The evening will include a performance by the artist, who will read transcripts from the text, alongside the slime mould accompanying the launch, who goes by the name ‘Physarum Polycephalum.’ Expanding on the Sutela’s practice and work, the book is an “experimental survey of decentralised organisms and organisations drawing on several perspectives and presenting a constellation of different voices.”
The work is shown amongst Kirpilä’s art collection, which spans Finnish art from 1850s to 1980s and uses his well known “chestnut flower parties,” or cocktail parties, held for his large circle of friends as the starting point.
Bringing together contributions from artists, writers, researchers and designers, the multimedia installation explores the ritual of food and eating, ranging from “eating habits to the gut-brain connection as well as related ecosystems and infrastructures.”**
Anxiety and liquidity seem to be fairly overused words so far in 2016. They represent perhaps the general state of mind and things, in which stability is a privilege from the past and realities only come true at a speculative level. Those two terms, among others, are leading subjects of transmediale, a yearly festival on post digital cultures, hosted at Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) and running February 3 to 7.
The vast programme of transmediale 2016, subtitled ‘conversationpiece’ is structured under four main streams: anxious to act, anxious to share, anxious to make and anxious to secure. These enable the visitor to identify the nature of the happening, thematically or formally. A wide range of formats are running and overlapping each other throughout the four days, aiming to raise questions and generate propositions for change and adaptation to a future that might already be here.
Referencing 17th and 18th century portraits of tea parties, picnics and salons, this edition of transmediale is meant to become a conversation. As formerly privileged conversations have been decentralised and democratized over time, and in a world where “everybody’s talking”, there is an urgency to create not only new vocabularies, but a common ground in order to acknowledge the value of talking in itself.
In the Theatersaal some video works from Norman Cowie, Beatrice Gibson or Eleni Kamma are screened. Kamma’s work, ‘Yar bana bir eğlence. Notes on Pharresia’ reflects on censorship and the unequal distribution of wealth. “Yar bana bir eğlence” claims the urgency of the creation of a political voice, such as Karagöz’s one, to be a symbolic character from the ottoman empire.
Issues common to the transmediale streams are picked up and discussed at The Panic Room Session. These sessions serve as an informal space to discuss urgent topics and its participants are selected from other transmediale events or as external actors from all backgrounds. Market uncertainty is the topic of the third Panic Room Session, and it aims to revisit the role of the artist in a world in perpetual crisis. TTIP, TPP and TISA are branches for a ramification of terms currently used to refer to markets, such as “liquidity” or “hybridity”. Those floaty descriptors are scrutinized and redefined throughout a four hour panel moderated by curator Helen Kaplinsky and writer Elvia Wilk.
Denmark-based research collectiveDIAKRON open the discussion, analysing hybrid corporations which pursue shifts and improvements rather than just profit. Designer Femke Herregraven presents her online platform-game called Liquid Citizenship –sponsored by V&A– where anybody can check if they are eligible to get a specific citizenship. A more techie approach is offered by entrepreneurs Trent McConaghy and Jip de Rideer, who respectively present a decentralised model for the internet and a digital platform to trade with solidarity. Finally, artists Valentina Karga and Pieterjan Grandry, MoneyLab and Shu Lea Cheang – whose practices are devoted to exchanging and challenging value using materials such as garlic, gold coins or collective gestures – concluded the panel by discussing the value of money new forms, such as cryptocurrencies.
In the Anxious to Share stream, the hybrid event Making Planetary Scale Gestures, which is moderated by Ben Vickers, gathers artist James Bridle, designer Sarah T Gold, curator Troy Conrad Therrien and Femke Herregraven. Bridle presents extracts of his body of work inspired by the Superstudio collective and their idea of using grids as systems of networks. Herregraven speaks of her research around cables used by data centers in remote geographic locations, and Therrien claims that computation is architectured.
In the Auditorium, the Keynote Conversations are running every day. Under the stream Anxious to Act, Hito Steyerl and Nicholas Mirzoeff present their papers around the industrialization of vision, surveillance and sovereignty. The former points out the necessity of mediation in order to understand images and visual material nowadays whereas the latter talks of how collective gestures such as “hands up, don’t shoot“ can become a visual common or a icon for solidarity.
