May 23 2016

ISEA2016 Hong Kong: R>evolution

by Denise Tsui

Exterior view of City University’s Run Run Shaw Media Creative Media Centre in Hong Kong, which hosted the 3-day conference for ISEA2016. All photos by Denise Tsui for ArtAsiaPacific

Last week, Hong Kong was the proud host city of the 22nd International Symposium for Electronic Art (ISEA2016). Co-organized by ISEA International with City University of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and nonprofit organizations Videotage and Microwave, ISEA2016 was a mammoth event that included a professional development workshop, conference, juried exhibition, residency program, several satellite exhibitions and various parallel events, taking place across the city over a period of seven days.

Founded in 1990 in the Netherlands, and now with headquarters in the United Kingdom, ISEA International is a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering interdisciplinary exchange and scholarly dialogue among individuals and groups working with interactivity, art, science and electronic and new media. A nomadic annual (and at times biannual) symposium, each iteration occurs in a different city and region within the world.

For this year’s edition in Hong Kong, artists, writers and researchers from all corners of the globe were invited by ISEA to respond to 10 sub-themes under an overarching theme of “Cultural R>evolution” that, as the symposium’s statement explains, consider how “electronic media exemplifies the dual meaning of revolution: to always create new while returning to the old” and, in order “to keep up with the parallel evolutions in art, creativity, culture, society and politics,” practices in art and science must examine the paradigms within which they function.

Newcastle University professors and artists TIM SHAW (left) and JOHN BOWERS (right) presenting their project Re-render–Public Making With The ISEA Archive, created for ISEA2016 Hong Kong at the ISEA2016 conference on Thursday, May 19.

Curious to check it out, I dropped in on the second day of the conference. After getting lost in the maze of City University’s buildings under Hong Kong’s pre-summer heat, I finally arrived at Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre (CMC). One of the gems of ISEA was the way it operated parallel sessions (stemming from the various sub-themes that covered everything from computer gaming to robotics to techno-sex) such that one could choose among them based on their own personal or professional interest. With a myriad of options, I decided to go with the topic of archiving and cultural preservation of new media, attending two sessions in the morning and two in the afternoon.

Highlights of the morning included a presentation by sound artist Tim Shaw along with artist and professor John Bowers, both from Newcastle University in England, who unveiled their project—an on-site response to the ISEA archive—executed in Hong Kong during the prior three days. Re-rendering the material of the online ISEA archive, Shaw and Bowers generated digital square tiles, exhibiting the archive material using various analytical methods. Giving humorous and animated commentary, Bowers explained each of the 15 tiles projected: one tile presented the words from previous ISEA proceedings a single word at a time; another blended the words and images; another mapped the locations of ISEA editions around the world; while yet another peculiar-looking tile broke down the archives one pixel at a time.

In the afternoon I sat in on a session involving peer-reviewed papers on specific artist projects. Of these, Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau, media artists and professors at the University of Art and Design in Linz, shared their hypothesis on the link to destruction and decay that is present in artistic creation. Reiterating the ephemerality of new-media art, Sommerer and Mignonneau spoke about several recent related projects, including two that took place in Hong Kong for ISEA2016, using the fly as a motif for life and decay. Taking the forms of an interactive work, a series of plotter drawings and an ongoing video archive, the artists use the insect to draw attention to issues of impermanence. In the interactive video work, as someone walks in front of the screen, a swarm of flies gather and produce a “portrait” of the person, which subsequently disappears as the person moves and the flies disperse. Equally interesting was Rodolfo Segrera, from Shanghai’s nonprofit new-media institute Chronus Art Center, who presented his paper, “Accumulated Memory Landscapes,” in the last session of the day, which was titled “Body as Archive.” An inquiry on how technology can mediate and enhance human memory by expanding possibilities of interaction and experience, Segrera’s project involved a gadget he devised, a smart phone and headpiece tracking brain stimulation, which was worn by a test subject. As the attention span of the person fluctuated, images were taken by the smart phone and sent to a remote server. The result, after several more processes on the backend, was a height-map that became a 3D landscape—a sort of mapping of the mind.

Exhausted by the dense but stimulating talks, I ended the day with a visit to Gallery360, CMC’s immersive, 360-degree stereoscopic visualization space. On view was Atmoscape (2016), produced by Dennis Del Favero with Jeffrey Shaw, Elwira Titan, Stephen Sewell and Peter Weibel. Wearing 3D glasses inside the darkened space to look at glowing particles on the wrap-around screen, I felt instantly transported to another realm. Based on George Buchner’s 1835 novella Lenz, the project interactively follows the book’s protagonist through interconnected dream worlds generated by the particle visualization system. Imagine glowing white dots moving around the viewer, making spherical and human-body shapes that diffuse, dart and connect again while a soft voice dictates the novella; it is impressive and fun at the same time.

New media artists and professors CHRISTA SOMMERER (left) and LAURENT MIGNONNEAU (right) speaking about their hypothesis linking destruction and decay to art at the ISEA2016 conference on Thursday, May 19.

The 22nd International Symposium for Electronic Art was held in Hong Kong from May 16–22, 2016.

Denise Tsui is assistant editor at ArtAsiaPacific.