“Frieze is a whole but it’s also nothing” is the first numb note I write in my phone as I begin. It feels secretive and resistant to be writing instead of taking photographs at Frieze London, but I wonder about representation when I look at art. Can you encounter something that has swallowed quietly the conditions of its making and is powerful and believable because of that? Maybe representation can mean too many things for this point, but the word ‘represents’ is thrown around a lot at the art fair this year. Who is representing whom, which artist is being represented by which gallery? And yet, despite this, there’s a notable lack of panels signalling artist’s names. I have to ask so many times and it’s embarrassing. I wonder not only about reflection in terms of the relationship between the inside of Frieze and the outside of Frieze, but also about what happens to artists and their work when they’re in: What exactly am I looking at here?
Any critique of Frieze inside the institution of Frieze itself keeps feeling self-circulating and boring, and the words like “welcome to purgatory”, or something to that effect, spray painted along the purposefully roughened walls of the fair’s entrance are weird and not useful somehow.
Dipping in and out of white-walled consciousness two small twin girls appear, wearing matching white dresses and tied together by really long hair, a work re-done from 1984 by Brazilian artist, Tunga. You could buy the hair if you wanted to for £20,000 but you have to provide the twins.
Another hair piece is beautiful. Nina Beier, with London’s Laura Bartlett Gallery, shows a series of four framed pictures with pink backgrounds with wigs squashed flat between the glass and the pink. Immediately the effect is that someone close is turned away from you looking elsewhere –like you are gazing at the back of their head. And it is squashed –a human deflated. The actual (it is a real wig and wigs do that when you squash them like that) but also incidental work of this work is amazing in the face of many others at the fair that deal with the representation of humans deflated, or empty. ‘Is there any point in collecting a Zeitgeist at Frieze?’ I think, as I witness the third airplane of the day and many skeletal sculptures of houses and offices; but also as I remember about Beier’s work being a possible antidote or actual reflection of the experience of looking at art here.
Jay Chung and Q Takeki Maeda’s collaborative work in Cabinet’s booth is sepia, calm and deathly. There’s a stone, and some photographs on the walls that show moments like a door ajar that incidentally (or not) has the same arc as a shape on the floor, as though a door might open into it. It is dead but good, and the whole booth provides respite and dejected escapism from the constant image-taking and aimless wondering towards Mark Leckey’s huge inflated cat-sculpture, ‘Felix’, that towers above the walls of its own Galerie Buchholz booth.
In Vilma Gold’s booth, New York-based Trisha Baga’s whiteboard screen is installed with things and writing attached to its surface. It’s opposite some moving projection spotlights, looking at and for these things. Using imagery itself as a light seems full of intuition and pleasure and is akin to tired eyes searching with a heavy sense of something already seen. And then comes Amalia Ulman’s installation, ‘The Annals of Private History’ created with London’s Arcadia Missa, which is as secretive and resistant as my writing to myself. Ulman created her own interior inside Frieze for the Live programme, turning the booth into an ‘L’ shape, lined with silver curtains and a red carpet. A video plays in front of black and white juggling balls that evokes 90s computer game Minesweeper. Ulman’s narrative video-presentation focusses on the inside of a diary, and the sadness of writing. The sound of a mine (unseen) goes off when someone (unseen) gets too close to something hidden –it’s the narrative, maybe, or the physical diary itself that Ulman is talking about and around. The artist’s voice apologises after the explosion. Without a smartphone (no recording devices are allowed in this booth) and the ability to casually record the work, the notion of writing being sad and the over-recording of experience being sorrowful makes so much sense, especially at Frieze, where art feels so treated, institutionalized and consumed.
