#098 Aug-Sept 2004

ISEA Newsletter #98 - ISSN 1488-3635 #98, August - September 2004
For the online version of this newsletter:

ISEA Board Editorial by Nina Czegledy
ISEA News by Angela Plohman

"A Brief History of Early Estonian Computer Arts" by Mare Tralla
"Electronic arts and new media culture in Scandinavia" by Minna Tarka
"Ponijpirts: The Mobile Sauna Project" Interview with Karlis Kalnins, conducted by Kristine Briede (edited by Marc Tuters)
"Locative Media, the MILK model" by Marc Tuters
"The Trans-Culture Mapping Network & the Iceland Workshop" by Marc Tuters

Board Editorial
by Nina Czegledy

Dear members,

In August 2004, science, electronic arts, technology and popular culture 
converge to celebrate ISEA2004 in Helsinki, Tallinn and the ferry 
travelling between these Baltic cities.
Ever since m-cult's submission in Paris, we looked forward in great 
anticipation to this summer. Now considering the remarkable mix of 
programs on offer, we shall not be disappointed. 
It is a great pleasure to introduce on behalf of the ISEA Board this 
special issue welcoming ISEA2004, the 12th edition of the ISEA 
symposium. We are delighted to present special reports on a variety of 
topics from Mare Tralla, Minna Tarka and Mark Tuters. These texts 
reconfirm the unique cultural context in the Baltic, providing 
inspiration for outstanding collaborations such as ISEA2004.

The schedule of the ISEA public meetings have been published in our #97 
Aiming for a more inclusive means of cooperation and collaboration, we 
extend a special invitation to these meetings for all ISEA2004 
participants to discuss current activities and recommend plans for the 
future. If you wish to be involved in ISEA or if you have questions or 
comments these opportunities will provide an excellent platform to 
express your views.
The African Network Meeting at ISEA2004 has a special meaning for the 
Inter Society.
We are extremely pleased to announce ISEA's endorsement of this 
workshop, reflecting our desire to collaborate on various projects in 
the field of digital culture and electronic arts. One of our primary 
goals is to extend the momentum of these activities in the future and to 
diversify our networks by co-sponsoring events in the global electronic 
arts community.
When ISEA was founded, it was hard to imagine the rapidly unfolding 
growth of the electronic arts scene. Nevertheless, despite the 
significant shifts over the years, ISEA remained unique and independent, 
and kept the role of organizing and promoting unifying yet nomadic 
multicultural events. For each of us involved in the organization ISEA 
might mean something different.  The strong team of Board members and 
the invaluable contribution of our Coordinating Director, Angela Plohman 
however stimulate the often-invisible work of the Inter Society,

Once again, ISEA2004 will be the place to meet each other, to be 
stimulated, to share our experience and plan for the years to come. In 
the hope that the symposium participants as well as our readers will 
gain inspiration, knowledge and pleasure from this special issue

Welcome to the 12th International Symposium on Electronic Art.

Nina Czegledy, Chair
ISEA board of directors.

by Angela Plohman

This very special issue of the ISEA Newsletter coincides with the launch 
of ISEA2004 but also of the new website of the Inter-Society for the 
Electronic Arts, which is scheduled to go live during ISEA2004. The 
visual design and structure of the site is the creation of students in 
the Digital Arts Program at Bowling Green State University in Bowling 
Green, Ohio, USA. (Bonnie Mitchell, faculty advisor; Nick Consolo and 
Andy Ranville). The structure of the site, based on the work of the 
students from Bowling Green State University, was further developed and 
completed by two students from the Hogeschool van Utrecht 
(Mediatechnologie, Amersfoort, the Netherlands): Quinten Beek and Adam 
Chapman. The ISEA website is generously hosted by Public Domain 
http://www.pd.org, in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. This special enhanced issue 
of the ISEA newsletter was designed by René Paré (MAD, Eindhoven, the 

As you have noticed, we are experimenting with a new format for the ISEA 
Newsletter. We welcome any feedback you may have - please feel free to 
write to us at info@isea-web.org with your comments.

We would like to thank all of the volunteers who have worked very hard 
to get all of this online, and would also like to thank everyone who has 
contributed to this newsletter focused on the Baltic region: Nina 
Czegledy, Minna Tarka, Mare Tralla and Marc Tuters.

