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fAf_15 Commemorative CDROM Interview
Nisar Keshvani: Editor-in-Chief, fAf/Leonardo Electronic Almanac
Singaporean Nisar Keshvani is an Internet journalist, web developer, educator and new media specialist. He is fineArt forum’s (http://www.fineartforum.org) editor-in-chief, and since 2002, he became editor-in-chief of the Leonardo Electronic Almanac (http://mitpress2.mit.edu/e-journals/LEA). LEA is an online peer reviewed journal published at MIT Press for the Leonardo Network (http://www.leonardo.info)

You must be the youngest editor-in-chief in the history of fAf. How and when did you begin your association with fAf?
My involvement with fAf began in 1998, during my student days at the Queensland University of Technology, Australia. As an overseas journalism student, I was constantly on the lookout for opportunities to write and work on new projects.

My housemate, Simon Quah, told me his multimedia professor Paul Brown was inviting students to sign up as fAf editors. I applied, and was accepted. I spent my first six months editing fAf’s opportunites and then stuff sections. As I was filling a vacant position, I was trained by Paul himself, and then it was my job to train new members of the team. That’s fAf’s working model.

I finished my term, and had the opportunity to pursue my postgraduate studies and work in Australia. During this time, I maintained contact with Paul and wrote reviews for fAf, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

During the last stage of my postgraduate research, I was in a Melbourne net café, finishing my stint with The Melbourne Age. Paul emailed me saying he was successful with a New Media fellowship from the Australia Council for the Arts, and was off to the University of Sussex for a residency, and asked if I wanted to take over as fAf editor in his absence. I was thrilled beyond belief, and suddenly the jittery Melbourne winter didn’t seem that cold :-)

It’s been four years since, and fAf has seen tremendous growth.

Given what you said about your interest in pursuing new projects, why didn’t you tire of fAf after a while?
At fAf, I’ve found we’ve made it our responsibility to support young, emerging new media artists, writers, students and theorists. There are numerous avenues out there, but sometimes it’s hard for upcoming professionals in the field to get a break. In my short time with fAf I find we’ve had the opportunity to support some very promising individuals who’ve grown from strength to strength and progressed so quickly.

I see fAf as a publication that helps spot and nurture new talent, at least in a small way. It’s only appropriate that established organisations in the field like fAf take on this task, and to constantly spot new trends, developments in the field and bring them to the attention of our readers and become leaders for the community.

Unlike other publications I have worked on, fAf is a truly independent arts publication. Sometimes as a journalist, you are limited by agendas, policy and publication restrictions, often driven by management. Not that it’s at all, wrong. I am sure like every arts publication, fAf has its own set of limitations.

From day one, I have enjoyed the very fluid nature of fAf and our ability to pursue the smallest of ideas and turn them into reality. For example, through a mailing list I met Fatima Lasay, a Filipino artist and educator, an email exchange followed, and we discussed one or two issues. From there, Fatima told me about some projects she was working on, and we encouraged her to pursue them, and commissioned her to produce an online exhibition for fAf’s gallery. We’ve had other similar experiences with various artists and writers, including Mike Leggett, Choy Kok Kee, Jenny Fraser and others.

How would you describe your role, and how has that changed over the years?
In 1998, I was fAf’s Opportunities & Stuff editor. My job was to copyedit the barrage of opportunities that came to Paul, and turn them into concise bites of information for our readers.

A year later, during Paul Brown’s University of Sussex residency, I took on the fAf editorship. Paul took on a watching brief as fAf’ s Executive Editor, and provided me with very strong support and guidance in managing fAf.

My job then was to make editorial decisions on what to run in fAf, send the announcements to our section editors, compile fAf’s news digest and send it to our subscriber base. We had a team of 15 individuals working on fAf and my task was to oversee fAf’s editorial, creative strategy and manage the team.

I worked closely with our then-Reviews Editor Deni Stoner, who sourced for books, conferences, review material and commissioned writers. We had two content managers, Darren Guglielmetti and Holly Robertson, who helped train and oversee our new staff and maintain our production. Daniel Heinonen, our production manager played an instrumental role in organising fAf’s back-end and archives.

From my earliest days with fAf, I’ve focussed on strategic direction and our creative identity. In 2001, just before I headed to Singapore, we were successful with our Australia Council grant application, which allowed us to appoint Linda Carroli as fAf’s Australian Editor and to maintain our home base.

This made it possible for me to take on the editor-in-chief role. Now I could concentrate on fAf’s future direction and strategic planning. I’m a firm believer in not duplicating what already exists, constantly trying to push the boundaries, and meeting the needs of our audience. As a result, over the last two years, we’ve co-produced special editions for various key organisations, including the Leonardo Music Journal, Multimedia Art Asia Pacific (MAAP) Festival, the Singapore Film Festival’s experimental multimedia exhibition and others.

We’ve also re-established links with Australian organisations such as ANAT Australian Network for Art & Technology (ANAT), Experimenta (Melbourne), Dlux (Sydney), and international collaborators such as the Virtual Heritage Network (Japan), Electronic Literature Organisation (USA), Leonardo (USA), E-Art Asean (Malaysia), and hoydigiteer (Philippines).

One of the most positive outcomes has been a strategic alliance with Leonardo – Journal of Art, Science & Technology. Instead of duplicating our resources, we’ve formed a symbiotic relationship where fAf concentrates on what it does best with our online art & technology net news, and the Leonardo Electronic Almanac concentrating on critical commentary in the field.

What particular fAf memories have left an impression on you?
I’ve written various editorials for fAf and tried to evoke responses about issues from our readers and initiate a dialogue. Only occasionally would I receive an email response. In fAf’s March 2001 issue, I wrote an editorial just after my mom passed away sharing my grief. To my pleasant surprise, a steady stream of emails flowed from friends and practical strangers on the other side of the globe encouraging me on. It was a moment when I felt there was human emotion in the “cold” virtual network that fAf thrives in.

