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Reflections on the International Symposium on Electronic Arts

If you have been keeping up with the Nugget Factory these days you know that Daniel and I endured many hours of travel to arrive in balmy Singapore where we attended the 2008 International Symposium on Electronic Arts.

The time we spent was filled with sessions, preparing for our own presentation, keeping up with IMA work and seeing what the city had to offer.  We did a lot of everything despite the inevitable jetlag.  A 12 hour time difference is a doozie.

Nonetheless, we made the most of it.  Of all the sessions we attended I found the last one to be the most compelling.  It was a lecture by Khairul Azril Ismail called Pudu Jail’s Graffiti: Aesthetics Beyond the Walls of the Prison Cells.

The presentation had two main ideas: documenting the graffiti of the Pudu Jail in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and studying it to determine its cultural and historical meaning.  Built in 1895, the institution had a reputation for cruelty and is an example of architecture that is vanishing from the Malaysian town.  The site is currently slated for destruction.

K. Azril Ismail presented a brief overview of the jail’s history and then presented some of his haunting photographs.  The black and white photos (give this link some time to load) document graffiti, architecture, vacant spaces and the memory of the people that passed through them.

His photos have captured a wide variety of graffiti, (the literal sense, not in the urban, underground style you might think of) and the second half of his talk was devoted to analyzing, sorting and categorizing the text and images left behind on the walls.  Their work struggles to make sense of images created by motivations that all human beings share as well as others that few experience.  And K. Azril Ismail continues this project despite considerable personal risk, a fact that he has seemingly suppressed with his dedication to the project.

Immediately following this presentation was the session Daniel and I led, Cramming Aesthetics, Art Appreciation & Education into a Fun Museum Experience.  Our talk focused on the exhibition, Nature Holds My Camera: The Video Art of Sam Easterson.

We shared the ways in which we worked with educators, exhibition and graphic designers, the artist and others to juggle a variety of goals.  Primarily we wanted to offer visitors a unique, fun and memorable trip to the museum that would also teach us something about how visitors participate in their own art viewing experience.  Those in attendance at ISEA seemed interested in the project and some even stayed after to ask Daniel and I more questions and get more info about IMA.  Of course we also took this public opportunity to run through IMA stuff on Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, iTunes U and the IMA Blog.  How could we resist?!?

And of course, we saw Singapore: ate a bunch of food, met with staff at the National Museum of Singapore, checked out Chinatown and Little India…discovered a new point of view.  As much as we gained from attending sessions, it felt equally invigorating as a person and as a professional to be exposed to the unfamiliar and allow the experience to overwhelm our senses.  Both creatively and academically this trip was a great success.

Filed under: Art, Exhibitions, New Media, Travel

6 Responses to “Reflections on the International Symposium on Electronic Arts”

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    I work as an Office Administrator at the Museum of Art in Fayetteville. Being an internet enthusiast, I’ve begun a blog and a Myspace for our little Museum. We have big plans for our future (a new nine story building designed by world renowned architect Enrique Norten) and wondered if I might pick either of your brains on how to grow these things, and perhaps a way to incorporate into exhibits…



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    Despi Says:

    We would be happy to help you! Shoot me an e-mail to and we can chat further.

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    Nice post, Despi! From all accounts it’s clear you two had a great conference.

    Of course, you know I’m awfully interested in how we document and record contemporary art here at the IMA and elsewhere. It’s interesting how the lines blur between what is the “art” in this project — is it the images that Ismail took or the art that was left behind by the prisoners? I suppose the answer is both.

    In the same way I was intrigued by the Eastern exhibit as the presentation of that project had so much to do with the art itself, again slightly blurring the lines about what is “the art.”

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    Despi Says:

    Thanks so much! I think the answer is definitely both. I have sent the link to this post to Azril and I hope he will chime in.

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    Azril Says:

    Thank you for the post Despi, I appreciated the mention of this particular project.

    The works that I documented was certainly left by the prisoners themselves. But, I would not agree if it were done in the format of “art” as we understand in gallery context, as they were done in a personal inscriptions & the majority of it states as a form of a reminder, whether if it were for the one who wrote / illustrates it or for the ones who are going to occupy the same space.

    These illustrations & writings are quite significantly diverse in its styles as much as the cultures behind it. As I went through quite a number of interviews with ex-convicts that was an occupant, they barely mentioned the significance of the graffiti, yet they shared the memories & experiences they had, which I think is a supportive elements towards certain graffiti.

    I had never dare to push the intention to claim it wholly as my own work, as it was done by others. But to have it significantly understood the reasons & where it came from, or what could be understood from these graffiti, which I think, would be far more worthy risk & as a form of reference.

    On the side note…Despi, I could not stop cheering & mentioning your project that was really interesting to ponder on & it had a lot of potential to be so influential & diverse in further approach in surveillance or Point-of-View art forms.

    It had left me a great impressions that I almost immediately sponsor a local researcher here with cameras to study animals in captivity (which was poorly funded)at a local zoo here.

    Hope that you don’t take it as a copy your project, as it is only a form of study & research format. Not mounting on the head of the animals.. just a fixed positioned camera @ 24-hour access freely for the public (still in Beta stage) which we are making a case study for the carnivores in captivity.

    Thank you again for sharing. Really made me do good.


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    Despi Says:

    Thank you so much for the thoughtful feedback, Azril.

    We are very excited that you were so inspired by our presentation. I am going to send the artist, Sam Easterson, a link to this discussion so that he has the opportunity to respond too. I think he will be quite interested in how his work has influenced your thinking about perspective.

    Please feel free to contact Daniel or myself if you have ideas for collaboration!

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