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    More than the simple defence

    This is the abstract of the paper I just delivered at the Affective Habitus: New Environmental Histories of Botany, Zoology and Emotions conference at ANU this weekend. An interesting experience, and still a struggle to match up what I want to say about new ways of thinking (that are based on old ways – in particular Gregory Bateson) with discussions of artworks – that of course are already demonstrating the new ways of thinking (that are also based on old ways). The title comes from a passage in Guattari’s Three Ecologies where he highlights how humans are part of nature, they are ‘in’ nature, so cannot defend it. He says more needs to be done if we are to survive IWC (Integrated World Capitalism). I talk about some NZ and AU artists who have been thinking about NZ bird extinctions, and suggest that they are already doing ‘more’. These art works are not a defence at all but a reenactment of environments.

    I’m revising it now to present in a few weeks in Hobart at Unnatural Futures.

    Richard Owen 1878 and Moa (Natural History Museum London)

    More than the simple defence of nature: Artists confront extinction.

    If aesthetics had an invisible force it would be called nature. In the histories of art, nature is defined through a set of visual and social codes that have sedimented into a cultural and political place that is romantic, continuous and at a safe distance from the impacts of humanity and technology. In The Three Ecologies Felix Guattari writes: “In the future much more than the simple defence of nature will be required … and the adoption of an ecosophical ethics adapted to this terrifying and fascinating situation is equally as urgent as the invention of a politics focused on the destiny of humanity” (2000, p.66-67). Australian artists Hayden Fowler and Fiona Hall, and New Zealand artist Stella Brennan all construct media installations that demonstrate how unnatural our relations with nature are. In their hands nature is not static; it does not simply end where technology begins. Birds that can no longer sing are suddenly given voice, and humans regress into the dystopian reality of a techno-entropic environment. At the heart of each work is a newly imagined entropy not as death but renewal. Their works suggest that extinction does not manifest as a final fiery end but a terrifyingly slow dwindle. In the current shifting geo-physical environment where natural and human disasters have blurred into rolling catastrophes of technical and environmental melt-down, this paper asks what can be gained from an ecosophical approach to contemporary art. Overall, this paper examines how the ecological concerns raised by both Deleuze and Guattari have been renewed in contemporary media art such that the energetic forces of ‘nature’ continue to present aesthetic challenges for artists and viewers in the techno-ecological climate of the 21st century.



    Very excited to be in the final month preparing AMONG THE MACHINES for the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

    Hayden Fowler New World Order 2013 production still #13 Courtesy of the artist

    This is the gallery blurb:

    AMONG THE MACHINES features works by 13 Australian and New Zealand artists who interrogate relationships between utopia, technology, nature and place. Situating the long term concerns of ecology alongside the hopefulness of utopian thought, and with a focus on the South Island of New Zealand, the works in the exhibition offer a speculative map for the future histories of media, machines and humans. For this, the second installment in a series of collaborative curatorial projects with visiting scholars, the Gallery will be working with Dr Susan Ballard, a New Zealand academic based at the University of Wollongong, Australia.

    The artists are:
    Susan Norrie
    Daniel Crooks
    Ruth Buchanan
    Jae Hoon Lee
    Aaron and Hannah Beehre
    Hayden Fowler
    Stella Brennan
    Fiona Pardington
    Nathan Pohio
    Douglas Bagnall
    Bronwyn Holloway-Smith
    Ann Shelton
    Ronnie Van Hout

    Gathering some of the reviews and discussion:
    Channel 9 (Local Dunedin TV) http://www.ch9.co.nz/content/new-multi-media-exhibition-created-dunedin
    Radio NZ (National NZ Radio) http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/artsonsunday/audio/2562029/among-the-machines
    Otago Daily Times (Dunedin Newspaper) review by Peter Entwhistle http://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/265663/well-worth-getting-among-machines-projections
    E-Flux advert http://www.e-flux.com/announcements/among-the-machines/
    Otago Daily Times Profile by Charmian Smith http://www.odt.co.nz/entertainment/arts/263506/its-nature-man-and-machinery
    Critic Dunedin Student newspaper http://www.critic.co.nz/culture/article/3133/among-the-machines
    The Listener, NZ National news and current affairs magazine http://www.listener.co.nz/culture/art/searching-for-erewhon/


    Flux + Cybernetics = Paik

    This is the abstract of the paper that I was invited to present as part of the International Symposium [Gift of NJP 5] Man-Machine Duet for Life at the Nam June Paik Art Centre in Gyeonggi-do (just out of Seoul) Korea.


    It was an amazing experience to engage with both a fabulous institution, and lovely people, as well as experience Seoul. The challenge was to find myself amongst self-declared Paik scholars and being very aware that I was no such thing. It was a special opportunity to unpack some of the work on Paik I had done previously and think through what it means to locate these ideas of machines and materiality historically. I’m very aware that I do not want to contribute to the hagiography of Paik, yet in visiting the Institute I learnt so much about the other artists whose works surrounded his, and gained a new way of thinking about his work, that it feels there is still a bit to be done.

