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Binary Code

Some notes towards Dissemination of Multimedia in the Art Worlds

Mike Leggett

Curators are often described as gatekeepers with the implication that they are the ones responsible for allowing certain artists through the gate whilst excluding others. But this is only part of the selection process that occurs.

Preparing the exhibition Burning the Interface<International Artists CD-ROM> for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney between 1994 and 1996 was a graphic example of how there are often several selection processes going-on as part of the team enterprise that comprises bringing a significantly resourced exhibition to a significant national museum. In a sense, the curator passes backwards and forwards through the gate many times, leaving many bookmarks on either side.

- There are the marks placed on a whole range of artworks.

- There are marks on the different art worlds who will encounter the work.

- There are also the marks placed on the various ways in which the work could be presented or installed, to be introduced to the different art worlds.

In the case of Burning the Interface, these different art worlds were many:

- the art world of the museum or ‘arts professionals’ of directors, registrars, curators, administrators, conservators and all those whose fascination, and often experience, is in the science of ‘show and tell’;

- the art world of the schools and tertiary courses, and those teachers who wish to present the world to their students, framed in an intelligent way;

- the art world of the ever ‘nascent’ Multimedia Industry, which whilst resisting the ideas and issues that artists wish to raise, cannot resist the possibility that some upstart has actually pointed the way to the next Killer App;

- the world of art as understood by the computer hardware and audio-visual industries, which instead of displaying titillating body parts by way of demonstrating their equipment, from time to time seek an alternative from a contemporary artist;

- the world of art as imagined by the artist, who often regard the whole exhibition process as simply ‘a piece of cake’;

- the art in the world as fantasised by the media and its commentators who, having abandoned their readers and viewers to the ads, feel the only way to win them back is to be as equally preposterous;

- the heartfelt world of the politicians, eager to support or condemn, depending on which way the polls are blowing;

- the artful world of the pollies instrumentalities, the various government departments, each running with their own agendas, all eager for you to submit proposals to their statistical counts;

The accumulation of marks against these various art worlds - and there are more - created whole nebulae of negotiations for the Burning the Interface development team. The outcome of these negotiations, what it was these many bookmarks created, were the conditions which gave the exhibition both its form and its content. The content being the artists contributions, and the process I’ve outlined, shaping its reception.

This was multi-functional gate keeping, an unusual range of responsibilities, but not uncommon these days I suggest, when social infrastructure, the stuff we call ‘a culture’, is subordinated to social efficiency, as expressed by the bottom line of the current account.

The dissemination of multimedia art into public spaces including museums and galleries is a responsibility that cannot be taken solely by institutions and curators. It is a broader social responsibility that Value-Adds the social infrastructure in the areas of knowledge development, knowledge delivery and knowledge effect.

Knowledge development in this context is creating the conditions for artists and other knowledge workers to develop the ‘ideas stream’ as distinct from the ‘money stream’, not a popular suggestion these days.

The task that many others are working on at the moment is the means by which outcomes from the ideas stream are applicable to knowledge delivery. Clearly outcomes cannot be guaranteed but the majority of work emerging from the studios can be delivered to an appropriate audience. Some work can even be placed in the public setting, and it would then address in someway, each of the art world audiences described earlier.

I chaired a Panel session at the International Symposium for Electronic Art in 1996 that brought together four of us who have been working in different ways on the delivery of artists’ researches, and these presentations gave some guide to knowledge effect.

On the screen at the moment is The Great Wall of China, an interactive CD-ROM work by Simon Biggs, an artist raised in Sydney but who for some 20 years has been working in Europe. As you can see the work is published by Film and Video Umbrella, a London based group headed by Stephen Bode. He spoke at the panel session about the kind of work Umbrella are undertaking

This London based organisation has been operating for nearly ten years and is funded by the Arts Council of England to concentrate on researching and curating exhibits of work by British artists working with video and digital media. The presentation covered the logistics of running such an organisation and detailed a major exhibit held last year at the Natural History Museum in London. (). They have recently started publishing CD-ROMs of which this is the second. The first, another work by Biggs, was entitled Book of Shadows.

Another speaker at the session was Annick Bureaud who is the President of Art Science Technology Network Inc (ASTN) which publishes FineArt Forum. She is the editor of the International Directory of Electronic Arts (IDEA) published by CHAOS. She spoke in relation to a consultancy she has recently completed for the French Ministry of Culture about the future for museums and their object-based structures, their architecture, the intellectual patterns of the staff. She raised the issue of 'cultural worth' in relation to the space available for creation, the narrativisation effect of art historical traditions. The novelty of technology in some contexts, for instance science museums, avoided content problems associated with time-based media. Artists' fees and commissions in this area needed urgent attention. Curatorial practices of themes and surveys needed to give account to the flexibility of forms that electronic media produced, which in itself raised problems of conservation for museum culture. Flexibility was the key for the future, along the lines of theatre possibly: Ars Electronica Centre may become a model.

Jill Scott is an Australian artist based in Germany and after working in the mediums of video and performance she began working with digital installations in the mid-80s and currently has the work Frontiers of Utopia in the exhibition that is part of V2 DEAF. She described in detail the plans for the 'hybrid' museum that opened recently at Zuntrum fur Kunst und Medien (ZKM) in Karlsruhe under the directorship of Hans Peter Schwartz using the Web site that describes the exhibit to illustrate her points.

Jill is based in the Institute for Visual Media whose director is Jeffrey Shaw, another Australian raised artist who has been based in Europe for 30 years.


(For lack of time the final outline given at ISEA96 was not included in the presentation for Binary Code)

Burning the Interface<International Artists CD-ROM>

Presentation about the mounting of this exhibition, with slides and videotape. Points covered: Research; Motivation; Sponsorship 1; Definition and Planning; Sponsorship 2; Design; Marketing strategies; Preparation and Installation; Media; Merchandising; Educational strategies; Market Research.

New Exhibition Practice in Australia: Phase 2 of MCA; Exhibition and curation agencies - Experimenta in Melbourne, and SIN Sydney Intermedia Network; Co-operative Multimedia Centres - Ngapardji in Adelaide; Access Australia in Sydney; Starlit and another in Brisbane; Melbourne and Perth.


Final Word: There are various ways in which the outcomes of knowledge research can be delivered - and I have outline some here - there are many others. The exhibition downstairs "Altered States" prepared by Experimenta for the Interact trade show is one kind of successful intervention that can be made into the market place of multimedia. Another kind I also discovered down on the floor of the trade show - one of the artists whose work was included in Burning the Interface was on the stand of one of the big multinational corporations. They are employing him because he is an artist who has considerable experience with the tools that many artists are using for multimedia production. He also has considerable experience of the modes of delivery they are using such as CD-ROM and the Web. He told me how working with a team, who were initially sceptical about his inclusion, has enabled him to continue practicing as an artist, influencing others on the team now as an equal partner, and having access to facilities which he wouldn’t otherwise achieve.

What we must not loose sight of is the value, the social value, of resourcing the R&D that follows the ideas stream, to the exclusion of the money stream.

Mike Leggett 1997

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