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An Eccentric Orbit: Introduction


An Eccentric Orbit

At a time when culture is increasingly understood in global terms, it is important that artworks produced outside the orbit of the mainstream are given due attention. Though it no longer seems feasible to define these spaces in terms of national identity, the search for distinguishing characteristics of nations whose culture is essentially pluralistic prevails.

An Eccentric orbit: Video Art in Australia offers a unique opportunity to reflect upon these questions by way of a group of artists whose divergent preoccupations and styles no doubt will come as a surprise to many.

The idea of organising such a Comprehensive survey of Australian video works to tour the United States was first conceived by the Whitney Museum’s John Hanhardt in 1986. Struck by the vitality and sophistication of many videos he saw while visiting Australia, he suggested that though many of these works were unknown in the U.S., they would be of great interest to an American audience. Putting us in contact with Sam McElfresh, energetic curator of media exhibitions at the American Federation of Arts, we developed an exhibition that could tour the world over.

Featuring material by more than thirty artists working in Australia, and spanning a period of 12 years, the exhibition is the first of its kind to tour the Americas, Europe and beyond. Although much of the material has been seen in video and new media festivals around the world, this is the first opportunity audiences will have to encounter these works collectively. As such, the exhibition provides an excellent introduction (though by no means exhaustive) to the cultural and aesthetic concerns of many Australian videomakers.

Over the years it has taken to organise this show, we have witnessed many technological changes that have radically altered the way video art is produced. Many artists who have previously worked with tape and analogue image -processors now use digital technologies in whole or in part. Consequently, An Eccentric Orbit includes a variety of works that utilise digital formats - computer animation, laser disc, CD-ROM and so forth. Though we continue to call this work “video art”, it is worth noting that video is an evolving media destined to be integrated with, or even

An exhibition of this size and scope requires the involvement of a large number of people. My gratitude is extended firstly to the artists who have made their work available for the tour. The Australian Film Commission has been extremely generous in its advice and support since the project’s inception. Without its financial assistance, this exhibition would not have been possible. Thanks are particularly due to the Commission’s Sue Murray and Shane McConnochie, who have enthusiastically managed the project; Victoria Treole and Julie Regan, who encouraged the development of the exhibition during its early stages; and Gary Warner, who made available a large number of rare
videos and gave his informed view of the state of new media in Australia. The Australian Film Commision’s Michael Hill and Nicole Martin have also generously assisted with the project in a variety of ways. Gratitude is extended to Stephen Jones for making his archival material available for viewing.

Special thanks go to Alessio Cavallaro, whose meticulous coordination of the project in Australia ensured we met all our deadlines in America; my colleague, Peter Callas; Greg Ross and Andy Papas at the University of New South Wales AV Unit; John Colette for his design of this catalogue; the American Federation of Arts’ Robert Workman and Jillian Slonim; Barbara London and Sally Berger at the Museum of Modern Art; and to Sam McElfresh, whose enthusiasm and experience helped realise a professional exhibition.

Ross Harley
Sydney, August 1994