    The paper was based around an equation that was thinking about Fluxus and cybernetics and why there was such a gap between the two. The full paper will be published in the NJP Reader # 4 ( this is the link to #3 http://www.njpartcenter.kr/en/research/publications/show.asp?id=158&pos=2&page=1 I’ll add a link to #4 when it is out), and I’m reworking it into something longer, as I’ve changed my mind about the Fluxus connection and want to be more exact with my use of systems aesthetics and cybernetics, and the art machine…

    “All Systems Go!” Flux + cybernetics = art machines.

    Abstract of paper presented at the NJP Art Centre 12 October 2012

    In 1968 and 1969 two exhibitions across two major centres of art production introduced the science of cybernetics to art: Jasia Reichardt’s Cybernetic Serendipity at the ICA in London and Jack Burnham’s Software: Information Technology. Its New Meaning for Art at the Jewish Museum in New York. The exhibitions, like many at the time, were propositional. They suggested a future for relationships between art and cybernetics, and perhaps more importantly they prefigured an artworld that would become concerned with relations between human and non-human entities. Relationships of communication and control pointed towards a shared place for humans, objects, and machines and nearly 45 years later cybernetics remains a vital yet unassuming force in the way we think about contemporary art, and along the way other words have arisen, amidst them: systems aesthetics, media ecologies, and networked technologies.

    One artist included in both Burnham’s and Reichardt’s exhibitions was Nam June Paik. Paik’s works bought together a commitment to indeterminism, a deep knowledge of information systems, and a playful attention to the materials of communication. This paper will discuss some of Paik’s work in the context of cybernetics by unpacking the equation of its title: flux plus cybernetics equals art machines. I will address the original impulse that brought cybernetics into conversation with art, focus on a selection of Paik’s art practices that engaged these ideas of communication and control in the machine (and subsequently the network), and end with some recent ‘art machines’ by artists from New Zealand that demonstrate the ongoing relevance of cybernetic thought to contemporary art.

    In 1950 mathematician Norbert Wiener defined cybernetics as the science of communication and control between animals (humans) and machines, and machines and machines. His definition went further than this condensed summary allows. Wiener identified systems as organic and artificial, human and non-human. The machines that occupied these systems used “sensory members” to respond to and monitor feedback. Did this mean that humans were machines? The flux suggested between a human as a machine and a machine as a human presented fertile ground for imaginative couplings. In 1988 Paik wrote that Wiener “construct[ed] the technical interior of the electronic age”.

    In the lead up to the Software exhibition Jack Burnham took this technical interior and identified it with new kinds of aesthetic practices, that he named ‘systems aesthetics’. For example, in Paik’s TV Buddha (1974) a seemingly closed and meditative cybernetic system is interlaced by a viewer captured in the process of observation. In this and other works Paik extended possibilities within which the relationship between human and machine became more than one of feedback; it became systemic and aesthetic. In his writings Paik identified the way that Wiener’s “sensory members” contributed to art machines that inhabited the forces of entropy and the realm of the more-than human.

    Formed from a combination of aesthetic flux and cybernetics the more-than human art machine, suggests productive affinities that continue to be developed by artists questioning straightforward aesthetic relationships with objects. In an age where it is essential to temper aesthetics with ethics, and when visual data are quickly distributed via multitudes of networks, artists are again questioning the utopian dreams of the very materials we work with. As Paik said:

    “the real issue implied in ‘Art and Technology’ is not to make another scientific toy, but how to humanize the technology and the electronic medium.”

    The final section of this paper will show how the equation of flux plus cybernetics resonates in a number of contemporary art machines that simultaneously corrupt and celebrate the connectivity of the network.


    Top Ten: NZ media artists

    I was asked to make a list of New Zealand media artists currently doing interesting things. This is only a beginning, and the exact definition of what or who a media artist might be is still under dispute. Updates and corrections gratefully received.

    ONSITE (living in New Zealand)

    Stella Brennan is a video and installation artist. Brennan was a finalist in the Walters Prize in 2006 and has shown in the Sydney and Liverpool Biennales. Her work is marked by critical approach to the future promises of media and encompasses materials as diverse as packing crates, ceramics and psychedelic film. She curated the early media art exhibition Dirty Pixels in 2002, and we co-curated Cloudland for ISEA Singapore in 2008. She is a director of the ADA network and together we edited the Aotearoa Digital Arts Reader in 2008. http://stella.net.nz/

    Rachael Rakena. (Kāi Tahu, Ngā Puhi). Rakena showed Aniwaniwa, a collaborative work with Brett Graham, in the Venice Biennale 2007. Her recent works include complex underwater choreography where ideas about iwi identity, and the subjects’ dis/embodiment are reflected in both digital and water spaces. http://www.waikatomuseum.org.nz/news/pageid/2145843405

