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Enter the Portals: a new public art project comes to Chatswood - Chris Rodley

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13/05/2013

Andrew and ChrisSydneysiders have had a rather uneasy relationship with public art. In fact, sometimes, residents often seem to take positive pleasure in disliking art in public spaces.

Bert Flugelman’s gleaming, geometric William Dobell Memorial at the corner of Pitt and Spring streets in the CBD is often derided as the “silver shish kebab”. Ken Unsworth’s Stones Against The Sky in Kings Cross is usually known by a rather more offensive name.

In June, Chatswood will be home to its own public art project called The Portals, which I’m excited to be involved in as one of the creators. The five artworks that make up the program are very different from the monumental sculptures have aroused the ire of Sydneysiders in the past. And we hope the reception for our works will be different too!

For a start, The Portals is a program of interactive artworks, so local residents, visitors and workers will be highly engaged in their development and realization.

Another aspect of The Portals artworks that makes them unique is that they’re telematic: they rely on networked telecommunications as an integral part of the work. Specifically, each artwork will link the Chatswood site – which is centred on the big screen at The Concourse – with a second exhibition site in Darwin. One of the key aims of the project is to explore the exciting new artistic possibilities being opened up by high-speed broadband links between distant locations. In short, it’s public art, but not quite like what you’ve seen before.

Last week, myself (a writer) and collaborator Dr Andrew Burrell (a hybrid media artist) headed over to The Concourse to pilot test our work, which brings together screen-based, new media art with e-literature. As part of the artwork, which is titled Enquire Within Upon Everybody, we’ll be asking local residents to submit questions on any subject to be answered by the Internet hive mind in an updated version of a fortune-telling machine from a penny arcade. The Q&A session will unfold in real time on screens in both Chatswood and Darwin, reflecting the dreams and anxieties of both locations, and the emergent personality of social data itself.

With the help of Glenn, who oversees the technology at The Concourse, we spent time optimizing the colour palette we’ll be using for the interface (lots of lurid pink, yellow and cyan; the design is an homage to the golden era of arcade video games). We were delighted to see how sharp and blindingly bright the high-definition screen looks up close.

Over the next month, I’ll be posting updates from behind the scenes as our work and the other Portals artworks come together. The program will launch on Saturday 8 June and will run until Sunday 16 June. It’s part of a wider program of artwork on display around Sydney as part of the International Symposium on Electronic Art 2013. Watch this space!            

View the details of the Portals project.      

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