THE INTER-SOCIETY FOR THE ELECTRONIC ARTS
ISEA NEWSLETTER #92

ISSN 1488-3635 #92 April - May 2003
_______________________________________________________________

* CONTENTS *

* Editorial by Angela Plohman
* "Art + Technology in Montreal: the Society for Arts and Technology (SAT) and 
the maturing of an emergent technological art scene" by Magdalena Wesolkowska, 
SAT[meta_lab], SAT
* "Montreal's web-based production" by Valerie Lamontagne, Mobile Gaze
* "Montreal: good food, students, research and the DISFA programme" by Joanna 
Berzowska, Assistant Professor, Design/DISFA, Concordia University

**************************************************
Editorial
by Angela Plohman 
ISEA Coordinating Director
**************************************************

We are pleased to introduce this current issue of the ISEA Newsletter (INL), 
guest edited by Magdalena Wesolkowska, coordinator and producer of the 
SAT[meta_lab] programme at the Society for Arts and Technology (SAT) in 
Montreal, Quebec, Canada. With a focus on Montreal, the host city of ISEA95, 
this issue is the fourth INL dedicated to electronic art practices in a 
particular region or city. 

ISEA NEWS--
In our effort to continue to offer more benefits to our members, we are pleased 
to announce a continued collaboration with Digital Creativity. The publishers 
are offering all ISEA members 25% off their 2003 subscription to the 
journal. In order to take advantage of this offer, please contact ISEA HQ 
<info@isea-web.org> for the subscription form. More information about Digital
Creativity can be found here: 
<http://www.szp.swets.nl/szp/frameset.htm?url=/szp/journals/dc.htm>

ISEA2004 NEWS--
ISEA2004 organizers have announced the next deadline for submissions: August 15, 
2003. Information on the submission process for ISEA2004 is on the web site, 
which is available at <http://www.isea2004.net>. The submission forms will be 
online from June and you can also register at the site to receive email updates.

We hope you enjoy this edition of the INL!

*****************************************
Art + Technology in Montreal: the Society for Arts and Technology (SAT) and the 
maturing of an emergent technological art scene 
By Magdalena Wesolkowska, SAT[meta_lab], SAT
*****************************************

Technology revolutionizes the universe of our senses and as a consequence, the 
universe of our mind. We can no longer go back to the values of the past, nor to 
any way of seeing or judging things by traditional criteria. The destruction of 
tradition in all spheres, as a result of the impact of technology, means that a 
new aesthetic principle must be invented. - Augusto de Campos, "The Artist and 
Technological Society"

Over the last decade Montreal has grown to be one of North America's hubs for 
technological innovation not only in biotechnology or aviation technology, but 
also in multimedia and electronic arts. Its art, music, design and industry 
communities tied to digital technologies are some of the most diverse and 
dynamic on the continent. Montreal's reputation as an international crossroads 
for research, innovation, and creation in digital technologies and electronic 
arts is cultivated in large part by the presence and synergy of electronic music 
and video festivals such as MUTEK (www.mutek.ca), MEG (www.megmontreal.com), 
FCMM (www.fcmm.com) and ELEKTRA (www.elektrafestival.ca); organizations such as 
the Foundation Daniel Langlois (www.fondation-langlois.org/); research 
institutes such as Hexagram (the Institute for Research and Creation in Media 
Arts and Technologies created jointly by Concordia and the Universite du Quebec 
a Montreal; www.hexagram.org) and various university-based research groups such 
as Interstices (www.interstices.ca), Teslab-Tec (www.unites.uqam.ca/teslab/) and 
Gradient; collectives such as Mobile Gaze (www.mobilegaze.com) and AE; and a 
number of dedicated centers such as Oboro/Oboro-Tech (www.oboro.net), StudioXX 
(www.studioxx.org), Videographe-PARC (www.videographe.qc.ca), and of course the 
Society for Arts and Technology (SAT, www.sat.qc.ca). Also, let's not forget 
that the ISEA organisation had its headquarters in Montreal up until the year 
2000.

