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Nomadic Transitions: Thinking about Art

Chaired by Drs. Jill Scott and Sigrid Schade
Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst (HGKZ), Zurich, Switzerland, April 10-12, 2003.
In collaboration with the Planetary Collegium, The University of Plymouth and The University of Wales

Reviewed by Dene Grigar
Texas Woman’s University


Telematic networks, interactive virtual sound machines, hypermontage performance, visual theology, intelligent sculptures, strategy game scripts, computer-based memory theatres, cyberpunk fiction––these are but a few of the wide-ranging topics explored at "Nomadic Transitions: Thinking about Art," a conference hosted by the Department Cultural Studies in Art, Media and Design at the Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst (HGKZ) in Zurich, Switzerland, in collaboration with the Planetary Collegium at The University of Plymouth and The University of Wales, from April 10-12, 2003.

For three days theorists and practitioners came together to "address the controversies surrounding the discourses of Art, Art Theory, Perception, Media theory and Media Technology" and question "new concepts of creativity and co authorship, as well as the future of theoretical education in relation to contemporary art and media practice" (Scott and Schade 00). Co-chaired by Jill Scott and Sigrid Schade, the conference was well-conceptualized and organized, a fact readily evident in the numerous papers that focused on the conference theme and goals, as well as the smooth implementation of technology and simultaneous translation made available to participants.

While the underlying theme, that of "nomadic transitions," alludes to the idea of wandering scholars coming together to discuss topics unsettled by transitions due to technological innovation and change, it also suggests, perhaps more importantly, an epistemological approach. Nomad, taken from the Greek word nomein meaning to "pasture" or "feed," implies that wandering results in the partaking of knowledge. Simply put, to find the food of knowledge one must journey to it; in the journey comes knowing. Nomadic, in this sense, was made clear in Hans Peter Schwartz’s and Jill Scott’s opening remarks, as well as Roy Ascott’s introduction to the "Planetary Colleguim." Framing the conference was Michael Punt’s closing talk, entitled "Nomadic Transitions: The View from the Blender," a polemic about the perceived differences between paranormal and scientific phenomena, differences that have resulted in the privileging of science over the paranormal to the detriment of knowledge. As Punt points out, these two areas are "historically far closer" than we may realize, for both are deeply rooted in the anxieties surrounding notions of truth and reality.

Presentations by Sigrid Schade, who examined the themes of global migration and voluntary and involuntary enforced migration found in Vera Frenkel’s video installation, "From the Transit Bar;" Roy Ascott, who described the journey covering three continents and a wide theoretical landscape that led him to an understanding of "continuity and connectivity" as seen from "the emergent planetary network of telematics, to the ancient embodied biophonic network of living entities;" Margarete Jahrmann, who discussed MODing in relation to "Anti-War," a strategy game; Kieran Lyons, who talked about consciousness and the "human double" in relation to Marcel Duchamp’s "Jura-Paris Road;" Diane Gromala, who explored proprioception and viscerality and their potential for producing a "transformative awareness by some forms of interactive art;" and Mike Phillips, who looked at "issues surrounding the role of the ‘computer’ and its ‘code’ as the ‘very’ significant other and co-author of digital work" all stood out for their compelling subject matter, thoroughness of research, and––in the case of Phillips––ironic humor (Scott and Schade 7-37).

The brainstorming sessions were a good addition to the conference in that they offered the potential for participants to engage in smaller group discussions about a particular theme. The most successful were those whose the moderators allowed for a balanced representation of the data and the conversation to flow and be shared with the participants. In this vein, the heavily attended "Art and Science: The Interface between Art and Science" led by René Stettler and Otto E. Rossler leaned heavily in its views toward science. Better was Jill Scott’s "Art with a Political Agenda" that opened the floor to all participants and provided a forum and methodology for differing views.

Did the conference address controversies? Yes, as Yvonne Volkart’s cyberfeminist critique of "hegemonial society and its reigning structures" showed. Did the conference participants raise questions about practice and theory and their relationship to education? Yes, several papers, notably Marion von Osten’s work in the area of "curative approaches" and Annika Blunck and Rebecca Picht’s notion of "custom made ready made," both demonstrate this. But more important than reaching stated goals, the conference stayed true to its philosophical roots by bringing together notable, nomadic scholars for the purpose of sharing knowledge, research, and new visions for the arts, new media, technology, and the sciences.


Updated 1st June 2003

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