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Reconsidering Australian Media Art Histories in an International Context: Roundtable


This roundtable discussion was held on 21 June 2012 at the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, in conjuction with the Australian Research Council Linkage Project Reconsidering Australian Media Art Histories in an International Context. The project was a collaboration between UNSW, the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) and Donau Universität Krems.

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Participants: Su Baker, Michele Barker, Brogan Bunt, Justin Clemens, Andrew Garton, Oliver Grau, Lisa Gye, Ross Harley, Stephen Jones, Doug Kahn, Anne Marsh, Anna Munster, Norie Neumark, Matthew Perkins, Julianne Pierce, Diana Smith, Paul Thomas, Darren Tofts.

Session 1

Anna Munster:         Thank you very much for coming to this and the conference that’s coming up tomorrow. It’s great to have everyone here. Oliver, of course, is a partner on the project that this is in honour of or in aid of and that project is being led by Ross Harley and other official partners on that project are Paul Thomas, Michele Barker, myself, Darren Tofts and Sean Cubitt, who couldn’t be here with us today but I think continues to inhabit Melbourne’s spirit in some way or another. So it’s great that as many of us could be here today in one room. I don’t think it’s been as many as this before, so that’s good. And of course, everybody else who’s here, thank you very much for coming along. Stephen Jones is also affiliated with the project. Also Di Smith, one of our research assistants who has been involved in organising today, so thank you very much Di. And, our research assistant, Timothy Maybury, unfortunately could not be here because he’s doing a three-hour contract law exam, which is probably more profitable than anything else that any of us are engaged in [laughs]. So good luck to him.

So how we’re going to run this today is we’re going to have a longish session which involves four lots of short addresses or position statements, which I’ll chair. You’re welcome to get up and go and have coffee and tea, but don’t stay up there – bring it back in here, during that. If you do also need to use the little girls’ or boys’ room that’s outside – up that door over there, to the right and then upstairs is the closest one.

Di also has some printed copies of the readings, which we sent out to people. But I’ll get back to that in a second. So we’ll have this longish session with two lots of position statements. The first will be given by Ross and then a response by Paul. The second Stephen and then a response by Doug Kahn. Is that correct?

Ross Harley:            Yeah.


Ross Harley:            We’ve got the program.

Anna Munster:         Su did want to say though that she’s trying to get wireless for everybody here. We do have it available on that computer but we’re working on extending it across the room. You know how these things are. Okay. So I’m not going to speak very much about the project because Ross is going to talk about that. But you’re all here because you’re part of the making, writing and thinking of Australian media arts histories and we value your contributions to those histories and we certainly value what you have to say today. These proceedings are being recorded so we will have to distribute a form fairly soon after today to just ensure that everybody’s okay with their voice going on to a crappy iPhone


Ross Harley:            Can I just ask now, does anybody object to us recording these proceedings? Yes, so then it’s just the usual ethics clearance formality.

Anna Munster:         Fantastic. Okay. So the idea is that we’re going to have these short position statements where we have a position and then a response to that position, really in order to open up possibilities for discussion. We did set these two readings and we are going to actually interrogate you about these.


Ross Harley:            Yeah, there’s a test at the end of all of this.

Anna Munster:         There’s a test at the end. No, the readings were really there just once again as starting points. Most of you will probably be familiar with Lisa Gitelman’s work and the Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka’s Introduction is a new text but a great book, which really addresses questions of methodology and historiography from the media archaeology point of view. We just thought it would be great to throw those things in the mix and hopefully riff off them a little bit.

I just wanted to – just really quickly before I hand over to Ross, just I suppose really bring our attention to what we might do today by starting off with a great series of questions that Gitelman asks, which is basically is the history of media first and foremost, the history of technological methods and devices, is it media, understood as modern ideas of communication, is it about modes and habits of perception or about political choices and structures? Should we be looking to set the ages, et cetera, et cetera. But of course, we have many more questions as well to add to this, particularly when you consider that we’re looking at art histories and that we’re also looking at the question of what does it mean to try to do a different kind of national history.

In other words, not a national history per se, but what would it mean to actually position Australia in all these debates and how might we do that without coming across as producing a canon or as trying to nationalise the history in a way.

So those are questions that we have discussed as researchers and these are the sorts of things we’d be really keen to hear about today. And of course, we welcome your questions as well. So we are really trying to look at today not so much necessarily what and who, although that’s very important, but definitely how. How we go about producing a kind of a new sort of making of Australian media arts histories, without, of course, getting rid of the old as well and how do we make those relationships work?

So that’s all I’ll say. I’ll hand over to Ross now. Short position statement. The emphasis is on short.

Ross Harley:            Yes. Now I will get up and give you my five-hour lecture. I have you all trapped.


Ross Harley:            But I might just go over here so that I can see you all a little bit better. Look, thanks very much Anna and thanks for everyone for coming along. As Anna said, you guys are all here because you’re actively involved in making the documentation and the interpretation of the media art histories from a variety of different perspectives. So we really felt that it was a great opportunity to coincide this roundtable with the Transdisciplinary Imaging Conference, which is on in Melbourne this weekend. I do want to say thank you very much to our host, Su, for hosting us here at the VCA, that’s really wonderful, and to Paul Thomas who’s the chair of the conference tomorrow.

Paul Thomas:            And Su.

Ross Harley:            And Su as well. So thank you to the both of you for allowing us to be here. So as Anna said, this is really part of an ARC Linkage project that a number of us are involved in. We’re partnering – so the University of New South Wales is the lead institution, partnering with the Australian Network for Art and Technology and the Danube von Krems University with Oliver Grau and his team. That’s really connecting with the international headquarters of the media art histories project.

So we’re very keen to think about what it means to talk about Australian media art and to think about how we might consider its emergence in an international context. So we’re interested in documenting, understanding and finding out more about the works that have been created in this field of, let’s call it media art, and however we might think about that in terms on an historical framework.

We all recognise that today a lot of the leaders in this field come from Australia, or have worked in Australia. So our research project really wants to ask this question of geographical distance on the one hand and then the relative portability of media, which, in a sense might have had an impact on the development and the evolution of media arts in Australia.

So we’ve got three key questions which I’ll just quickly put out there for us to consider and then I’ll move on a little bit. So one of our first questions is to ask whether media art in Australia has developed on par, on in parallel, with international media arts. So is media art in Australia the same as media art everywhere else or is it different and if so, how?

The second question is to do with this question, or the subject, of ephemerality of the materials. So on the one hand, video, CD-ROMS, net art and so on have allowed this portability and expansiveness of media art internationally. At the same time it might also be considered in terms of the preservation of this art, have we lost the opportunities to preserve this art and how do we deal with that. So the very nature of media art in this sense is unstable, variable and all of the terms that we might know.

The third question is again around the issue of preservation. So how have these problems of preservation, actually keeping the work itself, how has that impacted on the wider dissemination and accessibility of Australian media arts for the local and international audiences? So there are three questions really. Last year we held the first of our roundtables in Liverpool. It was part of the Media Art Histories Conference, Rewire and we had probably about 50 people from all around the world again wanting to talk about how do we make media art histories sustainable.

Our focus was very much – I suppose we could call it political and we focused on drafting what became a widely disseminated international declaration that calls for a global network organisation of, and support, for media art histories.

We have a blog for the research project, which I don’t have up here but we’ll get up at some stage. I’m not sure – Paul, can you do that while we’re here? So if you haven’t already signed that declaration, and you may wish to, there’s a whole bunch of material that we’ve been collecting that’s on that site. There’s also a recording and a transcript of the roundtable. So we’re in this process. So our discussion now is kind of a continuation of that.

This year we’ve decided not to focus on these political or technical questions of archives and sustainability, so much as to focus, as Anna Munster: has said, on these methodological and historiographical theoretical questions. So we want to think more deeply about those things and how they pertain to our project.

So some of the things that I thought would be of interest for us to discuss could be summarised – I’ve got kind of a list, a bullet point list of some of these things that I’m hoping will strike a key with some of you and we’ll be able to have a discussion and dialogue about this. So here’s the first one that I’ve wrote up there. So how do we do our oral histories? So when we go around trying to record oral histories with people who are still making, or have made these works, how do we do that exactly and what are the virtues of that approach and what are some of the challenges of that approach? So oral history is important.

Institutions. So the role of institutions in these histories – positive and negative. In a sense, in Australia many – and around the world as well – many artists deliberately worked in the field of media arts because you could avoid having to work in the museum institutions. So we wanted to establish other ways of working. What does it mean to now engage with those institutions and how do we engage those histories and how do we engage in those dilemmas?

As we start to collect these histories and as we make these histories, we invent them in a sense, we’re also engaged in another kind of canon formation. Or are we? And if canon formation is a problem, or if it’s again a virtue, how do we navigate that? So canon formation is something else that I think we could be thinking about.

As Anna mentioned, the question of locality, how does making media art in Australia differ, or connect to other places? Then regionally in Australia, how might we think about these different layers and levels of locality of regions of what we’ve started to call, or think about in some of our more informal conversations about ‘scenes’. So the Brisbane scene has a connection with the Melbourne scene and even though they’re in two different locales, they might meet in Karlsruhe and it ends up being a work. How do we think about all of that in our framework?

What do we do with all the ephemera that we might want to collect and that we might want to valorise in some way as – we want to collect this stuff that would otherwise be lost. There are many of us in this room who are absolutely committed to collecting this stuff and making sure that it doesn’t disappear, because even though the very media that we work with may be ephemeral, we feel that its preservation is important.

There are these broader meta approaches to media art history and the doing of media art history that I think we can also consider. So the readings that we’ve assigned today are really just to give us something specific that we might want to hook onto during our conversations. So I think the Erkki and Jussi’s work and then Lisa Gitelman’s work, I think give us a couple of ways and then Oliver’s work as well on image science. The work on media archaeologies and so on, how does that fit into our project.

So I suppose I’d want to end by pointing to Lisa Gitelman’s reminder that we should really try and avoid destabilising and monumentalising approaches to media art or the web or the media itself as if they were the same all over the world, regardless of the historical geographic cultural specificity, their contents and so on. So for me, following Gitelman, it’s that specificity that’s the key. That’s one of the things that I’m interested in, the specificity. For her the case study then becomes the preferred model, that’s the preferred mode.

Maybe that could be ours or maybe it’s just one feather in a quiver so to speak. I can’t resist quoting Gitelman, quoting Benjamin – who I think Benjamin is probably who many of us would go back to and think of, especially around these questions ephemera and interpretation. His Arcades Project, is, I think, a great example of all this.

So there’s a great quote that she takes from the Arcades Project, she says the present determines where in the object from the past, the objects before history and after history diverge, so as to circumscribe its nucleus. That’s a real kind of highly packed and charged quote. But I think that’s something – this intersection of the present and the past, these points of divergence and how do we describe these nuclei, the nucleus.

So that’s where I want to end. So the idea of the whole day, as Anna says, it’s not that we want to have a series of these formal presentations that then you ask questions of, it’s more this is just to help you get a sense of where we’re coming from and how we’d like to kick-start the conversation and Anna will help chair how that discussion moves forward.

Anna Munster:         Can I get you to hold and let Paul go first? Is that all right?


Paul Thomas:            It will be shorter than Ross’ because Ross put a lot in. So I don’t really want to pollute too many of those questions. I just put things in because this is one of the things from the texts that … So I’ve just got some things from the texts that were, for me, relevant. It’s more about the things in relationship to what is lost and what is gained. Can you all read it?

Anna Munster:         That’s from the Erkki and Jussi text?

Paul Thomas:            Yeah. On the basis of that – I don’t really want to read it. It’s going to take too long isn’t it, if I read them out?

Anna Munster:         Yeah can you just blow it up?

Paul Thomas:            I think that this is…

Darren Tofts:            That’s better. Much better.


Anna Munster:         Paul, if you just move the projector back.

Paul Thomas:            Yeah, thanks [unclear].

Anna Munster:         That’s better.

Darren Tofts:            Now read it out for the ones who can’t see.

Ross Harley:            So this is PowerPoint, error number one.


Paul Thomas:            So basically what I wanted to do was to say that there is a lot of lost work and neglected and forgotten media and sometimes we’re not quite sure of it because … they come under the art banner. Maybe there was some other things that we’d lost in the construction of art along the way. There was a lot of support mechanisms that you needed, as artists, in the early days to develop some of this technology. This is important information in those cross-roads that Ross was alluding to. The thing that drew me into this concept … is much more of the last bit of the sentence, which is about the nomadicity, rather than it being a hindrance – this notion of a travelling discipline.

So the archive is more of a travelling discipline than a straight structured area where we create this canon and everything has to fit into it. It’s never been like that. It’s always been organic, it’s always been growing, it’s always been evolving. To make an archive that isn’t evolving it seems to me to be problematic and especially in the way that not only have we done it physically but also this concept of another linear map and I’ll also try to tie this in with what’s going to maybe come next with Stephen and Doug.

It’s very much about this dynamism, not a static relationship. So I just wanted to put these in, post Harley’s discourse, just to try and put this idea of this nomadic kind of media art group that we’ve all been in but we all meet. We meet at ARS Electronica, we meet here we meet there. It’s part of the initial premise of this communication network technologies that we became involved in, in the early ’80s.

So I’m just situating that, in relation to what Ross was talking about in the notion of Gitelman and Benjamin and that sort of side to it that we need to maintain within this concept, I think an open-ended structure that this is what the media is.

Anna Munster:         Oh brilliant. Okay. Fantastic. Thanks Paul, that’s great [laughs]. So Doug, you wanted to come in.

Doug Kahn:              I just wanted to talk about some of the points that came up in the essays, on the way down I took some notes on the Gittleman essay so any time that it’s appropriate…

Ross Harley:            Any time. So really I think if there’s something that pertains to our discussion that you want to point to…

Paul Thomas:            I think there are three kind of areas where maybe it would all flow on, so each group is trying to throw out some comments that maybe could be discussed and then the other comments could be discussed in relation to the second panel that that could also mean our new nomadism be totally blown out of the water.

Anna Munster:         Hey, I’m chairing.

Paul Thomas:            Oh sorry.


Anna Munster:         Now I do want to just let everyone know that in 35 minutes or so we’ll move over to you guys. So if you wanted to make a comment now, go for it.

Doug Kahn:              I just did a little reading of Gittleman’s essay and I’d just like to put it in context, because I think that is coming out of a particular context of American cultural studies and that it’s counter approach to Kittler, she mentions that media as subjects in Bolter and Gruisin and also in transit technological logic, but I then just want to point out something as a native witness of American cultural studies that closely some of the – what other logic is replaced in – as an intrinsic logic within Lisa Gittleman’s thinking.

Well first of all I think it’s good to recognise that both of them see scholarship in the context of media, it’s what they talk about. But they – both Gittleman and Kittler are involved in constrictive – I don’t know if they’re involved in archives, libraries – various scholars often find themselves reading things. Then gets transferred within media in contemporary storage devices and phonographic inscription with text and screen-based recordings, maps, manuscripts, but mostly storage devices and surfaces. You know, we reserve phenomenal spaces … on the surfaces. So as opposed to – the constrictive technologies, as opposed to transmission technologies.

So Kittler’s book Gramophone, Film, Typewriter is not a telegraphed, telephone, wireless it is focused – it starts off on phonograph – it’s not – although it goes onto the worldwide web or whatever. It doesn’t mention, at least in the introduction anywhere, I haven’t read the whole book but the introduction doesn’t even get into any of the transmissional realities. But anyway, but they’re both inscriptive. When Gittleman sort of attacks Kittler on the – saying that he’s using an Edison as an agent, certainly reinstating the great man, or historical monuments about developing the phonograph as a way to speed up the calligraphy.

It was in part true, that there were developments that she takes him to task on for not looking at the actual human agency that was going on. But his real point there was that he’s got this larger [unclear] of things stuck – machines starting to get so fast that humans are not involved anymore. So I mean that was his real point when he was talking about that. So machines – so-called man, as he calls it – getting out of the picture and having machines left to machines that’s certainly true if you look at the stock market, you know, the Flash Crash, it’s just algorithms, popular algorithms in a microsecond stage now moving with … stuff, moving closer to Wall Street so that the trading can get in, the algorithms can get in.

Anna Munster:         Now, can I stop you there for a minute because I think – are you going to make a series of points about the reading because that…

Doug Kahn:              Yeah, no, but I’m just – so anyway, so she’s…

Anna Munster:         I just wondered if I could get Ross to maybe respond to that in the context – just a question about inscription and discourse and whether that might be something – before you go on, that’s all. Because I’ll lose all your points, that’s all.

Doug Kahn:              I’m about ready to say what Gittleman replaces it with…

Anna Munster:         All right, okay.

Doug Kahn:              So – yeah and he sort of tries to get out of the humanist loop by machines talking with one and other. Gittleman is – comes from a cultural settings background and within media studies and reproduces more of an intrinsic business, especially American business logic. Her agency, if you read her text is the public. She invokes the …public spirit, which I haven’t heard done in a long time. It sort of … reminds me of the public spirit. It’s pretty – most people think it’s pretty optimistic. It’s based upon civil society, which in the United States has largely been eradicated thanks to the media and other things.

So the public that she talks about – just go through and look at her use of public, it’s this – it has this arbitration. But the public spirit in a presumed civil society wherein places like the US citizens are sort of replaced by consumers. So you have to look at the role of the public within her stuff as an arbitrator, whereas media, where she’s critiquing Kittler, is media is agency. So there’s also a rhetorical device from Gittleman – certainly the mass of the masses – arbitration has a social constructivist motivation and there are guarantors. In fact the technologies emerge into what she calls primary functions, she uses that a couple of times, and through the arbitration of the public.

