[-empyre-] panelism and conferencism

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Thu Sep 22 18:27:43 EST 2011

There are two issues that overlap...  the question of any
institution's potential role as an access point to a community (is it
an entryway? a bottleneck? a checkpoint?  all of the above?) and the
larger economic backdrop that is putting pressure on the whole system:

Do you NEED to be at ISEA in order to share, circulate, and engage
with the field?  Can or does ISEA do things that might make it easier
for this to happen?  A few options here are doing some of the things
that were already taking place:  Allowing people to use the ISEA
platform to connent via remote presentations, gallery shows, and a
communications network that does not require attendance at the
specific event (I was happy to see that empyre was serving in this
parallel role).  People who are physically present will always have
social opportunities that are not available to those who are remotely
so.  But then geography is always a potential problem.  I mean, it
would be really good for me, in terms of encountering new ideas,
engaging with artists, and expanding my netowrk if I lived in New York
or San Francisco or London.  But you know what?  I have three kids, I
need to keep them close to me and share the work of parenting.  I
don't want to spend my life chasing a salary.  I don't want to be
seduced into using my personality as a resource.  So, I spend most of
my time at a small school in the midwest, with a 500$ budget for
travel or conferences, grateful that I am not adjuncting and that I
can write an article every once in a while and that someone will read
it....  I eat at home and mend my clothes and try to make it to one
big coverence every other year.  Sometimes I get lucky and get to do
more things, sometimes I don't.  But I do take advantage of things
like empyre which don't have a large overhead for me, but still give
me the opportunity to talk with people who I might otherwise never
meet.  If I weren't in Norway right now, I'd never make it to Istanbul
for a conference on my own dime (not to mention that my workload would
not allow me to take a long trip).  There are times when I envy people
with travel budgets and light teaching loads and research assistants
and all the affordances that make it easy to do these sorts of
things....  but it is not their fault that the institutions many of us
are supported by (or would be supported by in another time) are
pulling back their funds and trying to squeeze critical cultural
activity out of human life.  It feels bad when this happens to a
college professor, but then I look at the workaday world all around me
in Michigan, where people are constantly strangled by debt,
competetion, and declining services, and realize that we are all being
squeezed.  The long term project, then, is the long term project of
everyone is this world: Justice and Dignity, from the bottom up.

One short term solution, barring an enormous donation which can
finance the organization and all who can attend it, is to work on ways
to build a good conference WHILE providing additional paths into the
community.  If I had to choose whether or not to go to ISEA, I would
go again, because it is great to meet people whose work you admire.
It is great to find yourself sitting next to a stranger who blows your
mind.  It is great to have real time face to face engagement over
ideas....  especially if you don't live in New York, Chicago, LA, San
Francisco, etc, where these interactions are easier to come by.  But
if I couldn't afford the trip, I would still try to do things I do
here...  talk with people, learn about what they are doing, try to
engage them as richly as possible.

I think budget transparency is a great idea.  People should know that
the fees they are spending are being put to sound institutional use.
I trust that they are, but it is really only because I had a good
experience, I like the people that I met, and I tend to trust people
anyway.  But it is always good to know where the money comes from and
where the money goes, and to have open dialogue about alternative

I also think that regional conferences or workshop events could also
be a very good idea.  Look at how many places host TEDx events, and do
a good job at them.  We could learn from this.

And, finally, I think that Grau's keynote on databases was also
something important.  I know that ISEA probably wants to keep a
limited focus simply to maintain sanity and to avoid an additional
expense....  but I think that finding a way for the organization to
gather, document, and transmit it's work helps establish the
legitimacy of its practices, while making their output visible,
transparent, and accountable.  Even lending its cognitive resources to
developing tools can go a long way to moving away from the "pyramid
scheme" and affirming the concrete value of the work that is taking
place.  I have never participated in an ISEA event in the past, but I
do think that uploading papers, documenting the shows, and working in
conjuction with LEA to present some of the outcomes in a  more formal
way (along with open calls to those who did not attend) can help to
make discussion more inclusive and more substantial.  You will never
be able to fully replace the benefits of the face-to-face meetings (or
get around the specific demands of physical presence), but offering
alternatives ways in, surely can help with this.  And offering good
documentation makes the present accountable to the future.


