[ISEA2015] Introduction: Kate Armstrong – Introduction to the Catalogue

Introductory Statement

As I write this, 186 forest fires are raging in the province of British Columbia and the air in Vancouver is thick with yellow smoke. It is 35 degrees outside and the silver city is an alien outpost against a gasoline sky. The ships, filled with oil and plastic lawn furniture from Shenzhen, are using foghorns to navigate.

When we were initially conceiving Disruption as a theme for ISEA2015 I’d written that disruption conjures both blue sky and black smoke. Blue sky with reference to the term used in Silicon Valley and elsewhere to indicate the bold innovations and endless possibilities introduced by disruptive technologies.

In that vision, blue sky is imaginative space, a notion of the beautiful, limitless new: We as humans are poised at an historic intersection where we will be able to use our comely machines to realize visionary ideas that will change how we live and work. We are to be hopeful because we can change anything if not everything, including the power structures that hold some of us back. These technologies ultimately offer a broad redistribution of money, time, resources. This blue sky, which will make all of us smarter and richer, more relaxed, is possible because of youth and energy, hard work, luck, and a 10x return to investors. Our persistent use of expensive handheld devices will overturn a century of public sector atrophy. Our sparkling connectivity will magically tidy up the cancer and dirty tricks that have produced and upheld the contemporary system of economic inequality that surpasses even the sick ratio of the robber barons. More of today’s black smoke: 40% of senior citizens have student debt. We pay Nestle the same amount of money for 1.5 litres of water as it pays us for a million litres. In 2007 the top 20% of Americans owned 85% of the country’s wealth and the bottom 80% of the population owned 15%. Wall Street was occupied but nothing happened. It is three months since Freddie Gray was killed and Baltimore erupted, and three weeks since Senator Clementa C. Pinckney and eight parishioners were shot at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, and no one is talking about the nine black churches that have been burned down since. There are 1750 unresolved cases of missing First Nations women and girls in Canada. In his recent encyclical – and on Twitter – Pope Francis wrote that the earth looking more and more like “an immense pile of filth.”

  • Kate Armstrong is a Vancouver-based artist, writer, and independent curator producing exhibitions, events and publications in contemporary media art in Vancouver, Canada and internationally. She is a founder of Revised Projects and codirected the Goethe Satellite, an initiative of the Goethe-Institut to produce 10 exhibitions and commissions in Vancouver between 2011-2013. Recent curatorial projects include the electronic literature commission Tributaries and Text-Fed Streams (2008) for the Capilano Review, Group Show (2010) for the Vancouver Winter Olympics, Electric Speed (2011-2012) for the Surrey Art Gallery, Extract: Text Works from the Archive (2012) for grunt gallery and Live/Work and Hypercube (2013) for the New Forms Festival. Armstrong is the author of Crisis & Repetition: Essays on Art and Culture (Michigan State University Press, 2002). Other books include Medium (2011), Source Material Everywhere (2011), and the 12 volume Path (2008/2012). Armstrong is Director of Living Labs at Emily Carr University of Art and Design and Artistic Director of ISEA2015.

Full text p. 13-15