Stephen Feneley

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State of the Art Paper

Stephen Feneley

Hello I’m Stephen Feneley; I present the arts program Express on ABC TV. I welcome you to this session that Kevin Murray has entitled State of the Art.If I can begin by reading from Kevin Murray’s outline of what he sees this forum being about? Essentially, he raises a series of questions to provoke debate. Does multimedia fit into the art world? Does multimedia deserve to be taken seriously as an art form? Multimedia has attracted unprecedented political support, yet official art forums remain oblivious to it. (I would say not entirely)

Despite calls for content, multimedia art remains confined to forums devoted to computer hardware.(To that I would say not entirely) Is this due to lack of worthwhile multimedia art, or an inability to accept change? Is this new art a victim of "technological correctness"? This session focuses on the attitude of cultural gatekeepers to this newcomer.

Now if we are to look at the arts media as playing the role of cultural gatekeeper than I have to fess up and say my own program was almost guilty of keeping the gate shut to the debate we’re having here. I pitched this conference as a story to my producer some time ago and she was less than enthusiastic about covering it. So too were other people on the program.

Not because they’re luddites, not because they’re conservative but because they seriously doubted whether it was going to make for an engaging story.

As you can see with the camera here I got my way, only because I managed to convince them that I would be taking a sceptical approach as indeed this forum is taking a sceptical approach.I will confess to being a Luddite. It does not come naturally to me to engage new media as art. Whenever I do it’s only because I think in my job I should.

The scepticism of my colleagues was based on much of what they’d seen in new media and much of what they’d heard about it.

What they’d heard had amounted to a lot of unqualified and uncritical spruiking and much of what they’d seen had failed to impress them.

These are not people who have a fear of the new; they go in pursuit of the new in other art forms all the time.

These are not people who have a fear of technology. They work in an industry that is in a constant state of technological change.

They engage technology every day using it as a working tool.

That they see technology merely as a tool is what fuels a lot of their scepticism about all the hype surrounding new media.

They see television for instance merely as a platform, for conveying images and ideas about all manner of things. While they’re all too aware of televisions limitations in conveying ideas, particularly abstract ideas, they see that as a challenge and attempt to break through those limitations to get on and deal faithfully with other subjects rather than making television about television.

The forerunner of Express was a program called Review. One of the great criticisms of Review was that it was so concerned with showing off what television could do the art that was supposed to be its subject became secondary: No longer the subject but merely the object that one occasionally glimpsed in a dizzy display of artful camera and editing technique.

The images weren’t there to serve ideas; they were there merely unto themselves.

Mike Leggett found himself a victim of that in a story I did with him on Review last year about new media. In stating his argument, he started out by acknowledging some of the criticisms about the hype surrounding new media but then went on to give a spirited defence of its potential. That was in my script but it didn’t survive in the editing because quite frankly I think the field producer wasn’t listening to the argument, so concerned was he with image.

So if I can conclude, the scepticism of my colleagues is I think a healthy scepticism. It is based on the idea that the medium is only the platform and that it’s not very interesting when it also becomes the message.

McLuhan said the media is the message. Too many people believe he said it as an unqualified celebration, whereas it’s more likely he was also sounding a warning. There is a perception, false or not, that so much new media work is about new media, that it’s so caught up in itself that it can’t see there’s a whole world out there to draw on for subject matter.

Now I don’t entirely believe that that perception is true but it is a potent perception nonetheless and it may well be what’s keeping the gates closed to new media’s place in broader cultural forums.

Stephen Feneley 1997

Page was last edited 19 December 1998
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