In this newsletter, besides my contribution about the place of the Society for 
Arts and Technology (SAT) in Montreal's digital art scene, you will find 
additional articles by Valerie Lamontagne on Montreal's web-based productions 
and her collective Mobile Gaze (www.mobilegaze.com), as well as by Joanna 
Berzowska (www.berzowska.com) on some of Montreal's innovative design research 
and a unique academic programme in digital media (digital.concordia.ca/).

But before we go into the present and perhaps have a glimpse at the future of 
the SAT, let's turn back the clock just for a moment...

In 1995, something big happened in Montreal, an event that would leave a 
permanent mark on the city's digital and technological art milieu: ISEA95, which 
brought about 1200 artists from all over the world to Montreal's diverse 
artistic and academic venues. The central theme of this great symposium was 
Emergent Senses.  In the words of the organisers, it was "an invitation to 
examine and investigate the relationship between the viewer, technology and the 
works emerging from it. It was also intended to guide participants through a 
series of reflections on the development and exploration of new contents and the 
different forms of access to them." At that time there was a realization that 
the rapid development of media technologies intersected to create dynamic 
opportunities for the production of new meanings and experiences.

ISEA95 Montreal was an opportunity to think about the implications of technology 
on media, on sensory perception, on aesthetic sensibility and on new means of 
relating and communicating among individuals. The merging of art and technology 
that characterized ISEA95 Montreal was conducive for taking stock of this fast-
evolving scene. For Montreal, the organisers of ISEA and the artists working in 
this milieu, it was the beginning of something truly new... 

One of the direct results of ISEA95 was the founding in 1996 in Montreal of the 
Society for Arts and Technology (SAT) by several of the ISEA95 organizers - 
among whom were Alain Mongeau, Artistic Director of MUTEK for the last several 
years, Luc Courchesne, professor at Universite de Montreal and current President 
of SAT, as well as Monique Savoie, current Director of SAT. Their decision to 
create the SAT stemmed from their shared desire to put new digital production 
tools at the service of artistic expression and from the realization that 
Montreal had a budding, yet very dispersed electronic art scene that needed 
integration. Thus, by providing a means for artists who work with digital 
technologies to exchange their knowledge, their research and their experiences 
in digital creation and production, the SAT's aim was to became a central node 
from which there was a possibility to develop new ways of doing and thinking 
that would be more in tune with the challenges and hopes of the promised digital 
age. The SAT was to become a unique cultural "petri dish" for Montreal-based and 
visiting artists interested in exploring emergent forms of technological arts: 
one which was not to be based on sterile techniques, but rather on "positive 
forms of contamination." 

So into what sort of habitat for digital culture has the SAT evolved since 1996? 

We can safely say that the SAT has become a transdisciplinary centre dedicated 
to the creation, dissemination and conservation of digital culture: a culture 
lying at the crossroads of three distinct sectors - computer science, 
communications and culture - and axed on creativity and innovation, on 
communication and networks, and on inter-action and experience. Thus the SAT is 
able to provide a stimulating research and production context for all creative 
domains, ranging from arts to music to design. Its members come from a variety 
of different artistic and technological disciplines and their creativity has 
been the raw material for a rapidly growing digital media industry seeking 
innovative and creative products as well as cultural content. 

For SAT's Director, "it is no longer possible to ignore the role of 
technological arts as an important sector of culture, for they are present in 
almost every artistic discipline and are at the heart of contemporary cultural 
developments. It is equally impossible to not recognize the contribution of 
young and highly educated researchers. It is for this reason that we wish to 
provide them with a stimulating 'extramural' (out-of-university) research and 
production context." Thus, the beginning of the 21st century, which brought 
about an increased interest in digital culture, particularly regarding "content 
creators" and the ultra-rapid evolution of this sector, coincided with SAT's 
effort to restructure its organization to better respond to the needs of the 
growing digital media community. 