In fact the new media for her, and I think this is key, new media for her are those that are still emerging into primary function. So anyway – so the purchase – literally, the purchase of certain media will – via the public, or via these other masses wherever they might be, determine what will become – what are validated as new media. So there’s just a business logic behind the American cultural studies. There’s a lot of attention to sort of subculture and local stuff. I mean if you look at the object that they do focus on it’s the winners, it’s a history of winners, whereas something like artists are not – they’re excluded in histories of winners. The technologies that don’t get taken up as new are, I believe – in which a lot of media archaeology focused on deadly – things like that. It’s not a history for winners. But it’s just – if you remember, American cultural studies also started with standing on the throat of art…


Doug Kahn:              It was art to begin with. Art was a Greek activity. So, it has this American cultural studies, it has this intrinsic business logic to it based upon public, which is mostly consumptive.

Anna Munster:         Ross could you maybe – just – I mean Doug’s posed some interesting questions around the question of inscription and discursive approaches to histories, the American-ness and the kind of issues around public and agency of the public in that kind of a cultural studies approach to history. Do you want to respond to any of those things?

Ross Harley:            Basically I would agree with what Doug’s said in the characterisation of Gittleman in a broad-brush kind of sense. In this context I suppose I’m interested, following on from those comments, in how the media archaeology approach that Erkki Huhtamo is especially well known for and others and some of us in the room, but I’m thinking particularly of Zelinsky’s work, but Zelinsky’s earlier work in precisely focusing on the kinds of audio visual practices in the work that he did in the ’80s for instance is about finding what it precisely outside of those categories. It’s not about a history of winners because the winners are boring in a sense, in a Zelinsky-ist framework, right.

So what interests us – so media arts is interesting because it’s not Hollywood. It’s not that commercial, mainstream public sphere in a sense. So I’m not quite sure how to take that. But I’d be interested in other people’s views and to get a conversation growing around that.

Michele Barker:        I’m interested in this idea – and without wanting to push it too much but you talk about the North American – I guess the commercial implications and nature and I guess part of me wonders about this beast that we’ll talk about today in terms of media arts and I suppose it’s relationship to – of course its technologies but also its relation to – the consumerist nature of a lot of technologies because I think that that’s – a lot of what it’s done is it’s come into these kind of processes. Not taking the Hollywood model obviously but in some ways not also completely eradicating it as well. Taking elements and I wonder, I mean if you take it out of a North American model, is it so different? Are we seeing something that’s so radically different?

I mean maybe Australia in that sense is a different place and I think that hopefully that’s one of the things that will come out today. But in terms of a, I suppose, a European trajectory, do we see something that is so profoundly different?

Paul Thomas:            Would you – because it’s been interesting, not being from here, from Melbourne, would it be ACMI be an example of that relationship of becoming Hollywood-ised of starting to – pulling away from media art. I mean it seems to me that that’s exactly what he’s saying, it is actually here, it’s not something fictitious.

Lisa Gye:                  Part of me wonders though, like how far apart – how far – I mean it’s nice to think that art’s somehow outside the circuits of commerce but clearly it’s not and media art isn’t either. I mean the funding institutions that many media artists rely on, rely on a liberal democratic government which is in turn relying on capitalism. So I don’t think you can extricate these things out from each other and I know a lot of artists that would be quite happy to make money. So it’s kind of – I guess you’ve got to be careful not to be too idealistic about this too.

Paul Thomas:            But the interesting thing, if we were just doing it – is the plotting of that. So if we were to say ACMI was a case study of media art then how would that be archived and how would that be plotted? In other words, what would you want in there that substantiated a kind of overview? So all I’m doing is going back to the thing that – the case studies that as a possible recommendation.

Darren Tofts:            I’ll be saying something about ACMI later in my thing, but I’ll just qualify Paul that it’s a nutcase study, not a case study.


Ross Harley:            Sorry guys, just a formality. Because we’re recording this, when we transcribe it, just for the first time you speak could you just say who you are. Not all of us – I don’t want us to all go round the room and I don’t want us to all go round the room and introduce ourselves but…

Anna Munster:         I was going to do that but…

Ross Harley:            I know it does, it takes 15 minutes. So that was just Darren Tofts


Ross Harley             So I think everyone else knows who’s on the tape. Sorry to…

Anna Munster:         I might actually just like to throw some of that stuff back so say someone like Julianne, who really, and also Stephen, in terms of very early kind of media arts practices. I mean where do you see relationships with that kind of – the question of entertainment. I mean is that a newer – is that a more emergent phenomenon or do you think it’s always been there? Is it part of our history in Australia, do you think? I mean I have moved away from Doug’s question about historiographical – I suppose the specificity of historiographical trajectory in terms of geopolitics is really what you were talking about in a way…

Doug Kahn:              No, I was just…

Anna Munster:         But that’s an interesting point to then throw back into the art itself and to try just to maybe think about whether that’s always been the case or travel in parallel.

Julianne Pierce:        I think you certainly you don’t have art in a vacuum. I mean you make art influenced by what is around you and I think certainly with the VNS Matrix we were really influenced by that emerging digital technology and the games industry especially. I think what we did was really took that as an inspiration in many ways, especially the games industry in the language and the sort of graphics of that industry and use that as an inspiration but also as a critique of corporate culture in a way.

Especially, I guess, representation of gender within that sort of culture. But I think also we’re really interested in how a group like VNX Matrix could fit within the commercial entertainment sector. Because I think when we made that program we were thinking ideally what we would like to do is to make a game for girls, so we’ll make a game for women but I think we didn’t have enough business skills here. So we went off to California and pitched it but…

Ross Harley:            You did? I didn’t know that.

Julianne Pierce:        Yeah.

Ross Harley:            So what did they say?

Julianne Pierce:        They were like wow; this is really interesting, what you’re into in Australia.


Julianne Pierce:        Yeah but  – I think it’s really interesting – I guess what we’ve seen is – because I think there must be similar- especially for most of us at that beginning time, the really early ’90s, there was a bit of utopia about the internet was the new frontier that people could inhabit and populate and take positioning and be visible and somehow steer the direction of it, which of course hasn’t happened in many ways because obviously the internet has become a hive of corporate and commercialised space. It’s like well what is this space for dissident voices within that now.

Ross Harley:            But that’s one of the interesting things that you touch upon is when is media art – so back in the ’90s when it was all beginning, well was it beginning in the ’90s, did it begin earlier? So these deeper histories, media archaeology suggest that you connect to wider things. You could probably say that throughout these deeper histories there would be moments where the eruption of new technology or the eruption of a new way of thinking and that that leads to another kind of practice. I don’t know if Stephen was going to say something. I did jump in in front of – Stephen was forming a comment, or Anna was asking Stephen if he wanted to comment on any of that.

Stephen Jones:        Okay. I guess [unclear] speaking … vital sign … particularly … continually changing and developing aspects of new media, so that you’re looking for different technologies each season in these spaces. Then the second is that each time I … starts to become available, those technologies, artists are pretty much the first to dive in. While the technology is new then they’re going to play with it and work it and develop it and things are going to happen, some of which will be embraced by the commercial interests, some of which will be abandoned entirely, many of which thankfully will turn up in exhibiting institutions and so on and get seen at an international Biennale or something like that.

So once the technology matures then the actual process of its maturation, in a sense is this commercialisation – commercial hijacking commercially of the technology for other purposes. For purposes of essentially making money, whether it’s using the mobile phone or using augmented media, or augmented reality on mobile phone. I mean for example Blast Theory is a really good example, because they did all those games that you play around a city or something like that. There was one in Adelaide as I remember and there was one in Sydney a year or two later for the Biennale I think and those – what they did, but now it hasn’t entirely manifested here yet.

I’m sure it’s going to produce this whole business of putting labels on everything you see because you look up and there and you get the commercial story up and sadly it will not be a historical story, it will be the commercial story. In Synthetics, what I talk about at the beginning is that whole process of the development from this immature technology which is beautiful and changes the way we work and people can work with it and play with it and then slowly it becomes ossified virtually and taken over by large corporate structures and so on and people don’t have the opportunity to do anything other than what the – whatever it is, Photoshop for example allows you to actually go and do.

Julianne Pierce:        Just on that, I think that’s a really interesting piece of history and I don’t know if I’ve explored that is how that history, like artist innovation is archived and captured and the role of artists to innovate – exactly as what Ross was saying and then how that is adopted by the commercial sector.

Stephen Jones:        Well another example, possibly the biggest one was the film industry. Because it started from really small – in terms of computer animation and things like that and now of course you can’t even see the computer animation because it’s so seamlessly wedded into the rest of the material. So you’ve lost – but in the meantime computer animation also used distinct characteristics which were mucked around with and being played with and some of them were interesting and some of them weren’t.

Paul Thomas:            Just to follow on from that because in that trajectory there was an another trajectory which Ross maybe mentioned which is the role of the institution education sector that then adopted these technologies at various stages of their evolution. It’s when they come in, because then they create a canon for that type of technology for a whole group of young students who’ve never been exposed to this before they set a kind of direction.

So you’ve got these two running parallel with or without the virtual equipment that then nobody can get their hands on which is, again, the wonderful history of ANAT summer schools is this fantastic exposure of people to the technologies that artists can never get their hands on to be able to use. The institutions can purchase them and therefore with their purchasing set the goals by which people then work to…

Stephen Jones:        Well to counter-pose that if I may. The Creative Nation – the 1993 Keating initiative  – was hijacked by the education institutions and the whole of business was completely shut down.

Paul Thomas:            I didn’t say they did it right. I just said they did it.


Ross Harley:            Just quickly, I mean the other thing to point out here – and this is going back to Doug’s point about Gittleman, in a sense what we’ve validating, or what we’re valorising as media arts are really not the winners. It’s not those technologies that end up – once they end up in Hollywood in a sense it’s like who cares. For artists we’re interested in picking up – and again there’s this question of the role of the technological in leading. Is it just because it’s new technology that it’s interesting? Well I would say no. But new technology is what artists might use to do something different, whether it was photography or before photography, through film or through all these new forms. So there’s that as well.

Doug Kahn:              Just last year when the Tories were cutting the crap out of higher education in the UK, there was this one Tory who was addressing specifically, funding for media arts and he said essentially and pretty overtly, well they’ve done their job. They’ve done their job for making the web utopic and introducing producers and everything. They’ve done their job; we don’t need them anymore.

Ross Harley:            The Australia Council has the same script now I think. Sorry I think we’ve got Justin here.

Justin Clemens:        Yes, it’s sort of just become – in all the things like all these technologies it’s precisely the opposite. It’s doing what we’re saying. It’s not that artists are the first ones to use it but artists are the last ones to use it. One of the things that Kittler always says, he loves to quote on this is Lord Mountbatten from the Second World War – if it works it’s obsolete. As soon as it comes out these things are designed in top secret, either in the government or military, and now more often commercial enterprises.

So by the time the artists get to them it’s way down the commercial track, it’s way after the event. Artists are actually not working with new technologies, we’re working with old technologies. Like once they’re already thoroughly commercialised. It’s not about always already new it’s more like being a media artist is always already old being out of date from the very beginning and I think that needs to be taken seriously rather than thinking that artists are on the cutting edge. It’s really the opposite. Artists are about as blunt as you can get. I think that’s worth focusing on when you define these certain cultures.

Anna Munster:         I might just come in here as a participant. I kind of agree with you but I think we should also make a distinction between innovation and invention. I mean I do think that I think you’re right, particularly when it comes to things like hardware that’s particularly the case. But I mean there perhaps is also the case that there are inventive artistic applications of these kind of technologies that just would not have been thought of because the climate approach to thinking of those is just not possible within a military context, or a contemporary military context as well. I mean we should also remind ourselves that the military contexts are somewhat homogenous either.

So if you look back at something like the history of the rag corporation, which I’ve had a look at lately, early rag culture was very interesting and relatively open actually. I’m talking like late 1950s early 1960s. So I mean we shouldn’t also say the military has this one kind of – you know. I think perhaps now, yes, but certainly earlier on there were lots of interesting possibilities.

Norie Neumark:         Yeah, just a couple of comments. I mean I think it’s really valuable that Doug’s introduced the question of art as a central question because in a way – we’re talking about corporate we’re talking about the military, we should also talk about big science because a lot of these things are the big things against which, or within which, or around which, art is doing something very specific that we, I think, need to keep in mind. What are the questions – the methods or concerns with art in face of – or within those sorts of parameters?  I agree that you can’t just say big signs, big corporations – there are specificities but there are also those sorts of general issues.

The other thing is just around the question of oral history, to go back to that. That having worked years ago in oral history I think you have to be really careful how you use it. Because the radical people who really developed oral history did not develop it as a way to get facts. They developed it as a way to see how people were thinking about what they did. So that they would look at how someone would talk about what they did, not to get them facts about that, but to actually look at that against known facts, to understand a cultural phenomenon, how people were perceiving what they did.

I think it’s really important that you embed – I mean I’m totally into oral history but it needs to be embedded in that understanding that you don’t say oh well someone misremembered something, therefore they are not a good source. That misremembering tells you something about perception. People can perceive certain things as really significant. That they perceive – that they’ve misremembered but that miss-memory is actually telling you about their cultural values and their experience. So I think you really have to embed oral history in that understanding that the radical historians had.

Ross Harley:            Yes, that’s a great point.

Anna Munster:         I think Andrew…

Andrew Garton:       Yeah, just briefly. Just a response to Paul’s comment about institutions. I work at RMIT in a very conventional – alarmingly conventional art school and people there often talk about I don’t really understand this media art stuff and they’re texting on their iPhone. There’s this layer of people who consumes technology but they don’t necessarily see it as a means of production. This is where we’re kind of at in culture in a sense. Where you’ve got lots of 18 year olds watching the making of blah, blah, blah that’s on DVD but they’re not actually necessarily interested in making the stuff. There’s this real division between consumerism and production.

Paul Thomas:            I would just see that as an evolution as well because that’s gone on all the time. But why didn’t we substantiate something along the way. So I think this is the problem. Is the media art wasn’t always looking forward, to some extent, as maybe it should have done and this is why it became nomadic because it was doing that. The fact – I mean how many people do you know who overlooked what they did the year before because costs – or because of data size or because – because it became possible. You just overwrote them and you did something new and you overwrote it and there was no history, there was no tracking. You couldn’t go to somebody and say media art’s fantastic because they would say where is it, what is it.

So I’m just suggesting that that would – I think art’s always going to rebel to some extent but now you’re at the point where it’s consumed the whole lot. Fine art is now media art – there isn’t any media art. It’s well within that statement now of fine arts. What we’re saying really is a whole culture has been lost and it’s that culture that we need to resurrect but how do we do this? Not resurrected because we want to resurrect the canons of it but because we want all that information because it’s vital for art to move ahead.

Anna Munster:         Thanks. Okay, all right. Andrew and then Jules and then maybe a quick wrap up from Ross.

Andrew Garton:       I just want to make a comment with regards to artists getting access to old and new technology. I think irrespective of whether it’s old or new there is, certainly my experience, a drive and an impetus to open those technologies out to the public. There’s a drive to bring those technologies into the public domain. There’s an impetus to create tools within public domain structure or copy left, creative commons et cetera, type of situation.

Someone mentioned the ANAT summer schools recently. Those workshops actually grew out of hackathons, if you like, that emerged through media activism which saw a confluence, or a meeting, of arts technologists and open source technology in solving problems, such as building alternatives to commercially available products and making them publicly accessible. So again, irrespective of whether artists are driven to utilising old technologies or new technologies, I believe that there is the strong emphasis to putting this material out into the public domain and making it far more accessible than people would otherwise be.

Julianne Pierce:        I guess my point is about artist innovation and inventions and commercialisation particularly in the States. I think in the States there’s such a culture of patent – the patent culture and any idea is patented. So there is a real culture of, I guess, invention and then commercialisation in the States which we don’t have so much here in Australia and in Europe. I think – it’s really acknowledged that say someone like PARC Xerox and the artists and the thinkers and the designers that went into PARC Xerox in the early days really contributed to the development of really innovative and creative technology.

That really did come from some of the artists and thinkers like Rich Gold whose things were really fundamental. But it’s really interesting with Blast Theory and this aspect of innovation and invention. Because I’ve been working with Blast Theory for the last five years. A lot of work I was doing was about artist IP. What was the new software that Blast Theory created and developed and how could Blast Theory perhaps exploit that in the marketplace. I think Blast Theory still do use a lot of open source but it’s like, how do artists get recognised for their innovation. Does that have to be in a commercial sense? Should artists be patenting?

If artists come up with some new code – because the only thing you can really patent is probably the software, you can’t patent ideas. So it’s like how do artists – I think it’s really slippery because I think you’re right, I think Blast Theory are being incredibly innovative and the work they did 10 or 15 years ago is now in the marketplace and they were pioneers but how would they get recognised for that and should a company like Blast Theory be operating in the marketplace. I think they were just really interesting questions that we dealt with at Blast Theory.

Anna Munster:         It is one o’clock so I might just ask you Ross to throw in any final comments if you wanted to, before we move onto Doug and Stephen.

Ross Harley:            Yeah. Look, I think one of the key things that characterises this moment is that we could actually now say, as Paul said, controversial statements like all fine art is now media art. Other people have said variations of that. I’m not so sure whether that’s true but I think it’s certainly something that we need to consider. I suppose I’m more interested in the ways in which we are defining this field in terms of its relationships to all of these different points of – relationships to corporations, commercial culture, the public sphere. For me, the role of the artist who uses media in whatever way, hence media art, is always to – already about creating alternate visions, alternate universes. Something alternate to the universe of the corporate – the mainstream or however we would define that.

