Isa GordonBiography

Isa Gordon is a world-renowned new media/performance artist, researcher, curator, teacher and designer, exploring the intersection of human and machine for over two decades. Based in LA since 2006, she holds an MFA in Studio Art/ Intermedia and a Bachelors Degree with Honors in Theatre.

She’s best known for Psymbiote, a conceptual performance alter-ego with functional cyborg devices, initially funded by a two-year creative research fellowship. In 2002 she was asked by the SIGGRAPH Conference Committee to organize a fashion event around the underlying ideas. Over the next five conferences a co-evolution emerged, as Psymbiote hosted events Isa curated and produced. The Cyberfashion Show inspired pioneers in the field for over a decade and prompted its own chapter in Garb, a fashion and culture textbook. In 2008 Isa wrote and produced a documentary short on Psymbiote. Originally commissioned for Evolution Haute-Couture, a curated program for film festivals and scholarly book with DVD insert, it premiered at the Moscow International Film Festival. It was later included in the program Momentum: Women/Art/ Technology, screened at the Whitney Museum of American Art and other venues.

Isa’s most recent curatorial project was the WIGI-E3 Experimental Realities Interactive Art & Animation Festival in 2017 and 2018. Sponsored by Women In Games International, these pop-up galleries at the Los Angeles Exchange included dozens of artists and were experienced by over a thousand attendees. Isa has also exhibited at venues such as the New York Hall of Science, Phoenix Art Museum and Chicago Cultural Centre. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Wired Magazine, LA Weekly, on NPR and in Stephen Wilson’s book Art & Science Now.

Isa has taught in the Photography and New Media department at Kansas City Art Institute; Interdisciplinary Arts and Performance at Arizona State University West; and Digital Media at Phoenix College. In 2003 she left academia to co-found a fashion and design company. They developed a laser-cut clothing and accessories line and an innovative modular cargo-system for carrying gear hands-free, featured in Entrepreneur Magazine. Their work appeared in books, popular media, international fashion shows, music videos and feature film.

She has remained a pioneer researcher in wearable technology, as well as a guest speaker at academic conferences. Her paper was accepted for presentation at the “Cyborg” themed Amber Conference in Istanbul in 2009. Her talks on wearable tech at the BIL Conferences in 2009, 2011 and 2016 were all standing-room only.

Isa still works as both a freelancer in digital design as well as a studio artist, making and exhibiting her work on both coasts and art centers throughout the United States. She is currently developing a new body of digital media work, and accepting collaborations and commissions across the full range of her expression.

Artist Statement

I create hybrid and expressive artworks by combining media, text and interactivity, using a broad palette of tools: cameras to custom electronics, computer software to sewing machines, power tools to performance. The media used serves the content and the underlying concepts. Broadly speaking, my work concerns the encoding of identities within a technological landscape: the dialectic between hybrid minds and bodies, especially the mutating intersection this tension engenders between our selves and our machines. I’m fascinated by the processes we incorporate to transform ourselves via technology, and the sociocultural implications of such “co-evolution”.

These themes manifest in early works such as Mnemonic Devices, Memory, Ltd. and This Is Not the Fine Print, all of which explore how “technologies of remembering”, such as snapshots or home movies, can distort the ephemeral experiences they represent, and thus affect the construction of identity. These core concepts continued to develop with later works in cyborg performance and wearable technology, and resonate throughout my body of work.

I developed as a young artist by allowing interdisciplinary tendencies to co-exist. Early experiments in diverse creative forms were followed by coursework in theatre, photography, creative writing and digital media. As I explored new technologies, my work segued into more complex forms such as multimedia solo performance, web-based “” and interactive installation. I’ve since expanded my toolset via courses, fellowships, and projects in CNC, kinetic and electronic systems in sculpture, microcontrollers, computer programming, and light phenomena as art medium.

