[ISEA98] Welcoming Notes: John Hyatt – Some comments on the themes of Isea98

Welcoming Notes

Some comments on the themes of Isea98. Then, maybe, you could comment on how they relate to <Info-War> from your perspective?
The following comments come from one who has spent a lot of brain-cells thinking about the questions of how to frame a symposium. When I first came up with the Revolution theme for Isea98, it was to set a structure that, amongst other things, is put up there to be knocked down. It is meant with a big question mark after it. This original thinking happened two years ago. We have been working ever since on making the Ninth Symposium on Electronic Art the most crucial to date.

My personal feeling is that I did not, then (or now) actually believe that a Revolution had happened because of new technologies. It is a slower, uneven affair, I would say. Yet many people do believe, alongside the hype of the ad-men, that a Revolutionary change, an overturning of a past order, has occurred. They may be right. Alongside this, though, is the implication that we are in danger of missing the boat, being left behind, unless we buy (literally) into the future. The metaphor of Revolution when applied to technology becomes intertwined with the allure of the new. A Revolution forgets where it grew. The avant-garde of technological development becomes the ability to talk techno-hip – to be a jargonaut, rather than a meaningful actor. Electronic Arts need to be re-inserted into the histories of people, arts, and cultures rather than separated off as a pseudo-post-Revolutionary idea.

If a Revolution has indeed taken place, as a hypothesis, let us say that we are now, by definition, in a post-Revolutionary moment. This is usually when the sorting out gets done. Such a post-Revolutionary moment has, historically, been termed the Terror. Hence, that term for the second stage of the 1998 Symposium. Walter Benjamin’s concept (The history of culture is also the history of barbarism) echoes and re-echoes. What is culture today? What practice is
going on at the cutting edge and why? Where might the barbarism be now? Is Benjamin’s assertion still a valid comment? The Terror is when the rhetorically discarded past is re-appraised; is re-adopted; translated; or trashed into the guillotine basket whilst, at the base of the steps, hunched figures knit on laptops

For example, is it forgotten, as Museums come on-line, that the original avant-garde intended to transform the structures of culture and not just the internal formal qualities of an artwork? What is electronic art doing in this regard? If the point is human emancipation, it appears (correct me if I’m wrong) that many aspects of the drift of new technology should be avoided. The new Technological Revolution seems to involve forgetting pasts when it suits, whitewashing cultural diversities. Without an idea of histories, drift is what will happen – possibly a drift into information-dense oppression. The eliding of the past disempowers people and the collusion of the postmodernist intellectual in this is criminal. The walls of history have been whitewashed. The walls of history are being whitewashed now. History is a battleground in the Info-War. If the war is now, then the Terror will analyse, consciously, our positions and our chances. It will sharpen the stakes of Democracy.

Not everything in the cyberian garden is rosy, though the roses may have been painted red. This website that we have been developing, incrementally, does not flash, move, seduce – deliberately! Creeping behind the flashing crudities of so many sites, I would say that we are possibly witnessing the death of the Web and its transmutation into, majorly, another platform for advertising. Soon, the Web will be pre-selected for people, advertisements will be thrust upon our desktops or across our walls. Whitewash. Many talk of a new global consciousness. 1 see no evidence of a global consciousness evolving through new technologies. If it did, what would happen if the global consciousness was owned, directed, cruel, riddled with vicious inequality, rather than nice and warm and positive. McLuhan’s global village looks, actually, like a pretty accurate metaphorical possibility to describe the future unless we work against it: a global village of net-curtains; small-mindedness; gossip; keeping-up-with-the-Joneses; neighbours feuding over scraps of land and borders; debt.

Isea98 will allow people their own voice and their own stories. If people want to think that a global brain or a new human consciousness, augmented by chips, is the story of the future then let them tell that story. The next question is, OK, then, how will this happen? Then, how can we make this happen if it is a good idea? What are the dangers that we may not have spotted? Is there barbarism to be fought against? Can consciousness reside in a machine?
Let’s think these things through with people. We must create a forum where stories can be exchanged and, then, tell our own stories too. We have tried to maintain a non-positional framing for the isea98 forum or a position that (like Revolution) is there to be knocked down. There must be an open stage for freedom of speech and democracy. As organisers, we aim, merely, to ask questions (which is difficult to do) not to supply answers. We aim to remove the whitewash of too much junk info. We are interested in what actual people are up to, where they are coming from, and where they want to go with these wires and switches. This is what will emerge through presentations and discussions at the Terror.

We are also planning to have the Manchester Party of the Millennium. Let me hear you sing I…. S…. E….A…. (in the style of the Global Village People).

  • John Hyatt, UK, Manchester Metropolitan University. Chair, ISEA98.