So I think as Justin said, artists who are always using – there are always already thoroughly commercially developed products in a sense we’re at the end of it, but I would say that the most interesting art is the art which questions the very foundations. It’s the artists who question the use of particular technologies or techniques. That’s probably what unifies what we’re interested in. So how we delimit our field of study but how we think about it in terms of its context, I think that’s where we’re at.

Anna Munster:         We won’t take a break now because we’ve got a coffee break coming up at two, so I think we’ll just move straight into the next presentation. So I’ve got Stephen Jones, who’s going to give us another short position statement, similar to the format that Ross gave and then Doug will respond to some of those questions.

Anna Munster:         So I take it everybody knows Stephen here. I don’t need to introduce you even further. All right.

Stephen Jones:        This is not the political sociology that we need. This is meta-history construction I suppose. My interest is in doing the actual history. I have developed, over the last – well from material I did – from work I did while I was an undergraduate but in the recent years I’ve sort of redeveloped it into a kind of framework that I think is a relational theory of the way new technology is produced. I’m talking I’m mostly interested in the production of this framework, not in its political and commercial, or other sorts of issues that are necessary think about but I’m more interested in the meta theory of it in a sense.

So, what I’m interested in is understanding the relations that develop between the artists – the artists and the technicians, the institutions, the exhibiting institutions, the funding institutions, the technology makers and whoever else turns up to be involved in this particular stuff at some particular moment. So this – and consequently  in terms of the way that ideas are produced, the way an artist comes up with, well I’d really like to work on this sort of stuff, there’s two things that arises.

One is some sense of technological availability or perhaps it’s not available yet but it’s been heard about and people might then take it up and make it more of it – but I’m also interested in the relations of influence, or the flows of influence between artists and the rest of the context in which the work is made and their precursors. In this instance I haven’t, as the precursors would all be up in the ceiling.

This is what Anna called a mind map, I call it an influencing machine in a sense it’s the pathways or flows in influence that operated between a bunch of people particularly related to the University of Sydney in this particular group and the way they’ve sort of interacted with each other and showed each other how to do things and got on with developing ideas and stuff like that.

So we can see, for example in this segment here and then with this particular persons connivance – actually Donald Brook is probably – in terms of media art and its development in Australia, the most crucial person that we could actually think about. In his own sort of way, despite having nothing to do with it at all, he kind of actually set the context and made a situation – made it possible to actually break out of the end of what at that stage was becoming the end of paintism and opened up the whole notion of art that was produced without standard painterly or fine art style objects but produced with other kinds of objects, technologies of varying kind, social structures of varying kinds, conceptual business and that sort of stuff.

Conceptual Art is crucially important in this sort of story but I’m not going to pursue it terribly much – so what I’m interested in is for example this department and this head of department who was, for heaven knows what reason, an incredibly generous and encouraging human being. He got people involved through these other things and through this particular machine. The department bought one of those machines and then they got all those other people involved and it follows down through this sort of process, through these elliptical ones, which are exhibitions, where the yellow rectangles are people, some of these groups are people.

Electronic Music Studios, by the way didn’t exist here, they were in Britain, but they had a huge influence on what happened in Australia. So what I’m really interested in finding out is the roles – literally the pathways of influence – the flow of influences between people and the way you find those out are through ephemera collection, the use of ephemera – and because ephemera is really important because it shows you who else was – hopefully they’ve done some crediting – who else was actually working on the project at the time, where it was shown and things like that. You might be lucky enough to find a few pictures about it as well or some reviews or similar sorts of things. Those things are really crucial to understanding how the work worked.

The other thing that’s supremely crucial is the oral history. I do oral history almost continuously with everybody I can talk to. Sometimes my oral histories are recorded; sometimes they’re just long conversations. The recordings are long conversations put to a recorder, transcribed and then broken out and for formal purposes we reedit – we do a lot of reediting but the actual raw information is in there.

The whole issue of whether the memory is correct is totally irrelevant because the ephemera will correct the mistakes in peoples’ memory and it will do a lot of other really valuable things. So ephemera and oral history and the core tools that I use to produce something like this.

So John Bennett is deceased now but I managed at one stage to have a bit of a conversation with him. He was by then a very old man. But Doug Richardson who is very much alive, very much interested and still doing interesting stuff. In fact, our conversations between Doug and I have actually prompted him to go back, rebuilding some of the things that he was making in the early days. It’s particularly this material here – and I don’t really have the opportunity to show you – I mean we don’t have time to show you any of it but there’s a whole – there’s a straight technological engineering function that came out through this gate.

There’s a relationship between that and the development of the visual piano because of the computer graphics that he was making. Because Doug wrote the software that allowed this to occur and then Doug took that software and rebuilt it to allow this to occur. That then produced some spectacularly interesting computer graphic work that was produced through these two shows, the computer composers, which happened at the Queensland Festival of the Arts in ’74 – I think it was ’74. Then this show called Homage to Joseph Albers and of course Albers is, in a sort of sense, a really crucial element. Sorry, what’s that?

Anna Munster:         One minute.

Stephen Jones:        One minute. Oh yeah, cool, okay. The other one is this relationship that Philippa Cullen introduced where she got interested in making the music directly from the dancers’ movement and she called in a bunch of people, the whole group of people here and produced this performance where they used a Theremin, which had been modified by these two guys and based on an article that appeared in Electronics Australia.

So you’ve got this incredible collection of different places where ideas and data and things can come from and then it’s this sort of weaving it all together and that’s why I’m interested in this notion of the flows of influence. Because you wave all of those together and out of that weaving, which is essentially the collaborative process, comes works of art. This work of art was a dance performance in which the music was driven entirely by the pheromones. So I’ll just leave it there and we can sort of detail some of that if you’d like.

Doug Kahn:              Okay, well this is going to be very impromptu. I guess one of the – there’s several things for me that come out of that come out of that type of – the first thing I’m thinking of is Walter Benjamin’s constellation. So he would just dive into it and research the hell out of something and all these connections would come up. But the thing is you can lay it out like that as a survey but for him he would go for the hotspots. He would go for kind of the places where this complex would reveal itself, usually in relationships to all this other stuff he was thinking of.

Stephen Jones:        Those are my ellipses on that, you know, the exhibitions in a sense.

Doug Kahn:              Oh they’re the hotspots?

Male:                         Yeah, in a sense they are.

Doug Kahn:              So yeah, it sort of brings up the issue of survey versus depth. You know, to have that depth you need, I think, fields like that or just to have simple understanding of something. So I think there’s the question of origins. I think they’re talking about mature work, or for me the people that I’ve studied it’s always best to go look where they found their original – what they start calling their mature work or the important precursors.

So that’s a particularly good spot to start with because then you get all the influences and you have, I don’t want to say essence or core, but you have something where they’re often working with from that point on in a fairly undiluted way. It gets so complicated after that – when they become successful especially, or become noted for something, it becomes really complicated. So just to go for some type of manageable spot there’s a particular trajectory within any one person’s work that I found it’s very helpful to go for origins.

There’s the whole thing with the role of technology. I’m not sure how much one would talk about, essentially tools versus the artist. Of course you’re going to talk about Stradivarius wonderful tools, we can all talk about Stradivarius compositions or performances. I know a lot of digital art has gone back to A. Michael Noll as a brand new tool maker, but he was also doing some bit map Mona Lisa’s and really the early computer art, some of the most embarrassing stuff.


Doug Kahn:              Anyway so I just finished a book that’s coming out in August called Mainframe Experimentalism. It will be down here for the holiday season so it’s a great gift for the whole family. It actually came out of oral history that – and this is one way to do oral history is through public events we did – with Alison Knowles and James Tenney, James Tenney, the composer. Now he held a four-train workshop in Chelsea in 1967 for Steve Reich, Nam June Paik, Alison Knowles and others.  I found out about it from interviewing him back in 1999. Anyway so nobody knew about this, so Alison Knowles’ and her daughter Hannah Higgins and I got together and we brought Alison and Jim together. We had done all the background – all that stuff. All the sort of mapping and like you said the – it doesn’t matter if they remembered it wrong, we were there to say well – on this scrap of paper didn’t you say this or – but then they start talking to each other.

So the format was I gave a talk on specific work of Jim, Hannah gave a talk on the specific work of Alison and Jim and Alison got together. It was really successful. We recreated it about a year later with the same format in Chicago. It was really very successful as an oral history that was really good for everybody concerned because we then recorded that and there was stuff we were writing as well, but as a public – so it’s the idea of a public oral history event. The other thing is that in terms of cybernetic serendipity…

Stephen Jones:        Well cybernetic serendipity is crucial in that particular thing, because John Bennet saw that show, he came back and started talking about computer art in Australia. That inspired people from the Tin Sheds, including Imants Tillers and then it got Doug Richardson working on the stuff. So that’s what I mean by all this whole business of the influences. You know, they flow down through time and then different people then come up with different responses to it in various sorts of ways.

Doug Kahn:              Yeah, so this book that what we did, Mainframe Experimentalism we did it on mainframe and mini-computers, we stopped at micro computers, even the kits, we don’t do kits. The one thing we wanted to do is to reinstate – we found that during these interviews and through further research, all this history of artists, experimental artists, this was in particular dealing with early computer art that has sort of been written out the way that media arts history has been written about with a new media reader, Lev Manovich – that type of thing where all of a sudden somebody like Douglas Engelbart the line of the mouse replaces the Matisse.

It used to be Matisse it’s now the mouse. So we very specifically wanted to reinstate the artists and in fact they’ve been – a lot of the things – there were not that many people involved because it was really hard to access but they had been written out. Again this is sort of within this – yeah, it’s really important to keep distinct – for me the cautionary point is in the introduction to the new media peers where Lev Manovich his little spiel about how Final Cut Pro is the greatest film maker after 1990.

Anna Munster:         We’ve moved onto After Effects now.


Lisa Gye:                  Actually Premiere, I think.

Doug Kahn:              All these artistic activities, energies of the early avant-garde, after the ’60s and ’70s all of a sudden are being expressed within software packages. Just take a look at it again, it’s incredibly – it’s corporate – apologies for large corporations.

So I’ll end with the other thing besides reintroducing artists within this sphere was that in cybernetics serendipity there was an exhibition of music, of poetry of cybernetics and art technology, not just the computer-based stuff. But the computer based stuff with music and poetry and animation and visual arts, et cetera, et cetera.

I think this is important getting back to the Gittleman’s essay of when you’re talking about any telephone and the internet, you’ve got to – Kitler was talking about the broadband getting sucked into this broadband land. You’re not talking about this discreet – or first of all, a mistake to talk about the telephone as discreet – I can talk about that for ages. But by the time you get into 1990s you’re talking about a broad based platform of things that are really interacting in complex ways.

So the visual arts discrimination, associating arts with visual arts starts – cuts out the music. It’s good to see Theremin and stuff like that but the mobility of platforms and what’s called intermediate that was pronounced in cybernetic serendipity. It got lost in the middle. It’s really a way things are now. So I think it’s really important to look at the trends of – the discreteness or the multiplicity of technologies that play at any one point.

Anna Munster:         I’m just going to raise a really present issue that I’ve been aware of for the last five or 10 years about the occlusion of the intermediality of media arts and new media arts in Australia that has been subsumed under video art here. I think that’s – so I think it’s definitely showing converging tendencies that occludes the interactions between platforms and technologies and techniques as well.

Andrew Garton:       Just further to that. I mean in some ways you wouldn’t even classify video art under the umbrella of art technology any more.

Ross Harley:            Yeah but of course – I mean I suppose that’s where – how we trace these lineages. So I mean if you imagined Stephen’s chart running off the wall a little bit more, there are points where it will connect with the history of video art and so that’s not to take away Anna’s point, it’s absolutely correct, there’s been an occlusion of other forms under the – I suppose video art is now like – or video in the art world is the success that occludes all of these other forms I suppose.

Stephen Jones:        No, video art is the right-hand channel and it spills off into it.

Doug Kahn:              So I have a practical question for any type of historical project like this. At what point is – what is the balance between survey and in-depth? I see a lot of – there are these little books that came out called Transmission Arts recently, Performing Arts Journal. Another one called Pink Noises and they have about one or two pictures per person that is totally useless. It’s like a menu without any meal. At what point are surveys done without sort of this at certain points these really in-depth drop down or substantial information? I know that some people will be excluded on that but however it works it seems that is really crucial.

Ross Harley:            Yeah, well it’s certainly something that I think we all think about in these projects. So often we want to have the menu because the menu hasn’t even been available to us would be my first response. But at the same time you want to have the depth. I think it’s an issue for researchers in a whole range of areas but particularly in ours, where we now have the possibility of not solving but at least engaging in that forest and the trees problem of thinking about the particular works of individuals and then their relationship to larger formations as genres or part of canons or larger histories.

So I think you need both would be my response, which is what you’re saying. What the right mix is, I suppose depends on where you are in your particular context. So the European context, North American context, is probably different to the Australian context at this particular point in time.

Paul Thomas:            I’m interested in where you’d see, a relationship to depth at a practical sense. Because what’s happening now is not – is a kind of plateau of networks. In other words work is here, or reference material and this reference material is linked but not sourced, if you understand what I mean.

Well it’s like all the videos in a video archive on Vimeo, they’re not in the archive, they’re somewhere else. All the connections about that are somewhere else and people are making connections with the connections but not to the actual – so there’s no ownership of a source anymore. So I’m wondering is there something we have to consolidate or is it something that – because there’s no way of knowing whether Vimeo is going to be taken over by someone and then you have to get a passport to get on.

Anna Munster:         Let’s just assume that’s going to happen.

Paul Thomas:            What?

Anna Munster:         Let’s assume that will happen.

Paul Thomas:            Well my point being is that we’re all quite happy now to do this very shallow linking as a form of archiving, which is not archiving, it’s just linking. I think you have to make a point here about what is the seminal thing that we need to do to maintain integrity to that.

Anna Munster:         Andrew did you…

Andrew Garton:       I’ll just comment on a thought I have is that most of that work that we refer to in the video maybe a visual record of events. The thing that concerns me is the actual experience of the artwork that becomes lost, or buried, or forgotten. I refer to the nutcase scenario of the road here of the works stored in the back rooms because the technologists who run the building don’t support the platforms that the media school are using. So there are some records of those exhibits but no record or no prospect of the experience being replicated or shared.

Paul Thomas:            So my question back would be what – when all that is going on would be an authentic thing that could be archived was in the context of what we can archive now. So what would give that experience? So if you’re asking for it, do you have an example for it or what is the experience of some of that? Because to some extent we’re going to have to have surrogate experiences of it because we can’t get the experience. So what constitutes, in the media, an idea of experience?

Anna Munster:         Darren.

Darren Tofts:            When Andrew was looking at me then I thought when he was referring to nutcase I thought he was referring to me but…


Darren Tofts:            I realised he was referring to the retrospective that was held the other day. To some extent that’s an interesting case in point which partly prefaces what I want to talk about after so I won’t go into too much detail. But as everyone probably knows, Troy is probably one of the most vigilant documenters of his own work, whether it’s his own practice or with cyber data. A lot of that documentation actually constituted the bulk of the cyber data retrospective. Documentation of cyber data as much as cyber data artefacts. Then of course Troy was going round with a hire camera on the other day, documenting the retrospective.

So to some extent we have these small meta satellite clusters of the kind of things we’re talking about here but it’s only when they emerge in this kind of moment – like Julianne and I were talking before about the VNX Matrix retrospective. Well, these things concentrate, I think, the energy of what we’re talking about here. I think we, as a group, or whoever’s an interested collective, need to be kind of vigilant of what then do we make of those kind of events. I mean Troy’s got it up on the Tumblr site, he’s got a video of the event the other day. So that’s already, to some extent, an archive in the way that Stephen’s just explained with his graph.

Paul Thomas:            Because I think this is really interesting. Because I think that this archiving within archives is – because it’s the same data set. It just different forms of the same code where we are all putting them on top of one and other and they get mashed up together in this sort of strange – and what you get is just sheets of code.

Ross Harley:            But just a quick thing to say on that before we go on. Sorry…

Anna Munster:         No, stop Norrie was next.

Norie Neumark:         No, it’s okay.

Ross Harley:            No, I was just going to say that we don’t have all of that so it doesn’t exist. So even if it did – so those instances are kind of great ones but they’re few and far between. I think that’s the point.

Anna Munster:         Norie and then Brogan and then Justin.

Norie Neumark:         Yeah, just to talk about that sort of question in depth. I mean that’s not an unproblematic concept. Like we can say more in-depth. But what does that actually mean? Like how do you do the in-depth work. That’s going back to this question of oral history. It’s like when I said memory can be incorrect, I don’t mean that it’s – to me that’s not an issue that it’s incorrect and then you find the correct information to correct it through some other thing but that memory tells you how someone experienced something. If it’s literally incorrect that tells you that their experience is not about facts, it’s about something else and that’s why you need an approach that allows you to analyse those sorts of histories.

Like is your aim to just gather these oral histories or is it to engage with them. If you engage with them you do need a methodology that allows for an understanding of oral history as a pretty complex discipline involving a complex notion of memory. I think that’s where it ties into this thing about experience, because it’s not just experience of audiences but it’s experience of artists and that’s something that you can get to. They’re both things that are really valuable to understand.

So I mean I think you really have to look at your – just like we’ve seen – we can see oral history as pure. I mean it’s a particular format and you have to have your way of engaging with it to get – I mean you can use it for factual information but to me that’s a lesser form of one sort of thing that it does. The other thing, to me, is much more complex.

