Friday, May 9, 2008

AMAAS Conference 2008*

(AMAAS) Alberta Media Arts Alliance’s annual conference continues to grow in scope and size with each passing year, accumulating in 2008 at the Red Deer Lodge. But perhaps experiencing some growing pains in extending beyond earlier regional reincarnations and lineups, the connection to Alberta new media artists and projects has seemingly been relegated to just screening the annual Prairie Tales collection.
Mentorship and history were severely lacking at this year’s conference, where the undeniable highlight ended up being the Prairie Tales screening at local drinking hole, The Vat Pub. Exposing the gems and crevices of new media art in Alberta, the booze fueled public screening at best drew laughs and raised eyebrows from the off-season snow boarders at the bar; and at worst, culled apt assessments of “bourgeoisie bullshit” from the less impressed. The bottom-line for (new media) art remains in its intrinsic ability to communicate thoughts and ideas, but unfortunately, the conference as a whole focused more on esoteric potentials of the medium than the quality and cultural engagement of work produced.
Guest speakers reflected a broad and dislocated spectrum of seemingly borderless and transgressive media artists, but each isolated into a formal speaker-to-audience setting, the lineup appeared little more than an uninformative show-and-tell. From Toronto-based David McCallum, who specializes in wi-fi locative media manipulation and performance to Fabiola Nabil Naguib’s questionable site specific interventionist art, there was a sentiment that these were interesting people with interesting bodies of work, but within a new media arts conference, they and their work were simply not engaging and seemingly non-relevant to Alberta media artists.
McCallum’s mouth-mirroring with his laptop camera as he channeled wireless signals into an electronic musical composition was borderline Narcissist reincarnated as a digital pirate. McCallum’s steady and slowly self-realization/infatuation holds the potential be a sublime experience if it had not been a live performance--as presence, especially shared live experience, overwhelmed any sense of wonder over wireless channeling between a boy and his computer.
Similarly, Naguib’s presentation fell short of the political mark. Showing slides of details from site specific interventions that were neither shown in full or discussed in context, the works appeared nothing more than bad visual art destined for cyber cafes. Repeated references to censored work also remained unanswered, but most frustratingly, it was the paradox between her challenge of the hegemonic structure of documentation and her simultaneously promotion of her new Desmond Tutu-backed book that instantly documents, legitimizes and perpetuates the form of historically-sanctioned prestige that she so seemingly decries.
Jumbled and overly precious, I can only wonder if media art of this caliber gives the form a bad name or if it is simply perpetuating it.

*Originally published on May 8, 2008

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