On the first day at lunchtime there’s a talk called ‘Energy as Clickbait’with iconic 90s writer Douglas Coupland and artist Emily Segal of trend-forecasting group K-Hole, who recently published Report On Doubt. They speak about memes and words that define trends becoming trendy, which feels self-circulating and too obvious to want to write about. Coupland, who defined ‘Generation X’ in his novel of the same name, refers to a cartoon that depicts the outlines of several white figures lost in a black background and awkwardly suggests how we are “all just white empty data now”. His words about “the individual” feel out of place and time and I want to leave and look at the art again. Let the art do the describing, if it can. Despite the knowing gesture in a poster at the discussion that says, “knowing everything can be boring”, the desire to, and act of defining the present in words is still dry, heavy and frustrating in that dark room.
The good booths in the fair hold you in their gaze. Dubai-based Grey Noise presents work by three artists, Caline Aoun, Charbel-joseph H. Boutros and Stéphanie Saadé from Lebanon who, I overhear, “are all friends”. A small poster of the sea is placed between the floor and the wall and the bottom of the paper has been dipped in water, making it ripple. All works are strong and non-decorative. “They are agreeing”, continues the eavesdropped voice. Laure Prouvost’s tapestry, ‘We Will Go Far’ (2015) at MOT International is a large and surreal scene that you have to look at hard to discover the small moments. A hand comes out of the sky via a row of breasts. A pair of cut out lips –a little like the ones in Ulman’s video –are smoking a cigarette with a snail attached to the end. Thin white banners with words on (“Do you want to get in my car?”/ “and drink milk from their warm tits”) drape intermittently across the imagery like Snapchat text boxes that act as signs or clues, but also as barriers. There are many roads and vessels but they don’t go anywhere. Especially not in a tapestry, which, as a process, is wovenin.
Berlin based gallery, Société’s booth is puzzling. It’s silent and numb. All three works by Petra Cortright (a pink, yellow and blue digital layered painting on aluminum), New York-based Josh Kolbo (several small layered ambiguous digital images surrounded by a large proportion of frame) and Timur Si-Qin (a large print of on aluminium of the word ‘peace’ repeated over and over again forming a diagonal pattern) were out-sourced for their production. Si-Qin, who was interviewed by aqnb in 2013, also shows a glowing glass sculpture that has been scratched from the inside, holding an orange alien creature. It’s damaged but still manages to look like a commercial display unit. The word ‘peace’ is printed and embellished all over the inside. The viewer is on the outside, seeing the signs made to be seen from without.
The most magical work that lingers is a small print by Marie Angeletti at Carlos/Ishikawa called ‘Bambi’. The words, “believes any more” are above “are seeing anyway”. Both mini-phrases look like they are part of a bigger two-tiered sign above a pair of images of cartoon deer, but have been cut out and pitched together by the act of taking and framing the image. It feels like making by suggestion. Making from the outside. Maybe the spirit of Frieze, if there is one, is that some artists, and gallerists make and choose to show things that act like a barrier to the fair, somehow, in some small way. Maybe this is what I’m looking at? **
London’s Frieze Art Fair, running October 14 to 17, brings a new programming addition this year with the Reading Room, allowing visitors to browse and buy a curated selection of some of the best international art publications in a new space designed specifically for the programme by the Frieze architects.
A number of the publications participating at the Reading Room have put together a schedule of events for the fair featuring a group of artists, editors and contributors. They include a conversation with Rachel Rose (winner of the second Frieze Artist Award) and Laura McLean-Ferris, a panel discussion launching Kaleidoscope’s new ART&SEX issue, a temporary tattoo shop by George Henry Longly, Gabriele De Santis and Michael Manning and a conversation with LEAP editor-in-chief and curator of Art Post-Internet, Robin Peckham and artist Zhang Ding.
As a response to increasing interest in live work, Frieze London had also launched its own Frieze Live section in 2014, creating a space in the fair for the exhibition and sale of active and performance-based works, and among the six galleries presenting live works this year is Amalia Ulman of Arcadia Missa.
