ISEA96 and colour
I read JM Cheddie's piece with much interest. It is a relief to see
someone expanding the debate around art and technology to one beyond the
technology itself, into a larger social context.
"The Displaced Data (J.M. Cheddie, Roshini Kempadoo, Keith Piper, Derek
Richards) an evolving organisation of artists and writers of colour,
went to Isea to alert people to the existence and presence of digital
artists working with this technology, and to introduce into the debate
ideas about cultural diversity and cultural democracy through the
"Beyond The Digital Diaspora" panel.
"However, we were at the lack of a presence from peoples of colour
around the world at such a gathering, this issue was only addressed when
it was bought up by a person of colour. So once again peoples of colour
are placed in the position of potentially spoiling the party."
This relates to a point I made sometime ago here on RHIZOME, during the
post-ISEA debate, about who attends this event and similar ones around
the world. ISEA in particular encourages only institutionally supported
individuals and groups to attend. This is something that comes directly
out of ISEA's constitution. ISEA is setup in such a way that those who
are self-employed (there are a lot of us out there) cannot participate.
How has this come to pass?
1. Attending the conference is expensive...fees, accommodation, travel,
2. If invited to attend as an exhibitor the artist is not paid a fee
(not even a small fee) and often has to pay one's own expenses.
Concerning point 1:
The financial structure of ISEA is such that it is partly paid for by
the attendees (called "delegates", with distasteful echoes of the
commercial sector). Delegates, as such, must have financial backing to
attend. This encourages attendance of those involved with institutions
and deters independents. This dependence on institutional frameworks has
further implications in terms of what agendas come to be addressed at
the event. ISEA has become an academic "bash". Most of the delegates are
coming out of academic environments, their expenses paid for by said
institutions. They therefore represent those institutions. That there
are few artists of colour involved is not surprising. In Europe the
penetration of academia, especially of the fine arts, by coloured
artists has been minimal. I taught in Holland for five years, and in
that time had only two coloured students (there were no coloured
teachers). It has been a little better in the UK and the USA, but still
minimal. [...] Marginalized groups, such as those not associated with
institutional frameworks (by either choice or exclusion) do not get much
of a look in.
Concerning point 2:
Professional artists live off their work. If they are not paid
professional level fees then they cannot make the work. New media works
in particular require significant expense with capital equipment,
production and exhibition budgets. These costs have to be paid, and the
artist has to live. Events such as ISEA, because it is unable to
financially recognize and reward artistic professionalism, actually
function to turn the artist into either a charity (when exhibiting at
such events the artist is effectively subsidizing the event by waiving
their normal fees) or as an absence at the centre of the event (where
the artist sees little value in subsidizing an event that should
constitute part of their financial turnover and thus chooses to pass).
So long as ISEA and events like it continue to be organized the way they
are then certain people will be discouraged to attend; those people
without institutional supports, including the larger part of the black
community, and most artists and freelancers...the very people who should
be encouraged to be there. I would like to think that ISEA could be
about art, creativity and social challenge rather than a chance for
academics to use it as an informal chatting environment and job
If ISEA wishes to attract fulltime professional artists or other
individuals from non-institutional environments to exhibit and attend
then it has to address this issue. Otherwise it will function to promote
an agenda more reflective of institutional concerns rather than the
concerns of creative individuals, where real cultural diversity begins.
I hope that the Chicago and Liverpool/Manchester organizers will put
this issue at the top of their agenda.