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St Kilda Film Festival: digital links

Anna Dzenis

66B/cell, Cybermyth 66B/cell, Cybermyth
Fusion, n. Fusing; fused mass; blending of different things into one; coalition

"…when two strange images meet, two images that are the work of two poets pursuing separate dreams, they apparently strengthen each other…”
Gaston Bachelard, Poetics of Space

Fusion was an evening of multimedia presentations, a part of the St. Kilda Film Festival program. Curator Sue McCauley successfully brought together a range of material with the stated aim of exploring the interactive possibilities of digital media. The program was scheduled to take place in 3 separate sessions. The first introduced several new innovative CD-ROM works; the second focused on the demonstration of a number of politically charged interactive documentaries; and the third showcased a variety of performance pieces which also incorporated digital material.

Curator Sue McCauley comments: “As the curator of the program for the second year in succession, I knew that the festival and particularly the venue was a fantastic opportunity to showcase the latest in CD-ROM and performance. It is not often that artists get this sort of opportunity. As a survey type, I felt that I could do 3 very different sorts of programs where artists could demonstrate their works for the general festival-going audience.

“I have recently also coordinated the digital arts program for the Next Wave Festival, Wide Awake Dreaming at Twilight. In both events I focused on creating contexts for the exhibition of multimedia works that did not rely on viewers looking at works on the computer. I was interested in getting away from the idea that the site of production was the exhibition platform. I want to give artist the opportunity to escape the box when showing their work. So works were incorporated in installation, in theatrical peformance or as installations.”

It has become common practice to incorporate CD-ROMs into film festival programs. In the last couple of years at the Melbourne International Film Festival, exhibitions of multimedia works have been set up in foyers and adjacent gallery spaces enabling patrons to move between film screenings and the interactives. There were, however, several things that made the Fusion program quite distinctive. First was the diversity of material that was presented—a demonstration of the real range of work currently being undertaken. Second was the impressive way that a human presence was brought back to the centre of the multimedia stage. This took the form of the creators of the CD-ROMs actually presenting their work, taking the audience through some of the pathways of their creations, and answering questions about the work and the creative process. It also took the form, in the final session, of a number of manifestations of the performing body, from playfully acerbic monologues to high-tech choreographed dance ensembles.

The first session, Surface Tension, featured 2 CD-ROMs which could be described as explorations of personal spaces and the subterranean, shifting zones beneath the surface of things. Leon Cmielewski and Josephine Starr’s Dream Kitchen is an interactive stop-motion animation. The space for this interactive is a pristine, gleaming kitchen setting. Cmielewski explained that the concept originated in a story from Japan where people put on VR helmets to see what their dream kitchen might be like. Once we start to explore this dream zone, however, we encounter ‘eaky borders’ which allow us to slip into the oven, under the fridge, down the sink. Here we discover debris, missing pens and pencils, and rodents: we are even able to administer electric shock to a rat. Each return to the kitchen space finds it in increasing disarray—dirtier, messier, falling apart. In comparison, the space for Matthew Riley’s Memo is more personal and meditative. Riley’s idea was to create an artist’s diary full of hand-drawn, painterly sketches and scrawling text in a high-tech medium. He wanted this journal-like structure to incorporate his many observations of the relationships between popular culture and the everyday. And he felt that interactivity would enable him to suggest complex conjunctions of meaning between situations as diverse as phone sex, football, gambling, and shopping, with a focus on the different ways in which language works.

The second session featured a series of interactive documentaries with tough political and educational agendas. It became clear that interactivity has provided practitioners with many new opportunities. It was also evident from the work that the interactive form of documentary has become the site of close callaboration between the subjects and the storytellers. Filmmaker and activist Richard Frankland introduced the CD-ROM The Lore of the Land and spoke of the way Fraynework Multimedia’s work supported Indigenous people in telling their own stories by not editing the material that they have collected. Similar sentiments were expressed by those who worked on the disturbing and poetic East Timor Identity, Resistance and Dreams of Return. The producers saw themselves as facilitators encouraging the stories of East Timorese refugees in exile to be told. The final documentary, Mabo: The Native Title Revolution, turned out to be an equally interesting hybrid that includes a re-edit of filmmaker Trevor Graham’s Land Bilong Islanders with a new ending taken from his other film Mabo: Life of an Island Man. A great deal of extra material has also been gathered together into this CD-ROM to make it a valuable research resource with clear educational potential.

The third session was the most provocative and high octane. Live performers interacted with digital projections of pre-recorded images—a fusion of voices, bodies, and dancing limbs in a multimedia theatre-scape. Frank Lovece’s Poopants was a voice-driven work dedicated to narrative. Lovece’s fast-track monologue touched on issues of violence, the republic, race and class as his words and voice interacted with projected image fragments. A series of screens and structures were strategically set up on stage to further break up and fragment the images, and complicate possible readings or interpretations. The next 2 performances were Cazerine Barry’s innovative dance works. Pony Girl took its inspiration from Girl’s Own Annuals and Barry’s prancing, energetic body took mock riding lessons from a 60s style projected voice. Lampscape was a more mesmeric piece with Barry dancing behind a large gauze screen shadowed by, and interacting with, images of herself projected through the screen—a theatre of the figural. The final performance was a futuristic work of alchemy which came from the Tokyo-based collaborative group 66b/cell’s Cybermyth, a collaboration of Japanese and Australian performers. The work they presented was a remix of Goethe’s Faust—a kind of Faust in Space—with characters plucked from the text free-form, clothed in graphically striking cyber costumes which intermittently flashed and created their own light shows, performing choreographed Butoh-inspired dance movements which also incorporated digital video projections. During question time, one of the artists explained that they had tried the piece with visuals alone but felt that it wasn’t enough. The stage, they said, needed a human body.

This was one of Fusion’s real achievements. Invoking McCauley’s words, Fusion was a program which “escaped the box”.

Fusion, St Kilda Film Festival, The George Ballroom, Melbourne, June 2

RealTime issue #38 Aug-Sept 2000 pg. 20

© Anna Dzenis; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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