In October 2000, the SAT readjusted its mandate from solely a creation and 
production center to also a dissemination center, having at its disposal a 
14,000 square feet space in the heart of Montreal's cultural corridor, which has 
generated more than a hundred events in the last 28 months and produced more 
than fifteen creations through its Artists in Residency program. This 
dissemination and production space has contributed in placing the SAT as a key 
player on the world's electronic music scene, by partnering with festivals such 
as MUTEK, MEG and FCMM as well as with various renowned record labels such as 
Haute Couture or Ascend, and by presenting the now famous collective Epsilonlab, 
and DJs such as DJ Maus, Mightykat or Tiga.  Through this space, the SAT lives 
by day and by night, animating the cerebral and aural bits and bytes of its 
young members who were born with digital technologies and its young-at-heart 
members who are now working and transforming them. 

The SAT includes several distinct elements that serve its programmes of digital 
art creation, dissemination and conservation: SAT[e-space], an 8,000 square foot 
multipurpose presentation space which has been at the center of Montreal's 
fervent electronic music scene; SAT[prod], a studio for research, production and 
commission of artwork that also serves as workspace for artists in residence and 
houses SAT[webdif], a streaming media service for events presented at the SAT; 
SAT[meta_lab], a program for event-oriented network-building among academic and 
scientific communities which includes a programme of critical panel-discussions 
on the impact technology on culture; scientific and artistic presentations; an 
end-of-the-year inter-university exhibition and a summer school; SAT[ellite], 
program for international promotion and dissemination of artwork, representing 
more than 30 artists; SAT[a+i], a liaison office between Art and Industry; 
SAT[expo], a future permanent technological exhibition and conservation space 
with a wireless networked documentation centre.

Thus, the SAT brings together artists and researchers who work with digital 
technologies, fostering collaboration among diverse artistic and scientific 
disciplines, establishing partnerships with industry and post-secondary 
educational institutions, and promoting its 'trans-generational' members at home 
and abroad through a variety of programmes. 

Some of SAT's current production and research projects include the Open 
Territories research project whose objective is to develop applications and 
content for the broad-band network (funded by Canadian Heritage through their 
New Media Network Research Fund), as well as a permanent interactive multimedia 
installation for one of Montreal's subway stations commissioned by the 
'Direction des institutions scientifiques' of the City of Montreal (which groups 
the Biodome, Insectarium, Botanical Gardens and Planetarium).  A few other 
projects are kept in its sleeve...

It is of note that the SAT is a non-profit organization that is more than
90% self-funded through its production, touring and promotional activities.
With a unique mandate in Quebec, the SAT connects its membership to an
international network of centres and organisations with similar or
complementary objectives, and since its inception, SAT-sponsored productions 
have been presented in more than twenty countries and fifty cities. The SAT 
currently has more than 350 active members (artists and researchers) listed in 
the media arts repertory on its website, and a subscriber base of 1,600 for its 
mailing list. Events that it has organized or co-produced have attracted more 
than 40,000 people since October of 2000.

Of course, one very crucial event that will mark the future of the SAT is
SAT's relocation to its newly acquired building on Saint-Laurent Boulevard
at the beginning of June, thus giving a permanent home to Montreal's
expanding community of digital nomads and explorers. What does the future
hold for the SAT in this new home? We can only imagine and we hope you will
imagine it with us...

The SAT continues to live by its motto eagerly repeated by Monique Savoie
"We want the world and we want it now!". Put the SAT in a petri dish and
observe in vitro as media matter emerges and matures, only to grow into
something else, a little different, a little new every time...  

