Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Portrait Island: doppelgänger/ Art and Connectivity Panel Forum

17 April 2010 doppelgänger Virtual Artwork filmed by Mab MacMoragh in Second Life® on Portrait Island

This video is an abbreviated look at doppelgänger, the virtual exhibition held by the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, on Portrait Island in Second Life® from 23 October 2009 to 23 April 2010. There are lots of texts in it that go by quickly, so the viewer is urged to pause the video as needed to read the various signs, notecards, web pages, and words incorporated into the artwork.

Cao Fei (China Tracy)- iMirror, 2007 (China) (See iMirror in its entirety part 1 part 2 part 3
Patrick Lichty (Man Michinaga)- CodePortraits, 2009 (USA) (See all 12 keepsake videos)
Gazira Babeli- iGods, 2009 (Italy) (see National Portrait Gallery's iGods video)
Adam Nash (Adam Ramona), Christopher Dodds (Christo Kayo), Justin Clemens (Jack Shoreland)- Autoscopia, 2009 (Australia) (See National Portrait Gallery's Autoscopia video)
Andrew Burrell (Nonnatus Korhonen)- temporary self portrait in preparation for the singularity, 2009 (Australia) (See National Portrait Gallery's temporary self portrait video)

National Portrait Gallery:
Online manager- Gill Raymond (Portrait Watanabe)
Senior Curator- Michael Desmond (Portrait John)
Architect/SIM Designer- Greg More (Dynamo Zanetti)

Podcasts of Gillian Raymond discussing this exhibition with Greg More, Patrick Lichty, Andrew Burrell, and the trio of Adam Nash, Christopher Dodds, and Justin Clemons can be listened to on iTunes

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Art and Connectivity: Cyberforum
In association with the doppelgänger exhibition, the National Portrait Gallery hosted a panel forum on 23 March to discuss notions of identity in the digital realm, the possibilities of art in a connected world and the role cultural institutions may play in this environment.

The guest speakers for the discussion were:
Christiane Paul, Director of the Media Studies Graduate Programs and Associate Professor of Media Studies at The New School, New York.
Melinda Rackham, Adjunct Professor at RMIT University and Emerging Artforms Curator at Subtle Net, Melbourne, Australia.
Michael Desmond, Senior Curator, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, Australia.
Andrew Burrell SL: Nonnatus Korhonen
Patrick Lichty SL: Man Michinaga

The one hour streaming video of this event can be viewed in its entirety on the National Portrait Gallery website (link). Mab transcribed the talk, abridging and adjusting it a bit for reading as text.

Read the transcript after the jump.

National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Gillian Raymond: Hi everyone and welcome to the National Portrait Gallery's first online forum. I'm Gill Raymond; I'm the online manager here at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, Australia. I'd like to welcome the audience that has come along to listen to us here in Second Life and also the audiences that are listening to us via the stream on the National Portrait Gallery's website. That address is portrait.gov.au.

Late last year the Portrait Gallery launched the doppelgänger exhibition which is currently on display here on Portrait Island. For that show we invited five international media artists to produce work for the exhibition that examined notions and concepts of identity in the online environment.

A lot of the artists examined the idea of data as a conduit of identity so, for this particular panel discussion and the reason we brought this selection of people together, we were hoping to situate the doppelgänger exhibition whilst it won't be the focus of the talk, to actually situate the exhibition in a broader context of the history of digital art, and examining the role that cultural institutions might play in this environment. So we're extremely lucky to have with us today several of the artists who produced work for the exhibition.

National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Gillian Raymond: We have Patrick Lichty otherwise known as Man Michinaga, sitting over on the left hand side of me; Andrew Burrell, Nonnatus Korhonen; and we have three guest speakers, who between them have many years of experience curating, critically examining, exhibiting art, and in particular digital art. Christiane Paul, on my left, is the director of the media studies and graduate programs and associated professor of media studies at the New School in New York, as well as the adjunct curator of new media arts at the Whitney Museum. So welcome Christiane! Thank you for coming.

Christiane Paul: You're welcome.

Gillian Raymond: We also have Melinda Rackham, who's the adjunct professor at RMIT University and Emerging Artforms Curator at subtle.net in Melbourne Australia. Thanks for coming Melinda!

(Melinda Rackham bows from her seat)

Melinda's lost her head today so we have a pair of eyeballs.

Melinda Rackham: I can still speak, so hi, great to be here.

Gillian Raymond: And last but not least we have Michael Desmond, whose avatar's name is Portrait John, and Michael is our senior curator here at the National Portrait Gallery in Australia. Thanks for coming, Michael.

