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Negotiating and representing experiences of the city through the lens of new media was the broad theme of this year’s ‘Primavera’, a showcase of work by artists under the age of 35, curated by Julianne Pierce. New media is a slippery term at the best of times, and with its prefix ‘new’—always in a state of becoming—any attempt to define it remains mutable. In an exhibition context, this kind of theme generally sets up expectations of dazzling hi-tech and immersive special effects, alongside tedious interactives with ‘point and click’ interfaces. Thankfully, Pierce’s curatorial decisions made sure the show suffered very little from an uninspiring interpretation of the term: most of the artists extended various critiques of their medium through rigorous formal and conceptual explorations, with video at the fore.
The majority of works were shown in separate rooms as discrete installations, exploiting the slippage between new media installation and cinematic spectatorship. Moving from work to work was like a Surrealist exercise in movie going, stepping from one darkened room to the next, and relying on brief ‘chance encounters’ to weave an overall narrative stream.1
Alex Davies’ installation Filter Feeder (2002) used the live arbitrary movements of domestic goldfish swimming in a bowl to trigger environmental changes in the sounds and imagery of his installation. Neon green and acidic orange light, bruised with a changing palette of muted blues and pinks, generically approximated the look of streaming data in his visual display. The random sound of electronic clicks and murmurs, however, generated the environment’s depth and operated as a more engaging field for imaginative projection. The work’s muffled acoustics, pooled from live radio transmissions, were interrupted by intermittent clicks of static, and the melodic sounds of water were like auditory aide-mémoires that transported the viewer into a realm of sensations.
Mari Velonaki’s work, Embracement (2003), also utilised an open-ended or non-linear plot to disorientate the viewer’s perceptions. The installation used a suspended screen as well as a wall projection to loop a mother and daughter’s alternating embrace of love and violence. For all the hype of the wall notice in terms of the work’s technological innovation, its psychological drama was weak and highly derivative of Gillian Wearing’s accomplished work Sacha and Mom (1996). Also burdened by a technical complexity which outweighed the work’s content was Adam Donovan’s Heterodyning Cage (2002). His work utilised a robotic tracking system designed to follow the viewers and adjust the projected perspective of a building’s exterior in accordance with their movements, but the end result was unrewarding. The cumbersome set-up, complete with 3-D viewing glasses, just did not work—visually or conceptually—frustrating any ‘real’ connection with the simulated environment.
Shaun Gladwell’s slow motion ‘freestyle’ skate moves in Kickflipper: Fragments edit (2000-03) revisited the sublime grace of some of his previous work shot around Bondi Beach. The decelerated and edited footage of skateboard tricks articulated the varied nuances of Gladwell’s movement, allowing him to choreograph the transient semiotics of skateboarding against this enduring site of historical significance. Gladwell’s filmed performance in this location enacted a dialogical critique of Bondi’s cultural significance against alternate definitions of its (sub)culture. This work complemented Kamilaroi/Wiradjuri artist, Jonathan Jones’ work, 68 Fletcher, Bondi, 20:20, 8.6.03 (2003), which used a constellation of suspended domestic light bulbs to chart the suburban skyline of North Bondi and its relation to Australian identity. The oscillating patterns of the lights, triggered by motion sensors created a dot motif offering a complex metaphor for the binary codes of race and the transience of life.
Leading the charge against another facet of Australia’s sporting life was the Kingpin’s sophisticated dual video projection of their drag performance, Welcome to the Jingle (2003). One wall of their installation showed the Kingpins as Aryan athletes with bad skin, sporting cheesy ’70’s moustaches, and dressed in lurid green tracksuits. Their outfits matched the logo of Starbucks cafes where they surprised staff and customers by performing choreographed callisthenics to an electronic soundtrack. Pitted against this imagery, on the facing wall of the installation space, the group performed the role of grotesque Herculean coaches puffed up on performance enhancing drugs, urging the athletes on with a hellish rage and heavy metal roars. These two MTV style video clips satirised the mass marketing machine of youth culture, while also drawing attention to the insidious Americanisation of Australia’s national identity through consumer aesthetics.
The more successful works in ‘Primavera’ were those that engaged with aspects of media culture in critical relation to its place within society. Overall, Pierce’s selection of works, in combination with the exhibition’s layout, managed to avoid becoming a side-show display of special effects by drawing the audience’s attention to the ways in which both the pleasures and threats of new technology mediate our experiences of urban space.
1. This approach to navigating the show’s thematic content subtly references the Situationist International’s concept of the ‘dérive’—a person’s engagement with the city’s geography as a series of affective encounters brought about by drifting or wandering through the its spaces. In his aptly titled essay ‘Unfinished Business’ Peter Lunenfeld links the concept of the ‘dérive’ to web browsing, and thus conceptualises an idea of digital drifting and the open-ended or ‘unfinished’ narrative space of the internet. See: Lunenfeld, P. (ed.). ‘Unfinished Business’ in The Digital Dialectic: New Essays on New Media, MIT Press, 2000 (1999), pp.7-21.