International Symposium on Electronic Art synthesizes art and technology around Vancouver

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      Vancouver is getting super-wired this week: from Friday to Wednesday (August 14 to 19) it’s hosting one of the world’s most prestigious festivals of art and technology, the 21st International Symposium on Electronic Art.

      Launched in the Netherlands and last held in Canada 20 years ago, the nomadic event spans everything from a roundtable on the politics of exhibiting videogame art to “performances” by musebot ensembles to demos on how to hack high-tech knitting machines.

      The fact that ISEA is taking place in Vancouver speaks to our status as a pioneering hub for synthesizing art and technology. We have a strong history of media art that extends from the Intermedia collective to centres like VIVO and the Western Front, artists like Stan Douglas and Roy Arden, and mass events like the New Forms Festival.

      “Vancouver is obviously known for the Vancouver School and photography as one of the main cultural exports and one of the main scenes, but the media-arts scene and electronic scene have been really influential as well,” Malcolm Levy, who is artistic director for the event with Kate Armstrong, tells the Straight.

      And because multimedia is so strong here, the interest in ISEA has been huge, Levy reveals. “It’s been the largest response to an artist call in the history of ISEA,” Levy tells the Straight. “There have been more than 2,000 [submissions] to go through. That really allowed us to focus in on what we really wanted to do thematically: either show a lot of work involving media, Internet, and robotics, in terms of usage, or show work that talks about the media or about the Internet and but has very little technology involved.”

      Centred at SFU Woodward’s and built around the theme of “disruption”, ISEA will bring together academics and artists for panels, lectures, workshops, and more. It will also showcase more than 160 cutting-edge digital artworks, with a special FUSE event at the VAG exhibiting as many as 50 tech-savvy installations and displays mounted throughout the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at SFU Woodward’s during the event.

      A keynote speech at SFU on Friday (August 14), by French academic Dominique Moulon, called Digital Art: A Contemporary Art, focuses on the omnipresence of digital media and its profound effect on visual art.

      At the same venue during the fest, the French company AM/CB presents an interactive choreographic solo called Hakanaï that finds a dancer moving within a huge cube, interacting with flashing, moving images that a live digital performer projects on its walls.

      Elsewhere, check out the In It virtual-reality display at Emily Carr University’s Concourse Gallery, which includes installations like Felix & Paul Studios’ Herders, an immersive cinematic journey focusing on the lives of nomadic yak herders in Mongolia, and Vrtist, an app that allows users to draw in 3-D in the space around them.

      At the grunt gallery, several events and workshops happen around ARCTICNOISE, a media installation by Geronimo Inutiq (Madeskimo) that works in archival film footage and sound materials from the Isuma Archive at the National Gallery of Canada, as well as sound and film from the artist’s personal collection, a trip to Igloolik, and Glenn Gould’s pioneering radio documentary The Idea of North.

      For more information and a complete schedule, see


      Follow Janet Smith on Twitter @janetsmitharts.