Michael Desmond: Good morning everybody.

Gillian Raymond: Just to kick off, Christiane, I'm wondering if we might be able to start with a little bit of background to this thing that we're calling digital art. It seems to have various titles that have appeared over the last twenty years, you know labels are always difficult and I guess they're always applied to art-forms posthumously but I'm wondering if you might be able to start the discussion by giving us a very brief summary of dominant trends you've observed in the use of technology as medium for art.

Christiane Paul: I'm always careful when it comes to the idea of trends in art because art is obviously very difficult to nail down and that's the interesting part of it in the first place. And obviously digital art has had a long long history starting in the sixties with the first use of computers by artists and you can even basically describe or outline a longer history. When it comes to recent trends, again using the word carefully, I would say that social media in general have definitely had an enormous impact on artistic practice within the digital field, and by that I do not only mean Facebook or social media platforms but new forms of connectivity. And I think what has been developing in parallel is the idea of virtuality, experimentation in virtual worlds such as Second Life®, and at the same time more of a focus on embodiment with ubiquitous computing and mobile and locative media and platforms that use the physical environment as a canvas for creating artworks that are distributed via mobile devices and establish connectivity that way. And I think both the virtual and physical aspects of digital art have always been there and always developed in parallel, but I think it's becoming a bit more pronounced right now. I see that as a major development of the past few years, or in this new century.

Gillian Raymond: I think something that seems to be coming out of our discussions around digital art is this notion of how it might be changing concepts of place, concepts of display, concepts of audience, and I'm just wondering if any members of our guest speakers may have some comments to say about any of the changes that they may see in regards to those kinds of things as opposed to the way we've traditionally thought of art display in museums and galleries on white walls. Does anyone want to pick up some of those things?

Melinda Rackham: I think that people have always gathered together in places to see art and particularly I'm thinking of examples from the last few centuries such as exhibitions, expos, public architecture, public space, and I see Second Life and virtual worlds as just an extension of these. It's another place where we can go to create an effect, a feeling, a sensation, a sense of being, a sense of place ...

Patrick Lichty: One of the things I've always been interested in with a lot of these (I think with Christiane I loathe to say new spaces, I think I'd say different spaces) is that as I was emerging in the field one of the things that I thought was really exciting was the possibility to work extra-institutionally, be able to be in all these places that one could be seen in all sorts of different modes and by all sorts of different people and all sorts of different audiences simultaneously. I sort of started with doing web-based curation, also small guerilla new-media projects and then I've kept going in to doing work in virtual worlds. I think these are alternate audiences that are less obvious than the traditional institutional ones that give amazing opportunities for engagement and different forms of interaction with all sorts of different audiences. I think it's really exciting.

Christiane Paul: Picking up on what Patrick said, I would add that while there has been a multiplication of different forms of display and venues for distributing and showing this type of art, the art world, the traditional art world, has been behind a little bit and is not exploring all of these possibilities from virtual worlds to the internet when it comes to the display of art so I see a separation in two different worlds still, largely.

Michael Desmond: I find the whole idea of place very interesting in the sense that we have every place but at the same time that's clearly no place, and the main thing about art, I guess, is trying to find the place where you can see it, that you are exposed to art. That kind of authority is still important, I think, in terms of art galleries, that you'd know where to go, whereas otherwise where do you go? Where are the street signs? I'm trying to work out that idea of place, how important it is. I look at all of you guys there in front of me and clearly place is important – we're on Portrait Island which the National Portrait Gallery has set up so that you can find us … where do you find anything? There's so much stuff now. Where are the filters?

National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Michael Desmond: It was really that idea of the long tail that people are talking about that there's clearly lots of niches for interesting art to be made in different ways, and you don't necessarily need the mainstream. There's lots of different audiences which is what we've all been talking about. Each audience can find a different place to go. It's really just the wayfinding, I guess, that's the issue for me. How do you get around? Who is drawing up the maps? Is it just simply congregations like this one, but we interact and we talk to each other– is that how it works?

Christiane Paul: I think both the physical world and the online world just have different filters and ways of finding the places. Some people might have problems finding the gallery where the panel discussion is happening tonight and within the virtual world I've seen multiple announcements of this panel.

Melinda Rackham: It's really interesting that in spaces like the initial web and virtual worlds like Second Life that you can just wander around and come across artwork, that you actually don't have to go through an institutional gateway to find them, and I see that the institutional gateway is a way to bring newer audiences in who may not be wandering around anyway so that there's that dual function, there's the element of surprise and there's the element of excitement to go and see something that you've been directed towards.