All this is just a small insight of what transmediale really is: it is necessary and enough to awaken some kind of actively critical approach in order to select and process the conversations in which to take part. Most of the panel discussions and lectures are uploaded to transmediale’s YouTube channel, for access for those who missed them. This might be the democratic counterpart of the festival, whose pricing makes it accessible to only a few; active participation and a physical presence in conversation is otherwise not as democratically open, the way it might have been with the former picnics and salons. However, the digital display of material produced here responds to the ideals and issues central to transmediale, serving as an important reference archive for anyone with the means to access it. **
“If our bodies don’t end at the skin,” writes the press release, “but instead extend to and reconfigure themselves with the material environments they engage with, what kind of implications does this have for notions like representation, embodiment and gender?” Much like some of the other female-identified artists we’ve covered in the past, the conference begins with the body.
Moderated by Maria Lind, director Tensta konsthall, the conference invites artists Jesse Darling and Sofia Hultin, curator Rózsa Farkas, and editor and writer Elvia Wilk to discuss their work and how they “make use of, configure and create identities” through it. The discussion is also organised in conjunction with Hultin’s TK-comissioned project, ‘I Am Every Lesbian‘.
“I’m going for a deeply oceanic look today”, Holly Childs is reading from her upcoming book Danklands, to be published via Arcadia Missa on December 9. It’s an excerpt of what she calls, “a make-up tutorial that is also subliminally a climate change awareness campaign, or a self-defence for women pep talk”. It features a persona called ‘Augustine’ pointing at ephemeral hyperlinks from inside a computer screen, while recommending “slut shame” eye shadow or “urban decay & deathzone 4 Eva” liner to suit any lifestyle: “maybe you’re a scientist who’s just started dating again after a massive break up, or doing some whaling”. From here come the ideas of “dredging and resurfacing” that Childs actively explores in her work, a subject that is revisited in various forms across ideas and artistic practices expressed in conversation with several other writers and artists. They include Cally Spooner and David Jablonowski, as well as art historian Florian Cramer and panel moderator Elvia Wilk at Lunch Bytes exploring Life: Language. The film that should follow the ICA programme is being delayed as the last in the London editions of the Goethe-Institut‘s European series applies some interesting ideas to the computer generated future of communication via the internet.
“’Always scared amateur porn is going to turn out to be a snuff film”, Childs is quoting Australian artist Aurelia Guo in exploring the “rerouting of form” where a format meant to present one agenda exposes itself for harbouring another. Hence the post-presentation question time concerning Emoji and their relationship with the corporate interests of the companies that produce them – say, the myth of “John Appleseed” embedded in Apple’s tiny pictographs. It’s a technologised type of social interaction that started in emoticons and has since been colonised by corporate entities; Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! encoding them with their own ideologies. Spooner goes further with these “shared behaviours between labour and speech, and therefore politics” citing Hannah Arendt’s derailing of a political form of life through speech and actions in the “big musical collapse” of her ‘And You Were Wonderful, On Stage’ (2014) performance. It was inspired by the artist’s experiences working with an advertising agency in a campaign that would refill its employees’ real-life stories with a company’s brand and values, only to resell it to its staff.
“I was thinking about how people use Emoji when they’re sexting, like an eggplant is supposed to be a dick”, Childs deadpans about the subversive potential of recalibrating said characters’ intended corporate meaning via context. This is something Cramer also illustrates via the encoded language of early 4Chan image boards, where he draws parallels between the highly referential “visual linguistics” of 17th century allegorical art and something like ‘Y U NO?’ or the Anonymous meme-cum-hacktivist group-cum-global symbol of dissent. The latter’s famous Guy Fawkes mask signifier is, of course, an iconic image that draws from Alan Moore’s cult graphic novel, V for Vendetta – which in turn was inspired by the 16th century activist – resurfacing via a Japanese anime-inspired culture transfered to Western image boards and manifesting physically via the #occupy movement.
In his ‘Powerslave, Revolution Main (Signature Series)’ (2014), recently shown at BRANDS – CONCEPT/AFFECT/MODULARITY, David Jablonowski draws a link between political revolutions via his found object sculptural arrangement of Iron Maiden tour merchandise from 1984. The band are regarded as the first rock act to cross into the Eastern Bloc at the time, while the limited edition Vans shoes were discovered by the Netherlands-based artist during a visit to New York when the 2012 Arab Spring in Egypt had erupted.
