[iDC] Interactive City: irrelevant mobile entertainment?

Steve Dietz stevedietz at yproductions.com
Tue Aug 22 04:34:29 EDT 2006

Hello all,

Avidly may not be exactly the right word, but I have been following the
ISEA2006/ZeroOne post-mortem as closely as I can. As usual, another bracing
IDC discussion, which is most appreciated. I hope not to interrupt with a
defensive response, but as director of ISEA2006 and ZeroOne, I do want to
try and clarify a few points and voice some questions that I have as I read
through the dialog as a participant. I realize that this starts at the
beginning with some discussion that has progressed very far, but I have my
own nagging doubts about the initial set up, or at least some of the
apparent assumptions in response to it. Apologies in advance, if this gets a
bit long, but will be going off the grid soon, for a while...

In her initial post, On 8/13/06 4:54 PM, "kanarinka" <kanarinka at ikatun.com>

"I wanted to post a nagging doubt I have in light of the title of the
ISEA conference theme "Interactive City" in conjunction with the
ZeroOne "Global Festival of Art on the Edge" and the artwork
showcased there.  This is not a condemnation, more of a call to
reflection for myself (who participated in a project there) and
possibly for others. I would be interested to hear from others as to
their thoughts on this."

Especially since more than 95% of the works presented at the Festival (I'll
use this for shorthand ISEA2006 Symposium / ZeroOne San Jose) were juried in
by more than 200 jurors, I think a reflection on what the results "mean," in
general, is extremely worthwhile.

At the same time, k also listed a specific subset of the approximately 32
Interactive City projects, the approximately 50 arguably "urban" projects,
and the more than 200 projects presented at the Festival.

- eating ice cream and singing karaoke
- calling an old person in San Jose to talk about whatever you might
have in common with them
- pressing a button on a machine and getting an artsy plane ticket
with your photo on it
- drifting through the city as if it were a sports field via applying
sports plays in urban space
- visualizing your social network via bluetooth as you go around the
conference and talk to your friends
- watching/listening to noise music made by people riding skateboards
around the conference
- listening to an erotic sci-fi narrative about san jose on your cell
phone while riding the train
- flipping light switches to make a one-word message in public space
- viewing colorful 3D representations of wireless digital data

I would suggest that a different sentence about each of these projects could
easily cast them in a much different, even critical, light for those who
weren't in San Jose. More to the point, however, not listed were the
following projects:

- a telecommunications work between a Latino community in San Jose and
residents of Mexico City
- a Neurocapital service in City Hall
- a community shrine in a local Vietnamese noodle shop
- an alt media version of CNN
- an interactive documentary of Iranian families in the Bay Area
- viewing the landscape along I5 through the filter of real time pollution
- directly messaging individual bluetooth devices "set to discoverable" to
explicitly raise issues about and awareness of surveillance
- nomadic "spaces" that challenge and change perceptions and actual use of
public space in San Jose
- neighborhood public radio
- linguistic analysis of language use by institutional websites
- a monolith with the concealed stories of different local and international
- cell phone-based noise sensors in the trees of public parks
- a tour of SV environmentally hazardous sites
- a film about government abuse in relation to crtical art practice

My intent is not to get into dueling lists and certainly not to argue that
play wasn't a major aspect of the Festival. It was. Only that there were
many projects with a critical goal. How successful they were is certainly
open to debate but not based on one sentence and assumptions about what a
Festival in Silicon Valley must have been like.

I think it's important to also debate some other issues, as well, however.

As director, one of the explicit goals of the Festival was to draw the
attention of a general public - not just specialists - to the remarkable
work being done by artists in non-traditional media, shall we say, for now.
Also, I am so tired of the media and art world trying to define "digital
art" as this or that thing. Another explicit goal of the Festival was to
show a real depth and breadth of practice from software to performance, from
installations to outdoor spectacles, from "critical" to "playful" - and some
that are both. But even if I had selected the works - or framed the calls -
I would not have been interested, in this particular instance, in a Festival
that presented _only_ explicitly critical works. As Anna Munster suggested,
although perhaps not quite so positively:

On 8/20/06 7:45 PM, "Anna Munster" <A.Munster at unsw.edu.au> wrote:

"A better concept to descibe the conference, festival and I would say
probably the new media arts scene worldwide is: divergence. There is no
common thread to new media any more - there's  interactive/VJing/remixing
cinema, there's electronic audio and spatialised sound experimentation,
there's the locative thing, the wireless thing, the locational (different
from locative), global/anti-global thing...etc etc etc."

