This presentation provides an overview of some exciting directions new media artists have explored in Australia in the last few years. The paper is a case study on how the creation of a certain institutional environment results in the production of certain kinds of work. Both the strengths and weaknesses of Australian work will be discussed—its theoretical and self-critical sophistication as well as the technological dependency that results from being on the periphery of the emergent military-entertainment complex. The peripheral location of Australian artists has traditionally been a strong theme in Australian literature and visual art, but in new media art, this ‘tyranny of distance’ on the physical terrain is doubled and re-configured as an awareness of relations of centre and periphery in the mediated, virtual relations of transnational media.
Multimedia: nobody is quite sure what it is, or why it is so sexy, but everybody wants to get a piece of it. The Australian government’s Creative Nation cultural policy statement promised to pump over $60 million into it. About 150,000 Australians already own computers equipped to run the stuff. Educators, film makers, artists and con-artists are rushing to make interactive multimedia titles.
Yet nobody really knows what it is that the public is supposed to want out of it. To be educated? Why not read a book. To be entertained? Why not watch TV. To be engaged ‘interactively’? Well, why not go down to the local bar, coffee shop or laundromat and chat somebody up? When the Australian Film Commission held a conference in Melbourne on ‘multimedia and interactivity’, over 500 people turned up. Everybody wants the phantom multimedia users who are supposed to be populating this new market to want something from it, but what? The arrival of a new medium provides the opportunity to think again about what it is the user of the medium wants. How is the desire of the film goer or the interactive user engaged by the form? It also provides the opportunity to think again about what the resources are that are buried in the great traditions from which contemporary media draw. Let’s take the second issue first. It is usually the job of a critic to rank works within their genres, and to rank genres too in order of significance. It is also the traditional business of the critic to define what it is that constitutes a good novel, for example, or a classic movie. Now, all that is fine if one presumes either that the ‘platforms’ upon which culture – and critics – stand is stable, or ought to be stable. But if it isn’t stable, and one has no interest in it being so, then the job of the critic looks quite different. So rather than try to nail down what a novel is, and why it is in some sense better than the lyrics to pop songs, its time to reverse the critical engine and produce something quite different. This is a cue for something like cultural studies, with its open minded approach to issues of how culture works and who benefits from it. But the cultural studies mob, with a few exceptions, stick to the margins of present and past cultures. Regardless of what the newspaper columnists say about it, it really is a pretty traditional outgrowth of scholarly knowledge about culture.
- McKenzie Wark is a lecturer in international communications at Macquarie University in Sydney as well as contributing Editor to 21 *C and World Art magazines. He is a columnist on communications and higher education for The Australian newspaper and is a producer for ABC Radio National in Australia.
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