Gillian Raymond: That's an interesting point Melinda, actually, because when I was researching for the doppelgänger exhibition, it occurred to me (and I am new inworld) but it did occur to me that there is a great democratization of the media, the very natural media that we're working in is accessible by everyone so there's a lot of people producing a lot of amazingly creative works in various different virtual platforms.

But I did also get the sense that there was this feeling or this search or this desire for the authority or the filtering or the curatorial input which traditionally physical museums and galleries have provided to the art market so I did get a sense that there was the feeling that perhaps something like that was lacking at present in the digital environment.

Christiane Paul: I wouldn't necessarily agree with that since there have been online curators and curators in virtual worlds since the existence of the medium. Probably not that many, but I think the curatorial perspective and the online galleries and institutions have always been developing in tandem with the art. Perhaps they're not known enough or not widely publicized enough but they're definitely there, I think.

Gillian Raymond: Oh, absolutely, and I came across some amazingly inspirational examples of that. Maybe it's just those connections to the traditional art markets – it's that connection that seems to be somehow missing between what's traditionally seen as art and the amazing stuff that's blossoming in these environments.

Christiane Paul: Definitely

Melinda Rackham: It's not as if virtual practice fits easily into museum practice either. Is there something to sell? It's a democratized space. Anyone can wander in. You can't charge an entry fee. You can't say well there's only ten people can come to Portrait Island. Perhaps you can say only 75 can come at once, limited to how many people can come onto the sim. But there is a sense that it doesn't fit into those established regimes.

Michael Desmond: I find it interesting too that maybe that authority is retrospective anyway. It's always after the event. One of my favorite photographs is of Picasso and a group of his friends sitting at the Cafe de la Rotonde in 1916. It's always been my wish to sit down and have a coffee with them, and listen in and hear what they're talking about, to find out about how art is changing at that particular moment in time.

But now that I'm looking out at all of you guys I'm thinking I'm actually at the Cafe se la Rotonde, only it's not 1916, it's 2010. You don't need the curator there to listen in and record. You don't need the authority there. The rules are being made, and maybe that's what is happening right now. Maybe that filter, that authority is always trailing, it's after the event rather than now.

Patrick Lichty: I'd like to go off of what Christiane has said in regards to the idea of the world of patronage and the world of independent new media, because [what] I think is really interesting here is how Gill and some others have framed the idea of what is seen in terms of the art market, and those of us who have been involved in new media for a number of years, like myself, understand that, yes, there is the museum world, there is the museum and gallery media ecology, but also on the other hand this is just a very small subsection of a larger panoply of places like festivals and screenings, and all these other places where I think new media has really developed much more than in the museum. This is something that really should be foregrounded a little bit and I think this is what's been exciting about places like Second Life and the Web, that you have development of all these different genres that have become more institutionally recognized, but on the other hand is, that I think, only to say that the things that become legitimate are framed in terms of the art market, I think, is really sort of a misnomer– and I'll duck my head for flying tomatoes in saying that.

Gillian Raymond: I guess the next question that I was going to follow on with was this notion of future trends or what you're actually observing in the creation of art at the moment, and what seems to be moving forward for artists creating work in digital spaces. I think Christiane mentioned the multiplicity of platforms that artists are working across. Is there this trend to involve lots of different platforms? The works in the doppelgänger exhibition, for example: some of them actually look at or critically analyze the world of art from inside the parameters of the Second Life display program. But then others sort of slip around and move in and out, and there's various different mixed reality aspects to these. Does anyone want to talk about the idea of this kind of mixed platform display?

Christiane Paul: Just briefly picking up on that I think you're absolutely right with this observation, and artists are more and more working across platforms– on the web, in Second Life, moving out into physical space, and that is something that ultimately is new to some extent. I mean, not that artists haven't crossed platforms in the past, but I think it's getting much more diversified. If you look at traditional art, you still have the painter, the photographer, and some of them may cross boundaries but the boundary crossing you see between display platforms and digital media is actually much much more prevalent, I would say.

Melinda Rackham: I really like the term "medium agnostic" that's being discussed at the moment whereas artists just do not care what medium they're using as long as they can create a sensation, a feeling, a place, get a message across, immerse people in their work; so that might go from meeting to electronic works to virtual works to augmented reality coming in and out of Second Life. It's pretty exciting and I love to see those old silos of work sort of intertwining and disappearing.

