This essay published in Eyeline summer edition number 38 by Linda Carroli. Images of my contribution to Volt 1998, "Degrees of Freedom: Escape Velocity" can be found that in the Performances wing of the gallery.

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Brisbane Festival, Volt 1998


Linda Carroli


The contemporary art program of the Brisbane Festival, Volt, aimed to present critical and challenging work to as wide as possible an audience. Programmed around the theme of 'new visions new performance', Volt ambitiously straddled artforms and genres, to generate a diverse and diffused program of interdisciplinary work from local, inter­state and international artists. As the promotional material stated, Volt included 'intellectually rigorous, cutting edge practitioners often in friction with the world'. These works rubbed against the stasis of the status quo, tensions dis­turbed the somnolence of Brisbane in spring. Through the glitzy veneer of 'festival spirit', a prickling sensation discon­certingly and uncomfortably crept through various events. There was a rumble of pain here, a tenuous or jarring sense of place: of people struggling with their circumstances and struggling to make art out of them.
Despite the celebratory urge, this was not a party. For this reason, I cannot follow a cool critical path with this writ­ing. To do so seems to divest this handful of events of the impulses which drove them: body, power, space, power, desire, power, pleasure, power, pain, power, crisis, panic, panic. Panic! Immersed in a panic culture, we learn to live with and within the hyper-intensities of postmodernity. As Arthur Kroker and David Cook argue, 'postmodernism ... [is] not the beginning of anything new or the end of anything old, but the catastrophic, because fun, implosion of contem­porary culture into a whole series of panic scenes and the fin-de-millennium ...'1

Repeat: this was not a party!
Caught in this realisation, pondering the revolutionary and radical moments of artistic practice, acknowledging, as Sadie Plant argues, that notions of change have changed, I recall Gil Scott Heron's words, 'the revolution will not be televised'. Maybe not televised, but the revolution has become revolutionised.2 Rather, this meta-protest will be programmed and packaged as an arts festival and w[h]ither the radical voices of change, lost utopian ideals of reshap­ing the world, perception and consciousness. For the festi­val was not far removed from politics, as a postmodern distopia, an organised array of events which assimilated and mapped the fragmented grounds of a living metropolis as one big corporate-sponsored spectacle.3 In Minister for the Arts, Matt Foley's opening speech, at the Institute of Modern Art, encompassing praise for the festival, its organ­isers, his government and the artists, he concluded with a quip about the synchronicity of an Energex sponsored event called Volt. And so, while the revolution may not be televised, not vectorially beamed into our living rooms and not brought to us by Xerox or Coca-Cola (as per Heron's prediction), the Brisbane Festival just might be. Is this part of an end-of-millennial return to Medieval spectacle and patronage?4 I simply cannot conclude that 'spectacles' force us into submission or diminish our ability to speak or act, despite their overt prowess in coercion. Power func­tions by more diffused means. Michel Foucault presses this point: by Linda Carroli
We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it 'excludes', it 'represses', it 'censors', it 'abstracts', it 'masks', it 'conceals'. In fact, power produces; it produces reali­ty; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. The individual and the knowledge that may be gained of him [sic] belong to this production.5
Repeat: this was not a party?
Of course it was and I might as well have joined the revelry, let myself be embraced by this pulsing landscape called a festival: the sweeping trajectories of sound, light and image, a swelling mass of bodies sweating in the steamy confines of the Institute of Modern Art, swilling beer and wine, spilling onto the footpaths. Capitulate: go with the flow because even the city has yielded to this pleasure and pain. Resistance, as they say, is futile. But the electricity of friction is quite another story and one which jolted and surged through various Volt events with gritty abrasiveness or a short sharp shock or a gentle stroke. Sparks flew from this friction between bodies and spaces, the friction of mem­ory, of technology, of transgression. It hallmarked critical practice as creating dissonance from its context, disrupting and splitting the perceived consensus of this festival as a localised industry or cultural event with singular visions and performances.
Even our ideas of change have changed and some­where in that change is art and culture. In Arterial's outdoor event, Dust, a collaboration between community and a team of artists and researchers, memory temporarily stilled the undertow of sweeping urban change. These days communi­ties are accustomed to the onslaught of 'progress', although it is no longer called that. These days 'progress' has been replaced by less pejorative terms such as 'urban renewal', a coercive push which squeezes the poor out of inner city areas to make way for inaffordable mixed apartment and commercial developments. Apparently, it is a way of retain­ing the utility of old warehouse-style buildings and, in this instance, enticing people back to Brisbane's Fortitude Valley. However, as Dust demonstrated, people always have been there. In a collusion of oral history, archival pho­tographs, portraiture and video, Dust presented a multime­dia, multi-site journey through documentary imagery and narrative, which focused on the changes taking place around two Valley buildings and the subtle changes which have occurred in the community over decades. On Brunswick Street, Old Transport House has been redevel­oped, and the Empire Building earmarked for redevopment, as arts-related accommodation: part of a cultural precinct planned to improve the amenity of the area as well as improve arts facilities. A question emerges about the culpa­bility of the arts in processes of gentrification and displace­ment.
Clearly, Dust was a mapping exercise, a writing of sur­face with historical images and anecdotes, lived experience and a living history streaming around and across the streetscape, larger than life, loud and public. The once con­cealed and buried was excavated from the ruins and the archives and was exposed. Archival photographs were transformed into hovering ghostly presences. The oral testi­monies provided us with hope for an uncertain future, evi­dence of a diverse locality, thriving despite a disrupted sense of place. However, certain incongruities were made obvious. In the recorded interviews with locals whose faces loomed over a busy intersection, it became clear that transi­tions are rarely peaceful, that change is constant and that the dust never really settles. Beneath the veneer of nostal­gia, there lurked a sense of loss as well as a turbulent histo­ry of marginalisation, a convergence of othered experi­ences. Those 'others' are the ones to whom Councillors refer to when they speak of 'cleaning up the Valley'. But as Dust illustrated there are traces and there are memories and there always will be those willing to search for them.