Brogan Bunt:            Actually it’s just worth saying there it reminds me of Zelinsky which I think is written about as very much a kind of fantasy, subjectivised version of history with passions for particular people that he pursued that might – so I think as well as … it’s always a fantasy of … I mean how exhaustive the diagram is to some extent fantasy of the past. The other thing that just occurred to me and maybe – I just got really uncertain views about this and it’s almost like – I think again outward manoeuvre philosophy happens … and to some extent it’s like we got terribly concerned with remembering media art just as it disappeared it almost feels like.

I’m very uncertain about this question but just that it’s almost like I worry about – many of us as artists or whatever almost have a contract with oblivion of a lot of what we did, its disappearance. It was part of the discourse, we were kind of like fuck it – it’s going to disappear. Then you suddenly – and I know there’s also all sorts of attempts to remember it and it’s very contradictory but I think it would be worth engaging with that actual contracted oblivion that’s in there to some extent, of actually forgetting.

Anna Munster:         Yeah. I mean I really appreciate that point because I think also we should remember that this is not at all a media art histories problem to begin with. I mean performance has been through this many, many times and in fact also had contract with oblivion. Performance art in the ’60s was very much about no documentation. You do not circulate documentation. If you weren’t there, bad luck.

Michele Barker:        On that I think about – sort of talking about the archive within the archive and stuff and images going back to things like – Su’s not here, but like Nam June Paik’s performance in Australia, with Charlotte Moorman. Yeah, it’s just like obviously for someone of my age or generation – and probably a lot of people – like you see that. You see that sort of convergence of those disciplines and it becomes a piece in its own. This process becomes something quite unique and so they take on their own…

Anna Munster:         You mean the documentation?

Michele Barker:        Yeah the documentation obviously. But I guess it’s that thing about where – yeah because performance precisely does have that total sort of ephemeral relationship to kind of remembering and forgetting and then – but then you’ve got the whole kind of video thing that obviously Paik was doing and you have that convergence that goes together and then you have something quite different and unique that comes out.

Justin Clemens:        This is one of sore points about digitation. It turns all forms of media into a performing art, hence these problems. As such that you get meta archiving on the one hand, and on the other hand, exactly as you say, a contract with oblivion. So that the real tension is between the contract with oblivion, which is a priority and the desperation to recapture it even though you know there’s certain ways you could capture it or recapture it. That becomes when the emphasis starts to go on that tension rather than the actual production of artwork and everything actually gets displaced.

Anna Munster:         Sorry, Oliver, Oliver’s next I think.

Oliver Grau:              Yeah, I mean I’m very familiar with this wonderful discussion since a long time. Actually I’m always a bit angry when you hear from net artists that they had this contract with oblivion and therefore they think that the whole of media art also has a contract with oblivion, which is not the case. So for example we have 500 artists and out of a field of 5000 artists, which were evaluated, and within that it’s only people who have at least five exhibitions or articles.

So all of them, or most of them, they really want to be preserved at the end. But the step one is that you have a really careful documentation of it. Nowadays we have even faced the situation where we go into a contract of oblivion as art historians and we are art historians or media archaeologist where all our archives disappear.

Anne Marsh:            Yes, I mean I found that whole conversation really interesting. I don’t know well enough what media arts is particularly, but I would say something about – and I’m just drawing on your point Doug, I think that – and once you have an artist, ordinarily that artist wants to make history. Even if the artist has a contract with oblivion, if you like, or this ideology that encourages artists to make work for free and to do the ephemeral art works et cetera. But then they hire professional photographers to take photographs of them and then they create videos about those works.

So there is this desire to make history and to make a memory themselves, which is lasting and to be canonised as such. In this discussion we want to get back to the original and yet a lot of this ephemeral work is supposed to be questioning that original authorship et cetera, et cetera. So I think that a lot of what we’re talking about that is supposedly ‘new’ is actually very old and established kind of philosophies if you like. Museums and curatorial studies people have had this ongoing debate about how to preserve technologies when they get old.

Justin Clemens:        So the only thing that’s new is new forms of forgetting. Is that what we’re saying? The only thing that we now do that’s really new is a new way to lose everything.


Ross Harley:            Yeah, but isn’t Anne’s crucial point that there’s this – the artists desire for canonisation has to be acknowledged at the same time as the desire for oblivion. So again, I don’t think we could universalise it.

Justin Clemens:       There’s a lot of tension between the two. It’s not one or the other…

Ross Harley:             Yeah, exactly.

Justin Clemens:        The contract with oblivion and the release of documentation are absolutely, totally connected.

Doug Kahn:               I think there’s a bunch of practicalities around history and whether it’s scholarly or the way that it’s – anything in depth. As far as in depth, some things are better than nothing if you’re a historian but I think it’s going to be…so there’s some practicalities. You want to get people that are dying, or the…


Doug Kahn:              I’m not kidding. If I didn’t have this six week phone conversation with someone – an engineer who had a stroke that was dying because – no art historian had ever talked to. He was at the … but people that are dying or losing their wits about them, I think they should have priority and…

Justin Clemens:        So ambulance chasing, is that what you mean?

Doug Kahn:              I did know someone that was chasing the ambulance of very famous people…but anyway.

Ross Harley:            That’s for the coffee break.

Doug Kahn:              I think that’s really important and I think also what’s important is older people are often still doing work and so they have a particular attitude – they want to do work and …all my life. I only have a few years left … time to answer your questions about what … years ago …  So the time involved in both the scholar and the artists … I think is really important to negotiate in terms – often in a remunerative way. That gets down to – if you’re a scholar, in the ARC qualification again can you get points for doing oral history? Probably not.

In the United States the people that do oral histories are often professors in their field that are … it’s part of the service component. They study people and it doesn’t necessarily gain them essays but there are big oral history projects that with the academic economic qualification point system here, it should be addressed in – with the ARC whether we get points for oral histories. The other thing is, how is art history conducted? I don’t even know at COFA how it’s conducted.

Anna Munster:         It’s not.


Ross Harley:            Isn’t there a conference in a couple of weeks? We’ll soon find out.

Doug Kahn:              I mean student wise. A lot of in-depth stuff comes from PhD dissertations for really basic information. But if you have a art history methodology that is more key to theoretical – not hard-core historical, empirical, if you have a sort of more theoretical skew than a lot of what that artist actually does … in that particular era of historical methodology. As far as linkages and stuff like that and available material, it’s really overrated. I just did something on Robert Baird, the conceptual artist who was one of the … main show … in that show. All the discourse around conceptual art was Robert Baird – we were talking about conceptual art … conceptual art … so there’s lots of discourse on him. Nothing about what he was actually doing.

Anyhow, so they – art historical – you’ve got to look at how discourses within art history and art theory – because if you’re talking about conceptual art you’re essentially talking about Neo Avant-Garde or Postmodernism or Modernism. There are certain types of art that’s discoursed that are always talking about something else without ever having really taken on the – what was actually there. So I mean that’s something there. I mean by artist centred discourse. You can go on after you get that … but often I see a lot of dissertations and a lot of books that really were the – and I’ve talked to a lot of artists who have difficulty with their work and the illustrations for certain eras.

They’re talking more about the theorist than – theorists are necessary but they – a lot of the specifics, the in-depth stuff that we’re looking for as historical gets lost in the mix.

Anne Marsh:            So you’re arguing for a more empirical history. You’re talking about the difference between an empirical history and a theoretical methodology.

Anna Munster:         I think he’s looking at a particular kind of empirical history too, because no one is necessarily based on discursive material attached to X but rather what is it that X actually has to say about this material in relationship to their actual practices.

Ross Harley:            Or more precisely, what’s…

Stephen Jones:        About the objects and the works that were produced and who’s producing them.

Ross Harley:            The discourse on what artists are actually doing is the…

Stephen Jones:        Yeah.

Anne Marsh:            That’s something – I think – picking up your point, I think that art history became an unfashionable term, so everybody became visual culturists or something else and art history departments closed down and restructured and called themselves something else. So now I’m the department of theory and people are starting to hate that. But I think that like art, scholarship rides fashionable waves. You’ve had the fashionable wave of would be post-modernism, but that’s very multifaceted.

But in that we have lost that – or if you put it to one side that kind of extensive, empirical engagement with the art objects – the artists themselves. Australia’s particularly bad, or particularly good at following fashion. Paul Taylor once said we’re a culture of temporary culture. If he hadn’t said anything else he could’ve just said that.

Doug Kahn:              The Lisa Gittleman piece that we just read and Friedrich Kittler that she was talking about, they’re both historical theorists. They were into that really specific detail and then elaborate from that. I mean there’s the real connections so…

Anna Munster:         Okay, I’m going to come in here really hard, being a theorist and totally reject what you’re saying. I’m not saying that your critiques of Gittleman or Kittler aren’t correct. I think you’re being too harsh on Gittleman but I agree with Kittler’s critique. However, I actually think that it’s possible to bring, I suppose what I call a kind of materialist theoretical impulse to quite specific – I’m going to use this word ‘scene’, because I like the idea of the scene. But scene – a scene…

Anna Munster:         So for example, I mean in terms of something I think would be really interesting to do practically for this project would be to look at how is that a scene has arisen in Brisbane at the moment that is interested in other cinema that reconnects with an earlier 1980s Brisbane media arts history and – but I think you could also – and you would have to look at the materialities of the relationships between the institutions involved, the particular kinds of – and here I say media institutions in relationship to each other.

So radio has a very important part in there. How is it that earlier history of radio and sound in the 1980s in Brisbane transducers into another cinema setting in Brisbane now. That’s very speculative but I think there’s a connection there. That is a theoretical perspective as far as I’m concerned. I really think it is because it comes out of my interest in the material. In a kind of theory of materialities. So I don’t think – I don’t want to get rid of theory at all, but it has to be a theoretical perspective that’s very attuned to questions of material transfunctions. That would be my…

[Over speaking]

Justin Clemens:        I  mean that really sounds like a science studies approach where in fact…

Anna Munster:         It’s influenced by it, but it’s more coming from say someone like Adrian McKenzie’s work. He’s very interested in the question of material transfunction. So yeah and software studies actually would be something that would be important to me.

Paul Thomas:            Just within the context of the theory – coming back to the oral connection – so the artists who’s making these connections who’s not a theorist making these connections, who has a depth that’s relevant to their practice, not to a theory or a history itself. So are we saying that depth is a different kind of depth, or a better depth or a worse depth? Are we dealing in varying degrees of depth?

Norie Neumark:         I think we’re saying artists are embedded in culture. The way they talk about their work relates to the culture they were in at the time and the culture they’re in now. That’s what seems, to me, an interesting thing. The people doing the scholarship are also embedded in the culture. I mean I suppose I’m still in something where I can’t – I’m totally into being empirical but not as a non-theorist. Like what I notice as empirically interesting depends on my general theoretical and cultural interest.

So I mean when I think of interviews I’ve done with people, say for radio or for oral histories, you talk to someone and they’re going yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah and you go wow, that’s interesting, or you nod and you engage and they respond to you. They are not doing some pure laboratory thing. You are in a relationship and you respond. But I’ve always been interested in when they say something I didn’t expect. Like to me I want to be surprised. I want to be taken both – okay, in depth, but maybe to challenge where I’ve come from. It’s an interplay between those two as an oral historian.

I’m not worried that things like contract with oblivion but wanting to not be forgotten. That’s interesting. That’s the interesting thing about being an artist. You’re a real person who’s engaged with a certain set of cultural ideas like contract with oblivion, but you’re also a person that has needs and desires and economic concerns and blah, blah, blah which means you don’t want to be forgotten. So those two things to me, it’s where they rub up against each other. That’s really interesting. I don’t want to reduce it to this is correct and they said they had a contract with oblivion. They’re dishonest because really they want to be remembered. We’re all complex. I mean it’s that simple.

Anna Munster:         We’re actually at the – we’ve got one minute left, so I’m going to ask people to hold their questions because there will be a turn for you to come back, and just ask Stephen and Doug for some just final comments.

Stephen Jones:        I mean what I tried to propose is what I tend to think of as something like a relational history of the construction and production of artworks. It comes out of the framework, which is in some ways a parallel situation which cybernetics was invented. So it actually has its origins way back even before cybernetics. So this whole process of the depth, what you get when you do a proper relational analysis is you get the depth and that’s where – you get to understand who all the different people are. Artists don’t work in vacuums, they work with lots of other people, even if they don’t acknowledge them.

They work with the history of art in a sense that their ideas spring and don’t spring – they don’t usually spring from nowhere, sometimes they do. It’s good that I could achieve that stage myself. But I think that hard question of depth – and one of the ways in which you get depth is oral history, like really long well considered oral history, longer than a newspaper interview in other words, and you get into looking at the way the technology actually developed that they’re accessing and how that works and who else worked on that technology and where they were doing stuff and what other forms came out of it. All of those sorts of questions.

So the materiality of it is really crucial, but it’s how that materiality is actually manifested, is put into existence by these processes of people’s interests and ideas and relationships – which is essentially who they work with at various times.

Doug Kahn:              Theory and history are not mutually exclusive. The oral history of one person… You can have a number of oral histories happening in one particular group – if you’re working on a scene you’re going to be doing a number of histories.  I interview the technicians that were working on something to get a broader … on those. I talked to a couple of her technicians and to figure out how – because they were running the thing how it went down. I asked for documents for them, I ask … just do all that.

As far as a material culture, I think you have to talk to the people in that scene to know what those specific things are. Then they can actually become historic – if you’re a historian and you’re like an old-time journalist, you have to validate what you said. You have to make sure that … especially when you’re representing other people. So with the guy that I was interviewing, the engineer, that was really important to talk about the material culture of US experimentalism in – especially in music – and it’s relationships to this military within a militarised context. He was there. I talked to other people before that guy about that. It’s totally material.

People don’t talk – they hardly talk about experimental music at all anyway. But the material culture of experimentalism, having to do it in the United States with a certain largess from militarised science, I would not have known how to – I could make that as an assertion, but to detail the way it actually happens you have to talk to people about it and interviews and correspondence and so forth. So I think that if you’re doing history you can’t get away from that.

Anna Munster:         Okay. Well I think that was a really great session. Lots of amazing ideas. Thank you very much to all the people who participated and gave their positions and responses, thank you very much for that. We’re going to have half an hour coffee, stuff some sugar in our mouths, come back and I’m happy to say I’m fading away and Michele is taking over.


Session 2

Michele Barker:        I’m going to start only because being aware of the strict time keeping that was set up by my predecessor.  I can’t guarantee that I’ll be quite as an efficient a chair.  I’ll let things flow a bit.  We do have a little bit more time on this session which is quite good so I certainly feel that there won’t be any cutting people off at the end like – that happened before.

So now that we’re sufficiently sugared up let’s move on and we’re going to start with Darren Tofts who hopefully won’t be too libellous in his talk this afternoon.  Brogan Bunt will follow him up, so we’ll start with Darren.

Darren Tofts:            Before I get to the main heart of the matter, one thing I’d just like to pick up on what I think is a strand of the morning session is the difference between vernacular and professional or institutional archiving.  Part of the remarks I’m going to make in a minute of course is to do with ACMI which is the great sort of white hope of media art in Australia that very quickly got like a rhino, a bullet between the eyes and pretty much killed that hope off.  I’m still seeing more of a hope for what we could call vernacular archiving.  Part of the drive, it seems to be now for retrospective shows and I’ve already mentioned the Cyber Data Retrospective is the amount of archival material it seems to surface.

But the interface again, between that as a vernacular act and actually having it properly archived, is I think, still very problematic.  When I was doing the research for Interzone a number of years ago I managed to secure from Ashley Crawford’s house old typescripts of various issues of Tension.  A whole box of floppy disks, again most of which weren’t usable but the material was still there.  Now what shocked me the other day when Troy was putting together the material for the Cyber Data Retrospective was that a number of years ago there was a flood at his house in Elwood and a lot of material got either damaged or destroyed.

What he found was that he actually did remember this and this was where the archive drive becomes an archive of forgetting as much as anything else.  He’d actually put in a series of those boxes you buy in Safeway, you know, the big plastic archive type boxes, he’d had about a dozen of them in his dad’s garage and his Doncaster.  In one of them was in fact the original Cyber Data Manifesto assemblage, the sculpture that was at, I think it was either ARS Electronica or something like that, the very first one.

Now it’s only because of the desire to have a retrospective that that material has come to light.  But the fact’s still, well what now will become of it?  So we’re now thinking, well could we archive it at Swinburne and so that sort of dialect if you like, leads to the main points I wanted to raise and I should say the title of this diatribe is directly linked to the readings, the extent of the readings I actually did was that I quite like the Lisa Gittleman title.  So always already after the fact is something I’m thinking about that…

Michele Barker:        That’s all you read.

Darren Tofts:            Whether it’s to do with media.  I’ll focus on media archives from my own experience when I wrote Interzone was that the whole process of writing Interzone was always already after the fact.  It was having to try and resuscitate material from again, someone’s garage, someone’s study under a bed from shoe boxes and other kind of boxes.  This stuff just wasn’t readily available in any kind of institutional context so it had to be found out as kind of almost a pure hunter gatherer kind of act.  I’ll say some more about that in a minute, which will lead me on to ACMI – so I’ll leave you to ponder that.  The difference I suppose, I’m thinking, between archiving is the difference between the synchronic and the diachronic, something which happens at the time of the thing is going on.

Whether it’s something like a minor art movement or something like media arts in Australia as I was trying to archive it in the 90s.  Something that actually takes place outside of time, after the fact.  I think by and large within Australia, archiving has been a diachronic act particularly as I was trying to construct it around Interzone.  I’ll just give one quick example of a synchronic one because I think it’s telling in terms of what we’re talking about today.  A number of years ago the Melbourne Community Foundation came to me when I was head of department in media at Swinburne wanting to set up a commemorative poetry award for a distinguished Swinburne student who was a poet, June Shenfield, who passed away in 2004.