Patrick Lichty: As part of the performance art group I'm part of called Second Front this is something we've been very conscious of in regards to even just trying to communicate with people. Someone was talking about maybe only having 75 people online at one time. We've kind of taken a nod from people like Fluxus and Dada and whatnot and all sorts of different areas. If we can only have 20 people seeing a Second Front performance at any one time, in any one load, well why not have the performance and then have a derivative piece of media as a machinima or a video, or why not have a literary style blog, or why not have all these in prints and paintings and sculptures and whatnot, and not necessarily have one be documentation of the other– but another one be just another part of the constellation of all these other things, because we have considered things like Higgins's idea of Intermedia, and this is in many ways really just an extension of that ongoing evolution of media.

Gillian Raymond: I think Patrick's just touched on another interesting (and we have mentioned it briefly) concern that traditional museums and galleries have about digital art, and that is the fact it's extremely difficult to fit into our traditional idea of collecting and display. By its very nature, most of the digital art that we have is quite ephemeral and Patrick, you talk about the performances where maybe only twenty people would see, which is reminiscent of the sixties performance art. How do you see artists considering it even important to record their work, or to somehow counteract this ephemerality that is the very essence of a lot of the works? What do you see the trends emerging in that kind of sphere?

Christiane Paul: Just talking about some of the organizations that have been working on this– first of all I would say that there's something very dangerous about just trying to take this work out of its ephemeral nature. It is inherently ephemeral and I think recording is fine but there's also an aspect of life-ness that shouldn't be destroyed, and groups such as the Variable Media Network and many organizations around the world have actually been working on mechanisms for preservation or for creating documentation of this kind of work, be it through actual emulation and migration to other platforms, or just strategies for recording and documenting. But very few of these fit in with the traditional museum structures of preservation, so a lot of work still needs to be done on that end.

Michael Desmond: I find it interesting too, that whole notion of ephemeral. For me it conjures up Newton's Second Law, which is the notion of an equal and opposite reaction. I'm seeing, obviously lots of incredible works being made in the digital realm, but equally I'm seeing Chuck Close or Adam Fuss turning to daguerrotypes, an absolutely antique technology. I'm wondering why, why would you use such a slow archaic medium, and I'm thinking it's because it actually delivers an object, something that has a quasi-permanency. That low-fi option I think is also very attractive to people at the same time. Does that make sense?

Christiane Paul: Absolutely. I think that always goes hand in hand.

Melinda Rackham: I absolutely agree with you. The move back to more viscous medium is really quite interesting. But there's the sense that with the early Web, say 15 years ago, or with early virtual worlds, say 10 years ago when I was working in this space, there's a different sense, and a different aesthetic, and a different rhythm of the world– that you got because of the lag, because of the bandwidth, because of the state of computers. That can never be really recreated because of its time. Like the original digital prints with big splashes of dots on them. They're so fine now you can't recreate that texture, that specific texture of the early prints.

Michael Desmond: I guess you can't escape your own time. I think of those sword and sandal movies that are recreating second century Rome but you always see the wristwatch or their haircut or whatever that tells you it's from this period. I don't think you can do a daguerrotype, for example, now that doesn't look like it was made now. But the point wasn't that you're being nostalgic, I think you're doing something that makes sense in terms of today.

Melinda Rackham: And I guess a lot of that work has been lost, and can't ever be recreated as it was. I love that idea that you always know when a fake was made, you know, if it was painted in the 50s or the 20s or the 70s because of the X-Y effects from that era.

National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Patrick Lichty: Something that I'm actually doing in what they call "RL," is a lot of work using old video equipment and things like slow scan television and whatnot. You're doing very old looking pixelated work but nevertheless I realize it's using old equipment with a contemporary context, and I think people who are using old equipment are trying to make work within an old context. They realize that there's this disconnect between/within times, a disjuncture between contexts, and really sort of a more reflective gesture than a retro gesture, maybe.

Michael Desmond: Does that in fact draw attention to the medium itself? The antique equipment or …

Patrick Lichty: For me there's a certain aesthetic that I like by using some of this old equipment. I love history. So in looking at that, maybe it's just a personal exploration of some aspects of that history that gives added depth to the work that I'm making using newer media, a deeper level of understanding by putting my work within a greater historical context.

Melinda Rackham: I think there's that lovely thirty year lag as well, it's like a new generation discovers video art or a new generation discovers all the computer art and it's like, Wow! It seems new and exciting, and I've even heard young people say "Oh, video art has no history," or "Isn't this great! We've got glitch and static! Isn't it beautiful!"

Michael Desmond: The same thing operates in fashion doesn't it? Where your grandma's clothes are incredibly suave but your mum's are hideously unfashionable. Or maybe that has all compressed, maybe it's a five year lag now.

