An introduction to the conference, and to issues for Canadian new media art highlighted by the report “Creators and New Technologies in New Media Research and Innovation”
Welcome to all of you. The Ottawa Art Gallery is very pleased to host this event; to provide physical space and administrative support. It’s a timely moment to focus a public forum within the Canadian cultural community on issues in the virtual field of new media. This event will focus on new media, creation and production and in the afternoon on distribution and consumption.
I would like to extend a special welcome to the speakers – Nichola Feldman-Kiss, Michelle Kasprzak, Catherine Richards, Kathleen Pirrie-Adams, Skawennati Tricia Fragnito, Jean Gagnon and Liane Davison – all of whom have contributed so much to the field already and who have agreed to generously share their experience and knowledge with us here today.
The event itself has been organised by Sarah Cook and Nina Czegledy. Nina has been working for at least fifteen years as an artist and curator in Canada (Toronto) and most recently with her collaborative project Digital Bodies and Virtual Spectacles. She is the founder of Critical Media, which is a non-profit organisation whose aim is to support a critical examination of new media art practices.
Sarah Cook is a curator who is also doing doctoral research investigating new media curatorial practice in Canada and elsewhere. Sarah has done several curatorial projects and is co-editor of the website CRUMB and her presentation will put this symposium in a context of recent histories.
I have a personal interest in this event. I developed as a curator by working in the area of new media art in the 80s and in video art; it’s moved on quite a lot since then! I’ve remained quite interested in this field over the years, but also in my capacity as a newly appointed curator of contemporary art here at the Ottawa Art Gallery. We have fairly recently adopted a policy of extending our collections policy to the media as part of our mandate to collect significant art in this region. Part of that involves thinking of ways of disseminating the work that we have in our collection, besides just the physical space of the gallery – to other sites, maybe virtual sites. And so we are very interested in the kind of discussion that will be taking place today.
One of the first things that I encountered when I offered to host this event was a gap – it was an awful gap - between the technological sophistication of the work that’s being done in the field and the low-tech, day-to-day world, and the resources of the space. We were horrified to discover as we began to plan for this event, that our best Internet connection was going to be hooking up down the hall at the Fringe Theatre office on a dial up line! So we had to do quite a bit of other stuff to get things up to speed for today! Many people helped us with that and I’d like to take a moment to thank them.
Sarah Cook, first of all, and I don’t think I pointed her out when I introduced her earlier. She worked hand-in-hand with me in researching and facilitating those other options, in addition to the many other responsibilities she’s had organising this event. Nicola Feldmann-Kiss has organised a landmark celebration linking initiatives for artists in art, science, engineering and industry and also a showcase for arts and new media. I would also like to remind you that there will be more events across the road in the old City Registry building tonight following the close of our symposium today. So I want to thank Nicola and her technical crew especially Rome. I would also like to mention that Nicola has a large installation in our current exhibition Localities, which was curated by Sylvie Fortin, and features the work of six local artists. I want to thank SAW video whose high speed line we’re using and in particular, Michael Lechasseur, who, like me, is new to his job and has been a great help and support. Also I don’t want to forget John Lauder who worked on all the arrangements at the theatre. Thanks also to our technical crew including Phil Rose, who are overseeing our set-up. And lastly, the Gallery staff and in particular xxxx
Thanks are also due to the Canada Council for much needed financial support.
And finally, I want to thank all of you who got up early on a Sunday morning to be with us here today, because with all the tech in the world, we wouldn’t have an event like this - so thank you very much for being here.
I would now like to invite Nina to say a few words and introduce you to the guests for today.
Good morning. Thank you very much for coming I would like to thank very much Renee Baert for hosting this event, and my co-partner Sarah, and of course I would like to thank for their support The Canada Council. I would like to pause here with my thanks because I’d like to recognize that beyond helping with projects and initiatives, the Council extends its support by having an enlarged vision of the field, and supporting initiatives such as the one announced yesterday regarding art and science projects. Even this conference, shows their trust and faith in new media artists and curators and this is very important. It is important because in other countries funding bodies have to make big steps in order to enlarge the field. The artists in Canada are exceptionally good, and internationally recognized. There are very good venues, public galleries as well as artist's collectives and they have performed miracles on tiny budgets in order to show experimental media art.
We also have to reach audiences, and it is these issues of how to present, how to produce, how to reach the audiences, what type of ways or alternatives do we have – these are the important issues we want to discuss.
There have been discussions on these topics in other countries, notably in the UK, for example, a conference that Sarah co-hosted last year, also in the US. I have participated in some of these conferences in Eastern Europe as well as Australia. So there is an ongoing discussion about these issues and we have to make sure that we join in to this global discussion and we are not left behind, precisely because we have this talent in this country. Also, it’s very important that all of these views on these issues are shared, so that we can begin to move forward. It doesn’t have to be formalized, as sometimes these formalized structures don’t work. We discussed with Kathleen Pirrie Adams how to initiate a mailing list for Canadians working in new media so we can discuss these issues just as the CRUMB list does globally. How can we work beyond formalized structures, so that we are more aware of what is happening in various parts of this country? How we can interact? That’s what we hope to learn to day. Thank you very much.
