[iDC] The Social Event Machine

GEOFFREY SHEA gshea at imagebusiness.com
Thu Feb 2 15:35:28 EST 2006

When I think of the conference, the festival, the academy or any of the 
other institutions we use to contextualize our cultural activities, I 
wonder: Why do some work better than most? It is suggested in these posts 
that the format of the thing may be the biggest determinant of its success. 
(Or at least the biggest determinant of its failure, if that's the case.) 
It's also possible that the right-time/right-place factor may result in an 
event's effectiveness in ways that the organizers could never have 
foreseen. (Woodstock comes to mind. Or the Bauhaus.)

I decided to look back at one significant context and try to find the 
factors that made it stand out for decades afterwards: in this case the 
Photo-Electric Art Department of the Ontario College of Art (c. 1975-79). 
One of the first art schools in Canada to embrace digital and electronics, 
lead briefly by Roy Ascot, its PEA department embraced Norman White's 
vision of art and technology and spawned a whole generation of media 
artists. Norman claims now that computers had so little practical value at 
the time that they were the perfect tool for artists - a condition which 
could only be replicated today if we found the next premature platform to 
embrace. PEA chair Richard Hill (and his wife and partner Sheila) thought 
that the College's antagonism towards the department actually galvanized it 
into a community stronger than any college department ought to be. Former 
students believe that it was the revolutionary zeal and personalities of 
the instructors that made them rise far above the academic crowd.

Ted Nelson was an invitee at one of PEA's new media festival events and I 
asked him why people thought that place was so special at that time and he 
said: Richard and Sheila were eminently hospitable. That's it. A 
deep-seated respect and a joie-de-vivre are the factors that make one 
discourse enterprise more resonant than another.

It's no surprise then that the casual, oral cultural dialogues cited in the 
discussions above seem to have more appeal than the formal, institutional 
ones. Hospitality and enjoyment (can) naturally flow out of direct 
interpersonal relations. They must be planned and built into structured ones.

(In another, related manifestation of this same study, I have been 
pondering the way that democracy operates in a small community and the 
effect it has on the interaction, support and culture of the inhabitants. 
To this end I ran for and was elected to my local municipal council. I have 
been trying to compare my experiences to those of other artists who have 
engaged directly with democratic government, but have found only a handful: 
Gilberto Gil, Vaclav Havel, Charlie Angus. I would appreciated referrals to 
other if people have them.)



(PEA project: www.unscrambled.com/robots)


Geoffrey Shea
gshea at ImageBusiness.com
258 George Street East, Box 889
Durham ON  N0G 1R0 Canada
(519) 369-3025

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