Patrick Lichty: I think my difference, though, is that I'm still using the same Atari 800 that I was using.

Gillian Raymond: Just touching on these kind of topics (and perhaps I'm wrong because I have only been operating in Second Life for a short amount of time), it seems to me that there's a real interest in re-introducing the notion of the object or some viscerality of the human body, and perhaps this also falls out of the fact that people are moving in and out of various different platforms. But I seem to have noticed a trend for people to actually try and focus on the body a lot more in these environments, and it probably has been across the history of digital art as well– re-introducing the notion of physicality into digital environments. Does anyone have anything to say about that?

Christiane Paul: I think you're absolutely right, and that has a long tradition. There always has been the aspect of embodiment that has been explored in all the different manifestations of digital art be it the object of the algorithmic drawing or embodiment within virtual worlds which has become a huge topic and we see the same again when it comes to locative media as I mentioned before. And obviously worlds such as Second Life® offer a whole new set of options when it comes to these aspects of embodiments compared to the early graphic chat rooms and two dimensional displays. I think the development of the world itself is crucial to that and a lot of the success of Second Life® has had to do with its economics and economic structures that create a kind of placement and context for notions of embodiment, for better or worse I mean- there's a lot to be critiqued here. But I think embodiment and emphasis on physicality have been a narrative that has moved more to the foreground again right now.

Gillian Raymond: Concepts of identity along with that as well, so rather than just the embodiment but also the notion of how much we show or otherwise avow very diverse aspects of our personality, um, non-scented identities, and the fact that different aspects of those get to have different lives in the digital environment I think is something that was quite central to the idea of the doppelgänger exhibition.

Melinda Rackham: It's an area that was explored really well in the early days of chat-rooms, artists like vns matrix. There's a lot of cyber-feminist art done in the early nineties on the idea of identity: Sandy Stone was fluid identity. Then it sort of disappeared for a little while and it's coming back again. What I do find really interesting is that we portray ourselves in ways that are very familiar- that we have the opportunity in virtual worlds to be absolutely anything we want to be and yet we usually look somewhat similar to our physical bodies. And I know this is cultural, some cultures take it up more than others. But, yeah, we're very catholic in a way.

Michael Desmond: In that sense, is the digital world always simply an echo of the real world?

Andrew Burrell: I think it's not an echo of the real world, it is part of the real world, it is an extension of...

Michael Desmond: You're suggesting that notion of a mind-body dichotomy didn't ever really exist– it's simply a convenience and this might be similar.

Andrew Burrell: Yes.

Michael Desmond: Okay, that makes sense. I don't think they're exclusive. I was really just curious in terms of the familiarity. Is that simply then a communication device? That you need to know some of the language to understand it?

Andrew Burrell: Well, on the embodiment thing and the separation of the body– the avatar, for me, still has its own personal space. I feel uncomfortable if my avatar is encroached upon its physical space. So in saying what I just said, there's also the opposite way, the actual feelings still exist despite the fact that I know that they shouldn't, you know?

Gillian Raymond: I completely agree with you there, Andrew.

Melinda Rackham: I'm uncomfortable if someone touches my car as well. So I think it's just any sort of body extension in the world. It's like that lovely sense if I touch someone's avatar who I'm quite attracted to I can feel the hairs on my avatar's arm touch their hair.

Patrick Lichty: Nice. You know, two things– is that on one hand, I think in our exploration of performance art in Second Front– it is an entirely embodied art. The one thing that we really really found amazing was that when we went into virtual worlds we found that there was so much response yet. And this is the thing that we were really amazed at: that there was affect left when you took the body and removed the body from it, there was still an identification with the avatar. If you had cartoons of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, redoing Burden's Shoot, you'd still flinch when Bugs was going to shoot Daffy. And if it's just a straight semiotic relationship, there's still research that shows that we still identify with these representations. We do have real feelings. On the other hand, as to representation, one thing that I've always felt about going into virtual worlds, it isn't nevertheless a re-presentation, I think it's really more aptly put, maybe, a translation because as we've done all sorts of work in here I've found that there have been more or less subtle distortions of both… objective reality which I think are really some of the things that are quite interesting about working in these virtual worlds as ironies and distortions and wonderful things like that.

Christiane Paul: And the possibilities and aesthetics of the world also to a large extent determine what kind of identities are being created or embodiments for that matter. I think Second Life is actually far more conventional in its representation if we look at all of our avatars than previous graphic worlds have been where people would show up as objects, as weird symbolic representations, while Second Life is fairly close to the physicality of real life.

