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THE DIGITAL PLAYING FIELD

Shilo McClean

Platform Paper 24

New Rulz for Film, Art and Performance

Shilo McClean

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‘In my view, the enrichment of storytelling through the narrative use of computer graphics is one of the great benefits of computerisation’, writes Shilo McClean. Digital technologies herald profound and positive change by enabling us to tell our stories in ways that are most meaningful for us. The Internet, she believes, is ‘the most exciting creative forum in history’ and it is our stories, our participation and creativity that is making it so.

She confronts the question of how well we are nurturing these exciting developments, challenges the entrenched position of media chiefs and status quo practitioners and looks ahead to the opportunities and dangers awaiting the makers and custodians of story. Already their creativity is under threat, she argues. The Australian Government’s attempt to filter the Net of undesirable material cannot succeed in what it claims and will seriously damage the creative freedom for which the Internet is most valued. Net neutrality is of fundamental importance to creative voices, she writes—especially independent and emergent artists and art forms. 

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About the Author

Shilo McClean is an AFTRS graduate and has a PhD in Digital Effects in Filmmaking from UTS. She is Vice-Chair of Sydney ACM SIGGRAPH, and was Digital Strand Curator for the 2006 and 2007 Sydney Film Festivals.

Storytelling has always been a means of passing on knowledge and wisdom. It is a vital link from one generation to the next. It is one of the ways in which we make sense of ourselves. To our great good fortune, though wind may have scoured the stone on which our earliest stories were recorded and many a great library has been lost to fire and human conflict, stories have endured. Endurance is their mission and redundancy and reinvention are vital to their survival. Given the means to do so, a story lost in one place will rise again elsewhere. As we develop new technologies, we can reinvent our stories for future generations. Our new tools suit these purposes marvellously well.

 

Comments

Augusta Supple is a director, playwright, musician and all-round stage practitioner who works in australia and Canada. For the past four years she has created programs, panels and festivals to nurture and celebrate new australian writing. This review was first published on 23 August on her website, http://augustasupple.com/

I've been carrying this Platform Paper around with me for a couple of months. It's only a slim book, so it hasn't been a great burden. There's just a lot for me to think about-and that's why I love it.

There's a row of Platform Papers in the bookcase in my office. They stand with black or brightly-coloured spines in rainbows on my shelf. Regardless of the date on the cover, they are a timeless contribution in my thinking about art, practice and culture. At times I have felt challenged or confronted by the papers-but mainly engaged and stimulated and I always look forward to seeing what comes next. On this occasion, a paper on digital storytelling by Dr Shilo McLean.

I first met Shilo when I was working at the then NSW Film and Television Office (now Screen NSW-a telling transformation as the industry shifts from 'film' to 'screen', don't you think?). I had always considered Shilo's interests in digital media/effects and my own practice in theatre as utterly opposed. In fact, I found myself cringing, repelled by the idea that the theatre could be usurped by cyborg avatars-Amazonian women and rippling men whose flesh-selves were pale, anti-social nerds hunched over a mouse or control pad, pecking away at a keyboard as blue light cast shadows of flickering action over a cluttered bedroom. My fear that reality would be substituted by fantasy: that the digital would ultimately be more satisfying to the general public than a live event-lingered. My life's passion and work in the theatre trampled by a storm-trooping digital boot attached to the impossible thigh of a woman I could never hope to look like. The fear-huge; and upon reading Shilo's paper-ridiculous.

Strange that I should not make the correlation with Sontag's writings, especially Plato's Cave. Strange that I felt threatened by the solitary image of someone huddled at a computer screen making stories. Theatre is ultimately a collaborative art form: its makers are making in real time with each other. I had forgotten that in theatre, though we may be sitting in an audience collectively experiencing a live event, ultimately we are still alone with our unique experience of that event. Strange that a topic such as digital media should be bound in the seemingly antique tradition of a paperback book. Strange that I, a theatre practitioner and occasional reviewer, so easily engages with an online site (web log). Strange how the innovative and unusual become the focal point of fear, then of acceptance, then common exploitation. The internet, once the reserve of the rich and nerdy, is now, in our Western culture, an assumed right. Strange that my fear made me ignorant of the skills and devices, the ethics and the issues, the possibilities and the practices of this new tool. Strange that I had never acknowledged how much digital tools have freed and assisted my thinking, my engagement with the arts, with my own practice. As Shilo states:
There is something about art and performance that draws upon our fears, and perhaps this is what incites our desire to control, to regulate to mediate and yes, to censor. Whatever the medium, be it images, live performance or literary narrative, the aim is the expression and communication of emotions and ideas. (p.4) A relief that Currency House has commissioned this paper from McClean, to drag me out of an ignorant, quivering fear and into the light.

McClean tracks the development of digital tools through filmmaking, addresses the nay-sayers, the critics, the conservatives, the censors and the content taste-makers. She speaks of storytelling as 'one of the cleverest, most important things we analogue creatures do… [which is a] means of passing on knowledge and wisdom'. She talks of the technological revolution which put professional-level equipment in the hands of novices and created a DIY culture of creation and a culture of identity-creation… whereby people are actively engaging in creating stories and being a part of the mythology of the story through its gaming incantations, through the creation of their own versions of their favourite films, by creating T-Shirts online etc. She writes of the blurring of the professional and the amateur, of the independent filmmaker and what access to equipment and technology has done to the creation of art. It is a fascinating book which references the hybridisation of storytelling-the audience as maker-and the potential of audiences to be highly-involved and creatively-evolved participants in creation. She talks about the role of censorship in art, in copyright issues surrounding sampling, and mash-ups… she talks about the politics of broadband access, usage… It's a thoroughly engaging and rollicking read-even if it is in ye olde format of paper and stitch-binding.