She was a student in the 1980s, Maria and her partner, Ken Shepherd, set up the first bookshop in Paris devoted to Australian arts and culture, particularly writing the visual arts called Cannibal Pierce.  It was an incredibly important place as they were in Paris in the 20s then it went to Shakespeare and Company, all the Australian expats would go to Cannibal Pierce.  Now when she passed away her mother, Maria Shenfield wanted to set up a poetry award in her role, it would be an annual award which we’ve run successfully for seven years.  But she had a huge archive of virtually everything June had ever published and hand written notes and drafts of poems that she had were all in her possession and so she wanted to make a bequest of that archive to Swinburne.

So immediately I got the library staff involved the curatorial staff, the conservators and now that archive is fully catalogued and internationally is being used as an archival catalogue for this body of work.  So it’s not only June’s poetry but it’s also ephemera as Stephen keeps talking about today.  So for example a short run Roneoed or Gestetner catalogues or brochures that were produced for Cannibal Pierce, all that kind of stuff, which is incredibly important, is now in a compactus, that’s there, it’s safe.  It’s regulated in terms of temperature so this is something that happened, I would suggest, almost like – in a synchronic moment when it was brought to my attention, let’s do something about it and it was archived.

The reason I’m focusing on Interzone, I was thinking about this other day.  Thames & Hudson that the manuscript was too long and so one chapter had to be cut which was about the history of the emergence of media art in Australia.


Darren Tofts:            So what I had to do, bit of invention, was I’ll make it a timeline.  So for those of you with know Interzone or if you want to dip into it the timeline is extensive event of what happened at the Casula Powerhouse?  What happened at TISEA, why was TISEA important?  The fact that Jon McCormack’s installation of turbulence was at Scienceworks, at a show called Cyberzone. Which was a public show for all the family to come along to see what’s all this stuff going in the name of media arts.  So equally the history of the emergence of CD-ROM, the kind of material that came out around the AFC film maker multimedia conferences in the 90s.  There was documentation I think in the ’95 one, that Michael Hill curated, about the death of CD-ROM in 1995.

So a lot of this material, I felt, had to be put into a timeline to at least have it documented.  This actually happened and this is when it happened.  The reason I thought that was important as an archival activity but also to get the stuff still in the book was that around that same time ACMI was set up and part of its mission in terms of its banner line was something on the history of the moving image and new media or something like that.  In various interviews I did with a number of people in this room but also with Alessio Cavallaro.  Alessio was the one who pointed out to me that it was a fact the long term project of the MCA in Sydney to set something up like ACMI with a focus on then, as it was called, new media art.  So the failed project of the MCA became the hope of ACMI.

Now after a number of, I think, quite important shows that focussed on the emergence of media art, it was at the Stanley Kubrick retrospective and I remember catching Daniel Palmer’s eye when this happened to think, this is the death knell of media art in ACMI, was when Tony Sweeney stood up and said, along the lines, Corinne Kubrick – Kubrick’s widow was there in the audience, along the lines of, well we’ve had some nice things about media art but this is what ACMI’s all about and you can go down and see the druid costumes that Malcolm McDowell wore and Malcolm’s here by the way and get his autograph.  So there’s this kind of here’s the birth of ACMI as a film museum, media art is now off the agenda.

So for me, that was kind of the emergence of the huge disappointment of ACMI as again, a nut case study as I mentioned before.  Because to some extent it went back on its mission and in terms of a public institution where we could say this stuff could be properly archived you’ll find nothing there.  So for example Alessio and I a number of years they were talking about, not simply, okay we might have an Ian Haig compilation or we might have say, Phillip Brophy’s early video works as an important part of that archive but not only that all that sort of Guerrilla Publishing that Maria Kozic and Philip did in the 80s, the Stuff Publications, all those kind of things.

There has to be something that where that, if it’s part of the cultural history of Melbourne merging into what we call media art, it has be somewhere it can be found.  Again, that was certainly a vision that Alessio had, that it wouldn’t simply be works in a permanent collection or works could be trotted out for a temporary exhibition but the whole ephemera associated with that particular culture could be documented.  Now it would seem to me if any institution would have the pulling power to do that it would have been ACMI but are quite clearly as Sweeney’s remarks, I think, pointed to, I think pretty much the ACMI management saw that it was an ephemeral moment, media art.

It wasn’t even in that ephemeral moment as I’m talking about as a kind of synchronic act of archiving, it wasn’t even worth archiving synchronically at that time.  So effectively, if you like, an institutional memory of the history of media art in Australia in particular has been lost institutionally.  So I think my proposal which I began with is we need to go back to think more about the importance of vernacular archives and garnering stuff, finding out who’s got the stuff, where is it actually going to be kept?

Perhaps it needs to be in a line repository or something like that.  Certainly, Andrew, you’ve got heaps of stuff and this stuff’s around and I suppose I’m just putting out the example of the June Shenfield instance as a capturing the moment when it happened but maybe that can be done retrospectively and maybe that one might be one thing for our project.

Michele Barker:        That was very good, very succinct.  I’ll move directly over to Brogan now to respond and to add to.

Brogan Bunt:            Mine’s completely different because I’m not actually, I mean Darren’s very clear there.  I think mine is just slightly different, not a clear response but kind of another question which is probably more about where media arts sits now because that seems to be very important to how we then perceive something historical or how we perceive some tradition.  Just because there’s a history within some notional idea of media art and some continuities there, there’s also the perception – and it’s almost detailed media art archaeologies that goes through historically and trace relationships.  But there’s also a set of other relations that seem to be becoming increasingly important relations that – whether strands of contemporary art, all those kinds of things that I think are important.

I also just want to say that I think in some way the media art – I guess part of the value of it is it’s a rat bag discipline that’s ill defined.  That’s something important to it and I was worried about trying to over-define it so I just wanted to mention some very just specific problems.  I remember when Paul and I – I was over in Perth we had these meetings, sort of small tiny media arts collective and there’d always be SymbioticA there.  There’s always been this question, how does bio-art relate to media?

There was always this kind of discussion of media, why’s it media precisely?  There’s just these little issues that come up.  I think of something like Zelinksky’s book where he’s really taken a very standard view of media at some level but it’s an extension of human capacities and we’ve got all of those kinds of ideas.  So if the ultimate is, a kind of, to some extent technological paradigm but when you look at the first instance, example we discussed is … who is a Pre-Socratic philosopher which he regards as a kind of a metaphor of a kind of technological media or paradigm involving atoms and our perception of the world and so on.

It seems to me; maybe this is my background more that I’m becoming increasingly uncertain about what media art is as such and who it engages.  It has philosophical connections obviously questions of mediation which you could trace all through a million examples that engagement seems to key and some interesting things could be done I’d say.  Other things that are just very clear are like for instance, it used to be that media at one stage, I can remember choosing video rather than film because video was not film, it wasn’t hands on.  It was the actual appeal of the fact that it was kind of disengaged, it was all those machine dimensions would kind of appealing.

Now I see most of the students are desperately going into media archaeological kind of return, grasping onto things and being able to touch things.  I don’t have anything against that but it’s kind of different sort of thing that’s motivating it.

The other thing that I find interesting areas and the kind of stuff that we’re teaching, is very closely mixed to sort of whole schools of conceptual art, socially engaged art practice, all of those areas.  Where does that precisely fit into these traditions, how do we think about those areas, seems to me are very important.

So I guess my basic argument is that media arts are really at a very uncertain stage, how it relates to some sort of – in some ways because I’m arguing that it can be positioned within a more – I know I sound terrible – there’s some sort of very mixed up notion of contemporary art that just fits in there and finds a place within in it wherever it has its own little ghetto it also has its own areas of overlap as well.  I just think that maybe in terms of positioning what we’re doing archaeologically we always need to recognise what we’re looking at the past we’re obviously doing it through some conception of whatever it is that is media art in the present.  We need to be clear about that, clear of the problems that surround that issue at present.

Michele Barker:        Obviously we’ll chat about it.  I’ll just sort of raise one thing.  It seems that out of these two positions that we have maybe not exactly a problem with identity but maybe we do.  On one level we have the idea that the institution is not, it can’t feel comfortable with giving us this media arts space, this environment.  It’s like the way that we touched on before that in fact this idea of media arts in Australia is probably very largely about video, video art and a real kind of art.  There’s something that so profoundly comfortable in that at the moment when we look at, particularly, who’s going well in video art in Australia.  Then at the same time we have this really interesting sort of acknowledgment that even like students that are harking back and they even do it through things like filters.

If they can’t get their hands on a film camera which nine times out of 10 they won’t get their hands on.  They can download some beautiful filters to give them that 35 millimetre look now.  So what does that say about the environment?  From the potential new kids on the block, that it’s in a strange state of acknowledging its own existence now, which obviously will relate back to its histories.

Anne Marsh:            I think Paul brought up something earlier when he said that media arts is kind of being enveloped within fine arts and that’s interesting to me because the term fine arts is kind of old fashioned term. I don’t know why we don’t just call it visual arts.


Anne Marsh:            Because it has this very traditional or something and that’s kind of, I think, what you’re saying.  Video has taken off completely.  It’s everywhere.  You go to an art gallery, you think you’re going to look at paintings and you’re looking at screens.  I think we can blame Juliana Engberg for that.


Anne Marsh:            When she did the Biennale in Melbourne, which blew the budget quite significantly, she was famous for saying video is the tapestry of the 21st century, Juliana said that.  But it has become – it’s just everywhere in the gallery scene.  Matthew’s not here now but our students are just making – everybody in painting is making video.

Lisa Gye:                  It seems to me that part of that is the artists that survive are the ones that can be bought and sold.  Video art’s acquirable in a way that certain kinds of media arts are not – because when I think about media arts from over the last 20 years, there seems to have been a movement that emerged around the same time of the emergence of the network that had very specific kind of properties that bled over into other areas and it was – I keep thinking about this word constellation.  It was almost like a constellation which shone very brightly but it was always connected out into other things as well.  The things that had staying power are were the things that could be – the fact that Troy was working with Tolarno Galleries to actually sell some of his work is, I think, an interesting thing.

Whereas there were lots of other media artists that could never have done that.  The work wasn’t able to be acquired in that way.

Anna Munster:         It’s also why did it gain acquirability?  That has partly to do with the emergence of a Biennale scene that has happened in the last 10 years which has also run off and parasited on the back of video art because it is so globally exportable that fits into the whole rationale of what a Biennale does, which is basically to market globalism, that’s what it does.  So the two things kind of support each other.

Justin Clemens:        It also means cost efficiency within the universities because to teach painting means studios.  If you’re to do that stuff on a keyboard and what with video then you don’t need the space, it really invents a whole series, ticks a whole series of boxes.  So if you can make painting studios smaller and smaller in fact and video becomes the – in addition to reasons you were saying something’s that taught.  So you just slip it in behind the existing disciplines under existing nominations.  It’s basically media art in some essential way but nonetheless but it probably means that you get a whole load of people like computers and, you know, you don’t need the same studio space, you don’t need the same exhibition space.

Anne Marsh:            Yeah it means you could have a room like this and have 60 workstations.

Ross Harley:            I just want to jump in and say I’m a video artist.


Ross Harley:            I love video art and I don’t think – so I understand what we’re saying…

Justin Clemens:        It’s not a bad thing…


Ross Harley:            The point that I want to make is that when certain new media art becomes trafficable, saleable, collectable, able to be put into institutions then it acquires all these characteristics.  So in a sense video art could be seen as a successful kind of brother or sister in the whole media arts family in the same way that if you look at cinema there are certain kinds of cinema that becomes successful and so on.  It depends how expansive a view we have.  So I’m kind of interested in Stephen’s notion of the rolling new and how, in a sense that notion is what defines the areas of interest for artists working with these new formats and technologies without being a technological determinist.

So picking up on these ideas, so the constellations that shine very brightly.  You know the Troy Innocents and others who pick up on something which has its technological threads but it connects with all these other threads as well.  So I wondered Stephen if you wanted to say a little bit more about that?

Stephen Jones:        Video art’s been through a vast collection of manifestations and forms since the early 70s when it was first available here, I mean the first one, video art work made in Australia was in 1970 and it was distributed on film because it was the only way you could get it to project onto a reasonably large screen.  You couldn’t carry a two-inch recorder around with you.  You needed a compressor just to get it running.  Then the next version is the Access Network which happened in ’73, ’74 and ’75 and that introduced video through the Portapak to a whole bunch of people who made it a new medium of an incredibly valuable kind for an entirely different class of work, the political community activists kind of work.

Then within the same thing because that technology was available lots of artists realised that they could actually do interesting things just starting by recording their own performances and so on.  For example the work that was done at Inhibodress and then going from there.  The first video art sale in Australia was actually in ’73 at the National Gallery of Victoria.  It was a collection of American material that was brought out here in a show called Western American Art in ’73.  That was bought by – and then they didn’t buy anything for quite a while since then.  There’s another reason why video art, particularly has this strange convoluted acquisition or collectability characteristic.

The federal finance department demanded that any institution that was buying art had to be able to present a secondary price against which it was valued.  There were no sales of video art to generate a secondary price.  So there was no way that any of the institutions, after that first purchase by the NGV, they would actually make a purchase for video art for some time until it started to become accessible on the auction market, the secondary market.  So there are characteristics, which people just don’t sort of know, that determine these things which play outside of the art framework or whatever version of the art framework you want to think about.  That was sort of conquered maybe mid 80s or so finally.

But there was a lot of work that was produced and people were buying stuff that got the sale prices, I mean no hassle.  Selling works to the NGV, best I could get was $150 a work and that wasn’t going to make me a millionaire.


Stephen Jones:        So it’s like there are these other characteristics that exist that we just aren’t normally conscious of or allowed to make people become aware of because they’re sort of outside in the accounting and stuff and things like that.

Darren Tofts:            The sort of mercantile language that’s starting to come in whether it’s accounting or purchasing or costing is important because I think a number of years ago before there was a major internal bust up in ACMI to do with management I was on, I think it was called the acquisitions collection committee which was responsible for putting together profiles.  For example Adrian Danks was doing one on documentary so this is what the lending collections South Melbourne should bring in for the lending library.  When it moved here to Federation Square this is where people go to borrow what was deemed to be important video.

Simon Pockley was on at the time before I was seconded on who was there to actually think about, well, this emerging thing called media art, this stuff is going to go – operating system is going to change, technology is going to change.  We not only need to sort of keep an archive of the various interactions of say CD-ROM or operating systems but the computers themselves.  So Simon was really pushing this idea that this is the way the responsibility of the archive is to infrastructure and technology, not simply the media.

So while Simon was doing that, Alessio and I were seconded to put together a wish list of important Australian CD-ROM based art that would be part of the lending collection.  I don’t think – while it was never made explicit it was quite clearly implicit that the resistance we got with various iterations and drafts we put in was that, who would really (1) want to borrow it and really, how, in terms of the mercantile, how saleable or winnable is this in a capital sense?  So that I think was part of the thing that for me, is well, that’s a kind of irresponsible archive because it’s saying well, unless it’s going to pay we’re not interested in it but a responsible archive and a responsibility to the archive itself is that it should be collected on its own merit anyway.

At the time too, I mean, I was trying to build a small collection of artist’s CD-ROMs in the Swinburne library and we fortunately, had a sympathetic librarian and at that time too, I mean artists were charging, say Linda Dement’s work was sometimes 300 bucks a pop.  Now, okay your general punter’s not going to buy that but it’s the responsibility, I would have thought, of particularly university libraries to have a collection.  So we’ve got a sort of modest collection at Swinburne of that stuff.  But again we’re talking about a major institution, centre for the moving image.  Video arts movement but so too was interactive media, that’s the one huge gap in that collection but what I’m saying is that the opportunities have been there for that to happen but it just hasn’t.

Andrew Garton:       I was just going to respond to the idea of video art.  I think there’s video art and there’s video art, let’s face it.  I think video art if it’s coming out of a painting sensibility, which is that what we essentially see on the galleries around town and in Australia.  It often lacks a literacy of the media, an awareness of the moving image language.  In some respects its popularity is also its failure in a weird way.

Ross Harley:            Just a coda to that.  2001 when Venice Biennale basically just goes all video it corresponds with the moment when DVD technology ubiquitous, standardised format so back to Anna’s point, this is the transportability, the saleability, you’ve got this format which is very stable as opposed to all of the formats we’re talking about are highly unstable, untransferrable and difficult to reproduce.  You can’t just send a CD-ROM anywhere because it’s not going to play anywhere, whereas with a DVD you can whack it in any machine.

Doug Kahn:              Getting back to Darren’s distinction about vernacular and also Paul was saying earlier about linking and also this fine art or media, it is like galleries, museums, are showing media art.  What they’re doing is cherry picking.  I think we should just sort of let those institutions create their own historical disciplines and attend to more grass roots stuff conceived where things, right now, there’s Serial Space in Sydney which is incredibly interesting, and doing lots of different types of stuff.  So I’m not sure what this project is, how it’s developing or – I’m not sure at what point things are going to get practical stuff or if it has already, I’ve no idea.  But I think certain emphasis about – would be good.

Because there’s the whole idea of the thing that Eddie Jenkins is doing as far as trying to reconcile – why is it that the art world discourse, the Hall Foster’s of the world are not talking about media arts for example.  At a certain point I’m not sure if that’s awfully – I think it’s going to happen they have – it’s going to happen anyway.  I think there is – there should be a way to put a focus on things that won’t happen without those effects of the economies happening.  I’ll just give a specific example and this gets back to linking. I was writing something the other day, looking for writing on Joyce Hinterding so last chapter of the book.  I was trying to think of – sort of the pre-history of integratedness.