Michael Desmond: I think you'd almost expect that in the sense that 'why do people go to Second Life?' They do it to have a Second Life I guess. Sorry, that's a cliche. But you know what I mean. If you're going to World of Warcraft or something, you're fitted up for what you do there, namely killing, casting spells, whatever, whereas, in Second Life it is to talk to people, it's to have a relationship that you perhaps don't have in your ordinary life. So in that sense, it makes a lot of sense that there is such an emphasis on good looks, on charm, on being striking. The thing that surprises me about Second Life is how exclusively visual it is. And in fact, all the things you buy, the whole economy is based on visual things that you can buy – genitalia or clothes or land, they're all status symbols to make you look good, you know. It's quite fascinating. So it doesn't surprise me that we all look quite conventional. Who wants to look ugly, unless it's for a point?

Melinda Rackham: Oh, I rather like looking ugly on occasions. It actually makes you a renegade inworld.

Christiane Paul: There's a difference between interesting and ugly.


Patrick Lichty: Yeah, you're right, yeah.

Gillian Raymond: I'm wondering if, while we're on the topic of identity, if perhaps Andrew and Patrick might just like to reflect on the works that they produced for the doppelgänger exhibition? Andrew, would you like to just give us a little brief rundown on your work, which everyone can see over to the side, beside us?

Nonnatus Korhonen

Andrew Burrell: Without going over a lot of the stuff that you can read, in many respects it's looking at the idea of the notion of self as narrative that is created from fragments and the idea that we as individuals spend much of our time putting together our own personal narrative to create this sense of self from so many fragmentary parts. What it is that we use to choose these parts is sort of not so relevant in this particular work. It's something I'm very interested in but not coming across in this work as such. I'm looking at the notion of the real and the imagined in the case of memory, which is sort of what's going on in this work, a whole lot of stored memories, some of them made up, some of them imagined, some of them real that have actually happened to me in my life, and putting these together in new orders to create new ways of putting together this narrative that describes myself, which is pretty much what's going on up there. If you go and experience the narratives that are dropping out, all the little creatures, they are fragmentary and they are being recreated in this system outside myself.

Gillian Raymond: Thank you. And Patrick I think you touched on the fact that your work that you've created for this does actually have that affect element that you were talking about earlier in terms of what you feel about the engagement with other people in your work and your friendships in Second Life?

Man Michinaga

Patrick Lichty: Right, right, it's that the Code Portraits that I have here are almost sort of a little bit of a diary of some of the people that I've met through Second Life and built friendships with. The idea with it is that in real life I've done a lot of work that have had to do with codes as proxies for many other things, identity, subversion, many other things.

Gillian Raymond: That's great. Does any of the panel have anything else that they'd like to add to any of those topics before we throw open to questions from our lovely audience here?

Christiane Paul: I think we're ready to open for questions from the audience probably?

Gillian Raymond: Greg, does anyone have any questions that they'd like to ask of our experts?

Greg More: We're still waiting for our questions to come in so the panel might want to discuss things further and I'll get the questions across as soon as they come through.

Andrew Burrell: Maybe just going back to the point of the ephemerality of this work is something that's also quite interesting to me. Something that I wonder has all art in history been ephemeral and it's the cultural choices that curators, collectors, restorers, etc., make that stops art being ephemeral. The Sistine Chapel would be a crumbling mess if it wasn't for a cultural choice to keep it, which goes for so much, I mean, probably there's some bronzes that would still be here if they, whatever, but, is it something that's particularly new to this media?

Christiane Paul: I think it is. I think it is. You're absolutely right that all art is ephemeral and every conservator will point to the problems that any painting or object poses. But I think digital media in general are so modular and performative and generative, I mean, when it comes to a piece of software art you may not ever experience the piece the same way again. So what would be necessary here is really a documentation of process, and I think that goes for many digital artworks, and particularly the performative ones. Which raises the question, you know: Should we actually document every aspect of them or do we also need to let go at a certain point?

Michael Desmond: I think in a lot of ways letting go is a very good thing, in that sense. Let the future make its choices. Let's enjoy today and then if someone deems it worthy to save the Sistine Chapel they will. I guess the point being made is how vulnerable digital media is, that it doesn't last a hundred years, with neglect, and then someone revives it. It is hugely vulnerable. It can disappear overnight.

