Experimenta Media Arts: 1986-1996
By Gemma Lumley, 2012
The following essay and time line are the result of my internship at Experimenta Media Arts which formed part of my Executive Master of Arts at the University of Melbourne. The internship lasted 12 weeks, beginning in March 2012. As I currently work for Experimenta as Administration and Program Coordinator, I was already familiar with and closely involved with the workings of the organisation, including operations and program curating. Therefore I was interested in learning about the side of the organisation that seemed to have been over looked for a number of years, the history of the organisation. This was particularly pertinent as in 2011 the organisation quietly celebrated 25 years of operation. In 2012, Experimenta wants to make the fact known they have been around for a quarter of a decade and producing a research essay and time line about the organisation was a perfect fit.
Currently, no comprehensive history about the organisation exists. There is a small blurb on Experimenta’s ‘About Us’ section of the website, Experimenta and its original incarnation, Modern Image Makers Association (MIMA), is referenced in a few key texts about media art such as Darren Tofts Interzone and in 2010, I wrote an as yet unpublished history of Experimenta for a different Masters subject at the university of Melbourne. However, the organisation tends live mostly in foot notes of books, articles and CVs (artists and arts administrators alike), so attempting to write an essay about the organisation from the inside out was a task that could prove useful and insightful for past and current Experimenta supporters.
Experimenta’s records are well kept, but throughout the years of moving from office to office, staff and volunteer changes, there were boxes of half sorted advertising and print material that needed ordering. With assistance from another Experimenta volunteer, Vera Schomers-MacAlpine, we went shifted through all the material and ordered it year by year, from 1986 – 2011. Since some items do not have dates printed on them, it was necessary to match those items with items that did have dates. In the latter years, Google searching helped turn up (mainly broken but still there!) websites that included dates. Once all the boxes were sorted (initially, there is still work to be done such as consolidate the information and weed out articles that have incorrectly filed despite our best efforts etc.) I begun constructing a timeline that included major exhibitions per year, major staff changes, funding and partnerships. I have done my best to represent the organisation in the timeline I constructed, but it is no where near conclusive. Experimenta retains very good records, but making sense of it can be difficult sometime and I would encourage anyone with an (scholarly) interest in the history of media art or experimental film to ask us for access to our records. The more that is written, the bigger the picture will be revealed.
Secondly, I conducted a number of interviews with previous staff members. The staff members I could get hold of; Amelia King, Shiralee Saul and Keely Macarow, Liz Huges and Fabinne Nicholas, all occupied managerial roles at Experiemnta at different stages and at least Keely Macarow had been associated with the organisation (as a volunteer, later curator and then Artistic Director) almost since its inception. Saul and Macarow were also artists, Saul with a particular interest in game culture and Maracrow with an interest in both experimental film and media art. King, Hughes and Nicholls were arts administrators. I conducted face-to-face interviews with King, Saul and Macarow, but established contact via email (Saul introduced me to King) and sent them all the same set of questions to form the basis of the interview. In the end, however, none of the interviews were so formal as to be constructed around questions. Rather, the interviewees tended to open up and talk very generally about the organisation. They became more specific as the interview went on, but I found these three past employees had not thought a great deal about their time at Experimenta for some time and their memories were not particularly linear. During these interviews, Saul and Macarow spoke openly and frankly about their experience with Experimenta, especially about the relationships between staff and board members. King was slightly more measured. I typed up interview notes and emailed them to the interviewees for their comments and thoughts. None of them wrote back. I conducted email interviews with Hughes and Nicholls in 2011. They were to form part of my other essay however both responses came too late so I will include them in this essay.
Finally, in addition to shifting through Experimenta’s records which also included newspaper clippings, MIMA newsletters and copies of Filmnews newspaper, I turned to academic journals, online archives (such as the AFC, Australia Council, RealTime Magazine) for information about funding, government policy, exhibitions, and reactions to exhibitions as well as books on media art. Experimenta’s records and my interviews would form the base of my essay however, again, this is an attempt to provide a history of the organisation from the inside out.
