ISEA2015: Networking, Art, Electronics and Humans

Artwork by Abel Korinsky

The 21st International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA2015) is coming to Vancouver from the 14th to 19th of August. This is especially exciting as it is the first time the symposium has been hosted in Canada since it was held in Montreal in 1995! It’s been at least 6.311e+17 nanoseconds and several art movement shifts since then.

The ISEA2015 programme of events is incredibly diverse; over 160 artworks have been selected by a curatorial committee to represent this year’s Vancouver iteration. The ISEA2015 program also features 450 presenters and speakers from around the world. (Registration is still open, sign up!) 

Simon Fraser University is hosting the symposium and many of the talks, workshops and panels will be held in the SFU Woodwards building (Goldcorp Centre for the Arts) downtown. The symposium’s reach also expands out from SFU, with an array of other venues and organizations involved. The New Media Gallery in New Westminster will host the official launch of the symposium in conjunction with the opening of their new 5600K exhibition. ISEA keynote speaker Dominic Moulon will give a talk at the opening. Vancouver Art Gallery’s recurring monthly FUSE Event will feature a selection of ISEA2015 both inside and outside the gallery. Interactive art, performance and media based works will be on display and available for play. Other venues include the Musuem of Vancouver, the Fur Vault on West 4th, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, as well as a myriad of public places in downtown and False Creek as projects, interventions and walking tours are planned.  The Opening will be providing VIA readers with a showcase on ISEA2015. Over the next ten days VIA will highlight what makes this event extraordinary. Tune in daily for top picks and mini-features of the symposium. Today’s feature: an interview with ISEA’s Symposium Co-director Philippe Pasquier. 

Last week VIA met up with Pasquier at SFU Woodwards to discuss ISEA. With so many events happening over the course of the symposium it was difficult to know where to begin, so we started by discussing asking just what is ISEA2015. We also wanted to know why is this iteration in Vancouver different from previous ones.

According to Pasquier, what is interesting and remarkable about ISEA in comparison to a Biennale or Transmediale or Ars Electronica is that the symposium is nomadic. Each year the it lands in a different city and each time it does, the organization of the event is led largely by local committee members, volunteers, directors and programmers. This means that the symposium is directly influenced in a local sense. Reflections of the city where it is taking place can be found within the programming. Pasquier highlighted that the continuity of the symposium is connected directly to community that is organizing and creating the content of ISEA each year, so each year is bound to be very different every time.

Work by Martin Messier

Philippe Pasquier is the co-director of the symposium alongside Thecla Schiphorst. His background is in generative art, coding and processing whilst Schiphorst’s background is within dance and performance, she has worked with Merce Cunningham and John Cage among others. Their influence over the symposium is also found within the programming: several works of generative and procedural art as well as papers and presentations reflecting on this work are present as are presentations and explorations into embodiment, performativity and the place of the body in our hyper-technological world.

The 2015 theme of Disruption was chosen by Symposium Directors Pasquier, Schiphorst and Artistic Directors Kate Armstrong and Malcolm Levy. It was chosen for a number of reasons: “It has a lot to do with disrupting and renegotiating frontiers that exist very often, within ISEA as much as within the rest of society, between the academic world and art within the academic world. Now that all art schools have been transferred into universities or university departments. It’s happening all over the world, it’s very international as a discussion. Emily Carr transferred into a university a few years ago. So there is a divide between what it is to be making art, working on art, and making work about art, at the university versus art in the real world and the contemporary art scene which operates with the market as opposed to relying on submissions and academic structures. That is a frontier that we wanted to disrupt, between the art world and the academic world, and also more generally between the art world and the rest of society.”  Pasquier and his co-directors are all interested in using the theme of disruption to also break-up the division between the niche art world and its players (students, curators, journalists, artists & academics) with those who are not involved in this scene at all. He sees it as an opportunity to create dialogues between diverse communities.

ISEA2015 received over 2000 submissions and the committee reviewed each one and wrote feedback to everyone who was and was not selected. An inclusive measure that provides insight to those who weren’t accepted for this year. Another example of disrupting a traditional frontier. Pasquier said that he received feedback from several individuals thanking the committee for their feedback, as more often than not, proposals in the art and academic worlds are met with silence if they are not accepted. Feedback is a constructive way of encouraging people to stay connected to the community at large and to keep working on their projects. 

Out of the submission review there also came a selection of accepted projects papers and artworks that reach outside of art and technology specific contexts: Electronic Arts and Climate Change, Electronic Arts and Geopolitics, Electronic Arts and Communities, Electronic Arts and Surveillance Technologies, Electronic Arts and Bio and Nano Technologies.

Pasquier suggested that the reason why there is a large proliferation of these types of electronic artworks and projects that speak to the community, the environment and activism might be that electronics in general are a huge part of daily life for virtually everyone. We all use iphones, apps, computers and smart objects.  “The practice around Electronic Arts brings you closer to the real world in a pragmatic and low-level way, and I feel that the way the program answers this theme of disruption by addressing societal issues through the artistic practices.”  For Pasquier ISEA is also about creating more opportunities for humanities, art, science and technology to converge.

Work by Pimpao Frederico

Also highlighted by Pasquier, the international component of individuals attending and how this will make an impression on the locals, just as the locals and the city will make an impression on delegates from further afield.  ISEA2015 is a one of a kind event and a spectacular occasion for people in Vancouver to encounter an impressive, critical and wide ranging amount of electronic art. As Pasquier noted, nothing has happened like this before in our fair city. It is likely that it will be unique as an event of this calibre in Vancouver for several years to come.

The symposium will generate a great number of visitors, participants and attendees. With keynote speakers who are of distinction in their respective fields, impressive large-scale installations, multiple exhibitions and live performances, ISEA2015 will draw the crowds. Pasquier anticipates symposium attendees will reach at least 800 but it is likely that it will actually be well over 1,000. Events at larger spaces like the Museum of Vancouver, The Vancouver Art Gallery, The New Media Gallery and the SFU Yes Men talk, will be attended by many delegates as well as a much-much larger and public.  Attendance should easily reach several thousand by the time the symposium draws to a close.

Three Events to save the date for below and more highlights to come tomorrow!

Disruption Opening Reception & Fuse Event – Saturday August 15, 2015 7:00pm – 12:00am

Vancouver Art Gallery – 750 Hornby Street, Vancouver / Tickets: $20 each (Free for VAG Members)

Carsten Höller Neon Circle, 2001. Aluminum and cold cathode neon tubes (source:

5600K Exhibition Opening & Keynote Speech by Dominic Mouton Thursday, August 14th – 7-10pm

New Media Gallery – Anvil Centre, 777 Columbia Street, New Westminster  / Free to attend

Artwork by Brian Johnson

Disruption Installations at SFU Friday-Tuesday August 14-18, 2015 9am-5pm

SFU, Goldcorp Centre for the Arts – 149 W. Hastings Street, Vancouver  /  Free to visit