That sort of layering of symbolic objects not only expresses a sort of density of information but also an emptying out of a self-contained object’s self-contained meaning, especially when presented in pairings as disparate as the plexiglass and lacquered bamboo boxes in Jablonowski’s ‘Alibaba (dot cn dot sa dot com)’ (2014) sculpture at To Satisfy Algorithms/ Still Life with Asparagus. It’s inspired by a Chinese-founded trade website (alibaba.com) with an Arabic reference that has no connection to the region’s history except for its global potential for brand recognition.
Illustrating language as highly coded and malleable to its context – whether corporate, political or personal (often all three) – it’s in a clash of cultures and concerns that makes contemporary communication and the Lunch Bytes Life: Language discussion such a dynamic one. Cramer references Heath Bunting’s 1998 “social sculpture” ‘_readme.html (Own, Be Owned or Remain Invisible)’, where an article written by the net artist for Wired magazine is entirely linked by words to a corresponding .com domain. Starting out with mostly dead links, in the almost two decades since, they’ve been almost entirely populated and commercialised – even the conjunctions like ‘at’, ‘and’ and ‘to’.
Meanwhile, Spooner’s ‘Damning Evidence Illicit Behaviour Seemingly Insurmountable Great Sadness Terminated In Any Manner’ (2014) opera takes its title from a public statement made by Nike after Lance Armstrong’s revelations of doping. The opera itself outsources its scores to comment threads reacting to public controversy like Beyonce’s lip-synced Obama inauguration performance (“if you can’t trust her, who can you trust?”). All this, while Cramer suggests, “a new kind of writing needs to be invented”. But when Childs shares her “cute and nice conversation” with a Microsoft Word spell check function via an error-box gesturing, “it didn’t have the exact language to convey what it was thinking or feeling”, I rather think it already has. **
A continual tug-o-war between control and resistance is seemingly built into the paradigmatic contorts of every communication system. Perhaps the most interrogated of these are online environments, particularly those that emerged in the wake of the 2.0 ‘revolution’, which replaced a (arguably) chaotic system of peer-to-peer networking with a series of rotating corporate platforms and the google “safe-search” bar. When considering the structures that facilitate not only online, but all levels of interaction, one looks at the extent of manipulation occurring at the point that a message is mediated between two, or multiple indices. What role do we, as both source and recipient of information, play in the contortions and or clarifications of that data and in what ways are these manipulations (un)available to us, for purposes of resistance? Such problematics are at the fore in discussions of interfaciality.
Taking its name, a gesture waves us on, answering our own wave, from a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, this new publication release with text contributions from eight participating artists, writers, designers, architects and theorists – including Jenna Sutela‘s ‘Ill-Suited Primate’, a text expansion of the video essay ‘When You Moved’ (2014), written together with Elvia Wilk – is an undertaking by the enigmatic Berlin art project V4ULT.
It’s a curatorial platform initiated by Anna Mikkola and Hanna Nilsson. Pushing the conceptual limits of physical space, they turned a closet-sized room in their shared studio into an exhibition space, extending into virtual space by way of their website and describing the platform as “an interface of sorts, a space between us, the people we work with, and our audience.” The release of this publication “marks the end of the first episode” of their curatorial program and develops a discussion of interfaciality, beyond networking and computing, zooming “into scenarios where an entity interacts with its context.”
The publication opens with Harry Burke‘s essay, ‘InterfacialWYSIWYG :P’, a deft glimpse into the ideological reach of digital interfaces, their translation into IRL topographies, as well as the interface as a potential site of resistance. Continuing the theme of disruption, Lucy Chinen looks beyond structural contingencies of social media platforms to suggest that it may be the data and meta data – chats, likes, posts – rather than the structures themselves that could provide the necessary information for understanding the swell and quell of social movements. Analogous to linking “climate change and the increase in extreme weather conditions to human activity”, Chinen recommends making a causative link between political activity online and offline gatherings and protest as an act of empowerment.
