New media performs

New Media Arts at the 1998 Performing Arts Market: Lisa Colley, Linda Wallace and Susan Charlton tell Keith Gallasch about how and why

If the addition of music to this the third Australia Council Performing Arts Market was welcome but predictable, the presence of new media arts came as a very pleasant surprise. Of course, an expanding number of performing artists work with the new media but expectations are usually of sound and screen works unmediated by any presence other than the viewer/interactor. As New Media Arts Fund Manager Lisa Colley reminds us later in this article, the fund is about this and much more.

Linda Wallace, director of the machine hunger company which won the tender to present new media arts at the Performing Arts Market, told me in a telephone interview she had proposed the “production of a set of useful information tools for the market.” She described the market as “an event which I viewed as an initial gateway to the Australia Council’s ongoing, long-term strategy for marketing new media arts.” She was also mindful that the market audience might not necessarily know much about the new media arts area, so the tools needed to be simple and accessible. machine hunger produced a publication, a video and organised the exhibition which also featured a range of CD-ROM works.

“The publication was cost-effective at A5 size, 24 pages, enabling space for 20 artists, companies or projects, one per page. I was project manager and editor, and Susan Charlton joined machine hunger as deputy editor of the publication, which we titled Embodying the Information Age.”

How did Linda go about selecting the artists? “From a list of New Media Arts fundees I curated the final group. I saw it as both a curatorial and a marketing project, primarily for new media arts, and secondly for the Fund and the Australia Council. So I didn’t curate on the basis of how much money different artists had received from the Fund, instead, the artists selected were diverse in their approach to new media arts, and also had a professionalism which could be relied upon to ‘deliver the goods.’ There are performance groups, digital/installation artists and crossmedia projects like Metabody. I put emphasis on the potential of the internet as both a medium for art and also as an information medium for festivals—it’s critical for festivals to understand how the internet can extend their reach, and the reach of featured art projects, to a global audience. Some of the festival directors at the market seemed to understand this.”

What was your prime aim? “To get the publication into delegates’ hands and later onto their bookshelves. It was something I felt that overseas and local delegates would want to take home with them, as it is a stylishly presented, useful object covering a number of areas and artists, and with email contacts. I was keen to avoid the paperfarm approach of stacks of ugly brochures and junk, and also the busy pop ‘multimedia’ aesthetic. In terms of design our exhibition, or stand, was minimal, with the eyecatching, jewel-like publication, a jumbo monitor showing either a CD-ROM work or the videotape which featured a larger range of new media artworks.”

I emailed Lisa Colley at the Australia Council for her account of the fund’s venture and asked, “Why New Media Arts at a performing arts market?” Lisa wrote back, “New media arts are broader than sound and screen cultures. We need to keep in mind the purpose of the fund which is based on interdisciplinary, collaborative work that crosses art form boundaries. Many of the artists supported by New Media Arts see themselves as performing artists, so we wanted to ensure a showcase for their work within the Performing Arts Market. A number of the shows, including Burn Sonata, Hungry and Masterkey in the Adelaide Festival and the market had their genesis with the current fund’s precursor, Hybrid Arts. As well, we wanted to ensure that works difficult to show as part of the Showcase [a set of half hour performances of excerpts from larger works—ed.] because of technical requirements were given an opportunity as well.

“Also, we knew that international visitors to the market were interested in looking at work that was outside of the international festival performance circuit. This could provide a broader range of opportunities for artists here in terms of residencies, exhibitions and so on. Many festivals have programs that cross over into exhibition and installation work. This proved to be true and we had substantial interest from overseas presenters who want to commission work, pick up existing work and, in longer term relationships, develop exchange opportunities.”

I asked Lisa about the value of the booklet, Embodying the Information Age. “We wanted to produce something that had a life beyond the market. It is critical that we can inform people about the work that is supported by the fund. Of course it only reveals a small number of the artists in this area, but they are representative of a much bigger movement. We have also put excerpts from the booklet up on the web pages that we developed to coincide with the recent launch of the New Media Arts Fund and we hope to add to this over time. As more work supported by the fund is created we hope we can inform people about the outcomes. This is something we are constantly being asked for, and is a way of value-adding to the grants process. The spread of information can be expanded by hyperlinking to artists’ sites as well as organisations like RealTime and exhibition sites currently being developed. As with the booklet, we’re not acting as agents for these artists—they have their own email and web sites and can be contacted directly about their work.”

What kind of response was there to the presence of New Media Arts at the market? “There was a very positive response from international delegates who thought it was a natural and timely addition to the market. I have now established contact with a small group of presenters and producers and we are in email contact and hopefully we should see some results. The artists so far have experienced a very positive response to the booklet with many of them having been contacted about work both nationally and internationally. It has proven a very useful tool for their own marketing and promotion. We have now circulated it to all our Australian diplomatic posts and have plans for further circulation nationally and internationally. It represents part of a broader advocacy and marketing strategy for the work of new media artists which we hope to develop further. The fund now having a more secure position within the Council will allow us to develop this approach more comprehensively and with a long term view.”

I asked Susan Charlton about responses to the New Media Arts fund initiative. She emailed back that, “The fact that we were tangential to the market was an advantage in that we could really fulfil an advocacy role without the same commercial pressures that a lot of other companies would have been under to make deals. In this way it was a well conceived first step—for the Fund and for delegates just beginning to think about the area. At the same time, contacts didn’t just dissolve into the ether. Lisa Colley from the Fund was also there to assist possible connections between delegates and the artists they expressed interest in.

“Also the fact that the market was associated with the Adelaide Festival, rather than being linked to the National Theatre Festival in Canberra as it was in previous years, was in our favour. The diversity and multidisciplinary nature of the festival program enhanced dialogue about the possibilities of artists of various sorts using new technologies in their work. Delegates were not just locked into a theatre mindset.

“Many were already familiar with new media arts, but there were several who weren’t. Those new to the area seemed to be propelled by forces greater than themselves. They recognised that there was a demand for new media arts from their audiences and they had to get up to speed to be able to create programs. The New Media Arts stall allowed them to take the first steps of inquiry without feeling foolish. Most attention came in the first days, but once the showcase program began everyone was very committed and focussed on that. However many purposely revisited us in the closing days to make sure they had everything they needed.”

Invariably the benefits of the Performing Arts Market are long term. It’ll be interesting to see how the new media arts figure in the next market in 2000 as more artists and performers generate more possibilities from their engagements with technology. In a forthcoming report we’ll look at the work of the various agencies involved in the promotion of new media arts.

New Media Arts at the 3rd Performing Arts Market was a project of the Audience Development and Advocacy Division of the Australia Council in association with the New Media Arts Fund, February 1998.

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 12

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

1 June 1998