Academic couples with small children who are interested in the same conferences get to choose between skipping the conference altogether and bringing the kids. Oh, when they’re older we’ll leave them with family (we hope!) but 18 months is young to spend a week away from your parents. So Scott and I are experiencing ISEA in Istanbul with children, which is a slightly different experience than ISEA in Helsinki and Tallinn without the kids. The art/eco-debate in the hamam tonight was out for instance, wonderful as it sounds. I doubt that an 18 month old and a 3-year-old would have given quite the right vibe to the debates. However, there is room for other experiences. While Scott was in a panel on electronic literature today, for instance, I met Sarah Drury on the Istiklal tram, and was able to hear about her work with augmented reality using mobile phones (while hanging on to Jessie who wanted to stand on the back platform, and as Benji threw his pacifier off the tram and then complained loudly about it). Sarah has a nearly four year old at home, she said.

Luckily, at ISEA the art exhibitions are key, and the exhibitions are great with kids. We’re staying around the corner from the main ISEA exhibition at Cumhuriyet Art Gallery by Taksim Square and were able to try out the strange sounds that Kilian Ochs’ spherical construction made. When you touch your hand to two pieces of metal on it at once, the sphere “sings”. Ochs climbs into the sphere and spins around the square making music in quite an eerie fashion.

The gallery itself is an amazing space; a series of white archways connecting a long chain of white-painted rooms. Jessie’s favourite work was Karen Casey’s “Meditation Wall“, billed as “an immersive environment designed to ellicit meditative or trance-like mind states”. Adult as I am, my first instinct was to sit on the benches and quietly look at the changing shapes on the wall, reminiscent of the many painted bowls I saw yesterday at the bazaar, but more calming. Jessie instantly saw a different aspect of the work: the haunting arabesque and the changing display on the wall could only mean a dance party. Clearly. And the effect of watching one’s own dancing shadow is, obviously, quite mesmerising. I don’t know how I could have missed that!

I forgot to check the name of this work, with its gently pulsating plastic bags. I couldn’t find it on the website, either – there were a lot more works in the exhibition than in the description so I must be missing something. Oh, Benjamin is responsible for the voice-over on this video. He was riding on my back by this point and I guess wanted some attention. He had probably dropped his pacifier…

Tina Gonzales’ “Chameleon” is a set of three large “books” with faces sleeping on each page – until a person walks past and looks at the faces. That wakes them up, and as we discovered (when somebody told us, actually) the faces respond to your expression. The ones we tried did best at recognising surprise and smiling, though one did pretty well with a frown as well. Here’s Benjamin trying to flirt with one of the books.

Other kid favourites included Mark Cypher’s sandpit in a suitcase, a white lady (artificial) who glided around at the command of a joystick (I can’t find her in the catalog though) and the plants that sang when you touched them. And the wonderful little robot that twisted and turned – and broke itself in two! Luckily its creator was right by to fix it. We were quite surprised when she explained it wasn’t part of the artwork.

Here’s another piece I can’t find in the catalog: “Attachment Theory”, where two cars are emotionally co-dependent.

"Attachment Theory"

Interestingly enough Jessie immediately identified them as people-like. “The red one is you, mummy, and the blue one is me!”. And co-dependent we certainly are, mother and three-year-old. And I know that soon she’ll grow up and these conference-with-kids days will be a distant memory.

2 thoughts on “ISEA with kids

  1. S¯ren Pold

    Sounds great. Liked your panel, but found the exhibition as much of the conference somewhat unfocused… The best exhibition in Istanbul that I saw was the biennial and the fabulous Matter-Light at the Borusan M¸zik Evi gallery down Istlikal halfway to T¸nel. Did you see this?
    Anyway, Istanbul with kids sounds great. I guess I’ll do this soon!

  2. Jill Walker Rettberg

    Matter-Light? We completely missed that one. And unfortunately the biennal was closed when we went there (sigh), which was certainly a pity – I heard it was excellent.

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