ISEA2002 :: Troy Innocent

October 27-31, 2002 Nagoya, Japan

ISEA2002 followed the format of previous symposia with a mix of conference, exhibition, electronic theatre, music, performance and related events. Hosted by the city of Nagoya (Japan), many of the events were held in the Nagoya Port. Although it lacks the intensity of Tokyo, Nagoya still has multi-level manga/anime superstores, dense sign-filled streetscapes, massive underground networks of transport, food and shopping, a sprawling electronics district, pachinko (gambling halls), shrines and temples, and novelty shopping centres. Getting from one place to the next was easy either on foot or via the subway network, which was a good thing as there were up to ten events happening simultaneously at any one time from 10am to 10pm for the four days of the event.

The conference theme,‘Orai’, meaning comings and goings, communication, and contact, as well as streets and traffic, served two purposes – first, as a starting point for understanding art and design in Japan; and second, as a model for analysing electronic media arts and research. Michael Punt’s paper mapped ‘Orai’ to the concept of multiple universes, Masanao Katsumata used it to demonstrate inter textuality, Roy Ascott used it as a model for analysing communication among individuals in electronic networks. Other sessions explored the ‘Orai’ in terms of interface, architecture, and the ownership of information.

Aside from the main theme, personal highlights of the papers and panels sessions were Tapio Makela’s critical survey of cyberculture and interactivity; Ian Whalley’s application of semiotic structures as a means to compose music; Erkki Huhtamo’s history of small screens and speculation on the future potential of this form; and Oliver Grau’s impressive definition and history of electronic artworks exploring mixed realities. These papers articulated forms and structures I have experienced in my own electronic art practice, and provide a useful resource in the decoding and understanding interaction and electronic space. The range of topics presented, and the interdisciplinary nature of much of the research is exciting for a field which is still relatively new. However, the diversity of the presentations and advanced level of knowledge / history that has emerged around many aspects of electronic art has made it harder to talk about the field in general. This very point was discussed at the ISEA general meeting, and is a real problem that future ISEA events will need to address.

Two warehouses on the edge of Nagoya Port (recently converted to exhibition spaces) were the home of the ISEA2002 art exhibition. White panels and temporary rooms intersected the grid-space of the warehouse, which was densely filled withscreens, interfaces and electronics. Visually, the space was transformed, as you were able to view many of the diverse selection of works alongside each other in the open spaces. However, the open space created a cacophony of sound – the new media art equivalent of a pachinko parlour. The installation of the work into the exhibition space was well supported by the volunteers, professionals, and ISEA2002 art show team.

I installed two works from my Artefact series in Warehouse No. 4. Semiomorph was installed into a small room with data projector and stereo sound. This work explores the concept of semiotic morphism applied to an electronic game space. It was accompanied by Mixed Reality, a collection of forms from Semiomorph which are modeled to scale in the real world, and wired up to sensors, light and sound. They are played like a game by up to four people at once. The works generated interest from the Japanese and international audience, and as the exhibitions were generally well attended, they received much input and play. Having only shown these works locally before, it was a great opportunity to view this new body of work in an international context. I spoke with a number of people about these works. This was quite enlightening, serving as both a source of new understanding of my own work and inspiration to create new work.

Overall the ISEA2002 art exhibition was a survey of recent works, covering a staggering diversity of themes, concepts, media, and technology. Works were not arranged in terms of theme or media, so it was somewhat of a random access type experience as you wandered around the two warehouses. I enjoyed the intensity of Aguas Vivas, Peter Bosch and Simone Simon’s realtime video of a highly reflective waste oil being shaken by a massive machine; Shawn Decker’s The Night Sounds, a generative system controlling small motors striking four piano wires, creating a complex soundscape; Kaoru Motomiya’s California lemon sings a song, an installation of lemons wired up to power toy sound chips singing songs; and Akira Kasuga’s topophonia 2002, an active space in which the viewer moves through a sound space triggering strobe lights and glitch video.

During the conference, I participated in the Media Select panel titled Possibilities for the future of the media arts, chaired by Professor Masao Komura. The focus was how ‘The shape of our world, and our perception of it, are indelibly affected by changes in the media, given that it is such an integral part of our lives’. Professor Komura provided an historical context leading into brave new world type speculation on the future of media art. Kaoru Motomiya spoke about her practice andits relationship to the body; Keisuke Oki spoke about his investigation on the limits of human perception and consciousness, and its augmentation by technology; and Nancy Nisbet spoke about her work in the exhibition exploring identity (she has a small microchip surgically place in each hand that when scanned provides a unique ID number). The panel was presented in English and Japanese, with simultaneous translation.

Overall, ISEA2002 was a very positive experience, albeit hard work, especially setting up work in the art show. ISEA itself now faces the challenge of addressing the increasingly specialised and diverse area of electronic art. The next event,ISEA2004 is being distributed across three locations Helsinki in Finland, Stockholm in Sweden, and Tallin in Estonia. We will wait and see what emerges.

Read about Troy Innocent’s Field of Play work here –

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