Inter Society of Electronic Art, Paris, December 7-10, 2000

The 10th International Symposium on Electronic Art organized by the Inter-Society for the Electronic Arts (ISEA) and Art3000 took place for the first time in Paris this past December 2000. The theme of this annual event, REVELATION, broadly explored various media and issues pertaining to new technology art production covering such topics as: recent developments in technology; cultural institutions’ role within new media; and the integration of new media into various disciplines such as dance and performance art. The ISEA 2000 event offered an opportunity for international cultural institutions and artists to reflect on recent developments in electronic arts as well as meditate on developments to come. Involving a series of over 250 conferences, presentations, exhibitions, performances and events organized with Parisian institutions and featuring a selection of projects and CD-Roms this international event reuniting artists, theorists, festival organizers and new media industry people was a unique opportunity to meet, in real time and space, and discuss.

Here are a few highlights of ISEA 2000 as well as insights into some of the major themes and issues discussed.

December 8, 2000

1. Global & Local

Moderator: Nils Aziosmanoff, President and founder of Art3000 in Paris.
André Santini, Major of Issy-les-Moulineaux since 1980
Philippe Quéau, Director of Information Society Division at UNESCO
Etienne Krieger, Director of the HEC Start-Up Institute
Louis Bec, Researcher exploring links between artistic, scientific and technological fields

This conference addressing, in particular, the role of social, economic and political factors in the development of the Internet, mainly showcased local (French) concerns around funding (heavily drawn from the government) and public/space on the Web. A major topic of debate during this round table was the United States of America’s stronghold on Internet development and the pervasiveness of the English language on the net. Being from Quebec (and bilingual) I found it particularly interesting that Quebec was often sited as an example for strategies in negotiating language and cultural diversity within the predominantly English make-up of the www. André Santini stressed the importance of people meeting in real space and time and discussed how Issy-les-Moulineaux (the silicon valley of Paris) had become a center of information technologies development which was fostering this kind of interactions between key individuals involved in culture and technology. Philippe Quéau cited the positive and politically empowering potential for lobbying on the Internet especially as it develops throughout Third World countries. Overall, this conference was a reminder that much remains to be tackled in order to develop a “global’ Internet village equitably and with cultural diversity – something which might be easily forgotten when working in English North America.

2. Archiving as Art or Database Aesthetic
Moderated by Karen O’Rourke, who had organized a parallel exhibition during ISEA with the works of the presenting artists this series of individual conferences featured presentations from artists working with databases – aesthetically and conceptually - predominantly in interactive and web-based projects.

Eduardo Kac – Time Capsule
Techno-surveillance and genetic implants are at the root of this 1997 project wherein Kac implanted a microchip into his ankle that contained a programmed identification number. This permanent low-frequency data transmitter (predominantly used in tracking animals) was then registered under Kac’a name as both the “animal” and “owner” in order that it may be traceable. “Time Capsule” combines the integration of biotechnologies, memory, and surveillance - ongoing themes that Kac has been further exploring in his recent transgenic artwork: "GFP Bunny" project.

George Legrady – Des souvenirs dans les poches
Conceived as an in-gallery interactive event (and soon to be Web accessible) “Des souvenirs dans les poches” plays with notions of the personal archive, database structures and interactivity. The project is a participatory collage of scanned objects provided for by the viewers. Invited to scan the contents of their pockets, the gallery visitors are also asked to rank submitted objects within a limited number of opposite descriptions (IE: hot/cold). The subjective descriptions of the objects provide the basis for the archiving and placement of these within a malleable and ever changing archive shaped by the ever-increasing number of submissions.

Lev Manovich – Freud-Lissitzky Navigator
Narrative and fiction coalesce in this historical archive/game based on the meeting of Sigmund Freud, the psychoanalyst, El Lissitzky the architect and Sergei Eisenstein, the filmmaker. Positing the question: “What would happen if Freud were to build a house based on his architecture of the mind?” Manovich responds with a multi-layered prototype for a “Freud-Lissitzky Navigator” an all-encompassing narrative/database navigator (still in progress) featuring the admixture of visual artifacts and biographical narrative based on notions of psychoanalysis, architecture, cinema and game-play in the 20th century.

