As nomadic events, ISEA symposia not only update the global electronic arts agenda, but also highlight the local interpretations of new media arts and technology. The return of ISEA to Helsinki after 10 years offers an opportunity to reflect on a decade of international and Finnish media networks. Networks, as both social and technical formations are at the core of ISEA2004. Strengthening transnational, interdisciplinary collaborations is a key objective of the symposium, and ‘networking networks’ has been one of the guiding principles in producing the event at m-cult, centre for new media culture in Helsinki.
In 1994, When ISEA was organised in Helsinki for the first time, we were still building the networks. The event’s realisation joined the Finnish actors effectively and established durable collaborations with international partners. ISEA’94 also embraced the new technologies of networks: for electronic artists, the Internet and the World Wide Web seemed an ideal medium to reach new audiences beyond the art world.
ISEA: from 1994 to 2004
In 1994, education in new media took its first steps – ISEA’94 manifested the launch of the Media Lab at the University of Art and Design Helsinki. The symposium aimed to give voice to new generations of artists and researchers. A key objective for the 1994 symposium was to bring electronic arts out of the ivory tower” of academia and the art world to reflect wider cultural practices and social changes relating to new technology. The theme High&Low aimed to contest and move beyond oppositions such as the one between fine art and popular culture.
In 1994, the collapsing borders between Eastern and Western Europe were celebrated through the attendance of Russian media artists and theorists in the event, which culminated with a cruise to St Petersburg. In 2004, the geopolitical coordinates have shifted again, and Tallinn, a new European Union capital, co-hosts the symposium with Helsinki.
While some issues from 1994 — historical perspectives, new forms of experience, the local and the global – remain on the symposium agenda in 2004, clear shifts in context and discourse have taken place. Through artistic engagement with wireless and pervasive technologies, the efforts dedicated to virtual realities in the 90’s have been replaced by work on collaborative cartography, locative media and wifi. Interactivity and interfaces as media artists’ central concerns have given space to participatory genres of peer to peer networks and public authoring. In contrast to the 1994 talks on multimedia, VR and telematics, the agenda in 2004 highlights the urban, mobile contexts and ‘instantiations’ exemplified by dj/vj practice, wireless and wearable projects. The sensibility is tuned towards the particularities of social and cultural contexts.
Helsinki: hybrid networks
What, then, are the particularities of the Finnish networks in new media culture? Since 1994, Finland has become known not only for its wireless technologies and mobile user cultures. Also Finnish media art has received wide international recognition and has recently been framed as a key area in national ‘cultural export’. One reason for the artistic success is certainly in the tong-term international networking and the development of critical discourses in seminars and publications. But also the network of variously profited cultural organisations creates a whole that is larger than the sum of its parts, connecting practitioners and providing informal learning environments.
The educational programmes, as well as the ‘demo scene’ of programmers have bred new generations of artists, designers and researchers, and an interdisciplinary professionalism has evolved over the decade. Overall, Finnish new media culture in 2004 presents a very hybrid scene: arts, design and research as well as the more popular and tactical modes of electronic culture co-exist and cross over. Exploring the ‘high and low’ continuum further, as in the ISEA2004 remix of arts, research and popular culture, thus seems especially relevant to local positioning of new media culture in Helsinki.
This hybridity is also in the focus for m-cult, which develops competences and sustainablity in media culture by accelerating exchanges in research, development and production. m-cult acts as a Finnish node in the network of international centres and media labs, while the new centre space, expected to open in 2005, provides a place for the materialisation of networks and a meeting point for users and producers of media culture.
m-cult’s research-driven agenda emphasises social and cultural innovations in urban, wireless and community media, and develops infrastructures and tools for participatory and cross-media genres. An important aspect of m-cult’s activity relates to new media culture policy and practice: the Finnish, international and Nordic research projects have made the hybrid practices visible through documentation and publishing, and proposed models for their further support.
In connecting user and producer cultures with policies, media arts and popular culture with technology research and development, the rationale for m-cult is that innovations are not advanced by maintaining boundaries, but by facilitating dialogue and access. With ISEA2004, m-cult wishes to stress that creative and critical practices in new media are vital sources towards meaningful user experiences, and that it is through the interaction of disciplines and practices, through networking networks, that significant contributions can be made to today’s society.
Minna Tarkka, director of m-cult, centre for new media culture. She was programme director of ISEA94 in Helsinki.