Article categories: Issue 75
November 11th, 2010

Arts festival season in Europe means a plethora of media arts festivals to attend, and with the International Symposium for Electronic Arts (ISEA) in Germany and Ars Electronica in Austria scheduled within a week of each other this year, it created a perfect media art festival duo.

Peter Weibel has commented that the festival is the ‘best’ model for writing a ‘new art history’¹ and perhaps it is this multi-faceted and immersive environment situated outside the gallery/lab setting which encourages audiences to experience work, instead of merely observing it.

ISEA 2010: Urban Stage by Gudrun Kemsa. image Lauren Brown, 2010

ISEA 2010: W/Double U by CREW. image Lauren Brown, 2010

ISEA – in its 16th iteration stepped away from confining research to a purely academic forum with a chunky program of electronic/media arts discourse, augmented with exhibitions, concerts, fairs, workshops and a day set aside for organised excursions to other related media sites. Symposium topics included Interactivity, Senses, Sustainability, Archiving, Politics and New Art Theory.

Works featured aptly suited to the festive vibe with highlights including the W/Double U video immersive adventure/collaboration by CREW; the Agenten 2.0 pop-up student interventions on the streets of Dortmund with questions of privacy; Where Is Your Art? interactive Twitter ex-plushy dolls talking in the foyer of a corporate building and the mudboy mashup performance using electronics, mobile phones and the amazing Konzerthaus pipe organ. All of these works were reliant on a spirit of engagement, strong tech-knowledge, grounding in theory and a crossover of the disciplines that underpinned the whole week.

A vital aspect of ISEA is the resulting networking – meeting and getting to know your contemporaries, creating further opportunities or research links and deepening the discussion of ideas. Much of this happened during lunch and within social events as part of a festival program, which makes these events all the more important.

Ars Electronica is the more obvious media arts festival. This year its title, Repair, suited the (mostly) singular venue: an old modernist industrial complex, the Tabakfabrik. Exhibitions, talks, workshops, concerts, projections and performances were held in a series of impressive buildings around an open, communal courtyard filled with chairs, food, drink and music – an industrial urban fairground.

Ars 2010

Ars 2010: Urban Stage by Gudrun Kemsa. image Lauren Brown, 2010

Held over 11 days, the presented works and coinciding discussion gradually evolved, allowing dynamic audience experiences of longevity and immediacy.

There was an immense range of art and research to witness at Ars, which promoted a constant sense of discovery along with the intrepid angst that you might miss something! Sharing of experience happened mainly in common areas with conversations beginning with ‘have you been to…’.

Works that best used the festival atmosphere included the Sound Spaces progressing sound art concert performed in different parts of the complex, Christina Kubisch’s walks; the whole floor of DIY repair workshops for body, clothing, furniture and architecture; and the Prix Ars Cyber Arts Competition. The Prix works could have occurred in a stand-alone gallery, but the variety and openness of the festival environment allowed audiences to see works including Stelarc’s Ear on Arm operation, Thomas Thwaites’ Toaster Project and the EyeWriter, as accessible.

I believe this accessibility reinforces Peter Weibel’s view of the festival as the best forum for media arts: rigorous research outcomes presented with energy and openness to allow access to a spectrum of audience responses – neither closing up or dumbing down the art or technology.

Lauren Brown

Lauren is a conceptual/performance/installation artist working with sound in the public realm. She is based in Melbourne, Berlin and on her blog: she sees red.


¹ The Tongue That Sees. Neuroaesthetics, Molecular Aesthetics and Media Aesthetics. 24th August 2010, ISEA 2010 Dortmund. Peter Weibel is an artist, teacher, art/media theorist and director of the Centre for Art and Media (ZKM), Karlsruhe.

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