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July 31st, 2009

In today’s high-tech world, and with 2009 being ANAT’s 21st anniversary year, our Emerging Technology (ET) labs have never been more necessary. As the gap between early adopter niche audiences and old school mainstream becomes increasingly thinner, opportunities to experiment and take risks without fear of failure are all the more valuable.

ANAT’s annual Media Labs and Summer Schools have traditionally focused on introducing skills associated with emerging technologically based practice to a wide sector of Australian media arts practitioners, writers and curators. Building upon lessons learned through past initiatives, especially through successful labs including reSkin (2006/2007), Still/Open (2007) and the Graffiti Research Lab (2008), we now have a tried and tested method for the delivery of these environments.

How do these labs operate? With so many fascinating technologies and practitioners, the hardest part is often deciding what to focus on. This could be a perceived gap in the sector, a response to current trends, or a coming together of questions, ideas and interests that inspire our communities. Once that has been decided we connect the dots with partners who share that interest and recommend or request expert practitioners in that area. Those practitioners are then invited to devise a creative program, to take place over a few days or weeks. We are flexible with this structure and ask only one thing: the lab must be open, collaborative and result in new concepts, processes or works.

Grants and additional funding sources are then secured to ensure the best possible outcomes and profile for all concerned. Funding granted, the call for participants is distributed internationally, and those selected are introduced across digital interfaces to begin preliminary discussions. By the time any public outcomes are presented you could be forgiven for thinking these people had been working together for years.

This strategy ensures not only innovation but also long-lasting legacies either on an individual basis or as future collaborations between participants. It is therefore part of the process to have certain elements unknown in the early stages as this allows for maximum ownership by both invited facilitators and subsequent participants. We do not see this as a risk but as a natural part of the process and it is this enthusiastic system that sets us apart from many other workshops or residential programs.

The result is a thriving community who, from a few weeks of living, playing and learning together have the confidence and abilities to go on to create future high quality productions. Our process does not (necessarily, or immediately) generate ‘new work’, but it certainly does enable (or enhance) ‘new producers’.

By exposing a group of mixed (entirely online; emerging and established) national and international practitioners to high quality and innovative research and development processes with leading national and international facilitators, we provide a solid platform for future high quality productions. This in turn creates the opportunity for our participants to use and investigate a range of techniques, experience culturally diverse forms, contexts and media, which create an environment where new ideas can flourish.

This year we move to experimental new formats for the Filter magazine that will have much the same attitude as the innovative, experimental ET labs… I’d say ‘watch this space’ but ‘this space’ will be much different next time around.

Fee Plumley
Fee was the Portable Platforms & Emerging Technologies Program Manager at ANAT from 2008-2009

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