Re: [-empyre-] PRNMS

At ISEA, I delivered a presentation in the Pacific Rim section but was unable to participate in the Summit preceding ISEA as an invited observer.

I am disappointed to learn that the poetic style of Raqs' language was critiqued for lacking "political content" at a Festival dedicated to the electronic ARTS. Is it possible that "poetic" language opens up an undetermined space for the political that may have been deadened by preconceived notions of recognizability or consensus? Are we confident that we can determine what such "political content" is? Does it exclude poetic and artistic form? Are we so ready to give up on artistic experimentation as a process of pushing the boundaries of how we understand the political? If so, there might not be so many reasons for the ISEA to continue to exist in its present form.

This does not mean that I wasn't concerned by the relative uniformity of the "content" of much of the artwork on display in the giant bubble. I, too, noticed a surprising quietude on the part of selected artists given the depth of overtly political issues confronting our community: from the war and electronic militiary apparati to issues surrounding "digital terror" and politicized borders, to hunger and reproductive rights, etc. Although there were many pieces that made gestures to the weighty issues, the overall tendency of the curatorial vision, which seemed to emphasis "data" collection and projection, tended in my mind to dull the ideological verve of the EA in the perhaps more recognizable guise of sociology, its particular artistic style, and its derivatives (I even think that my own informational presentation of the Chinese archival holdings was guilty of favoring information over ideological content). Nothing wrong at all with that--there were some tremendous works. Of course, there was also a great variety and amount of work spread all over San Jose, much of it both poetic and political, but the work under the bubble did seem to reflect somewhat of a common gesture to precisely the kind of recognizability for which Raqs seems to have been critiqued. I was struck, for instance, that the piece by Muntadas on information systems and interfaces, which he presents with a visually "poetic" interface, found itself exhibited in the isolation of the far wing of the Convention Center where ISEA was not meeting (I never asked him about the reason for this positioning and wondered if it could have been linked to what appeared to be a convention on search systems that seemed to end the day ISEA began?).

What's particularly troubling me, however, is less the curatorial vision than apparent association of poetic style with apolitical or elitist content. Doesn't this delimit the poetic's possibility of extending boundaries, of pushing limits, and of confronting us with articulations previously unspoken? It was in this context that Jean-Francois Lyotard, one of France's most political philosophers, frequently stated that form itself is the most political of constructs.

When Arthur and Marilouise Kroker and I worked together on the design of the common interfaces linking the internet artworks on CTHEORY MULTIMEDIA, grouped around paradigms of genomic, terror, sound, etc., we worked to develop more of an artistic and poetic interface than a more obviously information friendly one. While recognizing that this could alienate some users, our hope was it would encourage them to participate in the poetic openness and interfaces of the many ideological edgy artworks we presented. Of course, the style of our curatorial essays, some presented via multimedia, also shares this commitment to the political verve of style. For me, this is one of the things that distinguishes the ISEA community from its peers in IT.

Hope this helps further catalyze the discussion, now that we all seem to be crawling back from the reserves of vacation.


-- Timothy Murray Professor of Comparative Literature and English Director of Graduate Studies in Comparative Literature Director of Graduate Studies in Film and Video Curator, The Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, Cornell Library Co-Curator, CTHEORY Multimedia: 285 Goldwin Smith Hall Cornell University Ithaca, New York 14853

office: 607-255-4012

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