Now that the 2.5 days of explosive thought and action that was 2970Degrees – The Boiling Point has ended, I can breathe and process my thoughts into somewhat of an adequate reflection of what occurred. The Beyond the Horizon report by Bernard Salt – released earlier this year – called for a MONA effect on the Gold Coast: a catalyst for transforming our city through art and culture. 2970Degrees seeded the start of this transformation. Organised by the Gold Coast City Council, it was a festival of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial thinking to catapult us into the future.
The tides of change are appearing on the Gold Coast. A teenager by city years, the Gold Coast is beginning to mature with the City’s creatives at the coalface. Meeting at the Boiling Point were creative inquirers from multidisciplinary backgrounds eager to investigate the cultural narrative of the 21st century, one linking artists with scientists, activists, space-and-place makers and sports fanatics. Against this background, we piloted the direction of the City’s cultural future.
Kicking off the seminar was the opening reception at the Abedian School of Architecture at Bond University. The school’s mix of modern architecture and walls lined with artworks by Aboriginal artist Sally Gabori, presented a visual metaphor for the ambitious aspirations of 2970Degrees and the City of Gold Coast: the past is present and the future is now. With a rich melting point of multicultural influences and the presence and history of the Yugambeh people dating back over 40,000 years, we must acknowledge our heritage and drive forward with a unique self-expression.
According to Mayor Tom Tate and the organiser and ‘alchemist’, David Pledger, director of pioneering interdisciplinary arts company not yet it’s difficult (NYID), the Gold Coast is the chimera for artistic transformation. With the 2018 Commonwealth Games looming, 2970Degrees looks to the City’s cultural ecology leading up to the games and to its wider art and cultural strategy. Underway for more than a year, the roll out of the City’s Culture Strategy 2023 has included increased arts funding, elevating Indigenous culture, development of contemporary music and public art plans and new approaches to professional development and funding models.
For Pledger, it is ‘hard to pin down exactly what is happening here,’ it is unpredictable and the ‘start of an absolute cracker of a story’. Although the Gold Coast’s cultural life is often maligned in comparison to the offerings of larger and more established cities nation-wide, Pledger repeated what many of us know to be true: the seeds of possibility have been sown. Due to the absence of an artistic infrastructure, the City’s burgeoning cultural life is being driven by artists and cultural workers themselves, leading to a compelling spectrum of cultural experience and opportunity. The Gold Coast feels like a ‘city of momentum,’ he said. If we are interrogating the future and what it looks like, we must look to the relationship between man and machine.
To that end it made perfect sense to open with a keynote address from Stelarc, one of Australia’s most accomplished artists. Known for his spine-tingling, awe-inspiring and ouch-inducing performance art (including surgically constructing and embedding an extra ear on his forearm), Stelarc has worked since the 1960s to extend the capabilities of the human body and explore the space where art and technology meet. For the artist, We now live in an age of circulating, fractal and phantom flesh. Meat, metal and code mesh into unexpected hybrid systems. The monstrous is no longer the alien other. With gene mapping, body hacking, gender reassignment, neural implants and prosthetic augmentation, what a body is and how a body operates has become problematic.
His address, Alternate Anatomies: Zombies, Cyborgs and Chimeras explored this nexus through a visual tour of his life’s work investigating what it means to be human: body hacking, robotic enhancement and virtual reality. He presented us with a brave new world where the body is obsolete and we have reached a level of existence where it becomes the site for physical and technical experiments in order to discover its limitations. ‘We need to rethink what a body is and how it operates’, he said. In an information age where technology defines us, the body is biologically inadequate. Stelarc chooses to enhance it with robotic architectures such as his Extended Arm, surgical structures such as his extra ear and machine induced bodily manipulations such as his body suspension and muscle stimulation performances. For the artist, ‘the body is not as a site for the psyche but simply a host for sculpture’, re-wiring, re-locating and extending the flesh. Stelarc cries for us to interrogate the biological status quo and impresses upon us to generate contestable possibilities.
TechTonicArt, a one-off exhibition at Bond University, followed Stelarc’s opening address and featured his work Extended Arm. Incorporating presentations by Cake Industries, Mick Soiza and Steve Guttormsen and sounds by Ben Ely, the exhibition further provoked thoughts about machine-based technology and the future in the present.
This was only the beginning.