Regardless of the tools, techniques or media used, I tend to start with a vague but suggestive concept, then allow visual and sensual elements to evolve organically with the ideas as cerebral finds visceral. For example: Fragments started as a simple idea that sparked a series of self-portraits on black and white film and their digital deconstruction, and then was combined with graphic text elements exploring notions of mutable identity. It found form as an interactive web-based hypertext, for which I coded randomizing behaviors in Perl script. A later iteration employed the same content as a kinetic sculptural book. Form transforms, emergent.

I often mutate existing machines and mechanisms to express ideas. For the installation None of the Above, I reconfigured a keyboard and wired it to buttons in an arcade booth to control a custom computer-based multimedia game. I used juxtaposition of text and appropriated imagery to explore issues of gender and sexual identity. The arcade object was expanded into several iterative full installations, with a themed waiting area outside the booth. I created video montages and posters inspired by vintage pornography and exploitative pop-media to establish contrasting ideology to themes of inclusivity emphasized within.

My focus on the field of cyborg studies launched with Psymbiote, an alter-ego/ persona with both quasi-  and pseudo- functional apparatus. The project used public performances to stimulate dialogue regarding human-technology integration and the ongoing redefinition of the body and its boundaries. I curated a series of wearable technology fashion shows to draw other artists and researchers from across the field into this dialogue. For each show I wrote an extensive narrative script, delivered by Psymbiote, to contextualize the projects amidst the broader intersections of technology and culture.

Other works have shifted towards embodying the human within the machine rather than the borg in the flesh, but the impulse remains at the coded and metamorphosing intersection of the two. How do our devices dig deep into our brains? How do their behaviors reflect ours? For the digital poem LonelyPANIC, I collaborated with hardware and software developers to program an Atmel logic controller to drive an emotionally expressive LED display: diffuse blue light slowly fades in a rhythm reminiscent of breathing to illuminate the word “lonely,” while 93 red lights flash in random frenetic patterns, intermittently revealing the word “panic.” A power button on the front tempts viewers to turn the message “off.”

Some of my more recent concepts use software design to explore mental bias and perception. CryptiClock converts time into moving arrays of LEDs that become easy to read once the principal is cognitively decrypted and the strategy discovered. Perception Vortex is an interactive kinetic device that lets the user twiddle knobs to play with persistence of vision phenomena, adjusting the visual imagery to both subtly and explicitly signify the position of the phenomena within the user’s mind.

My current research and creative experiment focuses on practical applications for improving interfaces and interactions with our everyday mobile devices. How can we seamlessly access the most pertinent data with the least distraction? This question may be crucial for developing intimate technologies to enable more than hinder. I imagine novel wearable devices: elegant and discreet jewelry for our info-driven lives. I’m convinced there must be some tangible means of interfacing devices with our bodies in more functional and less obtrusive ways.

The traditional use of screen as gateway through our always-on devices often serves to distance us from the immediacy of the moment. How can we “be here now” when the screen is forever drawing our attention into its frame of pixels?  The common approach to transmitting information on mobile and wearable devices has been to squeeze more pixels onto less real estate. But the detrimental effects of too much small-screen use are apparent: look around any public space and count the number of people with faces cast down to screen, disengaged from their present world. Perhaps there’s an alternative approach to compressing and expressing data. How much can be communicated with how few pixels: for instance, what’s the range of data that can be made manifest with just two multicolor miniature LEDs? These are questions I attempt to address with my most recent work: the Fibonacci Spiral Mood Beacon and Data Gem.

Although my current methodology may look more like technology research than a traditional studio practice, I am at heart a true polymath. I continue to embrace the spirit of play as much as the rigors of development, and my aim is not to make a product but a statement. Meanwhile a more mature and sophisticated Psymbiote v2.0 might someday possibly emerge as beta-tester. Psym v1.0 long ago hung up her circuits, but the development of wearables requires fabrication of progressive prototypes, which perhaps, a cyborg alter-ego could don in performance as both a method of active wear-testing and a means to engage public discourse of relevant issues. Although I’ve not performed Psymbiote or produced Cyberfashion since 2005, I’ve continued to receive requests for interviews, images and video. It seems these projects had a lasting reverberation. Is the world finally ready for real integrated wearables? Are you?

Curriculum Vitae