foldback interview

Posted by Rhizome | Wed Jul 1st 1998 1 a.m.

FOLDBACK: THE TEN-YEAR CELEBRATION OF ANAT

This past March, as part of Australia's largest art festival, the
Telstra Adelaide Festival, the groundbreaking Australian Network for Art
and Technology (ANAT) launched the FOLDBACK event/exhibition, which also
doubled as ANAT's ten-year anniversary celebration. The 1998 festival,
featuring keynote addresses from artists such as Jenny Holzer, Joseph
Kosuth and myself, was the last such event of this century (the festival
occurs every even-numbered year), and delivered an intense schedule
packed with experimental theater, music, and dance, as well as a
Writer's Week followed by a Visual Arts Week. This year marked the first
time that a serious effort had been made to integrate state-of-the-art
online and CD-ROM projects into the festival mix so that web-artists
such as Francesca da Rimini, writers Linda Carroli and Josephine Wilson
of the Electronic Writing and Research Ensemble, and the
process-oriented web-band _nervous objects_, were sponsored under the
same banner as Holzer's Lustmord, a brilliant Susan Hiller exhibition at
the Experimental Art Foundation (EAF) and Heiner Goebbel's wonderfully
playful shot of musical-theater called BLACK ON WHITE.

I recently had a dialogue with ANAT's Director Amanda McDonald Crowley
about some things happening around ANAT.

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Mark Amerika: Amanda, could you generally describe the role ANAT plays
in facilitating new opportunities for media artists in Australia?

Amanda McDonald Crowley: Well, as you probably gathered when you visited
Australia, ANAT's brief is pretty broad. ANAT is Australia's peak
network and advocacy body for artists working with technology.

Our activities are far reaching. Apart from our newsletter, which
provides a pretty comprehensive overview of opportunities for artists,
we also do weekly email digests for our members. As a resource
organisation we have also just developed a site called screenarts
(http://www.screenarts.net.au) which is essentially a directory of the
range of digital screen arts exhibitions which have been developed by
Australian artists. We did this with support from the Australian Film
Commission who have in fact just given us additional support to include
conferences in the database so that it better contextualises the work
online. The intention of this is really to assist with the development
of informed and critical debate for this area of art practice.

Since 1989 we have run what we consider to be Australia's most
prestigious art and technology training program, the National Summer
School for artists. We are also developing two other similar programs at
the moment. One is specifically designed for Indigenous Australian
artists and the other is for curators and arts workers in order that
they are better equipped to present technology based art.

We also manage a small grant program to assist artists to attend
conference and workshops. ANAT used to run a devolved grant program from
the Australia Council (which is where most of our support still comes
from). But they recently established a New Media Arts Fund, so we no
longer have that role. We are still, however, pretty much committed to
providing opportunities for artists to produce new work which is why we
have developed residency programs, like deep immersion which formulate
relationships between artists and cultural contexts; and we also
organise events like FOLDBACK which brought you to Australia to
encourage critical debate, diversity and innovation within art, science
and technology.

MA: Can you talk about some of the some of the recent projects you've
initiated?

AMC: FOLDBACK was our most recent project. It incorporated a forum, an
exhibition, a series of satellite sound events and of course your tour
to other cities in Australia. The event took place as part of the
Telstra Adelaide Festival and your tour was in part developed in
recognition that as a national organisation, we must have a commitment
to ensure that as broad a range as possible of our constituents have
access to our programs, not just online but also in the flesh. As you
know, Australia is a pretty vast country .... ;-)

FOLDBACK celebrated the tenth anniversary of ANAT's existence and was a
transmedia event looping in upon the memories and histories of ANAT
artists, featuring real-time performances by flesh and data bodies. An
exhibition provided an opportunity to delve deeper into some of the
memorable work developed by artists through ANAT's programs of support.
A specially commissioned exhibition interface by Adelaide based
designers inSECT 22, explores the grey area between art, technology,
minds and machines. We think it is pretty cool and are in the process of
putting documentation from the FOLDBACK onto the site as well. The event
was actually broadcast live using real audio and streaming video.

Another project we did last year was called CODE RED. It was also a
combination of event, touring, exhibition and discussion... which
brought together writers, artists and activists who interrogate and
critique contemporary media and information culture. It was curated by
Sydney-based artist Julianne Pierce. The intention was to dissect the
mass media, open up information avenues for analysis and scrutiny and
question how we work as active agents in defining and creating a diverse
and smart information culture

Participants of that project included Marko Peljan, Cornelia Sollfrank
and Geert Lovink along side Australian practitioners including Zina
Kaye, Jeffrey Cook, Brad Miller, Linda Wallace and McKenzie Wark.

Another event of this nature was VIROGENESIS, which took place in two
parts in 1995 and 96. The project was curated by Francesca da Rimini and
toured artists Matt Fuller, Graham Harwood, Gomma and Scanner around
Australia to present their work, build relationships with Australian
practitioners, perform, give workshops. The intention was to address the
need for the cultural production and consumption of new media and
emerging artforms to occur within a critical context beyond the
government and corporate driven techno-evangelistic hype. Francesca
posited the visits as a viral collision of some of the most irreverent
and erudite euroTrash with Australian artists and technobabies.

