[-empyre-] the media lab environment

Anna Munster A.Munster at unsw.edu.au
Sun Aug 31 09:38:29 EST 2008


Hi Johannes and all,

> Another issue, which i didn't address (and now that you mention  
> SenseLab or Hexagram or other larger institutional venues one might  
> consider, ZKM, or even ars electronica or also the kind of  
> independent forum created by Jim Ruxton and his "Subtle  
> Technologies"  event in Toronto) ..... is the relationshop of  
> alternative media labs or "centers" and the universities.

Yes...I also think this issue is extremely important and must be  
carefully thought through as neither entirely problematic nor entirely  
productive! Just for clarification - Senselab is not university based  
but is housed through the Society for Art and Technology in Montreal  
(although the SAT is itself aligned in various ways to the University  
of Montreal mainly through academic staff involvement in both places  
and through some co-funded projects). The motivation for Senselab was  
primarily, I think to do something away from the constraints of  
university-driven agendas for research production. Motivation and  
labour is all voluntary but they are doing some great things I think,  
including organising events, exhibitions and the new online journal  
Inflexions(http://erinmanning.lunarpages.net/inflexions/) where the  
first issue is about 'research-creation.
> What I observe is either a low level of technical knowledge
> (which is the case for some of the work developed at the
> Interaktionslabor) or a low level of artistic knowledge (which is
> case at most of the universities that have a program on arts and
> technology>>

Indeed an interesting observation...personally, I prefer a low-level  
of technical knowledge than low-level of artistic knowledge!! This  
question of leaving the art out of the arts and technology university  
programs runs all the way through the curriculum now and will be part  
of the future problematic nature of technically inflected art  
production. Until we move away from the currently dominated landscape  
of utilitarian-based university education we won't get a good art-tech  
interaction outside a few people who really believe in the value of  
media arts' histories, for example..

But I do think there are signs everywhere that artists, technologists,  
cultural makers and thinkers are bored with this utilitarian model and  
this is why small social networks,independent festivals, workshops,  
even reading and thinking groups are back on the rise again after what  
seems to have been a couple of decades out in the cold!! So, I feel  
hopeful that we are and will also see entirely new arenas and  
practices for media arts which incorproate questions of ethical and  
social dimensions into their heart as absolutely fundamental (rather  
than as something we might use the art 'for' , for example)

On the other hand you ask:

>   Could a group such as Transmute (for a review of the book  
> published after their successful work, see http://www.realtimearts.net/article/85/9037) 
>   have completed their ambitious "Intimate Transactions"  
> telepresence installation without the funding and logistics support  
> of several universities down under?

and the answer is no. However, I think Transmute is an interesting  
example of combining collective artistic practice with a university  
structured research program ( it's only Keith Armstrong in that  
collective who received the specific research funding) Universities  
certainly don't fund collectives!! But what has happened here is a  
smart marriage of hope and pragmatism. By this I mean using the  
institution to leverage funds but still having a very well worked  
through philosophical and creative approach to art-making and artistic  
collective practice. This means that the work doesn't get subsumed by  
the research agenda. But this is very rare and a difficult balance to  
maintain. As someone who has also had this kind of research funding  
for theoretical work, I know the insane models and language one has to  
push one's ideas through in order to get the funding - ie what  
hypothesis are you testing, do your aims align with you outcomes, do  
you meet national priorities such as providing research that will make  
your nation more secure!!!! I believe the key to this stuff is to run  
with it but not get sucked into the rhetoric and see the rhetoric as  
somewhat absurdist - like a script from a Charlie Chaplin movie. The  
other key, I think, to balancing the relation to universities with  
respect to research creation, is to make sure that not all of one's  
research and art-making relies on this as a source of support. I still  
believe in going it alone on some projects - ie not seeking support  
from the institution but just getting out there and making/doing  
things with others in more informal and looser environments.

As well there are really good w'shops run by arts organisations -  
Johannes mentions some- I would also add an Australia-wide initiative  
for emerging performance-media arts practioners called  
Time_Place_Space (http://www.performancespace.com.au/tps/tpshome.htm)  
where selected participants often go to more regional areas of the  
Australian country for a couple of weeks with performers, technicians,  
mentors, directors etc and work on skills, interaction and producing  
their own projects. Some of the best work being done by younger  
Australian artists has emerged as a result of this initiative. It's  
certainly supported with lots of Australian arts funding but the  
thinking behind it is for real interaction and real creation - not  
spurious research rhetoric.


Dr.Anna Munster
Senior Lecturer
School of Art History and Theory
College of Fine Arts
P.O. Box 259
NSW 2021
612 9385 0741 (tel)
612 9385 0615(fax)
a.munster at unsw.edu.au

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