This project researches the contribution of Australians to the development of media arts as a global contemporary art practice.
International publications and online archives dedicated to the study of media art are dominated by European and North American exemplars. Despite this, Australian video, computer graphic, interactive and internet artists have been active contributors to the international scene since the late 1950s.
Today, Australian media artists are world leaders, pioneering trends in technologically-based artistic endeavor such as interactive cinema, video installation and biotechnical arts. This project asks how issues of geographic distance (set against the relative portability of media art) have affected the particular historical development of media art in Australia.
- Has media art in Australia developed on par with international media art?
- Has the relative ephemerality of its materials – video, CD-ROMs, networked-based art, etc – allowed Australian media artists to participate in a wide international community at the expense of the preservation of this art?
- How have these problems of preservation impacted upon the wider dissemination and accessibility of Australian media arts for local and international audiences?
This project is a partnership with national and international organisations to research the unique history of Australian media arts. At the same time we want to examine the important artistic and technical contributions that have shaped media arts in the global arena. The project aims to propose new frameworks, refute inaccurate facts, question or expand upon theories, and point out unseen associations and critical connections.
The question of archiving and the potential for online access to collections of media art in all its manifest forms has been the subject of detailed media art theory research, and presents important opportunities for our partners. This project provides for a deeper knowledge of the histories of media art history in the international context by making accessible documentation and other materials via accessible online archives. The collaboration this project proposes between media art researchers and partner organisations — the Media Arts History Archive (MAH.org) and the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) — will extend the reach and engagement between media art’s Australian history and broader international audiences. As many within the media art sector and discipline have noted, the ephemeral nature and high rate of technological change mean that the artistic heritage of this form can quickly disappear.
There is currently little representation of electronic media art work in government-sponsored archives (online and in material collections). Those materials that do exist are scattered across individual artists websites, festival webpages, and media art organisations’ general websites. ANAT’s Synapse database — which contains comprehensive information on collaborative projects between Australian artists and scientists from the late 1990s onward — comes closest to fulfilling the need for an expansive database of Australian media art. However, ANAT’s web resources do not have a broad media art history focus.
ANAT is especially well-positioned to contribute its corporate knowledge and media arts expertise to this project. It has a long background and involvement in organizing and enabling the growth of technology-based art in Australia. Some of the most innovative and significant work and ideas to do with media arts culture have been initiated in Australia (often with the direct assistance of ANAT), yet many if not most of these practitioners, curators and writers are better known overseas than in their own country.
One of the key issues facing contemporary art and media arts organizations who have a longevity and a history through the various analogue/digital format trajectories is how to document and inform new generations of digital artists, students and general public about the legacy and diversity of practice contained on old media storage formats. Longevity, sustainability, and high visibility of the archive itself is crucial. Our project is therefore conceived against the background of Synapse (in Australia) and the Media Art History Archive project (based in Europe).
Established by Oliver Grau in 2006, MAH.org archive is a robust and fully functioning web resource which was created to allow scholars researching the histories of art, science and technology to contribute their works in full or partial text format. All copyrights remain with the author and/or their publisher. Each submitted item has permanent web identifier associated with its metadata and can be cross-referenced in multiple collections, submitted in multiple languages, and contain a variety of different file types. The web- based, cost-free instrument allows individuals to upload material, compiling video documentation, technical data, interfaces, displays and literature. The system offers a unique resource that caters to the needs of the field. All works can be linked with exhibiting institutions, events and bibliographical references. Over time the richly interlinked data also serves as a predecessor for the crucial systematic preservation of this art.
Our aim is to reassemble some of the main components of the submerged histories and important contributions of Australian artists, events and institutions. These include current and past organizations and events such as the Third International Symposium on Electronic Art (TISEA), Experimenta, Experimental Art Foundation (EAF), Multimedia Asia Arts Pacific (MAAP), Biennale of Electronic Arts, Perth (BEAP), Modern Image Makers Association (MIMA), Electronic Media Arts (EMA), Graphite2003, Sydney Intermedia Network (SIN), dLux Media Arts and the Centre for Electronic Media Art (CEMA), among others. Australian media artists have had an international/local connection that needs documentation and explanation in order to show the flow of innovation and ideas to and from Australia. Currently, these events and the work they presented remain little known or commented upon. Although several Australian media art histories have been attempted, they more generally focus on screen-based and cinematic works rather than concentrating on a broad range of practices. Recent publications deal to some degree with newer media art forms, but they do not specifically address early art works (from the 1950s onwards), issues of archiving, or the current emergence of new forms (such as net art or dynamically generated software art). Furthermore, they are published in print form only and do not have the distributive potential of a publicly accessible web resource.
This project will profile the many varieties of media art produced over the past five decades, including trends that have contributed towards a culture and economy of innovation. These include: computer-based interactive artwork; robotics and telepresence systems; remote sensing devices; electronic audio arts; data visualisation; nanotechnological artforms and artificial life forms; the construction and culture of 3D multi-user and gaming environments. By providing a media-rich resource on the history of media arts, we will show how innovative forms emerge from history, experiment and context. To date, this has not been done in print or web publications and remains an important task for researchers in the field. This research project will investigate both similarities and differences in the development of Australian media art in an international context. It will allow for comparison between this region and international trends, and to reflect upon the Australian history of media art in all its various permutations — from the earliest examples of electronic cinema to the most recent interactive digital media artworks.