[ISEA2015] Introduction: Malcolm Levy – Introduction to the Catalogue

Introductory Statement

While thematically there are numerous references to global disruptions happening within the works that make up the overall curatorial framework of ISEA2015 (weather, disease, political, social and economic upheaval, etc), as important to our vision for the exhibition was in creating a conversation around the tools used in media art creation, and their historical importance today in both media and the greater contemporary art spectrum. In my work I often discuss that the object has in many circumstances become the medium itself. By understanding the tools that are available today, their histories, and considering them as instruments and objects themselves, as opposed to just a part of the process, the disruptive influences that these tools have, comes into greater realization.

From an art historical perspective, the work in ISEA2015 covers a wide spectrum of instruments for creation, both in the realms of visual, sonic, robotics, media, net, and electronic arts. They look to older, yet extremely relevant and useful apparatuses such as synthesizers, older operating systems, earlier computers, hardware and projection devices, and invite a conversation with the “new”. Whether that be drones, weather pattern machines, slow selfie’s, or glitch based processes using contemporary modalities, they all either directly reference and/or use these older traditions. These instruments now find themselves situated as part of a longer and storied history. The research, experimentation and artistic practice surrounding the body of work assembled under the umbrella of the exhibition for ISEA2015, are situated in a complex space that comprises histories of film, video, sound art, electronics, early computational programming, and information systems. These histories create the foundations of media art practices as we know them today. The foundations of contemporary forms and fields such as glitch, 8-bit, machine vision, software vision, generative art and augmented reality are part of a history that goes back at least to the middle of the past century, and in some cases as far back as the avant-garde movement of the 1920’s and 30’s. Today though, history has caught up with its self. Glitch art is now accepted as the norm, post internet is used in the context of Kanye West, and different modalities and object oriented ontologies involving media are found within contemporary art, the creative spaces, and worlds far beyond.

Today’s images and objects are not only part of this larger historical trajectory, but importantly its one that has a storied tradition, yet was often rejected and existed on the periphery of artistic practice or technological innovation. Often this was due to the researchers involved in the work, or the networks/institutions that supported such. Often, they were seen as outside of the system, whichever one it might have been. Interestingly, this trajectory also gave the art more potential for growth due to the lack of pressures from either the art world or the sciences with regard to the innovations happening within the contexts of both these worlds.

In Disruption, the past is the present and the future enveloped in one. ISEA2015 is an ecosystem where these instruments exist together as objects and forms of the larger conversation. The drones of Wanner, the schematics of Cirio, the recyclism of Gaulon, the code of Galanter, the chemicals of Klein, the filaments of Harrop, the objects of Stone, the tornadoes of Stern and Manning, and the glitches of Menkman, Cates, Temkin, Miller, the lights of Artificial, in the creation of the works for the Resonance and Refraction, and elsewhere (too many to name!) there are instruments of disruption all doing their part, participating in this exhibition. One interesting aspect to note is that from the 1930s to the 1950s a very important yet discretely documented change occurred within media. This change was brought about by the innovations in the area of amalgamations of synthesis – whether related to waveform, frequency, visual, audio or electronics – and their influence on the modes of production of the majority of modern technological equipment. Many aspects of this synthesis came to bear on work that started to be created in the 1960s, and it is interesting to note the similarities between this early upsurge of work and the current wave today. During both these periods, emergent technologies were a way of disrupting earlier categories of artistic practice. If one considers the entire exhibition as a conversation around synthesis, this larger history can even be further imagined.

In the introduction to Provocative Alloys – A Post-Media Reader, the groundbreaking research project and subsequent text published through Metamute, another important aspect to this conversation comes out: not everything that falls within post-media, or even the processes of how machines work, must be technological in nature. Much of the material that Guattari discussed as post-media was not overtly technological and concerned how the question of subjectification could be worked out against the tendency of capitalism to produce restricted versions of this process. In other words, Guattari sought out opportunities for ‘new emancipatory social practices and above all alternative assemblages of subjective production’ against capitalist tendencies to destroy.”1) The work can take any number of forms, both digital and analog, but most importantly, at its root, the images that are created therein disrupt the status quo. What might in fact be the case is that there is an entire lineage that is more correctly, or alternatively discussed through these machines, specifically when looking at their work in the context of the art practices that they are forming. By calling them instruments we are acknowledging the capacity for performance, recording, as objects, and as mediums unto themselves.

One of the main trajectories of this ISEA was that the artistic vision really helped shape and lead the themes for the conference, and therein create a feedback loop between the days at the symposium, the keynotes, workshops, demos, and the evenings of openings and performances surrounding. Emanating from these discussions, and over 200 works that make up Disruption, these machines, both old and new, have been brought into the centre of the discussion once again, as a medium and conversation unto themselves.

1) Provocative Alloys: A Post-Media Anthology, Edited by Clemens Apprich, Josephine Berry Slater, Anthony Iles and Oliver Lerone Schultz. Published in Association with Post-Media Lab Books, Winter 2013.

  • Malcolm Levy is an artist and curator based in Vancouver, Canada. He is the co-founder and Artistic Director of the New Forms Festival (1999–present), and was the curator of CODE Live at the 2010 Winter Olympics, where he oversaw the installation of over 40 interactive media artworks and 8 performances across the city. He is Artistic Director of ISEA2015 with Kate Armstrong. His work was recently shown at WAAP (Vancouver, 2015), Transfer (NY, 2015), ISEA2014 (Dubai, 2014), CSA (Vancouver, 2014) Supermarkt (Berlin, 2013) Audain Gallery (When we stop and they begin, Vancouver, 2012), Occupy Wall Street (New York, 2011), Grimmuseum (Framework, Berlin, 2011), Nuit Blanche (A Place to reflect) (Nuit Blanche Toronto 2011) and Transmission (Victoria, 2011). Other recent projects include  developing a media lab for the grunt gallery in Vancouver, working on a Satellite project for the Goethe Institut, and producing a series of commissioned artworks for Urban Screens in connection with McLuhan in Europe 2011. He is the founder and Director of Hybridity. Comprised of a music label, a curatorial and consulting division, and a project team installation artwork and software development, Hybridity is made up of a collection of artists, producers, thinkers, and technicians. Malcolm is completing his MA in Media Studies at the New School.

Full text (PDF)  p. 17-19