I can't and don't want to argue with people who were disappointed by the
Festival - especially if they attended - but I think it's at least an
interesting question how to build an informed and critical audience for the
work that most people on this list participate in some way in the specific
context of the United States, with its limited government funding of art,
its limited funding of artists in general, its general lack of institutional
support, its reflexive anti-criticality.


On 8/14/06 12:52 PM, "mollybh at netspace.net.au" <mollybh at netspace.net.au>
wrote that the theme of the Interactive City was a "curatorial misfire" and
suggested something more like "city as environment" might have been more

I don't want to take away from Eric Paulos and his team - of which I was a
participant - who, I believe left the door wide open to and succesfully
encouraged critical practice projects in relation to the city, but it is
true that I, with Joel Slayton, established the initial "interactive city"
framework. As some background, an inspiration for me in a very general way
was Archigram's "Instant City" (1968), which is in the Edge Conditions show
at the San Jose Museum of Art. In Archigram's playful way, they describe 6
"stages" for their imagined instant city in which an "airship visits a
sleeping town": 

1. Before IC: A Sleeping Town
2. Descent
3. Event
4. Highest Intensity
5. Infiltration
6. Network Takes Over

The key, for me, are stages 5 and 6. Can the ideas expressed by artists in
ZeroOne infiltrate San Jose and take root at least as strongly as the
corporatist ethos has?

To be honest, if I had a hope for the generic theme of "interactive city,"
it was that it would somehow affect the residents of the city, not just the
participants in the Symposium. I think to a remarkable degree it did. As
Adriene Jenik wrote to this list about her project SPECLFLIC, "A large
portion of my collaborators were young latino/as from the Bay and South Bay
including local area performer/writers Praba Pilar and Melissa Lozano." And
equally to the point, hundreds of residents dropped by and took in a form of
cinema they would have never before countenanced - at least many of them -
AND they "interacted" with each other and the participants.

I realize that this "interact" is so big and so nebulous that is practically
a gauntlet, but I was impressed that the city did seem to have a different
character during the Festival week, and it wasn't all indoors, and it was
different if not always explicitly critical, and it was "better." I am not
so naive as to believe that a couple hundred artists can change San Jose in
one week, but I do agree with Adriene, it wasn't about the technology but
about a kind of engagement, which I _am_ optimistic enough to believe that
with some judicious self-criticism could possibly infiltrate and take over
in unexpected ways.

And I do not agree with Anna when she writes

On 8/20/06 7:45 PM, "Anna Munster" <A.Munster at unsw.edu.au> wrote:

"However, that's symptomatic of the 'Festival' aspect of the event.
Festivals, like Biennale's, are now events that are pretty much external
to the local and the located - they are art imports that come in with lots
of talk of global, critiques even of the global and then precisely land
like a great big Airbus 380 and do their 'thang' wherever they happen to

Despite the Instant City metaphor, I think the Festival was not just plop
art. Over 40 local organizations participated, often in significant,
programmatic ways. 20 local schools collaborated with 20 schools from Asia,
Europe and Africa on our education programs. African-American girls made a
documentary of the Festival. At least 5 projects were commissioned to work
with local communities for a period of up to 2 years. And more. This is not
to say their participation couldn't have been better highlighted or even
greater, but it was both more general and more specific than a number of
posts have suggested.


On 8/14/06 1:25 PM, "Kevin Hamilton" <kham at uiuc.edu> wrote:

"But don't they also often re-iterate an understanding of public space that
revolves around permission and regulation, instead of around  freedom,
accountability, or justice? I'm also suspect of permission granted or
grabbed through mobility,..."

As I think about a possible 2008 ZeroOne, this is a critical issue. One of
the things that Joel and I tried to do to mitigate this effect is to think
of the Festival as a platform over which we by no means had control. We were
a bit surprised, in fact, that more people didn't just show up and
participate - or counter-participate. Ideas/criticisms as to why it didn't
happen more? Suggestions as to how it might happen more?

In the end, we have always seen ZeroOne as a beginning - part of an effort
to bring both a set of artistic practices and critical thinking into public
view ­ and participation. Hopefully, it can also be useful to practitioners
and theorists. 
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/attachments/20060822/acd61271/attachment.htm

More information about the iDC mailing list