Christiane Paul: One of the problems I have with this is that, as we have noticed, traditional art institutions do not currently put a lot of effort into preserving this type of work and are not really committed to it. And I'm always wondering what does it mean for the history of art if the work that is currently being created in all those media we're talking about is ultimately dropping out. It's part of a history that is never recorded and that is never put in context and connection to other forms of media, and I think that would be rather sad.

Melinda Rackham: Absolutely, Christiane, and it's the really early pioneering work that's already disappeared. That's really disturbing.

Gillian Raymond: I find it interesting in the case of new media art for example, that traditional galleries and museums have sort of solved that problem by using video screens almost as though they're kind of framed paintings on a wall, for example. So those kind of solutions are obviously not going to work in this particular case, but it's been interesting to watch the ways in which the traditional art market and museums and galleries try to mold particular art forms. I'm also thinking of Australian indigenous artworks whereby they are displayed on walls rather than flat on the ground where they were traditionally created.

National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Greg More: I can jump in here. We've got a question/slash/observation from the audience, from Pyewacket, about there seems to be a kind of closed old school attitude to what an artist is, and it seems you need to have, I guess, a degree or a PhD to have status, and he was just wondering if the panel has any thoughts about that.

Michael Desmond: I think that that idea of a PhD or a qualification has disappeared with place, absolutely, that these days anybody can submit a work, anonymously if they choose, or you try to create your own effort – there's so many, the difficulty is not that you can't do it, it's just that there's so much competition. I mentioned before that the idea of the long tail and lots of niches means that anyone can make a work of art. The question is really one of quality. How can you separate the wheat from the chaff if there is so much out there? I think the PhD is irrelevant. The determiner is quality really, and maybe it's the consensus thing that determines quality these days. Maybe that's what's changed, that you don't have the single institution, you know MOMA doesn't decide any more, it's much more a group of bloggers or a consensual side of things. It's the social network kicking in to accept or decline.

Christiane Paul: I'm not so sure if that's actually true. I think those old structures still exist very much and are more important and developed than they should be. Obviously it's not the PhD that determines the quality of an artwork but I see it happening all the time when I commission work for the Whitney Artport website, for example, that artists are really keen on the name and having that kind of brand attached to their name, being able to put that kind of museum on their resume. To them it still counts a lot and unfortunately it still counts a lot in the art world. So I can't say that I believe we have switched to this democratic consensus model. Maybe within our own virtual world but definitely not in relation to the art world.

National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Melinda Rackham: And there's an issue of resources here as well in the way that we do fund and commission artworks in the world. Obviously somebody who is a better writer, is better at presenting a concept, is more likely to be commissioned to make the work rather than someone who's making fabulous work but is not a publicist. There aren't a lot of media art or virtual art gallerists out there going out selling their artists, doing that traditional work that was once done, that is done in other art arenas by professionals in the field.

Michael Desmond: I think in the real art world it's a consensual thing as well. I don't think that a particular artwork has a huge intrinsic value. It's simply that you get enough people to want it. It's based on, I guess, the number of people that want it that determines the value. If we all agree the Mona Lisa is fantastic, and we didn't until recently anyway, it has greater or lesser value depending on that. If we agree on this group of artists being the ones, then they are. And that can change. I know I mentioned the Mona Lisa – it was a very minor Renaissance painting until 1900, thereabouts, when it took on a certain celebrity that had to do with, well for a start, the theft, but other things as well. So things go in and out of fashion. Things accrue or lose value, and it is very much a consensual thing. It's simply that there's a lot more voters now and it's certainly easier to vote. So no need for a PhD. You just need to have a clique, a group, someone to advance your cause. You know, the writers were mentioned, a good writer makes a big difference, the endorsement of the gallery makes a difference. To be collected by MOMA or Versaces, or Charles Saatchi, makes a big difference, because then other people start to listen. It's not always the quality of the work itself, or the PhD or the artist, or. I think it's still consensual, simply a different system.

Christiane Paul: Definitely. I'm not sure how we came up with the PhD in the first place but I don't think that counts for so much when it comes to the art world per se. Certainly in academia but not within museum culture.

Michael Desmond: It's important in getting a job, in an art school or university.

Christiane Paul: Definitely.

Patrick Lichty: That's exactly it. That's the reason why I went and I got an advanced degree – because I knew that I wasn't going to be able to get a tenure track position without it.

Gillian Raymond: I have a question from Glyph Graves in the audience who asks, does the panel have any ideas how to recreate the body/avatar identification experience that is so important in interactive immersive art. This is something that machinima can't convey and I think it's integral to virtual worlds. Does anyone want to take up any of those ideas?

