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UK artists challenge notions about software
- Exhibition of new net art works

When Christ after his resurrection told one of his disciples: “Touch me not”, he could also have been speaking on behalf of works of art displayed in a public space and meant to be admired/venerated/viewed from a safe distance, without the viewer ever coming into contact with the work.

After the introduction of the electronic media, and now the Internet, there has been a radical shift in such a perception. New Net Art Works from Britain, an exhibition and lecture-demonstration at the British Council, helped artists, film-makers, techies and young members of khetro, that describes itself as an initiative on community, media and ecological existence, all of whom work in Calcutta, learn hands-on about the exciting new ways the Net is impinging on the international arts scene.

The exhibition, that opened on Monday evening, was curated by Honor Harger, a new media artist working as an education and online projects officer of the Tate Modern gallery in London, and Pauline van Mourik Broekman, co-publisher and editor of the London-based technoculture magazine Mute. This was followed by a workshop the next morning.

Honor and Pauline, both young women themselves, talked about the frenetic pace at which new technology was developing and its symbiotic link with new media art. Unlike the art of yore, where distance lent aura to works, in the case of new media art, interaction is its raison d’etre. This was demonstrated through six pieces on display on the monitors of an equal number of laptops. Honor and Pauline illustrated their talk through displays on a giant monitor connected to their respective laptops.

These new media works, instead of glorifying or showcasing the cutting-edge technologies that helped create them, often turn our assumptions about them on their head. Though they often do so in a humorous way, there remains no doubt in the minds of viewers about their subversive intent. The software, instead of behaving in a predictable manner, always throws up surprises for which one is never prepared. Thereby, the works reveal the faults inherent in computer technology.

Word Perhect by Tomoko Takahashi, a Japanese installation artist working in the UK who was shortlisted for the Turner prize in 2000, is a parody of word-processing software. It is a send-up of the mindless standardisation imposed by popular word-processing software that frowns on idiosyncratic use of language or spelling. Thereby, it also underlines the limitations of such software. Auto-Illustrator by Adrian Ward parodies existing graphic design software as it seems to have a life of its own. Richard Wright’s The Bank of Time uses the device of the screensaver that shows plants (read investments) growing to maturity only if the viewer allows it to do so without touching the mouse. TV swansong by Somewhere, an organisation led by Nina Pope and Karen Guthrie, too, stresses individuality and idiosyncratic responses, in this case to television.

All these were collaborative projects that allow the cross-fertilisation between the artist and the programmer. The participants were encouraged to do the same in fictional situations. They came up with some bright ideas, well worth translating into virtual reality.

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