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New media art

New media art is an exciting and integral part of the contemporary art scene in Australia. It means many things to many people but all agree on one thing - it involves innovative work that uses new technologies.

RAPT 8835

Justine Cooper, RAPT 8835, 1998. Image courtesy of ANAT.

Genuine innovation requires taking risks. The challenge is to keep alive the process of experimentation, of pushing the boundaries into the future.
John Rimmer, Chair of New Media Arts Fund 1997-2000

What is new media art?

New media art, as defined by the Australia Council, is a process where new technologies are used by artists to create works that explore new modes of artistic expression. These new technologies include computers, information and communications technology, virtual or immersive environments, or sound engineering. They are the brushes and pens of a new generation of artists.

The Australian new media art scene

The potential of new media is limitless and Australian artists stand at the forefront of the new media art movement.

Over 300 visual artists, performance artists, musicians, dancers, choreographers, sound artists and writers make up the core of new media arts practice in Australia.

The new media art movement challenges conventional notions of 'what art is' and the role it plays in our society. Audiences are challenged - and confronted - by different art forms, disciplines and media. Examples include nonlinear theatre, multimedia dance and music, hybrid performances, multidimensional installations, site specific performative installations, conceptual and improvisatory performances.

Many of these collaborations involve cultural and artistic differences reflecting the cultural diversity of the Australian population.

Making art from science

Elephants in the attic

Justine Cooper, Elephants in the Attic, 2005. Image courtesy of ANAT.

One area being explored by new media artists is the interaction and collaboration between art and science; using art to give a new perspective on scientific endeavours, as well as using scientific developments to discover new media for producing works of art.

Australian organisations ANAT and SymbioticA are both part of an international network of artists' programs in science and industry research lab, the Artsactive network, which promotes integration of artists into science contexts and scientists into art contexts.

'Art and science alike involve curiosity, imagination, self-criticism and skepticism, discipline and manual skills, empirical testing, a sense of harmony and pleasure, and both are eminently social activities'
Prof. Marcello Costa, Filter, issue 68.

Justine Cooper, RAPT I and II

In her first major project, in 1998, Justine Cooper used a high performance visualisation laboratory to help represent her body in combination with medical imaging technology. The RAPT project was about modern technology's ability to form and change our conception of time and space. VisLab, based at Sydney University, was able to translate MIR scans into generic TIFF files.

Scynescape (1999) developed this further with content generated from scanning electron microscope using moulds from the artist's body and hair, coated with gold, to allow them to conduct a high-energy beam of electrons. This resulted in a maze like immersive environment using sensors, projectors and sound.

The collaborations create work that crosses boundaries and disciplines. This extends to exchanges about thinking and glimpses into another modus operandi.

'The interface between science and art creates an immediate pathway that can be used to question and challenge scientific methods and culture, as well as enriching artistic practice via the adoption of new science and technologies ... allowing them to focus on the true prizes - new knowledge and real outcomes. This shift will play a pivotal role in putting a strong, versatile and creative scientific culture at the heart of our society.'
Professor Tanya Monro, Director of the Centre of Expertise in Photonics, University of Adelaide, Filter, issue 68.

Sound Arts

Sector Assembly Blues

Chris Henschke, Sector Assembly Blues, 2007. Image courtesy of ANAT.

Australia has a vibrant and diverse sound arts community, connected to the broader cultural sector. A definition of sound art is proposed as follows:

For many, it refers to sound-based art work (or at least art work where the principal focus is on sound) across the broad gamut of performance, installation and broadcast contexts, which departs from both traditional musical instrumentation and notational methods and frequently employs electronic media. Others may see it as an intersecting space with roots in post-Cageian music practice, or indeed 'post-phonographic' music practice, and installation art.
Julian Knowles, then Professor of Music and Head of the School of Music and Drama at the University of Wollongong, in an article entitled Sound Practice, Sound Thesis, in RealTime No 68, August / September 2005

Australian sound is seen as part of the 'complex interplay of site, language and technology' that contributes to Australian identity. Sound installations are seen as 'powerful tools to access the collective consciousness associated with sites, each one an ever-changing audible polyphony'.

It also includes debate about the 'great Australian silence' - audible and epistemological, an effect of colonisation.

The myriad sounds of the bush were reduced to 'silence'. It was 'silence' because no sounds were recognisable, or culturally known. It was roaring, brooding silence created by the absence of the ancient songs, and the singers of those songs, from the soundscapes.
Jane Belfrage, The Great Australian Silence: Inside acoustic space, May 1994

The original works of over 200 sound designers, artists and composers have been published in sound, text and image in the gallery of The Australian Sound Design Project (ASDP). ASDP has helped establish Australia's contribution worldwide. The ASDP has curated two exhibitions for the World Forum of Acoustic Ecology, including an international audiotheque and published audio CD, Hearing Place.

Frequencies

Chris Henschke, Frequencies, 2007. Image courtesy of ANAT.

The aim of ANAT's embracing sound program (esp) is to bring together these diverse elements. Sound artists Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey work with diabetes, genetics, and DNA sequencers as sources for sound material in an ANAT project at the Garvin Institute. In the process they are translating data obtained from the processes within the living cell into compositions. This has generated new interpretations of the science, and the need to grapple with the ethical consequences of this artistic manipulation of biological information and forms.

