Machine Wilderness

Andrea Polli

Artistic Director, ISEA2012 – Machine Wilderness: Re-envisioning Art, Technology and Nature
Mesa Del Sol Endowed Chair of Digital Media
Associate Professor, Fine Arts and Engineering
University of New Mexico, Albuquerque

The Eighteenth International Symposium on Electronic Art, ISEA2012 Albuquerque: Machine Wilderness marked the first major international gathering that deeply examined complex relationships between existing, and emerging technologies and wilderness through the intersection of contemporary art, science, culture and society. As the home of not only many of the most ‘wild’ places in the country, but also some of the most advanced technology and scientific discoveries, New Mexico and the Southwest region offered the world a site for reflection and inspiration.

Prominent scholars like Bill McKibbon have expressed concern that we are facing ‘the end of nature’ and even Robert Shapiro, the CEO of Monsanto, confessed in 1997 that ‘what we thought was boundless has limits…and we’re beginning to hit them.’ Many of us ask, how we can re-examine and even break down the paradigm that separates industrial society from our environment? Today we understand that we face an urgent need to reconsider the connection between humanity and our wild spaces.

ISEA2012: Machine Wilderness began an international dialogue around three major questions:

1] What is wilderness in relation to electronic technology and science?

What historical and contemporary elements of technology and science should we be looking at to sustain our future – for example, holism and preservationism, electronic evolution, generativity, infinite possibility and non-repeatability?

2] What is wilderness in relation to economics and values?

We questioned the temple of resourcism that tabulates nature in terms of ‘deliverables’ and instead attempt to examine wilderness on its own terms, valuing the lives of non-human species and creating spaces for harmonious co-habitation.

3] What is wilderness in relation to aesthetics?

This was the most complex question that we needed to address because it not only encompassed science, technology, economics and values, but also forced us to face our fears and prejudices and dig deeply into the purpose of humanity on the planet and as part of the universe.

The current conditions of Albuquerque and its surroundings offered a unique microcosm of the social and environmental issues facing our global community in the 21st Century. The isolation that was needed in the development and testing of atomic capabilities brought the greatest minds and most powerful technologies to the region through the national laboratories and major university research centers. Intel became a major player here since 1980.

Our bilingual culture and proximity to the border of Mexico offered a unique connection to the vast creative energies throughout Latin America, and our position in the center of 22 indigenous communities, many of whom have occupied the area for thousands of years, offered us the chance to connect with the wealth of knowledge that comes from a connection to deep time.

The ISEA2012 symposium in Albuquerque extended and transformed the region into a truly interdisciplinary space by encouraging and supporting the development of new works and partnerships. A team of leading international artists, scholars and curators came together to form the critical and creative foundation of ISEA2012, for example Latin American scholar Andres Burbano and artist-scholar Stephanie Rothenberg. The Intel Education Program allowed us to speak and listen to the emerging artists and scholars of the future.

The ISEA2012: Machine Wilderness project as a whole was designed to serve as a model for interdisciplinary site and wilderness-based collaborations – nationally and internationally – far into the future, and we thank Media-N for helping to further our reach and efforts by generously providing this venue for participants’ responses and reports of continued project developments.


McDonough, William, and Michael Braungart. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. New York: North Point Press, 2002.


Andrea Polli holds a doctorate in practice-led research from the University of Plymouth in the UK. She is an artist working at the intersection of art, science and technology whose practice includes media installation, public interventions, publishing, curating and directing art and community projects. Polli’s work with art, science and technology has been widely presented internationally in venues including the Whitney Museum of American Art Artport and The Field Museum of Natural History. In 1999 she first began collaborating with atmospheric scientists on sound and data sonification projects, and since then she has continued to create media and technology artworks related to environmental science issues. She has worked with the NASA/Goddard Institute Climate Research Group in New York City, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research and AirNow.

Polli has been recognized by numerous grants, residencies and awards including Fullbright and UNESCO. Her work has been reviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Art in America, Art News, and NY Arts. She has published several audio CDs, DVDs, book chapters and papers with publishers that include MIT Press and Cambridge University Press. Her book Far Field: Digital Culture, Climate Change and the Poles was published by Intellect Press (2011).