Experimenta Media Arts is a not-for-profit media arts organisation based in Melbourne. It was established in 1986 as Modern Image Makers Association (MIMA) which provided screenings and film distribution for experimental films. During its twenty-six year history, the organisation has shifted and changed with the times, staff, artists and funding bodies to be what it is in 2012: one of Australia’s leading media art organisations that curates and tours screen and media art exhibitions nationally and internationally. It also commissions new media artworks, runs education and public programs, and advocates for and supports the media art industry. In some ways this is similar to Experimenta’s origins, but in other ways it is vastly different. While the organisation has been around for twenty-six years and remains important in people’s memories and thoughts about media art in Melbourne, Australia and internationally, the organisation’s history exists predominately in footnotes and general references about media art and experimental film. Apart from an essay I authored in 2011 which has not been published, a comprehensive history of the organisation is yet to be written. This essay will expand on my previous research by looking more closely at MIMA’s (I will use this name when referring to the organisation up until its name change in 1996) program from 1986 until 1996. The essay will also examine the organisation through a number of interviews conducted with past staff members which provide valuable insight into the inner workings of the organisation including why it made specific decisions, and how it shifted over time from being an organisation for experimental film and video into media art. In a way, I will attempt to examine the organisation from the inside out.
Early years and the first Experimenta Festival: MIMA 1986 – 1988
MIMA was established in 1986 after the Australia Film Commission (AFC) and Film Victoria recognised a need to increase support to experimental film in Victoria. In 1985, the AFC’s distribution officer Peter Page and cultural activities co-ordinator Murray Brown convened a meeting in Melbourne attended by approximately 25 people, mostly artists and academics. Brown and Murray encouraged the attendees to form a committee and put forward a funding submission to the AFC and Film Victoria to establish a mode of distribution and screening for experimental film. The committee, which consisted of artists Corinne Cantril, Drik de Bruyn, Chris Knowles, Robert Randall, Michael Lee, Sue Goldman, Stephen Goddard and Frank Bendinelli, were successful in their submission and in 1986 Modern Image Makers Association was incorporated. MIMA was awarded $40,000 from the AFC and $25,000 from Film Victoria. The grants were awarded on the specific basis that MIMA would run experimental film screenings at the Glasshouse Theatre at RMIT University throughout 1986, and allowed the association to employ a part-time Administrator, John Smithies. The second outcome funders wanted to see was that MIMA curate and produce three hour-long YEARBOOK tapes, along with notes, which could document Victorian film and video art that would be distributed around Australia through the Australian Film Institute (AFI) and used as an educational resource. YEARBOOK one was 1960 – 1980, YEARBOOK two was 1980 – 1984, and YEARBOOK three was 1985-1986.
The organisation structured itself as an Artist Run Initiative (ARI). On one of the first pieces of printed ephemera MIMA produced it described itself as:
An association of professional art film and avant garde videomakers. MIMA…is engaged in activities which will enhance the profile and quality of Victorian art/film video and its makers…The work of Victorian art film and avant garde videomakers received little consistent exposure through existing exhibition and distribution outlets. The material is usually short – from five minutes to one hours and therefore is considered ‘difficult’ to programme and distribute through the usual channel for film/videotapes. MIMA’s activities for 1986 will challenge these preconceived notions and prejudices.
MIMA initially employed only one person, the Administrator, and management consisted of a large volunteer board many of whom were professional artists or filmmakers. The organisation also allowed anyone to join as a member for a fee of $5 which would entitle them to contribute to management and policy decisions as well as to contribute curatorial projects and participate in curatorial decisions. In later years, as we shall see, this structure would become cumbersome and unmanageable as individuals and groups emerged with different objectives for the organisation’s direction.
