Many things can be said about the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art (London, UK), but first and foremost in terms of new media, it is where the groundbreaking exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity took place in 1968. Curated by Jasia Reichardt, the show challenged the role of the artist as they elaborate their designs on cybernetic devices, resulting in computer-generated music, graphics, texts or poems. The ICA was created as an institute (not a museum), for the contemporary (not just modern) and for all the arts (not just art) – which reflects perfectly well in the venue’s program and embrace of media arts, as well as its openness and curiosity for the new.
The exhibition ran for two months and featured exhibits from 325 participants from around the world. They showed off the latest in computer graphics and some early computer-composed music. There were robots and drawing machines and the first computer sculpture. The exhibition was the first of its kind in Britain and the curator Jasia Reichardt wrote that it showed how “man can use the computer and new technology to extend his creativity and inventiveness.”
It was in this vein and to mark this groundbreaking exhibition that we the then-New Media Department, ICA curated and produced What Do You Want To Do With It? a month-long festival in 2001 exploring all aspects of digital technology.
Digital technology has had a profound effect on how we experience the world around us since 2001. In addition to allowing us to break social barriers, it has also brought us closer to notions of democratic curatorship by extending the art gallery, theatre and cinema to new spaces. However, the enthusiasm surrounding the role emerging technologies can and will play in the world is not shared by all. In some ways, this was less apparent just after the turn of the new Millenium.
Sponsored by the then two major companies in the growing network and telecommunications industry, Motorola and network systems company SUN Microsystems and gaming industry newcomer Sony. What Do You Want To Do With It? brought together major international artists and digital media specialists Tim Etchells, Mike Figgis, Digista NHK, Tsai Ming Ling, British Interactive Media Association and Digit. John Meada and MIT and Mark Amerika, two of the pioneers of digital and net art, were in residence for the duration of the festival.
Across a programme of art commissions, installations, artist in residencies, exhibitions, talks, and moving image and supporting programme including website, games, kiosks, video and text messaging events saw over 60,000 people visit the exhibition that explored new technologies and emerging internet culture.