In the year of the Centenary of Federation, 2001, ::contagion:: presents a multiplicity of tendencies within current Australian image practice.
The works are often quite raw, but energetic - somehow mobile, fluid and quixotic, with a do-it-yourself edge. More akin to mobile research lines of investigation, the works chart the way-points of an experimental trajectory. They are neither monumental nor the end point of this trajectory.
Over half the artists in ::contagion:: are under thirty. Several works come from students at masters or Ph.D. level whilst others continue to work within institutions as teachers. This seems to reflect a trend amongst Australian new media artists in 2001; joining an institution or post-graduate program offers access to the equipment and facilities necessary to produce the work. Indeed, only a few, e.g.: Patricia Piccinini, (recently awarded an Australia Council New Media Arts Fellowship) and Tracey Moffatt, are able to work full time as artists outside of the institution.
It would be impossible to present a show in the year of the Centenary of Federation without addressing the unresolved question of reconciliation. As this was largely a monitor-based show, in searching for video work by Aboriginal artists I was surprised to find there was very little being produced - a situation confirmed up by other curators of aboriginal art. Most Koori artists working in the digital realm seem to be concentrating on print and 2D. Tracey Moffatt remains an exception. Other works in the show, notably Michael Schiavello's What Kind of Country and the personal and rather eccentric internet work of Gary Foley (which tells the Koori history in pictures) further the discussion.
Due to my own personal aesthetic concerns, I was attracted to the poetic and abstract tendencies, the almost technical formalism or 'machinic aesthetics' seen in the work of Emil Goh, Andrew Gadow, Gary Zebington and Ian Andrews, also seen in the internet works of MEZ, seo and Melinda Rackham. There is a variety of narrative structures and performative gestures in the works from Josephine Starrs and Leon Cmielewski's AKA, Kuba Dorabialski's Interview for Foreign Television and Eliza Hutchison's work Voila!.
Narrative and story-telling is present in the machinic assemblage that is Britney Love. Recorded by artist Kate Murphy in Glasgow when there for an artists residency in 1999, we watch eleven year old Brittaney Love 'become' the global media fiction that is Britney Spears - from the way she speaks and sings, the way she dances to what she wears. Brittaney Love has in a way been possessed by her icon - her media superstar.
So what does it mean to make media art in Australia in the year 2001?
There is now very little space for public dialogue in Australia outside of established media channels. The general commercial media diet is bland and uninspiring, promoting a view of Australia as a generous group of cheery souls. The recent Tampa debacle has done much to undermine this image globally. The antimedia site addresses this issue, as does (indirectly) the work of Komninos Zervos. This contemporary situation also finds its historic resonance in Vivienne Dadour's Realm.
The Howard Government has increased the amount of dollars spent on political advertising to reinforce the "relaxed and comfortable" vision of the Australian nation. This propaganda culminates in the Centenary of Federation television advertisements, which Michael Schiavello blows apart in his work, What Kind of Country. Emile Zile also tackles that comfortable view by literally 'carving into' the media fabric, into the daily news soap opera to create a new texture - one in which the smooth outlines become frayed.
Many of the works in ::contagion:: strategically re-use other media. Richard Grant's MAJU, my own work eurovision, and Tracey Moffatt and Gary Hillberg's witty pastiche of artists in Hollywood movies, all take image fragments from an assortment of sources and feed them into the machine for reprocessing, to then output new forms. These new constructions offer varying levels of critique and exploration of the assumptions within the original media fragments. I am interested to read this as an extension of Duchamp's tradition of the "assisted readymade".
In this pre-dominantly English speaking Australia we have grown used to seeing imported cultural cinema product subtitled. Such a strategy has also appeared in two recent advertisements; one spoken in Italian, another Russian; both subtitled in English. In fact, in a radical move, a newly released Australian feature film, La Spagnola
, is spoken in Spanish with English subtitles. Both Kuba Dorabialski's Interview
, (in which he claims to have invented the language of the piece) works with subtitles, as does eurovision.
Several of the artists in ::contagion:: work with audio production. Ian Andrews, Andrew Gadow, and Emile Zile work with music, DJing and VJing at events across the country. Richard Grant works with musicians, and here we see the clip for the band called 'MAJU'. Of the net projects, seo, 'Laudenum' (Zina Kaye, mr snow and Caleb K), and the alias frequencies collective combine audio and graphic experiments.
I am becoming a little dubious about the current trend towards the 'museumification' of new media. In this climate only a select few get to make these huge works and exhibit them. Certainly, nothing is better for an artist than to have the money to fully research and realise a major project over a long period of time. However, it seems that this privilege appears to reach fewer and fewer artists, who, once they get such commissions, seem to be the recipients again and again (on the basis of their last 'epic' work). ::contagion:: presents a different view. It aims to show the diversity of contemporary practice for a range of artists, many of whom are a bit off-the-map in terms of the 'museumification' of new media.
Why call it ::contagion:: ? From a belief that what you see, however subtly, alters you. As a viewer you don't know where your particular infection will come from - which work will resonate with you, and after viewing these in 'hard' space, be certain to view the CD-ROMs and take a look at the net projects.
Art is nothing but a time machine, a machine for making thought travel. The new ways these Australian artists are imagining their circumstances will certainly bear strange fruit in the century to comeŠ .
mailto: linda at machinehunger.com.au
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the New Zealand Film Archive for inviting me to conceptualise and curate what has become ::contagion:: and in particular to thank Mark Williams for his professionalism, efficiency and good humour.