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The limits of vapourware

Mitchell Whitelaw

When the technocorporate world makes false promises or spins attractive fictions, we call its artefacts "vapourware." This is accepted, more or less, as an industrial by-product, the collision of overcooked marketing and accelerated rates of change. New media art has often assumed the trappings of the techno-corporation, sending it up while exploiting its brand power, using vapourware as an ironic container for critical and artistic substance. Patricia Piccinini's early L.U.M.P work comes to mind, but there are many other examples.

In The Symbiotic Bacterial Light Project, however, the container is empty and the artwork itself is vapourware. Artists Kathy Takayama and John Nicholson set the work up with cues announcing "science": a shelf of test tubes with coloured liquid and specimen jars. A giant mirrored Luxcorp logo is affixed to the wall. In the main darkened room of the installation are more objects: a futuristic solarium bed emitting a greenish glow and an array of gently bubbling liquid-filled, green-lit tubes. Tiny green lights are suspended around the room. The objects are quite blank in themselves-they seem too simple to be authentic, like theatre props seen up close.

From the title of the work we might infer that we're bathing in bacterial light, but as the objects suggest this is a big fake. The artists' statement in the ante-room dissembles: "Through deliberate fictions, LuxCorp applies research strategies to create real technology." They go on: "This product is not of our time but a product of the future, or rather, Science Fiction."

The artists imagine a kind of domesticated biotechnology; luminescent bacteria as lifestyle option, a neat counterpoint to modern antibacterial hygiene. A fine idea, but the work does nothing to address it with any substance. Most frustrating of all, bioluminescence is a real and interesting phenomenon which the work doesn't engage with, despite the stated aims of the project: "The Symbiotic Bacterial Light Project...was formed to research and develop the functional capabilities of the natural process of bioluminescence with respect to its creative application towards visual media and interactive technology."

Perhaps, in the fine tradition of vapourware, the technology just isn't there yet. If so, I would have much preferred the artists to be a bit more open about it.

The Symbiotic Bacterial Light Project, artists Kathy Takayama and John Nicholson; Gorman House Arts Centre, Canberra Contemporary Artspace; May 14-June 18

RealTime issue #62 Aug-Sept 2004 pg. Onl

© Mitchell Whitelaw; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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