The exhibition explores the West’s colonial history of cultural extraction through paleontology, making the science and mythology around dinosaur fossils what art historian W.J.T. Mitchell calls “the totem animal of modern culture.” The duo will present their most recent HKW-funded project, called ‘Fossil Futures’ and based around research around the former German colony and excavation site of the Tendaguru Beds in Tanzania.
In reproducing these fossils using artificial intelligence and leaked data, along with the traditional tools of museums, the work questions “the fictions of authenticity told by Western institutions, and seek[s] to uncover alternative emancipatory narratives.”
Al-Badri and Nelles will also present an iteration of their 2015 project ‘The Other Nefertiti,’ an open-sourced reproduction of the Ancient Egyptian Royal Bust enabled through a data leak, its original still claimed by the Egyptian Museum of Berlin collection.
The Art Without Death: Russian Cosmism group exhibition is on at Berlin’sHaus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), opening September 1 and running to October 3.
The show brings together both Russian avant-garde work, curated by Boris Groys and drawn from the George Costakis collection, and contemporary work, including films by Anton Vidokle and Arseny Zhilyaev‘s installation reflecting “on the philosophical, scientific and artistic concepts of Russian Cosmism.”
Exploring the concept of Russian Cosmism and its dedication to”material immortality and resurrection,” as well as travel to outer space, there will also be a two-day conference looking at the intersection of science, technology and art. The event is part of 100 Years of Now, which is a four year program “undertaking an analysis of the present time by linking back to historical utopias.”
“Science is the ultimate political body,” are the words with which Rasheedah Phillips began her ferocious spoken word performance at the opening ceremony of this year’s transmediale. Phillips, in her wide-ranging speech, and Moor Mother from the Black Quantum Futurism Collective, both worked a table covered in electronic devices, seeking to create a field of experience that tore at the roots of the false dichotomies drawn between regimes of thought and power. Images of landscapes, moonscapes, true and alternative pasts, and futures—created by Angie Holliday—flashed by on the screen behind them. It was a fitting and appositely ambitious way to begin a cavalcade of talks, workshops, performances and events at Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt(HKW) on February 2.
After Phillips’ riveting reading, and a set of opening remarks from some of the festival’s prime movers, artist Harm van den Dorpel screened ‘Lexachast’ with an accompanying musical performance by producers Amnesia Scanner and PAN founder Bill Kouligas. Van den Dorpel’s video compiled images from the internet and slowly morphed them into the form of human bodies. NSFW in various ways, the work kept the emotional register of the first night of transmediale quite fevered. Such a flow of images, some violent, some sexually prurient, no doubt reflect the bleak realities and fantasies of the contemporary moment; however, questions could be asked about the way the work will be received by some viewers. Trauma flows incessantly from the internet, as a work like ‘Lexachast’ demonstrates, but not all viewers will experience these images in the same way. Proximity and distance from such events are critical concerns which any artist working with the rich proliferation of images off extremity must contend with. In another context, and to other viewers, ‘Lexachast’ could itself have seemed collusive rather than critical. Nevertheless, the fever it invoked seemed the right state to seek, as the political sphere into which this annual meeting of tech-driven creativity has scarcely been more fraught in the festival’s 30-year history.
