Five Minutes with Angela Main

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Angela Main’s work Metazoa

Angela Main’s work Metazoa demands audience participation. Photo by Mark Ashkanasy, RMIT Gallery, 2009.

Artist, Super Human: Revolution of the Species, 5 November- 5 December 2009

This artist’s work in Super Human is a playful installation which is part of an ongoing exploration of ‘humanness’.

As an artist working with technology, what is the most important thing that you consider when creating a new work?

To translate an idea into an experience, that is pleasurable, provocative and paradoxical. It’s always an experiment, to take this very functionally designed equipment, software, technical expertise and work it into something playful.

Can you elaborate about the importance of scientific research to your work?

I’m more interested in the process than the outcome. In literal terms, when I researched Darwin and his work for Metazoa, I became aware of just how much he suffered personally. He had this big idea that he sat on for decades, aware of the furore it would create, knowing well that he would risk being ostracised from a large part of his scientific community. He had poor health, which was aggravated by social interaction.

This metaphorically was very interesting to me. How many people, very intelligent and accomplished people suffer in some way like this? Metazoa is in a way about the conflict between the known, the search for reductionist order, the conditioned state and the inner world of natural law which is much more cyclic, which encompasses life and death relentlessly. It’s a statement of capture within these conditions.

How and where does a work begin when it comes to utilising technology?

Engagement with a broad audience, by means of an intuitive interface, are key considerations. My work is performative and large scale so the technology needs a multi user capacity which does not tie the user to a small screen, but which encourages free movement. Hence the use of augmented reality software in my work to date.

Can you discuss some of the technical challenges you face working in the cutting edge of art and technology?

Well I’m always trying to bend the technology to do something it was never designed for, so some of the resulting interfaces can be a bit clunky, which lends it an early sci-fi aesthetic and some charming (I hope) imperfections.

In addition because the work is designed to be an installation that can be toured, it must be reliable, and computers on the move can be notoriously unreliable.

Please talk briefly about the process of collaboration in your artwork.

Some of the best collaborative results are accidents. There are so many sets of skills, with their associated creative and technical languages, visited in the production of this work, that mutation is inevitable. It’s a team effort and I like to give those who I work with the room to respond, the work is richer for it.

What comes first – the art, the idea or the interaction with technology?

That’s a chicken and egg question. The idea underpins everything which I don’t see as different to the ‘art’ of the work, the technology is the method, which also influences the interaction, the presentation and the aesthetic of the work. Within all of that is my ongoing exploration of ‘humanness’.

At some level, your work requires viewers to physically engage with your art. At what stage in the process do you factor in how audiences will be part of your art?

At the beginning - the interactive and participatory quality of the work is what drives it. There is an attempt to undermine the conditioned body, to question the space and interplay between attachment and embodiment, inhibition and the desire to perform. There is the offer of an opportunity for users to engage in a playful and cooperative event.

This is philosophical, but it touches on the issues raised in Super Human – is technology making us more or less human and how do you explore than in your work?

In common usage it can be a distraction from engaging with the deeper issues of human existence, resulting in an overload of undigested information, nervous systems can wear thin this way, which is not adaptive.

It can also be a wonderfully enriching experiential tool and an amazing multilevel communication device. It is the mind using it, the way it is used and to what purpose that elicits the outcome. However it does raise the question of what is it to be human and that is the question within my work.

To explore that I have searched within science, art and also spiritual traditions.

How do practitioners in science and technology respond to your work?

People naturally try and find a reference for something new within their existing experience; if someone is highly trained they may not see the subtle differences in a new field. Some do, some don’t.

In working with programmers, I have found that very few are able to grasp the importance of emotional tone and felt aesthetics in immersive works. This is a difficulty because the programme itself has a design within it and aspects essential to the aesthetic and interactive outcome can easily be overlooked.

What excites you about the possible interface of art and technology in the future?

It would be a great achievement to be part of creating an experience or device which enhanced self-awareness within the user and empathy between users. Where art and technology might reciprocally soften the edges and deepen the experience of being human in a really progressive way, for the benefit of all lifeforms.

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