That’s just scratching the surface though, and here are some of our top Frieze 2015 recommendations for this week:
303 Gallery, New York
The Approach, London
Laura Bartlett Gallery, London
The Breeder, Athens
Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York
Canada, New York
Hollybush Gardens, London
MOT International, London
Peres Projects, Berlin
Galeria Plan B, Berlin
Salon 94, New York
Sprüth Magers, Berlin
Standard (Oslo), Oslo
The Third Line, Dubai
Vilma Gold, London
47 Canal, New York
Antenna Space, Shanghai
Bureau, New York
Clearing, New York
Croy Nielsen, Berlin
Freedman Fitzpatrick, Los Angeles
Grey Noise, Dubai
High Art, Paris
Koppe Astner, Glasgow
Galerie Emanuel Layr, Vienna
Project Native Informant, London
The Sunday Painter, London **
Header image: Rachel Rose, ‘A Minute Ago’ (2014). Video still. Courtesy the artist and Pilar Corrias, London.
“I wasn’t trying to hide from you but you kinda shorted out and I was like, ‘I’m not going to move anything’.” Elysia Crampton has been pointing the camera of her phone out of an apartment window. It’s a wobbly, slightly skewed image of the rooftops of La Paz in Bolivia, the Andes in the background and a crisp light blue sky in a city about 3,650metres above sea level. The connection with London is rough at first, a short message from Crampton on sharing her contacts in a Skype chat box reads, “Hii hopefully this will go smoothly im bad at connection so bare w”. A fractured, delayed audio of an interview with the artist disconnects about eleven minutes in and reverts back to what was playing on my iTunes: an electronic track constructed from a hectic collage of synthesised sounds. A melodic trumpet patch, a shimmering ambience, a field recording of chirping grasshoppers plays out at shifting pitches. Together they tremble on top of the consistent seesaw of a sizzling rhythm that sounds like the steel ball chain of a cabasa. “Axacan” is one of four tracks on a full-length album, American Drift –released on FaltyDL’s Blueberry Recordings in July –and it’s named after what 16th century explorers called the then-Spanish province of present-day Virginia.
A photo posted by Elysia Crampton ʚïɞ (@elysiacrampton) on
When we speak though, the dialogue drifts far beyond the region of the Southern United States where, until recently, Crampton has been based in a state of relative, familiar seclusion. It’s a chat that veers from the homosexual behaviours and “immaculate conception” of Komodo dragons, the strange DNA of octopi and the bacterial colonies that sustain us to ideas of “trans-ness”, “god-ness” and the forgotten queer histories of the Andean indigenous people that inform her work. It’s also a conversation that carries over from realtime video chat, to email, to shared Instagram images and an mp3 by an unknown Peruvian lesbian performer that Crampton found among her uncle’s old tapes at her grandfather’s farm where she’s living.
That discussion mirrors the breadth and variety of reference points that Crampton dutifully points to in the American Drift press release. It’s one that’s peppered with links to its influences, careful to give credit to the people and ideas it draws from, including a song dedicated to performance artist Boychild, one inspired by intellectual and composer Margaret Bonds and another by a Christian hymn. As she says herself, Elysia Crampton “always exists online”. The discourse she shares on her Facebook and Twitter accounts attest to that, and it’s one that’s as interesting and erudite as she is.
You make music primarily, but you also write a bit via Facebook and Twitter…
Elysia Crampton: Yes, I love writing, in general. I began using social media because I had no other platform for sharing my writing at the time, and I longed for that connection. It’s a lot of trial and error, but you get the hang of it after a while —it comes to feel better. Being here on the farm in Rosario, I’ve learned that feeding images and texts to my social media accounts isn’t much different from giving feed to the chickens or taking the sheep out to pasture, or, you know— alpacas are very independent— letting the alpacas out of the pen, taking them up the mountain, or herding the cattle to drink at the river.
In an interview with Tiny Mixtapes, you mention “a long history of anti-queer ideology and homophobia” a rivalry some Bolivians have against Peruvians. I remember being in Lima (Peru) several years ago and being struck by its apparent status of being a queer capital of Latin America.
