Review of the 23rd International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA2017)

23rd International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA2017) and 16th International Image Festival

11 – 18 June 2017
Manizales, Colombia
Event website: http://www.isea2017.disenovisual.com

Reviewed by
Tariq Emam
August 2017

The 23rd iteration of the International Symposium for Electronic Art (ISEA) took place in Manizales, Colombia, a city so high that it’s literally in the way of the clouds. Motivated by the theme of ‘bio-creation and peace’, ISEA was hosted by the 16th International Image Festival (IFF), organised by the Universidad de Caldas, creating a programme of synergetic, mixed-media art, and transdisciplinary practice centred on the ways in which technology and ‘nature’ combine across diverse platforms.

The proceedings opened with a day at Recinto del Pensamiento, a quiet, retreat-like conference centre on the outskirts. Here was a welcomed juxtaposition: a festival on technology in a green and open environment. As greetings warmed the atmosphere, workshops opened the network of themes and social organisation.

Sophia Brueckner’s workshop on science-fiction writing, HAPLAB…, was aptly timed in establishing the promises and threats within cultures of art and science. The terrors and awareness imbued in sci-fi narratives helped frame the week ahead, allowing discerning audiences to critique technology optimistically and not be roped in by tokenistic rhetoric. Frequent power cuts were troublesome, albeit fitting.

By the evening, Leonardo celebrated its 50th anniversary, building bridges between diversities of ages and cultures. As the night closed, an exchange of white lightning between live concert visuals of Frank Vigroux’s music and the dark, thunderless clouds created awe-inspiring harmony; the universe welcomed ISEA/IIF presence.

Each night concerts took place in Teatro los Fundadores, the main theatre downtown. Most were impressive in-themselves, but it was the setting that raised eyebrows. A sit-down audience listening to loud, hard-core, experimental electronic performances certainly evoked surreality and heightened the academic gaze in which conferences exist. As festival formalities took place throughout the week, this was perpetuated by lots of men in suits hugging on stage. Ad-hoc after parties were a welcomed remedy to this awkwardness.

Data. Nature. Anagenesis by Hyungjoong Kim showcased the cosmic relationships by building an A/V representation of Darwin’s chain of being- starting a basic code (geometry) to flashing images of modern chaos from colonialism to sex and drugs. It was immense and ending abruptly; it seemed only a teaser for more.

An audience-pleaser and one of the only works to utilise analogue ways of making was Ruido, live cinema with live soundtrack by Colectivo CICLUX from Medellin. All young and local, they left the audience in awe and bewilderment as they displayed a live-scored, live experimental animation using digital and slide projections, handheld spotlights, and shadow work. It was impressive as it was creative despite no clear narrative being established.

The main exhibition took place in the impressive building Centro Cultural Universitario Rogelio Salmona. Displaying works from around the world the most impressive were three pop-up spaces in the basement featuring meticulous and immersive light-based installations by three French artists. Guillame Marmin and Philipe Gordoni’s stuck out, quite literally, with a sculptural display of hundreds of tiny light beams filling the space. It was trippy, to say the least, and could have existed independently of the text by its entrance (based on ancient Greek philosophy and music theory).

A special mention goes to the Education Forum, which embodied something fundamental to the ISEA experience and epitomised the festival themes and goals. Hosted by artist and educator Nina Czegledy, it gave a platform to vicariousness and possibility and featured indigenous speakers from New Zealand, Mexico, Colombia, and Canada. They presented views from which a new elevated and relevant modernism will grow. Simply put it left behind a cosmic affection; realising Western modes of representation are becoming quickly anachronistic.

And a brief mention for the efforts of Transpicksel, another international festival, whose protests and parallel events proved that creative energies, occupying different dimensions of practice and politics, can form a healthy co-existence in the interests of creativity and fun. That is, if institutional hierarchies subside- the final after-party was forcibly cancelled.

As the week ended, the precipitation towards ISEA 2018 in Durban, South Africa, became more and more exciting. Formalities took place, batons handed over; the ambition and dedication of the Durban contingency was robust and arousing. It proposes to be ground breaking for ISEA’s international attendees but also, more importantly, for legacy: the landscape in which it will takes place and the people that live it every day. Here’s hoping for more fond and unexpected moments.