In this newlsetter you were given a (mere) glimpse of Montreal's digital culture 
and how the SAT has situated itself within it, creating a unique niche in this 
fast-evolving and continually emerging and maturing domain. However, the best is 
that you come and visit Montreal at the beginning of this Summer whether for the 
NIME'03, the international conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression 
(www.nime.org) to be held May 22-24; for the MUTEK festival on Music, Sound and 
New Technologies, May 28-June 1; for the FTA, Festival de Theatre des Ameriques, 
22 May-8 June; or for SAT's Grand Opening to be held on June 5th, 2003. We hope 
to see you in town very soon!

***
Magda Wesolkowska is the coordinator and producer of the SAT[meta_lab] programme 
at the SAT. In her spare time she is a petri dish anthropologist and cultural 
biologist who has founded recently the collective _base (with Jennifer Gabrys), 
as well as the IEEE-CS Task Force on Electronic Arts.  


***********************************
Montreal's web-based production
By Valerie Lamontagne, Mobile Gaze
***********************************

Setting the Montreal Stage:

The collision on technology, the Internet and an effervescent cultural milieu 
has made Montreal a really exciting place to participate in / look at / discover 
emergent forms of art over the last decade or so. One should begin by noting 
that Montreal (and the province of Quebec) has always had a commitment to 
innovative forms of art and expression. It might come as no surprise that the 
specific French Canadian flavour of culture - which has defined itself in 
contrast to other cultures - should embrace a media-centric art form, one that 
is anchored in communication. After all, media-based technologies offer an 
unprecedented opportunity for self-representation, for mass-distributions and 
for various voices to be heard. Local contributions in the fields of video art, 
animation, experimental cinema and electro acoustic music over recent years have 
shaped the current effervescence in new media production and presentation. 
Recently, the Internet has played an influential role arts production in 
Montreal which is the result of converging interests in technology and artist-
run centres / festivals and artists.


The Internet:

The first major technological event to highlight new technologies in Montreal 
was the International Symposium on the Electronic Arts (ISEA) that took place in 
1995 and subsequently set up its international headquarters in Montreal up until 
2000. This international event was an unprecedented opportunity to meet and see 
artists from the word over working with new technologies. At around the same 
time the Centre International d'Art Contemporain de Montreal 
(http://www.ciac.ca) under the initiative of Sylvie Parent began its Electronic 
Magazine, which is devoted to art being made for the Internet. This magazine has 
been a huge influence on the developments and promotion of web art locally, 
nationally and internationally. It was also Sylvie Parent who curated a web art 
component at the occasion of the first (1998) and second (2000) "Biennale de 
Montreal." The second Biennale was particularly successful and featured many 
international artists. At this time Alex Galloway from Rhizome 
(http://www.rhizome.org) came to give a talk. Other organizations which have had 
an important impact on web art presentation and production include: Studio XX 
(http://www.studioxx.org) was begun in the late 90s as a meeting place for women 
wanting to develop skills and gain access to new technologies. I was involved as 
a member and curated the 2000 "Maid in Cyberspace Web Art Festival" where artist 
such as Zoe Beloff (http://www.zoebeloff.com) and Helen Thorington 
(http://www.turbulence.org) presented their work. Other Montreal-based 
organizations which have been vital to the development of new technologies is 
the FCMM - Festival International Nouveau Cinema Nouveaux Medias Montreal - 
(http://www.fcmm.com) ~ which features web art during their event. The Montreal 
gallery Oboro (http://www.oboro.net) has been active in presenting video and 
digital works since 1997 and of course the SAT ~ Societe des Arts Technologiques 
(http://www.sat.qc.ca) hosts a dynamic series of conferences and live techno-
based evenings.

MobileGaze:

MobileGaze (http://www.mobilegaze.com) is an on-line artist collective dedicated 
to promoting, presenting and discussing digital media works, which was founded 
MobileGaze in August 1999 in Montreal, Canada by Brad Todd 
(http://www.mobilegaze.com/zero), Andrew Brouse and myself 
(http://www.mobilegaze.com/valerie). We had all worked in artist-run centers in 
Montreal, which were developing web-centric curating / events. MobileGaze also 
serves as a network for artists and critics interested in exchanging ideas 
around new media production. MobileGaze develops thematically curated selections 
of web art challenging the uses of images, sound, video and text on the web, as 
well as interviews with artists, critical texts about cyberculture, and other 
ephemeral on-line projects.

