One of the great innovators of the moving image arts, John Whitney, observed in the late 1960s that to experiment with the medium of cinema is to confront the technology of cinema.

The development of cinema throughout the past 110 years is inextricably linked with developments in a range of film production technologies. The recent transition from mechanical, chemical and analogue processes to those that are electronically and digitally based has provided artists with an extraordinary range of creative opportunities. As digital data, the fundamental elements that constitute the cinematic experience - space, time, light, sound and motion - are now infinitely malleable and endlessly reconfigurable.

The compelling artworks in the Transfigure exhibition demonstrate the artists' (and their collaborators') virtuosic command of film and new media technologies. Many of the works also provoke questions about the broader, often disquieting, implications of our ever-accelerating technological evolution.

In ACMI's Screen Gallery, Char Davies' immersive virtual environments Osmose and Ephèmére, and Stelarc's Prosthetic Head (a cheekily loquacious computer-generated interlocutor), provide the thematic focus for Transfigure: technology, body and landscape. The works of Davies and Stelarc attest to our receding physicality in the world. Thirteen other works by prominent Australian and international artists have been selected from ACMI's Exhibition Collection to further explore sublime tensions between technology and nature, space and perception, identity and image.

In the physical space of the Gallery, two installations create very different experiences of embodiment, of being within 'virtual' space. Char Davies' immersive environments, although bounded within technology, locate us freely in seemingly boundless immaterial spaces - contemplative, translucent realms of quietude. In acmipark, selectparks' thrilling 3D game world, multiple players in the gallery and in online networks adopt avatars to explore the simulated spaces of ACMI and Federation Square. Both works radically redefine notions of 'subjective', 'social', 'public', 'private' and 'space'.

The 2D wireframe interactive models created online with Ed Burton's Sodaconstructor are not only contained within the fence of the screen, they must also contend with the manipulations of a gleeful animator. The frequently hapless critters embody primitive intelligence and 'personalities' derived through Java programming code. More embryonic forms of Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Life are elegantly represented in Paul Brown's chromos, a cellular automata or self-generative system which, in appearance and title, alludes to genetics and emergent behaviours.

Technology, our other strand of DNA, has enabled us to not only evolve and adapt more rapidly, but also to become more mutable. Stelarc's ongoing critical inquiry of the Obsolete Body is extended in his Prosthetic Head project, which reconceives notions of intelligence, awareness, agency and embodiment. These conditions are manifested as poignant eroticism between two robotic forms in Chris Cunningham's video clip for Björk's lament, All Is Full of Love. The clip intimates the potential for subjectivity and emotiveness in cyborgs, while reflecting the de-humanisation of emotions through technological alienation.

In Gina Czarnecki's Infected, the circular screen entraps a spasming biological body subjected to the forces of digital mutation and re-animation. However, for Czarnecki, at this moment of our evolution 'the new bio-engineered body is still a sexual, stark, brutal, organic, pounding bloody system.' Drew Berry has transfused visceral data of neural flesh with digital data of software to produce body code, an astonishing series of intricate biomedical visualisations that accurately represent DNA and other cellular and molecular activity in the human body. For Rapt, Justine Cooper recodified Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans of her own body to construct and probe through architectures of spectral space. Together with Ephèmére's evocative translation of body organs and blood vessels into virtual terrains, these works reveal the innately sensed topographies of our strange interior worlds.

The micro-landscapes of body code are strikingly analogous in appearance and energy to Orka ('life force'), Steina's digitally altered recordings of the micro-movements of nature in her native Iceland. In stark contrast, Mike Stubbs' Gift depicts the terrible beauty of a landscape devastated by industry and corroded by chemical waste - a harrowing reality check to Osmose and Ephèmére. Char Davies has commented that her works are an attempt to reaffirm a 'mythic need for nature's other, in the hope of returning attention to our fleeting existences as embodied mortal beings embedded in a delicately balanced living and sensuous natural world.' Perhaps such hope is also the essence of Bobe's Legend, Robert Gligorov's iconic work of transcendent grace.

In this exhibition, the high-tech immateriality of virtual reality is tempered with the physicality of materialist film experiments that disfigure the surface of the film, distort the image, and disorder our perceptions of time and space. In Departure by Ian Andrews and superpermanence by Vikki Wilson, film loops were processed by analogue and digital means to create ambiguous 'landscapes' of textural abstraction. Time and space are restructured by Tamàs Waliczky in Landscape, a work of remarkable conceptual and technical subtlety that suspends us in a fantastical realm of stillness in motion. Although the enigmas of these works elude the persistence of our vision, we are nonetheless enfolded within the surreality of their mesmeric effects.

In recent years the moving image arts have been re-energised by artists who have not only confronted but embraced new technologies to render visible the changing forms of their limitless imaginaries - often combining elements of experimental film and video art, computer art, games and animation, graphics, VR, and scientific imaging.

This hybrid or recombinant approach also forms the matrix for the Transfigure exhibition, charging the Screen Gallery with the sparks and resonances of aesthetically and technically diverse media artworks. Experiential, interactive, dynamic, reflective, multivalent - the range of startling works in Transfigure transfix our gaze, transform our perceptions, and transmute our imaginings of our future nature.

Alessio Cavallaro, November 2003

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