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BEAP 2004: Perth—digital city

Keith Gallasch

Metraform, Ecstasis, 2003 Metraform, Ecstasis, 2003
Courtesy of the artists
If anything stands out from the themes of the 5 constellating exhibition/conferences of the BEAP 2004 (Biennial of Electronic Arts Perth) under the banner of SameDifference, it’s an implicit evocation of a world in transition, same but different—very different. While the themes are those we have grown up with as new media evolved as art in the 1990s, they have become more focused, more acutely suggestive of profound perceptual shifts (subtler than the imagined impact of VR) and politically actual (everything from electronic voting to advanced genetic manipulation).

However BEAP Director Paul Thomas is just as concerned to “reduce unnecessary difference”, such as that accentuated by geographical distance. He sees BEAP as vital for Perth, with the capital becoming “a digital city” in the course of the event, integrating local artists into the international scene. As he explains, Perth already has much in the way of new media assets, including the bio-art of SymbioticA, an artist-run laboratory uniquely placed within the Biological Science Department at the University of Western Australia. It’s time, Thomas thinks, for Perth to transcend its old-tech US branding of “City of Light.” The integrative aspect of BEAP is reflected in the way that the event is based in partnerships with universities, galleries and companies, and expanded beyond the immediate event with BEAPWORKS, which provides grants for local new media artists whose art will be showcased in the 2005 Perth International Festival of the Arts. Perth, says Thomas, is “a microcosm for exploring the social impact of biological, sonic, perceptual and distributive effects of new media without creating difference.” Each theme in BEAP is realised as an exhibition: 5 openings on successive days, and a conference relating to each exhibition on the subsequent day. Wisely, the conferences don’t compete; you can attend the lot.

Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr of SymbioticA are curating Bio-Difference: Born and Bred an exhibition and conference that will consider notions of normality versus abnormality and the monstrous. Technologically sustained artworks featuring “living and (semi-living) objects/subjects” will raise issues of otherness and eugenic manipulation and will certainly test the notion that art is well-placed to debate current ethical controversies. The sometimes seductive, if worrying beauty of these creations warrants aesthetic consideration too in the relationship between laboratory and gallery.

Data-Difference: The Dissolution of Locale is an online exhibition curated by Pauline Williams with an accompanying conference focusing on the impact in public and private places of immersive media on our experience of space: “the blurring of the boundaries between place/space and viewer/artist.” How we describe this space is critical. Williams cites Legrady: “one should consider Internet space as a metaphoric space accessed through a technological window linking individuals in real time across geographical territories.” (Legrady, G., New Screen Media: Cinema/Art/Narrative, ed. Martin Rieser and Andrea Zapp, BFI publishing, London, 2002).

Sound artist Nigel Helyer is curating Sonic-Difference: Re-sounding the World. Helyer argues that “audio has habitually been forced to play poor cousin in visually over-driven cultures.” However sound artists “have retained their position as pioneers of new creative methodologies and technologies”, consistently operating at the science-art juncture and playing a seminal role in developing immersive technologies. The Sonic-Difference Exhibition will feature architecturally site-specific works and outdoor or environmental projects while The Sonic-Difference Audio Lounge + the Aural-Web will provide both a physical listening space housing a comprehensive experimental sound archive as well as hosting a virtual sound-space in the form of web audio-cast.

Perceptual-Difference: Vision Systems is curated by Chris Malcolm of the John Curtin Gallery presenting works “exploring the boundaries of our current understanding of perception.” The conference will “investigate current theory and research into perception examining new technological developments that enhance artists’ abilities to visualise the invisible, help us unravel the real from the virtual and explore the moments in between.” New technology offers artists new ways to communicate, new ways for audiences to experience: issues of newness (and our neophilia) and neurological and phenomenological reconceptualisation will figure in the conference. The social and political impact of new media is the subject of Jeremy Blank’s Distributed-Difference program, an investigation into the shifting ground of local/global in networked distribution looking at globalisation, surveillance, tactical media and virtual culture.

BEAP promises full-on immersion in new media art, discussion and debate. The full program and an impressive list of visiting artists and thinkers will be announced in early August. Keep up with BEAP as it unfolds by joining us online as the RealTime team reviews exhibitions and reports conferences daily from the digital city (

BEAP (Biennial of Electronic Art Perth), John Curtin University and various venues, Exhibitions Sept 7-Nov 17, Conferences Sept 7-12,

RealTime issue #62 Aug-Sept 2004 pg. 27

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

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