New Media, New Money

John Potts talks to Michael Hill, Project Co-ordinator, Film Development Branch
of the Australian Film Commission

Since the implementation of Creative Nation in October 1994, the Film Development Branch allocates $1.2 million per year for multimedia projects. Funding is granted for script writing, preparation, and prototypes for CD-ROM and interactive forms which are then developed elsewhere. Some low budget artists’ titles are completely funded.

JP What are your selection criteria for projects?

MH Without wanting to sound prescriptive, we’re looking for innovative projects that engage with the medium in a creative way. If it’s on-line work, we’re looking for something that instead of merely presenting information on screens in the World Wide Web, uses the hierarchy of the Web in a way that might give us an indication of how on-line works in the future might actually work. If it’s a CD-ROM work, we’ll look at its interface: how do you interact with it, how is it new, how is it fresh?
There seems to be so much in multimedia that hasn’t been explored, so if people are producing copies of what they’ve already seen, we’re not that interested. We’d really like to see unusual things. The only thing that everyone in the industry and in the arts agree on is the poor quality of work so far, so it may be a challenge to say, let’s try and go as far as we can. Our guidelines are fluid, they encompass the unusual project, rather than the project that sees multimedia as merely a shell to hold information.

JP What multimedia works of the last few years are exemplary?

MH A few works stand out. Jon McCormack’s installation Turbulence is one. I’m very impressed by Troy Innocent’s work: he continues to create iconic languages that defy meaning. There’s John Collette’s CD-ROM, and Linda Dement’s work continues to affect me, makes me laugh, and horrifies me. They’re the people who extend at least one thread of current practice. With these artists you’re beginning to sense that you can have a personal style.

JP How do you prevent the perception that you pander to a coterie of artists?

MH We are about assisting a diverse range of people, and we’re a national organisation. We’ve found a growing band of people coming forward. We’re not only about making work, we’re about developing careers. We hope to assist people to go from a small project to a bigger one, so that they achieve something they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. We want to find new people all the time and develop their work, but we have to be sure that those people we’re assisting have the skills to do it. We’re not a training organisation. So if people have the skill to produce what they say they can, we’d love to support them.

JP Is there a fear that the hype surrounding multimedia creates a fad, and little else?

MH There is a sense of frustration that digital media have let us down already, maybe the circus will move on. Last year it was all CD-ROM, this year it’s all Web. I know the people in the ‘virtual reality’ community are very happy that the circus has moved on from there, and they can get on with their work. And I think that will happen with interactive art forms. But I think the major problem at the moment is the tools. The basic languages embedded in the computer systems only give a very limited sense of interactivity.

JP What of the question of aesthetic criteria? How do you judge artworks in new media forms?

MH You can’t help but judge them in terms of past art forms. But then I’ve seen works where you can say, that’s an elegant piece of programming, it’s unusual or exciting, so there is a sense of a new language emerging. At the same time, to dismiss the new media as mere novelties is to forsake any real thinking about what’s going on. What we’re doing in digital media is finding new ways to tell old stories. The bankruptcy of the novel, the bankruptcy of many feature films is telling us something important. At Perspecta, kids rush past the paintings and go straight to the interactive works. If artists are finding it harder and harder to speak to modern audiences in traditional forms, their ideas can be re-energised by a new form. I get excited that there must be new criteria, new ways of thinking that non-linearity offers, that random access to material offers. But at the same time, it’s important to focus on what the artists are saying, as well as how they’re saying it.

RealTime issue #8 Aug-Sept 1995 pg. 7

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

1 August 1995