[ISEA2004] Tapio Makela – TRACING HISTORIES OF THE NEW: WAYPOINTS ON THE ISEA2004 LOGBOOK

When ISEA2004 first became an event concept, it had a subtitle: When New Technologies Became Old. It echoes Carolyn Marvin’s book When Old Technologies Were New, a major work on technology and its social history, where she remarks: The history of media is never more or less than the history of their uses.” While agreeing with this notion, one should also bear in mind that what appears to be the immediately visible popular use is not the entire history of media. The other side of the slippery coin of the cultural and social history of technology are the innovations, research and artistic experimentations that flip the coin making it possible to see the value and relevance of technology to people who possess it, and those who don’t. This value is often not the same as the stock market value, but that of a primary experience, achieving understanding, changing perception, and being able to contextualize already existing as well as emerging phenomena.

In order to understand “new” technologies, it is worthwhile to come to grips with the different dynamics of how “newness” has been played out in particular locations and at specific times. As technologies emerge, they are followed by experimental and popular uses, different phases of amazement, wonder, hype, and ultimately, but often not, becoming commonplace. What ISEA2004 suggests is to take a closer look at the recent, multiple histories of new media and its cultural and social contexts: hence Histories of the Newbecame a central theme and an undercurrent to the entire event.

There are also contemporary “new” emerging areas such as wireless and wearable, and the already widely-distributed networked technologies and their uses. As ISEA2004 themes, we emphasized the word “experience” to counter techno fetishist approaches where technologies themselves are seen as the center of attention. However, ISEA2004 is thoroughly about technological culture: it is immersed in it, as are most of the individuals taking part.

Logbooks used to inscribe a journey as it had just happened, without projecting to the future nor reflecting the past. They were supposedly a means of isolating a recent chain of events for later analysis, as if output by a “time slice machine”. The “content format” of a logbook was however far from harmless, as most of colonialist history was “recorded” through that narrow focus lens for centuries. When following contemporary news casting of war and conquest; the video diaries of military moves and bomb perspective shots, one does not become convinced that analytical perception of the world would have taken big leaps.  Nowadays logbooks record on-line chats, server access, and if the concept is expanded to cover a wider “databased” topography, also financial transactions and what you ordered for a meal while flying across an ocean.

In different parts of the less politically, but technologically advanced world intricate data structures are being put in place to form matrixical logs also to survey and physically intervene in  common life. Logs are increasingly valued for their ability to track chains of events and, undoubtedly, interpreting them is a fundamental exercise of power. I don’t want to suggest, however, a paranoid reading of technology in relation to everyday lives as this would also be more so a property of the schizophrenic states with large quantities of their citizens. I am merely wanting to suggest that the Foucauldian panopticon and power of the archive are intertwined in contemporary culture, and hence a political and cultural discourse on technology should have means to “read and write” both the visible and the traceable.

When it comes to technology our experience is at least) twofold; there is our everyday lived experience of it, but there are also many fictions which influence our perception of what technology is For example, Star Trek episodes are captain’s logs of a past, distant imagined future which portray a particular utopian relationship with technology. Stock market analysts imagine a nearby future of a new technology company and from their prediction make princes into paupers and vice versa. With new media over the last ten years, there has been a significant gap between the social, political, economical and cultural fictions and our lived realities. The cultural realm, as well as artistic research and practice within new technologies, at least make some attempt to bridge the gap between the imagination and the tangibly real.

Captains of ships write definitive logbooks, and contemporary art curators, still leave their mark on exhibitions and projects with the signature of an auteur In a significant contrast to those practices of the modern cultural sphere with its baggage of modernist and colonialist positions, one of the strongest aims in the creation of ISEA2004 for me has been to construct a conceptual framework and a distributed process of selecting the programme. So if there were something to sign, it would be the way in which the logbook is set up and opened up for collaborative -writing”. The actual path that the event has now taken is an incredible effort of individuals and partner organizations that have shared the ability to see beyond an immediate horizon.
A significant part of the event at hand is the process through which nearly 1400 proposals were considered by a programme committee of 40 individuals coming from a diverse range of geographical, theoretical and artistic backgrounds (please see the list of the International Programme Committeel. The selection took place within an on-line database environment, each of us having partial views into the whole. I believe that this way of working has provided a significant opening of multiple horizons for ISEA as an event series. In addition to the programme chosen by the committee, each section of the event has locally selected artists and speakers.

When working with the programming process of ISEA2004, I have encouraged a view that bis critical towards non-self-reflective theory and practice, for example writers and artists lost in the 1990s vr hype, 1960’s consciousness & world brain prophets, techno futurists, ungrounded pessimists and dichotomizers, neo-colonialists, technoformalists, identity shoppers, code and gear fundamentalists and the like. The modest request is for accountability, diversity, thematic focus, dialogic ability and an interest to take a stand, make arguments to turn a page where the field of new media research and practice can be critical while remaining enthusiastic about opening up new avenues, multiple traces to follow upon. If we as the ISEA2004 team have set the waypoints on the route in the form of physical, critical and contextual coordinates, it is now the nearly 600 artists and speakers who will make ISEA2004 a significant event.

I especially like to thank the Finnish Cultural Fund, the Finnish Ministry of Culture, the Arts Council of Finland and the City of Helsinki for making the development of this event possible. The strong support by funding bodies from various countries, Australia, United Kingdom, France, The Netherlands, Germany, Slovenia, and Canada as well as generous support of the Finnish Institute London, The Nordic Cultural Fund who have enabled artists and researchers to participate in making our programme.

In particular I would like to express my thanks for the patronage of the President of the Republic of Finland, Tarja Halonen, whose support of human rights and cultural diversity coincide with the goals of ISEA2004. The support from the Hivos foundation, the Asia Europe Foundation, and the patronage and support of UNESCO and the granting of the UNESCO Digital Arts Award for an artist in the ISEA2004 programme have meant that the scope of the ‘international’ is profound.

Lastly, and most importantly, I would like to thank the International Programming Committee, The Inter-Society for the Electronic Arts, especially the chair person Nina Czegledy, and coordinating director, Angela Plohman and all the artists and speakers for their contributions that make ISEA2004 into an once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Tapio Makela, m-cult, Finland. Programme chair, ISEA2004