Male:                         I remember Joan Brassil and so I went looking for Joan Brassil stuff at the University of Wollongong, she had her PhD and there’s lots of PhDs. that are online, but that was not one of them.

So I drove down that afternoon to Wollongong to look at it and it’s got some ABC cassettes from programs she’s been in, so one thing would be the Joan Brassil project, that would go – like liberate the stuff from the ABC archives because there’s a lot of – that’s like the store house and they haven’t bothered doing anything because of copyright and they won’t and they have set up to research and in Denmark some scholars got together and historians informed the research network specifically for Danish radio. They’re saying that and there was sort of artist run to that.  They were saying that there’s all this cultural history that you cannot find anywhere else and it’s being tied up.  So there’s something specific to go – to link to specific archives although the stuff exists at the University of Wollongong.

Stephen Jones:        There’s a very specific reason why Joan Brassil doesn’t get shows. It’s called her son.

Doug Kahn:              I’m sorry.

Ross Harley:            There’s a specific reason why Joan Brassil isn’t talked about.  Because her son controls all of the rights…

Stephen Jones:        I’ve actually got the complete Joan Brassil video archive but there’s absolutely no way that I’m allowed to show it to you.

Justin Clemens:        A friend of mine has set up a lost plays database – he’s a Shakespeare scholar and of course most plays from Elizabethan history, no one has the slightest idea what they’re about, what they were, there’s just names and registries.  So he actually set up a lost play’s database in which you can get all the information that anyone knows is about this play, from the database.  So for Joan you could set up a lost new media arts database in which you could have that information, saying the reason we cannot link to anything here is because of this – the idea of a lost plays database, which is so brilliant…

[Over speaking]

Michele Barker:        I will sorry, interrupt, because Paul’s been waiting very patiently now.

Paul Thomas:            We talk about painting and video art, and I work at the College of Fine Arts which these people do as well.

Ross Harley:            He didn’t say finance, he said fine arts…


Paul Thomas:            I’m also head of painting at the College of Fine Arts.

Darren Tofts:            Fainting?


Paul Thomas:            This is obviously a performance art thing that I’m doing.


Darren Tofts:            Keep going.

Paul Thomas:            Nobody’s documenting but I’m feeling quite…


Ross Harley:            Yeah, we’re recording this right.


Darren Tofts:            Come on, get to the point and we will be talking behind your back afterwards.

Paul Thomas:            So we’re talking about painting, we’re talking about video art.  I’m talking about maybe a lack of depth which is what – not about the technology because I don’t like that part. I think that’s a dumb argument to follow, the fact that you might not know fully the piece of equipment, it means you can’t use it.  I don’t buy that and if you look at the history of cinema and the history of painting, you’ve got these two things working together.  I will say that I think it fits in with Ross’ point about the DVD, about the quality of projectors now, about the price of projectors.

I think it’s all about the commercialisation of it. This whole video thing is such a small part of what we seem to be talking about and you often come back to it and I wonder why we’re always going back to screen theory as a kind of concept of the history of cinema or the history of artists working with screen.  I mean are we trying to get into a kind of Hollywoodesque type of feeling that?

So what about all the interactive work?  Like it always goes back to the history of first video or the first sound art in Australia, I mean when was that?  What were the key things?  When was the first course that was taught as a sound art course in media art in Australia? That seems important to me, that’s the second when it actually gets recognised institutionally as having a curriculum link about it.

Michele Barker:        Anna who’s been waiting patiently as well.


Michele Barker:        This is highly unusual behaviour.


Anna Munster:         I want to kind of flip forward into – I guess we’ve been talking about what has been excluded, what’s been forgotten and so on.  I just want to take up something Brogan said about what wants to exclude itself and bio-art actually which I think is a really interesting issue but I spend a lot of time talking to those guys and they don’t want to be included as media.  So that then comes back to me, to a question of – questions about how you do history basically.  So if you don’t talk to those people because you think it’s an important aspect or somehow it’s kind of come out of something and you can see the relationships but then they fundamentally say, sorry but we’re not doing that we’re actually creating an entirely new medium but it’s not a medium [laughs].

Ross Harley:            It’s a Petri dish.


Anna Munster:         Where then, I mean – what do you do? I mean I was very interested – one of the reasons Ross asked me to join this project, is I actually wanted to kind of follow up a trajectory that comes out of issues to do with embodiment in media arts and that gets taken up to do with biology and so on in bio art but if I go talk to the artists I could very well not get told I’m sorry, I actually don’t want to talk to you because I don’t want to be included in that history or maybe we then get an interesting set of interviews that have to do with a refusal, which also could be interesting as well and that might actually be an interesting way to set up some kind of interesting conflicts and tensions too.

Brogan Bunt:            I mean I’ve seen just – what you said there in terms of film industry, moments of uncertainty, you know, when you go back and look at most of the film history stuff – which actually is really, really interesting we actually look at these moments you know, fair ground attractions, world fairs, all sorts of other things. It’s actually not here this thing that is instantly recognisable as what we are now but actually it’s something that throws things open.

Anna Munster:         Yeah.

Ross Harley:            Which is the media ecology – that’s the media ecology approach does precisely that, so these histories of things that never worked that could be that are of interest to us, not like what has happened. In a sense we’re all touching on the things that we’re sort of uninterested in are the things which are sort of, you know, come into that.

Justin Clemens:        Unactualised potentials we don’t see, that we would never actualise would nonetheless be crucial if people made decisions about – like I was not doing that and I won’t even say that I was not doing that because I felt so intense about it. I wouldn’t even bother saying that to anyone – I’d even deny to myself that’s part of the unactualised potentials of media history…

Ross Harley:            Yeah.

Paul Thomas:            Even now we can think like what was the role of ARS Electronica in the bio art discourse?

That was just massive that they put to some extent a lot of that on the map.

Michele Barker:        I’ve got to shift over to Lisa now.

Lisa Gye:                  It kind of all ties in with what you say because the people I’m noticing in absence here. Obviously the curators of things like Experimenta and Deluxe and all those, MIMA which turned into Experimenta. Regardless of what we think of them now, they were defining the boundaries in many ways. Whenever they curated exhibitions they said this is media art, this is what we do and people would be involved or not involved depending on whether it was actually beneficial for them at that time, whether or not they later then say no, no, I’m not a media artist even though I was included.

So it’s having some kind of understanding – I mean like MIMA really was set up – I was thinking before about our experimental film. What’s the relationship between video art in Australia and experimental film which was like a little enclave of quite odd people focussed around MIMA that then became Experimenta, you know, people like Shiralee Saul and her role in all of that. So it seems to me they were the people kind of in some ways creating the definitions around these things so they have to be really important participants in this as well.

Paul Thomas:            That worked with Experimenta but then when you take ANAT into the mix and then you take MAP into the mix and then you take DLux into the mix, they’re all generating independently in focused areas.

Lisa Gye:                  But isn’t that interesting that they have to then define themselves in relation to each other as well?

Paul Thomas:            Yeah.

Lisa Gye:                  You know, because ANAT didn’t want to be Experimenter and DLux didn’t want to be ANAT and so why were they carving out these territories and in what way were they doing it?

Paul Thomas:            Julianne will remember that what they wanted to do was join some of these people so you’d have one national media art group. This was about two weeks before the Australian Council cut the media arts board.

Julianne Pierce:        I think it’s really interesting, like you know the work that Shiralee did and what was happening in Melbourne at the time and this sort of – the creative industries, she – ACMI came out didn’t it…

Ross Harley:            Yeah.

Julianne Pierce:        I guess it was this sort of commercial side – that we’ve touched on it a bit today – was a sort of commercial shiny edge of new media and that really aligned with a sort of creative industries dialogue.

Darren Tofts:            Mm, that’s right.

Lisa Gye:                  Lisa Logan had that commercial gallery for a while in Southbank where they were…

Darren Tofts:            New Media Network….

Julianne Pierce:        It was – yeah, I think sort of ACMI came out of that a little bit didn’t it?

Darren Tofts:            Yeah.

Julianne Pierce:        But then it all sort of collapsed and the whole sort of creative industries dialogue sort of collapsed really.

Michele Barker:        Andrew, you…

Andrew Garton:       Yeah, I don’t want to kind of labour on this but I don’t want to give too much credit to the curators because the curators are also gatekeepers and I sort of remember…

Julianne Pierce:        No, exactly.

Andrew Garton:       …quite firmly taking projects to the gallery itself and they had no idea what a net connector could do as an online gallery, so I think sure, there’s a role that they play but there’s also a role as a gatekeeper and I think that needs to be taken into consideration.

Ross Harley:            But in a sense – I mean I suppose just to clarify, I agree absolutely but the point that I think Lisa’s making is that the actions of curators in making these events is what declares – so what is media art is not an essential question and we’ll just go down into a rabbit’s kind of hole if we ask that question. But if we say what was media art in terms of it’s material instantiations well it’s these exhibitions that were curated or not, so I think the inverse in these constellations, because that’s interesting that things that don’t make it in.

Lisa Gye:                  Well I remember Sue McCalley and I were asked by the AFC I think to put together a catalogue of the best CD-Rom art right?

Male:                         Mm, right.

Lisa Gye:                  We were just – like we had all these – we’re just like how do we even begin to make these decisions? It was pretty much well what do we like? That’s what goes in, because we had no – there were no criteria. There was no canon to draw from to say – and so that artefact is not a real – it is exactly that. It’s an arbitrary decision that was made, but I think that in itself is interesting because that then goes on to define what comes after.

Michele Barker:        Can I tell you from one point having had work at Meelia and going, you feel like a total fish out of water because it sort of – the way you talk about the shiny edge? We were suddenly put into kind of what was obstensively big technology trade fair and there’s the little kind of CD-Rom works. [Laughter] I’m like, hi, and we’re sitting at our booth, hi, you want to come and see our …

Darren Tofts:            Yeah, another way of coming at that, when Shiralee and was it Lisa that – no, Helen Stucky curated Altered States, that was actually deliberately installed at the Asia Pacific multimedia industry gig at Jeff’s Shed and…

Lisa Gye:                  Interacts.

Darren Tofts:            Was it Interacts?

Lisa Gye:                  Yeah.

Darren Tofts:            It was fantastic and lots of people would go in there and it was brilliant.

Lisa Gye:                  Eden of course had a show at Sexpo.

Michele Barker:        That’s a whole other story. No.

Darren Tofts:            …which actually got funding from new media board

Anna Munster:         And you wonder why there’s no new media board

Lisa Gye:                  And was seen by Hugh Hefner in LA

Anna Munster:         Yes, exactly.

Darren Tofts:            Based on the fact that new media by definition is about establishing new audiences…

Michele Barker:        I’m going to stop it for a second because Norie has been waiting more patiently than all of you…

Norie Neumark:         I was just thinking, this whole question of how curating defined new media and how the Australian Council defined new media, like in a way it raises the issue of the relationship between archiving and the archive, like the responsibility in a sense of your project to not be gatekeepers, to not say this archive that we create is the archive. This is media art or this was new media, like to me that’s the big question and how can you engage in a project like this which is funded by the ARC, which is another whole question of how they’re government money, you know, for all of us in academia can define the terrain of what you can do, what is valid research, what is the research practice that’s valid, what’s the research object that’s valid. Having that sort of a landscape to do an archiving project that really holds onto archiving in a way rather than the archive, because when it’s the archive it’s like this the archive as if it’s self-evident that it’s, you know, the correct archive whereas if we – actually archiving is a practice and we say practicing archiving now with these concerns, with these parameters…

Anna Munster:         That is what Ross did, which is actually quite interesting because I mean the proposal that he essentially wrote and which we all gave him feedback on was basically to create some kind of media art history that would be faithful to contemporary practices of data basing. So I mean in fact his proposal, I was really surprised that they brought the methodology of the proposal but…

Ross Harley:            Yeah, I think we all were.


Anna Munster:         …in fact it’s a great opportunity and I want to make that public to actually say that that is a validation of – sure it was put in the language of the ARC, but nonetheless they in fact validated a practice in which we said we will look into the possibility of a production of an open archive conceptually. So I mean I think that’s really important because it was not about creating a closed, sealed box of here’s the history, we’ve done it, thank you very much.

It was very much about how do we open up these practices and how do we produce something that is an on-going space so…

Norie Neumark:         I suppose what I’m saying is that then it’s not critical of your project, I haven’t got anything personal, and it seems great and this is great, but just that if you focus on archiving as a practice that produces the archive, which probably you’re doing – I’m just saying I think that’s an interesting difference than focussing on the archive that is produced.

Ross Harley:            I think it’s a really helpful and useful distinction for us to all keep in mind because there is that large distinction between, you know, the archive – capital letters – and the practice of archiving or practices plural of archiving, which in a sense is the topic of today’s conversation. How do we do that? What are the implications in terms of the histories that we’re making and so on? So I think we’ve all been touching on that.

Michele Barker:        We’ll go to Doug and then Oliver if that’s alright.

Doug Kahn:              Oh, well getting back to the – some of your bullet points from the beginning – I think that probably the best way to do this is to make it specifically a research archive. I mean this is – we’re talking about online, we’re talking about…

Ross Harley:            Yeah.

Doug Kahn:              …yeah, to have it at a depth wherever you can do it so that, yeah, people in Australia, aspiring artists in Australia, scholars from overseas – and I just saw that Abigail Solomon-Godeau coffee table book, Rosemary Laing’s, coffee table book, you know? But the best thing to do to get writing going is to have a really in depth, aim for scholarly depth and all that other stuff will follow. I mean the canon – you have like this real depth with all these conflicting issues and stuff like that, it won’t get canonical it will sort of – if it’s broad enough it will defeat it’s – I have serious questions about whether things are as astronomical as they are imagined to be, but apart from that I think the thing would be to really make it a research depth, a scholarly tool for people who want to write and the other people will go read that anyway.  I think that’s probably the best thing.

Ross Harley:            Yeah, no, I think that is the idea. If there’s time at the end we might show – Stephen and I have been working on a project for a long time. It’s not quite there yet but we might show what that database might look like and it has some of those characteristics.

Michele Barker:        So Julianne, over to you.

Julianne Pierce:        This is something else we’d like to talk about but I think it ties into what the theme discussed and I really liked Paul’s comment earlier in the day about a sort of fluid nomadic archive, it sort of reflects the nature of the practice and how can an archive be created of this practice that is like that and perhaps there needs to be a Wiki and perhaps there needs to be multiplicity because everyone has a different story, and it would be really interesting to see an archive – because all of us have lived through it. It’s all still, you know, we’re still part of it. And I think what’s really strong about the Australian network is that we’ve all sort of got to know each other and we’re still collaborating.

I see this happening and I think that’s the real strength of the Australian network that then sort of puts tentacles out internationally and creates lots of international networks. Something I’d really perhaps like to explore in this plenary session is how can you crate an archive that is fluid and nomadic and …

Lisa Gye:                  And also how in disagreement with itself.

Julianne Pierce:        Yeah.

Michele Barker:        That’s really important too.


Justin Clemens:        I would really encourage you to look at this lost plays database because it’s even more ephemeral and crazy.

It really starts with the very premise of loss rather than the premise of a total archive, actually they didn’t know anything whatsoever about this other than its name. And then different sorts of things start to come out of it, like you know, a play text from 1593 – first one. Someone finds another one and then that gets uploaded.

All of a sudden someone goes to like a dead duke’s basement and they turn up a whole series of like weird payments made to some obscure guy who turns out to be Shakespeare. So it’s not a bad model.

Darren Tofts:            Justin, did it emerge out of that that the debunking of Tourneur as the author of The Revenger’s Tragedy? Did that emerge out of that?

Justin Clemens:        No, that’s all – it’s all connected with that.

Ross Harley:            What’s it called?

Justin Clemens:        It’s called the lost plays database and as a model for Internet archiving what’s absolutely irreparably gone and at the same time really…

Darren Tofts:            Because it crosses over with Doug’s idea of the research elements too, I mean it well may be that idea may have come out of it or it may merge, you know? They put Tourneur back in there as the author of….

Justin Clemens:        Exactly, it’s just such a brilliant and beautiful idea for an archive and it does speak to some of the issues that we’ve been discussing in a very direct and specific way.

Michele Barker:        I just have an open ended question, then over to Anna. I guess at the risk of sounding stupid, is there ever the chance that there’s too much information…

Anna Munster:         Yes.

Michele Barker:        …and how, where, who, you know? You just think that like – and I think about the example that you gave of Troy for example and that everything is a process of documenting the processes and the works and I think, interestingly I think we’ve all got to this point of thinking about how we do something, like Anna and I we collaborate. We were talking the other day about how do we kind of find a really good way of documenting, particularly a kind of interactive installations in a way that we can then get it out to this next layer and level and have it make sense?

So there’s this whole kind of like narrative that sort of unfurls on top of the kind of practice itself and not saying that that’s necessarily too much information in it’s own right because I know that obviously as someone who teaches that, sometimes that’s profoundly useful to be able to find someone’s website and have that. But I just – I suppose the flipside is that we have every device that records which actually kind of collapses oral histories into these processes as well, but like how big is too big?

