Since the 1960s artists have used digital technologies to develop artworks that offer new sensory experiences. Key to this ongoing history has been the spirit of experimentation, from early explorations in optics and light-based projection as in the minimalist neon light installations of Melbourne artist Peter Kennedy and the perceptual environments of American artist James Turrell, to the more recent computer based works that focus on human interaction and audio visual installation. The field of media arts has developed in parallel to late twentieth and early twenty first century digital culture, often questioning the social and cultural role technology has played in the way we communicate and interact with our world. Advancing technologies and new digital platforms have expanded artistic fields of enquiry into new sensorial experiences which reach beyond the everyday. The artists that feature as part of Sensory Overload share in common a willingness to experiment with diverse media elements to create unique immersive, sensory environments.
The realm of new media art often encompasses hybrid artforms that are experimental by nature and not easily categorised. A plethora of creative explorations use a range of different media; from the poetics of human-computer interactions to audio-visual installations, each unfolds new possibilities for artists and audiences alike. Contemporary new media artists appear to have shifted their focus away from explorations of purely abstract virtual worlds, to examinations of ways technology can be integrated into our immediate, embodied world. In Sensory Overload artists use digital media to create experiences that heighten our sensory engagement with different modes of perception.
The increasing media literacy of audiences has also led the way for an expanded field of interaction using digital arts, resulting in a new sharing of language and ideas. The Australian new media arts sector has continued to thrive as creative people from a range of disciplines have contributed to its development. With the fields of art, science and technology increasingly converging, new creative collaborations are developing between artists and practitioners from a diverse range of disciplines. A number of new media artists now undertake interdisciplinary research with the support of University and industry organisations, often collaborating in teams to explore new and exciting means of engagement through emerging digital platforms.
For many contemporary media artists, academically funded research has played a significant role in the development of their artistic practice. Australian new media artists like Karen Casey and George Khut have undertaken successful collaborations with software developers and medical practitioners to create potent works that reveal the mind’s self generating creative capacity. Casey has drawn upon her prior research into creative brainwave activity at the Brain Sciences Institute in Melbourne to develop her Global Mind project with software designer Harry Sokol, while Khut has developed the iPad application Waveforming from his initial doctoral research into biofeedback at the University of Sydney and subsequent residency at The Children’s Hospital at Westmed. This process of dialogue and exchange with different fields of research has provided these artists with the opportunity to develop their interdisciplinary practice and to engage with emerging technologies in fruitful ways.
Similarly, Kit Wesbter combines cutting edge technology with art and design, merging physical and digital worlds in his unique audio-visual installations. Webster uses 3D mapping techniques to create a musically responsive medium that brings sculptures to life through projected animations and modulations. The experimental synchronisation of pulsating soundscapes and light heightens Webster’s ability to shift and sculpt space in new and exciting ways. Speed, rhythm and geometric abstractions create a theatrical sensorial experience that revels in the interplay of perception and illusion.
Ross Manning’s installations also celebrate the luminous phenomenon of light. His playful electro-mechanical assemblages remind us that contemporary media arts are not confined to emerging media technologies; rather they may also encompass explorations of everyday technology. Manning’s work investigates the autonomous structure of light and the ambiguous space it occupies as a transient phenomenon. Arranging everyday objects such as fans, florescent lights and projectors in playful compositions, Manning reveals optical illumination as a marvellous system of parts. His playful use of familiar objects in this way may be linked across time to the readymades of Marcel Duchamp, who in the early twentieth century offered comparable explorations of the cultural detritus of everyday objects.
The works featured in this exhibition extend the possibilities of new media art. The experimentation and collaboration of contemporary media artists has resulted in the erasure of traditional boundaries separating art, science and technology. While some artists use familiar forms of media in new ways, others explore technologies that are still developing and expanding. Common to all is a drive to move beyond the limitations of the present and to imagine the creative potential of technology and its place in our world.
Charlotte Carter, 2014