A Mediatised Performance Conference :: Stephen Noonan

1 & 2 December 2005, School of Media, Film & Theatre, University of NSW, Australia

This was a good conference that went a considerable way in addressing the needs of academics but could have gone a lot further in addressing the needs of practicing artists. This was reflected by the high attendance of academics and minimal attendance by practising artists.

The majority of delegates and presenters were from the university sector, either as lecturers, researchers or current post-graduate students. As a consequence the ‘language’ of this conference was very complex, detailed and embedded in an academic style discourse. Likewise presentation styles of the presenters were formal using PowerPoint and a lecture style formats.

In hindsight because of the location it was not surprising the conference had a very academic feel. By academic I mean processes and practices that are strongly referenced by socio cultural and linguistic theories.

During this conference, for the majority of the time, I was satisfied and engaged with the level of discussion and activity. However at times I did feel the language and regular referencing of socio cultural and linguistic theories did disengage me. This is not to say that these types of conferences should limit academic style discourse and discussion. I believe it is a very important component of these types of conferences. It prompts me to become more engaged with these theories and discourses.

Questions and observations that arose for me included how do the conference organisers and presenters distinguish between research thesis work and mediatised performance work. For me this conference was dominated by research thesis work that was seeking publication and to be submitted as part of course work for a PhD.

As detailed above most conference delegates were from the academic sector. There were very few practising artists. Hypothetically what would have attendance been like if this conference had been hosted at The Performance Space or Artspace in Sydney or Meat Market in Melbourne ( providing they had the resources). My feeling this that more practising artists would have attended if the latter venues were used.

The benefits to my artistic practice
While it might sound like this little puppy was complaining that the conference was very academic I feel this environment encouraged me to think about my work through a socio cultural political lens. I believe that the person is political and therefore all my work, to varying degrees, has some socio cultural political commentary.

One of my initial questions related to the work of the Unreasonable Adults and how we can, and might, continue to work in remote and off site ways. Many of our projects have one or more company members working remotely from the other members. This is usually due to geographical and travel constraints. The remote member will send QuickTime footage, sms text, jpeg pix, email instructions, PowerPoint presentation, blog or run a web cast.

After speaking to a number of people at the conference I feel technology maximises and productively layers our work. Having said that I feel after watching a number of video pieces at the conference it is important not to smother and thereby diffuse the clarity of the work.

While I did not meet other artists at this conference working in exactly the same way there was good discussion regarding how an audience views this type of work being less ‘live’.

‘Liveness’ was one of the main ideas being discussed at this conference. Can it be live art if the performer is an artificial life form? What is the place of artistic robots? A metaphor for the human? A substitute for the human? A parody of a human? The keynote presenter, Philip Auslander, says the viewer often privileges the ‘live’ over the ‘mediatised’. We see a ‘live’ performer being authentic and real whereas the mediatised being constructed and less real. Auslander correctly points that a mediatised performance shouldn’t be reduced to a binary oppositional view of live and non-live. More importantly each event and process has the potential to engage and connect with it’s audience. Good art engages and keep us curious. This was a ‘light bulb’ moment for me, something I was aware of but good to hear again. On ya Philip.

My major contribution to the conference was through our (Unreasonable Adults) presentation of The End of Romance. We performed this piece on the first night. Both the organisers and audience were engaged and enjoyed the show. Audiences commented that they enjoyed our irreverent and playful style. David Williams in Realtime (No.71 Feb/ Mar ’06) said ‘The End of Romance ….was a refreshing reminder that the technological is most productively linked to the social context of its use.’

On occasion we addressed ‘liveness’ as did many, presenters, by dealing with the inevitable technical glitches. As David Williams said the ever-present sense of potential technical disaster kept all the mediatisation firmly in the realm of the live.

The opportunity to perform at this conference was excellent preparation and introduction for our residency at The Performance Space in January 2006. It was great to meet and network with fellow artists and audience. People had heard of our Oz Co. Inter Arts Office awarded residency and were therefore keen to see our work at e-Performance & Plug-ins.

Through this conference I have met significant national and international contributors to the field of ‘e’ and mediatised performance. It has given me the networks and confidence to speak to and about these contributors.

At this conference I met and am interested in following the work of:
Anna Davis – Sydney based artist creating screen personas in environments where personal communication is difficult.
Clare Grant – Sydney based artist / lecturer working in the area of contemporary performance.
Caitlin Newton-Broad – Sydney based artist / curator / producer is who interested and very supportive of the work of Unreasonable Adults.
Dr. Sarah Rubidge – English practitioner / academic working in the area of dance and digital performance.
Prof. Philip Auslander – American academic / author writing major works on ‘liveness and mediatised culture’.

Thanks to all at ANAT for their support and especially to Jen Brazier for her assistance. These types of opportunities are invaluable for building national and international relationships so on ya ANAT for keeping us connected.

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