New hierarchies, new colonies

Linda Carroli and JM John Armstrong look at MAAPing in Brisbane’s new multimedia festival

Lucy Francis, Virgin with Hard Drive

Lucy Francis, Virgin with Hard Drive

The inaugural Brisbane-based Multimedia Arts Asia Pacific 98 Festival, directed by Kim Machan, puts Brisbane once more in the regional ’hood. As the locus for the Asia-Pacific Triennial and with a run of cultural and artistic exchange projects and events, Brisbane is emerging as not just a port-of-call, but a site of connectivity. In its first incarnation, MAAP 98 aimed to create the infrastructure and provide scope to accommodate technology-based artworks, exhibitions and projects from the region.

The web provided the necessary ‘links’ which ‘maaped’ the Asia-Pacific in a series of flows: images, sounds, commentary and texts. Further engagements and interactions with online, screened, exhibited and performed work and texts provided us with the hyper- and inter-textual awareness that helps us understand this region as fragmented complexity. The hardrive grinds as it struggles to download sites and plug-ins. Perusing loses that luxuriant, ambling quality. We wait rather than take our time as sites download in random splinters. Hitting a site scripted with Java…” System Error 11—Restart.” Even so, these works are worth the wait.

You have to wonder, if we’re having trouble (albeit on an older Mac) in a city in a country that has consistently prioritised telecommunications, how do you manage in downtown Kendari (given the west’s penchant for ‘dumping’ outdated technology)? Perhaps this will be addressed in future MAAPs whose vision is also to create a nexus between community, artform and the multimedia industries. Perhaps as well, these questions may be contextualised by the Australian Network for Art and Technology as it develops and re-negotiates strategies for its 1999 program focus, Digital Region. Certainly, these (and other) concerns and ideas were discussed by various speakers at the festival’s Think Tank forum.

As these speakers pointed out, electronic media are capable of carrying many messages, in many ways and to many audiences. Clearly, information technology is located differently across cultures inspiring suspicion and wariness in some contexts. However, for most Australian practitioners, this technology is generally perceived as capable of providing the context for new possibilities, exchanges and meanings. It is this capability which locks us into the myth about a box from antiquity which stores hope. For example, Brisbane school children participate in environmental awareness-raising through video and performance, conveying their concern about pollution levels in the air we breathe. Working with George Pinn and Jeremy Hynes, these students give form to SMOG. The open-air presentation of this work, after a number of speeches, formed the opening night event. The festival’s impressive list of sponsors bodes well for new media arts securing support from the corporate sector. Or, does it merely reflect that multimedia industries know the value of audience development as a factor in demand creation and parts of the Asia-Pacific are demand waiting to happen?

Lehan Ramsay & Hiroshi Yasukawa, Resonance (detail), Shoreline exhibition, 1998

Lehan Ramsay & Hiroshi Yasukawa, Resonance (detail), Shoreline exhibition, 1998

So really, you do have to wonder. You have to wonder what kinds of hierarchies are being established or what new colonisations or postcolonialisms are sweeping through the region when a significant proportion of it has been declared ‘developing nation’ (and with that, there is most likely disproportionate representation in the ranks of the ‘information poor’). For all the talk about new media providing a new horizon for democracy, as a transference of hope, it is nevertheless a democracy with steep entry levels. But what has this to do with MAAP 98? Perhaps nothing, perhaps everything. At the core of such political dilemmas is the question, ‘who speaks for whom?’ However, in video works sourced from Malaysia, Japan and Hong Kong those speaking positions and their differentiated voices and contexts are made explicitly clear.
The digital domain seems partly surrounded by a permeable membrane that, while defining its territoriality, underscores the commonality and almost ubiquity of creative endeavour. Despite these flows, the imposition of the rectangular frame around these images and concerns is a continuation of the traditions we love and loathe. In MAAP 98 we are presented with a range of collaborative works—interchanges back and forth—such as Resonance in Shoreline: Particles and Waves http://www.maap.org.au/shoreline [link expired] curated by Beth Jackson. As a virtual gallery, Shoreline presented seven works by nine artists from Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and New Zealand. Utilising the metaphorics of the littoral, these works operate at the limit of the virtual ocean, testing seemingly given notions about art as it moves with the tides of interactivity, information and multimedia.

Equally we are witness to idiosyncratic (almost demagogic) posturing and preening in the Eurocentric tradition with some of the 160 exhibited entries to the National Digital Art Awards organised by and presented at the Institute of Modern Art. Yet counter to this, and within the same show, are spectacular advances in visualisation, and the overall winner, Justine Cooper’s video, Rapt (see RealTime 27, Colin Hood, “Between professional diagnosis and dumb fascination”), using medical imaging technology, takes the human corpus as site and perhaps uses as a currency for the region, corporeality of endeavour. Other place takers were John Tonkin’s web based artworks [http://207.225.33.116 – link eexpired] and Norie Neumark and Maria Miranda’s Shock in the Ear. Despite the significance of this event in terms of promoting new media arts, its scheduling saw it competing with the rugby league grand final, resulting in a city-wide shortage of electronic equipment. While the IMA gathered whatever was available at short notice, there were varying degrees of success in terms of technological reliability; no wide screens and no instant replays.

Not having much luck with machines, we ventured towards less technologically contingent works and environments. At the Brisbane City Council Gallery, an exhibition of photographic and digital images by Robyn Stacey, curated by Frank McBride, provided close and closer scrutiny of flora in a series of optical illusions and manipulations. It is another overture by which we ‘know’ and reveal nature via technological means. A multimedia installation, Virgin with Hard Drive by Lucy Francis at Metro Arts, revealed a story set in the future exploring art, the artefact, conservation and decay.

Culture is notional, flowing across the nations of the region. Taking the fragrance or stink out of the localilty means we are able to enjoy tourism of the highest order. You can stay at home and, server willing, it all comes to you. However, this is not passive; this is not broadcasting. A different mode of engagement is demanded as the work whispers or screams into you ears and eyes; there is no false sense of security when a system or an economy crashes. IT is other: IT is heaps and heaps of others and you are both component and resident of this Tower of Babel, adding your voice to the many as the cacophony catches just long enough to allow a double click to next frame.

Multimedia Arts Asia Pacific Festival 98, Brisbane, September 18–26, online at http://www.maap.com.au

RealTime issue #28 Dec-Jan 1998 pg. 20

© Linda Carroli & John Armstrong; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 1998