EC: I’ve tried to trace this queerness myself —it definitely goes back to the land’s quite ancient past —of course, all of the homophobia and queer-phobia was introduced later by European colonization. There is this good book I would recommend reading, Decolonizing the Sodomite. It sort of tries to undertake this anti-queer genesis in Peru and Bolivia, and uncover the countries’ deep, queer legacies. Unlike Mexico, there aren’t any resources such as codices, records detailing the ancient cultures here. Many of the indigenous cultures are so obscured/ lost that people have little concept of them …and not just the so-called Incan legacy but everything else, it’s all such a blind spot. Anyway, this book tries to undertake an account of queer indigeneity, before there were even such things as Peru and Bolivia.
Historians say that most of what has been preserved from the ancient cultures is due in part to the people’s relation to/closeness with the natural geography/landscape— sites like the Andean mountains in which people were literally able to hide their customs, practices, melodies: organic moments taking refuge within a so-called inorganic embrace. This goes back to something that I explore on the album, something that I’ve particularly been concerned with, namely, the disanthropocentric relationships that make up what/who we are —our peculiarly entangled relation to other objects, places, things. How these things come to aid us, evolving with us, but also how these things supply/manifest their own agency, and how that resistance and support has affected, shaped our own histories, how they continue to shape history.
In being mestiza, living between the US and Bolivia, and as a trans person, it feels like you embody a lot of the conflict, or tensions of your music. Is that something that you think about?
EC: I’ve been trying to understand, determine the full implications of a sort of trans-spirituality —a trans-spirituality that takes into account the very strange corporeal status or materiality of the spiritual —this trans-spirituality that has resonated in my own life and the political consequences of such an encountering/mode of becoming that reclaims my whole life, even before I identified as trans, before there was this intentional phenomenological tracing or signalling of trans identification on my behalf.
I think about those people like myself, like I once was: caught in-between: not yet within what we might call the ‘concrescent’ phenomenological stage of being trans, or ‘transitioning.’ I think this is an important site of struggle —right before the problematic enclosures that accompany trans visibility —as this visibility already implies exclusions by way of its manifestation. How can we de-privilege a mode of existing, of transitioning, that unquestioningly gives authority to the language or form of communication that is the speed-of-light, that is, in other words, ‘trans visibility’?
I recall my own experience before transitioning. I would see other people’s concept/embodiment of transness and say, ‘no, that’s not me, this isn’t what i am’ —yet I still knew I was trans before I’d even begun puberty. It’s like the space/coordinates for me to transition, for me to embody my particular transness didn’t exist yet. I was trans but i didn’t know how to signal that transness yet specifically —I had to create it; an arrangement of things had to come together first. And everyone must find their own distinct gate, avenue, means to define and communicate/exhibit what they are. I’ve been really caught up in this business of trying to understand the kind of protobeing, the kind of dark materiality I once existed in, that resisted the limitations implied by phenomenization —the political dimension of this invisible component of transness that is so tied up with our power-potentiality, and everything it entails.
I’ve been thinking about that in terms of ideas of ‘queerness’ or ‘trans-ness’ because it feels like it can still work within a binary: What are you identifying with exactly, are you applying to a gendered social construct or are you dismissing gender entirely? And by dismissing ideas of gender, is there even such a thing as being trans, or ‘woman’ or ‘man’.
EC: I believe gender is more than just social relations, more than local manifestation, and that being trans accompanies more than simply ‘doing away’ with gender. Someone in an article once called me ‘de-gendered’ and I found that statement problematic to say the least. The issue comes down partly in response to language, communication, and constructing possibility spaces within/through narrative (as category, as limitation —as complex system) as it unfolds in real-time (space-time is/becomes storied). I’ve been liking the word ‘intersex’ more because the prefix ‘trans’ at times mistakenly gets taken as a ‘being outside of’ or ‘above’ gender, when in actuality we are always already entangled in becoming. Trans has more to do with that movement of being itself —what Adela Licona and Eva Hayward say marks the “where-ness of with-ness”. Some queer friends of mine will say, ‘why this political pressure on pronouns? It’s bullshit, it reproduces the binary, etc’. I can sympathize with some of that logic but then other times I’m like, ‘no, pronouns matter.’ It’s a historical thing —it’s about how narrative (particularly my own story) is uncovered, recovered, approached —again, it’s a thing about communication and how story assembles itself and affects us as a machine of meaning.
