Minority Report comes closer… Three huge screens at Birmingham New Street railway station are scanning passers-by and play advertisements accordingly. http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/new-street-station-advertising-screens-9920400
The 2010 edition of the “nomadic” ISEA (International Symposium on Electronic Art) was even more nomadic this year, traveling through three cities: Essen, Dortmund (where the core activities were held) and Duisburg. They are all part of the Ruhr region in Germany and have been granted European Capital of Culture status. With artistic directors Andreas Broeckmann and Stefan Riekeles making their mark, ISEA 2010 was rich in content, with prominent international participation and quite a number of events in the program. There were also a few features in common with Transmediale festivals of the past, for example exploiting international collaboration to generate remarkable results, or giving support to open source systems (in this case with a tool commissioned for the usual peer-reviewing process, developed by artist and developer Micz Flor).
Although there has been a clear transition from the academic conference it used to be a few years ago to something closer to a festival structure, conferences remain the core of ISEA. Among the usual multiple sessions (up to seven in parallel) there were quite a few that challenged classic academic presentation methods (one person reading a paper and a few slides). The huge and crowded “Latin American Forum”, for example, was enlightening on the subject of the very different cultural forces that are making this heterogeneous area one of the most interesting.
Starting from the wise suggestion given by Siegfried Zielinski (“developing a non-unifying perspective”) different protagonists, like the historical and very ironical net.artist Brian Mackern (“net.art is not dead it is just smelling funny”), or Giselle Beiguelman (Institute Sergio Motta) explained the unique contradictions behind emerging initiatives in Brazil. These include rising platforms for official peer-to-peer music sharing, recycling hardware, free software and artists’ work reflecting these topics. Josè Carlos Mariategui and Victoria Messi gave another intriguing perspective with their extensive research project entitled “insulares divergentes.” Beyond underlining the many different scenarios they explained how often connections and collaborations are established based on the same “topic” across countries, more than with other people within the same area, something the duo called “insular areas of creation.” The forum lasted for two days.
Pushing collaboration over social network isolation and addiction was the goal of another experimental panel. In “Really Existing Social Media”, Rui Guerra set up a “lap-talk”, which was essentially a LAN-based technology that enabled speakers to move away from the usual video projector set-up, allowing each audience member to view the slides and videos on their laptops. It forced the audience to share laptop screens and therefore to socialize, which complimented the critical approach to social media introduced by the different panelists.
Using a completely different approach another panel focused on spam (“Press Delete”), controversially hosted the experimental musician Goodiepal, who performed throughout at various volume levels while the panelists presented their papers, creating a challenging background noise.
Furthermore, “Science” as a category seems to be more than ever at the center of the discourse about the digital domain. It was significant, then, that Lioudmila Voropai provocatively affirmed that “the artist is now a hobby scientist” in her presentation (“Media Art and Its Theories from “New Avant Garde” to “Science-Brut”), shaking the self-confidence of many listening artists and critics. This prompted many questions on familiar topics such as funding, dependence from industry, or the role of the artist in science/technology. These questions are (ethically and pragmatically) never solved, but looking at them in the light of some provocative statements was at least refreshing.
In addition to the panels, the keynote sessions hosted a number of celebrated academics who were predictably unpredictable. Disappointingly, ZKM’s director Peter Weibel delivered a dull lesson about one of his favorite topics (neuro-aesthetics), while Margaret Morse, despite her interesting background, managed to get lost in some unremarkable concepts. Roy Ascott gave the most striking talk, which included some risky predictions like “what is realized now in cyberspace will be realized in nanospace”. He pleasantly sketched his own career over the last fifty years, pushing the concept of “syncretism” and reminding us that “If you do play the game, the systems are”.
A plethora of exhibitions were opened before and during the symposium. “Trust”, one of the two main exhibitions, was hosted at the new museum at the Dortmunder U (an old refurbished beer factory) and curated by the two artistic directors (Broeckmann is going to be the director of the museum). In different works spectators’ “trust” was questioned and challenged. Carsten Nicolai’s “rota”, for example, a giant steel rotating dream machine, was well-made, effectively reflecting the fundamental proportions of Ian Sommerville’s original machine. And Joan Leandre’s “Lonely Record Sessions” video was skillfully composed, though it was unclear whether he had manipulated code or performed some video-editing. The headstone of Konrad Becker (“Trusted Realities”) reminded us that if we trust/question our eyes and correlated language we can watch reality from many new perspectives.
