New Mexico’s International Symposium Of Electronic Arts

New Mexico is known for its overlapping identities. It’s an artistic hub (Santa Fe is the third largest art market in the country). It has incredible landscapes (it has 13 national and 33 state parks). And there’s a fair share of technological quirkiness (Roswell’s Area 51 comes to mind). While the state has been busy celebrating these different aspects of its history during its centennial events this year, this week these elements will gel as New Mexico begins looking to the future. That’s thanks to the kickoff of the International Symposium of Electronic Arts, an annual conference and exhibition that celebrates the intersection of art, technology and nature, which is being hosted in the United States for the first time in six years. Over 100 artists and 350 presenters from 29 countries have descended on the city, and are transforming Albuquerque and the surrounding region (which includes Taos, Santa Fe and southern New Mexico) into a “Machine Wilderness,” that looks at how humans, machines and animals will coexist in the future. Their installations, which include lowrider symphonies, robotic animal skeletons, and Navajo tapestries with QR codes woven into them, will be on display through January 2013.

In years past, artists have flocked to ISEA conferences in cultural hubs like Istanbul, Munich, and Paris, but event directors Suzanne Sbarge and Andrea Polli say that Albuquerque was selected in part because its access to wide-open spaces has led to the development of technological marvels one would be hard pressed to find elsewhere. “We have huge swaths of wilderness, but we also have labs like Sandia and the first commercial spaceport,” says Polli. “It’s a strange juxtaposition that’s already here. We’re just bringing it to life.” In preparation for the event, the pair invited over 20 artists to take up residence throughout the area, and many arrived this summer to begin building out site-specific works for the conference.

%Gallery-166216%Both Sbarge and Polli hope that “Machine Wilderness” will help put Albuquerque, long seen as a dusty, pass-through-on-your-way-to-Santa-Fe town, on the map (and yes, they’re looking beyond the annual Balloon Fiesta, which draws tourists but has little cultural heft). “People think about Albuquerque as being the boonies,” says Sbarge. “But here we are, with leading scholars and artists making the journey here. It’s really exciting, and is just going to propel us into a bigger realm. There’s so much here happening, but people don’t really think of Albuquerque as a cultural center. I think this project is going to change that.”

Click through (above) for a slideshow of the ISEA installations that will be on display through January of next year.