ISEA2020 examines the resurgence of sentience — feeling-sensing-making sense — in art and science. We ask: why sentience? Why and how does sentience matter? Why have artists and scholars become interested in sensing and feeling beyond, with, and around our strictly human bodies and selves? Why has this notion been forefronted by an array of disciplines in the 21st century? Our garden at Ars Electronica teases at how the transdisciplinary investigations from participating artists and scientists at ISEA2020 respond to these questions and pose new ones.
Since last August when we established the ISEA2020 theme of *Why Sentience?*, life on Earth has been dramatically transformed. Our belief in concepts like proximity, justice, equality, indeed, the very concept of the future itself, has been radically uprooted. As cultural organizations worldwide scramble to adapt, the ISEA2020 team has decided to reimagine the event for the anytime/anyplace zone of digital space and to transform it into an online experience. But we have also realized that there is no need to adjust the theme to make it more “responsive” to our current conditions. Despite their almost cataclysmic impact on the political-economic-social-cultural-ecological fabric of the world, the triumvirate forces of the coronavirus pandemic, its disastrous economic consequences, as well as systemic racial injustice have now acutely amplified ISEA2020s question: *Why Sentience?* These conditions sharpen the need to stop, pause and re-examine what it means to be sentient, “the ability to feel or perceive.” They help us reformulate our notions of what the world is with us and beyond us. They give us a front seat perspective on the corporeal and ecological entanglements between power and knowledge, animals and humans, machines and environment, oppression and liberation. They pointedly demonstrate that difference – social-economic-cultural – resonates through the sentient world. The virus – a 120-160 nm in diameter entity that is invisible to our human senses and considered neither living nor dead but ontologically somewhere in between – is thus perversely a great teacher and provides us lessons on how the modern splitting up of the sentient and inanimate worlds increasingly makes no sense.
ISEA’s mission aims to foster interdisciplinary academic discourse and exchange among culturally diverse organizations and individuals working with art, science and technology. As we write, ISEA2020 should have already passed into history. The new digital space of ISEA2020 will link the local community in Montreal with the international one beyond so that we can collectively rethink the form of such an event. The new platform will also allow us to examine close up these new and, at the same time, ongoing historical set of conditions; conditions that demand a response if we are to live in the coming (post)-pandemic world.
Project Credits / Acknowledgements
Text: Christine Ross – McGill University (CA), Christopher Salter – Concordia University/Hexagram (CA).
Organiser: Montreal Digital Spring (Printemps numérique). ISEA2020 General Director: Mehdi Benboubakeur. Programming Directors: Erandy Vergara-Vargas (Artistic Programme) and Manuelle Freire (Academic Programme). Academic Chairs: Christine Ross – McGill University; Chris Salter – Concordia University/Hexagram. Artistic Chairs: Erandy Vergara-Vargas – Printemps numérique; Alice Ming Wai Jim – Concordia University; Caroline Andrieux – Darling Foundry.
General Director: Mehdi Benboubakeur. Programming Directors: Erandy Vergara-Vargas (Artistic Programme) and Manuelle Freire (Academic Programme). Communication: Pauline Barthe and Margaux Davoine. Workshop Coordinator: Sylvaine Chassay. Technical Director: Pascal Dufaux. Webmaster: Maximilien Briat Martin. Production Coordinator: Iriana Rakotobe. Development: Marine Villedieu.