    Julian Priest was co-founder of early wireless freenetwork community Consume.net in London. Now based in Whanganui and running The Green Bench project space, he is an activist and advocate for the freenetworking movement and has pursued wireless networking as a theme in fields of arts, development, and policy. His media work Information comes from the Sun was shown at ISEA 2011 Istanbul. Julian is a director of the ADA network. http://julianpriest.org/

    Hye Rim Lee (South Korea and NZ) works in 3D animation, character design, video and glass. Her digital work questions the social construction of the female figure, particularly in the Asian diaspora, the work speaks to the manipulation and perception of female sexual identity worldwide. http://www.hyerimlee.com/

    Jae-Hoon Lee (South Korea and NZ) digitally manipulates photographs of the landscape, plants and body, reinventing still and moving images that are both familiar and startling. Lee was selected for the 2011 Anne Landa Award for Video and New Media (AGNSW, Sydney). http://www.jaehoonlee.net/

    Janine Randerson is an Auckland based artist who works with a range of time-based media including 16mm film, digital audio and video and computer programmed interaction design. Her art practice is often interdisciplinary with a focus on science and climate. http://www.janineranderson.com/

    Sean Kerr. Media based sound and installation artist Sean Kerr’s interests lie in the emergent area of new media technologies, incorporating internet art, installation and sonic practices, but with a particular focus on the expectations and effects of interactivity. Kerr often creates scenarios and machines that lead to unexpected and accidental explorations of communication. http://www.seankerr.auckland.ac.nz/

    Seung Yul Oh (South Korea and NZ) creates playful interactive networked engagements alongside equally gentle sculptural investigations. In 2011 Oh is showing at ART HK in Hong Kong and his online interactive Rain was included in the online screens exhibiton curated by Luke Munn. http://www.screens.org.nz/seung-yul-oh-rain/

    Nathan Pohio (Kati Mamoe, Ngai Tahu and Waitaha) works in video with a clear engagement with the histories of media and the screen. His moving images repeatedly return to the masculine figure in the landscape, constructed through and by his image. http://nathanpohio.yolasite.com/

    Aaron and Hannah Beehre. Working inbetween design, painting and interactive surfaces the Beehre’s work contains a distinctly digital sensibility. In 2007 their Winter Rose activated the rose window of the Christchurch Cathedral through motion sensors placed in the square. http://www.hannahandaaronbeehre.co.nz/

    Clinton Watkins. Working in the synesthetic spaces of sound and image Watkins produces large generative colourfield projections. Watkins works with generative software that connects sound and image through the physical experience of the audience by overlapping their sensory receptors. http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/clinton_watkins/

    Phil Dadson’s media practice is based in a deep knowledge of sound and performance. Working for the past 40 years within international contexts Dadson challenges the boundaries of the instrument re-introducing the body and ‘new’ media to the production of sound and image. His 2011 exhibition Deep Water pulls these strands together in a visual exploration of refracted and reflected space. Dadson was nominated for the Walters Art Prize in 2006. http://www.sonicsfromscratch.co.nz/index.php

    Lisa Reihana’s (Ngā Puhi) ongoing project Digital Marae has been realized in multiple contexts and was included in the Anne Landa Award in 2009 and the Liverpool Biennale in 2008. Working between installation, moving image, and time-based media works Reihana transports viewers in space and time making us rethink the constructions of both histories and futures. http://www.tepapa.govt.nz/Whatson/exhibitions/Pages/Maiitearohakotearoha.aspx

    Alex Monteith works in in video. Her current multiple screen installations involves complex choreography of adrenalin fuelled modes of transport or subtle meditations on the New Zealand environment. Monteith uses video media to distort and represent the world through a new frame. Her 2.5 Kilometre Mono Action for a Mirage was included in the New Zealand International Film Festival in 2011 and she was nominated for the Walters Art Prize in 2010. http://www.alexmonteith.com/index.php

    Shona McCullagh works between dance and film introducing a kinaesthetic sensibility and interactivity to visual practice. http://www.humangarden.co.nz/mondonuovo/

    Daniel Belton. Artistic director of “Good Company” Belton produces dance films and installations that have a very particular sensibility moving between a romantic fascination with 18th century technologies and 21st century practices and ideas of the body. http://www.goodcompanyarts.com/main.html

    Douglas Bagnall. Working with the hidden details of code, Bagnall produces lively critical interactives, games and installations. His Libsparrow was shown at the Dowse Art Gallery in 2010. He has a key involvement in Floss Manuals and the software creation of digital platforms for other media artists such as “opo” which allows for multiple screens to be generated off a single source. http://halo.gen.nz/db/.

