[-empyre-] fresh perspectives from Aotearoa / Strategic Digital Arts Developments in Aotearoa New Zealand

Kia ora!

While it's exciting to see Aotearoa NZ occupying empyre, I'm sad that I'm
away from e-mail for much of January and won't be able to contribute as much
as I'd like. Not that it will matter with the great guests!

Hopefully later in the month I'll be able to participate in the discussions
- I think that NZ has both some great artists as well as being a very useful
environment for thinking about networks, digital arts, culture, and
regionalism. As a small british colony with strong indigenous and pacific
presence, I see it as kind of a bridge state between the concerns of
Euro-America and the Asia Pacific. Before I go offline I thought it might be
useful to forward this paper from a conference in Taiwan a few weeks ago -
it maps out a little of the institutional landscape that might be helpful
for non-NZ readers especially.

ka kite ano


Strategic Digital Arts Developments in Aotearoa New Zealand

Regeneration of Digital Art - The International Symposium on Digital Art in
Taiwan, NCTU, 15-16 December 2004 http://infodate.nctu.edu.tw

Danny Butt (http://dannybutt.net)

In the short time available, I would like to outline certain strategic
initiatives in Digital Arts within Aotearoa New Zealand. In doing so, I will
attempt to place these within what I see as an emerging set of regional
priorities for Digital Arts development in the Asia Pacific. My
understanding of these priorities is influenced by my participation in two
regional forums: Old Pathways/ New Travellers: New Media, Electronic Music
And Digital Art Practices In The Asia Pacific Region, a UNESCO Digi-Arts
colloquium in December 2003; and the Digital Review of Asia Pacific, a
UNDP/IDRC/ORBICOM initiative reviewing the use of ICTs for development in
the region (http://www.digital-review.org). My aim is not to give a
comprehensive overview of New Zealand's digital arts scene, but to highlight
initiatives that Taiwanese curators, academics, and policymakers will find
useful by way of comparison to your own projects.

Digital Arts Issues in the Asia Pacific
The Geopolitics of Digital Arts
There are a number of issues that are common to Asia-Pacific digital arts
development. The first and most important is simply that "Digital Arts" as
institutional discourse emerged in and is dominated by Europe and the United
States. This is not to discount the various emergent practices which are
increasingly recognised as important precursors to Digital Arts development
in non Euro/U.S. countries. But I do think that Digital Arts can be
productively seen within what Mignolo (1) calls the "geopolitics of
knowledge". Mignolo talks of a recognition that has come from Latin American
dependency theory that colonisation is not only economic and political, but
also intellectual. A system emerges where people and ideas from Europe and
the United States often maintain positions of control in Asia-Pacific
institutions and aesthetic traditions. This is a troubling situation, and I
think one of the main issues facing the region is how to draw upon the
Digital Arts expertise of Europe and the US while developing local Digital
Arts ecologies in a sustainable way. A corollary of this is the need to
understand what makes the local environment distinctive. In former British
colonies like New Zealand, there is an increasing recognition that this
understanding comes through an engagement with indigenous cultural forms,
and recent developments have placed an emphasis on indigenous cultural
practices in the new media environment.

[Image: Lisa Reihana, Hinepukohurangi from Digital Marae 2001 - Colour
photograph mounted on aluminium (2)]

The most important factors in Digital Arts are not purely technological or
economic, though these are important. The root of Digital Arts development
lies in human capital, human creativity, and human experience - and it is
important for these to be developed locally through our work. In other
words, rather than the success or failure of particular initiatives,
attention must be paid to the process and learning that occurs in digital
arts initiatives. The development of Sarai in Delhi is instructive here.
Parallels can be drawn here with the emergence of Open Source Software
development in the region (see for example IOSN.net). There is an increased
emphasis on local solutions rather than off-the-shelf packages, and
recognition that different localities will require different responses.
There is no "one-size-fits-all" solution as to what constitutes a thriving
new media arts scene: in Australia some of the most interesting work emerges
from the performance community, while in New Zealand, sound arts and
experimental music are perhaps more prominent. But I am not advocating an
isolated perspective - through new media there are increasing opportunities
to learn from each others work and experiences, through increased access to
documentation as well as events such as this symposium. In effect, the
"institutional source code" for Digital Arts development is increasingly
shared through international networks.