On Thu, Sep 22, 2011 at 9:30 AM, Simon Biggs <simon at littlepig.org.uk> wrote:
> The issue I was seeking to raise was not ISEA's finances (it may have a smaller budget than ANAT - which is modest as well, with one and a bit employees) but with the financial and structural models underpinning it. In some important respects these are similar to the International Olympic Committee - and as we have recently seen, this is a model open to corruption, nepotism and autocratic governance. I am not suggesting ISEA is in anyway corrupt, nepotistic or autocratic, but there only needs to be the potential for, or the appearance of, such factors for alarm bells to start ringing. Working in a large public institution where, from time to time, I am involved in governance, I am all too aware of these issues. You have to ensure your systems are incorruptible and are seen to be so.
> I know that ISEA board members offer their time and energy for free and that the chair (and their institution) receive little reward for the substantial work they have to put in. I do not know what the "tax" levied on hosts is as a percentage of event gross turnover but assume it is calculated fairly. However, that is an assumption I am making, based on trust, and that is not the same as being fully transparent.
> The point I am making is that if ISEA needs reform then the place to start is in its structure and financial model. I think that a peer to peer model could work, although I am not proposing a detailed plan for how to do this. Michel may have some thoughts on how this could be done in a manner that assures transparency, inclusive governance and sustainability?
> best
> Simon
> On 21 Sep 2011, at 23:03, Cynthia Beth Rubin wrote:
>> Hi Tracey, Melinda, and all:
>> While I agree that is at the tipping point,  the issue may be more one of "panelism and conferism" than of organizaton.
>> ISEA is a facade, not a behemoth. There is no ISEA budget.  There is barely an ISEA organization.  There is a very part-time director who is paid in release time by her University.
>> Each ISEA event is organized independently, and each ISEA event has to come up with its own funding, and then pay a small "tax" fo the organization, which covers minor office costs and publicity.  I am not on the Board now, and cannot say how much this is, but it is tiny.
>> Fees go to cover the actual ISEA. If there is other funding, great.  If not, then people have to pay.  There is no overflow from year to year.  Unless people decide to work on fundraising, there simply are no funds.  In fact, it is more lightweight than ANAT is, I believe, "heavier" than ISEA, so I am confused by Simon's post on this.
>> The discussion on panelism is more interesting.  Many people I spoke with submitted papers in the most traditional format - just as a way to come and participate.  Do we need people presenting papers?  What about brainstorming sessions?  Organized discussions?
>> I loved each of the keynote presenters - but they are "expensive" - they expect expenses to be paid.  They are not necessarily a big draw - it is the chance to network and discussion that draw many of us here.  This year I participated in a great AR workshop led by Hana Iverson and Sarah Drury.  I met one attendee who reported that she only participated in workshops - that she never made it to Sabanci Center because the activities at the Sabanci U Communications were so great - workshops every day.
>> What if we all came here not to show off what we do, but to learn?  To take workshops, collaborate on projects, and actually make work by the end of the week?
>> And if we did that with more local artists?
>> Cynthia
>> On Sep 21, 2011, at 7:36 AM, Tracey M Benson wrote:
>>> Well said Melinda,
>>> For me I have found some the most interesting discussions have come
>>> via lists like -empyre- as at the conference there has not been much
>>> of an opportunity as time has been so compressed
>>> I have had a great time at ISEA and think that some of the challenges
>>> in getting to venues illustrates the complexity of Istanbul, you have
>>> to go with it :-)
>>> What I feel I missed was a strong sense of the Turkish media arts
>>> community - I would have loved to see more Turkish work and discussion
>>> on local/regional issues. BTW - if anyone has the name of the artist
>>> who presented on the boat please let me know (he did the lovely
>>> projection work onto historic buildings).
>>> The organisers did a great job in pulling together a mammoth event
>>> despite all the challenges, and were very responsive to people
>>> concerns about the fees by lowering the pass price for non presenters
>>> (there was quite a bit of posting on nettime about this some months
>>> ago).
>>> I didn't get to catch up with half as many peeps as I wanted to and
>>> only about a quarter of the presentations.
>>> The big question - will people be attending future ISEA events? For
>>> sure! Well at least I will be :-)
>>> Cheers
>>> Tracey
>>> On Tue, Sep 20, 2011 at 4:59 PM, Melinda Rackham <melinda at subtle.net> wrote:
>>>> hey all,
>>>> ISEA is a behemoth-
>>>> it has its geographic and cultural specific issues each year
>>>> and there is discussion, and there is new set of issues the next year
>>>> and ISEA ferrys continue to sail on..
>>>> however it appears to me ISEA is at a tipping point- it may collapse under its own weight with the  the most problematic and unsustainable issue is the  coprorate model of "panelism and conferencism" that lucas eloquently described.
>>>> the issues are not cultural difference, submachine guns, water qaulity etc  etc etc , but how we route around entrenched outmoded corporate modes of being to find a useful way to really communicate ideas and engage with each other.
>>>> best wishes
>>>> Melinda
>>>> Melinda Rackham
>>>> melinda at subtle.net
>>>> ~~
>>>> Craftivism is a way of looking at life