Our aim with MobileGaze is to promote Canadian / Quebec artists on an 
international scale and create a bridge between the micro and macro web art 
communities. Our first 3 projects were "magazine" format websites with 
interviews (video and text). Issue #1 - launched October 2000 - featured written 
interviews with many artists that intrigued us and about whom we wanted to know 
more about. Many of the works were activist type and the artists were 
principally working independently such as: Teo Spiller (http://www.teo-
spiller.org), Minerva Cuevas (http://www.irational.org/mvc) and [The User] 
(http://www.silophone.net).  Issue #2 - February 2001 - highlighted local and 
international Biennales (Biennale de Montreal 2000 + ISEA2000). We featured 
video interviews with Olia Lialina (http://www.teleportacia.org), Igor Stromajer 
(http://www.intima.org), Gregory Chatonsky (http://www.incident.net) and Melinda 
Rackham (http://www.subtle.net). Issue #3 - August 2001 - focused on works made 
locally and internationally through organizations such as the Montreal-based GIV 
-Groupe Intervention Video (http://www.giv.org) - which promotes women and video 
work and New York City's Thundergulch, formerly located in the World Trade 
Centre.

In May 2002 we produced our first online exhibition entitled "Matter + Memory" 
which presented 12 online projects by the following artists: Boredomresearch 
(UK), Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries (South Korea), Gregory Chatonsky 
(France), Lisa Cianci (Australia), Eric Deis (Canada), Peter Horvath (Canada), 
Jessica Irish (USA), Alice Jarry & Nicholas Lauzon-Timm (Canada), Waseem Khan 
(UK), Hidekazu Minami (Japan), Stanza (UK) and Igor Stromajer (Slovenia).

"Matter + Memory" is divided into 4 thematic Nodes: Heart, Mind, Soul, Body. 
Inspired by Henri Bergson's book, Matter and Memory, in which the author states 
that "It is true that an image may be without being perceived - it may be 
present without being represented - and the distance between these two terms, 
presence and representation, seems just to measure the interval between matter 
itself and our conscious perception of matter." "Matter + Memory" aims at 
bridging the chasm between mind and body via the Web. Mind Node - explores 
representations of the human psyche on the Web as articulated through networks, 
memory, spaces and sounds. Works that deal with issues of collective and 
individual intelligence, and the mapping of minds were selected for this Node. 
Body Node - unveils the representations of the body in its most meta/physical 
incarnations. Selected projects for this Node looked at issues of 
representation, movements in space and analogies between the somatic and 
cyberspace. Heart Node - explores modes of communication, exchanges of 
information, love, and various forms of attachment on the Web. Projects reunited 
for this Node plumbed the world of desire, confession, romantic encounters and 
the quest for hyper-connectivity. Soul Node - investigates the representation of 
the soul, spirit and 'ghosts' in cyberspace. Projects included in this Node 
reflected notions of immortality, life after death and the embodiments of the 
soul from beyond. Each thematic Node is accompanied by a theoretical text: Heart 
Node: Pierre Robert; Mind Node: Esther Bourdages; Soul Node: Sylvie Parent; and 
Body Node: Valerie Lamontagne.

One of our upcoming projects is an online exhibition entitled <PAUSE> which will 
be presented online and showcased with a conference / concert event at the SAT 
in Montreal. <PAUSE> will address the notion of time as experienced in art and 
through technology. Most technological equipment (VCRs, CD-ROMs, Cassette 
players, DV and Hi-8 cameras) are equipped with a "pause" button  offering a 
momentary stop in the flow of information. The Web, in contrast, is a mediator 
for all digital media (sound, video, hypertext and images) that has historically 
been compared to a highway (Baudrillard) and exists through the constant ebb of 
information. <PAUSE> will aim at intercepting this stream of information in 
order to provide a disruption within this endless expanse of data - by providing 
the viewer with a vantage point, a moment of reflection and a slowing down in 
his/her interactive viewing habits. For more information on <PAUSE> you can 
consult our website.

