Shot reverse shot. Close-up on tangled plotlines. Build suspense and tear it down. Cut to cables snaking across borders. Cue music.
The screening will be on temporary display but will be carried on through a series of exhibitions and viewings in dates to come.
The project is a collaboration between the Berlin-based artist and researcher Visser and the Berlin-based studio for Research, Design and Development PWR (Hanna Nilsson and Rasmus Svensson) that explore present and future communication systems. Taking the form of an “infinite film constructed from global live streams,” it will play out in real time and real life, influenced by the fluidity of “intuitive, geographical, relational factors”.
Visser, whose work is a combination of drawing, writing, research and design, is currently completing a three-month residency at the Delfina Foundation where she is finalising her ‘conflict atlas‘ of the Falkland Islands. Stay tuned for her upcoming solo exhibition and publication launch in January at Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson Museum.
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.**
Hanna Nilsson and Rasmus Svensson are the Berlin-based design duo known as PWR studio. For this interview, we agreed to meet on a street corner in Schöneberg on what turned out to be the only rainy day in a long stretch of summery ones. Having never met them before, I asked pretty much everyone who idled there for a minute if they were “supposed to meet me here on this corner”. When they did arrive I had already fallen silent (aware of my creepiness) so we ended up staring at each other for a while across the intersection. Though everything about their appearance fit my preconceived idea of young, Scandinavian designers, the baby they had brought along was an initial surprise.
We settled in a café to talk about the recent work they’ve been doing. PWR studio seems to be involved in designing most of the documentation –material or immaterial –for a certain niche of the art world. From Future Gallery’s website, to Harry Burke’s latest poetry anthology I Love Roses When They’re Past Their Best, to the upcoming digital catalogue of the Art Post-Internet exhibition in Beijing, their prolific body of work is now an unmistakable aesthetic pillar. While much of their design is internet-based, or inspired by the internet somehow, they spoke at length about the importance of the physical book.
Reflecting on the term ‘post-internet,’ they see the role of printed matter as not necessarily being about the content. While one could easily, and perhaps more conveniently, read the content digitally, the book’s importance as a physical presence or anchor for the work is a valuable concept for PWR studio. They currently have plans to work with a handbag designer called New Ultra Group on a single copy book, modeled after a Medieval approach to the format as a kind of fetish object.
This month, PWR studio is launching the web catalogue for Art Post-Internet, so much of our conversation revolved around this loaded concept hovering over much of the contemporary art world. It seems increasingly impossible, and in some cases undesirable, to step away from online proprietary systems, but PWR studio is critical of their stronghold and manages to make use of creative subversive tactics in their web designs.
Tell us a bit about what you do at PWR studio and how you got started?
PWR studio: We used to publish a magazine called PWR paper. I think we published six or seven issues. Basically, we accumulated materials from artists who are mostly active online, on to this piece of paper. That was our starting point.
They were people whose work we found interesting and that was the start of the personal connection. It acted as a way of getting in touch with people. From paper we went to online again. We did something called PWRSHARE, which was an online magazine, another version of PWR. Then at the beginning of last year we decided to make it into a studio. What we are doing is a continuation of the work we were doing with PWR paper. We’re doing a lot of work with the same people. We call it a design studio now as a way of fitting into the system of how things operate.
Both of us equally do the practical design work.
You called PWR paper “the web materialised” which I thought was interesting, given that your narrative now seems to come at it from a different angle, from paper to internet.
Ps: Yes, that’s the core of what we’re doing. We’re acting as a sort of middle-person –the representation of content either from physical to internet, or the other way. This is the background of everything we do. We’re sort of past this post-internet conversation, like we don’t see some sort of distinction between the internet and physical things. We had PWR papers printed in New York and we had to deal with the printer. It was an industrial set up and we got this big bunch of papers. We had a friend pick them up there and send them to us. And then we would send them out.
The post-internet discourse seems to encompass what you’re saying though, that everything is already effected by the internet so even physical art or publication is a reaction to that…
Ps: We definitely think that’s true but it’s also already a banal topic. The word post-internet is interesting in the broad sense that we are already affected by digital communication. But we’re not so interested in it as a category for art. It’s more like an internal affair to the art world.
