Enter or Escape?:
Media Arts and Culture Online.
(Part 1)

"Wilson: But what shall we dream of when everything becomes visible? Virilio: We'll dream of being blind."

 (Louise Wilson, interview with Paul Virilio, "Cyberwar, God, and Television",
in Kroker, Arthur, and Marilouise (eds),
Digital Delirium, St Martin's, NY, 1997).

Perhaps too much has already been claimed for the benefits that new media technologies, the web and internet bring to the arts, and the media arts in particular. But a maturing audience, a growing "catalogue" of online work and resources, and the burgeoning of partially or wholly web-based media arts practitioners are gradually creating a lively and diverse online media arts culture. And this in spite of the well-documented failings of the computer-based communications media of the internet and its colourful and noisy cousin, the web.

This online culture is the seed bed for many of the most exciting developments in the media arts - the ways they're practised, received, and ultimately, experienced or lived within a particular culture by its citizens. But it is still early days for this new form of cultural expression.

The digital realm's ubiquitous influence extends to many media and arts practices and forms allowing the artist to create, manipulate and present work in new ways, and the audience to view and interact with work and exhibitions from anywhere on the globe. The web also presents many opportunities for the media artist and curator to present or distribute their works or collections widely and to new audiences.

The key change here is the aggregation, in potentially many new ways, of the relatively marginal and fragmented communities of artists and their audiences through the internet. This effect of integrating previously dis-integrated audiences, combined with technologies that enhance audience/viewer engagement and feedback (interactivity) may, in the end, have a far greater impact on the media arts than that of the powerful new technologies of media creation and presentation. Importantly, these different aspects are interdependent and need to be considered as a whole, both for the benefits, and the problems, they bring with them.

However, there is currently a lack of knowledge about new distribution channels and the likely future of new media forms. The recognition of this lack of knowledge has had a significant effect on Australian media arts culture by highlighting the need for government arts funding bodies to address the "downstream" of the production process, arts distribution, with the same commitment they have show to the "upstream" of the process. (This view was recenltly also put forward for the film industry by media consultant Malcolm Long at the 2001 SPAA Conference).

The Australia Council, the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA), the Australian Film Commission and Cinemedia, among others, have begun to grapple with the intricacies of global distribution assisted by the internet by supporting a range of media arts resource organisations, sites and marketing projects.

The National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE) also had a program, Online Australia Year 1999, to catalyse online culture, with aims that include the idea that, "artists need to be recognised as innovative contributors to the information economy. Encouraging links between cultural institutions, cultural workers and commercial content producers will help to increase the variety and quality of digital content and improve Australia's visibility in the global online environment."

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TechTonic is a production of 3V 1995-2003