We hope you enjoy this special issue and we hope to see some of you at 
ISEA20004! In that regard, we would like to remind you that there will 
be several opportunities to meet with the ISEA Board and committee 
members at ISEA2004:

++ ISEA Networking Meeting @ ISEA2004
ISEA will be hosting an informal networking meeting on the Networked 
Experience Cruise during ISEA2004. The meeting will be held in the 
Carmen Conference Room on level 9 of the Silja Opera Ferry, on August 
16, 2004 at 18:00. Representatives from the ISEA Board, ISEA 
Headquarters, the ISEA Cultural Diversity Committee, the ISEA-sponsored 
African-networking workshop, the Asia Pacific New Media Art Network, 
ISEA2006 and the ISEA International Advisory Committee will be present.

++ ISEA GM @ ISEA2004
The ISEA General Meeting for all ISEA members will be held on August 22, 
2004 at 12:00 in the Sampo Auditorium of the Lume Media Centre in 
Helsinki, Finland. This meeting will also give participants a chance to 
evaluate and comment on ISEA2004 and offer suggestions for the future. 
At 13:00, following the GM, the Director of ISEA2006, Steve Dietz, will 
give a presentation on ISEA2006.

A Brief History of Early Estonian Computer Arts
by Mare Tralla

It is thought that electronic art in Estonia is a rather new phenomenon. 
In popular opinion, it is only seen to originate here after the first 
Interstanding new media festival, which took place in Tallinn in 1995. 
Bi-annually organized, Interstanding was the idea of two individuals: 
Eric Kluitenberg and Ando Keskk——, with the first edition organized 
collaboratively between Soros Center for Contemporary Arts (SCCA), 
Estonia, Estonian Academy of Arts and SCAN, Groningen, Holland. In 
association with the conference, the SCCA organized its annual 
exhibition under the title Biotopia, which, looking at the connections 
between technology and biology, was ahead of its time and not understood 
by the local art world and media. Only later the understanding and 
significance of the ideas proposed by the curators, Sirje Helme, Eha 
Komissarov and reflected by young Estonian artists and even some 
scientists, have been revealed.

On the one hand, it is true that Interstanding could be blamed as the 
inspiration for many Baltic new media initiatives, as this was the first 
time and place where the seeds were sewn. On the other hand, if one 
looks only at the Estonian case, the development of the society in 
general and its economy also played a role in the use of the digital 
medium by some Estonian artists. Firstly, the Estonian state had 
declared IT and TCT its developmental priority, however that did not 
include funding in the cultural sector; it was mainly targeted to 
primary, secondary and technical higher education. Yet, there was a lot 
of media talk about those developments and schemes; the idea of 
E-Estonia was widely advocated in 90s. But even despite very little 
funding of IT and ICT in the cultural sector, some money and equipment 
found their way there, too, thus access to technology became easier. 
Unfortunately, the general development of the ICT sector in Estonia and 
its rapid commercialization also meant that the space was quickly filled 
by activities with which artists had nothing in common and was not an 
area that artists had the will to occupy.

The activities in the period after 1995 have been quite extensively 
documented, due to the work of SCCA (later CCA) and a number of artists 
who were active within the more traditional contemporary art scene. It 
is wonderful that this exists, but at the same time, a neutral 
perspective on what really happened to media art in Estonia is long due. 
I am speculating here, but I think we have missed activities in Estonia 
that were not so close to the local established art world and its 
networks, activities that similarly, in the 80s, happened among close 
circles of friends or computer enthusiasts. The current history of 
Estonian media art after 1995 is filled with partial interests and even 
conflicts, personal likes and dislikes. With my more traditional art 
background, I am not the right person to point fingers at anyone, but 
just to bring out the need for new writing and research in this field. 
Also, I have observed from a distance the petty politics that have done 
no good for the interest of digital arts in Estonia since 1996. The 
reason for the local conflicts has been mainly a desperate race for 
international acknowledgment or 'fame', which is probably quite similar 
in many other small cultures, where it is a way of escaping local 
cultural isolation.