There were a number of debates and criticisms around experimental film at the time MIMA was established, which continued throughout the life of MIMA. One of the main debates, which would contribute to MIMA’s ambiguous position between the visual art world and the film world, was the difference between experimental filmmakers and film and video artists who made films. This debate was particularly pertinent, since art funding bodies and collecting/exhibiting art institutions in Australia often didn’t recognise experimental film as art and yet experimental filmmakers wanted their works to be shown in art galleries and receive art funding. The film funding bodies were more willing to provide assistance, which meant that MIMA had to position itself largely as a film organisation rather than a visual art organisation. Another important issue here was the interchangable nature of the language and terminology that surrounded art film and video. Some artists used the term ‘experimental film/video artist’ whilst others preferred ‘avant garde artist’ to describe the kind of work they were producing. Both terms were criticised by academics and other artists alike, and indeed MIMA never seemed to rectify the discrepancy (if one really existed). This essay will use the term ‘experimental film and video’ to describe the work the artists involved at MIMA were producing, as it is one term which has survived with the least criticism. However, MIMA was certainly for artists, and instead of calling their showing of experimental film/video ‘screenings’ they often called them ‘exhibitions’. (In an attempt at clarity, this essay will use ‘screening’ for any screenings/exhibitions MIMA presented which showed just film or video on one night only, and will use ‘exhibition’ to denote any gallery installations.) For experimental filmmakers and film and video artists, these debates have never really been resolved in Australia.
The second main criticism in the late 1980s, that was no doubt linked to the first debate, was that while Australian film and video artists such as Arthur and Corinne Cantril and Dirk De Bruryn, were being recognised internationally by major institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the same artists were barely known in Australia. Indeed these artists were heavily involved in MIMA during its first few years and no doubt contributed a certain amount of experience, but also particular agendas, to the organisation.
The year 1986 was a successful one for MIMA. It held 12 screenings in Melbourne and the YEARBOOKS were completed as a thorough reference on Victoria’s experimental film and video artists. Off the back of this success, in 1987 MIMA announced its first national tour of Super 8 prints and films. The tour was wide reaching and included cities and regional centres such as Geelong, Hobart, Sydney, Darwin, Perth, Adelaide, Albury, Wagga Wagga, Canberra, Bendigo, Ballarat and Townsville. MIMA also continued its screening programme in Melbourne, this time at the State Film Theatre located at 1 MacArthur Place on the last Friday, Saturday and Sunday of each month from May to October. MIMA touted 1987’s programme as a ‘programme of contemporary works that cover a large range of subject matter: experimental narrative, personal history and recollections, the camera as an extension of the body, popular culture and experiments with TV and video feedback’. This included the popular, and well covered by the media, exhibition ‘The Imaged Body’ which showcased works that investigated the body, sexuality and eroticism. As Julie Schreiber, a MIMA coordinator, commented, it was a sad but true fact that sexuality in Australia was so repressed that the only way in which it was explored was through experimental film. Perhaps this was why, out of the number of exhibitions MIMA put together in 1987, ‘The Imaged Body’ was the most popular. MIMA also actively tried to invigorate artistic and critical writing about art film and video in the Sydney newspaper Filmnews stating ‘there remains here a general lack of critical discussion and debate, such as would provide a more elaborate cultural context for this kind of work. MIMA now seeks to change this situation by sponsoring critical writing which will appear regularly in Filmnews’.  Indeed Filmnews was one of the most significant publications for MIMA and could be relied upon to cover, and at times both criticise and promote, MIMA’s activities. During 1987, MIMA screened 204 individual artworks, mainly by Victorian-based artists.
