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nettime: LETTER TO PHOTOFILE - Linda Wallace
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nettime: LETTER TO PHOTOFILE - Linda Wallace


From: hunger {AT} sysx.apana.org.au

LETTER TO PHOTOFILE
from Linda Wallace

This reply follows letters from the curators of the "Burning the Interface"
exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary art (MCA), and the Office of Film
and Literature Classification in Australia.

My argument is with the fact that Cyberflesh Girlmonster (CG), in an
otherwise excellent show at the MCA,  could only be viewed by those over 18
years old -- an outcome I wouldn't call  "more than generous" at all.  I
wouldn't have been impressed if I was sixteen. A warning similar to that on
the CDROM on the gallery wall would have been sufficient. It is also not to
be forgotten that locking-off the work interrupted the potential flow of
viewing, as described in my review.

Australian youth live within the complexities of accelerated gender/role
change, relentless televisual screen violence, and everyday
micro-violences. I believe CG posits an attitude which is life affirming,
anti-violence and anti-drug use -- by telling it as the artist sees it.

Furthermore, rarely do today's techno-literate youth have a chance to
experience a computer interactive by an Australian woman of the
sophistication of CG. The work also has a particular cross-cultural
resonance, and is shown internationally without restriction.

As a work of art CG displays an elegance of intertextual play, rich and
surreal images, and a constant ambiguity of the modes and possessors of
power.

I recall seeing a group of noisy teenage schoolgirls who, in the right
place at the right time, slipped through the arbitrators' net at the AGNSW
to gain valuable insights on life via the cyberflesh of Dement's artwork.
I'd like to see Cyberflesh Girlmonster distributed to every school in
Australia.

Linda Wallace

============================

Feature review printed in the August 1996 issue of Photofile magazine,
published by the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, Australia.

Squatting the Media

Burning the Interface <International Artists' CD-ROM>
Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 27 March-14 July 1996

Reviewed by Linda Wallace

" A characteristic of the virtual class is that it is autistic. It's
an absolute meltdown of human beings into these autistic, historically
irresponsible positions, with a sexuality of juvenile boys being
happy with machines. Shutting down the mental horizon while
communicating at a global level and preaching disappearance. And why
not, because you've already disappeared yourself...But as the guide at
Xerox Parc said, "Who needs the Self anyway?" Privacy for these people
has always been imposed on human beings by corporations, it's not
something they claim they wanted. The Xerox Parc of the future is not
about copying paper anymore, but copying bodies into image processing
machines. And who needs privacy in such a situation?

They are not employees anymore but missionaries. Think about the
various stages of repression, from primitive capitalism, to the
limitation of social choices. None of those limitations apply to the
virtual class. Their form of domination is psychological repression.
They don't have a clear class consciousness. They truly believe that
technology equals human freedom." 1

A quick scan around most CD-ROM titles does not give an overwhelming
impression of technology equalling human freedom. There are only a few
titles which actively try to engage the viewer in a different way, and by
doing so, critique the notion of the 'virtual class'. The CD-ROM titles
showing as part of the Burning the Interface exhibition at the MCA, curated
by Mike Leggett and Linda Michael, all do this, albeit in a variety of
ways.

It would be doubtful that any of the titles in Burning the Interface ever
made any money back, let alone enough to cover the vast amount of work
which has clearly gone into every one of them. To produce works such as
these, a new level of technical literacy is demanded of artists, and a new
kind of humility. For the CD-ROM of today is extremely limited in what it
can technically do-it can only carry around 650 mb of information, so
movies are reduced to postage stamp size; it is dependent upon good
hardware, so if you view the CD-ROM on anything less than, say, a double or
triple speed drive, you are likely to grow irritated with the time it takes
for a new image to resolve itself.

All the artists featured in Burning the Interface are working within the
bounds of a technology, which, in its current form, is no doubt soon to be
rendered redundant. It is a (near) dead technology. Either new data
compression algorithms or new ways of putting down (burning) information
will be developed. In fact, this is on its way with the Digital Video Disc.
So what we have here is a slice of technological history-yet these artists
have managed to take this soon-to-be-archaic technology, and entwine its
surface with informational intricacies with which to amuse themselves and
those eager to become dangling flesh from one of the many Apple Mac
terminals by the waterfront at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

I have been to see this show a few times and every time the terminals are
crowded, with those waiting a turn perched like vultures in anticipation of
a viewer growing tired of the assortment of ROMs on any given machine.
Often the older passers-by in the museum seem to prefer to watch from afar,
foregoing their chance for ROM fascination. Maybe it takes a particular
mindset to see these works as interesting, although some are more
interesting than others.

There are many ways to begin to critique the works: one can consider the
conception of the interface, the navigation tricks and labyrinths, the use
of time, the use of sound as narrative structuring. In retrospect I like to
consider where the various works allowed you to go-that is, to go liminal
inside your own RAM brain.