December 9, 2000

3. Navigating Intelligence, Revelation of Power
Moderator: Sara Diamond, Director of the Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta, presented recent new media creations/research from the Banff Centre for the Art’s New Media Institute.

Elisabeth VanderZaag – Talk Nice
Based on voice–pattern recognition technology “Talk Nice” is an interactive game which forces the participant to speak in upisms (when the speech rises at the end of the sentence) in order to interact with two videotaped young women. Featuring a series of 100 pre-recorded video interactions this project plays with notions of subverted forms of feminism, reflecting and transforming the subtle yet powerful dynamics of speech interaction.

Arcangel Constantini – Atari-Noise
The “Atari-Noise” project is an elegant re-appropriation of Atari (the most successful microprocessor –based product ever created according to the artist) noises. Framed within a web-based archive of images/sounds it has been used as a game/performance/instrument or archive depending on the context or presentation. The Web version is a meta-instrumentation of Atari and all Atari possible noises, which may be played into a cacophony of sequential sound/image patterns.

Susan Kennard with Sara Diamond – Code Zebra
“Code Zebra” (still under development) will be a visually mobile chat environment based on patterns that will respond to the movement of ideas, emotions, the mouse or the brain cell. The chats will result in the production of visual patterns and sounds. This site will be equally addressed to artists and scientist meeting and is part archive, performance, dialogue and meeting site.

4. Jason Lewis, Director of Arts Alliance Laboratory in San Francisco, discussed his “ActiveText: Project”, an on-going experiment in radical ways of treating and interacting with text, as well as various performances and uses of the “Text Organ” which have been presented internationally. The Arts Alliance Laboratory is focused on developing interactive text, poetry and performance.

5. Anthony Kieldl, Curator at the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina, discussed the representation of “cuteness” in the context of globalization in our post-nuclear age society as articulated in the Dunlop’s recent exhibition “Fluffy”. The Dunlop Art Gallery, situated in the Regina Public Library building, has developed numerous exhibitions that have question popular culture’s influx into mainstream art world.

December 10, 2000

6. Is Digital Art Contemporary?
Moderator: Philippe Cordognet
Manuela de Barros
Maurice Benayou

The final conference of the event was a polemic and volatile discussion on the role of new media within established contemporary art structures such as museums, commercial art galleries and biennials. With no tenable “agreement” in sight, a debate ensued over the role of the institution in mainly validating works of art in light of the self-sustaining networks which are being developed through the internet, music culture, and various independent means of production, dissemination and presentation. Finally, no consensus was clearly arrived at – leaving both institutions and individuals at a crux with how to negotiate the future of producing, disseminating and preserving new media art works – a cross-road which the new media festival seems to be at.

7. In conclusion…
If art institutions are questioning their role vis-à-vis new media and independent initiatives of art dissemination - a timely assessment of the “media art festivals” may also be in order. As with any event of this magnitude and range, covering such a wide-ranging series of events, the “new media festival” presents opportunities and also limitations in what can be accomplished in 4 days. However, if technology is “invading” our world as well as culturally expanding over the globe, one also hopes that the ghettoization of new-media may be a thing of the past. Technological innovations aside, perhaps we can begin to move beyond a media-based analysis of new media art and investigate it from a multidisciplinary approach as was aimed in some ISEA2000 presentations focussing on dance, theatre, performance, and music. In spite of many excellent conferences, talks and panels one laments that many visits to new media festivals are void of experiential discoveries of the many works of art discussed over the course of the event. It is ironic to note my most striking artistic experience of the event happened to be the unrelated yet fabled “Palais des Mirages” at the Musée Grévin (the Parisian Wax Museum) created for the1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. This kinetic chamber of sounds and lights is a precursor to the technologically-driven multimedia installations and virtual realities we are developing today. Perhaps new media festival should conjure up the ghosts of fairs and exhibitions past with a goal to awe the senses as well as the psyche.

© Valérie Lamontagne

First published on MobileGaze, February 2001.