MIMA grew even further in 1988, expanding its mandate to include interstate and international artists as well as including installation artworks along side theatrical screenings of film and video performance. In 1988 MIMA launched its Open Screening Programme, which was an opportunity for film and video artists to bring along their own films and have them screened to an audience after MIMA’s formal screening programmes concluded in the evenings. MIMA also held School Screenings for secondary-school students studying art film and video production. The format of these sessions, held at the State Film Theatre, included a one hour screening followed by a lecture and discussion by an artist film and video maker Robert Randall. MIMA also expanded to include sound artists in their programme such as Chris Knowles, who MIMA supported in a performance and lecture as part of the Melbourne Music Show. But by far the biggest change to MIMA’s program was the launch of their ‘Experimenta’ festival.
The Experimenta Festival, which was held across a number of Melbourne venues from 18 – 27 November 1988, was billed as Australia’s first national exhibition of film and video. It was put together on a budget of about $82,500, contained work by 69 artists, and attracted audiences of about 10,000. MIMA noted they thought the title, ‘Experimenta’ emphasised the ‘practical viewing, making and performing of film and video art as a means for artists to gain authority over their work through experience…to achieve this, MIMA wants to get as many artists as possible to Melbourne in November to screen, install and perform their work to other artists and the public.’ ‘Experimenta’ included film and video installation, presentation of live performances, screening of latest Australian and international film and video art works, and lectures and seminars of film and video work. Venues for ‘Experimenta 88’ included the State Film Theatre, National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) and 200 Gertrude Street Gallery. The ‘Experimenta’ festival was also significant for MIMA in that it successfully secured funding support from not only the AFC and Film Victoria, but also other major government funders including the Victorian Ministry for the Arts, Visual Arts/Craft board of the Australia Council, Western Australian Department for the Arts, South Australia Department for the Arts, and the Queensland Film Industry Development Office.
The Experimenta Festival in 1988 became a biennial event, held in November over ten days every two years in 1990, 1992, 1994 and 1996. Each year, the ‘Experimenta’ festival became more and more ambitious, showing an increasing number of artists who were working across all kinds of media including video and film, but also installation video and film, media art, computers, CD-ROM art and kinetic sculptures. MIMA established partnerships with many other Melbourne organisations including venues from the NGV down to smaller organisations such as the Centre for Contemporary Photography, and festivals such as the Melbourne International Film Festival and the St Kilda Film Festival. MIMA also secured in-kind sponsorship from a range of supporters from community radio stations to hardware stores. The Experimenta Festivals were presented by MIMA, but each festival had its own dedicated committee, which more or less allowed MIMA to continue running its yearly program. However, between the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, MIMA changed quite dramatically and by the mid-1990s it was no longer closely associated with film and video art but more closely associated with media art (at the time commonly referred to as ‘new media art’).
Funding for MIMA and for ‘Experimenta’ fluctuated dramatically over the years, and whilst it may not have been too obvious to their lay audience (audience members who were not official members of the organisation) the tiny budgets and amount number of volunteer hours the organisation demanded continued to increase pressure on the board and small staff base of between two to three part-time staff members of the organisation. MIMA continued to exhibit a large number of works including exhibitions and screenings, upheld a number of key partnerships throughout the years, presented ‘Experimenta’, toured exhibitions around Australia and internationally, and serviced their membership base. Eventually, the vast amount of output the organisation produced with small budgets and even smaller staff members (permanent staff members were usually only part-time and staff numbers ranged from two to eight during ‘Experimenta Festivals’) came to a head in 1998 when there was all but a complete change in board and staff members, and MIMA, which by 1996 had changed it’s name to ‘Experimenta Media Arts’, ceased running the ‘Experimenta’ festival. At around this time, MIMA had also begun to reduce its exhibition output and its membership base. There were a number of pressures that boiled up within the organisation during the late 1980s and early 1990s, including what has been mentioned previously. But experimental art was also changing, incorporating digital and ‘new’ media more often than film and video; indeed the latter mediums were falling out of critical favour. Governments and their arms-length funding bodies were also shifting their priorities towards ‘new media’. Each of these factors contributed to the shift in MIMA’s direction, but internally MIMA was also dealing with conflicting opinions and goals and personality clashes. The second part of this essay will examine all of these factors to determine how and where the shift that occurred at MIMA in the 1990s, by looking at the organisations output, and by also referring to a number of interviews conducted with key staff members who were employed by the organisation at various times throughout its history.