Members of the cultural establishment have voiced their disappointment 
that there is no alternative new media centre in Estonia, but they see 
the alternative centre as something similar to ZKM, and are not 
analyzing issues of sustainability and need for such a centre in a 
society as small as Estonia. At the same time, smaller and vibrant 
initiatives by local groups, like Moks, looming.org and 
Multikultuurimaja have been active almost invisibly. Recent activities 
by local artists and practitioners show different types of interests and 
initiatives in new media in Estonia. Just as an example, during 
ISEA2004, there are two week-long initiatives by local, young artists; 
one, an associated programme of ISEA2004, occupies a warehouse for 
second-hand computers in central Tallinn for a week, showcasing Estonian 
and Baltic artists' works, including a night of experimental sound. The 
other collides with ISEA2004 and includes opening festivities and 
exhibitions in an alternative cultural space, 'Culture factory', in an 
old abandoned polymer factory.

To look at the origins of local computer arts and the possible current 
parallel practices, one needs to revisit the period before 
Interstanding. In spring 2004, Tuuli Lepik defended her MA dissertation 
"END IF or Estonian earliest computer art and its sub-cultural 
background in years 1960 -1995". Her work was the first serious study 
into the period of computer arts in Estonia before 1995.

The computer-assisted works made during that period in Estonia can be 
considered only conditionally as 'computer-arts' as they were made 
without a niche that could identify the works as art. Only the lens of 
history provides us with the possibility to consider those early 
attempts in the context of art. In her research, Tuuli Lepik observes a 
wide variety of authors, from those of the first Estonian computer games 
with visual output and programmes generating audiovisual outputs to 
those of simple printouts like ASCII-art that have acquired an aesthetic 
value. That so-called maker of "material without art" might be "a 
designer" -creating the understanding of the technology of the computer 
making visual art. Lepik finds that the early programmers worked with 
great enthusiasm when producing early computer programmes.

In the title of her research, Lepik uses the archaic programming command 
'end if', which ends the lines of possibilities of a statement. At the 
same time, many statements can be interwoven and there can be an 
infinite number of possibilities. And so "end if" ends only its own 
statement. New statements are still possible, leaving the system open. 
Lepik characterizes the early creative works by keywords: archaic, 
meaning, game, naivety, the means, cryptic.

She used all possible ways to collect information: interviewing people, 
using excerpts from records, Internet sources, dialogues, conversations 
with people in Internet chat rooms, in lists and also by mail. The 
historical facts of Estonian computer art were retrieved from articles 
in the local newspapers and journals from the columns of culture and 
computer science.

Through that work, Lepik discovers that there was an active hackers 
sub-culture in Estonia at the end of the 80s and in the beginning of the 
90s. The former 'artists' of that circle currently form a group of 
varied professionals - programmers, designers, public figures and 
scientists. As a close circle of people, those authors were difficult to 
pinpoint and the information found about their activities only emerged 
after finding someone from a particular computer centre or classrooms of 
which there were several in Estonia in those days. The historic material 
about those centres has however being neglected by museums and is only 
found in private collections. Even the universities have not documented 
their early activities in computing. This may of course also be related 
to the secrecy of the Soviet era and the way the Soviet regime 
controlled any technology which allowed one to manipulate information. 
All kinds of reproduction technologies were heavily controlled. Computer 
graphics were taught as a separate subject or mixed with the studies of 
design in many universities in Estonia. But there are almost no examples 
of computer graphics works done before the year 1995 either at the 
Tallinn Technical University or at the Tartu Art School because of high 
entropy. Based on my own encounter with the Tartu Art School in the late 
eighties, there seemed to be no need to save a work and 'take it home'. 
Lepik describes her detective work as collecting folk stories, from one 
word of mouth to another, leading from one person to another, from one 
material to another.  In this way, it is of course difficult to control 
the authenticity of the material, especially because often the real 
evidence of a particular programme or print or experiment no longer exists.

The first visual images of a cat by Heiki Sumre, made with an M-3 
computer at the Cybernetics Institute in Tallinn sometime between 1960 
and 1965, were made to demonstrate the use of the computer and to 
entertain the school groups visiting the Institute.  The printer 
computer graphics arrived after the introduction of Minsk-2 at the 
Cybernetics Institute, which allowed printing out. First, the ASCII 
images printed were of unknown origins and by unknown authors, used like 
pirate software now, the programmes often arrived in Tallinn through 
computer centres in Russia. An ironic fact is that one of the first 
popular programmes printed out an image of Mickey Mouse.

