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Alternative Realities


Alternative realities: Australia Artists Working with Technology

Peter Callas, Moira Corby, Ross Harley, Rosemary Laing, Patricia Piccinini

Curated by Rachel Kent

Ian Potter Gallery, June 15-July 28, 1995

Alternative realities was a touring exhibition organised by the University of Melbourne Museum of Art and the Asialink Centre, supported by the Visual Arts/Craft Board of the Australia Council, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia.

Altemative Realities is an exhibition of five Australian artists who incorporate digital technologies within their art. Drawn from Melbourne and Sydney, these artists explore in different ways the possibilities, as well as the limitations, of technology in their work. The impact of technology upon the body, the urban landscape and the shaping of history is considered, while a critical look is cast at the darker side of technological progress.

The failures of technology, as embodied by the systems breakdown or ‘crash’, are also exposed while the new possibilities which this opens up present an alterna- tive form of visual aesthetics for the viewer to consider. Heralded as a ‘technological revolution’ and the ’second industrial rev- olution’, the advent of digital technologies from the development of the first modern computer in the 1940s to the present, has had a vast impact upon the political and economic fabric of our society. Primarily developed for military and scientific purposes, digital technologies have also, since their inception, expanded to embrace a broad range of social and cultural functions.

The impact of technology within the realm of social and cultural production is reflected in the increased recognition, and widening application, of technol- ogy in the work of a growing number of artists and other cultural groups within and beyond Australia. On a broader level, it is reflected also in a growing awareness among the general community of the technologies with- in the leisure and entertainment industry.

In Patricia Piccinini’s The Mutant Genome Project - GMSR Genetic Manipulation Simulator, biotechnology and its darker implications are explored in a humorously sinister way. Echoing the reality of the Human Genome Initiative, an American federal project currently attempting to map human DNA, it addresses issues of biotechnological advancement and its potential uses in the realm of genetic and social engineering. In GMSR Genetic Manipulation Simulator we are presented with a fictitious, super- human creation called LUMP TM (Lifeform with Unevolved Mutant Potential). Created within the medical laboratory LUMP can be purchased on a cost-scale suited to a range of budgets, according to which of the eight extra bio- logical features the buyer selects. LUMP TM is presented in a consumer- friendly, colourful games-format with randomly inserted bonuses or ‘easter eggs’ for the lucky selector of the right combination. Humour aside, LUMP-” is an imminently conceivable life form, a step away from the body-altering surgery currently available to us or, more chillingly, the Human Genome Initiative it draws upon. LUM P TM is designed to be explored interactively via the computer.

Alternatively, it is the technology of travel or ‘landscapes in motion’ that is explored in Ross Harley’s DRIVE: Motion Landscapes video series. An ongoing project since 1994, DRIVE: Motion Landscapes explores the ways in which technology mediates our experience of the physical landscape unfolding around us. The artist writes: ‘In travel … the environment is encountered via some electro-magnetic transportation system … Buses, trains, airplanes, ferries, cycles and so on, orchestrate the landscape into something akin to cinema, television or video’.’ This integrated experience of space, time and movement is captured in moving texts and a series of per- sonal anecdotes, narrated by the artist, accompanied by video footage from different locations around the world. The underlying theme of contempo- rary society as essentially nomadic - decentred and constantly moving between destinations - is mirrored in the flow of text, narrative and imagery in each video.

Peter Callas’s Bilderbuch fur Ernst Will (Ernst Will’s Picture Book): A Euro Rebus, is an eleven-minute animation in which the ‘private history’ of Europe is explored via the traditional children’s pictorial scrapbook, or rebus. Using video and digital technologies, Callas’s work represents an examination of communication and the role of the mass media in the con- struction of historical narratives. Within the private domain of the picture- book, a collage of seemingly unrelated images constructs public histories via reference to historical and political events, dates and figures; this process of territorial mapping is extended via the virtual mapping of technology.2 Recurrent references to blindness and vision, and the image of a monkey typing away at a keyboard - author or viewer? - further add to the ‘enigmat- ic code’ contained within the imagery of the rebus. Like a dream or an illu- sion, the images present a range of possible readings as do the histories and events themselves.

Rosemary Laing and Moira Corby explore the perceived failure of tech- nology via the systems breakdown or ‘crash’. Alternatively, new visual and aesthetic possibilities are exposed within these images. Moira Corby’s use of the virtual space of the computer has led her to experiment with the limits of technology in a series of nine images created by crashing the computer. Collectively entitled Crash - Suburban Night the images are grouped into threes and illustrate in several stages the establishment of visual order and its disintegration via the breakdown of the computer.Based upon Western classical and medieval metaphysical concepts of harmony and proportion, the first three images are of a human face, the spiral structure of a shell, and a Gothic archway. Crashed data - recognisable only as green and red colour patches - and other distortions are then incorporated within the successive images, allowing the breakdown technology of the crash, a new visual dimension is opened up for artist and viewer alike to explore.

Similarly, Rosemary Laing’s photographic and perspex works, Untitled (skid marks) and Untitled (stretched horizon hole), propose an altered visual dimension via the failures of technology. Both are based upon a photograph taken by the artist in which vivid tonal distortion is evident, due to a technical incompatibility affecting both the photographic and subsequent digitising process. The resulting acidic purple of horizon and sea represents not only a shift away from the conventional colour-curve observed in photography but, with it, a move from natural to artificial resulting in the creation of a veritable synthetic monster. Alternatively the two works, like the photograph they are derived from, pro- pose a different way of seeing. In the establishment of a perceptual space between the natural and the synthetic, as symbolised by the horizon line itself, a new range of visual and aesthetic possibilities open infinitely before the viewer.

The artists in the exhibition Alternative Realities consider in differing ways the impact of technology upon our constantly changing world. Part of a growing global network of artists who are exploring the possibilities and the limitations of technology in their work, they provide an insight into some of the ways in which our lives are affected, and to some degree shaped, by the new technologies which surround us.

Rachel Kent, 1995

FOOTNOTES 1 Ross Harley ‘Learning to Drive: Motion Landscape video series’, Cantrill’s Filmnotes, November 1994, P-4.

2 Erkki Huhtamo, ‘Dreaming Europe, or mapping the global “anti-terrain “‘, Bilderbuch fur Ernst Will (Ernst Picture Book): A Euro Rebus, catalogue 1993.

Rachel Kent


Ian Potter Gallery