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TiNA: Eleanor Zeichner interviews Electrofringe

Dec 14, 2013

Roslyn Helper and Peter Fitzgibbon are artistic co-producers of Electrofringe, a festival dedicated to experimental electronic art, presented as part of This is Not Art in Newcastle. Founded in 1997, Electrofringe was an early platform for the presentation of electronic art in Australia, and continues to provide spaces for experimentation and creative risk-taking. In the second in our series on This is Not Art, Eleanor Zeichner asks how their festival model fosters collaboration, and what electronic art might look like in the future.

I’m interested in the strategies by which balance is maintained between the cultivation of creative risk-taking and the ongoing viability of a festival. Do you feel this is manifested by Electrofringe?

RH & PF: Taking creative risks and maintaining a viable festival are by no means mutually exclusive aims. Taking creative risks – both in the way we run the organisation and in the content that we present – is what makes Electrofringe unique. Experimental electronic art has developed in leaps and bounds over the last 20 years, emerging from the radical underground and fringe communities and bursting into the mainstream. Electrofringe is 16 years old, and has always been a platform for sharing knowledge, forging collaborations and providing sustained support for the emerging electronic arts community. The benefit of being a small organisation is that we are flexible and able to respond to the artworks and artforms we represent. This year we’ve gone back to basics, to make sure we are properly nurturing and promoting the artists and artforms we represent. Rather than a sprawling four-day program at This is Not Art 2013, held at Hunter Street TAFE, we developed a new organisational model to serve artists and audiences. We curated a one-day interactive showcase. We’re very excited about the one-day showcase model.

I’m also interested in how you’ve experimented with the format of the festival itself – how do you provide spaces for new collaborations to emerge?

RH & PF: At Electrofringe 2013, artists were present in the gallery with their works to explain them to audiences and receive feedback, as many exhibited works were non-static or in-progress. In addition, we ran a program of performances and workshops throughout the day. In this way, artists were able to meet each other face-to-face, make connections with each other and share ideas. Spontaneous collaborations formed in the gallery, with artist Josh Harle helping artist Irit Pollak enhance the code on her drawing machine Perfect Imperfection in front of curious onlookers. Having the artists in the gallery also made the artworks more accessible to a broad audience, who could ask questions and involve themselves in the works. We’re super excited by what we saw with this presentation model at TiNA, and intend to develop it and do it again bigger and better next year. We’re also planning a number of exciting events in Sydney, in order to maintain support and opportunities for artists across the year, and to continue to raise the profile of experimental electronic art in Australia. The other main evolutionary step for us as an organisation is increasing integration and partnerships with other fields and industries, including environment, science, health and education. So much of the work artists are doing overlaps with these different “non-creative” fields and we are committed to strengthening those ties.

Given that the showcase format invites experimentation and works in progress, what would you like to see more of in next year’s call for submissions?

RH & PF: We are interested in finding and presenting electronic art that takes digital engagement for granted, that reflects a generation born with computers, and takes us into the future. We are looking for works that don’t just use technology in their presentation but rather, works that challenge the very technology being used. For example, rather than filming an artwork and calling it video art, we are interested in artists who are manipulating the hardwares and softwares of the video medium to create new aesthetics and explore new concepts.

The showcase format lends itself to artists who are creating new works in any medium, either solo or in a group, and would like the opportunity to present their projects in front of audiences, peers and industry professionals. We’re excited by works that encourage audiences to play, interact, embody and immerse themselves. We encourage artists who employ different knowledge backgrounds and creative disciplines. We’re especially interested in anything we haven’t thought of yet.

As you’ve said, in the lifespan of the festival, electronic art has gotten from fringe to mainstream. What’s next for the form?

RH & PF: The beauty (and danger) of electronic art is that we still haven’t really figured out how to buy and sell it, how to store it, archive it, create a cultural narrative to chart its development. I think one of the next steps is the commodification of electronic art, which will see it represented more frequently in commercial galleries, major art events and our national public galleries. However, this field of creative practice is mind bogglingly diverse and has been developing so rapidly, that whilst it is mainstreaming on one level and finding a comfortable place in our cultural psyche, there is still a vibrant field of emerging, radical art, pushing both the technical and conceptual boundaries of what is possible. Electronic art often depends on many different skills and knowledge backgrounds to bring an idea to life, and so is changing the way we conceive of the artist, of creative ownership and of the way in which we experience art.