ISEA2020: 26th International Symposium on Electronic Art

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26th International Symposium on Electronic Art


Montreal, Quebec Canada


13 Oct - 18 Oct, 2020

Organised by:

Printemps numérique


ISEA2020 will address pressing contemporary issues and present practice-based approaches to explore the theme “Why Sentience?”

We invite you to the first 100% online electronic art symposium: a pioneering and unique experience to share with fellow artists, scientists, scholars and researchers from around the world.

ISEA2020 will be fully dedicated to examining the resurgence of sentience—feeling-sensing-making sense—in recent art and design, media studies, science and technology studies, philosophy, anthropology, history of science and the natural scientific realm—notably biology, neuroscience and computing. We ask: why sentience? Why and how does sentience matter? Why have artists and scholars become interested in sensing and feeling beyond, with and around our strictly human bodies and selves? Why has this notion been brought to the fore in an array of disciplines in the 21st century?



Since last August when we established the ISEA2020 theme of “Why Sentience?”, life on Earth has been dramatically transformed. Our belief in concepts like proximity, justice, equality, indeed, the very concept of the future itself, has been radically uprooted. As cultural organizations worldwide scramble to adapt, the ISEA2020 team has decided to reimagine the event for the anytime/anyplace zone of digital space and to transform it into an online experience. But we have also realized that there is no need to adjust the theme to make it more “responsive” to our current conditions. Despite their almost cataclysmic impact on the political-economic-social-cultural-ecological fabric of the world, the triumvirate forces of the coronavirus pandemic, its disastrous economic consequences, as well as systemic racial injustice have now acutely amplified ISEA2020s question: “Why Sentience?” These conditions sharpen the need to stop, pause and re-examine what it means to be sentient, “the ability to feel or perceive.” They help us reformulate our notions of what the world is with us and beyond us. They give us a front seat perspective on the corporeal and ecological entanglements between power and knowledge, animals and humans, machines and environment, oppression and liberation. They pointedly demonstrate that difference—social-economic-cultural—resonates through the sentient world. The virus—a 120-160 nm in diameter entity that is invisible to our human senses and considered neither living nor dead but ontologically somewhere in between—is thus perversely a great teacher and provides us lessons on how the modern splitting up of the sentient and inanimate worlds increasingly makes no sense.

ISEA’s mission aims to foster interdisciplinary academic discourse and exchange among culturally diverse organizations and individuals working with art, science and technology. As we write, ISEA2020 should have already passed into history. The new digital space of ISEA2020 will link the local community in Montreal with the international one beyond so that we can collectively rethink the form of such an event. The new platform will also allow us to examine close up these new and, at the same time, ongoing historical set of conditions; conditions that demand a response if we are to live in the coming (post)-pandemic world.


Christine Ross – McGill University (Montreal, Canada)
Christopher Salter – Concordia University/Hexagram (Montreal, Canada)



Animality treats of the non-human and beyond human senses, of expanded notions of aliveness, panpsychism and hylozoism in species other than the humans of ISEA2020. A few non-humans are accepted at ISEA2020, just not as presenters.

The Ecosophic World

The theme Ecosophic World proposes explorations of sentience understood within the entanglements of scientific, environmental, and multispecies ecologies, and their current crises. Case-studies of symbiotic and expanded ecosystems, both natural and human-made will be explored in 10 different sessions at ISEA2020.

Machinic Sense and Sensibility

Machinic Sense and Sensibility saw a great deal of proposals about the autonomy and agency, and even intentionality of robotic and digital creations. Presentations in this theme take on both the sentience of machines and sentience through machines.

Sentient Difference

Sentient Difference shines a light on ways of navigating the social, natural and materials worlds that go beyond or against normativity in regards to race, gender, queer and trans, and (dis)ability.

Matter’s Mattering

Matter’s Mattering brings forward the tangible, materials things of sentience: the bodies, circuits, infrastructures, matter, how they come to be and the place they take in modalities of engagement and sentience.

The Politics of Sentience

The Politics of Sentience was tackled by some of the most critical scholars who will present their takes on the post-truth, post-sense, sensorization, surveillance, racism, weaponization, control, inequality, re-bordering, capitalism, neo-liberalism, other isms and the institutions of knowledge creation and management of today.

The Planetary

The Planetary: few but worthwhile proposals rethink the global to reaffirm, through creation, the aesthetics of sharing in the global currents and streams of the natural elements, shared resources, beneath and above this planet’s surface.

International Programme Committee:

Subsidisers, Sponsors, and Funders:

Montréal Centre-Ville
Maison de la Culture de Côte-des-Neiges
Ville-Maria Montréal
Maison de la Culture Claude-Léveillée
Villeray Saint-Michel Parc-Extension Montrál
Sporobole Centre en Art Actiel
Goethe Institut
New Media Gallery

Public Partners

Tourisme / Montréal
Conseil Des Arts De Montréal
Conseil des Arts du Canada / Canada Council for the Arts
Consulat Général De France À Québec

Programming Partners

Milieux Institute for Arts, Culture, Technology
Creativity Pavilion Presented by Synthése

Media Partners

Ciel Variable

In Collaboration With:

Office Franco-Québécois pour la Jeunesse