From the Inside Out: MIMA 1989 – 1994
As we have seen, MIMA was originally established to provide a mode of distribution and screening for Victorian experimental film and video, but its expanding mandate was slowing outgrowing this foundation. The ‘Experimenta’ festivals proved popular with audiences. Government funding bodies were onboard with investing in new forms of experimental art, which in the early 1990s was no longer film and video, but digital technology and multimedia. Conversely, MIMA’s screenings of film and video were less well attended but still heavily funded. By 1994 MIMA was attracting subsidies of around $5,000 for a screening to which just 20 or 30 people would attend. A split of agendas between experimental film and video artists and media artists was opening up contributing to a certain amount of volatility within the organisation that board and staff members had to negotiate.
The Experimenta Festival of 1990 attracted audience figures which topped 6,000, and MIMA assisted in bringing out international artists such as Tina Keane from the United Kingdom, Canadian Philip Hoffman, and guest curator from France, Christian le Brat. Meanwhile the experimental film and video art programme was showcasing slightly more established filmmakers and artists such as Tracey Moffatt and Jane Campion who MIMA screened as part of their Australian Art Series, ‘Feminist Avant-garde Film – An Australian perspective’. MIMA’s program for 1990 also included ‘Images of Synthesis’: a program which screened animations, many of which were short computer animations made for companies’ television commercials. Simon Crosbie wrote in Filmnews that screening of such work did not represent MIMA, its ethos, or its audience. 1991 saw MIMA back on track and they sought to actively engage their audience by running ‘Film Workshop: An Historical Disturbance of Memory’. This workshop, which was run over two days included screenings of historical/experimental films including Agnes Varda’s ‘Len Lye’, a practical explanation of work practice, home processing of Super 8 and 16mm black and white film which would be shot during the workshop, a lecture of how to have independent experimental films shown overseas, and an open screening of work. MIMA also held seminars such as ‘Sound in Cinema: A Seminar’ whose speakers included established experimental film artists Arthur Cantrill, Philip Brophy and David Chesworth. Screenings for 1991 included ‘Private Visions: Japanese Video Art of the 1980s’, ‘America in the 80s’ and ‘New Works: A selections of video and computer art from the Sixth Australian and international video Festival’, and finally in association with Melbourne Cinematheque, the University of Melbourne Student Union and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, MIMA screened Andy Warhol’s ‘Empire’ for the first time in Melbourne along with ‘Chelsea Girls’ and ‘Lonesome Cowboys’. Thus MIMA was working hard to ensure their audiences stayed engaged in experimental film and video by running information sessions and screening established artists and filmmakers from both Australia and overseas. Despite the impressive schedule, however, internally MIMA was fracturing.
The ARI structure that MIMA had been established with was becoming cumbersome and unruly. Members who paid an annual fee, which by 1990 was $20 (up from $5 in 1986), were still entitled to contribute to MIMA’s policy and curatorial decisions. This meant the organisation had a wide albeit small membership base which included filmmakers, experimental film and video artists, media artists, members from the Super 8 film group. And each of these groups had a different agenda. Keely Macarow who began working with MIMA in around 1989 as an office volunteer and who would later (after sometime living abroad in London) become Experimenta Media Arts’ Artistic Director in 1998, recalled how differing agendas between experimental filmmakers and media artists were prevalent right from the very beginning of MIMA. Macarow suggested that such relations contributed to a certain volatility within the organisation. Shiralee Saul, who also began working with MIMA in its early days in 1989 and 1990 as a volunteer (becoming Chair of the Board then General Manager from 1996 – 1998 and curating a number of programs for MIMA/Experimenta) also recognised the different agendas and personality clashes. Saul noted that eventually some staff members literally refused to work with one another. In the early 1990s, MIMA’s direction and indeed its purpose as an organisation was conflicted. This was played out to an extent in its slightly sporadic programming, and it would still take a number of years to resolve this conflict.