    Bruce Russell has an ongoing sound practice that encompasses experimental and improvisational live practice with recording and curated sonic installation. His influence includes his role as a networker, curator and writer as he works to connect the audio with new forms of media practice. http://www.audiofoundation.org.nz/artist/bruce-russell/74

    Rachel Shearer combines a variety of sound practices – creating sound installations, composing music for film and working as a sound designer/sound editor. She has worked alongside visual artists and filmmakers investigating the particularities of media art as it connects to the materiality of sound. http://starkwhite.blogspot.com/2011/08/rachel-shearers-sound-installation-at.html

    Veronica Vaevae (Cook Islands Maori – Mangaia/Manihiki) works in interdisciplinary and experimental film-making and videography, including photography, sculpture and digital design. Her work has been exhibited throughout Australia, New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Europe and the United States. http://www.physicsroom.org.nz/gallery/2003/lonnieandronnie/

    Janine Randerson is an Auckland based artist who works with a range of time-based media including 16mm film, digital audio and video and computer programmed interaction design. Her art practice is often interdisciplinary with a focus on science and climate. http://www.janineranderson.com/

    OFFSITE (living outside of NZ)

    Daniel Crooks (NZ and AU). Photographer and video artist, Daniel Crooks redefines familiar experiences of reality through digitally manipulated images with figures and objects appearing to organically mutate through time and space. Crooks has been included in the Sydney Biennale 2010, the Anne Landa Award 2007, and the Tate Modern’s Figuring Landscapes in 2009. http://danielcrooks.com/

    Luke Munn (NZ and Berlin) is an interactive designer who’s practice includes the creation of websites, games, exhibitions, animation, and social widgets. In addition, he was Online Curator for Window, commissioning a range of work from NZ and international artists, and curated the influential online gallery screens.org in 2010. http://www.lukemunn.com/ and http://www.screens.org.nz/

    Daniel von Sturmer (NZ and AU) constructs optically puzzling engagements with video, motion and space through screen installation. He critically manipulates our experiences of the body with objects often behaving in unique ways. He was in the Anne Landa Award in 2006, the Biennale of Sydney in 2004, and in 2007 represented Australia at the Venice Biennale. http://www.danielvonsturmer.com/index.html

    Helen Varley Jamieson (NZ , Europe and online) uses the internet for live performance. Created the upstage platoform for live cyberformance and curates a yearly international festival on the site. Her new work make shift premiered in December 2010 in Italy, UK and online. http://www.make-shift.net/ and http://www.creative-catalyst.com/

    Hayden Fowler (NZ, Sydney and Berlin) constructs elaborate sets in which he choreographs human or animal subjects, creating hyper-real video and photographic work from within these fictional spaces. http://haydenfowler.net/index.html

    Honor Harger (NZ and UK) influential curator, director of The Lighthouse Brighton, UK; and advocate for NZ experimental sound and media arts internationally. Her practice with radio and sound is reflected in her 2011 TED talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/honor_harger_a_history_of_the_universe_in_sound.html

    Adam Hyde (NZ and Berlin) runs the influential FLOSS Manuals involved in documenting and advocating for open source artist’s tools and software. http://www.flossmanuals.net/

    Julian Oliver (NZ and Berlin) works intensively with software and artistic game development. In 2010 Oliver was awarded the Golden Nica by the Prix Ars Electronica for newstweek a collaborative project with his studio partner Danja Vasiliev. Julian is an advocate of free software, working exclusively with free and open source software in his own practice. http://julianoliver.com

    Other people who should be in this list but do not call themselves media artists:

    Adam Willetts
    et al.
    Ronnie van Hout
    Joyce Campbell
    Simon Ingram
    Eugene Hansen
    Peter Robinson


    The Aotearoa Digital Arts Reader

    Su Ballard and Stella Brennan, (eds.) The Aotearoa Digital Arts Reader Auckland and Dunedin: Aotearoa Digital Arts and Clouds Publishing, July 2008. ISBN: 97-095827899-7

    Drawing on four years of online discussion and four face-to-face conferences, The Aotearoa Digital Arts (ADA) Reader presents key texts on new media art to a broader audience. Edited by Stella Brennan and Susan Ballard and designed by Jonty Valentine, the book is composed of 20 histories and topical essays, along with 11 pageworks by selected artists. The ADA Reader is designed to bridge the space between academic text and artistic monograph. The publication records the practices occurring in New Zealand within a context of critical and historical discussion. Ranging from research into the preservation of digital artworks to the environmental impact of electronic culture, from discussions of lo-tech aesthetics to home gaming, and from sophisticated data mapping to pre-histories of new media, this book presents a screen grab of digital art in Aotearoa New Zealand.

    All contributors are members of Aotearoa Digital Arts, New Zealand’s only digital artists’ network. With its mix of work by artists, theorists and educators, this reader represents some of the best new thinking about digital art practices in Aotearoa New Zealand, reflecting the politics of location, yet highly relevant to the wider contexts of digital media art and culture.