Referencing V4ULT’s own self-identification as an interface, Benjamin Bratton‘s essay, ‘Interface Typologies on Design Strategy’, extrapolates multifarious understandings of it across a seemingly endless list of opposites – mobile/immobile, singular/plural, fast/slow, signifying/asignifying – reaching out from the digital, beyond the screen, he details the “relational measures of performance” of everything from a roadblock, to a river to a button with words on it. Offering us a condition among definitions; “For something to really become interfacial it must also somehow govern the conditions of exchange between two different systems that is mediates.”
In graceful prose, Elvia Wilk contemplates the relational functionality of ratios – for which the colon, “a membrane…inserted into the equation”, is the interface – with her closing essay, ‘Ratioratio’. She cleverly toys with the ratio as a tool of demarcation that does not fall prone to the dichotomous, reductive regressions of the binary.
Likely an inadvertent reference to the book-publication-paper-page interface, Wilk writes, “a good interface minimizes itself, fading the dots between virtualreal”, a sentiment reiterated by Bratton and elaborated through the design of the publication as an object-interface. A reference to the swipe action used to turn a page on an e-book, there is a diagonal stroke of negative space running down each left page, a book imitating an e-book imitating a book; relational layering, a design joke that simultaneously inhibits the readability of text on the page, whilst making it impossible to ignore its fixed materiality. As such, design dictates the mode of communication, of consumption. In his essay ‘100% Design, Zero Tolerance’, Martti Kalliala explores design, not only as a tool of limitation but also as an answer to intransigence; “there is another, more indirect, and likely more effective mode of struggle: more design.” He offers ‘design failures’; “incompatibility, bottlenecks, and agonism as a mode of freedom.”
What happens when a text, an idea, a concept is freed from its context and placed within a new interface? Jesse Darling‘s contribution about the “ghostmodernity of snapchat”, originally posted as a facebook status, has been transplanted into the publication. Denuded of its likes and comments, removed from its digital environment of blue, white and hapless algorithmic noise, transplanted onto a flat, fixed grey and white page, offers up the problematic of interfacial transplantation as tangible experience. So too does Rasmus Svensson‘s text, ‘Server Closet’, edited and translated from a Swedish comments thread, “When will you leave Sweden”. He collates expressions of “profound xenophobic hostility” for the printed the page and they jab, jar and confuse in a manner that such words online – by way of their prevalence across the web – have (perhaps) ceased to do.
Discussions addressing the negotiation between form and content are by no means new. Whilst it might not be exactly ‘hot topic’ right now, the relevance of the discussion has not waned; the problems are not solved and the conditions of our interactions through and with interfaces are ever changing and cannot definitively be known. This new publication that “looks at interfaces in an expanded field” – though reading it, at times, feels akin to the extraneous beatings of a dead horse – is not an unwelcome contribution to a continuing, broad-based conversation.**
“What’s the realer space?” Ann Hirsch asks the unanswerable at South London Gallery’s Clore Studio during a contextual discussion with historian and writer Giulia Smith closing off the The Posthuman Era Became a Girl two-day event co-curated by Helen Kaplinsky. It echoes the discomfiting lack of distinction a 27-year-old screen name “jobe” makes between online and offline infidelity, in his developing and soon-to-become-sexual relationship with a 12-year-old “Anni” in Hirsch’s most recent play ‘Playground’ (2013). “Does it really matter?” he replies, when the suburban school girl asks via ‘Leet-speak’-informed language whether his current love interest was cheating on him via chat or IRL.
The play, presented the previous night at The George Wood Theatre of Goldsmiths University, is an equal parts funny and disturbing insight into the pre-adolescent experience of an insulated American middle-class raised on the internet in the 90s. Enacted partly via text projected on a screen and partly spoken, the two protagonists access their proscribed sexual fantasies by typing them into the greeny-blue glow of their respective CRT computer screens, from their symbolically isolated desks spaces.
“Forbidden moistures trickle into forbidden places”, says the masculine voice of New Degrees of Freedom: ‘Act 3: Water’ (2014); a performance of an ongoing collaborative production by artist Jenna Sutela. Happening the following day in a transformed studio, the audience is sat on the floor of a by now sauna-like space, the icicles handed out on entry melting in the sweaty warmth of a hot afternoon; Amnesia Scanner’s rumbling soundscape washing through the fishing rope and sea sponges scattered among the bodies. Dimly-lit with a dark blue tone, the room comes as physical expression of the porous “semi-aquatic existence” of its spoken text, now dissolved into “the borderlands of material and virtual worlds”.