MIMA continued with its biennial ‘Experimenta Festival’ in 1992, billing it as a major exhibition of Film and Video Art from Australia, USA, Britain, Germany, Finland, Czechoslovakia and Eastern Europe. MIMA produced a large, glossy catalogue in conjunction with Experimenta ’92 which contained not only the program but also critical writing about the state of experimental film and video, as well as digital media. Since ‘Experimenta ‘92’ was held just days after Sydney hosted the Third International Symposium on Electronic Art (TISEA), MIMA’s festival attracted even more media attention in Melbourne by writers, who covered and/or promoted both events. Whilst this kind of coverage may have seemed logical at the time it was slightly ironic since MIMA had, despite having similar objectives to TISEA (which had also been awarded a large sum of money by the federal government) been excluded from TISEA’s program completely.
MIMA’s screening program for 1992 was slightly smaller in scale than it had been in previous years. There were fewer screenings by international artists and the program included installation works such as ‘This. That. The Other’ by Steven Ball, Sylvia Mackie and Maeve Woods at the Linden Gallery in St. Kilda. Further, MIMA’s newsletter, that was distributed approximately every two to three months to members, alluded to problems in funding from the AFC which suggested MIMA’s already lean budgets were run on a month to month basis. MIMA’s newsletter also contained a call out to volunteers with cars and utes who might help with moving material and installation items for Experimenta ’92. They also called for volunteer installers as well as volunteers willing to accommodate interstate and international guests. After seven years of operation, MIMA was still running the organisation as an ARI, a loose collective of people, however this would change 18 months later with the appointment of Director Amelia King who had a strong background in arts administration and almost no (personal or professional) stake in experimental film and video or media art.
King was appointed as Director of MIMA by the board in early 1994 just as MIMA was preparing for Experimenta ’94. King recalls that her job description was to ‘professionalise’ the organisation and tighten management. When King entered the role, she found an organisation that had no formal management or operational structure and no strategic plan. She also noted that some staff members literally didn’t speak to each other, though she stated that this is improved during her tenure and that at other times staff members constituted a ‘really good team’. King’s background was in arts administration and management, and whilst she praised staff members such as Shiralee Saul and Peter Handsaker, both of whom King worked with to present Experimenta ’94 and Experimenta ’96, King said she rarely had input into artistic or curatorial decisions.
At the time of King’s appointment, MIMA’s program was still running film screenings along side the Experimenta festivals. She emphasised, however, that when she joined the organisation, board members were very interventional. King recalled it was at board meetings that the film program would be conceived entirely and was expected to be implemented by staff. King also noted that there was very little discussion about management and operations at those early board meetings. This fact illustrated that it was those with an interest in experimental film and video, rather than the media artwork, who were dominating decision-making within the organisation despite the obvious shift that was going on towards digital media and technology. Despite the heavy-handedness of the board towards decision making, they did more or less leave it up to MIMA staff to curate the festival program, which by 1994 had become MIMA’s primary offering. King was not overly concerned with the kind of content MIMA exhibited; she was more than happy to leave those decisions up to the people employed to make them, such as Saul and Handsacker. Since it was King’s primary aim to professionalise the organisation, she saw that to do this major changes needed to be applied to the structure of MIMA from the board down to members. Changes King implemented involved lessening the creative control that board members had; emphasising their role as operational directors; and engaging new board members who had skills outside of art, such as lawyers, accountants and communication professionals. King recalled that after these changes some board members had lost much of their power over the organisation and, after a year or two, those members who had become disenfranchised had settled into other organisations which better suited their agenda, such as the Super 8 film group. With the appointment of King and the changes she implemented, MIMA had put in place the foundations to respond to a new era of digital media art.
