Utopia Now

Published:  March 9, 2010
Brendan McKnight
Utopia Now

Media art can sometimes be a bit tricky to explain to people. What is it? How is it exhibited? Who is involved? With so many variables covering a wide variety of mediums, the scope for media art is huge, however when comparing media art to its more traditional art cousins, there are not so many people promoting the genre.

This is where Experimenta come in, who are a team committed to championing media art and making and promoting great exhibitions of innovative and interactive art. Their latest exhibition Utopia Now, is currently being shown in Melbourne and will travel to several regional and metropolitan venues throughout Australia this year.

We chat to Utopia Now curator Amy Barclay, to find out what is involved in putting together such an exhibition.


Touchme, Blendid Interaction Design

Hello Amy, firstly congratulations on the line-up for Experimenta, the exhibition is fantastic.
Thank you. It has come together brilliantly!

Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be the curator of Experimenta Utopia Now?
Well, from the moment I could grasp a pencil art and creativity have been a big part of my life. I studied Media Arts at RMIT before post grads in Art History and Museum Studies; the combination of which led me to curating. Joining Experimenta felt like coming full circle, in light of Experimenta’s commitment to championing media art. I’m lucky to be part of a small and dynamic team who live to make and promote great exhibitions of innovative and interactive art. I feel privileged to have worked so closely on it, and I’m thoroughly enjoying speaking at our public programs and sharing it with everyone.

life writer

Life Writer, Laurent Mignonneau & Christa Sommerer

For anyone who is unfamiliar with Experimenta (shame on them!), how would you describe it?
Experimenta is Australia’s preeminent organisation for the commissioning, exhibiting, promoting and touring of media art. For the uninitiated, media art can include such media as video art, kinetic installations, and interactive art, and often employs some form of contemporary or custom technology; all of this tends to amount to memorable audience experiences. Experimenta has been transforming galleries and public spaces with dynamic ideas and screen based art since 1986-so our exhibitions are just growing more ambitious and more exciting!


Experimenta Utopia Now, Exterior

The theme for this Experimenta Biennial exhibition is Utopia Now. How did you personally interpret this and what can we expect to see?
I find Experimenta Utopia Now unites global and local perspectives on how we live in the world today. Several sub-themes, or conversational threads emerge between the works. One deals with the nature of history and truth and the ways they are constructed, another considers the dubious virtues of biomedical technology, and how we should handle what these technologies can do for us in the future. One section finds that art and humour are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and that in a world of madness, embracing the absurd may be a perfectly reasonable response. Several works highlight the uncertainty humans feel about our nations and their current military or socio-economic climate, and some raise questions about how we should preserve the environment for tomorrow’s generations. Only a few works are truly dystopic, proposing chaotic scenarios for the end of the world. Finally there are a few optimistic works that I believe offer a positive outlook on the world today, or help the audience to find happiness in simple pleasures or activities. For me personally, I have found that utopia is perhaps best identified by individuals for themselves alone- they may find bliss in moments or experiences rather than locations. I think utopia in that sense is quite easily achievable, and it’s an idea I’ve come to really appreciate.

The digital picture of Dorian Gray, Marco Bresciani

The digital picture of Dorian Gray, Marco Bresciani

There have been many technological advances since you graduated from Media Arts at RMIT, how have these affected the genre and what do you believe have been the biggest changes (for the best or worst)?
Aside from the unchecked expansion of the internet and all things virtual, which obviously opens doors to worlds and networks previously unthinkable, I imagine the biggest change has been the amount of autonomy developments in software have offered the artist/user. At Uni I was taught very basic HTML, long before something like Dreamweaver existed. Now there are dozens of different software packages to cater to every creative whim, without people having to learn the programming behind it. Of course, being able to program your own software does allow for even more independence and another kind of creative freedom. In essence I’d say it is the availability and accessibility of the tools to make media art that have seen its producers develop their skills and practice with such commitment and passion in the last 15 years.


What Will Come, William Kentridge

How did you go about selecting artists/works for Experimenta Utopia Now? Was there a call for submissions, or were the artists approached?
Experimenta approached all the artists, and made a formal request to show their work in our exhibition.  A great deal of research and travel was undertaken in the last two years in preparation for assembling this Biennial. Experimenta commissioned three works; You Were In My Dream by Isobel Knowles & Van Sowerwine, Xanadu by Kit Wise and The Digital Picture of Dorian Gray by Marco Bresciani. Commissioning Australian media art and supporting Australian media artists is a significant aspect of our mission and a program of which we are very proud.


Shadow 3, Shilpa Gupta

The general public are sometimes a bit wary and nervous of engaging/interacting with artworks. What do you consider are essential elements in creating an engaging media art piece?
Helping the audience to understand what it is they are doing when they interact, and to easily identify what the outcome of their actions is as a consequence of that action. When outcomes make sense, interactive art is very rewarding.
Experimenta Utopia Now is a very accessible exhibition. The content is thought provoking and meaningful, but the cumulative experience of the exhibition is one of wonder, joy and fun.


Akousmaflore, Scenocosme

For those not in Melbourne, will Experimenta Utopia Now be touring the country?
Yes, it will travel to several regional and metropolitan venues throughout Australia starting with Redland Art Gallery in Queensland in June 2010. Keep watching our new website at experimenta.org for more details.


Main Image: Miyata Jiro, Momoyo Torimitsu

3 Responses

  1. Alex TS

    Great post, helps to add further depth to an already amazing exhibition.

  2. Baxtor

    looks incredible – what a great variety of art works. hope it comes to sydney.

  3. BJP

    What an awesome job that must be, traveling to cool exhibitions to source new and creative artworks. Great interview.

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