2009 ISEA (International Symposium on Electronic Arts) talks

It’ll be impossible to describe everything at ISEA in this or even several postings and I’m eager to get back to nanotechnology.  So, I’m going to summarize ISEA keynote speeches  briefly today and then fit in various observations about the sessions over the next week or so, as there’s room.

I didn’t manage to get to the opening keynote speakers as the travel agent I used decided that attending the first few days was not a priority for me. (Yes, I’m still steaming about that and more but enough about the travel agent.)

The first keynote speaker (for me) was Clive van Heerden of Philips Design (part of Royal Philips Electronics), the creative director for their Probes program. He seems to be some sort of futurologist who rather than simply speculating actually designs new objects that might be sold as products one day. I have oversimplified this vastly as the Probes Program seems to be an adventure into social science as much as it is designing future-oriented products. You can check out their Food Probe here which features a “diagnostic” kitchen.

“Ubermorgen.com is an artist duo from Austria” (that’s straight from the program notes) who gave an enthralling, provocative, and disturbing presentation about their work. According to Wikipedia (retrieved Sept.9.09),

Ubermorgen focuses on exploring contemporary legal issues, especially those of security, privacy and copyright. Übermorgen is the German word for “the day after tomorrow” or “super-tomorrow”.

You can go to their site here. You should know that their latest work is about extraordinary or irregular rendition and so there are images of people (some of them children) being shackled. These are not pictures of actual prisoners but people who have agreed to participate in their art project.

One of the best questions asked at the ubermorgen.com session was about the art duo’s research. What type of research and fact checking did the pair do? The process seems to be informal and they rely on the number of stories and mass of information which supports the claims rather than checking out individual stories. In short, they talk to a lot of people and they read a lot and then they distill the information which they use for their pieces.

The Sala-Manca Artist Group based in Israel presented something that struck a chord with me. They examined the use of pastoral images (starting from the 1920s) to attract immigrants and visitors to Israel. So much of the tourist work done for Vancouver (where I live) relies on the pastoral images that I’ve taken it for granted. Being presented with something that seemed familiar but referenced in ways that are unusual (to me) made me view landscape painting from a different, more politicized perspective. (Pun was unavoidable.)

Moritz Waldemeyer was one of my favourites largely due to the fact that he’s an engineer and he discussed the issues involved with creating fabulous, out of this world design pieces that are partly machinery. He’s worked with Bono, Hussein Chalayan, and Swarovski Crystals amongst many other clients. (Oh, and he worked with Clive van Heerden at Philips Design earlier in his career.) The images are stunning but what really makes it for me is hearing about the technical issues and the work required to pull off these feats. For example, Chalayan designed dresses that transformed as the models walked down the runway while Waldemeyer was tasked with making it happen.

“Mika ‘Lumi’ Tuomola is concept designer, writer, dramaturge and director – and occasional performer – for procedural, participatory New Media.” (Again, this is straight from the programme notes.) He had a big hit on Finnish tv with a musical romance between a hot young (30ish) rock star (male) and older (looking late 50ish) cabaret singer (female). Viewers were invited to text the show and affect the progress and outcome of the relationship. Multiple options were shot for each episode and they received millions of texts as the relationship progressed from one episode to the next. What they hadn’t anticipated was that people would start writing their own scenarios for what they’d like to see happen next. I was much struck by the fact that the project was entertaining and attractive in a way that a lot of new media projects aren’t. His next project is an opera about Alan Turing (considered the father modern computer science). It provided an interesting contrast with the other piece which had a more light-hearted air although that was due to viewers’ choices. Tuomola had created a darker ending for the romance where the older woman starts on a course of plastic surgery but the viewers wanted a happy ending.

The final keynote was Sadie Plant. From the Wikipedia entry (retrieved Sept.09.09),

Sadie Plant (born 1964 in Birmingham, England) is a British author and philosopher.

She gained her Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Manchester in 1989, then taught at the University of Birmingham‘s Department of Cultural Studies (formerly the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies) before going on to found the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit at the University of Warwick, where she was a faculty member. Her original research was on the Situationist International and contributed to the Situationist-inspired magazine Here and Now (published between 1985 and 1994), before turning her attention to the social potential of cyber-technology.

Sadie Plant left academia in the early 1990s to pursue a writing career.

I was very excited to hear a writer speak at this conference and, sadly, was disappointed. She told a great story (she’s a good speaker) but it’s one I’ve heard many times before, i.e. mobile phones are opening new opportunities particularly in the developing world.

Tomorrow: Preston Manning.

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