Festival Opening Speech, 26 November 1999
          Ken Unsworth, AM

Among the many quotable artist assertions about the nature of art, that of Albrecht Durer, the Northern Renaissance master, stands out for the truth and humility of its sentiment. Remember I am quoting from the 16th Century -

 "God sometimes grants to man understanding of how to make something the like of which in his day could not have been found".

So art, in terms of the New Zealand writer and scholar E. H. McCormack's definition of cultural accretion, defines the path traversed, and suffuses the onward path we travel.

The artist, and I am talking about the true artist, by which I mean one whose imprint with the passage of time is as clear and relevant as it ever was. Such work accommodates insight, wit, magic, humanity, humour, invention - and the use of invention in novel, clarifying and unsettling ways consistent with and responsive to the illnesses, the issues and the imperatives of the times. Therefore the artist is both shaped by, and shapes, the cultural and political landscape we inhabit.

In the diversity of this contemporary life with its burgeoning population of artists (I seem to remember a recent reference to 33,000 painters in Sydney alone) one could imagine that a critical mass of built and painted images has already been overreached and certainly the existing forum for their presentation to the public is far short of what is needed - even for established artists.

The internet not only offers undreamed of access and promotion to an audience of purchasers, distributors, participants and respondents, and for the dissemination and rationale of the work, it also offers alternatives to that critical mass in terms of new sorts of experimental artistic and cultural practices and work. It is becoming an overwhelming factor for new forms of expression and appreciation, providing new conduits for multi-layered experiences and richly tapestried interactions in which art and life are bonded evermore seamlessly.

With the thrill of a hundred or of thousands of hits a day, and with the sheer weight, scale and availability of ideas, contexts, images and interventions, the artist can succumb very quickly to an exhaustion of exposure - the quick-kill syndrome of fashion, the nanosecond attention and retention span, the numbing bite of issues of ownership after countless instantaneous electronic edits, cuts and pastes. And this with the consequence that the idea of sorting out the "wheat from the chaff" might not apply in a present where everything is given equal value - and so may portend an era of neo-gothic anonymity of the artist.

However, humanity always seeks a counter-prevailing force to reset the system when the effect of over reaching becomes unbearable. Humanity's restorative need surfaces, drawing us back to that instinctive essence for our spiritual well-being, to that "sense of truth that must have its play". As we have always done, we seek the simplification which expresses and embodies all of the new complexities of language and culture while elevating our awareness of its meaning and implication for our actions in the next time-space frame we have created. Still the leap to a next level of knowledge, awareness and of consciousness has been sustained.

Today's artist, the new artist, has grown up with this language and its powerful agents; but like those in the past, the best artists will have found within themselves the means to adapt these tools, not as ends in themselves, but to the needs that have always underpinned our deepest purposes; that of mind, heart and spirit.

Another siren horizon has been breached to leave us breathless at the newly revealed vista that forever changes and redefines the nature of our ambitions.

The level of magnifying invention and imagination which "interactive adapters", as we presently know them, parsed with virtual space modules that we can "physically inhabit" - are but primitive beginnings. Such exponentially-evolving constructs give rise to new, fantastic strains of complex forms in which empowerment rather than lassitude and subjugation enable each of us to individually become agents of change - creatively, culturally and politically.

The world of tomorrow will be unimaginably different, but it will still be a world among the stars that is indivisible from the universe within.