The last aspect where I believe the New Zealand experience is interesting is
that we have, like Taiwan, a much larger neighbour next door in Australia. I
will not speculate on how this might relate to the development of Digital
Arts in Taiwan, as this is my first time here. But the immediate proximity
of Australia, with a larger and more institutionally established arts scene,
undeniably affects the "imaginary" of New Zealand's cultural life generally,
and Digital Arts development in particular. Organisations such as the
Australian Network for Art and Technology, DLux Media Arts, and Multimedia
Arts Asia Pacific provide an ongoing sense of opportunities and information
that is not really established in New Zealand. There is a great opportunity
for relationships to be established between the two countries for mutual
benefit, though these are currently at an informal level.

How does digital arts develop within a low-infrastructure environment? There
are two dimensions to this issue that are important for new media arts:
technical and organisational infrastructures.

The questions of technical infrastructure are in some ways the easiest, but
they still pose important challenges. Digital Art, in a tradition stretching
back to Nam June Paik, had often made a virtue out of reinterpreting
consumer electronics. Compelling Digital Art projects can be created using
easily affordable computer hardware and software (e.g. the work of Mongrel
in the U.K.), but is it sufficient to place all of the burden for technical
infrastructure on the individual artist? There are also many significant
Digital Arts projects (e.g. the work of Char Davies) that use extremely
expensive computer equipment, well beyond the reach of individual artists,
yet these also provide important ways of understanding the aesthetic
experiences of the future. Provision of facilities has always been a key
issue for new artistic media, and public-access photography laboratories and
video production facilities were common in European and United States
community arts projects in the 1970s and 1980s [3]. There is a strong case
for the role of accessible equipment being made available to artists, but
the question of who should be responsible for this is more difficult.

In a recent collection of interviews for CRUMB a number of Digital Art
curators suggested that with immaterial art the institution's role moves
from collecting and archiving to providing context. As Benjamin Weil put it,
"What the museum can also offer (which maybe other systems that would
support this kind of work don't) is an educational context and a historical
context." [4] Providing this context can be very challenging in a small
Digital Arts community, which may not support magazines, specialist
curators, or exhibition spaces for this work. Arts institutions may not have
the expertise to be able provide significant contextualisation, which in
turn inhibits development of the Digital Arts sector, making the work seem
less important for the institutions to take notice of, and so there's a
vicious cycle. In areas where a Digital Arts context is not a given, I think
it's important that new initiatives - whether from government, artists,
civil society, or the private sector - are planned with a view to the
overall Digital Arts ecology. This is easier said than done, but certainly
the New Zealand scene has suffered from a lack of vision around Digital Arts
development in the past, and this is only beginning to be addressed at a
national level.[5]

Digital Arts in the broader social environment
Where little infrastructure exists, the autonomy of Digital Arts is not a
given, in many cases its support is dependent upon its perceived value in
broader cultural, social and technological development. This presents both
challenges and opportunities for Digital Arts practice. On the one hand, the
lack of autonomous support for Digital Arts renders it susceptible to being
forgotten, ignored, or placed in a dependent relationship to other
initiatives. These tendencies must be resisted. But this situation also
provides the opportunity for productive conversations with other parts of
the arts, technology, research and educational sectors. Digital Arts is
inherently interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary. To borrow from Gunnar
Swanson [6], Digital Art synthetic and integrative: it integrates previously
unconnected disciplines (video and programming, for example), and in doing
so synthesises something new.
In this way, Digital Arts recontextualises our understanding of both art and
technology, and has an important role to play in cultural development,
research, and innovation strategies. I like to think of Digital Arts as the
"basic research" or "blue sky research" of cultural production. There is a
flow of both ideas and people between the Digital Arts sector and more
"applied" areas such as the design and commercial media industries. Stephen
Wilson [7] and others have written eloquently on these topics, so I won't go
into much detail, except to remember the insightful words of the late Rich
Gold: "Designers and engineers often think of what they do as solving
problems, but that's not how artists and scientists think of what they do.
They create objects and ideas that bend the very fabric of our lives,
pushing out the envelope in which innovation can occur."[8]

Rather than seeing art and the economy as discrete domains, an increasing
body of research in the social sciences is also seeing cultural processes as
central to economic activity. In cultural sociology, for example, authors
such as Lyn Spillman [9] have made strong cases for the important role of
culture in economic life. Richard Florida has found that cities high one the
"Creativity Index" also perform better economically [10]. The
interdisciplinary literature on the "digital divide" sees cultural processes
as playing an important role in the uptake of new technologies11. Exactly
how these broader economic processes are affected by arts and digital media
development is not clear, but a range of empirical literature is signalling
strong correlations between these fields. Discussions in the Creative
Industries are still grappling with questions around the relationship
between cultural and economic development, however some connections are
evident, and explorations in this area are under-developed.