Curating the Web:

Apart from MobileGaze, there have been many other opportunities for the 
presentation of local web art. "Location / Dislocation" 
(http://www.deplacement.qc.ca) was curated by myself and Sylvie Parent, was 
presented at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City and showcased 
web art from Quebec artists. Featuring works by AE Lab, Atelier in Situ, Yan 
Breuleux, Jean Ranger + Bill Sullivan, [The User], Nancy Tobin and Brad Todd the 
exhibition looked at notion of geography and identity as expressed on the 
Internet. 

Also, the recent exhibition "Ellipse" I curated at the Musee du Quebec 
(http://www.mdq.org/ellipse) showcased Canadian Web art and was presented in an 
installation context in the former prison cells of the museum as well as online. 
The exhibition featured new commissioned works by Yan Breuleux, Peter Horvath, 
I8U, Vincent Leclerc, Stephanie Shepherd and Brad Todd. The exhibition traced 
links between analog strategies for art making (collage, photography, cinema, 
design) and current digital trends which are expanding these possibilities.

Artistic Expression on the Web:

My own artistic production on the Web has centered on performance and email / 
exchanges on the Web. My "Advice Bunny" performance / website 
(http://www.mobilegaze.com/advicebunny) has been showcased as installations and 
online webcasts in Canada and Italy. 

"The Advice Bunny" connects with a series of performances in which the artist 
dresses up as a rabbit and dispenses advice to people. In a sense, the site 
extends the performances into cyberspace, as it strives for the same goals. 
While the performances occur on particular occasions, as part of exhibitions and 
spontaneous or planned contemporary art events (during which the bunny "pops out 
of the box"), the Web site stands in for The Advice Bunny's "residence," where 
it can be found at all times, allowing the whimsical being to sustain an active 
(and interactive) existence.

The project is founded on people's predilection for testing and changing their 
identity in cyberspace, for experimenting anonymously with role-playing. The 
Advice Bunny suggests that cyberspace is a place of self-invention, of 
expression, fantasy and transformation. With humour - and the critical distance 
that accompanies it, the fictional character comes to life in its environment, 
but it also invites self-questioning and self-creation - the redefinition of who 
we are.  (Sylvie Parent  CIAC Magazine)

"Better Homes", presented in StudioXX's "Science Fair - Feminist Configurations 
in Cyberspace" (http://www.studioxx.org/sciencefair) features an exploration 
into the representation of homes of the "future" as depicted through popular 
media. "Better Homes" is a critique and homage to the way our mothers were led 
to believe the future would be. Images, film clips, and various documents culled 
from popular 1950s-60s media such as advertising, film and magazines coalesce in 
their creating of this virtually futuristic environment.

Conclusion:

One can see that web production is alive and well in Montreal. With the 
overlapping of medias and artists on the Internet one can only speculate at the 
possibilities for the future.

***
Besides being the co-founder of the collective MobileGaze, Valerie Lamontagne is 
a Montreal artist, freelance art critic and curator.  She is a regular 
contributor to such art publications as Parachute, Mix Magazine, and Etc 
Montreal.

 

***********************************************
Montreal: good food, students, research and the 
DISFA programme
By Joanna Berzowska, Assistant Professor, 
Design/DISFA, Concordia University
***********************************************

I've lived in Montreal before, between 1989 and 1995, when I simultaneously 
completed undergraduate degrees in mathematics at McGill and design at 
Concordia. I later pursued a Master of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of 
Technology (MIT) working on "computational expressionism" and remained in 
Cambridge, working in research and industry, for several years before returning 
to Montreal.

