCTV. Australia needs friends like the festivals and venues MAAP is connecting with.

How has MAAP survived financially, running ambitious programs on small budgets? Machan’s answer is succinct: “So much of what we do comes from in-kind support.” The Powerhouse gives MAAP the space and support for the event. Equipment, like data projectors, is borrowed from QUT, Arterial, QAG and elsewhere. Macromedia have shown unswerving support and collaborations with the ABC and Experimenta are vital. “MAAP pays for most of the program and artists’ fees. Our sponsorship is really in the delivery and things like invitations, catering, nuts and bolts. We have no office rent or overheads—or paid staff! We leverage off others’ infrastructure.”

As for box office, Machan likes to keep the event free. “It’s early days for new media arts. People don’t know what they’re going to see.” She thinks that rather than a small paying audience it’s better to have a good-sized audience open to new experience.

MAAP01, Brisbane Powerhouse Centre for the Live Arts, October 12-14

Gong Xin Wang, My Sun, MAAP01 in partnership with the IMA, Performance Space, Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Art, Brisbane, October 6-16; Artspace, Sydney, October 4-27

RealTime issue #45 Oct-Nov 2001 pg. 22

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

1 October 2001