ISEA2008 :: Margaret Seymour

25 July – 3 August, Singapore First held in the Netherlands in 1988, the International Symposium on Electronic Art brings together artists, theorists and curators active in the field of interactive and digital media. This year’s incarnation, ISEA2008, comprised 3 interrelated parts: A peer reviewed conference; an internationally juried exhibition and various in-conjunction and partner events.

ISEA2008’s conference program consisted of peer-reviewed individual papers, panel presentations, artist presentations and four keynote speakers. Sessions were organized around five key themes – Locating Media, Wiki Wiki, Ludic Interfaces, Reality Jam and Border Transmissions. Initially interested in the Reality Jam sessions with their focus on mixed and augmented reality, I instead found myself increasingly drawn to the Locating Media theme. The idea of location-neutrality, the ‘connected-to-the-internet-I-could-be-anywhere’ hype, was jettisoned in favour of a deeper discussion about how cultural, economic, political and technological environments are unevenly distributed and understood in different ways around the globe. My own paper, presented under the Border Transmissions theme, discussed my recent video work and commented on increasing levels of surveillance in our so-called ‘borderless world’.

This year at ISEA an Artists In Residence (AIR) program enabled 16 artists to work for three months in the new media and technology labs at the National University of Singapore. Artworks made during the residency were exhibited in the ISEA2008 Juried Exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore. Opening night was abuzz with artists and delegates catching up with old acquaintances and making new ones. Later there was a chance to head downstairs to view and interact with the works.

Two Australian artists were included in the exhibition – Jodi Rose and Nigel Helyer. Helyer’s Run Silent; Run Deep is an immersive surround-sound installation created during his residency at the Marine Mammal Research Laboratory of the Tropical Marine Science Institute, National University of Singapore. Installed at the very top of the gallery, visitors navigate a projected interface to create a 3-dimensional soundscape – a virtual marine journey incorporating underwater recordings sourced from Singapore harbour.

Jodi Rose’s residency at the Ambient Intelligence Lab and the Communications Laboratory at NUS facilitated the next stage of her Singing Bridges project – where bridges all over the world are conceived as instruments in a Global Bridge Symphony. Distributed through the exhibition, museum style display units provided listening stations for Rose’s ongoing project which aims to use global transmissions to link together the music of bridges internationally.

Four partner exhibitions were held in conjunction with ISEA2008.
Cloudland – a showcase of digital art from Aotearoa, New Zealand at The Substation.
Experimenta Play ++
– five Australian media artworks curated by Experimenta around the theme of ‘Ludic Interfaces’ at the Sculpture Square gallery.
Lucid Fields –
artworks by Swiss Artists-in-Labs at LASALLE College of the Arts.
– video works by two Malaysian artists, Niranjan Rajah and Hasnul Jamal Saidon shown at Singapore Management University.

Performances presented during ISEA2008 included SPEKTR! an audiovisual ‘mapping’ of the electromagnetic spectrum by artists DelRay (Matthew Biederman), Brian Springer, Nullo (Aljosa Abrahamsberg) and MX (Marko Peljhan).

On the closing night, sound artists Venzha (Indonesia) + HONF, Choy Ka Fai (Singapore) and Zulkifle Mahmod (Singapore) performed to a crowd gathered in the basement of the SMU.

ISEA2008 also included a number of invited workshops including a Bio-Fi: DIY Data Hijacking workshop run by Douglas Easterly and Matthew Kenyon. Using the internet and PHP scripting we learnt how to ‘scrape’ or ‘mine’ data from a web site and use it as input for a physical computing project – in this instance a scent emitting device. Doug and Matt humorously described this project as ‘data stinking’ – converting mined data into an olfactory experience. Turning abstract data into a tangible sensation is a strategy they have used in a number of recent projects.

One of the stated aims of ISEA2008 was to investigate the problems and possibilities that face us as artists and as a society today. With so much to lose and so much to gain, the range of creative approaches and the depth of each artist’s critical perspective was inspiring. New connections based on shared interests were forged and new avenues for future research established. With careful planning and attention to detail, the organisers of ISEA2008 provided a valuable forum and meeting place for a diverse and critically engaged group of artists and theorists working at the forefront of the field of electronic art.

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