"Experiments in Galvanism"
Garnet Hertz, "Experiments in Galvanism," 2003, Courtesy of The Banff Centre.
THE ART FORMERLY KNOWN AS NEW MEDIA
Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff
Sept 17 - Oct 23, 2005
By Kay Burns
The Art Formerly Known as New Media exhibition currently on at the Walter Phillips Gallery in Banff celebrates the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Banff New Media Institute. The exhibition is not meant to give an historical overview but instead offers some perspectives about this label through works that address possible interpretations of the term “new media.”
At least five of the 12 works included in the show incorporate web-delivered content. Internet/web-based media is certainly not in itself terribly new. It tends to carry baggage that brings associations of marketing and promotional activities. However, it is the potentially vast audience associated with web delivery that has led to it becoming a forum for activism and social commentary by artists. Web work is a challenge for galleries to present — sitting down at a terminal hooked into the internet is generally not what a viewer wants to do at a gallery. An irony evident within this exhibition (and perhaps one reason for its presence) is the fact that the web work Brandon by artist Shu Lea Cheang was purchased by the Guggenheim Museum. Web work by its very nature is open and accessible to all; yet here we are seeing the institutional desire for ownership. On the one hand, that may imply hope for web-based artists in terms of receiving institutional support; on the hand, it raises questions about an act that turns into a commodity something that is inherently not commodifiable.
A work with a web-based element, yet a much more significant physical presence, is Garnet Hertz’s Experimentation in Galvanism: Frog Implanted with Webserver. In this piece a dead frog suspended in mineral oil has been “reactivated” by a microchip that triggers motion and relays the visual message back to a web page that is the source site of participant interaction. The piece brings back memories of Grade 10 biology dissection classes and shifts it into the realm of bioethics and cyborg references.
Organum Playtest 3.0 is a work combining game-like interaction, audio art, and performance. Participants stand at one of five microphones and their voices trigger the motion on the projection screen — imagery that alludes to navigating through the throat. The piece is most successful when viewers collaborate to explore the game environment.
New is not necessarily better (and what once was new, soon becomes old). r a d i o q u a l i a, an Australia-based collaborative team of two artists, works with radio transmission (one of the oldest forms of broad-based or egalitarian media) as its delivery system. In this context the sound transmission is a robotic voice reading open-source code for the Linux operating system. The audio stream is sent out live on the internet and also through an FM transmitter. Another interpretation of old media is See Banff! produced by Michael Naimark. This interactive piece is based on the Edison kinetoscope: the viewer peers into a stereoscopic eyepiece and uses the hand crank to roll the films forwards or backwards, using a small brass lever to select the movie they wish to see. The work was created using two 16 mm cameras attached to a baby carriage, recorded through stop-action processes, and transferred to digital tape and run by a Mac mini computer inside the cabinet. The integration of old and new in this piece contributes to its seductive physical presence as an object and a fascination with the content of the films referencing Banff tourism and other areas.