Bruce Charlesworth: ISEA.1

Bruce Charlesworth

Esther Polak and Ivar van Bekkum: Spiral Drawing Sunrise

Arriving late Thursday night in Istanbul after a full day of teaching and a drive from Milwaukee to catch my connecting flight to Frankfort from O’Hare… I am jetlagged. I’m in Istanbul for the ISEA (International Society of Electronic Artists) Festival and Conference. Given that I am two days late for the festival, my account will be limited and personal. I’ve already missed much, and will miss more. Simultaneous events are scattered all over Istanbul, and navigation is tricky.

I made it to the conference in the sub-sub-basement of a financial complex, and sat through several sessions of artists and curators presenting papers. Topics included “The Body and Digital Space,” “Philosophy and Ethics of Bioart,” “Locative Sound,” “Robotics, Interactivity and Public Space.” For more information, click here and select Paper Sessions:

That evening, I groggily traveled by funicular and tram to the Sultanamet area of the Old City and went to a Turkish bathhouse to see Southern Ocean Studies by Tom Corby, Gavin Baily and Jonathan Mackenzie.

Projected on the domed entrance hall ceiling of the 427-year-old Çemberlitas Hamam, the artwork depicts the Southern Ocean circulating Antarctica. According to the artists, the project software runs in real-time generating the ocean currents on the fly, to which are mapped various other ecological data sets.

The back-and-white visualization of wind and tide evoked phenomena both small and large: lines of crawling ants and storm-tracking satellite maps. I like the idea of superimposing vortex-like imagery on a dome, and data from a cold place onto one that features heat. As with many new media works with a sociopolitical or scientific agenda, this one was more interesting to me in terms of its real-time data mapping content and symbolism than as a formal artwork. Both the intellectual and aesthetic impact of the piece might have been served by a larger, more encompassing projection in one of the huge domed hot rooms where bathers sweat on their backs while looking upward. For technical or cultural reasons, these options may not have been feasible in a traditional hamam.

I decided to have a Turkish bath.

Bruce Charlesworth is an artist, writer and filmmaker. He one of the pioneers of postmodern staged photography and among the first artists to use video and audio to power aspects of physically immersive “narrative environments.” He teaches in the Department of Film/Video/New Genres at the University of Wisconsin Peck School of the Arts in Milwaukee. He previously reported on Ars Electronica in 2009 for Public Address.