‘Prototype 2021’, experimental digital art streaming now

Established in 2019, by collective Lauren Carroll Harris, Alexandra Burke and Georgina Wills, the annual ‘Prototype’ showcase delivers a program of experimental short-film and digital works, within the realms of a purpose-built digital art streaming platform taking screen-based art beyond the confines of traditional gallery and cinema spaces.

‘Prototype 2021’ presents a line-up of 12 digital-based works, which includes moving image and short-film world premieres produced by international and Australian artists, filmmakers and collectives. Universal themes align bringing focus to the human relationship with the natural world, as well as diasporic experiences of migration and connection to community, heritage and homeland.

Films and digital works are released at weekly intervals every Wednesday, until 14 July accessible via a free e-newsletter delivered direct to your inbox.
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Film still from Samantha Lang's Brown Lake streaming now on Prototype 2021's experimental  digital art platform, highlighting the disappearing water from Brown Lake on Stradbroke Island.
Samantha Lang, Brown Lake, film still. Courtesy the artist and Prototype 2021

The first film already released is Brown Lake by Australian visual artist, filmmaker and writer-director Samantha Lang. Lang immerses viewers in a beautiful short film-piece shot on North Stradbroke Island, which highlights the disappearance of the water from Brown Lake. Lang’s skillful camera work homes in on the ecology of the lake and its surrounds, with audio recordings capturing the magical sounds and voices that are present in the natural world. Click here to watch Brown Lake now, to view recently released works including Walk-off Country (Newcastle Waters, NT) by Rachel O’Reilly, and to see what’s coming next.

In the interview below, Curator Lauren Carroll Harris tells us about the birth of ‘Prototype’; its focus on presenting digital art as public work; the impact of the recent pandemic; Prototype’s mission vs NFTs; and her love of working with artists and supporting their creative explorations.

Prototype is a fairly new digital platform. How did it come about and what is the Collective’s vision?
Working as an art critic and journalist, I had to cover all kinds of film, television and art. I noticed that video art presented online was so exciting and great, and yet it didn’t have much support from policymakers or big galleries and museums. Awards and prizes that were specific to video artists were on the wane. Looking overseas, I could see that the BBC and Whitney museum were commissioning art for the internet. To me, that presented a huge question for Australian arts organisations. Why weren’t the creative possibilities of making work for the digital realm being addressed? If we’re all on our phones and online so much, why isn’t art a much bigger part of that digital culture? I was also noticing a very cool trend in video art of incorporating conventions from documentary filmmaking – there’s a constant rich cross-pollination of ideas, tropes and devices from art to film that I thought was being overlooked by the big galleries.

Our vision is that we commission art that isn’t commercial, so our artists can really push boundaries and break open new ideas.

What impact did the flurry of digital innovation in the art world, during the pandemic, have on the development of Prototype in 2020, did it create new opportunities for artists?
Prototype went from being extremely unique in the Australian landscape to landing in an online scene that was pretty crowded and fatigued. Suddenly, video art was everywhere, and it was colliding more with digital art, away from the gallery presentation of large-scale projected moving image works, which was the dominant mode before 2020. Prototype was distinct in that we had a platform that was tested, an audience who knew us, and a record of paying artists. We also had expertise in how to commission, present and contextualise video art specifically for online exhibition – which is a really specific kind of knowledge. Prototype is small but quick because we’re a trio of three friends and collaborators!

Prototype was able to respond to the new conditions of living indoors. Our first pandemic commission came out on April 17, 2020! We were able to find a way to help artists to keep making new digitally-native work, get paid and stay in tune with audiences at home during lockdown.

Has the pandemic left any kind of legacy on the presentation of art in the future?
Before the pandemic, none of the major arts institutions had their own digital platforms where they would commission and present new digital works systematically. I thought that was pretty weird and crazy. Then there was a huge flurry in trying to relate to audiences online – virtual gallery tours, curators putting together newsletters with lists of recommendations. Whether or not the pandemic has led to a proper ongoing approach to the digital realm remains to be seen!

Digital art isn’t temporary – it is its own area of exploration, and it’s been here since the 1960s. We tend to think of galleries and museums as presenting a full spectrum of contemporary art, but in reality, they can only ever really include a sliver of the full, ever-changing world of the art of today.

Rachel O’Reilly, still from INFRACTIONS FRAGMENT. Courtesy the artist and Prototype 2021

What are your thoughts on NFTs, do you think it is a viable way for artists working across digital media to sell their work? Is it something Prototype artists are interested in?
Basically – no way, never, absolutely not! Prototype’s whole deal is to bring public art to the online realm. We’re repositioning video art as a form of public art, because the internet is a public space.

NFTs are about privatising digital art and applying new protocols for owning and controlling digital art. Prototype is about using the internet as a new engine to connect the general public with cutting edge work of big ideas by living artists. We’re about making brilliant moving image art available, 24/7.

Tell us about the curatorial theme for Prototype in 2021?
I never ask Prototype’s artists to respond to a theme. I curate the artists first, by way of careful selection, then I ask them what video art or short film they need to make now. What’s really interesting is that the same ideas are on everyone’s minds. I guess we’re linked to one big social, cultural brain. The 12 works in our new program organically sorted themselves into two major themes: the nature of being alive in the ‘anthropocene’ era, which is the time of the present when humans are the dominant force changing the environment and world we live in; and third culture kids of the diaspora making art that connects to their own communities, histories, families and legacies, decades after migration and movement across continents.

What excites you about the program in 2021 and what are some of the highlights?
I’ve loved working with established filmmakers like Samantha Lang, who is bringing decades of her sensibility working in art cinema to a more conceptual, experimental way of making art. Her Prototype work Brown Lake is a dream work to me. We see so many images of the landscape, and yet Samantha found really new, inventive ways to put an entire ecosystem on screen and image it and visualise it – which is frankly wild and amazing. There is a strange and not-well-understood relationship between geography and the imagination. When I watch Brown Lake, I can feel something rearranging itself in my mind.

Prototype is just so exciting to me. I love working on something that didn’t exist before. Many of these works are not in English, which is an important aspect of Prototype’s curation as the internet is global and we don’t live in a monolingual culture. Prototype is always thinking about and commissioning new work in the nebulous area where art and cinema cross paths, which is another incredible area.