New Zealand Initiatives
This section briefly describes some Digital Arts initiatives that have
occurred recently in New Zealand. As I mentioned previously, this is not a
comprehensive list, but covers those projects that I think provide examples
this audience might find productive.

National Networking
I previously suggested that questions of strategy and coordination are
important. For a small Digital Arts scene such as that in New Zealand, these
issues are critical. Much work happens in isolation among individuals who
have their own set of institutional relationships. Networking this activity
provides immediate benefits to the development of a national context, and
provides an incentive for institutions and funding bodies to see their
investment in Digital Arts as sustainable, and not subject to the fortunes
(or migration!) of individual artists. A new initiative addressing this
challenge is the Aotearoa Digital Arts group [12], convened in March 2003 by
Stella Brennan, artist/curator and Sean Cubitt, Professor and Chair of the
Screen and Media Department at Waikato University. The group has an e-mail
list and has held two symposia/meetings focussed on sharing information and
planning new activities.
The beginning of the list explicitly recounted some of the dispersed history
of new media arts in New Zealand. As Stella pointed out in one of the first
messages to the group, "there seemed to be an early bloom of web-based
practice (I'm struggling to periodise, and guessing 1995-97??), which fell
away. My idea of why this occurred has a little bit to do with changing
currents of funding and personal interest, which we have to recognise can
have a big impact in a small community." [13] However, the list has been
instrumental in rekindling relationships between those involved in Digital
Arts throughout Aotearoa, as well as involving important expatriate figures,
such as Honor Harger (who has worked with ANAT in Australia and the Tate
Gallery in London) and Adam Hyde of web-audio pioneers Radioqualia.

The face-to-face discussions of this group have attempted to determine the
infrastructural support needed for digital arts development in Aotearoa.
This is a challenge considering the varied institutional and disciplinary
perspectives of the group members. One of the resolutions from the last
meeting (suggested by Sean Cubitt) was to create a "call for papers" for
critical responses to New Zealand Digital Artists, and working toward
compiling and publishing these. The results would be development of the
database of critical commentary on Aotearoa Digital Arts practice as well as
providing academic credit for writers and artists. Another meeting of this
group is planned for 2005.

A related development in 2004 has been the launch of the Experimental Audio
Foundation [14], a networking hub and information clearing house for
experimental audio culture (including audio arts) in New Zealand. The site
features news and events, texts, images, and contacts.

Artistic Development - University of Waikato residencies
ADA sprang from Stella Brennan's role as the first resident in the
University of Waikato's Digital Artist in Residence (DAiR) scheme [15]. The
residency, funded by Creative New Zealand and the University, supports three
artists per year to engage in a 4-month residency, offering "opportunities
for the creation of new work, supported by contemporary facilities and
technical assistance, and also looks to benefit the local community with
opportunities to engage with this work in the context of a supportive
critical environment." The residency has seen a number of significant new
works produced by emerging artists, most recently Douglas Bagnall's Music
Industry Simulator and Film-Making Robot. The impact of the residencies
highlights the important role that tertiary institutes play in the New
Zealand new media arts scene.

 [Image - Douglas Bagnall, Still 0999.jpg from Film-making Robot (2004)16]
Linking to Expertise and Networks - Australia Council Residency
One of the challenges mentioned earlier is the engagement with expertise
from more established Digital Arts scenes in a mutually productive way. In
2003, The Waikato Institute of Technology's Creative Industries Research
Centre hosted a 6-week residency by a team of three Australian new media
artists. The residency was developed in collaboration with the Australia
Council for the Arts, and had a number of distinctive features:
* The residency was team-based rather than individual
* The call for proposals explicitly requested artists to engage with
specific issues of cultural difference and the residency's cultural
* The residency was placed in a research framework - within the six weeks
the artists made contacts and prototypes, rather than completing a finished
* The team-based residency was possible because of the short distance
between Australia and New Zealand. The Australia Council funded travel and
stipends, and was much less expensive per artist than many of their other
residencies in Europe and the United States.
* The residency was possible for the Waikato institute of Technology as it
was held during non-teaching time for undergraduates, and many resources
were available that may not have been otherwise
* The local Museum provided their Artist-in-Residence accommodation
One of the main benefits from this project was the establishment of ongoing
conversations, both at the level of individual artists and between
institutions, as well as general upskilling of New Zealand institutions. The
importance of formalising this network development and organisational
learning should not be underestimated.

