art article text

Avatar Polymorph (
Sun, 09 Aug 1998 13:16:29 +1100

Avatar Polymorph

The technological changes about to surge over Australian society will fundamentally alter the whole notion of art and artist in the next three decades.

Currently the avant-garde only purports to challenge existing structure. In a non-altruistic society full of self-regulating semi-intellectual oligarchies (the "professions") and corporate monopolies reigning over a suburban monoculture it is historically astonishing how much tolerance has been shown to the avant-garde. Most of recorded history has seen tiny elites dominate the majority of the then population. Prior to recorded history there were a few tens of millennia in rock art, costume and so forth. Some argue that modern language began about 60,000 years ago. The first sea crossings date to 800,000 years ago, and stone tools predate this by hundreds of thousands of years. The stated historic mission of the avant-garde has been the pressing forward of experiment and artistic sophistication in relation to both the artist as individual and the artist as the equal commentator upon society. In practice, in Australia, the indifference and physicality of suburbia has denied the vast majority of artists material support and has led to their reliance on teaching, academia, grants and alternative jobs to earn income. On a political level, this has inevitably restrained them. Even more pertinently, the mechanisms and infrastructure of modern late twentieth century art have reduced them to corporate instrumentalities. Direct artistic political challenge to the dominant elitist paradigms derives from the fringe cultures of the "alternative" scene rather than the artistic community. One has only to examine the lived lives of queers, feminists, punks, goths, ravers, junkies, new agers or hippies to see this. It is highly likely that the driven formal aesthetic of these different sub-cultures and communities will express itself in new forms of complex and developed art, which, since their birth in salons and bohemia, have struggled to exist within a culture of mass production, distribution monopolies and limited cybernetics. The more formal artistic avant-garde will also become more expressive, though at a slightly later date, since it is politically tied to the current socio-economic system for the period while work remains existant in its current form. What are some of the forces driving these forthcoming changes?

New materials.
Controlled materials.
Accessible, low-cost and non-hierachial infrastructures. Artist-controlled distribution networks.
The rise of the reviewer.
A new abundance of ability.
A new abundance of leisure.
Increased information and congruence of information. Increased control of the body.
Increased control of an increasingly interactive environment. Increased control of neurological consciousness and variation of its structure.
Increased political activism.
New moral and ethical debates.
New spiritual activism in response to increased ability. The increased role of art as environmental theatre and ritual.

Already, it is difficult to follow the many possibilities being opened up in biology, nanotechnology and computing. These range from tens of molecular supercomputers inside individual cells to using radiotelescope networks as a sensory organ to watch the stars directly. Advanced automation and nanotechnology (which involves consciously constructed atomic and molecular arrangements and materials containing extremely large numbers of molecular supercomputers linked to assemblers and disassemblers), followed later by artificial or consciously constructed intelligence, will result in the end of required manual work and the disappearance of capital (as self-replication of automated production systems does not require organized manual labour driven by provision of goods and services as reward). Any sentient being will potentially be capable of choosing to control its level of intelligence and its component systems, including choice of lifespan. For example, crossovers between DNA computers and nanotechnology could result in the exchange of complex information through the saliva of a kiss.



Use of nanopaper or screenpaint to coat billboards distributed above artist warehouses and displaying downloads of art, whether video or painterly. For example, 30-second interval displays of the performance artist during a 24-hour period. The same principle can apply to wallscreens, roomscreens, materials coating (for example, coating of cars), clothes, 'poster' pillars, "outside galleries" (galleries with exterior display) and simultaneous galleries (galleries with identical rotating and simultaneous displays at a variety of sites around the world). Institutions such as artbanks will cater for such needs.


Use of nanomaterials to provide 3-dimensional simulation of brushstrokes and painterly effects, capable of modifying themselves. Your Goya modifies to a Rembrant in an hour or two. See the effects of layered oils - apparently.

"Car dance"

Use of automatic car driving systems to arrange a ballet of driverless vehicular transport, the poetry of chance and steering wheel, culminating in simultaneous car crashes with late 20th century crash dummies.

"King Kong"

You inhabit a virtual body six storeys high, venturing down a virtual Brunswick Street to lift cars and pick the tops off buildings. Point of eyesight view, however, comes not from your virtual eyes but a rotating panorama. As your journey begins you start to shrink….


Modelling their work on the famous 1960s computer simulation, a group of sculptures create a short-term sculptural spire of immense height that casts its shadow on the precise day the precise distance across Melbourne to reach the border house from the shoreline. Impossible? No.

"MCG edit"

100,000 automated cameras track players and viewpoints, including personal choice shots, and store all visual data of the Grand Final. Viewers create their own 'director's cut' and compare notes while imbiding vegetarian VB (VB without filtration through animal products).

"Nano suitmask"

Gymnastics unheard of in the past are possible with diamond-
muscle sheathing controlled by millions of molecular supercomputers. Patterning and shifting of skin and mask enable artistic expression of the Circus Oz version of the Tempest atop four adjacent city rooftops, with appropriate leaping and tumbling.

"Flower bed"

Your bed and bedroom are augmented by genetically sculptured flowers, which form the ceiling and open to the morning Sun while selected psychedelic neurotransmitters are wafted your way, according to your mood.


Nanotech utility fogs lift the players up and surround their bodies. Like vampiric hosts, they float in the material as the Earth turns, hiding the Sun, while playing high-speed three-dimensional metachess and composing haiku. Afterwards they gather and discuss the game, vying to ensure that the best players are ensured the honour of victory.

"Villa of the Mysteries"

Virtual and overt realities merge in this historic reenactment of the ancient rites, modelled on Pompeii. Participants swap visual, aural and tactile sensory inputs, experiencing the mixed realities from a variety of perspectives, the shifting patterns modelled on the lava flows of yesteryear.

"Migration of the Spider Homes"

Modifiable houses with hydraulically controlled beds shift on hydraulic spider legs, foretelling the era of smart houses and thinking cities. Not content with shifting from beach to forest, they echo the call of James Blish in "Cities in Flight" by going solar.


A single male body to double female body transformation (consensual and without neurological override) is ritually enacted, and completed by Tantric branding. The parameters of the new bodies are decided by vote of assembled friends and close relatives, after consultation with the wish-drive of the person concerned.

"Beehive Extravaganze: splitting universe"
Superintelligent self-modified bees are requested to provide their views on a potential universe design. No longer the province of physicists and mathematicians, systems design on this scale has broadened to include more poetic progenitators.

"Cyber mandala"

Socio-historical analyses of memetic constructs over the past 2,500 years are reassembled as cyber mandalas on Simnet (which contains non-aware virtual versions of past personages) for meditative purposes.


Flocks of special-material solar sails are infused with the consciousness of visitors and skim the colder surface of the Sun, their pleasure centres linked to the erupting solar winds and sunspots.

This projected breakdown of art as a commodity in the face of multivalency will seem implausible to some, and wildly improbable to others, but flows naturally from the increased range of choice about to race over us. Far more freeform art than the examples quoted above will surface and interact at many different levels. Mythologies and lives may well be the new materials, for many. Ascending and descending constructs within oceans of consciousness are the probable result of our impending exit from the womb of history into the realm of hypersentiency and self-directed evolution. From this perspective, Cabaret Voltaire and Andy Warhol will seem to be precursors to and prophets of the dawn of a new age. Nation states and corporations may well become the romantic, semi-tragic dream-phrases of 20th century improbabilities, used for constructive design purposes and exploration rather than as the spine and skeleton of our everyday reality.