The sense of urgency could be felt across the events. Talks by Esther Leslie and Lisa Parks in various sessions on the Friday provided powerful rebukes to the anthropocentric discourse that continues to stubbornly impose a policy of diktat on the natural world. Order and chaos and the order of chaos were themes across several discussions. Steve Kurtz’s magisterial keynote lecture on the closing evening of the weekend, dedicated to the subject of Necropolitics, explored a lifetime of creative work at the boundaries of the possible, the legal and the conceivable. Kurtz’s warnings about the dangers not only posed by corporate predators and regimes of organised violence, but also of quasi-magical solution-seeking could not have been more timely. If this all sounds a bit Cthulhu-tastic, well, it was, but that is not to say that even if the wide-eyed techno-optimism that appears to have characterised earlier iterations of the festival is on the wane, digital doom was the only fare on offer. I was particularly entranced by a sweetly absurd exploration of human conceptions of alien life by Finn Bruntonduring a panel on theorizing the non-human. Heba Y Amin’s contribution to the panel ‘Mediterranean Tomorrows’ provided a hopeful vision of what becomes possible when historically marginalised voices and intellectual formations are reintroduced to conversations about the future. The panel ‘Dulling Down’ with Constant Dullaart, Adam Harvey and the always insightful Nora Khan was as hilarious as it was thought-provoking. Harvey and Dullaart discussed the creation of their new app, DullDream, which removes the fundamental visual essence of whatever images are uploaded to it. Khan’s wry responses and the back and forth of the Dull Design Duo made for a fascinating exploration, not only of the ways in which algorithms see, and, thus, make us come to see ourselves, but also of basic questions about the nature of concept-formation in the mind.
There were also a number of high-quality entries in the festival’s film programme. Strong works by Dorine van Meel, Louis Henderson, and a heartbreaking film about silver mining in Bolivia by Armin Thalhammer, entitled Cerro Rico, were among those that continue to reverberate in my mind. Not every aspect of the event was resonated as strongly. While the Alien Matter exhibition had a few genuinely great works, not least the works on paper by Suzanne Treister, elaborating a strange cognitive entanglement between gardening and high-frequency trading, overall the techno-fetishist display methodology felt somewhat overbearing and did leach some of the potency from the works included. I confess to feeling a bit dumbfounded at times during Johannes Paul Raether’s address immediately prior to Kurtz’s on the closing evening. While the artist’s performative works are reputedly transcendent in person, seeing stills from them as Raether’s lecture unfolded did seem to rob them of context in ways that bordered on the problematic. Looking up at the imposing Raether in full witch-gear enlightening IKEA employees or beside an elderly South Asian man in a provocatively ‘incongruous’ shot reminds one of just how much is missed when one only experiences the documentation of a performance and not the event itself. In some ways, it was a fitting end to the opening of transmediale, as the programme now moves in an even more immersive direction, including a series of excursions to Langenbeck-Virchow Haus, ver.di and silent green at the Kulturquartier. The excursions seek to place audiences more directly in contact with the ideas, territories and ecologies the festival seeks to address.**
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. **
This year’s transmediale programme of exhibitions, conferences, screenings, performances and publications is on at Berlin’s HKW, running February 3 to 7.
With the theme of ‘transmediale/conversationpiece’, 2016 marks the first time the annual festival will run without pertaining to a central theme. It will instead host a series of discussions that take place each day with invited speakers and specific titles all owing to the anxiety of late capitalism.
There are four key strands that the organisers ask its audience to consider in relation to the unfolding, and in parts overlapping discussions: anxious to act, anxious to make, anxious to share, anxious to secure.
We reviewed 2015’s event here, and below have some recommendations for the upcoming week’s conversations and discussions:
The model literary project Fiktion is hosting an all-day event at Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) on the theme of concentration in the digitalized society in honour of the upcoming “Konzentration” anthology, running from 2pm to 11pm on June 20.
The day’s programme includes US literary scholar Kenneth Goldsmith, who will hold a compact version of his legendary Ivy League seminar/workshop “Wasting Time on the Internet” and discuss the results with Basel’s Institut Kunst director, Chus Martinez. Joining Goldsmith is Arthur Jacobs, neuroscientist at the FU Berlin, who will discuss immersion in literature and his reading research with the e-reader developed by Fiktion.
Other speakers include Romanian writer Sinziana Păltineanu, who will do a reading from her debut novel, Elephant Chronicles, and artist Sophie Jung, who will present her story “X-Examination♥”, as well as artist Jenna Sutela, whose video piece, ‘When You Moved’, will be shown throughout the event in the conference room 3 (K3).
Following their 2014 run across seven European cities, including their November session at London’s ICA, and latest appearance with Life: Feminism at Stockholm’s Tensta konsthall in December, the Lunch Bytes discussion series is wrapping up with a booked-out conference in Berlin.
“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. **