Another incident that comes to mind is “fineArt in Motion” - fAf’s 15th Anniversary Traveling Screening Program, which I curated. It features 14 artists from everywhere and has travelled to Manila, Australia, Thailand, USA, UK, Athens, South Africa and other countries. (http://www.fineartforum.org/screen)

I’d applied for grant funding in 2000 to make it happen but was unsuccessful. Because I thought it this was an important programme, I devoted my time to it, going ahead without financial support. I downscaled the programme as I felt fAf could still play an important hand in supporting new artists and push beyond our existing web boundaries.

Once again, I received support from friends such as Corinne Teo (the programme’s video editor), Andre Ho, Juraimi Jumahat (postcard designers), Tan Yiru (website developer), and Noel Tan (website editor). Ngee Ann Polytechnic supported us with postage and dubbing costs, and QUT with publicity. Without them, the programme would not be possible.

I’m very pleased with how we managed to overcome these hurdles and, with the positive support from partner organisations, screened our programme. The success of this effort has spurred me on to try and make it a biennial event.

What do you see as the challenges for fAf?
One of the greatest challenges working for fAf is our constant search for funding. There is only so much you can do with a zero-dollar budget. It’s only fair that writers and artists be compensated where possible, and we’ve been extremely fortunate to receive funding support from the Australia Council for the Arts, Queensland University of Technology, its high-calibre Communication Design students and in-kind support from individuals across the globe.

In no way, do I see this lack of funding as a major constraint, QUT gives sufficient resources and technical support for us to keep fAf running. Surprisingly, you find sometimes, one can achieve more and better quality outcomes with limited funding. Having said that, for fAf to continue growing and maintaining its leadership role in the community, we need funding to support artists, and to evolve the way fAf news & information is delivered to meet current audience expectations.

As the incumbent editor-in-chief, tasked to take fAf forward in a competitive landscape, what is your take on fAf's future, and its place in the new media/art/technology community?
I think all of us – Ray Lauzzana, Roger Malina, Annick Bureaud, Paul Brown, Judy Malloy and Linda Carroli have suggested various directions fAf should head towards. I think fAf and other arts organisations need to be in dialogue and steer towards strategic aims.

The challenge now, is for publications to work strategically, together, and to avoid duplication. All of us have our strengths, and there are various ways we can work together. In Ray’s days, fAf was on its own, and catered to a wider art & technology community. Today, there are other publications that meet this need. The challenge for fAf is to sift through the copious amounts of information that exist and select quality material for our new media, art & technology community, while continuing to support alternative points of view and newcomers to the field.
Another role fAf and our parent organisation - the Art, Science, and Technology Network (ASTN) should focus on is developing an international arts, science, technology network, a one-stop resource for newcomers and our existing readership. This is a joint project we are currently pursuing with Leonardo, and UNESCO. This can enhance and fine-tune our recently re-launched Arts Resources Section.

fAf is also actively scouring for Indigenous artists to offer them a platform to showcase their work. We supported the Trophies of Honor – Art Chronicles of Indigenous Peoples project. We’re looking at re-initiating this exhibition and supporting artists like Jenny Fraser who curated fAf’s Cybertribes gallery.

Biography
Although Nisar Keshvani is involved with art and technology, he has always seen himself as a journalist first. He has worked for international magazines and newspapers since 1993, including The Straits Times and the Sydney 2000 Olympic News Service. From 1996 to 1998, he wrote and coordinated the Singapore Police Force magazine, Police Life Monthly.

His interest in new media was inspired when as a student, he coordinated Communique Online (QUT’s flagship online publication), which won the 1998 Journalism Educators Association "Best Student Publication" award and the inaugural Dr Charles Stuart Ossie award for "Best Publication".

As academic staff and Managing Editor, he established Communique Online as an academic unit and taught online production techniques in QUT. Keshvani tutored units including news production and developed websites, including the QUT Public Journalism Project website. The prestigious project, funded by the Australian Research Council, won the Print Media Peace prize by the United Nations Association of Australia in 1998 and 1999.

He presented his Masters research, on the web’s impact on journalists, their work practices and management policy in news organisations, at several conferences including Computers and Writing Online 2000 (USA), Journalism Educators Association (JEA) and the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR). The research was also published in the Australian Journalism Review, Asia Pacific Media Educator & Journalism Australia Studies.
It was around then that he became involved with fAf. But rather than leading with his own work and arts practice, as is typical in arts organisations, he has chosen to perform a supportive role for the community, putting his own creations on the backburner.

In July 2001, he joined Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Film & Media Studies as Digital Media Lecturer where he developed, and teaches a web design and content management unit, see <http:://www.np.edu.sg/~knh>.

From 2002, he became editor-in-chief of the Leonardo Electronic Almanac, the electronic arm of Leonardo – Journal of Arts, Science & Technology, published by MIT Press (USA) and the Leonardo Network. LEA is dedicated to providing a forum for those interested in the realm where art, science and technology converge.

Keshvani sits on the Art, Science, Technology Network (ASTN), Leonardo/International Society Art, Science & Technology (ISAST) boards, SIGGRAPH Singapore Chapter Management Committee and is Program Advisor (Asia Pacific), for the Brisbane Multimedia Art Asia Pacific (MAAP) Festival.

In his scant spare time, Keshvani pursues his passion in filmmaking. Two films he co-directed with his brother were awarded the Special Jury Prize in the 1993 and 1994 Singapore Film Festivals.

His website is @ http://www.keshvani.com

Click here to read fAf editors virtual roundtable

     

 

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