    The Aotearoa Digital Arts Reader had its international launch on July 28, 2008 at the National Museum of Singapore. The launch was hosted by Martin Harvey, New Zealand High Commissioner to Singapore as part of the 2008 International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA). In Singapore ADA also presented Cloudland: Digital Art from Aotearoa New Zealand.

    240 pages, full colour.  Published by Aotearoa Digital Arts and Clouds. Available here.

    download my chapter here ((replace this image with the PDF)):




    The Substation, July 24th–August 3rd, 2008
    Curated by Su Ballard, Zita Joyce and Stella Brennan for Aotearoa Digital Arts
    A partner exhibition of the 14th International Symposium of Electronic Arts, ISEA2008, Singapore

    Cloudland: Catalogue essay (by Su Ballard, Stellan Brennan and Zita Joyce)

    The Maori name now used for New Zealand is Aotearoa, ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’, a description of the form of islands glimpsed from the ocean, their mountains obscured by the vapour gathering around their peaks. Cloudland draws on this duality of the solid and insubstantial to address the instability of place and its definitions, the permeability of boundaries and the connections between people and place.The borders of any island nation appear clearly delineated, inked on maps by the sea. However this misleading conflation of the political and natural obscures the historical contingencies of nationhood, the processes of ‘discovery’, colonization and treaties as well as the tectonic shiftings and changing sea levels that stake out the land itself. The political space of New Zealand extends out to a distant boundary, meeting the edge of international waters at a point defined by geospatial coordinates but entirely open to the movements of ocean and its life. Despite its isolation New Zealand’s borders are permeated by flows of finance, power, people and communication. It is in these more ephemeral but materially consequent realms that the maintenance of national space becomes an anxious and uneven enterprise. Founded on long waves of settlement from the Pacific and beyond, Aotearoa New Zealand retains tensions between the indigenous and the imported – on the one hand obsessed with defining identity and maintaining biosecurity, and on the other, free of tariffs and trade restrictions and welcoming of foreign investment. These fluid borders blur the edges and obscure the shape of the nation.

    Internationally, ideas of ‘New Zealand’ are barely separated from the iconography of geography; the land encapsulated in postcard images of mountains, bush and beaches, fragmented by advertising campaigns, digitally blended cinematographic landscapes, the nostalgic flora and fauna of souvenir t-shirts and homewares. Cloudland takes this iconic New Zealand and extracts its foundational myths of isolation and inventiveness, distance and ingenuity, identifying a place self-consciously located at the edge of the world. Belying this claim to isolation, the works in Cloudland have multiple connections to the global flows of contemporary art, connections exemplified first by experimental film-maker and kinetic sculptor Len Lye. Lye left New Zealand in 1920, spending time in Samoa and Australia before moving to London, and then in the 1940s, to New York. His stated aim was to “compose motion, just as musicians compose sound.” Lye’s is a classic expatriate story of the long-lost son drawn back into a nationalist mythology, with a pedigree naming many major figures in twentieth century art. Communicating the physicality of its production, Free Radicals choreographs motion. Inscribed with the materiality of Lye’s direct film processes, the visceral appeal of its forms are barely contained by the frame.

    The exclusions and exclusions of the camera frame are also important to Alex Monteith’s Composition for farmer, three dogs and 120 sheep for four-channel video installation. Informed by her experiences as a former farm worker, Monteith directs the movement of a mob of sheep across the multiple frames of her recording cameras. Composition for farmer… engages with the rural craft of mustering, a practice transformed into a sport for televised entertainment in the 1970s. Once screened on primetime, competition mustering is a performative reworking of the global flows of trade in which New Zealand’s links to empire, once forged by meat, wool and milk were extended into domestic entertainment and touristic imaginaries.

    This notion of how realpolitik reforms geographies and imaginations is also examined in Stella Brennan’s South Pacific. The video’s text and grainy pictures explore how Japanese empire-building during the Second World War shifted global conceptions of the Pacific, its waters and islands. Submerged forms emerge from the dark, revealed by ultrasound, sonar and radar.

    Radio signals, like sound waves, are uncontained by political borders, bouncing between ocean and ionosphere, but they are also produced by localized conditions of transmission. Bruce Russell, Adam Willetts, and PSN Electronic’s works in Etherradio are highly place-specific, with a sound and texture imbued by the particular wavelengths and content of the frequency bands they tap into and the atmospheric conditions and geographical features that shape their signals. Radio is not used in these pieces for its intentional communications content, rather it is a constant and pervasive presence that these artists intercept, make audible and sculpt into new forms. Although the particularity of radio signals – the structures of ownership and control that determine their use – is shaped by political and economic forces, the ‘simple’ presence of radio signals is still experienced as a quasi-mystical force, an ether from which unearthly and un-human sounds can be drawn.

    Radio transmission transformed global communications, combining the intimacy of the voice with the collapsing of distance. More recent technologies enact desires for immediacy rather than broadcast. In Listening Heads Kentaro Yamada emphasises the anthropomorphism of technology, literalising the interface: his heads smile, yawn or frown in response to the sound of speech. But the connection is somehow dissatisfying; the work’s interlocutors are stranded within a facsimile of communication.

