Tony Brown and the Fringes of ISEA 96
Jean Gagnon wrote:
Here a quick note on ISEA 96 which was indeed deceiving. I found it
rather telling that no one in Rotterdam (or since then) seems to have
seen the Tony Brown exhibition at the Witte de Whith Center for
Contemporary Art, an exhibition which was not at all super high-tech or
anything, but an exhibition that raised issues concerning certain
questions pertaining to our digital culture. It is telling that this
"visual art" exhibition did not interest those present at the "media
arts" gathering. This tells me that the little milieu of media arts is
quite close onto itself, and that as far as art is concerned we seem
more concerned with tech stuff (the latest novelty if possible!!!) than
with artistic discourse and art works. Probably, ISEA 96 suffered from a
lack of perspectives, historical and aesthetic, and from a lack of
cross-fertilization between disciplines...
Responding to Gagnon's concern that the Tony Brown exhibition may have
been overlooked, Mark Tribe wrote:
I wouldn't be so quick to jump to that conclusion. The fact nobody has
yet to comment on the show at RHIZOME doesn't indicate that nobody has
seen it. I didn't see the show myself, but that had less to do with
disinterest than distraction. Trying to make it to multiple panels and
presentations at both ISEA and DEAF left little time to take in the art
work that was on display at various locations. Frustrating but true.
If the show wasn't really "new media" (as you seem to suggest), then it
wouldn't really be an appropriate subject for discussion here. If it
*is* relevant, then perhaps the most constructive approach would be to
write something about it!
Roger Malina responds:
Jean Gagnon asks why he has seen no comments on the Tony Brown
exhibition at Witte gallery during ISEA. Well here goes. I spent a solid
hour at the exhibit - I happened to be the only visitor at the time.
Here are some reactions:
a) Powerful: the artist's use of large, noisy installations and
machinery succeeds in instilling a sense of danger. Art that invokes
strong reactions succeeds.
b) Well crafted: the work is coherent - and very well crafted. I had a
sense that the work was well thought out and appropriately executed.
c) Thought provoking: Well here's the problem for me. This is art of the
arriere-guard, that is, 21st century art in 19th century clothing. Or
maybe rather 19th century art in 21st century clothing.
The piece in the exhibit which would have a claim to be relevant to the
new arts, is a large installation hooked up to an internet chat line.
The log-on names/pseudonyms of users are displayed on a screen, as are
images downloaded from the internet that have been sent by users of the
A large white ball rolls along a rail between two walls on which are
projected the material obtained from the internet.
It is displayed with exquisite craftsmanship. The artist's style
dominates over the work. The work is BIG and makes a BIG impression. It
is LOUD. Threatening.
But this work is a fraud. This work makes inappropriate use of
technology. The work could have just as easily been realized using two
slide projectors and no connection to the internet (maybe the work
really wasn't connected to the internet?) If a work is going to use new
technology, then it must be because the work could not have been
successfully realized without that technology. If paint is the right
medium, then why use a computer ?
So here's the problem for me. This was really strong work, very well
executed. But if the electronic arts are going to be contemporary arts,
it must be because the new tools provide new ways to deal with the human
condition today. Ways of expression that cannot be achieved with
The Tony Brown exhibit got me upset. Really good stuff, but nothing to
do with what the community that is bubbling up within ISEA is excited