ISEA Newsletter #98 - ISSN 1488-3635 #98, August - September 2004 For the online version of this newsletter: http://www.isea-web.org/inl/inl98.html
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 Newsletter. 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. Editorial 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 Netherlands). 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 firstname.lastname@example.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 press. 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 productions. 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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