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:
Like the press release of Schmoetzer’s recent solo show, A rare bird in Estonia at Kunstihoonein Tallinn, the accompanying text for Bird of the Year 2022 points to his use of narrative and metaphor to weave together and describe small and ungraspable moments.
It talks about elation, anticipation, boredom, imagination and being awarded “Bird of the Year, 2022”.
“A skydive across the English Channel, a leap off Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, a plunge from the Taipei Tower in Taiwan, or a free fall from the edge of space, like any of these, this was a grand drift migration of the mind.”
“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. **
CTM and Transmediale 2015 kick off in Berlin this week, while Art Genève is also running in Geneva, and will include Arcadia Missa and Preteen Gallery as exhibitors with work by Amalia Ulman and Babak Ghazi; Phoebe Collings-James, Deanna Havas and Leslie Kulesh, respectively.
Events in Berlin around CTM include performances by Evian Christ, Young Lean and 18+ (who are also doing a few dates across Europe), as well as a collaborative concert with Transmediale on the weekend. Sandy Brown is hosting its ☁︎ cave kino screening in the city outside of that, while in London Paul Kneale and Natalie Dray have solo openings, and Candice Jacobs‘ EXHALE (to her earlier INHALE at Project/Number) is opening in Liverpool.
Elsewhere there’s another double-opening at Birsfelden’s SALTS, an exhibition in Reykjavík including work by Sæmundur Þór Helgason and another group show at Johannesburg’s The Goodman Gallery featuring work by Candice Brietz and Mikhael Subotzky among others.
Berlin’s PANKE Culture is hosting a night of “contemporary Lithuanian artists reacting to the Internet”, called Survival Guide and featuring a slew of works and musical performances and taking place on January 17.
While the opener takes place on January 17, the Survival Guide exhibition runs from January 21 to January 23 and features Lithuanian artists AWK, Belikov, and Škicas Analoginis working with technology-based art.
June 5 marks a year since the NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, was introduced to the general public, and the full-day bus tour (which begins at 12:30 and ends at 21:00) travels through the city, exploring Berlin as the “global capital of informed response and resistance to mass surveillance”.
Following an optional public morning ceremony called ‘Whisteblower Sun Salute‘ at Brandenburger Tor led by Colin Hacklander of N.K. Projekt, the tour will spread over the day and be followed by a an optional event at N.K. Project featuring musicians and artists reponding to “data politics, surveillance & privacy issues, cultures of fear and Snowden’s actions”.
Few of us have any illusions about where our material possessions come from, but when it comes to the immaterial, the digital realm of images and data, the labour costs remain largely hidden. Digital media tends to appear comparatively ethical — e-books are lauded for their low carbon footprint while much online content is seen as user-created, open and democratic. But in his recent research and work, artist Harry Sanderson aims to provide insight into the invisible economy of digital media production. He writes:
“Relating a Google search return to an equivalent expenditure of fossil fuels, or the fluctuation of pixels across a screen with the exploited labour of rural migrant workers in Shenzhen, or topsoil loss in Inner Mongolia, is as remote and unattainable for the majority of users as is an understanding of the technical functionality of the devices themselves.”
— Excerpted from Human Resolution, published in Mute Magazine, April, 2013.
While there have been some attempts to reveal at least the energy cost of the internet (the website Blackle comes to mind), the ephemeral nature of online media serves to alienate us from the human cost of its production. As part of transmediale’s reSource006, a three-day program of talks at Berlin’s Kunstraum Kreuzberg Bethanien, curator Rozsa Farkas initiated a discussion between Sanderson and cultural scientist Vera Tollmann. The talk centred around Sanderson’s up-coming project for Arcadia Missa gallery, Unified Fabric, which involves the display and use of a self-built render-farm. Using the cheapest materials he could find, Sanderson created a render-farm that performs the kind of image rendering usually only achieved by industrial super-computers. By showing the physical objects and the time needed to achieve image rendering, Sanderson re-inserts a labour-value into the digital images he creates.
As a way of approaching Sanderson’s work, Tollmann presented some topical examples she encountered while researching in China. To begin with, she showed a clip of a massive LED screen situated in Tiananmen Square, displaying a constant stream of alluring high-definition film shot in various Chinese provinces. Tollman speculated that this exercise in self-promotion must cost the State millions to run. Tollman then showed images from Chinese artist Li Liao’s performative work, Consumption, which involved him taking a job at Foxconn for forty-five days and using all of his earnings to buy a single iPad. In a sense, the high-production digital images displayed in Tiananmen Square are a screen for China’s underlying digital economy, where many workers migrate from the rural provinces to work in factories (some say sweatshops) that produce the world’s smart-phones and computers. While media exposure of factories like Foxconn has been prevalent in recent years, we still tend to divorce our physical devices (and the physical labour required to create them) from the immaterial digital world they provide access to.