During the last incarnation of Volt, Arthur Wicks's machinic performance in the Queen Street Mall was halted by the police. This visit saw him return to the scene of the crime with new machines in tow. In Degrees of Freedom: Escape Velocity, Wicks engaged the Mall as the site of tense human interactions. With four faceless, suited, humanoid machines—two manually controlled and two remote controlled—he endeavoured to manoeuvre through the crowds of a peak hour exodus with an entourage of security personnel, onlookers and documenters. A battle of will and wits ensued, between the movement of robotic and human bodies, in this disturbance of the trajectories of flight. Dalek-like machines seemed to develop minds of their own as they haphazardly plotted their escape paths across the Mall; like so many of us, perhaps they too have lost their way. Wicks struggled physically to guide his fragile, robotic charges, while the remote controllers seemed to lose con­trol of theirs amidst the fray of human traffic.

Poignant moments of fear and encounter were revealed as the robots issued subjective and trajective challenges. A woman caught sight of the robotic advance, perceived a threat and pulled her child close to her body; in a moment of identification, a wheelchair-bound child was mesmerised and stretched out her hand, which rolled weightlessly towards a lurching machine, while her father's pace acceler­ated, pushing the child out of harm's way. Another woman buried her face in her hands until the monsters were gone, while a man stood his ground, face to face with a robot which searched for a way out. These delicate machines broke and dissembled, crushed by the weight of a swarming public whose space was dislocated, not haptic but unyield­ing, unkind and nervous.

(the article continues….)


  1. Arthur Kroker and David Cook, The Postmodern Scene: Excremental Culture and Hyper-Aesthetics, MacMillan, London, 1991 (1986), p.
  2. Sadie Plant, Zeros + Ones: Digital Women + The New Technoculture, Fourth Estate Limited, London, 1997, p. 45.
  3. As Kroker and Cook contend: 'Politics becomes the flashing anus of promises of the better world constantly present as the carousel becomes the succession of white strobe-like flashes and as the waste system runs into the now of party time. The cries of the paraders poised on the edge of aggression and terror, unable to dismount, caught in the imploding vortex of the fashion swirl. Tunics pressed, hats in place, mouths open ready for the distortion of the cyclorama.' Kroker and Cook, op. cit.
  4. Although, as Umberto Eco points out, we do not simply return to the Middle Ages, identifying ten ideas of the Middle Ages which have influ­enced and occupied cultural phenomenon since medieval times. Umberto Eco, 'Dreaming of the Middle Ages', Travels in Hyperreality, Picador, London, 1986, p. 59ff.
  5. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish cited in Tony Godfrey, Conceptual Art, Phaidon, London, 1998, p. 241.


Eyeline 38
summer 1 9 9 8 / 1 9 9 9




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