Beyond the Frame: The Virtual Triennial & Screen Culture

. . . as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in pattern on a screen
T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
. . . I make no apologies for linking my thinking to computer technologyFaithless, 'Reverence', Reverence, Festival Records, 1997

The Asia-Pacific Triennial is both underpinned and pinned down by space and time; it is defined by its foundation in a geographic region and its status as a recurring event. The project developed from, and in turn creates, networks of artists and arts professionals, drawing them together in a new forum. The theme of the Third Asia-Pacific Triennial (APT3), 'Beyond the Future', highlights the importance of temporal and spatial concerns. Its theoretical structure has particular relevance to the digital components of the exhibition: the APT3 Web site, the Virtual Triennial, and Screen Culture, a curated program of artists' films, videos and animations which will be presented throughout the exhibition.

What do these screen-based elements of APT3 mean for the overall project and, more specifically, its theme? The term 'future shock' was coined some decades ago to describe 'the shattering stress and disorientation that individuals are subjected to through too much change in too short a time'.1 The current rate of propulsion is such that we cannot even perceive ourselves moving; it is like a time travel tale where we pass ourselves moving through worlds. In this context, the future is a 'time-mirror', with the ability to inform us about our present, a tool from which we can learn, with which we can create a convincing scenario and expound its possibilities.2 In picturing the future, the telling of stories is crucial. The Virtual Triennial and Screen Culture provide avenues for structuring and presenting these tales - their phosphorescent surfaces transport us into others' perceptions and knowledge, and to spaces that are beyond the frame of any known realities.

'Beyond' is both a spatial term - being 'on the far side' - and a temporal term - being 'later than'. These meanings are issues constantly debated in discussions about human and technological interaction. In addition, 'beyond' has resonances with the processes of cognition, pointing to things that are out of the reach of thought or understanding - on the further side of the frame. The idea of the frame is important in this regard, because frames are situated in a netherworld; neither one thing nor another; neither the painting nor the wall on which it hangs. Frames disrupt the interior/exterior opposition, and focus our relationship with both.

For the Virtual Triennial and Screen Culture, what lies on the other side of the frame is constantly morphing, as are the terms themselves. These APT3 events are interchangeable - both are reliant on the screen for their delivery and, in their ephemerality, both are virtual. The screens within the physical exhibition space paradoxically ground us and take us somewhere else. While the images move, we are still - the images demand our attention, have a hold over us, yet can never be held to us. We can and do move away: as viewers of these media, we have the power to choose the extent of our engagement. As we shift, the screen images remain captured in a nebulous space of electrons - we move into the future, but the images we were looking at remain frozen, despite their constant movement.

At the dawn of the new millennium, humanity's framework is itself framed through television, the cinema, the computer monitor. These technological 'marvels' are perceived as windows, opening onto a multiplicity of vistas, while simultaneously containing them in the ether. The screens to which we turn for information, education and entertainment are reflectors rather than windows. The mediation of perception through these technologies, the changes in how we communicate with each other, and the changes in our time and space references are intrinsic effects of technological applications. As Marshall McLuhan stated, it is the frameworks which change with new technologies, not only the picture inside the frame.3

Within the frame a cornucopia of elements may be manipulated and encased, evolving/revolving before our eyes, like a pointillist painting, reliant on ordered design, composition, light and harmony to create a meaningful image. This is the convergence of the World Wide Web - multiple media are drawn together, creating a new whole. The Virtual Triennial is a manifestation of this; moreover, it is an extension, an interpretation, of the overall Asia-Pacific Triennial project. Likewise, Screen Culture reflects the diversity of artistic practice within the region, showing how artists are engaging with 'new' media to tell their stories. These media frame stories and structure narratives - though not necessarily via linear paths. They fulfil the role of 'poetics', the arts as a tool in making sense of our experiences within the accelerated world of cybersociety. Millennium fever - although it is only the millennium of the Gregorian calendar 4 - has made this unceasing motion a focal point, the perspectival point of humankind.

People exist in a multiplicity of frameworks, within the matrices of their own selves, gender and cultures, and the screen is where this vision is projected. The screen then, be it the Asia-Pacific Triennial as a whole, the Virtual Triennial, or Screen Culture, is akin to an insect screen, flywire, an apparatus created to allow vision and transitoriness.
I have come to see the world in wire-frame, always from multiple points-of-view . . . The virtual dimension has triggered a decisive cognitive rupture with the very notion and relevance of the Newtonian conception of space. A break that in many respects is analogous to the space Brunelleschi and others of the Quattrocento opened up in the 15th century by developing the language of linear perspective.5

The past, the present and the future are 'places' we will never be as they cannot be captured. Without a unitary endpoint, there can only be a variety of frames from which to depart, and on which to land. The singular, unassailable voice of the artist and the institution has been shifted to a space where plural voices are available. Media - vehicles, such as the Virtual Triennial and Screen Culture - are portals to discovering our own and others' interpretations.

June 1999

1. Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, Pan Books, London, 1970, p. 12.
2. Toffler, p. 13.
3. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Cambridge, MIT Press, 1964, 1994, p. 219.
4. For example, the equivalent of 1999 in other calendars include: Buddhist - 2542; Islamic - 1420; Hebrew - 5759; Chinese - Cycle 78, year 16. For other dates, including Japan and Indonesia, see this calendar or this.
5. John Beckmann, 'Merge invisible layers', CTHEORY: Theory, Technology and Culture, vol. 22 nos 1-2, article 69, 22 February 1999