Anna Munster:         Having said well this is amazing that the ARC brought this kind of open archive thing – on the other hand there is a funding body there and we’re accountable for certain things and it’s not anything goes at all.  So the more things come in, the more they have to be moderated, the more they have to be looked at because in the end somebody has got to be responsible for what goes online. So I think there’s got to be in whatever we do in the project, there has to be some balance between – I really like the idea of the Wiki but that could be an element and might not be for everything. It might be for a set of tendencies and then that – but that might set off from something else as well, so I don’t know what sort of – how you think about that but I think there are issues that have to be balanced up here as well that have do with accountability but also Michele’s question about the kind of proliferation…

Michele Barker:        As much as I love him, Ross is so inclusionary. [Laughter]

Ross Harley:            Yeah, so I suppose – look, Stephen might want to say something as well because we’ve actually been engaged in a project that is a precursor to this for the last three years, dealing with many of these very same issues, with Di as well. Di’s in fact one of the people who is charged with helping us with some of our responsibilities in this regard, so permission to publish about artists and their works and the associated materials can’t just be an anything goes kind of situation. When we first started on that other project the idea was exactly that let’s do something that’s like UBU it could be open Wiki, anything would go and anybody could just go in, put in their stuff.

I think Oliver – I remember having a conversation with Oliver about this and Oliver said yes, it’s a great idea but let me tell you about when we’ve done this and artists – and this is exactly what we found – artists really don’t want to do this stuff. Someone has to do it for them often. It’s a bit like Wikipedia – Wikipedia there’s one per cent of people who put up all that material and they’re Wikipedians. Stephen is a Wikipedian. Stephen is the archive in many ways – he’s the one per cent of artists who would absolutely obsessively put everything up and that’s great, we want to be able to do that. You don’t want to have to cut things out, but at the same time you want to have this form that emerges so again if we have a chance at the end we might show you what that work in progress looks like because it’s quite interesting I think. Oliver.

Oliver Grau:              Yeah, well I think you just need a container where all the documents are kept and these documents – they should not be interrupted by anybody. This can be so that the artists and the family, whatever can interpret these documents. This is the easiest from my experience to have a container where you have old videos of art history, interviews, where you’ve got the technological information and the software configuration and all that stuff. Then you can make the artists members so that they upload all the material themselves and you also have copyright problems otherwise you have – immediately have – we need to check all that. This is probably impossible and I would propose a limitation where you only allow artists who have a certain number of exhibitions so we have a quantifiable criteria where nobody can argue against it, so nobody can feel excluded – oh, they don’t like me so that’s why I’m not included. You have a lot of trouble if you don’t have a clear, very clear rule who can be in there and who not.

Then you can additionally have a board with four or five people or so who then can make decisions that this artist is a fantastic new comer. She develops something totally unique and therefore she needs to be in there, but you need first a kind of gate keeping system which is so much easier otherwise you will have every student in there and then you have enormous fights and endless discussions. So, yeah, I think this can be only start for Australia and for any other country where there’s not such archives so the ARC or whoever is supporting it in the future must understand that is about developing an etiquette for scholars and for artists who are at universities and art schools where they get an overview of what’s on there and where they contextualise their own ideas and they can also benefit from the archive.

Doug Kahn:              Yeah, I just want to say as a working historian you can not have too much [Laughter] and so I agree with the – just layer it and just about how – yeah, just like you go to the Getty Archives and there’s boxes and just add those documents whatever form they are at – a certain undifferentiated – I mean there dated and filed and all that, you know, yeah, build up these areas and from that – yeah, I mean the thing with some stuff is I don’t agree with having a certain amount of exhibitions but probably if you want to put some limits on a historical thing like this.

Darren Tofts:            I actually agree with you Doug on more is better because the other day I found when I was making a selection for Ephemera for the Cyber Data Retrospective it was Troy and Dale’s registration of a business name as Cyber Data in 1990 and it had the purpose of the business, it was mutation of reality. [Laughter] And Troy had forgotten that he’d even put it on. He was more stunned that it actually got in.

Ross Harley:            I think it worked.

Darren Tofts:            It did work, yeah, it’s still there.

Ross Harley:            Has anyone gone and seen that site? Can I just recommend that you do not do it if you value your eyes [Laughter]

Andrew Garton:       Just a quick comment on that as sometimes artists left to their own devices aren’t the best people to decide what works should be archived or not be archived. I come from a family of artists and I’m constantly amazed at the amount of art that my brothers and sisters destroy, including recently discovering that one of my sisters destroyed artworks from my grandmother who few of us have any records of, purely because she thought that wouldn’t be important to the rest of the family, let alone the amount of artworks that they destroy of their own.

So sometimes we don’t actually understand the value of works that should be shared and also apparently – I’m researching a documentary about sort of Melbourne icon – I don’t know if you know him, Hugh McSpedden.  Hugh McSpedden’s been doing projective artwork since the late – I think ’68 was the first works that he did and only last week discovered that he’d been doing these fabulous projections for the Fringe Festival going back to the inception of Melbourne Fringe, where he’d done these fantastic polka dot projections on the Royal Exhibition buildings – so little of it was recorded. There’s maybe one or two photographs left of countless works that this person and the only recent times he’s worked with someone who has archived his works on video, but refuses to make that material available to anybody, never mind Hugh himself.

So there’s a sort of complication in dealing with these sorts of issues. Be great if that person was making use of it through putting it online and help with records and the work of these people but I think that’s sort of problematic as well. So there’s a number of artistic issues to consider.

Anne Marsh:            The biggest archive I’ve found is the one on Contemporary Australian photography and I did what everybody tells you not to do; I sent out a call through all the alternative art spaces, and everywhere just called and called. I stopped accepting expressions of interest after about 18 months when I started to get many photographers from the Sunshine Coast [Laughter].

Ross Harley:            That sounds really interesting [Laughter].

Anne Marsh             We had something like 1800 people and I had to make some decisions and I did make the decision about students, that we wouldn’t put undergraduate students in. I did put in some post graduate students but – and you’re making the call like – and it was a kind of curatorial thing like okay, this artist is really young. I wanted to have emerging artists as well – and the question you’re asking is will this person survive until I’ve finished the project? So when it goes online will they still be practicing? So you are making a kind of judgement call on this stuff and then it went over to them. Okay, so give us an example of six works over your career and what I found is some established artists is they’d just send me their latest project because they thought that was their best work and that was a recurrent theme.

But yeah and then of course the usual suspects didn’t even apply so then I had to go through galleries and pick them up and backfill. The issue of permissions, copyright permissions is – you know it takes years sometimes to get the permissions.

Michele Barker:        Ross, did you want to say something about the actual project itself?

Ross Harley:            Maybe later on in the plenary.

Michelle Barker:        In the plenary, okay.

Ross Harley:            Yeah.

Michelle Barker:        Okay, so we’ve got Ian and then we’ve got a few minutes left so I’d just like to – if they’d like any kind of concluding remarks? You don’t have to though, it’s…

Ian Haig:                   Just a quick one, just in regard to say Ross introduced the whole session, particularly in relation to that net art which is like it sits outside of the institution. It sits outside of the art economy. It sits outside of the art world frankly, you know and I was recently contacted by the advisor of Art Base who wanted to kind of update one of my sites that was on the thing and I was kind of indifferent to it to be honest. I didn’t kind of care that it just disappeared and in fact that was kind of okay. So I think that also has to be acknowledged a bit, like sometimes artists want their work to go into oblivion, to become obsolete in fact.

Michelle Barker:        Yeah, I think that’s a really good point actually.

Anna Munster:         Is that also because it’s not so that you want your entire work to…it’s more that you’re not engaged with that work anymore.

Ian Haig:                   Yeah.

Female:                     …because that’s moved off into another scene in a way, so the way these kind of scenes engage people and kind of create sort of topography is interesting as well. I mean it’s interesting that Rizone since becoming institutionalised via the New Museum of Modern Art has become seemingly interestingly less – I know a lot of Australian artists that aren’t interested in it anymore…

Ian Haig:                   Sure.

Anna Munster:         Really interesting you know? So…

Ross Harley:            Isn’t that the history of art and what’s interesting in art – music’s exactly the same. As soon as somebody signs to a major label who’s interested? Like who cares? So that’s sort of the Rizone effect. It’s the video art in biennales…

Paul Thomas:            Well there’s something that I’ve actually noticed.

Michele Barker:        Alright, on that note – you were saying that once you’re at Biennale, you’re not interesting. Is that right?

Ross Harley:            Yeah, that’s right.

Female:                     There goes Ross Harley’s work. [Laughter] Okay, Darren, Brogan, did you guys have anything that you’d like to just…

Darren Tofts:            Not in terms of what we were talking about before but just, the point we just – Anna and you were talking about – again, when I was doing interviews for Interzone I went and interviewed Phil Somartis and Philip Brophy and Phil Brophy made it very clear he didn’t want to talk about any of the early days of Tsk Tsk Tsk because as far as he’s concerned it’s just juvenilia and so I had to talk about later works. Subsequently – and this is part of where again this isn’t a static field, it’s diachronic, as I mentioned before, things change. The Kingpins got interested in Phil’s work and low and behold there’s not only a big feature on Phil in Photofile but an interview with Phil by the Kingpins about Tsk Tsk Tsk.  And then Robert Leonard solicits a major monograph on Phil and I’m asked to write about it and because I grew up in the same suburb as Phil I thought well I have to make it partly autographical.

So I was talking about Tsk Tsk Tsk and he was happy with that so things kind of come around and so now you’ll probably have Phil giving public lectures on Tsk Tsk Tsk. [Laughter]

Paul Thomas:            Well on his website, once it becomes viral everybody’s wanting to advertise on it.

Darren Tofts:            Yeah, well he only ever wanted to talk about his website. He’s done it today. He’s done it here already.

Ross Harley:            That’s right, you’re talking about it by not talking about it. [Laughter] I want that website to die, please archive me [Laughter].

Paul Thomas:            I always thought, the interesting thing about being in the west was archives of video net art seem to be like you’ve put it out to the ether, you know, because you weren’t anywhere so you just put up into the sort of outer hemisphere and it just existed there and people either found it or they didn’t because you were so far away from any kind of connectivity or physicality the net had this other…

Lisa Gye:                  Except when you got the bills for actually hosting it.

Ross Harley:            Yeah. [Laughter]

Anna Munster:         It’s always been worse here.

Lisa Gye:                  Always the overlooked materiality of the net is that you actually have to keep paying for your domain name and to keep paying for your…

Paul Thomas:            Yeah [unclear] absolutely, but yeah.

Lisa Gye:                  Or get someone else to do it, which is even better.

Paul Thomas:            Yeah, I mean it was the first thing of being seemingly connected and always looking and always somewhere, always other than being in Perth, and that’s a kind of magical thing when you’re isolated.

Female:                     All right, I’m going to have to cut it – Brogan, did you want to say something?

Brogan Bunt:            Just very quickly, just I just actually suddenly thought about Cantrill’s Film Notes and the thing about it is that you never had access to any of these films, or I never did, maybe I wasn’t looking in the right place and so you just let these kind of fantasies about these films from looking at the stills.  [Laughter] The stills were always really good, sometimes you saw the film, and went, oh…


Brogan Bunt:            So there’s something about the imperfection of the archive and connecting with degradation of the information that can also be kind of inspiring…

Michele Barker:        Okay, I’m going to stop it there. I think that was a really good session actually. I think we covered a lot of things and some interesting kind of ideas around the archive.  So let’s have five to ten minute break.


Session 3

Paul Thomas:            Julianne’s back now so we can all start.  So we’ll just hand over to Oliver in a few seconds.

Oliver Grau:              Yes, just sort of four or five minutes of remarks really.  I didn’t know that I was going to be speaking.  So I just flew in tonight and so meanwhile I woke up a little bit.  So since I value – I want to react to what Ross and Paul said earlier on the media archaeology texts of Erkki and Jussi, which I also value very much.  Erkki’s work of course on the moving panoramas and Jussi’s work on…media. They both teach at our university also.  But I was thinking also a little bit on the goal of this meeting and of the project.  So archiving media art how that could be done and integrating it into the art history – media art histories – and pointing out the Australian contribution in that development.

For example, when it goes back to artistic inventions if you want to call the… moving map an artistic invention.  Then you can go to Google Earth nowadays and see that there are some connections and ask if the idea of Google Earth might have been inspired by artists.  So it could be a discussion.  So, since this media archaeology approach is a few years old but it goes a long way.  I would say it’s a part of the media art histories approach.  I just wanted to go back to this media arts histories conference series, which we facilitated, from Berlin from 2002.  That was, for the record, the first one.

We had a project there in co-operation with the Biennale and other partners and we had 40 chairs and we basically facilitated it and we brought together all these different disciplines which were dealing with media art histories for the first time and it was really a discipline area – there was 19 disciplines we ended up with at the event.  So of course, art history and media in the first place was quite strong there, but also history of science and technology and a number of disciplines like anthropology and et cetera.  Forming this feel of media art histories and the big difference to this media archaeological approach, which was also part of that, is that they don’t look so much towards art.

So they are very strong in looking at technological advances and stuff but Erkki in this – new book for example which is not out yet, but which will come out soon.  He speaks basically never on art and most of these people also don’t do – like Kittler and stuff.  So that’s really the big difference that the media art histories appeal is more around art.  Of course also takes the archaeological field seriously and is an element and the work of Kittler more than others.  But they most often don’t work comparative, which is something, which the art historians drawings or the media art historians mostly do.  Or not enough, maybe here and there a little bit, but not systematically.

They often also don’t build up huge archives of maybe technological devices and then show developments like we are doing with images and also with media art databases. There is also kind of a misuse of the term archaeology and since archaeology itself compares.  They use some large lines and show how things are developed.

So, what I – coming back to this little diagram here, it’s also that – to show you what image signs – also it’s kind of an adaptation of art history dealing with all kinds of images in science and advertising and politics and war propaganda and et cetera.  So it’s also very inter-disciplinary and so here it’s basically what I think what we do at the moment.  So developing new technological devices for our artistic and humanity’s needs.  Just to – and then I have already finished – just to show you – I’ve already mentioned that a little bit – the database we developed in Berlin and have now at the university these popular artists.

So here – so it’s all arranged around the works and then you have just this simple description by the artists mostly, or by the people that have done that somewhere, and then it’s in images and then you have the co-workers and title here.  So these basic data set amendments.  Very much centred on technology.  So hardware/software configuration displaced et cetera.  Then you’ve also key words and the key words are there along genres and aesthetics and thematically there also and also technological.  Some of them are taking the keywords system from the Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus and that’s from the Robert Institute Thesaurus and then of course the terminology from the field for media festivals et cetera.

So it is also collaborative – I mentioned that already.  So the artists in most of the cases they are members of all the popular issues.  They also can look on the thesaurus.  Then it’s also on literature – is in there but only titles of books and people’s names and institutions and events, exhibitions et cetera that’s recorded in there.  So that’s the one container.  Then there’s the second level of the media art histories for all text archive and outputs that we mentioned – that the text archive could be developed in a way that you would have scientific or scholarly articles in there which would be linked with the database on Australian artists.  So we are, on the one side we have all the facts basically and on the other layer you have the interpretation.  This can be a number of articles which cross each other or maybe also with different positions and stuff.

Paul Thomas:            Julianne, do you want to say a few words in response?

Julianne Pierce:        Yes, I do. Yes, so it’s been really fascinating for me to be here today, and thanks so much to Anna and Ross for inviting me – it’s really fantastic to be back in the fold again after some time away.  It’s been really fascinating for me I guess because it’s – for me covered a wide range – and sort of my own history through to artists working with ANAT then working with arts organisations like Blast Theory.  So it’s sort of raised, for me, a whole lot of issues about making art as an artist and also issues with commercialisation and that relationship with the commercial sector. The relationship with curators and also being a curator myself and to what extent am I being a gatekeeper or [laughs].

You know I think also with ANAT and that course of – that was always an issue, I guess, it’s like you know how do you validate or make those sort of distinctions or benchmarks.  So no, it’s been really fascinating day for me.  In terms of some remarks from me in terms of where we might go.  I mean I’m really interested to know where this discussion will go and I think it will be great if you could talk a little bit more about the project, Ross.  But I think there’s this really interesting idea of artist as archivists and being your own archivist and the work that Darren’s doing with Cyber Data.  And say a lot of what we’re doing with – I mean things VNX Matrix has never been particularly interested in our archive and it’s all sort of forgotten in the corner somewhere.  But I think…

Ross Harley:            We’d noticed that Jules.


Julianne Pierce:        Yes, yes.

Ross Harley:            I think there’s one webpage but – when I say one webpage, it’s like one page.  One page.


Julianne Pierce:        We get together every now and, we should put something on the web, we should have a website and…

Ross Harley:            It’s a nice photo.


Julianne Pierce:        Sooner or later that’s just – you know, it starts to be interpreted by scholars and curators. I’ve been having some really interesting conversations with – you know particularly a younger generation of feminists who are – and women and artists who are studying now in their 20s and doing their PhD’s and are looking at the work of VNX Matrix. They certainly interrogate me in an really interesting way that makes me think about my practice and think about what you were doing, the relevance of it and I was talking to a student recently Louise Mayhew and I really went back to the history of feminism in South Australia, in Adelaide.

I realised the VNX matrix is part of a whole trajectory of [laughs] and chronology of feminist manifestos and feminist practice. But I also think about the importance of the individual work like Stephen’s doing and I guess how it – from your work as an artist it’s taken you right through to this incredible chronicler of that history, that particular history.  It’s so important that the sort of work of those individuals and – I guess that leads me into a question about what is the archive, what’s the point of the archive and who is it for.

Because I know with ANAT I created a couple of databases the Synapse one and it’s always problematic.  So do we allow people to make it contained, to put their own material in and then be responsible for upgrading it and then of course they’re not.  So it just gets left and dies a bit and so I think it’s really important to establish who it’s for and who maintains it and what are the parameters for inclusion and I think it’s been a really interesting discussion today because  I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  But for me there’s still such a – the conversation is still about what is the history and what is the archive and that is an ongoing discussion I think.