    A more sinister monologue, et al.’s the shape of things interrogates the exertion of control. Corollary to any sustaining myth of isolation are the politics of inclusion and exclusion, the defining of territory and the policing of boundaries. et al. forms these mechanisms into a bureaucratic tableau. Movement is no longer choreography or conversation, but stasis, instruction and potential terror.

    It is a comfortable fiction to say that we know precisely where one thing begins and another ends. Clouds, like screens, both reveal and obscure. As technologies are used to distance and control, and territories are closed off, and subject to surveillance, this clouding of space becomes another form of isolation. In its awareness of the contingencies of distance and proximity, Cloudland reflects on place and the flows that connect us, evoking an island location both seen and unseen, ethereal and material.


    Len Lye, 'Free Radicals', 4 min, 16mm b&w, 1958 revised 1979, USA Image courtesy the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and the Len Lye Foundation.

    Len Lye Free Radicals 1958 revised 1979

    16 mm film, b&w, 4 minutes, music by the Bagirmi tribe of Africa, courtesy the Len Lye Foundation, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth.

    Granddaddy of New Zealand experimental media practice, Len Lye (1901-1980) is known for his vivid and entrancing films – often made by directly scratching, painting and printing onto filmstock – and his kinetic sculptures that boom, flip and crash. Free Radicals repurposes and reimagines film through movement hand-scratched onto black film leader. Lightning-fashes, scribbles and stripes synchronise to drumming – a homage to Yoruba, god of thunder. The music was printed as an optical soundtrack, the waveforms of which then feed back into Lye’s animation. The film retains a sense of process, of Lye’s fascination with doodling and unconcious mark-making as a way to access deeply held, pre-rational understanding. Scratching the emulsion back to the clear film beneath, the drawn marks of the hand are clearly visible. Lye’s studied mix of accident and control sends scribbles rotating and stripes dancing across the frame. Forms pulse and twist in a kinesthetic meld of image and sound. Free Radicals suggests molecular interactions; the film’s black void could be interatomic or interstellar space.

    Stella Brennan South Pacific 2007

    Single channel video, sound, 10 minutes, courtesy the artist and Starkwhite.

    Stella Brennan’s South Pacific made in collaboration with radiologist Dr David Perry, examines the links between sonar, radar and ultrasound; technologies for making images from non-visual sources. Playing with relations between the visual, aural and textual, the work explores how the Second World War changed the perception of oceanic space and the conflict’s legacy in the region. In 1954 American radiologist D. Howry and his team created live ultrasound images using declassified material from the gun turret of a B29 Superfortress – planes which, at the close of the Second World War would leave Pacific island airfields in their hundreds to bomb the Japanese mainland. Reviving a technique of this early experimental ultrasound, which required the patient to be immersed in water, Brennan forms images exploring the interface between war, technology and perception. South Pacific recalls stories of tropical lagoons littered with rusting ordnance and coral islands flattened for runway, a vast ocean is glimpsed by radar, video and ultrasound.

    et al. the social meaning of things 2008

    Network-based multi-media installation, sound.

    Current work of the et al. collective is best summarised as a kind of archiving of societal events and issues, aspects of which are explored through immersive installation environments that engage with issues of global political inter- (or hyper-) activity, fundamentalisms, and belief systems. The collective’s practice evokes the closed and secretive dimensions of global communication, information, and transport networks, and to this end the social meaning of things deploys tools such as synthesised speech, political sound bites and aleatoric scripting, reconstructed Google Earth visuals and advertising hoardings and noticeboards. et al.’s scenario both informs and excludes the viewer. the social meaning of things is embedded in the political flows that create, maintain, and permeate nations and borders.

    Alex Monteith Composition for farmer, three dogs and 120 sheep for four-channel video installation 2006

    Four channel video, sound, 18 minutes

    Alex Monteith’s Composition for farmer… tweaks an archetype of agrarian New Zealand, so often described as a nation of 40 million sheep and 4 million people. In the crisp air of a Taranaki farm, Lloyd Bishop, a champion New Zealand dog triallist, expertly choreographs three dogs and 120 sheep across the viewfinders of Monteith’s four simultaneously recording video cameras. The once-primetime television staple of sheepdog trialling, where farmers and their dogs compete to usher a mob of sheep through a course and into a pen in record time, becomes in Monteith’s video installation a pattern of animal and human bodies. There is nostalgia for an imagined rustic innocence, contradicted by the muddy specificity and the fantastic pointlessness of this choreography. Formally, the work draws a relationship between the rigid framing of the camera lens and the pegged arenas the sheep move between. This work evokes nationalist, multi-screen hymns like This is New Zealand, a celebration of culture and landscape that screened at the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka.