That’s also why I mention still being stuck on the political implications of this materialist, withdrawn sort of trans-spirituality of mine because the questions always come back —how to deal with this disturbing irreducible gap between phenomenon and thing, how to grasp the thinglyness of being when it remains so constitutively illusive?
It’s like, okay, if I want to go claiming certain people on my side —these folks who exhibit no marking or overt signalling of discernible transness, haven’t transitioned, don’t even particularly identify themselves yet as trans —obviously that sounds entirely problematic from the jump. Yet people exist in that space —they are living in that place, that shadow-realm where vulnerability and power converge, right now. So how do you account for that? It is a discrete space, a queer space, different from other proto forms of being. How do we facilitate greater possibility spaces for such people/help create avenues, channels, for those prototrans folk to become their best selves, [to be] able to not only transition on their own terms, but structure/have some control over the very space where they would appear as such/become visible?
You mention the way the ‘I’, as in intersex, has been literally surgically removed from a queer reality in a tweet. I’ve been thinking about how you couldn’t even start to measure the extent to which this is true because the prevalence of corrective surgery following birth, so who knows what the extent of sexual difference is beyond the gender binary.
EC: Yes, there’s this amazing book —it’s been out of print —it’s interesting because, having been organized from a queer perspective, it predates much of the writing on queer ecologies/queer materialities that would appear afterward. In its wide breadth of research it touches upon literary and cultural studies, queer theory, animal studies, science studies, feminism, cultural theory, gender and sexuality. I came across the book because [I think] I was studying Komodo dragons at the time and I was really interested in how, not only do they have immaculate conception, but they also engage in homosexual behavior in order to procreate, bearing a specific type of offspring through the encounter. This challenges the belief that some queer theorists maintain regarding the nature of queerness —basically that queerness, sustaining its mark of difference, guarantees a resistance to the procreative impulse —that in queerness as such, the so-called heteronormative call to be productive is dissolved. Yet with creatures like the komodo, there’s clear evidence that queerness, at times, holds the same desires and goals as heteronormativity. Also, I think one can find a much simpler example of this kind of desiring in the queer couples wanting to get legally married and care for children in the Americas— of course that usually gets explained away as a sort of cultural-conditioning [laughs]. We’re reminded again that desire is often contradictory, inconsistent, paradoxical —inherently queer in spite of its own ‘queerness.’ Objects—whatever they may be —even ‘queerness’ itself, have this indeterminate, irreducible side to them, a dark side that can’t be marked off with tape, delineated as such; a negativity which, at times, pierces right out of visibility itself. Queerness is always queer-er than we think it is.
What’s also great about that book is that it also highlights how, when Darwin was drawing his work on evolution, how the taxonomical hierarchical structuring came together, forming around these unquestioned anthropocentric tendencies in the general thinking of the time —like the privileging of human consciousness over other forms of being but also the type of signalling manifested by human brain processes against any and all other possible exhibits of complex/differentiated being— becoming this enclosure limiting how we were willing to understand the world from then on.
A photo posted by Elysia Crampton ʚïɞ (@elysiacrampton) on
And queer folk still fall into this trap. I still hear the default argument from trans people as means to validate being trans: ‘gender is created in your head so therefor x’. I mean sure, that’s part of it, but there’s so much more that gets cut out —reduced to a passive, lifeless concept of matter’s capabilities —when one privileges the object of the human brain as this ‘master organ’. The brain is just one component in a complex network of systems, yet people hold onto this idea that identity is completely contingent upon the brain —that if a brain was removed from its body, it would completely maintain/hold the identity of the individual it belonged to, as though that were it. Part of who I am, materially as trans —or whatever it is that makes me ‘me’ —is also the relationship with the fungal colony that lives on my body, the bacterial colonies and viruses that live inside my body, the chemical relationships/genetic footprints that mark that body, as well as the host of invisible stimuli, mechanisms, senses that inextricably braid my body with my environment. And even beyond all these, still, there is an even greater abyss of my own thinglyness that is non-local and therefore cannot be explained away with traceable things such as brain functions.
