Returning to ISEA after a gap of 7 years at the invitation of Quebec Government was a trip down memory lane, evoking memories of passionate conversations around media art and public interaction in Nygoya in Japan in 2002. MY ISEA experience connected me to many familiar debates reconstituted for today and colleagues from the past and took me back to my shinkansen days and its exploration into British and German sound art, multi disciplinary art research and projects about live presence, touch and the body in performative technological environments.

Performing live at the Konzerhaus Dortmund was Asmus Tietchens and Thomas Koner who were two members of The Sound Works Exchange project which shinkansen created through a co-production between the British Council and the Goethe Institute across 1994 – 1997. Asmus was involved in the first performance exchange in 1994 presenting ‘Source of Uncertainty’ and part of a group including Klangrieg, Ben Ponton/ Zoviet*france, Philip Jeck, Andrew Mckenzie and Para-Noise-Terminal. Thomas Koner attended the 1995 edition along with Lance Dann, Vicky Bennett, Kaffe Matthews, Andy Cowton, Kingsuk Biswas, David Moufang and Pete Namlook.  At ISEA 2010 Ruhr, sound art was a core part of the programme and collaborations which projects like the Sound Works Exchange helped along were evident in the ISEA2010 programme.

ISEA2010 Ruhr was an ambitious and wide ranging programme of performances, exhibitions, keynotes, workshops, panel discussions, concerts and club nights spread over three locations of Essen, Dortmun and Duisburg-Ruhrort in the state of North Rhine- Westphalia. Professionally managed and utilising a wide range of exciting and diverse buildings and spaces, it was a marathon of exchange, viewing and networking which engaged me from early to late across the four full days that I was there. It was an amazing opportunity and I had a fantastic time, not least because I  spent time talking through potential 2012 opportunities with many of the Quebec artists who were there.

The works and experiences that stood out for me were Mette Ingvartsen’s Evaporated Landscapes which immersed the live audience in a soundscape whilst sitting in a landscape of cloud and soap bubbles; Norah Zuniga Shaw’s Synchronous Objects, reproduced bringing me into an encounter with the deep structures of dance and choreographic thinking, Christopher Slater’s Just Noticeable Difference installation which provided a sensory environment for one person which allowed me to experience my body perceiving the experience of sound stimuli and Joel Cahen’s Wet Sounds installation in a swimming pool at PACT, Essen where I was able to experience the thrill of swimming with sound.

Debbi Lander

Janette Porter

Submerging the self into a piece of work literally, a colleague (Janette Porter from High Tide) and I performed with the piece as we entered into the work fully clothed. This resulted in us carrying the water element of the work on us for two hours afterwards as the work dryed out on our 50’s retro dresses.

There was an illuminating keynote by German heavy weight and early new media art pioneer, Peter Weibel who engaged an audience of over 500 in a deep discussion about sense perception and human biology and fantastically curated E-culture lab which has many of Europe’s research labs there showcasing their work and prototypes. I was also engaged and moved by quite a few of the object based works and video pieces presented and these included Mark Shepard’s Sentient city Surival Kit (Bra and underpants embedded with sensing information systems technology for canters around the city)

and Milica Tomic’s video action (One day, instead of one night, a burs of Machine Gun fire will flash if light Cannot come otherwise) which involved the artist walking casually and normally around the streets of Belgrade with a rifle in one hand and a shopping bag in the other without it being threatening or exerting power or fear. Stunning.

Part of the joy and magic of ISEA2010 Ruhr was its locations and the stunning industrial buildings of PACT in particular which were still raw and non beautified. What was extremely impressive was the diverse range of practice, partners, locations and spaces involved. ISEA2010 Ruhr was large scale and did the Ruhr European Capital of Culture year proud. Liverpool 08 did not presented any where near this scale of new media art programme.

I did however leave the festival with some concern as to the lack of interest or concern for public engagement, access and market development. Many of the works could have been sited just as (if not more) effectively in public and social spaces but the opportunity to develop new and wider audiences and profile for new media art was not exploited. The exhibitions were in mostly in gallery spaces or spaces designated for ‘art’. New media has come of age in public and mainstream terms but this was not evidenced or taken further forward at this festival. This event does not have a strong public agenda but a focus on professionals and their learning and exchange. Indeed its a very important and valuable meeting point and development context for artists and practitioners in the new media field. It is where a lot of our business gets done. For me it was however positioned and couched too comfortably within the domain of academia. I question the benefit of using the language and frames of reference of academia only. It presents new media practice as theory and encourages the development of theory as the practice itself. Here new media art was hijacked by the ivory towers of academia, debates circling the practice in on itself to the point of confusion and meaninglessness, obscuring any real understanding of its role, value and impact on the public and society.

At ISEA2010 new media was divorced from art, from youth culture, from the streets and from people.

Concrete Playground

~ by Debbi Lander on August 25, 2010.

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