Why did it seem necessary, to set up a special commission for Cultural Diversity within ISEA?
ISEA needs a Cultural Diversity Committee because, quite simply, the membership and attendees at ISEA are overwhelmingly North American, Western European, and Australian. Furthermore, as pointed out by representatives of the British group "Displaced Data" during the plenary session at ISEA 96 Rotterdam, the members of various racial and ethnic groups living within these countries are also not well represented at ISEA.
ISEA has always been committed to being an arena for all artists who are engaged in the Electronic Arts, and ISEA exhibitions, performances, and conferences usually include a number of artists who have yet not received significant recognition, as well as more established artists. Why then has this unbalance continued? We all need to examine what is happening in our local and global cultures, and then devise some steps to insure a truly open Electronic Art world.
My own concerns, both as an artist and as a member of ISEA, is that we examine the role of cultural traditions and assumptions in forming this new field. Electronic Art is unique in that non-artists such as computer scientists, entertainment professionals, and marketing directors of software companies have played a key role in defining what tools are available to the average artist.
I appreciated Beral Madra's comments on the distinction between curating and curated cultures. Such a distinction implies (correctly, I believe) that the curatorial world operates with a cultural code of evaluation that differs from the codes of many who are producing work. Some artists, particularly those who live in the same cultural settings as influential curators, may understand these codes. This is certainly an advantage in navigating the art world, -- it would be naive to believe otherwise -- but simply knowing how to navigate this world does not lead to a more inclusive culture. It does not necessitate acceptance unless the artist chooses to produce work in keeping with these standards.
Artistic sensibility is obviously culturally based, and artists who are not able or willing to put their work in a form that speaks clearly to conventional mainstream aesthetics are at a distinct disadvantage in juried competitions. At ISEA 97 Chicago, Lucia Grossberger - Morales noted that, as a Latina artist, she sometimes feels pressure to produce two kinds of work: one speaking to her own cultural heritage, and another for the curators. For Electronic Artists, important juries go beyond curators. Artists need access to equipment and to knowledge of new technologies, as well as venues for exhibition and performance. Often such access is based on juried competitions.
Essential to any discussion is the perception of artists and critics who are now outside of the newly emerging mainstream Electronic Art world. If they feel that there is not a place for them in this arena, they will ignore groups such as ISEA, and perceived barriers will become real obstacles. Therefore, it is not enough for ISEA, or any other organization to simple state that we are open; we need to find a way to be welcoming, responsive, and eventually even flexible about who we are.
Cynthia Beth Rubin
I am writing in response to the following question that was directed to myself, as the ISEA Board Member who is chairing the Cultural Diversity Committee. I am copying this message to the ISEA forum list, but it is part of the Discussion "Cultural Exchange via Internet" chaired by Gerhard Haupt [email@example.com]