Virtual encounters

As part of the Adelaide Festival, ANAT celebrates its 10th birthday

A sizeable fold gathered at the very smart (or ‘bourgy’, depending on your perspective) Ngapartji Multimedia Centre in East End Rundle Street for FOLDBACK, the day long forum exploring media, sound and screen cultures, organised for the festival by ANAT (the Australian Network for Art and Technology). Richard Grayson gave a user-friendly welcome invoking the the 10th anniversary of the other summer of love—“the famous event in south-east England, where techno ecstatics transformed the urban psyche of hyper-decay and escalating pan-capitalism into trance and psychedelic experiences” (ANAT newsletter)—stirring our barely repressed British memories of driving minis through Essex out of our gourds, on the lookout for parties we could never find. Paul Brown who says he actually found the party, stirred some of the same nostalgia in his account of the slow emergence of multiple media practice as 30 years on the fringe, citing rampant conservatism behind the form’s status in the artworld as part of a global salon des réfuse. There was some sense in this hankering that “legitimacy” meant legitimacy in the visual arts world which suggested perhaps a narrower engagement with the arts than expected. This was happily contradicted in subsequent sessions that demonstrated the vital relationships between new technologies and writing, sound and performance. A very writing-based day all round.

Cyberwriter Mark Amerika re-traced his steps from underground artworld, performing “acts of voluntary simplicity”, through his swerve into publication with the cult hit The Kafka Chronicles, which hurled him unwittingly into the public sphere and onto the digital overground. While he was busy collapsing the distance between author and reader, his online publication network, AltX (www.altx.com) was attracting the attention of international money marketeers. Like a lot of the international guests at the Adelaide Festival, Mark Amerika seems to be able to pat his head and rub his tummy at the same time. He may have achieved some fame and a little fortune as web publisher, but he’s still addressing the frictions between electronic art and writing. His writing-machine (Grammatron) still grapples with spirituality in the electronic age, asking questions like “Who are I this time?” (www.grammatron.com).

ANAT’s first executive officer, cyber-artist Francesca da Rimini, took some of her own advice (Quick! Question everything) rudely interrupting her own spoken text with others emanating from her cyber pseudonyms gash girl, doll yoko and gender-fuck-me-baby.

In *water always writes in *plural Linda Marie Walker and Teri Hoskin, from the Electronic Writing Research Ensemble, linked up live with Josephine Wilson (WA) and Linda Carroli (QLD) who have all been part of the first joint ANAT/EWRE virtual residency project, writing together online to create a work entitled A woman/stands on a street corner/waiting/for a stranger. Duplicating the act of writing for a live audience was an interesting if slow process, producing some nice accidents of speech: the odd poetry of phonetic translations, the Simple Text voices reproducing typos; suggestive intervals between writing and spoken text. You can read the piece on http://www.va.com.au/ensemble/water

Programming Linda Dement after lunch was a brave move. Still, it was soothing to hear a female voice in the dark still in love with the possibilities of technology for realising her expert if sometimes gruesome images. You would expect a sustained sequence of bloody bandages accompanying a diatribe on censorship to empty a room but here the pleasure of seeing the work of this former fine-art photographer projected on such a scale and in such vivid detail held too much fascination. Me, I spent a lot of time looking at the floor. Afterwards, diatribe met diatribe when a man in the crowd accused Linda Dement of male-bashing, citing “the situation in Bosnia” and then “all of history” as reason enough to censor, presumably, any statements along gender lines.

No wonder the cheery Komninos Zervos with his Underground Cyberpoetry received such a warm response after this error type-1. His CD-ROM was produced while Komninos was ANAT’s artist in residence at Artec (UK) last year. Using performance-poet delivery and adopting an assortment of streetwise London personae, Komninos playfully navigated his word animations. Screen became spin dryer, words tumbling as Komninos moved among us. The performance potential of multimedia works is really only beginning to be explored in Australia. Outside groups like skadada in Perth and Company in Space in Melbourne, we don’t see a lot of performance engagement with the new media. It’s an area that ANAT clearly see as important.

nervous_objects is an eclectic, accidental experiment in internet artistic collaboration. They met at ANAT’s 1997 Summer School in Hobart and have continued to collaborate online, in locations as remote as Perth, Woopen Creek and New York City exploring notions of realtime internet conferencing and manipulation of artistic pursuits in virtual and physical space. In their first project Lingua Elettrica (http://no.va.com.au) at Artpace and created for ISEA 97, they built an interactive website and publicly destroyed it. In a day otherwise free of technological accidents, nervous_objects encountered a few, making it sometimes difficult to decipher their precise intention. Their calm in the face of calamity produced a laid back form of subversion.

The stakes lifted when Stevie Wishart entered. Not an Adelaide Festival accordion in sight but improvising with medieval hurdy gurdy and live electronics she extracted an amazing array of sounds and tones. Real Audio was streamed from Sydney and mixed as it came through. As Stevie played, Jim Denley navigated the new CD-ROM track created with Kate Richards from Stevie’s new CD (Red Iris, Sinfonye, Glossa Nouvelle Vision GCD 920701).

In the energetic Q and A session, Mark Amerika brought up the need for new writing about multiple media, citing the likes of George Landau and Gregory Ulmer as critics who practice what they preach and engage with the work on its own terms. Chair of the New Media Arts Fund, John Rimmer, asked just how much technical difficulties (lags, delays, congestion) are intrinsic to the work and how they might develop given more bandwith. For nervous_objects, if it gets too fast, too polished it’s not interesting anyway. There was some discussion of Garry Bradbury’s score for Burn Sonata using pianola and digital technology. When someone in the audience thanked nervous_objects for sharing their process. Garry begged to differ, accusing them of utopian dreams of machines generating ideas. The nervous_objects said it was something that pushed them and they certainly didn’t expect the machines to generate ideas. Working with content issues was what they were doing. Afterwards all repaired to the Rhino Room for the launch of the excellent new CD by Zónar Recordings, Dis_locations, Incestuous Electronic Remixing, coordinated by Brendan Palmer. RT

FOLDBACK, ANAT, Adelaide Festival, Ngapartji Multimedia Centre, March 8.
An accompanying exhibition, possibly to tour, was exhibited at Ngapartji for the duration of the Adelaide Festival’s Artists Week. http://www.anat.org.au/foldback

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 27

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

1 April 1998