August 11, 2006
I’m the only GTxA representative at ISEA this year, and I’m sorry to report that my compatriots are missing a great event. At the Tuesday night kick-off I caught the PigeonBlog release and then saw a really solid show at the San Jose Museum of Art curated by Steve Dietz (Edge Conditions, running through November 26th). Since then I’ve started to see some of the massive collection of art in South Hall (a parking lot covered with a giant tent and filled with digital art), enjoyed a number of live/performative cinema events organized by Ana Serrano of the Canadian Film Centre, seen the “2.0” version of Adriene Jenik’s fascinating SPECFLIC project, and attended the very impressive (if slightly problematic) “3 Data Bodies” by Super Vision. Tonight I’m seeing Mike Figgis do a “live mix” of Time Code and then watching Survival Research Labs bust out their amazing combination of robots, flame throwers, and sound. I really couldn’t be happier with the amount of stimulation I’m getting from the art and events.
Unfortunately, the strength of the art and performances casts a shadow over the somewhat uneven ISEA symposium. The weakest part of the symposium, from my perspective, is the keynotes. For example, the opening event for this ISEA symposium was a two hour long presentation by, and discussion with, Lu Jie — the organizer of the art-oriented, contemporary Long March project in China. Throughout Jie’s talk there was no mention of “electronic art” or anything else related to ISEA’s ostensible mission as a symposium series. It was a bit like flying across the country and booking a hotel room in order to attend a conference on contemporary painting only to find the first two hours given over to a conversation with Salman Rushdie that makes no mention of painting. Fascinating, but a totally squandered opportunity relative the goal of engaging the symposium topic. The second day’s keynote, rather than making up for the previous presenter’s failure to talk about ISEA-related topics, was delivered by a sociologist focused on globalization. I’ve heard people starting to wonder, publicly, what could possibly have created this circumstance. Certainly not a worry that no one in our field is good enough to deliver a keynote — 2004’s excellent addresses should have made that clear. It’s a real puzzle. Still, I’ve caught some good presentations by artists in the smaller venue across the hall from where the keynote and other main stage events are taking place.
Beyond the presentations, there’s a strong set of ISEA papers available online and as a print-on-demand issue of Intelligent Agent. Also, Leonardo has published a special issue with papers from the invitation-only Pacific Rim New Media Summit that preceded ISEA. Since I registered early, both these goodies were in my conference bag.
Overall, then, my main impression of ISEA is how much I’m enjoying the art, which is probably how it should be. And, afterward, I’m looking forward to sitting down with Leonardo and my first paper copy of IA in years to soak up a few more of the papers.