Governmental and Organisational Initiatives in Research and the Arts
While Creative New Zealand have until recently not had a specific fund for
the support of Digital Arts (or even a strategy), this is being addressed
through a "New Media Reference Group" containing members of the Digital Arts
Community. Creative NZ staff have also been active in the Aotearoa Digital
Arts discussions, heralding the possibility of new initiatives in this
One recent project not targeted at Digital Arts nevertheless highlighted
some interesting possibilities for the development of this field.  The
"Smash Palace Collaborations Fund" supports collaborations between New
Zealand artists and scientists, and was established by Creative New Zealand
and the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology in 2002 [17]. One of
the funded projects, Upstage18, is a collaboration involving performance
artists Helen Varley Jamieson and Vicki Smith working with Douglas Bagnall
working as a technologist to create software for online performance. These
projects were reviewed by UK Science/Arts expert Sian Ede (Gulbenkian
Foundation) in 2004, and the fund has been continued with another round just
being announced.

The other Governmental initiative relevant to Digital Arts development has
been the "Screen Innovation Production Fund", a partnership between Creative
New Zealand and the New Zealand Film Commission. The fund is a curious
hybrid that supports both experimental short films (analogue or digital) as
well as well as the occasional interactive piece. Most of the productions
are not intended for an arts context, but some New Zealand Digital Artists
have been supported by this fund include Sean Kerr, and Douglas Bagnall.

A similar instance of the Screen Production / Digital Arts crossover is
evident in the Moving Image Centre (MIC) [19] in Auckland, which is the only
organisation that has self-consciously undertaken a digital arts programme
(although the Physics Room in Christchurch has an archived programme of Web
works which haven't been added to in some time [20]). The MIC has hosted
exhibitions from Australia (Cybercultures), visiting Digital Artists from
the UK (Mike Stubbs) and India (Shilpa Gupta); as well as a programme of
local work. The MIC also hires digital equipment for its members and runs a
screening programme at local film festivals.

This is far from a comprehensive summary of Digital Arts activity in
Aotearoa New Zealand, but attempts to map some of the institutional and
structural initiatives that are responding to our specific situation. A
positive development is the increasing involvement of New Zealand in the
planning and development of international initiatives - including a
Fibreculture-related symposium to be held in Auckland in 2005, participation
from a number of New Zealanders in the working groups for the Pacific Rim
New Media Summit in 2006, and planning toward the development of a Solar
Circuit event in 2006. These developments are a marker of the increasing
sophistication of Digital Arts in Aotearoa New Zealand, and augur well for
its future growth.


1 Mignolo, W. D. (2002). The Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Colonial
Difference. The South Atlantic Quarterly, 101(1).

3 http://www.vdb.org/resources/chrishill.html

4 http://www.newmedia.sunderland.ac.uk/crumb/phase3/iweil.htm

5 Butt, D. (2001). Do Art-droids Dream of Electric Sheep. Artlink, 21(3),

6 Swanson, G. (1994). Graphic Design Education as a Liberal Art: Design and
Knowledge in the University and the "Real World" .Design Issues 10(1),

7 Wilson, S. (2002). Information Arts : Intersections of art, science, and
technology. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

8 Quoted in McDonald-Crowley, A. "Creative Encounters: The Art/Science of
Collaboration", in Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, & Waag
Society for Old and New Media, eds. (2003). Sarai Reader 03: Shaping
Technologies. New Delhi Amsterdam: Centre for the Study of Developing
Societies & Waag Society for Old and New Media. p233.

9 Spillman, L. (1999). Enriching Exchange: Cultural Dimensions of Markets.
American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 58(4), 1047-1071.

10 Florida, R. L. (2002). The Rise of the Creative Class : and how it's
transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life. New York, NY: Basic

11 Livingstone, S. M. (2002). Young People and New Media : childhood and the
changing media environment. London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

12 http://ada.waikato.ac.nz

13 Brennan, S. Message posted to Aotearoa Digital Arts discussion list,
March 13, 2003. http://ada.waikato.ac.nz. Brennan was discussing web art
curatorial projects such as Robert Hutchinson's Spatial State of A&B; and
the Codec project which linked four established artist-run initiatives
throughout the country. Both projects were funded by the Government's arts
funding body Creative New Zealand Toi Aotearoa. Spatial State is no longer
online, but Codec is archived at http://www.dannybutt.net/codec.org.nz/

14 http://www.audiofoundation.org.nz

15 http://www.waikato.ac.nz/film/research/digital_artist.html

16 http://www.halo.gen.nz/robot/

17 http://www.creativenz.govt.nz/news/archive.html?record=787

18 http://www.upstage.org.nz

19 http://www.mic.org.nz

20 http://physicsroom.org.nz/webwork/

This archive was generated by a fusion of Pipermail 0.09 (Mailman edition) and MHonArc 2.6.8.