There’s this plethora of queer materiality that is constantly in motion, wrapped up in our becoming, and it’s just amazing how much information there is when you actually go looking for it. I don’t want to say this information is being suppressed, but it almost is, by way of what seems like a total lack of education. I wonder what it would mean for us, how it might help us, if we stopped defending queerness and transness based solely from this perspective, this privileging of the brain. Like, I’m not just trans because my ‘female’ brain is telling my ‘male’ body that I’m a woman. I’m also a woman because of my relationship to my environment, my relationship to different objects —some of which are not even traceable or materially constituted, but yet make up what I am.
Then, in terms of the materiality of your work, you’ve moved away from using samples, that are loaded with their own historical information. But, as with your use of oil paints and gouache, there’s a history and a chain of production also embedded in these sounds that are produced from/ by an instrument.
EC: You’re right —also, just considering the textures themselves —be they something like ‘fake’ instrument sounds signaled as such from a keyboard bank, apart from their supposed properly ‘authentic’ materiality in the instruments that are being mimicked, pantomimed, clowned by the electronics. I have this friend Katja Novitskova. She’s a beautiful artist and she did this piece —she’s always dealt with this sort of.. I want to call it ‘signal-oriented’ art. Anyway, the name of Katja’s piece was ‘A DAY IN A LIFE with THINGS I REGRET BUYING’ (2014), I think that was the name of the piece.
It involved these robotic nursery machines that made sounds, embellished with delicate ornamentation, worn almost like jewelry. The way the installation generated this sort of relentless objectivity —I always use ‘objectivity’ incorrectly but you know what I mean, like ‘relating to objects’ without the negative connotations of the word ‘objectification’. The objects in that show —it was like they were given agential space, room to exist on their own terms, among other things, in this machine of the show. There were these stickers —they looked like little bird tracks, little bird feet. Seeing those in the space of the room, it was like you got to encounter them in an act of radical autonomy —these things that were meant to exist as pure symbol were able to escape their assigned regime of meaning. In spite of the vacuous symbolism they were meant to hold/machinate, they became their own dark organism in this space, glimmering with agency, possibility. **
It is easy to imagine the human body as fully dressed civilian engaged in the daily rituals of a certain ‘self-care’. After all, it’s a common representation in contemporary culture.
Donna Huanca‘s recent exhibition Water Scars (exhibition photos, top right), running at Paris’Galerie Chez Valentin from April 18 to May 16, deconstructs this figuration, detaching the human body from what Clara Guislain’s exhibition text calls the “overdeveloped, fetishistic tactility of cultural processes”, of clothing and skin.
In ‘Nudity’ (2015), the artist emphasises the strangeness of these objects with the use of pale colours, but in a nature-friendly way, that is, by downgrading these civilian clothes into ancient forms made from animal furs or leather. Most objects in the exhibition, including the physical form of models Giulia Munari and Lynn Suemitsu, are dim and faint in colour, located middle-gray. If these models or objects were to hide in a natural landscape, they might be difficult to discern but when displayed in the gallery space, with its white walls and smooth cement floor, they’re highlighted and foregrounded. The only way that bodies and objects can survive in the white cube then, is to adapt with similar colours in the hope that they too can be camouflaged here.
