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Culture

Networking New Media Art Globally

Every few years, the Inter-Society for Electronic Arts hosts an international symposium for artists, musicians and computer techies from around the world. In 2004 it was held in Helsinki and Tallinn…and on a cruise ship.

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Installations in Helsinki were housed in the Kiasma modern art museum

You'd normally expect a Baltic Sea cruise to be full of senior citizens looking for some salt air and a full buffet -- not a boatload of avant-garde new media artists and musicians. But then again a cruise organized by the Inter-Society for Electronic Arts (ISEA), a non-profit group that aims to foster interdisciplinary and multicultural discourse for people involved in finding out where exactly art and technology meet, isn't going to be your average trip on the Love Boat.

"The entire ship is an instrument," said Finnish ISEA organizer Tapio Mäkelä. He explained that although the event was somewhat amorphous by nature, the focus in 2004 was on wearable and wireless technologies and their application with various media. "The whole thing makes sense when you've gone through it and experienced it all."

Fähre Tallinn - Helsinki

A cruise ship or a floating art platform? Photo: DW

Started in the late 1980s in the Netherlands, this year's ISEA symposium was held last week in the Finnish and Estonian capitals of Helsinki and Tallinn. Separated by a stretch of the Baltic Sea, the two cities were linked by the aforementioned fully wired cruise ship that functioned as a sailing platform for the art exhibitions, concerts and conferences.

Amorphous exhibition

With the symposium's program ranging from experimental electronic music to interactive clothing, artwork and technology, the two-day cruise afforded participants the opportunity to become better acquainted with each other and the various new media installations onboard.

Computerkunst aus Schokolade

A "Binary" installation using video and chocolates. (Photo: Tim Büsing for DW)

Those included an Australian collaboration in a real lifeboat dealing with "biological art", as well as an underwater audio project in the ship's swimming pool. Another project entitled "Float" used incoming data from the ship's navigation system including distance from nearby islands and the depth of the water to create an ambient soundscape.

Many of the onboard highlights were the cruise's musical performances including a set by well-known Canadian DJ Akufen, which predictably drew a large crowd. However, the DJs on the boat were out rocked by live artists such as Finland's Zarkus Poussa, who combined samples from TV shows like "Battlestar Galactica" with cheesy 80s synth drums and camp singing.

DJ-Set zur ISEA

A DJ set on the boat.

German musician Felix Kubin from Hamburg also offered a manic show, heating up the audience with his own unique combination of wild organ playing and analog knob twisting. He said performing at the ISEA appealed to him because of its cross-disciplinary and multicultural approach.

"It's great to be able to see what different people from different places are doing musically and artistically," Kubin told DW-WORLD. "It's a good type of globalization going on here."

Kubin has long been involved in efforts to break down cultural barriers. His latest project involves setting up a mobile bilingual German-Polish radio station broadcasting both to air and on the Internet that will eventually travel through the two countries for half a year focusing on music and culture.

Pushing boundaries

Kubin's attitude toward his live performance fit well with the basic idea behind the whole ISEA event: See how far the boundaries of new media art and music are being pushed by others in order to push them even further yourself.

But the floating media platform didn't necessarily agree with all of the participants. Japanese artist and musician Yoshio Machida said his performance suffered at the unconventional venue on the cruise ship's deck.

"Normally I play in a more quiet place -- it's a bit noisy here," Machida said.

Plug your Boots!

"Seven Mile Boots" by Laura Beloff, Erich Berger and Martin Pichlmair. Photo: Tim Büsing for DW.

Back on dry land in Tallinn, artists focused on the wearable and the wireless. One Finnish-Austrian collaboration came up with a pair of so-called "Seven Mile Boots" that were connected to internet chat rooms. While in cyberspace, the boots would convert the text of chat room users to speech so the wearer could hear what was being discussed. But with each step the wearer would switch chat rooms miles apart entering other Internet conversations around the globe.

Interactive, inflatable

Another group of Swedish and American artists going by the moniker "Millefiore Effect" came up with inflating clothes that respond to yelling. Plastic horns and other parts of the outfits puff up as the wearers scream to symbolize anger and aggression.

Kongresszentrum in Tallin

The week of music and new media art wrapped up in Helsinki with club events, conferences and an exhibition at the city's spectacular Kiasma museum of modern art. There visitors came across a number of novel installations such as Hanna Haaslahti's "Scramble Suit". The Finnish artist's work confronts people with a real-time projection of their own image with is simultaneously attacked by a kinetic shadow monster that attempts to take over the image.

The real-time interaction with technology was also a reoccurring theme during the seminars in Helsinki. That included technologies really not usually thought of being suitable for artistic projects such as the Global Positioning System (GPS) that relies on satellites to pinpoint locations on Earth.

"It's all about mixing the physical with the virtual," said Joel Slayton, an American using GPS to combine mapping of actual landscapes with conceptual and physical interaction.

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