>>>> where voicing opinions through creativity
>>>> makes your voice stronger,
>>>> your compassion deeper, &
>>>> your quest for justice more infinite.
>>>> ~~ Betsy Greer.
>>>> On 18/09/2011, at 1:47 PM, Lucas Bambozzi wrote:
>>>>> Hi all,
>>>>> I am a lazy lurker and did not follow the whole discussion. But for me it seems that the model of panelism and conferencism adopted by ISEA and other related meetings does match the model of Sabanci Centre and commonly lacks the vibrant life outside there. Sao Paulo, a city where I live would not survive without the hundreds of corporate driven conferences filling up expensive hotels and feeding business tourism. I am not sure to which extend ISEA is able to create a model apart from this.
>>>>> Hope the drinks at Nuru Zya will last enough to refresh some discussions around this topic.
>>>>> BEst
>>>>> L.
>>>>> Lucas Bambozzi
>>>>> mobile: +5511 91892338
>>>>> www.lucasbambozzi.net
>>>>> www.artemov.net
>>>>> On 18 Sep 2011, at 05:24, Joseph Delappe wrote:
>>>>>> Hello all!
>>>>>> Simon, I hope to see you in Istanbul!  I leave tomorrow.
>>>>>> Fascinating exchange here regarding ISEA.  Istanbul has been fascinating.  ISEA a bit problematic for sure, from the security checkpoints to the blocked internet access onsite.  Unbelievable from my perspective - donated spaces or not absurd to hold such a gathering in what is essentially a censored corporate environment - perhaps there might have been a workshop the prior week to develop a hack to share with all attendees to break through the great Sabanci Center firewall?
>>>>>> There have been some great presentations although the physical location of the panels and paper presentations feel a bit more like small classrooms than proper spaces for true exchange - these rooms in the 2nd basement of the Sabanci are not set up for true panel presentations - there is literally no space for all the panelists to sit facing the attendees - as such, in the panels I've attended, and even on the panel I chaired ("If you See Something Say Something"http://isea2011.sabanciuniv.edu/panel/say-something), the cramped space has tended to hinder the exchange and discussion.
>>>>>> I am perhaps less surprised by the security at the buildings having read prior to my visit to Istanbul of bombings as recently at 2010.  Each entry to the Biennial has the same metal detectors as the Sabanci center although not the xray scanners for bags.
>>>>>> I had a very interesting experience at the Istanbul Biennial that I would like to share.  We wandered through both of the exhibitions spaces - impressed by some of the works but immediately struck by the absence of any digital work and scant attention to even video art.  Most astounding though, was that we somehow missed the text statements at the two spaces until finally exiting the larger of the two buildings.  Honestly I was quite shocked upon reading that the theme of the biennial was to address "politics and art"?  Was I missing something?  Yes, there were some politically oriented work for certain - most impressively the display of found objects taken from blown up Palestinian homes, Marth Rosler's classic Vietnam Era montage work, Group Material and 1980's AIDS themed artifacts and a few others.  Mostly however, the show seemed to be full of work that was less than "political".  Am I missing something here?  If this exhibition represents the best of political art
>> fr
>>>> o
>>>>> m
>>>>>> Latin America and the Middle East we are in deep trouble!
>>>>>> Istanbul has been truly amazing however - a bit challenging to find the venues for the exhibitions - the map in the brochure for ISEA is rather useless to be frank. There is something to be said about distributing events throughout a given city but one of such immense proportions as Istanbul presents to serious challenges to visitors.  Nagoya ISEA provided a different model of centralized spaces just adjacent to the conference spaces.  Certainly more convenient while also creating a sense of a critical mass of events and energy.  This ISEA feels a bit dispersed on many levels.
>>>>>> Lastly, it was a very bad idea to schedule ISEA across two weeks?  There are so many academics from the US in particular who are now two, three weeks into our teaching schedules.  This weekend represents a departure of a huge portion of the attendees to ISEA and the arrival of a second group.  We cannot take two weeks off from our teaching duties to participate in such a conference!  Thus the organizers have essentially chosen to bifurcate ISEA.  Very frustrating as our $500+ conference fee seems a waste for being able to participate in roughly 1/2 of a conference.
>>>>>> All the best and hope everyone coming in this weekend or remaining for the full term of the conference h,
>>>>>> Joseph DeLappe
>>>>>> Professor
>>>>>> Digital Media Studio
>>>>>> Department of Art/224
>>>>>> University of Nevada, Reno
>>>>>> Reno, Nevada 89557
>>>>>> 775-784-6624
>>>>>> delappe at unr.edu
>>>>>> http://www.delappe.net
>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>> empyre forum
>>>>>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>>>>>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
>>>>> _______________________________________________
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>>> --
>>> Dr Tracey Meziane Benson (aka bytetime)
>>> Adjunct Postdoctoral Fellow || The Australian National University ||
>>> School of Music
>>> Visiting Scholar || The Australian University || School of Cultural Inquiry
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> Simon Biggs
> simon at littlepig.org.uk www.littlepig.org.uk @SimonBiggsUK skype: simonbiggsuk
> s.biggs at ed.ac.uk Edinburgh College of Art University of Edinburgh
> www.eca.ac.uk/circle www.elmcip.net www.movingtargets.co.uk
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