"ScruTiny in the Great Round" is a pleasurable work. The CD-ROM began as an
artist's book in 1992, and grew into a collaborative effort between
Tennessee Rice Dixon, Jim Gasperini and Charlie Morrow (USA). It has a       
medieval sensibility of rich and fecund images on which are superimposed
brambles and decay; mythical animals transforming into other equally
evocative creatures. This work has an opiated dreamzone feel about it;
ironic, given its production was made possible by the sophisticated   
artefacts of late 20th century rationalism.

"Passengen" by Graeme Ellard and Stephen Johnstone (England) takes as its
starting point Walter Benjamin's use of the metaphor of panoramic vision
and the labyrinth in his unfinished text The Arcades Project
(Passengen-Werk). Starting on the tourist platform of, say, the Eiffel
Tower, with its ecstasy of aerial vision, the work asks the viewer to
follow a series of slowly unwinding threads which end in the depths of the
city, usually in the underground railway system.

John Colette's work "30 Words for the City" is another which shares this
sense of unfolding intimacy. One of the first CD-ROM artworks produced in
Australia, it presents a menu of 'words' through which the viewer can
navigate into the experience of life in the subtle body of the hard/soft
cities of Tokyo or someplace. It is a poetic and singular piece, almost
lonely: as the individual body moves through space, stories unfold as
poetic images, text and sound.

"The Exquisite Mechanism of Shivers" by Bill Seaman evokes a similar
dreamlike quality. Made up of a menu of 330 words, during the interactive
process a viewer can construct word/image/sound 'sentences'. An
installation version of this work was exhibited at the Art Gallery of NSW,
as part of the 9th Biennale of Sydney in 1992/93. To see it in the small
intimate space of the computer is an altogether different experience-the
viewer is in control, which is probably the point of many of these works.
They are small and personal, the dialogue is immediate and intimate.

It may be a cliche, but it is clear that Australian artists are at the
forefront of international electronic arts. Revisiting the Kroker text,
perhaps we-global leaders in our rate of take up of new technologies-are
also at the forefront of the development of the so-called 'virtual class'.

Some Australian artists maintain a position of 'honoured collaborators'
with technology, a kind of technological evolution, while others, like Brad
Miller, Linda Dement, SASS, Gerald Van Der Kaap and De-Lux'o seem to reject
this notion to take a more non-compromising position-one more akin to the
notion of 'Squatting the Media'. As Kroker contends, 'when Karl Jaspers
wrote Man and the Modern Condition he said that the fundamental act of
political rebellion today is the human being who refuses, who says no. It
marks the end of any hegemonic ideological position and the beginning of
politics again. "Squatting the Media" represents a refusal, and marks a
return of morality into politics. It would be important to take practical
examples of subversive intentions that operate deeply in cybernetic
language itself, not outside of the media-net but inside it'.2

It could be argued that Linda Dement's work does this. Cyberflesh
Girlmonster is a relatively small file size packed with power. Dement
scanned in a range of women's body parts during the 1994 Adelaide Festival
Artists' Week. Conglomerate bodies were made using the scanned images.
These 'monsters' were then animated and made interactive. When a viewer
clicks on one of these monsters, the words attached to that body part could
be heard or seen, a video may play, a story may appear or medical
information about that particular story may be displayed. Dement says "the
user moves blindly between these. There is no menu system or clear
controllable interface".

It seems that Cyberflesh Girlmonster burned through the interface of public
decency. The work had to go before the federal government's Office of Film
and Literature Classification. It received the equivalent of an 'R' rating,
though is not technically classified 'R'. The MCA had to 'lock off' the
work: anyone who wanted to view it had to ask an attendant and keeper of
the password to open it for them. To save anyone 'impressionable' from
seeing the work, the computer shuts down automatically if it hasn't been
interacted with for a few minutes. Since this is a work which invites the
viewer to read and linger over information for some time without
necessarily interacting, this regime radically interrupted the user's
relation to Cyberflesh Girlmonster-an intervention in the interactive
process completely at odds with the artist's intentions. Cyberflesh was
shown at last year's Perspecta at the AGNSW with none of this censoring. It
seems that the censors have suddenly realised that new media exist, and
want their two cents' worth. This problematises the status of the art work:
new media works are censored in a popular cultural context, yet exhibited
openly in a more rarefied 'art' context. It is also curious that many
female artists who work with technology produce work which is a bit too hot
for mainstream galleries or exhibition spaces to handle. Without doubt the
female interface will generate lots of heat in days to come.

===================

Linda Wallace is an artist, curator and writer.
email: hunger {AT} sysx.apana.org.au
images:
Linda Dement, Cyberflesh Girlmonster, 1995, still from interactive CD-ROM
ScruTiny Associates, ScruTiny in the Great Round, 1995, still from
interactive CD-ROM
Brad Miller, A Digital Rhizome, 1994, still from ineractive CD-ROM
Tamas Waliczky, The Forest, 1995, still from ineractive CD-ROM

Notes

1. Geert Lovink, interview with Arthur Kroker, 'The Theory of the Virtual
Class', on-line in CTHEORY. CTHEORY is available, free, by email; send a
message to <ctheory-request {AT} concordia.ca> with the word "subscribe" in the
body of the message. You can contact CTHEORY trough
<ctheory {AT} vax2.concordia.ca>
2. ibid.



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