Hi. Thanks Nina. I’m Sarah Cook, and I’ll be your chair today with Nina. I’m wearing my best British school-mistress outfit to keep us on time and on track. A few technical notes: We’re recording this event so that we can end up doing an archive for it, which will be available through Critical Media and CRUMB, with full transcriptions. So there are two microphones here at the front and during question periods I would appreciate it if you could come forward in front of those microphones, and also say who you are because that will help us with the transcriptions.
I wanted to start by again saying thank you to Nina and Renee and the technical crew. It’s been an interesting process to look at the technical infrastructure available to the Ottawa Art Gallery and as I’ve travelled across Canada recently visiting gallery spaces, I’ve be asking curators what they have available and what they need, and some of the people here today will be able to speak to their experiences of creating media spaces within galleries or finding the right technology for artists to use.
But just to give a little context for the idea of the symposium, I want to read to you something written by Richard Hill, and I’ll tell you the date after I read it. He says,
“The problems and limitations of computerisation are now human rather than technological. They relate to programming, design, protocol, language, interaction, collaboration, intelligence, initiative, interplay, creativity and imagination. The “Big Brother” image of the computer as a remote, all-powerful, corporate, number machine against which we are totally powerless is now obsolete. Computerization through electronics is becoming personal, intimate, tactile and visual, demanding choice, dialogue, and input from its user. The possibilities seem infinite yet we know not what to do with them.
Our future is undecided. Computerization through micro-electronics could be a blessing or a disaster. It can offer alternatives to materialistic technologies and waste which we can no longer afford, creating new patterns of life, in which the effective yse of our time would be our greatest wealth. On the other hand it could dislocate the fabric of our society, creating confusion and chaos through blind proliferation and deliberate abuse. The answer lies more in our ability to adapt culturally to change, for it is culture that programs human behaviour.”
This was the introduction to a computer culture exposition that took place in Toronto in March of 1979 at the Harbourfront Centre. I was curious about this and wanted to locate some more recent history because it seems as though as far back as the late 1970s there were symposiums and exhibitions and conferences talking about the "silent revolution" of computerised media in Canada.
In fact as part of this computer culture exposition in April of 1979, they held weekly workshops and the themes of the workshops were Information Futures, Education, Robotics, Music, Imagery, Interplay and Networking and Freedom and Control. I think these issues are still key.
More recently, in 1997 The Ottawa Citizen and Silicon Graphics sponsored a 2-day event (Oct 16 and 17) at Place Ottawa Carleton Centre. Some of the people who spoke at that conference are here today, which is kind of interesting as well. The conference was about practices and pitfalls; artists and engineers (Catherine Richards was one of the artists on that panel); information architecture; finding money; interactive learning tools; distribution; making new media projects that sizzle or fizzle; and writing for new media.[i]
Later on, in June of 1997 a report was published by the Arts Policy Directorate of the Department of Canadian Heritage called, “Creators and New Technologies in New Media Research and Innovation.” The report was coordinated by Nordcity Group Ltd. and primarily researched by Michael Century. The findings included the following:
There is general agreement that more investment is required in new media research and innovation in Canada. There is also broad agreement that the research structure should feature multi-disciplinary research teams involving collaboration between the artistic community and the technology development community.[ii]
I think that last night’s event is suggestive of this new collaboration between the Canada Council and NSERC. This report from 1997 recognized,
an increased pool of highly skilled and talented individuals which can participate the field of new media expression and contribute to the development of a competitive new media industry in Canada.[iii] And so on and so forth. Since then in 1998, Heritage Canada continued with meetings across the country, in Hull (October 6, 1998), Montreal (October 20, 1998), Vancouver (December 7, 1998) and Halifax (December 11, 1998), and again some of you present here were part of those meetings. Their findings[iv] were that they should,
And so on and so forth. I wanted to just tell you about these meetings and reports because some of these recommendations were made over four years ago and I realise some of them have been realized but I think we can still discuss the role that museums and galleries have played. And so a question that remains is, is there still the sense that the level of innovation in universities and the IT sector and in artists own practice is being adequately matched by the level of commitment to this emerging practice in the art / exhibition sphere? And so without further ado I will introduce our speakers this morning…
Create an online notice board and/or a bureau de liaison to facilitate communications between artists and industry and facilitate partnerships on projects Use existing networks such as the National Research Council’s IRAP program to disseminate information–about the work of new media artists with the industry;
Partnership between artists and small companies with money available for the development phase of a project;
Creation of ‘digital centres’ playing the role of intermediate producers to bridge the gap between artists and the industry;
Organise arts based events in order to nurture an environment of artistic and creative dialogue between members of the high-technology sector and the arts;
Showcase artists’ works during new technology fairs and on companies’ web sites;
Establish projects of artists in residence in enterprises;
Establish projects of products in residence in artist-run centers;
Increase the financing for research and development which can benefit artists, scientists and entreprises, including multidisciplinary funding;
Establish structures/mechanisms involving the industry, universities, labs, and artists for research and development activities and for the training of specialized workers in new media;
Establish tax credits for new media comparable to cultural industries;
Adapt financial assistance programs in the high-technology sector to address content development;
Increased involvement of federal government in the marketing and distribution of new technology/new media products;
Increase participation of artists in different government committees and commissions
Source/citation: National Gallery of Canada Archives, Subject file New Media '97, photocopy. My notes from the paper read: In 1997, The Ottawa Citizen and Silicon Graphics sponsored a 2 day event (Oct 16 and 17) at Place Ottawa Carleton Centre. The companies participating and organising committee: animatics interactive; hewson bridge and smith; algonquin college; neo communications; ROMifications; Callisto; and, Art Engine. conference fees between $100 and $200.