Huanca paints her model’s bodies in smoothe pools of blended colour mixes, thereby reducing their humanness and masking them in a lack of definition. In ‘Finger Paintings (YSL, faux CILS)’ (2015), with black coloured traces of fingertips on the brownish canvas , these fingers are used as mere mediators that make aimless traces on canvases. It can be seen as a mimicry of animal’s footprints on earth. However, they’re hard to trace because of their aimlessness. **
“We have lost the game of the internet,” warns Peter Sunde. Recently released from jail, the former Pirate Bay founder speaks alongside other participants and organizers at the transmediale 2015, commencement address. The opening presentation, as the next few days demonstrate, fittingly contextualises the idea between the opposing speeches of the BitTorrent spokesperson and Jennifer Lyn Morone. In contrast to Sunde’s warning to abdicate from digital media, as he has done, Morone briefly and somewhat nervously explains her project of incorporating her identity and data as a form of resistance. The year’s theme is ‘Capture All.’ It focuses on current trends and methods of data accumulation, centering around, yet not limited to, this process as it relates to internet activity and monitoring.
On opening night the main group exhibition, titled Capture All and located in the exhibition hall of Haus der Kulturen der Welt, is crawling with visitors. Partitioned with black barriers forming geometric shapes around each work, it seems akin to a manufactured beehive. I flip through the books made for the ‘Networked Optimization’ (2013) piece by Silvio Lorusso and Sebastian Schmieg. The works function as optimised versions of self-help bestsellers and feature only their most highlighted lines, as derived from Amazon’s former feature of seeing the activity of e-book users. I explain the basics of the work to another viewer confused by the lack of context. They ask me if I had created them. We stand around the replicated version of the Amazon patent for product display, the positioning and lights of which intend to streamline the digitising process, removing the need for post-production. In this simplified, doubled version of something which itself is aiming for simplification and replication, it is tempting to lie. ‘Trust is the highest form of human motivation’, can be read on a page of one of the books, surrounded by an otherwise blank space. I resist.
Returning on a quieter day, the black walled exhibition is barely populated and the impression is more ominous. Screens project out onto darkness, austere and quixotic objects are illuminated with a quality of sacredness. Zach Blas‘ ‘Face Cages’ (2013-2015) rest on two pedestals with their prisoners looking out from video screens behind them. Art is Open Source’s ‘Stakhanov’ is positioned under flags bearing religious symbols. This so-called ‘BigData God’ prints predictions that pile in an unread ribbon of paper on the floor. In the back of the space, Timo Arnall’s hefty documentation ‘Internet Machine’ (2014) quietly pans along the cloaked and impenetrable physicality of the internet. An overall “the-future-is-now” affect of the exhibition itself is felt alongside the actual works – something that transmediale projects in general.
The entire festival has a surreal quality to it, bordering on the (science-)fictional. Continuously, the lectures and panels consider the means in which life has been taken up into the cloud. In some cases, this is brought up in the deterioration between private/public or leisure/labour spheres, as happening within social media. At other times, this can be seen through visualizations of the quantities of data collected from all internet activity. The result is a distorted sense of what exactly composites reality. Of course a lot of this information is at least vaguely familiar, but entering this web of consistent verbal reinforcement gives it an abstract tangibility as it cuts away at the physical world.
At the keynote lecture called ‘Work’ in HKW’s Auditorium, sociologist Judy Wajcman lists off current buzzwords for the dependence on and transformation due to digital media. “‘Business & distraction,’ ‘digital addiction,’ ‘digital detox,’ ‘mindfulness,’ ‘timeless time,’ ‘demise of clock time,’ etc.” I find myself writing. A slight comedy presents itself as Wajcman turns to the idea of cohabitation and co-development. These structures and mechanisms are not developing ahead of us, but rather they are shaped by our own desires for them, she suggests. But then as ‘Networked Optimization’ implies and one of its creators, Sebastian Schmieg, later clarifies at a panel, the clearing up of time and technological augmentation questions what exactly is intended with the time that we want freed up and the improvements we wish to see in ourselves and our machines. This paring-down seems to almost be a willed-for drive for disappearance.
This aspect of counter-reality reaches its peaks in the artist talk panels, held in HKW’s Konference Raum 1. Though art’s relation to reality is usually one of some degree of distance and, therein, reflection, the practices of certain artists present cross this separation into more standardised disciplines, such as chemistry or economics, only to step out of them again.
