Monday, 16 February 2009

connectivity and the indigenous

I just finished attending the SCANZ new media symposium held at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth. The symposium was the culmination of a two week residency programme entitled  'Raranga Tangata' (the weaving together of people).  This broad theme interconnected chaos theory, complexity, cybernetics, post-structuralism AND pasifika, aboriginal, indigenous, south american, indian, asian, polynesian and maori knowledge or belief systems. The themes of environmental response and participation were also interwoven within this broader agenda.  

When european artists engage with the ideas and materials of marginalised peoples (whatever form that takes) you are always going to have the shadow of exploitation, the tension of 'getting it right', the edge between political correctness, honesty and experimentation present somewhere in the background. And there were definately some awkward moments dancing in and around these issues and edges!

Given this is the case, traditional symposiums are not the best design for deeper dialogue to take place as they tend to be very timebound and formal in structure.  I tend to favour more participative structures such as the one we use for Luminous Green.

All that said, there was some innovative and valuable work on display, and the people attending (including international participants) were impressive for both their experience, and in their depth of talent and knowledge.

Highlights for me included:

Dr Herman Pi'ikea Clarke's discussion paper on Kanaka Maoli art and the eluding of globalization in Hawaii was the standout for me. He talked about the squid and its trickster nature. Squids swim in two directions at once and are very clever at hiding and disguising themselves.  This is a great way of also describing the actions of indigenous Hawaiian artists after their monarchy was overthrown by the US. Art is a wonderful way of disguising revolutionary comment and insurgency. As someone who has experienced colonisation at its worst, and best, he provided a human counterpoint to some of the more academic and abstract papers. He also used easy to understand and connective language to put forward his ideas which was a great relief.

Zita Joyce gave a wonderful paper on the taonga of the radio spectrum.  Her source material was Waitangi Tribunal claims by Maori, but wove these into research into etheric communication with spirits, and the history of the radio broadcast spectrum.   From her abstract: the Waitangi claims frame radio spectrum as a fluid space of extensive interconnection and knowledge transfer between people, and between humans, ancestors and gods. When the paper is loaded online I will provide a link as I found it extremely informative.

Mike Baker simultaneously presented his paper to us, and to an audience in Second Life who we could see on a large screen. I thought this was fabulous, and made sure everyone around me at the time thought so too...thus making me the most uncool person in the room. I need to work on my arts-academic poker face:-)
His work on 'leaving' was thought provoking.  The idea that in every arrival are the seeds of our 'leaving' was one of his central themes.

Heather Raikes' Corpus Corvus was a presentation of her project to integrate digital 3D stereoscopic image (translation: 3D images you see with glasses), ambiosonic sound (posh surround sound) and dance performance based on the archetypical movements of Ravens. It is a hybrid project that augments the physical reality of dance performance with visuals and sounds that move in and out of spaces between (and within) dancers and audience. Check out her website which is an exceptional example of how to document complicated hybrid, trandisciplinary projects in a relatively simple way.

Helen Varley Jamieson, and her colleagues performed an interesting piece using the upstage cyberperformance platform. Best let you read about the theory behind it here, and explain that what I saw in practice was  snippets of commentary and quotations appearing and then moving around a big screen in front of us,  a woman running back and forth across the screen in real life (on a raised platform) using a white canvas board to 'capture'  different quotes as they appeared (by sticking the canvas in between the projector and screen), background noise in different languages which got louder and more confusing..and eventually rose to and indecipherable cresendo...while the words on screen started going crazy and melting into a red mess superimposed onto an image of a brain.  Sorry to give such a prosiac explaination but hey thats what it looked like to me!  

Finally, I had a chance to connect with Angus Leech from ART Mobile Lab at Banff. He is doing some great work using mobile phones, gps systems and open source software that allows you to mark 'place' with audio and sound files.  You can basically set up digital trails around parks, urban environments etc that have pictures, stories, music etc attached, allowing learning and fun to happen in really creative ways. The marker points that you normally have with GPS systems trigger as you approach, allowing you to see what other people have noted about that particular spot.  Take a look at their project pages for more details.

On the note of physical/digital interface and innovative learning in natural settings, it appears that Taranaki is leading the way with their work in the 60 Springs project in Pukekura Park. Hopefully I can put some further information about this on the blog soon. 

Am glad I attended the symposium, will definately be following up with some of the artists and academics present.

PS: the image on this item is a little valentine trinket I picked up in the rather fabulous gift shop. Well worth going to the gallery just to shop. Happy (belated) HallMark Valentines Day

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