Christiane Paul: Well, it's a very interesting question and that is actually something that in my opinion cannot be recreated and it's very hard to capture. The same would be true of any kind of performance and the relationships you build within a performance, with the audience, with the performer. Ultimately that's something that is impossible to capture, I think, but makes this work so intriguing.

Melinda Rackham: I think it's a matter of technology and technique. We've seen lots of films like Kathryn Bigelow's millennium film where you put on a headset and you are in the experience, um works like, there was a whole body machine at some point, where parts of your body were stimulated according to what was happening in the world, in the virtual space you were in, or communicating with another person. And I think a lot of people are working on this in areas of wearable art, and of course that will start to get plugged into virtual spaces quite soon.

Christiane Paul: Yeah, that's actually not what I meant. I completely agree with you. But when it comes to basically the recording of the personal experience, I mean the experience itself cannot be re-created for you. It still remains in the moment.

Michael Desmond: That's certainly true but equally I'm thinking of the world of literature where you can experience things, you could be told to experience things, and the technology is indescribably crude – it's simply the written word. Yet you can empathize. You can have that huge empathy with the author of various passions. We were talking about the other worlds being an extension of this world. It seems to me that the world of literature offers that opportunity. It's like a phantom limb. You can feel it even though it's clearly not real. You can be swayed by the spoken word, the written word, just as much and genuinely feel it. I find that quite astonishing.

Patrick Lichty: Maybe this is a simple point, but it's just the idea of saying that maybe there's something to the form that you take as an avatar. Maybe it's the reason why I take Cicciolina or whether I take the kind of the Byron-esque, sort of, character. It has a great deal to do with experience. I think it's really strange how much we really are impacted by the form of the avatar. You know, say for example I have a certain affect for Portrait's avatar you know, and for Nonnatus, and Pyewacket, and all these people. This is how I know them.

Melinda Rackham: Yeah, years ago I was making avatars that were biological machine constructions, so they were operating on a cellular level. And it was really quite interesting to watch how people chose these avatars and which avatars were more popular, and which ones people identified with the most. Mostly cuteness was a factor in that.

Gillian Raymond: We probably have time for one more question from the audience. Does anyone want to throw anything at our panel? Not rotten tomatoes either?


Patrick Lichty: Thank you

Gillian Raymond: No questions?

National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Melinda Rackham: Someone wanted to know what happened to my head. I logged in today and, um, I had a female body last night, and I did have a head last night but this morning I have just eyes, and a male body. So I'm not quite sure what happened, perhaps I picked up a disease yesterday. But I quite like the look so I'll keep it for a while.

Michael Desmond: I thought it was a very cool Anne Boleyn type of look. Great!

Gillian Raymond: Michael, we did have one question from Pyewacket asking will the Portrait Gallery become more interactive artistically. Did you want to mention your Present Tense exhibition that you're working on at the moment?

National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Michael Desmond: It seems indescribably retro after this conversation. The exhibition starts on the 21st of May. It's very much in the physical realm and that in part is because I am consciously catering to our audience. It has to be an exhibition that you can actually walk into and feel that the experience of the space it's in is just as important as the works themselves. This is a group of works, and when you're putting together an exhibition it's not just assembling a cast of stars or picking individual things that are strong. So I am in fact looking at a range of things. I mentioned Chuck Close daguerrotypes earlier simply because I have included those in the exhibition. And there's a lovely work by Stelarc of course, who's standing in front of us, that is also terrific, and in a sense quite the opposite in a lot of ways. The exhibition is really just scanning what's out there rather than trying to be an authority. So it's a nice thing. It will be on our web site pretty soon.

Melinda Rackham: How long will Portrait Island stay here or the doppelgänger exhibition stay available to the public?

Gillian Raymond: The doppelgänger Exhibition will come down on the 23rd of April and we have plans to keep Portrait Island as another display space for the Portrait Gallery and so to work with artists who are working with digital and virtual art, and concepts of identity. So we will hope to keep that display space going for as long as we can.

Melinda Rackham: Great!

Gillian Raymond: I would like to wrap by thanking the panel. I really appreciate the discussion that you guys have had and the time that you've given to us today! Everyone join me in a virtual clap for Melinda, Michael, Christiane, Patrick and Andrew! Thank you so much for that. And if anyone would like to have any more information about the doppelgänger exhibition, you can go to portrait.gov.au/doppelganger or you can contact me [Portrait Watanabe] inworld. Thank you everyone, for coming.

Christiane Paul: Thanks so much! Thanks for inviting us.

Audience: Applause!

National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

View the video of this event on the National Portrait Gallery's website

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