One of the main factors that drew me back to Montreal is the Digital Image/Sound 
& the Fine Arts (DISFA) program at Concordia University. I was offered a faculty 
position and the opportunity to help develop and shape the program into a fun, 
exciting new thing. It is a challenging project and there are many snags to 
overcome, but this opportunity was what is called too good to refuse.

The DISFA program is one of the first in the world (honestly, the first I've 
ever heard of) that incorporates Computer Science and Fine Arts curriculum at 
the undergraduate level. This is being done in various ways at the graduate 
level by places such at the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at NYU, 
the Media Lab at MIT, what used to be called Computer Related Design (CRD), now 
called Interaction Design at the Royal College of Art (RCA), the Interaction 
Institute Ivrea and others, but Concordia leads the way for such education at 
the undergrad level. This is truly a fantastic thing and I believe it will 
impact the Montreal art/design research milieu in fundamental ways.

One of the classes I teach is called Networks and Navigation. We study, 
implement and navigate networks from aesthetic, technical, social, theoretical 
and political perspectives. Students develop projects concentrating on 
information dissemination and communication (interface and back-end 
architecture). Students do not make "websites" - they implement new models for 
communicating online. Last year, projects included proprietary email software 
that sends colors and fancy typography based on semantic analysis of text and a 
virtual presence visualization tool called the Frustration Outlet where remote 
users can torture a graphical stuffed animal in order to communicate emotional 
state.

These students are fantastic. They challenge accepted models of using digital 
technologies for art/design. They have the necessary technical skills to do 
something about it. And they are doing it at the undergraduate level!

A new class I am developing for next fall is called Physical Computing and
Tangible Media. The focus of this class will be on "soft computing" (conductive 
cloth, conductive yarns, conductive epoxy etc... plus some hard components) to 
construct simple interactive or "smart" artifacts. We will talk of simple 
circuit design as a medium akin to wood or paper, and experiment with materials 
that can enable simple expressive computational forms. There will be a focus on 
unusual materials and processes. Students will be expected to work with Basic 
Stamp microcontrollers and various sensors/outputs as well as simple circuits.

This is much closer to my own work. I have been conducting research and making 
projects in tangible Media and Electronic Textiles for the past six years. I am 
a founder of International Fashion Machines (IFM) a Cambridge based company 
whose goal is to bridge the gap between the world of fashion, consumer 
electronics and emerging technologies. In Montreal, I have recently started the 
"XS LABS for extra-soft computation". The research we pursue encompasses 
electronic textiles (e-textiles) work as well as other kind of soft computation 
such as a new project on soft electronic foods. 

The term Electronic Textiles usually refers to a textile substrate that 
incorporates capabilities for sensing (biometric or external), for communication 
(usually wireless), power transmission or interconnection technology to allow 
sensors or things such as information processing devices to be networked 
together within a fabric. In my work, I try to stay quite close to the history 
and the reality of fibers and textiles. I work with traditional textile 
techniques and technologies such as weaving, knitting, sewing, embroidery, 
quilting etc. to create textiles that can sense, transmit power or data, and 
change state (such as the "Electric Plaid" technology for addressable color-
change fabrics I developed at IFM). I use various conductive and resistive yarns 
as well as newly developed dyes and inks but construct my soft hardware using 
the tools and techniques that textile makers have been using for centuries.

Most of my research focuses on the central concept of using Technology as a 
Design/Art Medium through an intimate knowledge and understanding of its 
potential and limitations. This does not mean that we need to break with 
traditional methods and materials. On the other hand, I do believe that 
artists/designers need to develop more familiarity with electronics and emerging 
technologies. For the last five or six years there has been a strong push by 
pioneers such as John Maeda to start thinking of "computation" as a design tool 
for 2D. I believe that object makers need to start thinking in similar ways 
about physical computation. I teach all of my students about circuit design even 
if they plan to work on furniture for the whole semester. 3D artists/designers 
need to understand how electricity works and how different materials can be used 
to transmit power or data. They need to understand latest sensor technologies, 
wireless technologies and embedded computing concepts in order to create the art 
and design the objects/environments of the future.

