Australian Art and Virtual Worlds
27 September 2011
Australia has a strong international reputation in media arts. This success has often been attributed to the collaborative nature of the industry as a result of our isolation, and Australian artists’ well honed international networking skills.
Recently, with the increased popularity of networked on-line games and social spaces, a new type of media arts practice has emerged – a virtual one based predominantly in multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs). Australia Council supported projects such as Babelswarm (2008) and Connections2 (2010) are two of several projects that have emerged in this space.*
Babelswarm, created by artists Justin Clemens, Chris Dodds and Adam Nash is a persistent, 3-D realtime installation displayed on-line and in a physical gallery, where in-world and real world visitors are directly involved in its creation. The installation, a metaphor for the Tower of Babel, uses voice and text recognition software that converts the spoken and typed words of physical and virtual participants into 3-D letterforms that fall from the sky in a flowing stream of cubes.
Connections2 is a series of networked virtual spaces by artist Aroha Groves that looks at Aboriginal people’s connections to the land and to each other. As Groves comments, ‘this is regardless of where we come from around this continent and our connections to our varied homelands. It speaks to some of the connections of the experiences which bind us and… new ways to connect, such as the use of the very tools it takes to view the work.’
For other artists such as Stelarc, virtual worlds are places to repurpose work for new audiences. Not only does he perform as Stelarc Luik in Second Life with events such as Avatars Have No Organs (2009), he also develops new versions of established work such as Ear on Arm, with projects such as the Virtual Stelarc Initiative. These spaces create accessible platforms for viewers who may never experience the work otherwise.
Like all emerging arts practices, these networked spaces create significant challenges for those seeking to work within them. New practices often require new conceptual frameworks, new communication strategies and new presentation plans – and in this case both virtual and physical.
To help artists experiment in these new spaces, the Australia Council funded the Australian Centre of Virtual Art (ACVA), to run an interdisciplinary arts laboratory. The workshops provided professional development opportunities for artists to explore how audiences acclimatise to new virtual experiences; how they interact with virtual space; how artworks can be disseminated onto other platforms for broader access; what new interfaces were required for successful mixed reality presentations; and how to effectively engage national and international audiences in these new environments.
One particularly significant outcome of the ACVA Lab was support for Australian Indigenous voices in virtual worlds. Artists such as Aroha Groves developing a piece on the Gamilaraay people and Darwin Community Arts assisting the Kamor people of the Daly River region to develop their own virtual world, are two examples of strong Indigenous projects stemming from ACVA participation.
Looking at recent projects funded by both ACVA and the Australia Council’s own Digital Culture Fund (DCF), there are some bold moves to expand work in virtual worlds into the physical space around us. From virtual worlds to ‘virtualising’ the world.
One such project is PVI collective’s Transumer, a tactical media project that asks participants to wander through the city with their iPhones and virtually tag and reconfigure their environment. Part of the 2010 Sydney Biennale, the project received the inaugural Free Play Independent Games Festival awards for best game writing that year.
Adriaan Stellingwerff's Windy and Winding is another example, where participants download a virtual travel iphone application that uses realtime wind data to direct a small, virtual balloon. Potential tourists are asked to throw ‘caution to the wind’ and follow their balloon on a weather data based adventure around the city they are in.
Thea Baumann's Metaverse Makeover, a series a live performance installations in beauty salons, saunas, and nail parlours (also featured as part of L'Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival in 2011), is another project that invites guests to contribute to the development of the work. In this case they take part through Kinect generated imagery, online games, and a downloadable, augmented reality couture line.
A new project partnered by ACVA, is the (Un)seen Sculptures mobile augmented reality art show in Melbourne and Sydney in April and May 2011. The show, featuring Australian artists and international participants from the USA, UK, China and Portugal, is the first curated augmented reality exhibition in Australia, and is a precursor to a larger Australian virtual art project planned for ISEA Istanbul in September this year.
The above projects are just a few examples of the virtual world and augmented reality art that has evolved in Australia and which is increasingly pushing into urban and other social spaces around us.
With projects such as these there is great scope for highly creative, intercultural, augmented and performance based virtual arts projects to further evolve in this country.
It will be interesting to see what ripple effects the Digital Culture Fund, other artform board support and field driven initiatives such as the ACVA program has on virtual art over the next few years around Australia and indeed, internationally.
This article is a summary of a presentation delivered by Dr Ricardo Peach at the Laval Virtual conference, in Laval, France, 2011. A full paper titled ‘Proticipation: The Australia Council and Social Media Arts in Virtual Worlds’, is in review for Metaverse Creativity, Intellect, Volume 1, Issue 2, 2011.
Image (menu): virtual native, Andrew Burrell, 2011, augmented reality artwork presented at the (un)seen sculptures exhibition in Sydney and Melbourne in 2011. *Burrell and collaborator Trish Adams were also recipients of the Australia Council's MMUVE IT (massive multi-user virtual environment) initiative with their project Mellifera in 2008. Other virtual world projects supported include the Literature Board’s Story of the Future projects Thursday’s Fictions and Virtual Macbeth.