Andrew Donovan, Director Inter-arts at the Australia Council responds to Ben Eltham's column in Crikey criticising the lack of support for media & digital arts. The future's bright.
In his article published in Crikey, 23 September 2011
, Ben Eltham states: “For a long time, the Australia Council and many other parts of our local arts sector have turned their backs on new media and digital culture”. Anyone who was fortunate enough to attend ISEA International’s 17th International Symposium on Electronic Art (Istanbul, 14-21 September), will see plenty of evidence to the contrary.
ISEA 2011 Istanbul was a tribute to the talent and thought-provoking contribution that Australian artists make on the international stage in this exciting arena of art.
Could there be more funding for media arts practice in Australia? Of course. However it is simply wrong to say that the Australia Council for the Arts has abandoned media arts or digital practice. It continues to fund excellence in this field, and the international recognition afforded our artists at events like ISEA 2011 demonstrates Australia's contribution is well regarded. This work is not only recognised internationally, but also championed domestically by organisations such as the Australian Network for Art and Technology, Experimenta, the Performance Space, and the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art.
The main ISEA 2011 exhibition at the Cumhuriyet Art Gallery near Taksim Square saw Australian works, all of which were supported by the Australia Council, on exhibition in Uncontainable: The World Is Everything That Is The Case (Sean Cubitt, Vince Dziekan and Paul Thomas, curators) and Signs of Life: Robot Incubator (Kathy Cleland, curator). Both programs featured the works of Australia's leading artists in this field, including Nigel Helyer's Weeping Willow (2011) and Mari Velonaki's hauntingly beautiful Diamandini (2011-2013). Although Kirsty Boyle's exquisite Japanese robot tree ceremony (2011) was held up in customs and could not be displayed, Kirsty started on her other work fragment (2009-2011) and began to hack and develop some robots on the spot. This was a big hit with the locals, attracting a great deal of interest. Other Australian artists supported by the Australia Council and presented at ISEA 2011 included John Tonkin, Karen Casey, Mark Cypher, Tina Gonsalves, Mark Guglielmetti and Mitchell Whitelaw.
In addition, the Australia Council supported the Australian Centre for Virtual Art which launched its own unique contribution to worldwide digital culture at ISEA 2011 – The Australian Journal of Virtual Art – along with an exhibition of a number of Australian virtual art works. Australians exhibiting included Troy Innocent, Anita Fontaine, Andrew Burrell, Warren Armstrong and Aroha Groves, all of whom were supported by the Australia Council.
The Australia Council also supported Stephen Jones, author of Synthetics: Aspects of Art and Technology in Australia, 1956-1975, to launch this new publication at ISEA 2011, during a day with a special focus on Australia. This book provides a wonderful overview of the long history of media arts practice in Australia.
Critically acclaimed Australian work at ISEA 2011 is an example of the impact of the Australia Council’s funding for new media. We recognise it takes time and sustained support to make media arts and digital work happen. The Australia Council provides some of that support through initiatives such as the Synapse art/science program, the Hive Production Fund in partnership with the Adelaide Film Festival, the recent Digital Culture Fund, the ArtLab program of the Inter-Arts Office and Fellowships.
The Australia Council's continued support for media art practice will be evident and on display in 2013, when ISEA returns to Australia after 21 years. ISEA 2013 will be hosted in Sydney, giving Australia the opportunity to once again showcase and celebrate the extraordinary contribution its artists and thinkers make to the world of media arts.
Australia Council for the Arts
Bulletin image: Tina Gonsalves, Chameleon 2008-10