“Do you ever wish you were invisible?” asks Heather Dewey-Hagborg in the video accompanying her piece ‘Invisible’ (2014). In answer to that question and the possibility of electronic data collection turning to the biological, she has created two chemical products. One erases 95 per cent of DNA traces from any surface that may contain them, and the other obfuscates the remaining five per cent. The practicality of using these products to actually remove all traces immediately seems unfeasible, bringing to mind an obsessive-compulsive ritual of self-obfuscation. Nonetheless, they are functional items and can chemically succeed in this intention. Meanwhile, Jennifer Lyn Morone’s response to undermined individual rights and a complete lack of privacy is to turn her person into a corporation. With ‘Jennifer Lyn MoroneTM Inc.’ (2014), she privatizes and places all her personal attributes on the market. What exactly this means in legal terms for any of her data collected by third parties remains unclear. Similarly, she herself seems unsure of the concrete implications of potential transactions. Nonetheless, in the advertising video accompanying the piece/business venture, the gestures of the ill-fitting business suit she wears and the green screen in front of which she stands point to the theatricality of corporate identities. Perhaps the irony of the entire project – gain through defeat – suggests that while Pirate Bay’s Peter Sunde’s claim, ‘the internet game is lost,’ stands true, another game can be played.
Erica Scourti’s ‘Body Scan’ (2014) delves more personally into Big Data and the reorganization of the body. The artist shows the results of an intimate exchange mediated through data-recognition software, moving from pictures of skin to Google-esque collections of similar images narrated by a robotic voice. A similar restructuring of data can be seen in Jonas Lund’s piece ‘FIFY’ (2015). Made specifically for transmediale, the present-through-absence work is based on an algorithm that interprets the descriptions of prior transmediale exhibitions. With a borrowed phone, a visitor can walk to numbers painted on the floor, dial, and be told of the potential work that could be there, as according to past patterns. Lund’s practice is generally algorithm based. He has created an extensive network of contemporary artworks, artists, curators, and galleries, which he then runs through a programmed system. This leads to the production of future pieces deemed by this system to have probable success. As Scourti shows the reduction of the body and the emotional individual to an expanse of electronic patterns and data potentially valuable for advertisement, so Lund breaks the market economy of art into a predictable method, turning it also into a game, but one that can be won.
In a final artist talk in K1, the relations between art and labour, and labour and time is brought up. It features Sam Meech, Elli Harrison, and Oliver Walker from the FACT-curated Time and Motion, a transmediale guest exhibition. Walker discusses his piece ‘One Euro’, which shows screens documenting various forms of labour. Each video lasts the time it would take for its labourer to earn a euro. The other two artists examine the division of their own time. Meech’s knit tapestry, ‘Punchcard Economy’ (2013), reads ‘8 hours labour, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest.’ The slogan is taken from Robert Owen’s 8 Hour Day movement, while the tapestry’s pattern incorporates Meech’s own irregular and freelance labour schedule. In ‘Timelines’ (2006), Harrison displays four days from a carefully recorded month, during which she had tracked each activity based on its duration.
In contrast with these personal works, Walker’s ‘One Euro’ and the ‘75 Watt’ (2013) piece by Tuur Van Balen and Revital Cohen (not present at this particular talk) bring into question the relations between labour, the body, time, and control in broader contexts. ‘75 Watt’ specifically documents assembly-line workers in China creating an object with no function other than to choreograph the workers’ movements. These are documentations of or interventions in the facets of oppression and formation in labour. It’s curious how these labours and their political or ethical implications are transformed when they are carried over into the artist’s work, especially one made for a potential market value.
Whose labour is it at this point? And what does it entail for someone to interrupt another’s work process to document, only to then return with the documentation back to the gallery, unscathed? These queries flowed with the others gleaned from the five days of Transmediale as I tread up and down the stairs of HKW’s elaborate architecture. I’m mentally trying to organise the excess of information gathered, and figure out what could be done with it beyond storage and categorisation. **