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The Hobart Fringe Festival was set up several summers ago as a means for performers and practitioners in the experimental and non-mainstream arts to gain greater exposure. Tasmania has a rich vein of talent, across all the arts, but rather too few opportunities for these talents to be showcased. This goes for the experimental arts in particular. The entire Fringe Festival functions on a lot of enthusiasm and goodwill and a limited budget. Happily, the organisers are able to bring together a variety of smaller arts events, some of which would be taking place in any case, giving them a wider profile by including them within the Fringe, which runs for 2 weekends and the intervening week.

One of the best resolved and most professional events within this year’s Fringe Festival was the Multimedia Mini-Festival, curated by local video and performance artist and musician Matt Warren. Warren, current recipient of a Samstag Scholarship, will soon undertake MFA studies in Canada. Over the past few years he has been very active, statewide, in presenting individual, collaborative and specially-commissioned innovative public arts events combining elements of performance, sound, video and installation.

With few film events currently being held on any regular basis in Tasmania, the Mini-Festival was a terrific opportunity for artist-exhibitors and audiences alike. We have only limited opportunities to study film and video making in any depth—and professional openings are rare—so the existence of an enthusiastic culture of film and video artmaking and appreciation is doubly impressive.

One of the highlights was Film & Video on the Fringe, a well balanced evening screening of short films and videos, by mostly local artists, held at the theatre at the Hobart School of Art. (At the School of Art itself, the popular and well equipped Video Department, run by highly regarded video artist and musician Leigh Hobba, has been for some time teetering on the brink of threatened closure, ill-advised and unpopular though such a move would be.)

The stand-out works included the video Where Sleeping Dogs Lay by Peter Creek, looking at the consequences of domestic violence. Its absorbing 2-hander dialogue format is jeopardised by a tacked-on bit of drama, designed (probably) to provide some visual variety and ‘action’, but not a total success. Tony Thorne’s amusing animation Serving Suggestion is a subversive piece about consumerism and physical stereotypes. Its humour is from the South Park bodily fluids and functions school of wit, but it manages to present its own, original take on this well-worn theme. The closing credits are amongst the most fascinating and well executed I’ve seen.

Prominent emerging local filmmaker Sean Byrne’s Love Buzz takes a familiar if far-fetched plot device and makes it fresh and credible. There is some interesting—and deliberately self-conscious—dialogue, marred, however, by the technical limitations of the soundtrack. Dianna Graf’s short (3 min) video-collage of still photographic images is a simple idea seductively brought to fruition. But perhaps the most engaging work is Matt Warren’s short video, Phonecall, another very simple concept actualised, in this case, into something Kafkaesque in its disturbing unreadability.

It is night and a pyjama-clad Warren has clearly been woken from sleep by the ringing phone. The audience then simply listens as he responds; warily, laconically, impatiently and so on, to whatever is on the other end of the phone (which is never revealed). Something a bit suspect seems to be being discussed, but we can never quite tell; nothing is spelt out or explained. As in a genuine phonecall, there is no concession made for eavesdroppers; we get this tantalising, one-sided conversation, a monologue in effect, delivered by Warren in exasperated tones that hit just the right subtle comic note. The work is at once cryptic (in its spoken content) and familiar (the scenario of being summoned to the phone at an inappropriate moment, or for an unwelcome encounter). A minor masterpiece of observation and commentary.

Another interesting festival event was the setting-up at Contemporary Art Services Tasmania of a small video/digital art space, to remain in place after the festival, with a changing program of high-tech work. For the Mini-Festival, this multimedia room presented interactives and a quicktime movie along with examples of websites, all by local artists. For artlovers less than familiar with new media, this engaging program was a good introduction to the web and to computer-generated and interactive works. It is pleasing that CAST has taken the initiative to provide permanent exhibition space for this popular artform which is rarely shown at commercial or major public galleries. In its main gallery, CAST featured a challenging group show, Transmission, with the high-tech arts represented by Matt Warren’s hypnotically atmospheric video, I Still Miss You, minimalist digital prints by Troy Ruffels and intriguing lenticular photography from Sarah Ryan.

Arc Up, a rave party featuring a multimedia presentation It felt like love (music and film projection by Stuart Thorne and Glenn Dickson, with animations by Mark Cornelius and ambient video by Matt Warren) completed the main Multimedia Mini-Festival, but a Super 8 Film Competition and the event Celluloid Wax, held at the quirky cabaret-style venue Mona Lisa’s, also helped ensure that media arts had a high profile as an important component of the Hobart Fringe Festival.
Festival curator Warren observes, “I jumped at the chance when I was asked to curate the multimedia segment of the 1999 Hobart Fringe Festival because it’s my area of expertise and I thought it would allow me to check out lots of new stuff I hadn’t seen before. This new work needs to be seen and a festival is the ideal way to draw attention to it. The Film and Video on the Fringe screening attracted a full house and the Mini-Festival at CAST had a steady stream of visitors, so I believe my area of the festival—like the Fringe overall—was a success.”

Despite the difficulties confronting new media in Tasmania, the outlook is encouraging: connoisseurs can look forward to the Australian Network for Art and Technology’s 2-week masterclass/seminar in new media curating and theory to be held in Hobart in April. A highlight will be the associated exhibition of work by up-and-coming Tasmanian multimedia artists curated by Leigh Hobba, for the Plimsoll Gallery at the Centre for the Arts.

Film and Video on the Fringe: The Fringe Multimedia Mini-Festival, curated by Matt Warren, various venues around Hobart, January 30 - February 7.

RealTime issue #30 April-May 1999 pg. 25

© Di Klaosen; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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