Tollmann and Sanderson also discussed the phenomenon of gold farming. This practice involves labour forces, predominantly in China, playing games such as World of Warcraft and on-selling their virtual achievements to a largely Western gaming audience. An activity considered leisure in one context becomes labour in another, with the two fuelling one another. With everything from gaming to image re-touching to online journalism being out-sourced to developing nations, the virtual world increasingly reproduces the inequitable economic structures of the real world.
Sanderson will use his render-farm, made as cheaply as possible, to render the most expensive things possible (which in rendering terms, means the most computationally intense images). Anderson explained how, aesthetically speaking, the most difficult images to render are usually also the most ephemeral – light patterns, moving liquids, wisps of smoke – the kind of immaterial effects that add extra shine to a big-budget film production. While these kinds of images may evoke an instinctual association with high production values, they are also precisely the kind of images we are unlikely to interrogate too deeply – they are fleeting, inconsequential, digital fluff. Towards the end of the discussion, Sanderson suggested that much art exploiting digital media fails to critically assess the medium itself. Ideally, Sanderson’s Unified Fabric when realized will engage not only with how digital images are produced, but in our wilful ignorance of their more material realities. **
Last year’s transmediale festival in Berlin explored the influence of shifting cultural paradigms on our understanding of science and the world with Back When Pluto Was a Planet and yielded impressive appearances by the like of Andrew Norman Wilson and Jennifer Chan. This year afterglow explores the perceived digital cultural wasteland we exist in in the wake of the Great Land Grab by those major corporate entities that descended on the web early on and they’re seeking artists with finished works engaging with this post-internet discourse exploring the aftermath. Submissions close on July 31 so see the transmediale website for more details. **
A proponent of the post-internet era, Ottawa-born, Hong Kong-raised, Syracuse (via Toronto) based Net artist Jennifer Chan is sipping a Club-Matein the café of Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt. It’s an early morning chat for the young practitioner, in Germany to present her [[[ I’ll Show You HD ]]] exhibition, featuring a stream of decontextualised online imagery that reflects and remixes the accelerated attention spans created by the Online environment. Employing a uniquely amateur aesthetic in the form of a slideshow, or ‘powerpoint presentation’, Chan uses these methods to explore and critique increasingly pervasive digital forms, their modes of mediation and the agency of the user.
A 9:30am start during a week of long nights and hectic schedules at this year’s transmediale, Chan is well-groomed and surprisingly clear-minded. Summarising her interests and motivations as an artist in an easy five-minute opening, it’s obvious that she’s given a lot of thought to properly articulating her ideas: “sorry if this is a lot of information. You can stop me.” But there’s more to Jennifer Chan than a semi-rehearsed dialectic outlining her artistic practice.
Not only an artist working within so-called ‘new media’, Chan is also a self-described ‘amateur cultural critic’, inspired by curators and scholars Sarah Cook and Beryl Graham, and a feminist whose pieces (like the titillatingly-titled ‘An Informal Survey of Swag: The Sociology of Hip Hop In the Micro-World of Emerging Net Art‘) have appeared online through publications like Art Fag City and Rhizome. She’s a part of that “academic cluster” of prosumers, centered around the North American regions of Chicago and New York, where she’s currently completing a Masters of Fine Arts in Video at Syracuse University. It’s from here that Chan explores ideas of gender and racial identity within a digital medium and (what she affectionately calls “the toilet of the human mind”) the Internet.
What do you think about those people who can and do disregard Net art or web based art, for being just kitsch and pointless?
JC: That’s a common reaction. There have been efforts by many younger curators to make that bridge between Net art and contemporary art. I feel like, with a lot of 2.0, or post-2.0 artists, they are adapting their work into exhibition spaces and they’re creating their own spaces online. Like you mentioned, Tabor Robak and, some of his friends, Kari Altmannand Amalia Ulman… A lot of people are working to create their own internet art galleries. In Berlin there’s Future Gallery that shows pretty much just web-based work but it also looks hyper-contemporary. I’ve also been involved in that; curating DIY shows but also curating video screenings with institutions to leverage a new hierarchy, in a way [laughs].
I also share that sentiment of ‘fuck the traditional definitions of contemporary art’, to try to elevate this Internet trash as something worthy of looking at, like, artefact. I think Kari Altmann’s practice is about that; finding these things, creating these memes and looking at them like artefacts.
You obviously approach the Internet quite critically. Having worked with people in their late teens, I’ve found they don’t seem particularly interested. They use it as a tool rather than something to be fascinated by or deconstructed.
JC: It depends on the person. I think that there is no average user but people like to talk about users as this homogenous group; that they’re necessarily going to use and interact with the interface for its functional reasons. There was quite a bit of discussion about that at What Was The User?panel yesterday. Of course, it’s great to hear from people like Olia Lialina and Cornelia Sollfrank on those ideas; those early sentiments of really trying to create systems so people can change the way of making art and challenge authorship. But I think it’s different now, it’s post-2.0 time. They also have very different ideas of the word and the use of the word ‘user’.
