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On Infected - The Lumiere Reader NZ

New media artwork is hard to categorise, says artist Gina Czarnecki, particularly on a funding application form.

Influenced by eugenic theory and an early career in animation, her films take the human figure as their starting point and fuse it with digital video and processing to comment on the inevitable crossroads between technology and the biological human body.

Initially based in London, Czarnecki spent over a decade in Dundee before relocating with her partner to Melbourne. Having appeared at the Sundance Festival and Cannes as well as many other film festivals in Europe and the USA, a collection of her video works, Infected, is presented at AK05 by the Moving Image Centre and will appear at the Britomart Union Fish Building, running from March 3-13.

In conversation with SAM EICHBLATT via email:

In terms of technological development – which includes what is termed “genetic engineering” – it’s not the capabilities or possibilities that are the problem, but the people who control what is developed and how this is used. In other words, the political and socio-economic forces driving research.

SAM EICHBLATT The theme of technology vs. biology has been explored in a variety of media throughout the last century, and before that (I’m a big Frankenstein fan), always seemingly with a negative bias – is the convergence of biology and technology necessarily a negative thing?

GINA CZARNECKI Definitely not. I see this as a necessary development and progress. In terms of technological development – which includes what is termed “genetic engineering” – it’s not the capabilities or possibilities that are the problem, but the people who control what is developed and how this is used. In other words, the political and socio-economic forces driving research.

S.E You began your career as an animator in the late 1980s. What prompted the progression from that, to new media?

G.C I started as a painter and gradually became more interested in time – sequence and consequence. I was studying at Wimbledon School of Art and there were two people there who enabled me to push this further. One was a session lecturer, Steve Farrer, who came from the experimental film world. He gave me a 16mm Bolex and asked me to take it apart and put it back together. The latter never happened but I learnt much about the technicalities of film making and this inspired me to play with bi-packing, rotoscoping and processing techniques. I used the equipment at the London Film-Makers Co-op, where I later worked for a few years after leaving college.

The other significant person at Wimbledon was Richard Layzell, a performance artist who provided enormous encouragement for me to do something that excited me, rather than fulfil any obligation to the painting degree I was taking. I started doing painted or hand-drawn animations that had short narratives, and quickly learned that I wasn’t particularly interested in story, but in creating spaces with image and sound.

The drawings were replaced with images sourced from live-action film-making. For example, high-contrast film of a woman running was b-packed through the camera/printer and became a flame figure running. Film-making was costly though, and as my 3 year consultancy at the London Film-makers Co-op was running out, I traded my film skills (cleaning film processors and occasional teaching) at various colleges for use of their video rostrums.

Video, however, had so many limits at that time. Analogue video meant that you couldn’t just drop something like another frame or sequence in and shift the rest up – it all had to be redone. It was frustrating and low res.

In 1990 I decided to re-train and the choice was either to go to the National Film and Television School to pursue a career in more traditional animation, or to go to Duncan of Jordanstone College in Dundee – famous in the art world for setting up the PGDip course in electronic imaging. This was the first place of its kind in the UK that enabled artists to work with high-end technologies to create “media art”.

For a number of reasons, I ended up in Dundee and signed myself up for computer animation. Symbolics systems fried my brains for six months – and I learnt I never wanted to do 3D computer animation again!

However, what did happen was that I discovered in digital video making all the benefits of film and video combined. It took a few years for the technology to reach a satisfying speed and quality. I’ve made work on a computer ever since.

S.E Does animation bear any relation to your work now?

G.C Yes, totally, but this depends on an understanding of what animation is – does it have to mean “hand-made”? Does it mean “frame by frame” or taking the word literally, as in “to animate” – to “breath life into”?

I re-animate and construct frame by frame, and in this frame by frame construction there are multitudes of layered manipulations. It’s unfortunate that animation, or the term “animation”, has been ghettoised to convey the hand-drawn or the cartoon when its potential is so much more.

S.E Is there a consistent element running through your animation and new media works?

G.C The consistent element is that I generally use the human form – usually naked to keep it pure and outside of any cultural/time/age reference. Also blackness or shapes in the dark areas. Another consistent element is in the creation of space between the sound/image and the audience’s reading of the piece.

S.E Tell me about your series of video works, Infected, that appears in the AK05 festival.

G.C There are four large installation works in Humancraft (which is the new title for the exhibition). They range from a piece made in 1998, Versifier: Stages Elements Humans, to Infected, Silvers Alter and the new piece, Nascent.

Versifier is a large nine metre wide screen with nine life-sized naked human forms. It is an installation that directly addressed the parallels I drew between digital photography and genetic engineering. The human forms are subtly changing yet retain the appearance of the authentic or untouched photograph.

The viewer is confronted with this line-up of specimens that have an un-nerving and imposing presence. There is a sense of entrapment, but with an ambiguity as to who is caged. The bodies take on an essence of divinity and allude to the vast reserves of unused potential that all of our bodies contain. It is a graphic statement about the simila