New art hits cyberspace with a virtual dancer who has a million partners

The ICA has embraced new technology. Kathy Marks on a brave multi- media coup
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The Independent Online
Art and science have always made uncomfortable bedfellows. But the traditional boundaries look set to dissolve thanks to a project at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London that will unite artists with high technology and turn the venue into a vast digital playground.

Next week, the ICA will unveil a pounds 2m multi-media centre within its listed Regency terrace home on the Mall in central London. The institute, which was founded 50 years ago, hopes that the project will cement its position at the cutting edge of experimental art.

The New Media Centre, as it is to be called, is the result of a sponsorship deal between the ICA and the computer company Sun Microsystems, which says it chose the institute as its partner because of their shared philosophy of innovation.

For purists, it may be hard to digest the idea of computers being used to create and exhibit art. But Philip Dodd, the ICA's director, says increasing numbers of artists are exploiting the new digital technologies and their limitless possibilities.

For creative technophiles, the computer can be either a tool or a medium. Siobhan Hapaska, for instance, plans her sculpture by means of three- dimensional design drawings. For "Fast", a fibreglass piece which was recently exhibited at the ICA, she began by scanning images of a motorbike on to a computer.

By contrast, Stelarc, a performance artist, works exclusively within the digital arena. For one of his acts, he wires himself up to the Internet by means of steel implants in his arm, as well as a robotic third arm. When the implants are electronically triggered by his virtual audience, his muscles contract, resulting in an involuntary "dance" routine. Another artist who works mainly within the electronic medium is Miltos Manetas.

The New Media Centre will, for the first time, give artists access to technology normally used only by business, science and the military. Fast and powerful computers, combined with highly sophisticated software, could revolutionise work such as design, animation and image-making. The new technology will also be attractive to writers, film-makers and musicians.

Artists will be able to exhibit their work on a screen at the centre, as well as on a Website on the Internet, giving them a potentially vast audience.

But the project will also transform the whole way that the ICA functions. The institute's vast archive of video and audio-visual material will be available online. All of its future events will be fed in, digitised and broadcast over the Web.