hybrid<life>forms@home: Australian New Media Artists

Australia Council, 3 September 2001.

Speaking notes by Terry Cutler

From Amsterdam to Surry Hills in Sydney; we have brought these new works home. This journey reminds us that often our best new work is better appreciated by others. And this gathering to launch this exhibition provides me with a platform to make a couple of points about new media, and innovation.

I have been putting a lot of emphasis on the crucial importance of the creative arts to industry and community innovation, and to our country competitiveness in a 21st century in which cultural richness becomes a key economic metric and a major factor in locational choices by skilled people within a knowledge economy.

These are important arguments in re-positioning the arts within political and community agendas.

To argue for a crucial intersection between the creative arts and industry innovation is not, however, to say that there is no difference between the actual processes of innovation in the arts and in industry. I would not want to be misrepresented as arguing for the imposition of an inappropriately corporatist model of innovation on the arts. Put simplistically, much of the dynamic in industry innovation is savagely Darwinian: it is about displacement, destruction, and the hegemony of new market spaces. Innovation in the arts is more complex. It adds to, extends, and refreshes our cumulative cultural heritage, and provides our contemporary understanding of our common humanity and the meaning of our lives.

New media is an especially complex arena that is hard to pin down. It's a moving target, like Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in quantum physics. Florian Brody put it nicely in a MIT collection of essays on digital media when he said:

we have either no words or too many words to describe what [new media] are and what we can do with them.

In my own world of information and communications technology, Kevin Kelly the editor of Wired magazine has described innovation as skating to the edge of chaos. What I have always found exciting about my involvement in the information industries is the continual change - and the fact that you can never, must never, pretend that you are on top of it.

Some of you, very generously, have been offering me a lifeline by saying that you won't put me on the spot "until I have got up to speed". The point is that I hope I will never be up to speed.

One candidate for patron of new media must be William Blake, purely on the basis of one haunting sentence:

The man who never alters his opinions is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.

Without new media, experimentation and risk taking our cultural life will become stagnant. Like you, I am here to learn and be challenged, and that means hearing the direct voices of artists, and learning how to read and experience these works. To see the world in a pixel.