When I told people I was going to Istanbul for an art conference, they were politely confused. It so happens that I do hang around with more than a few scientists and academics, most of whom begrudgingly spend several weeks of every year traveling to these things, primarily to argue over methodologies, share the results of recent experiments or studies and make plans together to do more. I didn’t see any great leap in assigning those same expectations to a visual arts conference, but others clearly questioned what place academic research could have in the intensely subjective and personal world of art-making and aesthetic experience. I mean, what do you do at an art conference?

The answer is, you do exactly what you do at home with your peers, colleagues, and other interested institutional and art world cronies. That is, talk about ideas. Big ideas. Small ideas. Ways of overcoming problems of making and experiencing. The only difference is that at an art conference you do it for 3 or 4 days without leaving a room, and with a lot people you may never again meet outside that room.

I came to the Third International Conference on Transdisciplinary Imaging somewhat of a stranger. Many people attending had been at the first and second of these conferences, both of which had previously taken place on Australian soil as the organisers included COFA and NIEA in Sydney and VCA in Melbourne. I was just a blow-in really, there to listen because I was interested in neuroaesthetics, and in Istanbul already on an artist residency.

The conference theme of Cloud & Molecular Aesthetics promised to explore what happens to information when it ‘becomes veiled, foggy, fuzzy, obscure or secretive, or when it condenses, blooms and accretes into atmospheres of chaotic turbulence and pressure vectors, into tidal flows and storms.’ Speakers promised to answer questions such as: ‘What are the aesthetic and artistic – the theoretical and the practical – implications of this new topography of data?’; What alternative idioms exist to critically consider imagery and image making?’; and ‘How does the cloud phenomenon precipitate thinking about new ways of curating, publishing and configuring modes of engagement?’. Heady stuff. Important stuff, too, for artists working in an arguably post-material age.

There were academic wunderkinds present, or so I was told; I’ve always been terrible at recognising famous people. On Day One of three, we heard sessions about Big Data Aesthetics that dealt with art-making practices that harness information and make meaning where none is evident or visible. Particularly evocative illustrations of some of these concepts were illustrated the work of Abelardo Gil-Fournier and his talk on “Inks and Dyes in the Pixel Era”. In the afternoon, the shadows descended for a session chaired by Edward Colless which took a far gloomier view of the cloud as a new repository for the dark arts, or at the very least, artistic decline.

By Day Two, the assembled heads were ready for the analytical forays, with Ljiljana Fruk and friends offering up some hard core science (not without its metaphysics, thanks to some performative diagramming by Guillaume Savy), that took us from quantum mechanics and nanotech to mixed realities and a swathe of other-worldly matter and mysterious invisible forces that are changing the way artists make art. At this point I was tired of listening, so I dragged a crew of delegates to an opening at Galerist, one of Istanbul’s impressive commercial galleries. The looking provided some welcome respite.

Ali Emir Tapan, 2014. Installation view from Close Distance, 27.06.2014 - 26.07.2014 @ Galerist, Istanbul. Photo Connie Anthes.Ali Emir Tapan, 2014. Installation view from Close Distance, 27.06.2014 – 26.07.2014 @ Galerist, Istanbul. Photo Connie Anthes.

Day Three – the last day of conference – focused our thinking in on brain function and how images, sounds and memories are already being manipulated at molecular level, with affecting arguments issuing forth on the terrors of beauty from Donal Fitzpatrick and the corruptibility of memory from Madeleine Preston. I’m pretty sure I missed something magnificent in the form of Tara Cook‘s Treatise on the Compressed Image – because of all the appreciative murmuring post-performance – but I’ll never know because I was sitting in a parallel session a few doors up the road. In conference-land, the parallel session remains an anathema, like missing a friend’s exhibition opening because you were on the other side of the world doing another fun thing. Which happened this time, too.

Cloud & Molecular Aesthetics: The Third International Conference on Transdisciplinary Imaging at the Intersections of Art, Science & Culture was held at The Pera Museum, Istanbul from 26-29 June 2014.

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