Changing Times: 1994 – 1996
In October 1994, Prime Minister Paul Keating announced his new Creative Nation arts and culture policy. The policy was all encompassing, and ranged from what it was to be Australian to multimedia and CD-ROM creation, and tied cultural capital to financial capital for the nation. It advocated a total of $84 million dollars to be spent in the arts and culture sector over four years. Creative Nation solidified the government’s stake in digital media and e-commerce. As John Conomos pointed out, the government outlined five key strategies for the making and marketing of new multimedia technology, this included; ‘(a) the establishment of the Australian Multimedia Enterprise, (b) a series of national multimedia forums (c) the creation of co-operative multimedia development centres (d) the Australia on CD program for use in schools and (e) financial assistance to key funding sites like the Australian Film Commission to assist its entry into multimedia production.’ It was the last strategy that no doubt benefited MIMA the most, since the AFC was awarded $5.25 million for new programs under the mandate. A press release from the AFC stated that with their increased funding they had;
‘…created a specific set of guidelines relating to criteria for support for Multimedia works. These guidelines identify interactivity and non-linearity as the key characteristics of works eligible for AFC support. Further, projects must be related to the “entertainment arts” and be capable of physical distribution rather than being works designed for installation. The new guidelines began operating after receiving Commission approval in June 1995.’
The emphasis on digital media and technology was symptomatic of changes that had been occurring within the AFC and other funding bodies such as the Australia Council for some time. Now there was federal government policy that mandated the change. While the cash would take some time to trickle down to organisations such as MIMA, they continued their program.
The Experimenta Festival of 1994 was run by Peter Handsaker across multiple Melbourne venues. It worked to establish and solidify partnerships with major venues and smaller sponsors. At the time, Handsaker predicted that the festival would attract around 50,000 people even through it was run on an extremely tight budget of around $164,000. 1994 also saw the conclusion of MIMA’s successful touring exhibition ‘Diversionary Tactics’, a screening program of two two-hour programmes in three formats, VHS, U-Matic and 16mm, curated by MIMA in 1992 with the support of the Australian Exhibitions Touring Agency to tour to an extensive list of 21 regional art galleries across Australia and eight destinations around the world.
In 1994 and 1995, MIMA continued to hold film screenings in theatres across Melbourne. The program, however, was leaner than in previous years and almost didn’t go ahead in late 1994 when MIMA lost one of its theatres. In 1995, however, MIMA produced two significant exhibitions. The first was ‘Virtualities’ which was installed at Scienceworks, a new venue for MIMA, and was an ‘educational and informative exhibition suitable for both children and adults, revealing the exciting work being done by contemporary artists in high-tech media… curated under the auspices of MIMA, it forms part of the Century of Australian Cinema… [and] is an exhibition of Australian computer, video and electronic experimental arts’. The exhibition included Ian Haig, Moria Corby, Peter Hennessy and Patricia Pinccini amongst others. The second significant exhibition was ‘Digital Cinema’ at the Linden Gallery. The exhibition, which was an exhibition of new digital works by Australian artists, was touted as a way of furthering MIMA’s commitment to supporting artists and filmmakers who were incorporating and exploring applications for digital technology in their work. If 1995 seemed like a quieter year, 1996 made up for it. 1996 was a festival year, and Experimenta ’96 was bigger than it had ever been before. On top of that, MIMA begun to associate itself with a number of other cutting-edge exhibitions, festivals and fairs.