The first exhibitions introducing computer art in Estonia were held 
already between 1969-1973, when Enn T‰›åu and Ivar Papp organized 
exhibitions at the Tartu Engineers House, using international computer 
magazines as sources. The 70s mark an active period of formation of 
computing centres in Estonia, by universities and research institutions. 
That meant some kind of access to computers for reasons besides 
'official' research and needs. Ustus Agur, an Estonian scientist and 
computer enthusiast, wrote several articles in the early 70s, which look 
at the creative potential of computers and the perfect symbiosis of 
cybernetics and arts. Engineer Harry Tali also recalls discussions with 
his artist friends who were fascinated by the computer as a tool for 
artists. Yet computer art was not considered an art.

Many artists exploited the computer to produce mechanical or anonymous 
patterns. Computer technology allowed using matrixes with ease. Artists 
like Heitti Polli, Aavo Ermel, T‰˜• Kukk, Raul Meel, Priit Pangsepp, 
Mall Nukke, the group "Fin Plotter" and Studio 22 used this in their 
works. In the 1980s, artists from Group Fin Plotter tried to show their 
computer graphics works in established art exhibitions, but found that 
the works were not accepted.  However, Fin Plotter had 4 separate 
exhibitions since 1986. From the above-mentioned names, group Studio 22 
has managed to be included in the more traditional contemporary art 
world. Their abstract, meditative, audio-visual programmes 'Early Sping' 
and 'Sea-space' were exhibited within the context of the early Soros 
Centre annual exhibitions, and they found recognition by the local art 

One of the first computer animation films "Stroika" by Viktor Siilatsi, 
Krista Siilatsi and Keith Siilatsi from 1987, was one of the first 
computer animation films that can be looked at independently as a film 
produced in Estonia and probably in the Soviet Union. It is a perfect 
comment on Soviet society at that time: the film is about a man who 
builds a house, taking bricks from a finished end of a wall to continue 
building, so the work never ends. Unfortunately, only bad quality video 
footage remains from the original Basic III programme.

In 1990, several artists also started working with interactive 
multimedia and later the Internet. Often they looked at the computer not 
merely as a tool, but tried to look at it in a more philosophical 
context and also as communication device. Rauno Remme, Ando Keskk——, 
Raivo Kelomees. Tiia Johannson and Mare Tralla belonged to that group. 
The ways those artists reached the computer and how they used it are all 
different. Rauno Remmes' absurd computer game "Wanna Play" is an 
excellent example of a user's frustration with playing old, redundant 
computer games that arrived with humanitarian aid packages and that were 
totally useless. The artist generates his own game in Basic, which gives 
an impression that there is a game and one can play it, but it is absurd 
and pointless; before you start, it is over.

The local computer art history is also well described with the 
development of personal technological skills. Many artists are now 
recognized as top computing specialists. For example, the programmers of 
the firm Bluemoon Interactive, who are famous for their software 
solutions, like the Kazaa file exchange programme and the technical 
solutions for the Internet phone Skype, started as young game 
programmers in the mid 1980s. At first they were making games just for 
fun, but soon discovered that there was also a market for their 

What also makes the research into the early period of computer arts even 
more difficult is the multitude of types of computers used: from Minsk - 
32 to less available Commodore Amiga-s with different file formats and 
operating systems. The extracts of codes and files have no value anymore 
if they have no output. For example, the files of the installations "PCS 
07-11" made by Raoul Kurvitz and Andres Lepp in 1994 are useless when 
there is no possibility to expose them in hardware, yet that work was 
the first digital art installation bought by the Estonian Art Museum and 
probably will never be seen again as an installation, as the museum did 
not invest in the hardware of that period.

It was surprising to see all the different types of activities by early 
computer enthusiasts and artists in Estonia. The above text only touches 
some, perhaps the most influential, of them. There could also be many 
parallels drawn with activities in the rest of the world. Despite the 
isolation of Soviet Union, it is surprising to see that the works made 
here carry so much similarity to the works done in West. Sure, often the 
international computer magazines, where bits of information were used, 
are to blame here. At the same time this also shows the communication 
starting between the west and 'east', and the enormous interest by 
Estonian scientists, programmers and artists, who later in 90s provided 
the ground for introducing ICT into Estonian society and artists into 
the world of new media.

Mare Tralla
Mare Tralla (EE/UK) is the programme chair of ISEA2004 Tallinn, she is 
an internationally active media artist and organizer. 2000-2003 she was 
the head of E- media Centre at the Estonian Academy of Arts. Her artwork 
often questions the place and the role of women in our societies and how 
women from Eastern Europe are perceived or seen in the Western world. 
Her work tackles or illustrates sensitive issues often with a lar

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