Multiple perspectives were also exploded in time, space and perception by Seiko Mikami’s “Desire of Codes” (featured in Neural #36). It’s interesting that the concept of “trust” was perfectly embodied during a panel about software code where Pall Thayer’s abstracted “Microcodes”, which had to be trusted by fellow presented Lon Dubinsky (a theorist not acquainted with Perl and code in general) facilitated a discussion about code and language in an aesthetic and functional role, giving a new sense to the terms.
The second major show was the ISEA2010 Ruhr exhibition, whose works were selected by an international jury. Here “processes”, especially scientific ones were at the heart of the majority of works. A few were both spectacular and touching, like Aernoudt Jacobs’ “Permafrost”, a huge, delicate sculpturing of the sound of freezing water, or Yunchul Kim’s “Epiphora” (“unstoppable tears”) where two robotic glass organs were continuously affecting each other through drops of black and transparent electromagnetic liquids.
In Verena Friedrich’s “Transducers” donated human hair was placed in glass tubes, and induced vibrations were transduced into unique sounds. Another highlight was Aram Bartholl’s “0.16”, a simple light installation translating shadows in pixels, describing the real in abstract terms.
ISEA 2010 Ruhr exhibition also included “Exchange Emergences” (a joint showcase of Coded Culture and Japanese Media Arts festivals) which included the irresistible “Braun Tube Jazz Band”, a performance by Ei Wada, using Braun tube televisions as percussion. The artist beat the TVs (which also functioned as antennas) with his hands, resulting in a short but very physically intensive cathode ray tube music act.
In the huge, distant spaces of Phoenix Halle (the exhibition space of the Hartware MedienKunstVerein), only the determined were able to enjoy the unique “Arctic Perspective” an exhibition documenting a mobile work and habitation system which can be used for media based work. Curated by Inke Arns, Matthew Biederman and Marko Peljhan it was the result of fruitful international cooperation and set up as a fascinating path between geopolitics, technology and landscape.
Two more exhibitions displayed work by students from two well-known German academies. “Heavy Matter” showed works from the Academy of Media Arts Cologne. Worthy of mention here: “16 Minds” by Theresa Krause, a performance where a computer asks real questions to humans whose (paid) avatars in Second Life are standing still and answering, and “Happiness Beta” by Wonbaek Shin, a reactive sound installation that transforms surrounding noises into chime-like sounds through glass rods.
In a smaller venue “Agenten 2.0” showed a few works by students of the Offenbach Academy of Art and Design. Notable exhibits included “Kopierfehler” by Hye Joo Jun, which consisted of evocative micro-printed short messages on white A4 paper sheets, which were then left for use by somebody else, and “Up in smoke” by Sandra-Daniela Heinz, a “translation machine” from any user typed sentences to smoke signals in Morse-code. The E-Culture fair was also a well selected and interesting showcase for projects from the Netherlands, Belgium (fostered by Virtueel Platform and BAM) and the Ruhr.
“Sound” became a relevant category for the whole ISEA, with a few panels like “Sonic Strategies” (where a classic discussion about the differences between “audification” and “sonification” spontaneously took place) and an evening music program, hosted in the big Konzerthouse. Beyond the well known acts (Asmus Tietchens, Thomas Köner, Mudboy, Fennesz…) the most touching set was played by Hildur Guonadóttir and Keiichiro Shibuja, the former playing her halldorophone (an electroacoustically modified violoncello) and the latter recording and manipulating the piano he was also playing live. The sound program was completed with an international schedule at the Domicil club with One Man Nation, Tarek Atoui and a very popular “Festicumex” event.
In addition to appreciating the new museum in the Dortmunder U (that ISEA guests had the unique chance to see still under construction) and the HMKV, it was also perceivable how the whole organization linked with local institutions and places. Hopefully, the influence of this ISEA edition will sprout local projects over the next few years, establishing another reference platform that could influence and develop the territory while contributing to the international debate.
With the next ISEA scheduled in Istanbul for 2011, then in Albuquerque in 2012 (and a Sydney bid for 2013), the symposium doesn’t seem to have suffered from the shift from bi-annual to annual scheduling, profiting instead from the growing commitment of its organizers.