There are many different ways to navigate the enormous field of intersections of 
technology research and art practice. I have been thinking about this for 
several years and have come up with several models or classifications to help 
map out the territory. One of them is to roughly arrange the artists who 
incorporate science/technology research into their work into three groups: those 
who use existing technologies, those who misuse (or abuse) and thus transform or 
re-contextualize existing technologies and, finally, those who develop or invent 
new technologies.

There has been a proliferation in the past few years of accessible 
microcontrollers and hardware prototyping environments, but it is still rare to 
find artists/designers who create their hardware or software from scratch, as 
was expected of us at the Media Lab. The MIT approach solidly placed us in the 
middle of the third category, wherein work was inconsequential unless it 
exhibited a strong aspect of technological innovation. As can be expected, this 
often compromised aesthetic or conceptual aspects of the pieces we made. The 
interesting thing is that nobody talked of "art" in the Media Lab. The closest 
word we were allowed to use was "expression". This is one of the reasons my 
thesis work was called Computational Expressionism.

Perhaps not surprisingly, since the Media Lab sits inside a science/engineering 
school, it's been difficult to find a similar level of technophilia in the 
outside world. It is rare to hear of artists-researchers who really develop new 
video segmentation algorithms or a new capacitive sensing board that can be 
fitted into their interfaces. Instead, there is a lot of talk of "collaboration" 
in the science/technology/art projects. This is interesting because any 
collaboration is problematic. Especially problematic are collaborations between 
artists and scientists/technologists pursuing a common project: power structures 
shift and people get stuck in questions about titles, credit, defining 
competence, struggling with different languages, mythologies and values.

I come from a perspective where the lines between the roles are really starting 
to blur. This is why I was so attracted to the DISFA program in Montreal. This 
is why I expect all my students to do their own programming and understand 
electronics. Of course, we cannot afford to specialize in every field.

Nobody can be an expert in all aspects of 
art/design/science/technology/research/practice. However, I believe that we all 
need a fundamental understanding of the technologies we use on our work. We 
cannot ignore the fact that technology is a MEDIUM. It shapes content and 
concept development.

We tend to oppose art and science, but is this still necessary? The 
methodologies of both worlds are converging. We are starting to share a common 
artistic/scientific imagination. If we can afford to avoid specialization, we 
can comfortably float between these two worlds that were until recently 
presented in opposition to one another. We can study color theory and C++ 
simultaneously. We can wear many hats and in Montreal, a new generation emerges.

***
Joanna Berzowska is Assistant Professor in the Digital Image Sound and the Fine 
Arts Programme at Concordia University. Joey holds undergraduate degrees in Pure 
Mathematics and in Fine Arts, and a Masters degree from the MIT Media Lab. She 
co-founded International Fashion Machines where she serves as Chief Creative 
Officer. 


**************************************************

ISEA Newsletter Contributors: Magdalena Wesolkowska, Valerie Lamontagne, Joanna 
Berzowska and Angela Plohman

ISEA Board Members:
Peter Anders, Chris Csikszentmihalyi, Nina Czegledy, Gunalan Nadarajan, Anne 
Nigten, Julianne Pierce, Wim van der Plas, Cynthia Beth Rubin, Mark Tribe.

ISEA HQ:
Angela Plohman, Coordinating Director

ISEA LISTSERV:
To subscribe, send a message to:
Majordomo@pd.org - no subject heading, with this message in the body: 
subscribe isea-forum

ISEA, Inter-Society for the Electronic Arts
Pieter de Hoochstraat 38-2 
1071 EG Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Phone: +31 20 6120297 Fax: +31 20 6182359
info@isea-web.org  
http://www.isea-web.org

============================================end of newsletter