Let us consider letters – how they come at breakfast, and at night, with their yellow stamps and their green stamps, immortal-ized by the postmark – for to see one’s own envelope on another’s table is to realise how soon deeds sever and become alien.
– Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room (1922)
One of the most far-reaching, far-out and potentially revolutionary avant-garde cul-tural “undergrounds” is operating virtual-ly right beneath everyone’s collective nose, primarily via the international mails.
– Thomas Albright, Rolling Stone (1972)
Attempting to communicate over long distances is an intriguing creative strategy, fraught with interference and mis-communication – yet also possessing unexpected potential. When the first transatlantic telegraph cable was laid between England and the United States in 1858, it allowed messages to be sent around the world at hitherto impossible speeds. Ironically, telegraphic communication had a tendency to defy grammar and structural conventions with telegraphese provoking ambiguity and incomprehension, resulting in a codified form of language. (1)
In the 1960s, artist Ray Johnson founded the cor-respondence network The New York Correspondence School that allowed material to be sent back and forth between hundreds of people via the postal service. This tactic, which became known as mail art, involved the exchange of small-scale art works, often incorporating the use of simple reproduction technologies such as the Xerox Telecopier and rubber stamps. What resulted was “a continuous happening by mail, a sophisticated communications-feed-back system in which correspondence is always being received, replied to or ignored”. (2) Mail-artists embraced the codified and opaque nature of many of these resulting communications, revelling in the inher-ent spontaneity, amusement, absurdity and revelation.
Put Up a Signal emerges from this creative impulse to communicate – to use readily available technologies to develop and share artistic works. It is a project that can be read within the histories of advancing digital technology as well as art. The evolution in Internet availability, speed and storage now allows artists to share large quantities of data with relative ease. However, there is no guarantee that connections established through this method will be anymore sophisticated than those exchanged by the early telegraph, or as poetic as those made by mail-artists of The New York Correspondence School. In this sense, technology remains governed by the nuances and complexity of human interaction that is largely driven by a search for genuine connection.
This publication, printed in English and Bahasa Indonesia, acts as a companion to the exhibition and collaborative aspects of Put Up a Signal. It provides a range of reflections on concepts emerging from the project, with essays by Dr. Edwin Jurriëns, focusing on the development of Indonesian screen-based art, as well as Melbourne-based curators Kim Brockett and Nella Themelios, exploring the possibilities and pitfalls of collaboration aided by the Internet. Media Art Asia Pacific’s Research and Program Development Manager, Madeleine King provides a broader picture of the organ-isation's activities in Asia, discussing the way video can open doors for artistic exchange across multiple countries. Tara Cook, media artist and Director of New Low, further elaborates on video art through a discussion of the history of online video. A reflective essay by Agung Nugroho Widhi, Put Up a Signal co-curator and Ruang MES 56 member, provides insight into contemporary art practice in Indonesia drawn from his own artistic experiences and collaborations.
Together these texts respond to and expand on the work of artists Akiq Abdul Wahid (ID), Anggun Priambodo (ID), Emile Zile (AU), Eugenia Lim (AU), Greatest Hits (AU), Sean Peoples (AU), M.R. Adytama Pranada a.k.a Charda (ID), Oliver van der Lugt (AU), Rowan McNaught (AU), Muhammad Akbar (ID), Irwan Ahmett (ID) and Tristan Jalleh (AU). With a focus on the poetics of communication, this publication may go some way to decoding the dialogues, processes and cre-ative works generated by the Put Up a Signal project.
Picker, J M, 2008, “Threads across the Ocean: The Transatlantic Tele-graph Cable, July 1858, August 1866”, Dino Franco Felluga (ed.) BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History. Viewed 15 January 2014, http://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=john-picker-threads-across-the-ocean-the-transatlantic-telegraph-cable-july-1858-august-1866.
Albright, T 1972, “New Art School: Correspondence”, Rolling Stone, April 13.
Published as part of the exhibition exchange ’Put Up a Signal’.
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