The Road to ISEA2013

The Road to ISEA2013

Leah Barclay

28th May 2013

In June 2013 Sydney is hosting ISEA, an international festival of electronic art and ideas that will undoubtedly be one of the most significant cultural events in Australia this decade. Presented by the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) and held alongside Vivid Sydney, ISEA2013 will showcase the best media artworks from around the world and infuse Sydney’s social, digital and physical infrastructure with ideas, provocations and visions for the future. If ISEA2012 is anything to go by, this event will be a pivotal opportunity for Australian artists to participate in one of the most important contemporary art forums in the world today.

Founded in the Netherlands in 1990, ISEA is an organisation that aims to foster interdisciplinary exchange and academic discourse among the international art, science and technology community. The activities of ISEA pivot on the annual symposium, which in the last two years has travelled from the energetic metropolis of Istanbul to the rugged landscapes of New Mexico. While the event is framed around sharing ideas, the social and cultural context is a critical element to experience a diversity of perspectives through community engagement and local immersion. ISEA2012 hosted in Albuquerque, New Mexico is a prime example of how this event can be a catalyst to explore critical contemporary issues through community, art, science and technology.

The theme of ISEA2012 “Machine Wilderness” references the New Mexico region as an area of rapid growth and technology within vast expanses of open land. The underpinning vision was to explore a more humane interaction between technology and wilderness, focusing on creative solutions for sustainably coexisting with the natural world and technology. Over 100 artists and 400 presenters from 30 countries participated in the programmed events that ranged from provocative keynotes on the exponential growth of data to mesmerizing installations and performances. The main exhibition, hosted at 516 Arts and The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, was curated from 1,500 submissions and certainly showcased the diversity of international electronic art. The highlights include Ivan Puig and Andres Padilla Domene’s SEFT-1, a vehicle equipped with a Hi-Rail system that travels abandoned railways throughout Mexico using electronic media to record the process. While the vehicle itself was an integral part of the exhibition, the surrounding documentation including personal encounters in remote areas and an interactive website provided a key example of art and technology as a catalyst for community engagement and explorations of the past to inform the future.

‘The Downtown Block Party’ featured artworks revolving around “Dynamobilities”, one of the conference subthemes addressing the mobility of people, goods and ideas. The Block Party included performances, workshops, projections and kinetic sculptures presented in an accessible format embedding the Albuquerque community into the layers of ISEA2012. The night culminated with Christopher Marianetti and Mary Margaret Moore creating Symphony 505, a music and dance composition using low-rider cars as instruments. While this performance drew the crowds, it was some of the more elusive and ephemeral works such as Jeremiah Moore’s Listen Toward the Ground that proved most effective. This walking tour was a head-phone based sonic excursion in the soundscapes of high desert oil and gas fields overlaid onto the alleyways of downtown Albuquerque. These layers of multi-sensory engagement were also prevalent at other ISEA2012 sites, such as the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe where works such as Charles Lindsay’s immersive installation CARBON were contrasted with a sound walk in the rugged landscape. This direct engagement with the wilderness was part of Teri Rueb and Larry Phan’s location-specific sound walk and sculptural installation titled No Places With Names: a critical acoustic archaeology. This reflective experience weaved personal stories and sounds throughout the landscape and effortlessly conveyed the power of technology to reconnect us with the wilderness.

Laurie Anderson’s DIRTDAY! performance and accompanying keynote were a worthy highlight for many ISEA delegates as were presentations from leading figures such as Roger Malina, who explored opportunities for art-science collaborations in the era of “big data” and Fritz Haeg, who spoke about Animal Estate; a housing initiative for native animals in cities around the world. The skilled curation of the conference encouraged delegates to step outside their fields and engage in vibrant discussions with artists such as Tahir Hemphill and Kwende Kefense who expertly examined the history of Hip Hop culture transformed by technological innovations.

Andrea Polli, the ISEA2012 Artistic Director, hopes that the event as a whole will serve as a ‘model for interdisciplinary work to inspire wilderness-based collaborations nationally and internationally.’ There is no doubt that ISEA2012 demonstrated the role art can play in re-envisioning the world, particularly when combined with the infinite possibilities of technology. The importance of ISEA is not just in convening the international arts, science and technology community, but in acting as an incubator for some of the most challenging and innovative contemporary art the world has to offer. Artists continue to play a critical role in investigating the limits of technology as we move into an age where digital media permeates our lives. The focus has now shifted to Sydney where the ISEA2013 theme, “Resistance is Futile”, suggests that electronic art now lies embedded in the heart of our contemporary cultures, engrained in the fabric of everyday life. With hundred of proposals from across the world, the 2013 program is guaranteed to challenge the consequences of digital life and inspire the future of electronic art practice.

The ISEA2013 exhibitions are spread throughout inner Sydney, Parramatta and Campbelltown with works from over 150 contemporary artists from Australia and around the world. Exhibitions include: Experimenta’s ‘Speak To Me’ at the Powerhouse Museum, ‘Catching Light’ at Campbelltown Arts Centre, and ‘Running the City’ at UNSW Galleries, COFA. A highlight of the program is the Australian premiere of test pattern, a stunning large-scale immersive installation by renowned Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda. Ikeda will also perform a new full-length version of datamatics 2.0 at Carriageworks during ISEA2013.

The three-day ISEA2013 Conference features over 200 speakers and eight keynote addresses with subjects ranging from eco activism, bio-art, and robotics, to augmented realities and interactivity. The Opening Keynote address will be by Michael Naimark, a New York-based internationally renowned pioneering media artist.

The full program is available at

Images: Charles Lindsay – CARBONx, Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene - SEFT 1
*A version of this article was published by the Australia Council for the Arts in Artery in November 2012.

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