Yes, but is it art? [in _The Courier Mail_]
Cath Hart

IS AUSTRALIA behind the times when it comes to accepting new forms of art on the Net?

Cyberpoet Mez (Mary-Anne Breeze) has been banned from the e-mail list, Fibreculture, on the ground that her work is art-spam postings that clog up the system.

According to the list administrator, Chris Chesher, Mez's work doesn't contribute to the themes of the list. Chesher, a lecturer at the University of New South Wales, says the themes of Fibreculture are new media policy, education, artistic practice and theory. And posts by Net artist Mez don't fit the bill.

Some of the other facilitators had experience of other lists where Mez had been posting and had contributed to what they perceived to be a deterioration of the culture of the list, he says. Mez has been banned from two other e-mail lists in recent years and :::recode::: for similar reasons.

But this so-called art-spam has been Mez's ticket to international recognition. "Overseas I'm a pioneer of Net art," she says. "Most people recognise me and invite me to conferences to speak, but in Australia I've been received, I wouldn't say poorly, but certain institutions (have) gone 'You're annoying, you're not fitting in to how we construct our arts scene'. "

Internationally her work has been short-listed for the 2001 Electronic Literature Organisation's Fiction Prize, appeared on the C-Theory website and a conference paper devoted to her, The Internet Poetry of Mez, was delivered to the 2001 Modern Language Association International Conference.

She creates fictional texts using a language she calls Mezangelle, which involves inserting syllables, letters and symbols into words to "create different layers of meaning or a different loading (that) will take you to a meaning place that is somewhere else, like a hyperlink would," the 31-year-old says.

"I'll create an e-mail text that mimics e-mail conventions themselves, and then I'll send that out on to different mailing lists.

"I've kind of hijacked the communications avenues in a way," she says, and that can cause a bit of controversy because a lot of people don't want that in their inbox.

For a time, Griffith University academic and poet Komninos Zervos didn't want her posts in his inbox.

"They initially appear like a scramble of symbols and text," he says. "She wasn't my cup of tea, but I had the right to hit the delete button so it didn't bother me.

"And for a long time I did hit the delete button, until I took the trouble to read them, and now I read them quite easily."

Zervos now says she is shaping a new direction for poetry and is one of the few Australian writers who has made an impact overseas.

But Chesher thinks Mez's methods of exhibition and distribution are inappropriate.

"In my building, on one side of the hall there are tutorial rooms, says Chesher, "on the other side of the hall there are theatre spaces. And it is appropriate to do performance art in the theatre spaces and not in the tutorial rooms.

"I guess that part of the role of artists is to subvert some of those spatial categories, but I guess part of the role of facilitators is to say, 'Don't do it'. "
© Queensland Newspapers