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Play for fun, play for enlightenment

Experimenta Under the Radar tours to the UK

Joyce Hinterding, David Haines, House II: <BR />The Great Artesian Basin, USA 2003 (2003) Joyce Hinterding, David Haines, House II:
The Great Artesian Basin, USA 2003 (2003)
courtesy of the artists
As part of the Undergrowth program of Australian art touring to the UK in 2005-06, Experimenta is showing a collection of works drawn from The House of Tomorrow (2003) and Vanishing Point (2005), large scale new media art exhibitions that attracted considerable audiences in Australia. Both shows turned curious viewers into hands-on users of the artworks or made them their subjects. Audiences were amused, intrigued and sometimes disturbed, for example by the figures that suddenly appeared behind them in Alex Davies’ Dislocation but who were not really there, or the grim behavioural cycle activated in Van Sowerwine’s Expecting. But even these have their moments of humour, rooted in surprise.

In her catalogue essay for Experimenta’s Under the Radar, “The Art of Playing Up” (, Shiralee Saul makes much of 2 things. One is the quick uptake of new technology by Australians:

For a start, Australia is a nation of early adopters and enthusiastic adapters. Australian artists have used every new bit of technology in their work just as soon as they could get their hands on it…Australians were among the first generation of media artists to receive international recognition and Australian artists remain at the forefront of new developments in concept and practice.

It’s an optimistic view, one certainly challenged by arts funding bodies and universities in recent times but can still be argued for. The other focus of Saul’s observations is Australian humour, because while our geographical isolation has yielded “a ‘cultural cringe’ has also granted [Australians] a sense of license. They can heckle from the sidelines. They thumb their noses at tradition.” But it’s not just mockery for its own sake: “It’s easy to mistake this sassiness for a lack of seriousness. It’s all too tempting to overlook the significance of humour, to ignore the bite in irony.”

In the Australian embrace of the new Saul discerns a creative playfulness which fits us to make the most of new technologies as both artists and consumers. She cites Darren Tofts’ opinion in his book Interzone that computer gaming is central to the emergence of media art.

Liz Hughes’ selection of works for Experimenta Under the Radar confirms Saul’s account: “Playfulness in all its guises is the thread that stitches together Experimenta’s selection of contemporary Australian artworks.” It’s a show packed with works that entertain but often demand that little extra, challenging perception, identity, function and the very nature of art.

In February this year RealTime witnessed the sheer pleasure of audiences at Arnolfini’s Inbetween Time Festival engaging with new media works by British and Australian artists. The range and variety offered by Experimenta Under the Radar should guarantee success. As House of Tomorrow revealed as it toured Australia, young audiences were particularly enthusiastic.

The sense of play is fully evident in what you’ll encounter in Experimenta Under the Radar: a digital rocking horse; an affectionate (and farting) couch; onscreen figures that rush away as you approach; a doll with a grim life of her own; a tiny room in which you can virtually bounce the furniture around; a giant who peers through a doorway (our cover image: Craig Walsh’s Cross-Reference); a house that spectacularly floods a neighborhood; digital ghosts who dart behind you; and the world digitally sliced up like bread and compacted. Logic is reversed, or tossed out, and fantasies realised. In every instance humour or surprise generate other dimensions to do with how we see and how we are seen, the distortions of perception, the thrill and the irresponsibility of voyeurism. These are toys with big ideas.

Saul sees the works, and presumably Hughes’ vision, as essentially optimistic: “This insistence on the centrality of the individual, on their individual necessity, runs counter to the technophobia that dominates so much of the media and so many people’s suspicion of new technologies. ‘No’, these works insist, ‘technology is not going to make humanity redundant; it can only exist for and through people. You interact therefore I am’.”

Doubtless such optimism is bound to be challenged, and should be, but the wit of Experimenta Under the Radar and, above all, its connectedness to the reality of our daily engagements with new technologies makes an active response more likely, a few significant glimpses into the dark side excepted. RT

The featured artists are: Stephen Barrass, Linda Davy, Kerry Richens; Daniel Crooks; Alex Davies; Shaun Gladwell; David Haines, Joyce Hinterding; ENESS (Steven Mieszelewicz, Nimrod Weis, Asaf Weis); Narinda Reeders, David McLeod; Van Sowerwine, Isobel Knowles, Liam Fennessy; Craig Walsh; and Tan Teck Weng. See the catalogue for the accompanying video program.

Experimenta Under the Radar, Foundation for Art and Creative Technology). Liverpool (FACT), June 16-Aug 28; Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), London, Nov 18-Dec 2;

RealTime issue #73 June-July 2006 pg. 27

© RealTime ; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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