Do you think about that uneven distribution of Internet access, globally?
JC: Yeah. I’m aware of the digital divide and it makes me uncomfortable. I went to China in 2008 and 2009. We went through the city in a tour bus and half the city is really developed and the other half is squats and squatter houses. It’s interesting too because, there people might be living in uncomfortable conditions but then they’ll whip out a smartphone or they’ll have a TV. There’s also that privileging of technology or entertainment.
I guess, my work tries to resolve those problems because it’s something that’s almost larger than within what I can do. I think it can raise awareness about that, in the way of looking at technology. I’m really aware that the ‘post-Internet’ revels in that privilege almost; of the Internet’s role in the First World.
You’ve also said you disagree with the term ‘digital native’, especially when you don’t know how to code or programme. It’s easy to forget that the Internet, on the whole, is founded on a space built by mostly male programmers.
JC: I have a piece of work about that in the exhibition. It’s called ‘*A Total Jizzfest*’. It’s a rough history of the sexiest and richest computer and Internet scientists, programmers and web 2.0 moguls. I was also looking at their representation over time because Google search stock images of them that are flying in through the video. As well as that, it’s a small research project for me just to understand who did what over the course of time, from the 1950s up until the present.
It seems like, also, the post-web 2.0 or the web 2.0 moguls are way more informal about the way they represent themselves but they’re all brands. Christopher Poole is ‘moot’, the founder of 4chan. Jakob Lodwick,he’s the founder of Vimeo but then there’s a myth around him because of how much personal life is on his Twitter account, also blog posts and emails are made public by people he’s dated. I find all that really juicy. I’m really interested in this human dimension around technology and how people approach the social web.
You mentioned Marisa Olson defining ‘post-internet’ culture as a new mode where communication and socialisation is a part of every day life. Do you think it’s important to continue to explore and critique the racial and gender conventions that still exist on the Internet?
JC: I think that there are artists that are querying those dichotomies or conventions. I guess, in music, it’s Mykki Blanco and Le1f… I really like his work. I think it’s possible to look at various representations of masculinity and femininity through a queer lens online. As well as just understanding that people selectively appropriate various orthodox definitions of masculinity and femininity, in a pleasurable way. I don’t think they’re strictly adhering to them all the time but it’s definitely questionable when someone posts something that looks heteronormative, or whatever, what that means…
I can’t speak for the general Internet art community, in terms of what their ideas about orientation are, but from just embodying different identities in chat forums when I was 14, when there wasn’t any live video chat yet, I recognised that certain spaces online that are meant for everyone are highly gendered in terms of language. Even on [online dating site] OkCupid,the advertising sometimes targets me as a really feminine woman. Other times it targets me as a man; where it’s really important for me to own a Lexus or something.
For me, it’s an understanding that many spaces are very gendered and knowing how I can talk about that. It’s important to remember that it’s a condition of half-internalising these ideas of being a particular kind of user, which these websites think that I am.
Net art seems to have had a more pervasive impact on the US because of its traditional role as a global economic centre. Do you think growing up in Hong Kong has had a similar effect on your outlook as an artist?
JC: Yeah, I suppose. I guess it’s a certain kind of Net art, which is very cosmopolitan or ‘blanket international’, that has definitely influenced me. Just growing up in different cultures has influenced my ideas of how to appropriate, what to appropriate, what can I appropriate? Yeah, definitely this ‘global feel’.
I’m actually thinking about Energy Pangea, who make work like Kari Altmann, they’re really looking at images of globalisation: African kids, images of different national flags and the way that it’s almost removed from what they usually mean. It’s almost this very corporate aesthetic, very designer-y and slick, which is not like mine but I think about looking at things that way too; almost everything as a brand, a potential product or commodity and ultimately an experience.
There’s always more than one way of looking at something; whether it’s Net art and its creative worth, or the critique of globalisation and corporate culture by embodying it. There seems to be this unsettling awareness that there’s nothing that can’t be commodified. Rihanna doing #seapunk is a good example.
JC: Everything’s susceptible to reappropriation and shifts in meaning. I think that comes with just working within this networked community. It’s so rapid in terms of its responses but then groups of people have the agency to respond and talk back to it. I don’t think it’s the end of an aesthetic because Rihanna’s appropriated it. If you put your work online, then it’s going to travel. Nick Briz made this rotoscoped and green-screened Rihanna video, where people were making response videos as well.
Do you think that ‘right of reply’ is specific to the digital era, that conversation?
JC: I think it is but a lot of the times it stays online. I suppose it does end up being heard of outside of the internet art community when it reaches more mainstream media forms. Like, I’m thinking if it hits an art blog, or a lifestyle blog, then people find out that #seapunk was incorporated, or a glitch aesthethic was incorporated into a mainstream music video. I think those are all great dialogues between niche subcultures on the Internet and mainstream media.**