    Kentaro Yamada Listening Heads 2006

    Interactive installation

    Kentaro Yamada’s Listening Heads highlights the nuances of communication made from the non-linguistic elements that shape conversation. Speaking into one of the microphones hanging in front of these large-scale video portraits provokes an emotive but silent expression from the sitters – they frown, fall asleep, look bored, or intent. The viewer engages in a phantasmic conversation, seeking by habit an approving or appropriate look from faces that appear open and responsive but simply form a thin veneer over a computer interface. The resulting monologue can feel reassuringly complete, an illusion of interaction framed by intangible presence. Sometimes the spoken input and the video response coincide, but other times the head’s reply leaves the viewer with the sense of a communication breakdown. Listening Heads plays with our human perception of the face as privileged object. The illusion that the heads listen and respond turns the portraits into a kind of mirror, returning our gaze. By clothing his hardware and software in his friends’ visages Yamada constructs a kind of wordless Turing test.


    PSN Electronic, Bruce Russell and Adam Willetts. 2008

    3 x portable sound players with headphones. Total running time approx 50 minutes.

    Sound artists Bruce Russell, Adam Willetts, and PSN Electronic (Peter Stapleton, Su Ballard, and Nathan Thompson) use old and new radio technologies in ways that reveal both the richness of radio as a material of media art, and the density of New Zealand’s unseen radio environment. These three works were recorded in the South Island in June and July 2008. Through the interaction of radio waves, atmosphere, and topography they are infused with the winter storms of the Southern Pacific, the volcanic hills and harbours of Port Lyttelton, Port Chalmers and the reclaimed swampland around Christchurch’s Avon River.

    Bruce Russell: Electro-magnetic Feedback Study #1 (Strange House in the Snow). Recorded in Lyttelton during a snowstorm, this piece was created with the audio produced by an electromagnetic feedback loop produced by a roughly wound coil of galvanised steel wire, connected to a Tivoli Model 1 radio through the external aerial socket. An audio line out was taken from the Tivoli to the #1 and #2 inputs of Bruce’s vintage Concord Contessa guitar amplifier. The coil was then placed around the speaker magnet in the rear of the amplifier. The radio was tuned to the so-called ‘X-band’, the frequencies above the AM broadcast radio band in New Zealand, used for radio-location and navigation.

    PSN Electronic: Teleporter 1 (recording)

    Electronic samples, Korg and shortwave radio. In the Teleporter series of works PSN Electronic explore the landscape of electricity and broadcast, constructing new sound environments by reconfiguring afterimages of recordings and transmissions. The works are inspired by the Voyager discoveries on Mars, by remote core samples and images dissolved into thin strands of data transmitted back to Earth, information delayed and filtered through transmission and reception. From the less distant locale of Port Chalmers, PSN Electronic engage a process of dissolution and reconstruction, weaving radio transmissions and field recordings into a new kind of landscape. Teleporter 1 explores unknown environments that melt on examination.

    Adam Willetts: Electrosmog Lightning Ride

    Electrosmog Lightning Ride is an improvised sound work created using walkie-talkies, Wii Remotes and an electrosmog detector to produce complex patterns of gesturally-controlled radio interference, feedback, and live sampling. This tactile and physical approach to electronic improvisation incorporates the wireless space and electrosmog of these instruments as both method of control and as audible output. Adam emphasises the presence and position of the body, locating it in electromagnetic space and revelling in the magic of the ether.

    Etherradio Live: Experimental Music from New Zealand

    Live performance by PSN Electronic and Adam Willetts, The Substation Theatre, 10:30pm, July 27 2008.

    In performance Adam Willetts and PSN Electronic create improvised sound works that engage with the particularities of the Singaporean radioscape – shaped by a very different combination of atmospheric, political and geographic conditions than New Zealand’s.

    Adam Willetts: Electrosmog Lightning Ride Live

    Tearing up the ether and playing with the wreckage, Adam Willetts presents a live performance using a homemade analog synthesizer along with the same methodologies used to realise Electrosmog Lightning Ride. In performance, the dynamic and physical nature of Adam’s practice is foregrounded, creating a live experience that is as visually engaging as it is sonically powerful.

    PSN Electronic: Teleporter 9b (performance)

    In this performance drawing on the Teleporter explorations, the group incorporates analogue radio signal, samples, field recordings and antiquated electronics. Teleporter 9b brings this electronic graveyard to life, making audible the sounds of the technologies used as well as the dislocated messages they transmit. In the theatre Nathan and Peter will improvise a sound work using shortwave radios, prepared samples and manipulated source materials. This will be live mixed with Su’s real time transmission of analogue synthesiser frequencies. The performance gives physical presence to electronic transmissions, converting them into live sonic sculptural elements. By using the remote connection of the Internet they make audible the cut and paste aesthetic of packeted information. The performance also includes reprocessed film footage to connect the separate temporal spaces of broadcast.