Ps: It was based on the webring phenomenon –the old early internet way of making connections. In the 90s/early 2000s you could join a web ring and there would be a banner that would take you from website to website. It could be a web ring about German Shepherds and you click through sites. [It’s] comparing this to much more sophisticated ways of making connections now.
In the 90s there was still this utopian idea of the internet as some sort of frontier and now, over the last five years, it’s become clear that it’s a completely controlled environment. Of course, there’s always a need to connect to these bigger networks, like you need to have interface with Google and Facebook, but it’s important to find ways to subvert them. There are so many systems that you have to rely on but it’s good to find ways to retain autonomy.
In the case of the ‘Internet Brotherhood you are never sure where you’ll end up, you are put in a random position and you have to make your way in either direction. These are creative ways of dealing with our normal mode of accessing information.
One of you worked as an intern at Metahaven design studio in Amsterdam, right? There are some aesthetic similarities…
Ps: Yes, Metahaven is one of the few design studios we find interesting, both aesthetically and in terms of ideas. [It’s] pretty much the only design studio we like. We don’t see ourselves as graphic designers so we have a distance from that world. All the research and writing that Metahaven does is connected. And they actually take the aesthetics very seriously. In the end their expertise, and ours as well, lies in making visual things that are connected to the content.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Ps: Our aesthetic is an ongoing struggle –we like to make things that we feel a little uncomfortable about, aesthetically. In general it needs to feel fresh, like a challenge. There’s an edge of things feeling not-quite-right. Things move quickly and we try to ask ourselves, “why do we like this?” and we often very quickly find the reason. Occasionally it’s a good reason, and sometimes it becomes clear that it’s because of a shallow reason. And we try to avoid those, and to avoid applying a style to everything we do. We have certain obsessions with things we do, but it’s more of a method that creates the aesthetic.
You’re launching the Art Post-Internet digital catalogue this month?
Ps: Yes, we’ll see if it actually comes out then. We didn’t see the exhibition actually, it was in Beijing, but there is a lot of material collected digitally. We see it as a chance to revisit this constant question of the conversion from internet to physical, and back and forth. All of these works we have seen are images online and they travel that way, but now we are dealing with images of them gathered in one physical space.
In a way, the fact that you never saw them in person seems quite logical to the whole concept.
Ps: Once again we’re seeing these images, knowing they’ve been displayed together in China, so with this publication we’re more directly getting back to the digital-analogue question. In general we’re involved in facilitating this conversion, usually with presenting gallery exhibitions on the internet.
Do you have a personal preference between digital and analogue design presentations?
Ps: No, we think both of them are annoying in their own ways. There’s a lot of labour involved in any case, whether programming or working with the printers. In a way the manual, technical labour is so much more clear than the creative work. It’s a technical problem-solving activity. In both cases it’s easy to get lost in those problems. It’s the kind of Modernist idea of the designer, that you identify a problem and find a solution. Of course, this is not the way we see it. It’s never one problem and one solution. It’s about making something that will be a good something.
This disjuncture between the conceptual part of the work and its realisation can be very shocking; how different the modes of working are. You also design gallery websites, like the one for Future Gallery. How is that process?
Ps: We’ve done a couple of gallery websites and it’s very difficult, because they are so strict in general. It doesn’t have to be that way, but people can be quite conservative. They don’t want to be, but in the end it should always be about the work, and that should be in focus. We agree that it is about presenting the work in the best way possible. But most galleries are still white cubes and the website can also become an extension of that.
As a studio, we work closely with the content of our projects, the editing and selection. We have many different roles but we like the role of the designer because you are connected to people through representation, as a kind of middle-person between their projects and their audience. In general we’re not that into graphic design studios, but we do enjoy acting in this role. **
With space becoming a real concern in a densely populated, urbanised world, its galleries like new Berlin additions V4ULT that are exploring the notion of boundaries and how to transcend them. Run by Anna Mikkola and Hanna Nilsson they aim to utilise the small space by exploring networked social media and our interlinked relation to it via a combined online and offline gallery.
Opening their first show with an exhibition from UK artist Iain Ball in June, with shows by eight artists in the three months since, the title of Pamela Rosenkranz’s, Content, opening on Wednesday, September 18, marks an interesting parallel with V4ULT’s high-volume, rapid turnover of works, especially when that ‘content’ appears to consist entirely of online information on skin care. Refresh.