Future Suture

Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Perth

Future Suture, which was curated by Derek Kreckler as part of the Festival of Perth, was a joint initiative between IMAGO Multimedia and the Fremantle Film and Television Institute. Four teams of artists using the new digital technologies presented their works online and in a series of room installations in PICA's galleries. Under the headings of Horizons, Project Otto, Tetragenia and Harvesting the Afterlife, these Perth based artists scuffled with the formal and the metaphorical, the real and virtual, and the legacy of commodity culture.

The positioning of the new digital media technologies, and their ambiguous relationship to modernity and industrialisation was well illustrated by this show. Despite the information explosion that the new technologies have caused across select sections of the global economy, the content of art which uses such technologies is still dealing with the issues of a previous communication age. The rhetoric applied to the 'miraculous powers of the microchip-the celebrated symbiosis of information technology, ecology and democracy' 1, is not really in evidence in this show, though Tetragenia dealt with the ambiguity of decontextualised information in a droll enough way. The relationship of technological form and its content is always a problem in the development of new media. Far from a vision of a reconstructed world of information emerging from the breaking down of old industrial certainties, it was modernity's concern with the city, and industrialisation's artefacts and imagery that emerged most strongly from this show. This was perhaps only to be expected given that post-industrial societies are still constituted and governed by their industrial origins; but the lure of the alliterative title of this show promised more ...

Then again, maybe with a closer reading it didn't; maybe the paradox of new technologies dealing with established issues was inherent in the title. Future Suture immediately located us in the mainstream of a technologically determinist modernity. The project title could be read to suggest that a rupture between the actual and the possible could somehow be navigated, or mended by technology. If this was the case then it was slap bang in the middle of the agenda of the Enlightenment. Was the title ironic? It is difficult to tell, as irony is so heavily dependent upon a clearly contextualized set of cultural codes, and the codes used in this show stretched across such a wide range of references.

Refreshingly, there was no sign of digital triumphalism in the show, there couldn't be, its aesthetic antecedents were closer to Ed Wood's Plan Nine from Outer Space than anything else. The installations that framed the computer terminals/monitors/digitised imagery, set up a series of cultural resonances even before one looked at the imagery and information on the screens. 11 was an interesting contradiction, that work accessible through the World Wide Web, a network of sixty million -and growing- users, a multitude of interconnected local, national and international communication networks, should be framed by a toy missile, reams of computer printout paper, a bed and dressing table, and the industrial chic aesthetic of twenty years ago. There was a delightful mismatch between the cybernetic shadow of the world presented to us via the screen, and the institutional and domestic settings in which the individual viewer accessed the digitized information. It paralleled the disorienting experience of accessing from one's lounge room a system that has its origins in the heartlands of the United States' industrial military complex.

The contradictions in negotiating with a supposedly interactive medium were evident in the show. Interaction was limited to passive collaboration with a number of presented choices. Both deliberately and coincidentally one was disciplined and conditioned by the technology, one submitted oneself to obey instructions, and to be pleased at the meagre rewards offered in return. It was a curiously disabling experience passively waiting to read, to harvest, Harvesting the Afterlife's digital version of Burroughs' cut up technique, and to be caught up in Tetragenia's deliberately dysfunctional e.mail campaign.

In Future Suture the images themselves were often less important than the cultural structures that surrounded and conceptually framed them, and the images' collective presence in the show. There was a case for agreeing with Mike Legget2 in arguing that the new electronic media have the potential for an electronic equivalence with a collective oral tradition, and that the struggle for unmediated experience is a valuable utopian strategy. This show was part of this long term process.

notes: 

I. Murray K., 'Mouse, where is they sting?' in Burning the Interface, Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney, 1996.

2. Legget M., 'CD-ROM: The 21st Century Bronze', lbid

Future Suture can be accessed on www.imago.com.au/future suture