Phobias, fashion and hope

Mike Leggett visits the 12th IMZ World Congress: Sydney 19-25 November 1995

The Internationale Music Zentrum in Vienna is a forum and information network for music and dance executives in the television and recording industries. The people in the room—buyers, impresarios and executive producers—were probably the closest many artists would ever get to reaching a television audience.

The test tape on the screen freezes the conductor in the act of shaking the concertmaster’s hand.

The public television channels represented here are frozen in the electron stream of the information highway as perceived in its internet test-bed stage. Congress sessions were intended to explore the implications of this and other technologies and the impact they would have on the mediation of the performing arts

An archive of some 200 program tapes and a row of booths for previewing them: all were empty.

Independent program makers, the other main group represented at the Congress, deal with anyone who helps to raise their budget. They will become media publishers, matching artists with audiences using the most appropriate medium: book, cable, CD-ROM, cinema, computer network, gallery.

In the multi-channel environment it becomes possible for the consumer to observe, or even live with, another culture.

If publishers are encouraged to nurture their local talent, encourage difference and diversity, the matrix of mythologies from the Irish-language soap opera to the Czech home improvement item, all with English sub-titles, this will become compelling competition for attention on the international networks.

IMZ Vice President asks, “Where are the Asian cultures at this Congress?” IMZ President replies, “They don’t need us.”

Robyn Archer introduced the final day of sessions, “The Artist and the Media”, in terms of the “current tensions between the artists and new technology” and the effect this was to have on “the richness and danger of live performance”.

Technophobia was omnipresent—the main concern that artists working in the performing arts should, it seemed, make sure the new technology was incorporated into their work. Lazy arts administrators of course encourage them in this belief, feeling that if multimedia is the flavour of policy then of course all artists should be using it.

Hans Peter Kuhn, the sound artist, gave a presentation which successfully demonstrated that performance people like himself have been integrating multimedia into their work for many years. As a performance artist he had always worked with the tools appropriate to his needs using the approach which gave the audience…the chance to listen.

Then with a staccato and rapid delivery aided with the authority of the slightest of mid-European accents, he developed a wide-ranging analysis and critique of technological development affecting the arts over the last fifty years. From television to net art, all were demolished quickly as being private forms quietly destroying the broader cultures they touched, their ‘significance as culture’ being suspect as the outcome of political decision. This process placed technology in the service of the more irrational human behaviours—the regressive, the defensive, the paranoid—which had managed to place ‘creativity’ in the position of being a threat to global survival. Scratch, dub and techno he identified as being more socialised, politicising forms, with ‘astonishing things’ on the horizon. Such glimpses of optimism he extended to include the post-historical period which we were now entering: “writing, memory and history followed reassuringly linear patterns. Using non-linear media, post-history would be the outcome”, about which he felt optimistic’!

The lecture integrated three projected video images of Hans Peter Kuhn standing at the podium whilst four channels of surround-sound FX overlayed his amplified address.

Philippe Genty introduced his well known oeuvre as bringing “puppetry into the adult world”, and he emphasised its physicality and its ‘magic’—the inner place, and the outer, or what Peter Brook called ‘empty space’. “Theatre must find other languages”, he felt, and contemporary dance and the work of artists like Laurie Anderson progressed because of the ‘disintegration of words’. The mission of ‘le audiovisual’ was simply to explore the achievements of theatre!

On tape, a naked woman struggles to hide herself inside an enormous brown paper bag—having succeeded, the bag transforms into wodges of fluff flying in the air.

The final session showcased Australian artists. Sydney multimedia producer Bill Leimbach described the ‘market-driven area’ of multimedia with a zany CD-ROM production linked with ‘world music’. Melbourne artist Ian Haig extolled the value of writing code, deploring consumer software and the notion of the Artist in a Shrink-wrapped Box, and showed extracts from Astro Turf, the ‘kooky-looking’ Flintstones of the 21st century. Julie Martin of Bondi had already given a short demonstration of live performance in conjunction with projected images, computer designed to enhance three-dimensional illusion. Michael Buckley, another Melbourne animator, showed extracts from the sublime Swear Club which “elevates the vulgar and precocious 5 year old performer to the status of cultural icon—on which you click to ‘Shut-up!’”

This part of the Congress was remarkable for the absence of TV executives, who clearly considered that actual demonstrations by practitioners of the recent technologies, on CD-ROM or straight out of the computer, were clearly beyond their briefs, especially as the work shown was made by ‘the local talent’. Hard-pressed as ever, these executives, with lists of international contacts to see before jetting-out, what more can a poor artist expect? Well there may be comfort in the fact that these ‘determiners of cultural significance’ are to metamorphose, as broadcast gives way to narrowcast cable and as fragmentation of ‘the audience’ continues. Those of us working at the edge, cutting or joining, have not really known audiences as any thing other than the kind you build and re-build. The computer network technologies, for instance, offer some further potential. The purveyors of cultural spectacle are unlikely to endorse a medium which a priori requires active response, where their notions of audience are based wholly on consumption. The videotape recording as artefact of performance spectacle remains their stock-in-trade—it seems they feel that technology simply aids or embellishes that process.

At the end of the (long) day, it was not at all surprising that no one considered how the audience would be changed by the technologies and their use of them, and therefore how their expectations of live performance would be changed. The sub-cultural precedents are there, they have been actively feeding the dominant culture’s fashions. But the convergence of television and the computer is shortly to move into the mass scale and therefore a different dimension. From which time ‘new technology’ will become ‘new performance’.

RealTime issue #11 Feb-March 1996 pg. 28

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

1 February 1996