Synchresis is Michel Chion's term for the 'spontaneous and irresistible weld' between synchronised image and sound. This DVD collection presents recent Australian audiovisuals that fuse, splice, generate and cross-wire sound and image into startling new wholes.

Clatterbox promotes the builders and players of new musical instruments. Hands On Hand Free is clatterbox's new monthly gig series featuring local and far-flung builders and players of new, old, odd, and unique musical instruments in Melbourne. Current line-ups include: Rod Cooper, premiering his new Not Made in China speaker instrument, and Fading Fires, Chris Rainier on 1930s valve trautonium (replica) and Mat Watson on tube-amp and other gadgets.

Liquid Architecture is a sound-arts festival with concerts, surround sound presentations, audio-visual and recorded work, exhibitions and installations. Featuring our most imaginative musicians, composers, sound designers and media artists in a sense-specific feast for the ears.

Fusing traditions with robotic technology - Girltron

Girltron

Kirsty Boyle, Girltron, 2008. Image courtesy of ANAT.

Girltron is a series of artworks by Australian artist Kirsty Boyle, undertaken as artist in residence at the AI Lab, University of Zurich. In Zurich, Kirsty works with people who have backgrounds in computer science, mathematics, physics, biology, ethnology, neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, mechanical and electronic engineering.

The Girltron project combines aspects of traditional Japanese mechanised puppetry with artificial intelligence, to show that robots can be art objects, not just mass produced items or industrial tools. Kirsty is combining artificial intelligence with the Japanese Karakuri tradition to produce a hybrid robot.

Kirsty Boyle trained as a puppeteer, then went on to study mechanical and electrical engineering, continuing her arts practice but always working with technology. In 2002, Kirsty studied under a Karakuri Ningyo master, Tamaya Shobei, 'a ninth generation craftsman and last remaining mechanical doll master in Japan'.

'Karakuri' means a mechanical device to tease, trick, or take a person by surprise. It implies hidden magic or an element of mystery. Central to the Karakuri philosophy is the concealment of technology, to evoke feelings and emotions, and a sense of hidden inner magic.
Filter Magazine, 68, 2008.

The Girltron project shows that 'robots can be finely crafted art objects, versus something mass produced or an industrial tool. Girltron has artistic merit, but also aims to produce solid scientific research outcomes and discoveries'.

Portable Platforms

Image from roadmovie: Holly and Bob contemplate the perimeter of the (once) inland sea

Lisa Harms, Image from roadmovie: Holly and Bob contemplate the perimeter of the (once) inland sea, from Portable Worlds. Image courtesy of ANAT.

Technology and mobility can change habits and inhabitation of public spaces, that is now reflected in new art forms. ANAT has been exploring mobile and portable platforms as innovative creation and distribution systems since 2003.

Portable Worlds 1st Edition is a survey of contemporary Australian new media artists working specifically for the mobile phone screen. The Surface Tension project takes art to unsuspecting new audiences using a mobile projection van to present a portable array of guerrilla style projections and performances in unusual city locations. Other projects include Mobile Journeys, supporting the development of creative content for mobile phones, and the 2006 pixel.play program, which supported young artists to develop creative projects using mobile phones and readily available digital technologies.

Blast Theory masterclass was for Australia practitioners from diverse backgrounds including wearable computing, software engineering, computer animation, filmmaking and visual arts.

New media art works - 'tissue culture'

An image of Pig bone marrow stem cells and biodegradable/bioabsorbable polymers.

Oron Catts, Ionat Zurr and Guy Ben-Ary, The Pig Wings, 2000-2001, pig bone marrow stem cells and biodegradable/bioabsorbable polymers. Image courtesy of the Tissue Culture & Art Project.

West Australians Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr have undertaken a research and development project into the use of tissue culture and tissue engineering as a medium for artistic expression.

They believe that biomedical technologies should be examined and used by artists. The project involves the production of semi-living objects and biological imaging techniques.

Zurr emphasises the importance of artists engaging with science:

This project is about getting artists' hands wet in biology - to actually engage in life manipulation and its ethical and philosophical implications.

The work is being undertaken at the School of Anatomy and Human Biology at the University of Western Australia. 'Symbiotica' - a dedicated artists' laboratory - brings together a wide range of interdisciplinary groups with research and other interests in biological sciences.

Australian artists

The creativity of Australian new media artists is recognised internationally and includes works by Patricia Piccinini, John Tonkin, Jon McCormack, Troy Innocent, Stelarc, Arthur Wicks and Susie Treiste.

A portrait of Patricia Piccinini John Olsen with "Leather Landscape"

Claudio Franzini, Portrait of Patricia Piccinini with 'Leather Landscape', photograph. Photograph courtesy of Claudio Franzini.

Patricia Piccinini - a new media artist

A resident of Melbourne, Patricia Piccinini is one of Australia's leading contemporary artists.

Piccinini's work explores the relationship between gender and technology in a humorous and confronting way. She is also interested in the way technology impacts on life. Her work confronts topical issues such as genetic engineering, the consequences of which are revealed in cute humanoids that seem uncannily synthetic.

Piccinini works with a diverse range of materials. These include still computer-generated images, interactive CD-ROMs, immersive video, sculptural installations and film.

She has had solo exhibitions in Australia, Japan, Peru and the Philippines, and has participated in group shows in Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Wales, Korea and New Zealand.

Useful links

Sound art

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Last updated: 14th October 2008
Creators: ACME, et al.

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