    About the Artists

    Len Lye
    Len Lye is one of New Zealand’s most widely known modernist artists, a filmmaker, painter, kinetic sculptor, writer and theorist who was a leading member of the London and New York avant-garde from the 1930s to the 1970s. Lye’s abstract films pioneered cameraless processes such as direct painting, printing and scratching onto the surface of the emulsion. His work is held in collections including the Whitney Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art. His work is overseen by the Len Lye Foundation at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth.

    Stella Brennan
    Stella Brennan is a writer, artist, curator, co-founder of the Aotearoa Digital Arts network, and co-curator of Cloudland. Her works examine technology, obsolescence and utopianism. Recent projects include White Wall/Black Hole, shown at the 2006 Sydney Biennale, a video exploring the 1979 Erebus Disaster (when an Air New Zealand plane crashed into the Antarctic mountain) and Wet Social Sculpture, an installation featuring whale song, psychedelic film and a fully operational spa pool, which was nominated for the 2006 Walters Prize, New Zealand’s most prestigious art award. Her work has been shown in Asia, North America and Europe, and is included in this year’s Liverpool Biennale.

    Alex Monteith
    Alex Monteith is a new media artist and academic based in Auckland. Her work incorporates sound, performance, photography, film, video, kinetic and network components to explore the politics, freedoms and limits the camera allows. Alex’s technically sophisticated installations have been shown in galleries throughout New Zealand, and her film work has played in festivals around the world. Her projects engage consumer electronics and surveillance technology to explore relationships between performativity, time, technology and place.

    Kentaro Yamada
    Kentaro Yamada is a new media artist who was born in Fukuoka, Japan but was raised, and now lives in New Zealand, where he works with graphic and web design and creates video, sound, and interactive installations. Kentaro’s work Tampopo was a finalist for the 2008 Share prize in Turin, Italy, and he has exhibited in Auckland, Texas, Thailand, Melbourne, and on rhizome.

    et al.
    The et al. collective’s works integrate multi-media and network techniques with sculptural elements. Video manipulation and programmed temporal and spatial sequencing of audio animates environments redolent of obsolescence, surveillance and anxiety. The collective have exhibited extensively in New Zealand and Europe, they were awarded the 2004 Walters Prize by Robert Storr for their installation restricted access, and represented New Zealand at the 51st Venice Biennale with the fundamental practice. et al.’s 2008 exhibitions include a proposal concerning at the Biennale of Sydney (online) and altruistic studies at Art Unlimited, Art 39 Basel.

    PSN Electronic
    PSN Electronic was formed in 1999 by three sound artists with a long history in improvised music. Using a variety of methods and equipment, PSN Electronic focus on the sonic potential of broadcast media and short-wave radio. Peter Stapleton has played in numerous ensembles including Flies inside the Sun, Dadama, and Sleep, and legendary New Zealand rock outfit The Terminals. Peter curated the Lines of Flight sound festival from 2000-2006. Co-curator of Cloudland, and a performer with The Sferic Experiment in the early nineties and later with Sleep, Su Ballard writes and lectures on sound, electronic art and media art histories. Su is also a trustee of Aotearoa Digital Arts. Nathan Thompson is a founding member of influential experimental ensemble Sandoz Lab Technicians as well as Sleep and the free rock outfit eye, and has released solo electronic albums under the name Expansion Bay. His video works have been shown in Australia and New Zealand and he performed at the Space and Place Stockholm New Music festival in 2006.

    Adam Willetts
    Adam Willetts is a musician and artist whose practice shifts casually between hi-tech and handcrafted as he explores the relationships and interfaces between people, technology and popular culture. His use of DIY electronics, radio, computers and game controllers creates dynamic and surprising live performances that carefully balance elements of fragile beauty with violent eruptions of static, electromagnetic interference and feedback. Adam has been performing and exhibiting throughout New Zealand and internationally since the late 1990s featuring at numerous festivals and exhibitions including Lines of Flight 2006, TASIE (Beijing) 2006, and S3D 2007.

    Bruce Russell

    Alongside work as a sound artist, Bruce Russell is well known as a member of influential rock group the Dead C and free-noise pioneers A Handful of Dust. He processes and transforms sound through a veritable junkyard of analogue electronics and a variety of broadcast radio and other electromagnetic sources. Bruce has composed several radiophonic works for broadcast on ORF/Austrian National Radio’s Kunstradio show, ResonanceFM, and Radio New Zealand, as well as for exhibition in the MAAP (Multimedia Art Asia Pacific) Festival at the Powerhouse (Centre for the Live Arts), Brisbane, Australia.

    Zita Joyce
    Co-curator of Cloudland, Zita Joyce is a lecturer in Communications at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. She has recently completed a PhD thesis about the allocation of radio spectrum, and has a particular interest in the physical, political and cultural ‘space’ of wirelessness. Zita is also a trustee of Aotearoa Digital Arts.