The common link amongst the artists participating is the project was
philosophical and political, rather than aesthetic. As people who
challenge the existing assumptions and conventions of the technological
tools and the power relations of convergent technologies the project's
intention was to act as a catalyst for ongoing cultural exchange.

MA: As the catalogue for FOLDBACK stated, "[d]rawing connections between
the often divergent cultures of art, writing and sound, FOLDBACK seeks
to dispel the assumption that media art belongs only in a visual arts
context." Could you explain what you meant by that?

AMC: ANAT is trying to find ways for artists to engage critically across
the fields of art, science, technology within a contemporary cultural
context. Last year we set up a series of residencies online; virtual
residencies if you like. For the first of these, we worked with the
Electronic Writing and Research Ensemble to develop a collaborative
residency project for a writer in Perth and a writer in Brisbane. These
cities are some 5000 km apart, and Linda Carroli and Josephine Wilson
who were invited to undertake these residencies had never met, and nor
had they really worked online much before. So the project was about
giving them space the explore "cyberspace" to play and possibly to
develop work there. The result was really fantastic and in a really
interesting way ponders the problematic of working online and the
potential for slippage and mis(taken) identities online.

Other residencies have arisen as part of the deep immersion: creative
collaborations project we are developing will see a writer and a sound
artist collaborate to develop work with AltX, and another writer develop
work for trAce in the UK which has been published online but which has
also created resonances in other ways through trAce's moo discussion
groups. And elendil in Adelaide is about to develop a project called
Glyph with System X in Australia in which he wants to create a site that
facilitates the cross cultural collaboration of visual languages. A
sound artists, Keith Netto has developed sound project called sonicform
with <EMG> also in Australia which was conceived as an online
collaborative evolutionary environment.

MA: One thing that seems clear to me after having recently toured Oz, is
that all of the talk we've all grown up with about the "geographical
isolation" of the country, especially in relation to the
American-European exchanges, is starting to transform. Sure, it takes a
long time to fly there, but once there, one is just as connected to the
Net as they would be anywhere in the States or Europe, and so if the Net
is creating a "virtual geography" where a great deal of our cultural
production and exchange is beginning to take place, then Australian
artists working in the new media have access to the same
community-networks and potential audiences as anyone, right?

AMC: Phew! That's actually quite a hard call.

It is a bit of a double bind actually. Although we are certainly pretty
well connected here in Australia, and I think that the sense of (actual)
geographical isolation informs how we use networked environments, it is
still pretty frustrating reading digests on lists like RHIZOME and
Nettime, (not to mention our own members digest actually) and know that
there are so many events that one simply can't attend. Working online
has its benefits, but the role of the fleshmeet is still pretty
profound.

I would argue that we don't have access to the same community-networks
at all. We have to work much harder at developing and maintaining
relationships with them in fact. But I think we do this pretty well. I
also think some of our own networks are better! Distance across
Australia alone makes for the need to understand how to maintain
relationships, professional and personal across vast geographical
distances. And Australians are pretty much up there in terms of
representation internationally. The problem is that at a certain point,
there is only so much that one can achieve remotely and many Australian
artists and cultural producers find that they have to get their actual
bods elsewhere to be able to take up these opportunities.

MA: Recently ANAT played a major role in the official launch of the
Australia Council's New Media Fund. Could you explain what the New Media
Fund is and how it will benefit new media artists and the development of
new media art projects?

AMC: The Australia Council is the Australian Federal Government's arts
funding and advisory body. It provides advice to government, and, more
importantly from our perspective, funding to artists and organisations
to produce, develop and promote new work. Funding is provided by the
various artform "Funds." Traditionally these have been Visual
Arts/Craft, Theatre, Music, Literature, Dance. There is also a Community
Cultural Development Fund and an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Arts Board. The New Media Arts Fund was set up last year as a committee
of Council itself, so didn't have decision making capacity in its own
right. But now it has been officially "endorsed" by the Federal
Government agreeing that it should have the same status as other areas
of council's Funding.

In fact, it was established to support interdisciplinary arts practice
which displays a critical and innovative approach to art and its place
in society. According to their own rhetoric, "The term 'new media arts'
is used to describe both the process and outcomes of interdisciplinary
arts practice. This practice is highly collaborative in nature and
crosses artistic and cultural boundaries in ways that challenge and
engage artists and audiences." They are keen to emphasise that New Media
Arts was not established as an "artform" Fund as such, rather, they see
that new media arts describes both the process and means of execution of
collaborative, interdisciplinary work, which often embraces new
technologies.

MA: What are ANAT's priorities for the next year or two? Any special
projects on tap?

AMC: We are currently developing something of a scientific flavour to
our programming. We are looking to develop residencies for artists in
science institutions. We also have this seed of an idea we are
developing which we have called Resistant Media, which is looking at the
trajectory from video art to webtv but are really focusing on the
concept of resistant and interventionist media practices. I am at the
moment working through what form that project will take, but like our
other projects, it will involve some commissioning artists and also
developing a critical context for its realisation.
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