Report from ISEA 2002

Report from ISEA 2002
Oct. 27-31, 2002
Nagoya, Japan
By Jonah Brucker-Cohen ([email protected])

Held in the harbor city of Nagoya, Japan, ISEA (Inter-Society of
Electronic Art) 2002 was a curious mixture of presentations,
performances, workshops, and exhibited works. Topics ranged from the
conference's theme of the Japanese word "Orai", translated as comings
and goings, to emotional context in digital art practice, to
synthetic renderings of natural environments, to musical and visual
outputs for technological artistic expression. The video game like
layouts of the warehouse spaces in Nagoyako Harbor (where most of the
venues were situated) were the perfect inspiration for the works
featured inside. Projections filled the weather-beaten concrete walls
while sound echoed in cacophonous rhythms through the immense spaces.

Stepping inside warehouses No.4 and No. 20 visitors were confronted
with multiple interactive installations that focused on play as a
theme for interactive narrative. Highlights included Kaoru Motomiya's
"California lemon sings a song", a rocket shaped array of Sunkist
lemons on the floor that served as the power supply for several small
greeting card size musical devices. The project proved that nature
still provides sustenance for digital devices. Sound installations
ranged from Shawn Decker's "Scratch Studies #3: Moths", which used
stepper motors to slowly turn metal arms that grated against steel
supports, and Beatriz Da Costa's "Cello", a robotically controlled
vintage acoustic cello that changes its movement and sound according
to feedback from visitors to the space.

Visual narratives such as Takeshi Inomata and Tsutomu Yamamoto's
"Talking Tree", uncovered experiential meaning in the simple
interface of a stump where visitors placed their hands to change
imagery and shake the virtual tree's projected shadow. Other
highlights included Miyuki Shirakawa's " Safe Toturing Series-9",
featuring haunting projections of visitors faces into kitchen
blenders filled with floating Styrofoam, Tiffany Holmes' playful
"Follow the Mouse" that replaced the computer mouse with a sleepy
Japanese mouse in a cage, and Tomohiro Sato's "Floating Memories"
providing a crank for visitors to power a bulb which provides the
light for a camera to capture images and project them on a table as a
moving filmstrip.

The paper, poster and panels sessions ranged from personal projects
by artists to institutional presentations about academic programs
focusing on art and technology. This year's ISEA theme was "Orai",
meaning comings and goings and focusing on both social and individual
cultural artistic constructs of digital art practice. Many
presentations focused on this theme by positioning projects and ideas
within the context of ephemeral landscapes, emotional resonance, and
societal impact. On the linguistic and art history side, topics
ranging from Karen McCann's "Programming Literacy for Artists" to
Rachel Schreiber's "The (True) Death of the Avant-Garde" to Annet
Dekker's "The Influence of New Technologies on Language" asked
questions pertaining to art as a means for social reactivism through
theory and practice. What are artist's roles in social discourse? Is
perpetuating social conscience through art a necessary or arbitrary

On the practice side, Los Angeles based artist Angie Waller's "Data
Mining the Amazon: American political parties and their CD
recommendations", was a humorous take on's customer
recommendation system by using the information available to discover
the CDs associated with international political figures. In real
space, Teri Rueb's "The Choreography of Everyday Movement" used GPS
to track and combine people's daily movements in urban space to show
contrasting relationships between transportation networks and
habitual travels. Also Paul Sermon's telematic installation "There's
no simulation like home", featuring video displacements in the
bedroom, living room, and kitchen of a model home, and Kjell
Petersen's "Mirrechophone & Smiles in Motion", two video connected
chairs that come to life when inhabited, showed how connected spaces
can create emotional contexts for interaction.

In the poster sessions, I gave a presentation on "Physical Web
Interfaces" focusing on several of my projects including MouseMiles
and SpeakerPhone that deal with adding a human and physical side to
networked interfaces. The response was very positive and sparked an
interesting debate on the future of emotional attachment to computer
interfaces. Most people really liked the idea of manifesting
individual experiences as shared interactions through networked
devices on a distributed scale. My point was that by connecting our
similar yet distributed activities in physical space on a global
scale our methods of connection between ourselves and information
become as important as the information contained within the
transmission. My conclusion asked if digital information actually has
meaning and pointed out that networks are not only for data, after
which I got a few nervous looks.

Performances focused on sound and visuals as ambient narrative clips
into each performers psyche. Chris Csikszentmihiyi of the MIT Media
Lab managed to find an art truck (, a shiny beast
of a truck that shimmered in polished steel with flashing lights to
perform his "DJ I, Robot Sound System". Other highlights included
Mark Amerika's "Filmtext 2.0", a foray into interactive cinematic
experiences with projected sounds and urban narrative visuals. Guy
Van Belle's "Society of Algorithm - translocal mutations" looked at
real-time drawing systems in performance and how to augment spatial
metaphors with responsive interactivity. Finally Montreal's Alain
Thibault and Yan Breuleux's mesmerizing "Faustechnology" was a visual
and auditory romp into the abstraction of Faustian theory and
synthetic forms of computer visualization.

Rounding out the event was the Electronic Theater which included a
large portion dedicated to early works of video art from Japan.
Highlights from the film exhibition included Patrick Lichty's "8 bits
or less" a short film made from Casio's Wrist Camera, Brad Todd's
"Screen", a telematic web-based project that allows visitors to
control an interactive ecosystem inside Todd's studio in Montreal,
and Takafumi Ohira's "In the Seaside", a clever look at the plight of
increased urbanism as buildings and scenery grow and eventually
topple each other as a giant concrete wave.

As art and technology conferences mature, greater expectations on
simplistic input and output seem to be prevalent. Gone are the days
when interactive or digital art can be justified with theory and art
jargon if the interactive experience fails to be compelling.
Especially when exhibited, audiences seem less inclined to spend time
with digital projects if their own personal frustration with
computers encroaches on the artistic intention. Maybe we don't want
to be reminded that we are interacting with computers at all. By
emphasizing natural and human-centered interfaces, many of the
projects presented at ISEA 2002 were getting closer to the ubiquitous
personal interactions we take for granted in everyday life.

Jonah Brucker-Cohen | Media Lab Europe
Research Fellow | Sugar House Lane
Human Connectedness | Bellevue, Dublin 8, Ireland
(h) +353 1 4760375 (w) +353 1 4742853 (m) +353 1 (0)87 7990004