Panel 1 + 2 plenary - practices and pitfalls:
Jim Mackie, Newbridge
Sara Diamond, Banff
David Martin, DJ Films - Multimedia
Bryan Milne, Dynamix Professional Video systems
Panel 3 artists and engineers:
Martin Snelgrove, Ottawa U
Panel 4 information architecture
Mark Ury, Animatics Interactive
Panel 5 finding money
Wayne Gudbranson, Branham Group
Panel 6 Interactive learning tools
Geoff Valentine, st. John's Ambulance
Panel 7 Distribution
Glen Ward, Bell Canada
Dermot O'Carroll, Rogers Wireless
Panel 8 making new media projects that sizzle or fizzle
Dawna Henderson, KARO
Robb Corrigan, Cognos
Panel 9 Writing for new media
Ken Desson, Androcom
quote continues: “Overall, there is a perception that investing in this area of research could produce a number of significant innovations and developments.”
The rest of the report’s recommendations read:
· new technologies, tools and techniques of artistic and cultural expression which will enable Canadian creators to develop a distinctive and competitive position in the global new media marketplace;
· world-class new media products and productions which will develop the industry both in terms of economic and employment terms as well as in artistic terms;
· and a better understanding of how to achieve excellence and create high-quality new media products and productions that provide audiences with meaningful and fulfilling experiences.
The following list provides a summary of the needs identified through the soundings that could require cooperative action between the public and private sectors to address:
· facilitating and encouraging artistically-motivated new media research and experimental development by identifying or creating:
· mechanisms to enable artists to experiment with the new media and to access opportunities to exhibit the experimental works to the public.
· mechanisms to enable independent artists or artistic groups to gain access to both technical systems and technical support resources.
· a new patron model for supporting an amplified level of collaborative research activity in the new media. One respondent indicated that this new model could potentially take the form of an artist-in-residence structure. Another indicated it should take the form of a foundation or awards program that visibly recognized and rewarded the achievement of excellence in new media.
· an alignment of the funding policies and programs among the arts and cultural funding councils and the scientific and research funding councils (e.g. NSERC, SSHRC, etc.). This alignment could seek to facilitate and encourage the development of collaborative research projects linking the arts and cultural communities with scientific and technology development communities.
· encouraging and facilitating the development of a strategic research effort in the new media, possibly to be implemented in the form of a National Network of Centres of Excellence, by taking steps to:
· focus research efforts on solving a select number of definable needs or challenges that produce visible and marketable results.
· advance the organization of a national meeting of leading creators and researchers to explore potential research needs and activities that could provide the basis for an NCE application.
· stimulate a debate and dialogue about how to advance an NCE strategy. In particular, there is need for debate to identify how mechanisms could be developed to include the arts and cultural communities as equal partners in multi-disciplinary, collaborative research efforts.
· to develop a strategic alignment of arts and cultural development policies, science, technology and industrial development policies, and skills and talent development policies on an inter-departmental basis. If successful, such a strategic alignment could enable the development of “living laboratories” that produce both world-class research and innovations, and highly skilled and talented new media producers.
· encouraging and stimulating increased research and experimental development in the independent new media production sector by identifying or creating:
· the means to establish an artist-in-residence program that would support collaboration between independent artists and technology development groups as well as commercial new media production groups.
· a mechanism to finance the research and development of experimental, pre-commercial and non-commercial new media productions that entail both technological and artistic development.
· non-targeted investment resources that can develop the independent new media production sector as a commercially-viable industry.
Published in a report titled: “Artists and the high-technology sector: the path toward a sustained collaboration – commissioned study on new media and innovation.”