ISEA2004 Foregrounds Experience and Collaboration

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Symposium:


Presentation Title:

  • ISEA2004 Foregrounds Experience and Collaboration

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Abstract:

  • From the outset of ISEA2004, Tapio Makela’s focus was to emphasize the notion of experience through lived realities, using the word ‘experience’ in the names of the main themes: Wireless, Wearable and Networked Experience. Our hope was that artists, researchers and practitioners in the fields of electronic culture and new media would respond to the call and share their experiences by taking both personal and critical standpoints beyond the usual but critically empty and ‘techno-utopian’ statements that lack reference to real world. I am myself speaking from the position of a practicing artist.

    Wearable Experience

    Within the context of the Wearable Experience theme we proposed to investigate how artists and theorists react to the development of ever smaller computing devices and smart materials, accommodated in or assimilated to fashion and textiles, and how the resulting wearable environment changes our social behaviour and impacts upon different societies. Wearable computers are associated with the promise of being an integral part of our everyday life, offering the user context sensitive functionality. A simple Internet search for ‘wearable technology’ reveals two primary research areas: military and medicine, assisted by a growing interest from fashion and textile designers. The military and medical research into wearable technology primarily addresses surveillance and monitoring. One rationale encountered for this rests in the empty slogan ‘for a better, safer, healthier world’, which remarkably similar to the communist slogan ‘all for the happiness of humankind’. In both there is rarely mention of the pleasures associate: with wearable technology, which promises a new urban techno manifested in wearer’s clothing, which is both cool, functional and reminiscent of scenes from ‘cyborgian’ sci-fi films integrating the ‘Borg’ look into the everyday. Currently, this is typically manifested on the street in the form of bluetooth hands-free sets for mobile phones. Erkki Huhtamo 1), his essay published in this catalogue, analyses a historic aspect of wearable devices as ‘status objects’. He looks at predecessors of wearable technology, such as the wristwatch, which when first invented was seer merely as a feminine accessory wit-tittle status and relevance within the masculine world. Only through the intervention of masculine technologies – such as aeroplanes – did it ‘find’ its real use and become an essentia. everyday item. Despite the increase: sophistication of today’s technological realm, similar scenarios can be identified. Outside of military and medical research, the development of wearable computing represents a pursuit to make it smaller, softer, more flexible and more integrated into fabrics and clothing. Solving the problems of perfecting the transmission of electrical power consumes attentich from issues such as how this new technology affects empowerment; politics of access; changes the ways we look at our bodies and integrates with the everyday both as experience and as function. The implications of the suveillance and monitoring provided by wearable technologies are rarely critically analyzed.

    Many artworks at ISEA2004 selected by the wearable Experience IPC deal with personal space and experiences, utilising and providing solutions to conditions driven by human emotions. References are made to situations of conflict, angst, and loneliness. Personal communication and well being or even sexual arousal are explored adopting the notion that wearable experience is something intimate. Others based on surveillance and monitoring technologies use data collected from environment, like noise pollution, light condition, or simply transmitting what the wearer sees is wearable fashion accessories such as bags, hats and scarves. Such assecoires use data firstly to create awareness for the wearer of specific conditions and secondly to communicate back to the environment its own condition, thus initiating critical communication. There are also works which provide contextual links to the ‘Geopolitics of Media’ theme, either by using the Internet to monitor the global state of violence inviting others to undermine the power of international corporations by designing and wearing their own labels.

    Geopolitics of Media

    Whithin the Geopolitics of Media theme we again engage the local context as it is both valuable in and of itself, and has validity for wider references. Despite Estonia joining the EU in May 2004 the local, complicated demographic and political context has not changed. As a very small nation, Estonia does not play a significant role in world politics. Consequently, it is commonly believed that if unnoticed, the nation effectively ceases to exist. Estonians therefore, in world politics, try to make alliances with world powers like the US, NATO and EU to balance the varied threats to their national sovereignty. At the same time there is evidence that Estonians are oblivious to the threats of global terrorism: the national airline still uses metal cutlery, which was barred by other airlines shortly after the atrocities of 911, This demonstrates what can be described as a psychological isolation from rest of the world.

    In 1998, Eric Kluitenberg 2) brought to our attention the marginality of the Baltic states in his writing about the Baltic ‘Cyber-Corridor’. He analyzed, from a cultural perspective, networking technologies and the potential they held for mastering the social and cultural transitions Baltic countries were facing at that time. In 2004 it is possible to see if and how the ‘Cyber-Corridor’ has, and continues to contribute to, the social and cultural development of the Baltic States. Although Kluitenberg has optimistically described the critical discussions around ICT which had begun in those countries, the local communities – having had plenty of time to develop critical discourse within their own cultures – at first did not propose to voice their views at ISEA2004. It seemed that the notion of cultural and political isolation has not changed despite the implementation of ICT, or perhaps it is symptomatic of the ignorance within our local cultures, possibly still echoing the Soviet era. Worse, they may display victorious capitulation to the ideology of the ‘West’ we are now officially part of. Somehow, I doubt that the initial lack of local interest on new media culture and research could be explained through the success of ICT’s implementation and the fulfillment of the ‘promise’ that it will one day abolish the geopolitical differences and thereby obviate the need to talk about how diverse media geographies and their relation to real life locations are indeed affected by ICT. However, within the course of doing ISEA2004 and through personal one to one communication many local initiatives, interests and real excitement have become evident. In fact the only group of people I have found ignorant to the issues of ISEA2004 has been the more established local traditional art-world.

    In our hope to see work that addresses issues around globalization and translation of culture, efforts were made to ensure representation of vibrant media cultures beyond the foregrounded regions of North-America, South-East Asia and Northern Europe such that other vibrant media cultures can contribute to the discussions. However, we had to deal with the sensitive issue that artists and theoreticians from the ‘less privileged’ media regions can become marginalized when their work and ideas are discussed within the context of geopolitics of media. The questions associated with how to use the tools and networks given to us by ICT in the cultural context, beyond simply supporting further cultural colonization, are as relevant as they were in the first years of the Internet. Many works use collaborative practices, often applying distributed creative methods and the connecting of real people in the real world. For several artists, researching their own cultural identity through reference to other cultures and metaphors and practices of mapping and cartography seem to be often intertwined. Others express the concerns regarding issues of migration, immigration, asylum and the ever rising military presence in our everyday Life following the events of 9/11.

    Critical Interdisciplines: Research/Science, Art and Collaboration

    Representations from different collaborative practices and dialogues between disciplines lay behind many ISEA2004 submissions, which influenced the formation of the new theme entitled Critical Interdisciplines: research/science, art and collaboration. While it is obvious that new media research and cultural practices are interdisciplinary and that explains partly why the questions about how researchers, artists and other practitioners collaborate or collide to create new knowledge comes up often, this theme aims to shed light on the different methodologies, histories and theoretical foundations of interdisciplinary work. In doing so, it will reflect the politics and aesthetics of collaboration and the production of knowledge at the crossroads of new media arts, sciences, and various strands of research. Just like the Histories of the Newacts as a time based lens through which to analyze each area of practice and research in the field that ISEA2004 occupies, Critical Interdisciplines provides a more microscopic view into the seams of the disciplines that meet within ISEA — for the 12th time.