Experimenta ’96, entitled ‘Short, Sharp and Very Current’, was held across four floors of the disused Power Station in Lonsdale Street in the heart of Melbourne. It was billed as ‘… a multimedia extravaganza. Four floors of installations, continuous film and video screening, performance and sound art events by Australian and international media artists plus a festival bar and club all in one unique multipurpose venue.’ Despite the scale and a $24,000 grant for the festival under the Kennet Government’s Arts 21 Strategy, the festival ran on a tiny budget of about $140,000 which was subsidised by a lot of in-kind support. In addition to ‘Short, Sharp and Very Current’, Saul along with Dr Peter Morse and in conjunction with the Melbourne International Film Festival, curated ‘Robotica: Visions of a robotic future past and present’. This exhibition was installed in the Melbourne Lower Town Hall and investigated the use of robotics in artistic practice as well as life. Saul also curated ‘Domestic Disturbances’ which formed part Experimenta ’96 and was installed at the NGV. ‘Domestic Disturbances’ investigated the use of technology in the home and in particular how it impacted on home and family life. MIMA also participated in ‘Interact ‘96’, a multi-media and interactive technology trade fair brought to Melbourne by the state government who invested $1 million in the show. MIMA provided the only non-commercial offer at Interact.
1996 was also the year MIMA officially changed its name to ‘Experimenta Media Arts’. Saul noted that this was because the name Modern Image Makers Association no longer reflected the organisation’s goals. The name change marked an important milestone, in that it signified a maturing of the organisation. MIMA had almost completely figured out what it was, who it existed for and what it did. It had maintained a model, that of a biennial festival of media arts, along which screenings of film and video and it continued to present one-off projects and touring exhibitions. It was however, still a vast programme run on a small budget. Both Saul and King commented that it was the sheer amount of work, much of it unpaid volunteer hours in the end, that drove them out of the organisation. Between 1997 and 2002, under the Artistic Direction of Keely Macarow and later Director Liz Hughes, the organisation reduced its output, prioritising quality over quantity. This meant that instead of running the biennial festival, Experimenta Media Arts ran a small and tightly-curated number of screenings throughout the year and presented a major exhibition in November of each year. The organisation operated with this model until it launched its new model in 2003 with Experimenta House of Tomorrow.
Not Really a Conclusion
As alluded to in the previous section, MIMA/Experimenta Media Arts has a rich history past 1996. This includes establishing and maintaining a commissioning program, presenting a biennial of Australian and international media art, one-off projects, international touring, screening programs, running public programs and workshops, and commercial consulting. Experimenta has continued to shift and change with the times, with artists they represented, with funding bodies, with staff and stakeholders. It has also continued to mature. This history, however, is beyond the scope of this essay. Instead, what I have attempted to do is to cast some light on the foundations of Experimenta as an experimental film/video and media art organisation. What I discovered was that MIMA has an intense history stemming from its founding members right through to the changing nature of experimental film/video art and media art and MIMA’s programme. While MIMA was established to provide a means of distributing and screening for experimental film, the mandate slowly begun to change after MIMA curated its first Experimenta Festival in 1992 which included installation work. For most of its existence, MIMA has run on a tight budget, and its programme often reflected what funding bodies and governments wanted to see. This was the case when it was established by grants from the AFC and Film Victoria, and it was the case in the mid-late 1990s when funding bodies begun to allocate funds that were the result of the Keating Government’s Creative Nation policy. MIMA’s organisational structure as an ARI, coupled with a number of individuals who held particular agendas, contributed to a certainly volatility within the organisation. This was mostly counterbalanced by staff and board members who did work well together and by the fact MIMA still managed to produce excellent and cutting-edge programming. So while Experimenta today is rather different to MIMA in 1986, it still continues engage in activities that enhance the profile of media art in Australia and around the world.
 NA (1986), ENCORE, 13 – 26.
 MIMA (1986), information brochure.
 Gemma Lumley (2012), Interview with Keely Macarow, RMIT, 22 May 2012.
 The Melbourne Times (1986), ‘Making a name in avant-garde film’, The Melbourne Times, 14 May 1986.
 The Herald (1986), ‘Avant-garde looks for the spotlight’, The Herald, 16 May 1986.
 MIMA (1987), Press Release/Open Call, 1987.
 MIMA (1987), Press Release for Experimenta, 1987.
 Sue Ostler (1987), ‘The Imaged Body’, Beat, issue 69, 25 November.
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