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The Electrofringe learningfest

RealTime talks to Gail Priest and Vicky Clare

One among Newcastle’s This is not Art festivals, Electrofringe is on as we go to print, drawing thousands to the opportunity to engage with new technology, cross-artform practices and national and international luminaries. We spoke with Co-directors Vicky Clare and Gail Priest in a brief pause between the many months of intensive planning and its imminent realisation.

With the dominance of workshops and panels and presentations and master classes, Electrofringe doesn’t sound like a festival. It sounds like hard work. It sounds educational.

GP Joyously educational!

VC Some people do trip up on the word ‘festival’, but Electrofringe is focussed on skills and arts development because it’s younger people attending who are not established artists or who don’t necessarily have at their disposal the knowledge or the resources to be able to do things they want...Because new media arts across Australia is still quite small, it’s good to create a hub once a year where people can come and exchange ideas, get involved.

Do they really learn things? The overt function is to learn but the latent function is usually socialising and— networking.

GP There’s certainly networking but not aggressive career trajectory networking. When you’re talking with other artists about what you do, you’re going to pick up on things you might not be doing. We’ve focussed the sound workshops on patching at the developmental level. Then we have an advanced level so that we’re simultaneously introducing people to aspects of the technology that they might not be accessing yet, allowing them to see what the next step might be.

VC A small workshop group that I attended at last year’s Electrofringe was about game art and I met Kipper from Melbourne who went on to make the Escape from Woomera game, but who at the time didn’t have a way into any networks. She rallied a group of people there including me and I talked to her about ways she might access support and she then went on to do that. Game art in this festival is a lot more prominent. And Kipper’s coming back.

GP Those things come about as part of the general cultural discussion that goes on. We’re really trying to push this year a mesh between the technical and the conceptual. When people are talking about the technology they’re using they’re also addressing the reasons why they’re using it, how it enhances their practice conceptually. We also have the Jonah Brucker-Cohen (USA) master class and text panels like Writings on New Media which are very specifically about addressing the strength and health of new media culture.

Brucker-Cohen’s work covers a huge area of new media practice with a predominant theme of physicalising the virtual processes in new media technology. I just noticed a new work of his where every time there’s a web hit on an art centre, a jackhammer actually chips into the wall. So it’s all about the realtime effects of the virtual. Some of his work is more software based and about human connectivity. One piece is called Mousetracker in which you connect via the net to another person and your mutual mouse movements are traced onto your desktop. Quite simple ideas about re-connecting people through virtual technology.

VC The Midi Scrapyard Challenge is a real hands-on workshop which will run for 4-5 hours where people can scout around for materials and make midi interfaces.

Does everyone arrive with their own laptops—and soldering irons?

GP We’ll supply the soldering irons.

VC A lot of people arrive with laptops because all their data is on there that they need to be able to plug in.

Who are your other guests?

GP Marije Baalman (Nederlands/ Germany) does wave field synthesis. It’s the re-spatialising of audio as non-directional, whereas in 5.1 Surround Sound there’s one position that’s always the sweet spot and if you move off centre it’s affected. Her work is about creating different envelopes that can re-spatialise in different ways giving greater sensory experience for more of an audience. Marije’s also bringing the work of 7 Berlin artists with her. She’ll do a master class followed by a presentation where she’s applied these techniques to other people’s compositions. We’re trying to give artists an opportunity to present their work in a complete enough form so you get a solid chunk rather than a snippet. That’s what the AV presentations are about–a 40 minute presentation and then a 20 minute discussion on the ideas behind the artist’s work.

DJ Olive (USA) and Janek Shaefer (UK) are turn-tablists. We’re sharing them with Sound Summit, a more music-based festival. Olive and Shaefer do the experimental end of turn-tablism and both do installation work as well. This session will be a demo-presentation–Shaefer has a triphonic turntable with 3 arms.

VC ANAT are helping to bring out the-phone-book Ltd (UK). We’ll have a space with computers for this one. They’re interested in a whole different range of wireless distribution methodologies. A lot of that technology, like the 3D video phone, isn’t readily available here yet so this will be about forecasting, about using this ubiquitous thing called the mobile phone in more creative ways, creating SMS short stories, inventing your own ring tones and animations. It involves software they’ve developed where you can send your animations through to other people’s mobile phones. They’re also interested in how to use these technologies as activist tools.

GP When that technology arrives, we’ll have a body of people who will have a feel for where it can go. And they can take it into their own hands instead of being totally manipulated by advertising.

You’ve got a whole lot of other things happening. How does it work?

VC When I’ve been to Electrofringe over the past 3 years, I’ve always gone to bits of all of it. Even though I’m not a sound producer myself, I go to those sessions just to get an overview. The sound/AV people who are practising artists can be very focussed and sometimes not understand the need for having panels about the whys and wherefores of being a new media artist or curator. But I think the idea of the whole new media arts thing as an ecosystem is important.

Convergence is an issue after all.

GP Exactly...the convergence within the 5 or 6 strands of Electrofringe and across the whole of This Is Not Art. The writers’ festival content involves aspects of new media, as do Sound Summit and Student Media and we’ve got a community TV panel.

How important is Electrofringe in terms of galvanising a community. Is it just the young new media community?

VC No it's the broader community. There’s been an effort to get more established artists to come back, to set up informal mentorships and ongoing relationships that can happen after the festival. Artists like Nigel Helyer have been to Electrofringes in the early days and Alex Davies who’s in Primavera now has come up through Electrofringe. You’re almost seeing a generation who have grown up through it but who are now coming back and now they’re running the workshops and speaking on the panels. A lot of the time, as your practice matures, you tend to stay with your peers. Artists like Josephine Starrs love coming to Electrofringe because it helps her access and make works with these people and have that dialogue.

GP It’s not academic, unlike a number of the other new media gatherings. It’s very much about experience. You feel like you’re beginning to have a practice. With over 50 workshops, panels, presentations and masterclasses involving over 100 artists, Electrofringe is the only cross-media, new media art festival in Australia at the moment, it serves a big constituency.

** *** **

Electrofringe this year will also include New Writings on New Media, a forum about issues in writing about new media, and a very strong program of screen events. From an open call for proposals 3 programs were curated with all states represented. In an important new collaboration, Newcastle Regional Gallery have offered their media space for works best suited to gallery screening. noise, the Reelife festival, Seattle’s Microcinema International and Tim Parish, who works for community TV in Melbourne, have put together programs screening throughout Electrofringe. Game art is another important part of Electrofringe in the FraGGed program of exhibits and forums put together by Thea Bauman, a young curator from Brisbane. Portasonde is dLux Media Art’s contribution to Electrofringe from its regional NSW outreach program. Fourteen Newcastle people have signed up for 3 days of workshops in sound with Allan Giddy, Jamil Yamani and Mark Brown onsite on the Shepherd Hill coastline in a campervan fitted out with facilities to record, edit, mix and produce sound.

This Is Not Art: Electrofringe, Newcastle, Oct 2-6,

RealTime issue #57 Oct-Nov 2003 pg. 27

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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