RealTime Media Art Introduction

I’ve grown accustomed to your interface

Darren Tofts

Media art has been well represented as a contemporary art phenomenon in publications such as Artlink, Mesh, Photofile, 21C and World Art. The sub-titles of some of these magazines even changed to reflect and accommodate the digital post-age we lived in, but thankfully avoided way-cool U.S. monikers like “Wired” or “Mondo 2000” to do so. RealTime has been no different, incorporating both “techno” and “media” arts as part of its remit from the start.

Accordingly, the contours and rhythms of media art as a practice and a concept were indelible features of the mix of stuff covered. If media art was developing a public face during the 1990s, RealTime’s OnScreen supplement traced its physiognomy from juvenilia and youth through to maturity. It doggedly continued to do this even as other contenders of the new elbowed their way onto its pages. You could get up to speed with digital innovation at significant national and international symposia (such as New Media Forum in Sydney and Ars Electronica in Linz) and Indigenous media art (RT21) while reading the form on innovative up-and-comers in the “Digital Shorts” artist profiles (initiated in RT42 with Martine Corompt). The regular coverage of hypertext writing, net art, sound installation and new media theory confirmed that this was indeed our avant-garde.

RealTime’s archive is a sedimentary record of media art’s dramatic search for its place (John Conomos’ review of Burning the Interface in RT11), the recognition of its orthodoxy as a sign of the times and its inevitable blending into the “national arts” culture (the first of Jonathon Delacour’s regular new media columns appeared in RT20). And finally its coming of age as an established, self-reflexive medium, notably through the writing of its own historical narratives (reviews of Interzone: Media Arts in Australia in RT71 and Stephen Jones’ Synthetics in RT107). Nor is it surprising that from around 2007 we see the emergence of different manifestations of screen-based phenomena such as games, mobisodes and Second Life taking the place of CD-ROM art and other ‘interactives.’

Now this is a very predictable and arguably obvious map of the chronology of RealTime’s journey from 1994 to 2013 (a journey that parallels the evolution of screenery from deskbound computer to the intimate apparel of Google Glass). But it was never a utopian brag-sheet of the new and it balanced information with critical judgement in its coverage of emergent technology (unlike the new age proselytising of LA techno visionaries, or the digital patois of snake oil salesmen coming out of Silicon Valley). The printer’s ink that gave us discussions of info-hype (RT1), the “mundane internet” (RT8) and “multimediocrity” (RT11) was among the first to dry in its pages.

RealTime’s ten-year celebrations in 2004 (RT61) were significant in that they marked a cultural turn away from media art as a computer-based aesthetic to the mobility associated with phone art (RT66) and the experimental laboratory of bio-art (RT65). This is a narrative that makes thematic sense, of course, tracing the inevitable rhythm of cultural change through technological innovation and aesthetic embrace of the next big thing. But it is clear from the mid 2000’s that media art was entering its dotage. When such art is portrayed as having a history, it is no longer a form of new media. So when Lizzie Muller reviewed Interzone in 2006 media art could be spoken of in a more assured and august past tense, like video art or expanded cinema. Indeed, in the same issue Mike Leggett commenced the descent from escape velocity and reflected on the possible futures of an established art form (as did Julianne Pierce in RT89 and Lisa Gye in RT106). Inducting media art into the annals of art history, the announcement of Paul Thomas’ MASS/NOMAD project in RT78 galvanized this epochal sense that it had codified its place in the periodic table of art. And five years later Urszula Dawkins’ review of the 2012 CyberDada retrospective (RT110) signalled that meta-data applied to the cultural history of techno art as well as html. As you read these words in RT115 you now understand we have entered the Baroque.

It is fitting that the cyberfeminist art collective VNS Matrix featured prominently in the first two issues of RealTime. This savvy bunch of Australian gals in cyberspace set the scene in 1991 for the techno-sociology of the end of the century with their much-publicised manifesto. While the clitoris was indeed one way to the matrix, the pages of RealTime that would soon follow would be another, giving voice to the coming of an all-new gen.

Darren Tofts, Professor of Media and Communications at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, writes internationally about cyberculture, new media arts and critical and cultural theory. He has been Associate Editor of 21C magazine and is a member of the editorial boards of Postmodern Culture, Continuum.The Australian Journal of Media and Culture, fibreculture journal, Hypermedia Joyce Studies, Rhizomes: Critical Studies in Emerging Knowledge, Scan Journal of Media Arts Culture and RealTime, where he is a commissioning editor for new media arts. His books include Interzone: Media Arts in Australia (Thames and Hudson: Sydney, 2005) and, with Lisa Gye, Illogic of Sense: the Gregory L Ulmer Remix (Alt-X Critical eBook series, 2007).