premier of queensland's national new media art award 2010

Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane
28 August - 7 November 2010

Hovering like alien chandeliers at the entrance to the Gallery of Modern Art’s Media Gallery, housing the Premier of Queensland’s National New Media Art Award 2010, were Nigel Helyer’s Voxæther sound sculptures. Made from laser-cut transparent acrylic, the highly symmetrical forms are derived from Radiolaria—microscopic amoeboid protozoa that inhabit the oceans. The exotic and intricate shapes of Radiolaria were first brought to public attention in 1904 by the biologist Ernst Haeckel in his Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms of Nature). Wrapped around these exotic otherworldly forms were wires which resonated like a theremin, an early electronic instrument, also known as an aetherphone.

Easily the coolest work in the exhibition, Soda_Jerk’s Astro Black: A History of Hip-Hop is an hilarious four-screen video mash up. Combining elements I would not normally expect to find in a history of hip-hop, sisters Danielle and Dominique Angeloro mix video like frenzied turntabalists. Protest banners held up in Public Enemy’s ’80’s music video Fight The Power feature radical jazz pioneer Sun Ra—the messenger from Saturn—whilst the members of Kraftwerk do the ‘beam me up, Scotty’ to meet with Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

Continuing in the futuristic theme, Wade Marynowsky’s robots greeted us in an adjacent darkened room, barking out stilted proposals. The work’s title, The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie Robot 2 references Bunuel’s 1972 film, however the work has more in common with a Dalek. The over-sized floating automaton appeared like a frilly revolving cake, all dolled-up but somehow trapped on the dance floor. In the darkness its size intimidated, but with the pompous and refined dressings it became both attractive and repulsive. Its many layers of masks immediately provoked our sense of distrust.

Chris Howlett’s Metropolis: Part I–III re-invents the popular SimCity computer game which allows users to plan and construct virtual cities. The work draws on the phenomena of game players recording and sharing episodes. Three gated suburban complexes are presented, each with homogeneous houses providing an outwardly sterile and conformative environment. Playing on themes of mediated fear and distrust, the cities are gradually impacted by natural disasters. As the ‘model’ falls apart, the isolated citizens become increasingly sick and agitated, perhaps due to the fact that there appears nothing to do and no way to communicate. The work reflects the mood of a generation of cloistered gamers going about their ways with an outward ‘everything’s fine’, whilst discretely masking their isolation and anguish.

Philip Brophy’s video animation 10 Flaming Youths traces similar concerns. Faces sourced from website marketing to youth are animated in 2D; rising out of the ocean they move towards the foreground and disintegrate or burn up. The flaming youth of the 1920s were the first generation to identify themselves as culturally apart from the rest with distinguishing haircuts, music and their own lingo. In 10 Flaming Youths we see the monotonous continuity as each youth generation appears as an iconic but speechless cut-out—‘hovering somewhere between airbrushed sterility, wall stencilled sharpness and manga-styled appearance’.¹ The rebellion of each new generation seems effortlessly swallowed up by the latest marketing fads and gizmos. In a pop-art style, the mindlessness and flatness merely stares back at you.

Lynette Wallworth’s work played with our lack of patience and demand for immediate gratification. Still:Waiting2 presents a placid image of a nondescript group of trees at twilight in the Flinders Ranges. We wait… watching the jostling amongst the pink and white corellas on the silhouetted branches. Finally I rescinded, but just as I turned to leave the trees erupted with a chaotic fluttering and squawking of birds which was quite astounding. On a second visit to the exhibition I discovered the sensors discretely set up to trigger the sudden departure of the flock, just as you exit the room.

The recipients of the $75,000 biennial award were Isobel Knowles and Van Sowerwine (previously from Queensland), for You Were In My Dreams. Constructed like an arcade game, the user navigates through a paper-cut stop-motion animation set in a darkened fairy tale. In an ingenious update of the old head-in-hole photo trick, via a live video feed, the user recognises their own face as the central protagonist. Our expectations are subverted again as we navigate the often less than cheerful outcomes offered to us. The success of the paired collaboration is in its immediacy, and that the technical aspects are hidden from view and the playful interactive aspects brought to the fore. 

notes: 

1. Philip Brophy, 10 Transforming Youths, City of Melbourne/Signal, Melbourne 2010, p.29.