I think that’s a really interesting discussion, what is the history and what’s the archive.  Are you creating – do you have to have a history first before you have the archive and when does the archive become history.  I think that’s a really – it’s a tension but it’s a nice tension I think and – what we’ve done today we have been – we’ve done a bit of archaeology ourselves.  We’ve gone back and dug up around the past and it’s a really unguided process. For us – around the room – we also have 30 years of histories, 20/30 histories. I think also really interesting to look at what has been done before. What you are looking at.  What has the role of dLux been?

What is the material that already exists? How do we incorporate that into the archive and other work that ANATs done.  I think this question of whether it’s a canon or not because for me it’s interesting whether it could be open database or a wiki or something that evolves and is fluid and reflects the nature of the practice.  Then I think Anna’s reacted a bit to it, saying it needs to have some structure and then it made me think, well to what extent do you want to create a canon?  To what extent do you want to create a structure and…

Anna Munster:         I don’t, but we’ve got a project that’s been funded.

Julianne Pierce:        Yes, I think that’s a really interesting question.  What is the – does this project actually have to have structure and become a canon in a way.

Ross Harley:            I mean the project is really clear.  The project is to – we’re researching this question of the role of Australian media art in an international context.  So, as far as the ARC’s concerned we have various outputs that we need to do, so that – articles or books.  But there’s a web resource component, which is a crucial part of the project, which is basically designed to allow researchers to collect and put online the materials that we find but also to build this history as we’re doing the archiving.  So the way that you’ve framed this question here which comes first, the history or the archive.  I think it goes to the heart of our question today.  So just by making an archive, are you canonising artists or is there a way to make this archive – and I think Norie’s words were really great that to engage in the practice of archiving rather than making the archive for this thing.

Because that’s crucial for us.  One thing that we haven’t touched on today is the whole – well I suppose we have touched on it, Darren’s touched on it.  But we haven’t really gone down that particular rabbit hole of institutional responsibility for the care, the curation of these works.  So curation, in many ways if we go back to the roots of the word, is about caring for the work.  So who cares for or about these works.  Many of us do, hence we’re here.  The dilemmas that we all face are crucial.  There are some of us who have taken on that responsibility personally.  The big question is should we really be doing that.  Shouldn’t someone else – some other – shouldn’t there be an institution like the National Library or ACMI or our museums, who should have the responsibility to collect this work which we consider to be important.

So far that hasn’t happened, not in Australia, and we’ve got – many of us have stories around that.  So in the face of that there are a number of us who have said, well let’s do it anyway.  That is a force of will and it comes at a cost for many of the individuals who are involved in that practice and that passion.  So that’s something that we need to be aware of as well.

Brogan Bunt:            I just want to ask a question on websites because there was that project – and I’d forgotten it – but I had one work included from a long, long time ago. What’s that called?

Stephen Jones:        Pandora.

Brogan Bunt:            Pandora, yes, it was…

Paul Thomas:            I mean there are, I think, a number of things that have come out – of you know, like the diagrammatic way of how that could be structured.  With Julianne now saying that there are a number of things but we also have the Synapse website.  So what went wrong?  Are we duplicating this? Maybe it could be a vehicle that would be perfect for this.

There are things out there that are being lost that are really important to the foundation of what we’ve done.  So I’m just wondering in this Plenary whether we want to focus this last bit on trying to think together or individually of synthesising some of what’s happened.  So that we make our marks very much about the next stage.  Which would help everybody doing their things – Stephen.

Stephen Jones:        I just want to remark or just comment on the archive versus history.  The archive is from what you draw the history.  Essentially the archive is the solid body of physical materials.  Well from my point of view it’s the paper and the video tapes and bits of old machinery and things from which you then you get the specific details that allow you to go and talk to the individuals – assuming they’re still with us – about what they did and why they did it and who they were doing it with and so on.  Or you can go and then probe more deeply, because there are lists of bibliographies and references in the backs of small catalogues and things like that and that points you to newspaper reviews, and from newspaper reviews you can often get a description of the show.

So you can’t get the physical experience of the show but you can go and get a damned good idea.  For example, Peter Kennedy’s neon light installation at Gallery A in the 70s.  The reviews that were there give you they are beautiful description if you synthesise between the three of them of the actual show and Donald Brook of course, who was an expert at that.  So, I have a physical archive, which is essentially under the current circumstances a private archive.  The reason it’s private is because I don’t want it to be taken apart and distributed around everybody else’s bloody desks.  But I have no particular objection to making it available to people who care to come and have a look.

But that physical archive can’t be translated into an Internet archive -into a virtual archive – because this is too damn big. It could take three or four people ten years to probably get it all together.  So there’s no money for that kind of thing around the place.  That archive will eventually go into an institution but I’m going to be probably dead by that stage [laughs].  Or at least, if living, non-compos.  So that’s the function of it, as far as I’m concerned and that’s what the book was written out of.  For my PhD – I went to the library three times over the five years the rest of it was written out of my private collection.  I think most people would agree that it the book is pretty comprehensive.

Anna Munster:         I mean that’s one instance of a particular kind of archiving impulse.  The other kinds of archiving impulses that say, Julianne has also pointed to would be certain media arts institutional archiving impulses like dLux or the Synapse database which had in effect made their own art history as a result of producing that archive.

Stephen Jones:        That’s right, yes.

Anna Munster:         So then I think the question that you raised, Julianne, is really important – I mean who is this for.  I think, say with Synapse – I mean for whatever ANAT thought Synapse was for – I think Synapse was more for the artists really but the problem is that artists move on. I get these emails from Synapse all the time going you haven’t upgraded, you know.  This is a kind of issue about – and it’s also come up from Doug – you know Doug’s recommendation has very strongly been: make it for the scholars who want to research the history.  Then I mean the question there is, well what’s in it for the artists then? Your suggestion very kind of – sort of tucked away in there was about remuneration and in a way I think that would be great but I don’t know if that’s feasible.

Stephen Jones:        In response to Anna’s question about remuneration, they get validated which means they are actually shows to have some sort of connection to a whole larger story, which is important.

Doug Kahn:              As far as oral history projects those are institutionally affiliated as well. You need to have some scholarship to ask all the right questions.  So you have some type of schematic of what you did when, and a way of moving through it. So you need not only a place to maintain some type of web archive it would be nice to have some kind of physical place, where each different institutional organisation’s archives and Stephen’s archive for instance are kept. I mean like the Getty Research Institute decided to buy up post WWII… and also whatever you want to know about Carolee Schneeman you can go there. I’ve been advised that there are actually Schneeman studies there.

I mean she was impoverished. I think she earned some coin selling her archives to the Getty.  But the oral history too, the Smithsonian Oral History Project so some of these they are going to – there’s got to be some remuneration or something going on for – because I’ve seen interviews on that.  Somebody’s done their homework and they go to where that person is, there’s travel expenses and they are there for a whole day or – and then somebody else comes around couple of years after that.  It’s really quite a lot.  The institutional thing is not only just the same web stuff or physical stuff but it’s also to generate it also.  I mean why isn’t there a national film and…

Ross Harley:            Sound archive.

Darren Tofts:            That’s another nut case story

Ross Harley:            Don’t even go there but we can – maybe after.


Justin Clemens:        I guess I just wanted to say, right okay, there’s some technological issues and there is some legal issues but the question is really – what do you think you’re doing, what do you want to do, and who are you speaking to right. They are the most basic questions that there are.  The most important institution of the 20th century and the newest and most radical was psychoanalysis.  Psychoanalysis worked by saying anything you like and we’ll just listen to what comes out, and then there’s the theatre of the analysts.  What does the analyst do, well whatever.

However what does psychoanalysis do with archiving? It starts off saying, what you were talking about you don’t know anything about.  But you keep talking until it comes out and I will listen to you until something registers that’s really important.  That I don’t know why and you don’t know why but we are going to register that and we’re going to transmit this then – we’re going to reinscribe this – in all sorts of different forms and then we’re going to disseminate it.  Now that’s a new institution of the twentieth century.  There has been nothing else like it.  One of the things about it is the principle of the solicitation of speech, the affirmation of speech of the other and the recording of it in a non-standard way – and in a way that is re-scribing it and re-transmitting them.

This is absolutely crucial because in the end nothing is going to keep that going except the desire for people to come in and keep saying those sorts of things. So validation may be one way of thinking about it.  So this is not a – I mean it’s not going to be picked up by a medical institution or university institutions as happens with psychoanalysis.  I’m just using this as a very simple model, so if you want to create a history of media arts we have to rely on ourselves.


Justine Clemens:      Just around the principles of archiving if something like that is, in my opinion, desirable, it’s doable.  It’s a different sort of technical architecture that’s necessary but at least it says we’re speaking – we’re very interested in this, we’re interested in recording this.  We’re going to record this in a new way and we’re going to transmit it so whoever wants to listen and they can pick out …

Brogan Bunt:            The other thing is I mean again, I think the questions are fairly relevant now.  Is it for posterity, something that we’re seeing that’s going to go and on and on.  Or is the database a particular way of articulating or prompting information about a variety of scenes. That then has meaning now, but doesn’t necessarily go on forever.  Or are you just trying to make sure that you got all the material for the future.

Anna Munster:         I think there’s a difference between wanting to do something for posterity, which is an – it’s an imperative and it has a trajectory, it has a movement.  There’s a difference between that and what you’re saying.

Justin Clemens:        Absolutely.  Absolutely.  I’m absolutely against the posterity idea.  I mean if it will happen that will be up to them.  But for us when we do it, I mean, that’s going to be up to us and that’s really the – and I also find it really helps that to work.  If we don’t have access to this material, don’t know how to get it.  So it’s going to be up to us to value the principles, it’s not posterity.

Doug Khan:              I think there’s – it’s a resource for writing history if you do not – one way to – I think one thing that people don’t understand is that history is not just retrospective, it’s also itself also prospective.  You never know until you try it.  I can tell you sometimes the material through – comes together in unexpected ways and I mean there’s the – one of my problems with media archaeology, the way that it’s often stated is that you have kind of this reverse keynotes.  You have – you may have, well we need to explain in the internet so why don’t we – what’s the 17th century stuff on the internet.  Whereas there’s – what about possibilities, potentials – what’s the – how do you open up or anticipate possibilities for dealing with the fact that the earth has gone to hell.

You can have a good database – you can see, well somebody did this solar power thing in 1971. You could go back and see just a whole other history.  But that’s the other thing there’s history writing and art writing generally that is normative or non-normative. A lot of historians and theorists end up being normative and telling artists what to do which never works out.  I think you get a lot of wannabes and cookie cutter artists but there’s a way to do a history in a way that’s non-normative and set out arrangement of positive rules. I think that’s another way to – another thing to keep in mind how you do histories that are non-normative.

Paul Thomas:            When I was doing the media arts scoping study, one of the reasons for it was to look at the curriculum about media art.  The reason for doing that was to see how art, media art, got disseminated into art education.  Which was then transpired into artists being involved. Then what was happening culturally at the same time to inspire that.  The reason I’m mentioning it, is because it seems to me that part of that is this culturalisation of it, in other words – what were the references that we’re looking at, what were they trying to do, where did this information come from.  How were some people who were trying to explore new territories of art actually getting their information, where is it coming from.

I was mentioning to Norie, when I was in Perth in ’96 the only thing I could find was like Sig theory and it was like a Godsend.  Suddenly Sig theory was coming into Perth over the top of any magazine that took months to get there and giving me current ideas.  Taking those to a meeting and discussing them currently and then trying to put them out into the ether was a way of trying to re-translate that back on.  Typing to an empty room with no one listening.  But that was shifting culture.  It was shifting culture of education and by a filtering effect what – my interest is in is how artists have been in some ways rhizomatialy looking and changing the culture and then how we can build on that rather than just lose it.  Because a lot of the curriculum and a lot of the exciting things they’ve done is actually lost.  We don’t have it anymore.

Lisa Gye:                  One of the – we had lots of discussions about this.  One of the difficulties I know you have is getting people to actually submit their work.  It’s gets back to the key problem of who does…

Paul Thomas:            I think as Justin’s saying, maybe they don’t care after a while. It’s done, they’ve had an exciting time therefore they don’t care if you like it.

Lisa Gye:                  Well, no I think we should care, that’s why we’re here. It gets back to the vicarious nature of the labour that goes into these passions.  You’re talking about the Getty, that’s a private institution and in Australia we don’t have a tradition of calling on private money to support these kind of activities.  But maybe this is exactly the kind of project where – I mean, as we know, we’ve established it’s pointless going through institutions.  They are all tied to government funding or through research funding like ARC because of the parameters they set there.  But there’s MONA down in Tasmania, who would have thought. Or in Istanbul this businessman, who is a collector, has set up this amazing media arts museum in his office.

So during the day people go in and work and then on the weekends people go in and look at art.  Which is such an incredible idea.  As long as we’re not terrified of being contaminated by commercial money, which I don’t think we should be.  I think there has to be – those opportunities have to be investigated because none of this can happen without money.

Julianne Pierce:        I mean just one comment – I think there are probably some key people that – you could probably talk to outside of this – I guess more scholarly sector is some of the curators and the …

Anna Munster:         Definitely got it in mind. We debated about whether to bring that sector into and decided that because we wanted to talk about these issues of historiography we wouldn’t.  But that’s another thing to – I mean the next phase of the project is going out and interviewing a whole lot of people including many people from that sector.

Norie Neumark:         Well, just – something said earlier about archiving. I’m interested in what is the archiving impulse for you in this project and that’s one question and another is that question of, do artists’ care.  But I think, Darren’s point with Phil Brophy like at one moment you don’t care and the next moment you do care.

Ross Harley:            Yes, exactly.

Norie Neumark:         I mean caring is a contingent like everything else. Making an archive – like the energy of your archive can produce – caring; do you know what I mean with this?

Ross Harley:            Yes, we haven’t talked about the remorse of no longer having that work that was – you got rid of it.  Anyway, that’s a whole other thing.

Julianne Pierce:        It’s like your teenage record collection.

Ross Harley:            That’s right, everyone’s purged their record collections…


Ross Harley:            That’s right, sorry; I think Andrew was going to say something.

Andrew Garton:       Yes – well I was curious about the question what is the archiving impulse.  I’ve got a huge archive of not only my own work but collected works of other people that I’ve worked with who happen to have brought some of their work into mine.  Or I’ve used aspects of their work to support project proposals or I’ve gone overseas and shown off a whole bunch of work.

But look there’s two things that I’m struggling with.  One is the sustainability of an electronic art or media art archive that’s reliant on a fossil fuel kind of infrastructure.

Ross Harley:            What isn’t.


Andrew Garton:       But the other issue is pure physicality.  For every day that I spend on the computer, I personally have to spend a day off because I’ve been sitting in front of the computer on and off since the Fairlight arrived in the ‘80s.  Now I physically can’t actually sit for longer than a few hours without getting pain.  So I can’t actually physically deal with the archive any more or with archiving.  I’m letting URLs go and all sorts of scenarios but I think that that’s a factor as well, is that there is a health issue related to the electronic media art and how that plays out.  My daughter who’s 27 this year is already suffering from considerable RSI using computers.

Paul Thomas:            I just wanted to say – because I thought Anna’s point was quite an interesting one when you talk about archiving history, just saying that the project you’re doing now and how to put it onto the net or the project that you were doing – you know taking a photograph of it, the interactive work.  Michelle was – yes, and then how to – because that’s almost an archiving as you’re doing it, in one sense.

Almost in – that sort of, see it, don’t know how to do it, need to archive it, want to make a document of it, put it on the web so it  needs to be in this format and therefore there’s this sort of re-thinking, in other words, you’re retracing almost when you’re going forwards.  I don’t think a lot of media artists do that because the media is specific in how you do it therefore you start to rethink the trace.  I think Synapse was interesting because it posed a question to artists.  Are they an unsigned artist, should they be on there.  Should they be on there, where do they fit into this.  Were the tags that you had to go through to put your work up relevant to you as an artist?  Or were they not.

So in some ways it set up this agenda, which I thought was interesting and was brought up earlier about bio arts – should it be dropped off, should it be added on.  Where do these things come and go.  What the archive seems to be doing is testing us all the time as well about what we have.

Doug Khan:              Coming back to Oliver’s diagram. The media art histories are a really important component in science and technologies and somebody like Robert Brandt, or Linda Henderson who is an art historian but she often publishes in – she does an overlap with STS and so some people the most dynamic scholars are in STS or the history of philosophy of science and so I think it’s – just for future – within this project, I think it would be good if there were people – I don’t know if there are people in Australia but – that have that type of overlap.  When Linda Henderson was writing the New York histories – it was that … and arts have brought into the field of literature and something else.  I mean one way that sort of adds to the whole scene would be to – Europe has an annual Society of Literature, Science and the Arts conference.

It would be a way to have a SLSA meeting in Australia if you think that there’s the numbers and that would probably be a place for the…

Anna Munster:         Liz Wilson is on the board of SLSA and she would probably be quite amenable to franchising something out to here.

Paul Thomas:            But what we’re saying is I think we’re running down now and I think that we’ve got the general feeling now that the energy’s changed and we want to go and get pissed because you’re all Australians and you don’t really care about archives.


Paul Thomas:            We did this for an interlude; we’re having the main meal now.

Ross Harley:            So thanks, Paul, that’s a great.  Let me have the final word.

Paul Thomas:            I wasn’t having the final word, let me introduce Ross for the final word.


Ross Harley:            It’s been a really great day, thanks very much for everyone’s contribution.  I think there are lots of great connections there and things to follow up.  Let’s officially close now.  I think Darren had a place where we can all go and meet.



Victorian College of the Arts