A Multi-Cultural ISEA


Session Title:

  • A Multi-Cultural ISEA

Presentation Title:

  • A Multi-Cultural ISEA



  • The issues surrounding equal access are pervasive in our culture (or collective world cultures). Although we often talk about diversity, and the desire to keep our culture open, growing, and free from singular standards of acceptability, the old issues of dominant culture keep emerging. Just how do we go about confronting this problem? In their infancy, the electronic arts appeared to be free from the biases that afflicted the established arts. ISEA especially kept exhibitions and performances opportunities open, and the organization, as a collective body of adventuresome individuals, stayed sincerely interested in the work of artists who for whatever reasons were relatively unknown. But a maturing ISEA cannot be so naive as to pretend to be untouched by the plagues of our time. The issues raised publicly at the plenary session of ISEA96, and privately in countless small discussions both inside and outside of ISEA, clearly and painfully point out that equal access for artists in the electronic arts is simply not there. Why is there not equal access, even if we all agree that this is desirable? (Since the very premise of electronic art is based on bringing diversity of the art establishment, we should take the step of assuming that few among us would limit what that diversity might be; those who disagree need to be confronted even greater issues). No matter how great our commitment of diversity, however, the obstacles that we face are many. And they all the more difficult to address because they are difficult to define, each dependent on the context of the others. To facilitate the discussion, we begin with the following break-down:


    1. Sensibility and Subject Matter Basis: “Blind Juries”: plowing through mounds of submissions, bring biases to the process. Naturally people respond more strongly to work which speaks to their own experience and aesthetic concerns. And if juries do not do this, then they are left judging technical expertise alone, which brings us to the next point.
    2. Access to Technology: Even as the price of computers drops, those individuals who are invited to use high end equipment, or who have positions which provide them with access, tend to be both artists who have passed some “aesthetic”tests and artists who, leading to the next point, are “plugged into the established art networks. Although no one wants to judge work by new technology alone, the “wow” factor often works.
    3. Plugged-In to the Art World: A community does not have to be truly closed for individuals outside of the community to experience it that way. Artists with varying perspectives may be embraced by ISEA, they are hesitant to even submit because they do not see ISEA as a likely venue for exhibiting their work and for the exchange of their ideas, then the problem remains. Beyond ISEA, what does it take for artists to feel that other institutions and organizations (such as those which give grants for artists) are open to them? This easily returns us to the first question.


    ISEA97 needs to discuss the issues raised in Helsinki. Although English is the official language of this symposium, it would be useful to consider an exception for this panel and to extend the discussion to French and Spanish, or in perhaps whatever language the speakers prefer.