“Search and destroy becomes the much less culpable search, point and click”, says the New(Hu)man exhibition booklet, the visual art supplement to the Newman Festival (see photos top right), which is a three-day music and new media event, running in the Lithuanian spa town of Druskininkai from July 3 to 6.
Rivers, lakes, hills, forests; the Baltic town at the centre of an historic tug-o-war between German, Polish, Russian empires and kingdoms has long been, and continues to be a coveted hotspot for its natural resources. It was once a summer getaway for Tsar Nicholas I, now it’s a health resort for the Baltic and Eastern European elderly. There’s a Catholic Church, an Orthodox Church and an indoor ski slope called the Snow Arena, all evidence of eras laying claim to their own post in Druskininkai’s colonial history. Right now its hostels and hotels are occupied by an international array of artists, curators, musicians, producers and enthusiasts come to engage with a world wide event revolving around its Soviet Summer Amphitheatre, restored especially for the occasion.
Nguzunguzu, Dean Blunt, Lucrecia Dalt and Amnesia Scanner are a few of the overseas acts imported in an impeccable music programme curated by Lithuanian producer J.G. Biberkopf. London-based Lithuanian Ulijona Odišarija, here DJ-ing as Sweatlana, performs a mix made for Newman, the still light Friday opening slot meaning the intended projection (see video below) of hand tricks and green wheat fields plays from a laptop screen facing out to a still sparse audience. London’s Micachu & the Shapes perform, then Biberkopf himself, whose physical body dissolves into a background projection of moving images in manmade constructions, GoPro videos and footage of natural phenomena.
“I wish this bed had wings,/ I wish a lot of things”, croons Berlin-based French-Canadian Dan Bodan, holding his stomach, bent over in a Broadway-like musical delivery while dressed in sports gear and swathed with a pastel pink jumper like it’s a scarf. His soulful voice that sings of romance in the so-called Web 2.0 era is flawless, harmonising with a pre-recorded choral sample about making love long-distance in what he’s announced as a new song.
Bodan’s elegant elegies to the Network are followed by the insulated attack of Lars Holdus’ TCF soundtrack where musical phrasing is abandoned in favour of what sounds like hundreds of sonic conversations running angrily and aimlessly at once. It evokes a similar sense of dread that Conor McGarrigle’s ‘24hr Social’ (2014), a generative video installed in a dim room of an old wooden building where the New(Hu)man exhibition is housed, does. A projection of six-second looping videos, collected six at a time, at every second of a twenty-four hour cycle, are played one on top of the other in a chaotic layering of personalised perspectives become an oppressive insight into the awful Sublime of social media.
Mitch Posada’s 3D graphic gif animations of human forms glitching out and in to a certain cyberspace play through a screen next door. It’s a perspective that shifts to the the beings those forms have made in Freyja Van Den Boom Weareautonomous’ ‘Robot Party’. The walls of a room set up like a cyberpunk campaign room, wooden chairs and tables flanked by paper printouts of code and manifestos that read “WE ARE AUTONOMOUS. WE ARE ROBOT PARTY. JOIN#03072015” are pinned to its walls.
Another room upstairs, with floorboards and windows darkened by black tarpaulin, shows shifting viewpoints as visualised by landscapes fragmented and mirroring themselves in Baden Pailthorpe’s ‘MQ-9 Reaper’ (2014). The HD video animates a silver drone that looks like it’s made from mercury, a quicksilver image of an object that refracts and is fractured by its own reflection. A sea container suspended in the sky rotates above a scene of arid mountains. A lone bald man in trousers and a work shirt punches at the air.
The heat throughout the weekend is overwhelming and the programme of conversations with artists –including Conor McGarrigle, Freyja Van Den Boom and a laptop projection of ‘artist-avatar’ Laturbo Avedon –is casual. The curator of this year’s ‘Capture All’ transmediale exhibition Robert Sakrowski and Vilnius’ Contemporary Art Centre curator Monika Lipschitz speak without microphones. Claudia Maté makes a rare in-person appearance to talk about the freedom of the personalised avatar (“we can be whoever we want to be”) and presents a work of potentially greater conceptual importance than she cares to articulate herself. ‘The globalmood’ (2014) is a visualisation of corporate equity in the stock market, represented in real-time via the reptilian faces of corresponding male avatars. Their expressions shift along a spectrum from ‘happy’ to ‘sad’ depending on their market price, but always look evil. Sakrowski makes the misguided comparison of Maté’s work to the likes of other woman artists like Amalia Ulman and Molly Soda with the rather tired trope of the ‘Young Girl’, revealing the seemingly inherent sexualisation and objectification of embodied work by women, as viewed by men.
Sakrowski’s comment comes as part of a reductive trend that echoes writer Elvia Wilk’s suggestion that “the posthuman era became a girl”. That’s especially in light of Constant Dullaart’s 2013 video essay invective against Facebook and the narcissistic tendencies social media perpetuates in ‘Crystal Pillars’. Here, the Berlin-based artist’s baffling appropriation of a feminised voice, not Dullaart’s own, delivers the personalised polemic on the “perpetual high school with ever weakening rewards” of Facebook, presented by the artist-man as woman. In the same room, Lithuanian new media and street artist AWK takes 3D scans of New(Hu)Man exhibition visitor’s body’s to be redistributed via their images on the internet.
Artist flags from the Kim Asendorf and Ole Fach conceived Long Distance Gallery are hoisted outside the New(Hu)Man exhibition building, in view of the Druskonis lake. It’s a symbol of the the ideal and idyllic location of Druskininkai, Lithuania, for a programme concerned with the Anthropocene epoch, its name taken from a direct translation of the Greek ‘ἄνθρωπος’ meaning literally ‘man’ (as in ‘human’) along with ‘new’. It’s an unavoidably gendered word that conversely does not evade the attention of Polish-born, cloud-based collective Pussykrew whose slideshow presents a programme for the “newman / newwoman/ newkind” in work surrounding bodies reformed and rematerialised via 3D renderings and post-industrial aesthetics. It’s as if what these artists aim to achieve, Eva Papamargariti takes further by exploring what happens when and if they do. ‘No boredom, no pain, no routine’ (2014) is a video on the bottom floor of the New(hu)man exhibition, where an avatar of a CGI head on wheels guides its viewer through a digital dystopia explaining, “We just wanted to have everything.” The three-minute film runs in a loop, beginning where it ends and inescapable in its endlessness. **
SWEATLANA, ‘NEWMAN MIX’ (2015) TRACK LISTING:
‘Aussie crow aaaaaaaaaaa’ (Youtube rip)
Kelly – ‘What Am I Saying (Make sense)’
Sweatlana – ‘Grandpa Breath’
Sweatlana – ‘Burnout’
Dntel – ‘Paparazzi (Lady Gaga)’
Frank Ocean – ‘Pyramids’ (Sweatlana Transition edit)
Capital Children’s Choir – ‘Untrust Us’ (Crystal Castles cover)
James K – ‘Drunktrack’ (Florian Kupfer Remix)
The Field – ‘No. No…’
Jonathan Dunn – ‘Robocop Title Theme’