Distortion. Confusion. Fear. These are themes that present themselves in the work of both a US-based Hirsch and Finnish Sutela, if not in vastly different, even culturally defined incarnations. There’s the puritanical quality to the heavily manipulated spaces and ashen post-production aesthetics of Sutela’s “real-life avatar”, where within three ‘acts’ and across platforms the ongoing New Degrees of Freedom project constructs its own cyborg grotesque. ‘Act 1: The Birth of a Real-Life Avatar’ and ‘Act 2: The Spirit of a Real-Life Avatar’ (2013) inform this third act where attendees become unwitting accessories as a video camera films the faceless mass of humans strewn around icy puddles on concrete.
Act 2 –featuring another anonymous group of collaborators in Finland’s Turku –is screened to follow. This time the omnipresent lens is turned outward on a circle of standing audience members wearing prosthetic organs and arranged around the marble floor of the Vartiovuori Observatory. Funnily enough, the camera remains to film the follow-up Q&A as Hirsch –whose earlier work ‘Here For You (Or my Brief Love Affair with Frank Maresca)’ (2012) also screens –explains the trauma and manipulation of ‘reality’ television. “Ultimately you have no control”, she says about the “mechanism of production” surrounding VH1 ‘reality’ TV program Frank the Entertainer… In a Basement Affair. Confined for weeks at a time in an externally constructed environment under constant surveillance, Hirsch and 14 other contestants vie for the affections of Frank the Bachelor on camera with no choice in how they’re viewed, edited or represented.
“Hack them. Find out all their information. Toss them from AOL”, brags jobe about his online capabilities on the Web 1.0 instant messaging service he and Anni communicate through in ‘Playground’. These are all things he promises he’d never do to her. But after their year long relationship involving chat forum and phone sex, an argument over the “out of control faggots” jobe insists should be ejected from Anni’s school and a subsequent betrayal by her with ex-boyfriend Chris, jobe brands Anni a “whore” and she’s blocked.
Ideas of control and manipulation are central to both Hirsch and Sutela’s work, where networked media and its false assumptions of personal freedom is incisively interrogated. In Elvia Wilk’s 2013 essay ‘Where Looks Don’t Matter and Only the Best Writers Get Laid’, from which The Posthuman Era… takes its name, the writer suggests that the anticipated cyberfeminist utopia of the 90s did not only fail but was doomed from the outset. After all, “developing online cultures were often male-dominated and heteronormative”, its exclusive binaries already existed, and questions of A/S/L meant IRL mattered. And it still does, as Hirsch identifies cyberfeminism’s rejection of the body as a sort of “cultural shame”, Sutela suggesting potential in bringing back the body “in a more complex way”. Because after all, in order to overcome Wilk’s traditional “material/immaterial; male/female” labor divide, surely the Cartesian mind/body one, on which a largely man-made technological infrastructure is built, should also be abandoned.
“…the very substance of the self is interconnected not only with biological but also with economic and industrial systems”: so go the words read by Julia Burmingham’s feminine narration in Sutela’s ‘Act 3: Water’. Those systems are omnipresent across the performances and characters, artworks and avatars, presented at The Posthuman Era Became a Girl, where there’s as little distinction between physical and virtual space as there is between notions of consuming and being consumed. **
In collaboration with Berlin’s Import Projects, writer Elvia Wilk will be exploring the virtual vs IRL distinction that has generally become accepted as non-existent through two discussion panels running October 23 and November 13.
Interrogating this still problematic assumption of digital dualism, while looking at the social implications of its deconstruction, the panels will feature artists and writers charged with distilling a specific project to a 10-minute presentation, with discussion to follow. The two days will also be separated into two themes, with Jenna Sutela, Nadim Samman, Jesse Darling and Luke Munn speaking on ‘Opacity’ on October 23. Beny Wagner, Olia Lialina, Ben Vickers and Asli Serbest + Mona Mahall will be covering ‘Transparency’ on November 13, to coincide with Import Projects’ launch of Wagner’s Invisible Measure.