Werkleitz Festival 2015. move ON – New media art from Australia, Canada and Europe: Report from Halle, Germany by Judith Funke*


Exhibit No. 1: A large black rubber dinghy lying in the entrance festival centre hall like a stranded whale. The boat had been transported from the Greek island of Lesbos to become part of the festival exhibition. Before its last trip, 48 refugees had used it to successfully cross the Mediterranean Sea between Turkey and Greece.
Here in Halle, however, following the opening speeches, the boat was soon occupied by a cheerfully celebrating group of men from a nearby refugee shelter – a former hotel that in previous years accommodated the festival guests. Now the refugees had been invited to join the opening night, a spontaneous intervention initiated by the Swiss-German artist duo Christoph Wachter & Mathias Jud (CAPITAL OF THE WORLD) who work on improving precarious communication infrastructures in collaboration with activists and asylum seekers.


[image: Dancing refugees with Dingi © Falk Wenzel]


The 2015 edition of the Werkleitz Festival in Halle marked the 20th anniversary of the European Media Artists in Residence Exchange (EMARE). The festival was built around works produced by the 16 artists and artist collectives who were selected for the 2014/15 EMARE grant (supported by the EUs cultural program) to develop new projects during residencies at one of the network’s numerous partner institutions in Australia, Canada, and Europe. The resulting works formed the core of the .move ON exhibition and performance programme. This was complemented by a three-day conference ambitiously addressing “the present and future of audiovisual media”; an exhibition contributed by the art academies of Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design Halle and the Academy of Media Arts Cologne (KHM); and a curated music and audiovisual performance programme.
Thus, unlike the most recent editions of the Werkleitz Festival (“Doppelgänger” (2014), “Utopien vermeiden“ (2013), the festival did not have an overarching theme connecting individual contributions. On the contrary, the artworks and projects assembled under the rather generic motto “.move ON” could hardly have been more diverse, ranging from the immediate political cause of Wachter/Jud’s CAPITAL OF THE WORLD; to an audiovisual reflection on the philosophy of imaginary places (Isabell Spengler’s Two Days at the Falls); an elaborate audiovisual exploration of the perception of space (Matthew Biederman & Pierce Warnecke’s Perspection;, a child-friendly, tangible tool for playful music programming (Mónica Rikić’s Buildacode); or a fast-paced video piece tracing the connections between Afrofuturism, breakbeat culture and quantum physics (Soda Jerk’s new Astro Black episode Jungle Are Forever).


Opening_c_Falk Wenzel
[image: Opening © Falk Wenzel]


The location that served as festival centre and exhibition space greatly helped to hold together this multitude of topics and artistic approaches. As a further step in the festival’s continuous efforts to critically explore and highlight the urban architectural landscape of the shrinking city of Halle, the exhibition and most events were staged in an abandoned Jugendstil building in the city centre. This building was constructed in 1911 to accommodate printing workshops and offices of a publishing house and vacant since the publisher’s closure in 1992. Not only did this precarious, dilapidated building act as an omnipresent reminder of past revolutions in media history, it also added an almost ironic note to the bold, forward-looking proposition of “.move ON” – and, thanks to an exhibition architecture conceived with much curatorial care and technical precision, it resonated with the exhibited works in very different and sometimes surprising ways.


Phase Orkestra_c_Falk Wenzel
[image: Phase Orkestra © Falk Wenzel]


The most dramatic examples of this interaction were the larger audiovisual installations: Matthew Gingold’s Phase Orkestra, an idiosyncratic, mysterious arrangement of light, sound and space forming a complex shamanistic sculpture, or the installation RL___0 by German artist collective Korinsky, a speculative reconstruction of the sound of the big bang. The latter resembled a DIY space station and was very charmingly installed in the wooden top floor of the building, instilling a childlike exploratory spirit in the visitors climbing the ladder to the attic.
And, of course, the space provided a perfect setting for pieces dealing explicitly with time or memory, such as Gail Priests immersive hypertext-like environment Sounding the Future, or Pedro Ferreira’s manipulations of deteriorating 16mm home movies, Fragments #5. Another example was The Oculist Reason, an original and very convincing proposition by Australian artist Lauren Moffatt, who used her residency at FACT (GB) to explore the possibilities of digital scanning and modelling technologies for preservation and archiving. The result of her efforts was an interactive 360° environment in which visitors could marvel at a decaying Liverpool mural commemorating historic struggles of the British working class.


[image: Verena Friedrich, The Long Now© Falk Wenzel]


Inspired by #vanitas# motifs from art history, Cologne-based media artist Verena Friedrich presented a different take on time and the transience of life. Her new installation The Long Now (developed at OBORO, CA) consists of a plain, but sophisticated mechanical apparatus programmed by Friedrich to create and sustain a soap bubble over a certain period of time in a glass container. The bubble appears to be caught in mid-air, frozen in time, until it eventually collapses in a somewhat unreal slow-motion-like process, and the apparatus resets itself to prepare the birth of the next bubble. With its silent, unpredictable and highly captivating process, this unobtrusive machine was a clear audience favourite.
The Natural Look, Steve Reinke’s sanguinary but strangely coherent philosophical found footage essay “dedicated to all things placental” (produced at Impakt, NL), seemed a bit tucked away in one of the smaller rooms in the corner of an exhibition floor, but this turned out to be a surprisingly suitable situation for the piece. A second single-channel video work in the exhibition was very different in style, but just as remarkable, Cristina Picchi’s Champ des Possibles, an atmospherically condensed portrait of urban life, delicately composed of flowing HD images and intermingling voices recorded during a residency at PRIM Centre Montréal.


All The Mistakes I’ve Made, part 2 (how not to watch a film), Daniel Cockburn (CA )


The festival’s evening programme included two lecture performances by artists from the EMARE programme. The Carousel by Australian-American duo Soda Jerk was described as “a live video essay that unearths [the] séance fictions of cinema” and drew from the artists’ research into theories of hauntology, bringing together a wild mixture of samples from popular movie culture, media theory and philosophy. The second event was programmed as the closing event of the conference and took place in the functional but less atmospheric congress centre. Canadian artist Daniel Cockburn chose a more autobiographical and humorous approach to the genre in his performance All The Mistakes I’ve Made, Part 2 (How Not to Watch a Film). While this turned out to be a perfect follow up to The Carousel due to some unintended, but intriguing thematic overlaps, it was also a well-chosen ending for a very diverse opening weekend programme, thanks to Daniel Cockburn’s talent to virtuously pick up loose threads and reconnect them in unexpected ways.


Participating artists: Matthew Biederman (US/CA) and Pierce Warnecke (US/DE), Daniel Cockburn (CA), Pedro Ferreira (PT), Anaisa Franco (BR/DE), Verena Friedrich (DE), Matthew Gingold (AU), Korinsky (DE), Lauren Moffatt (AU/DE), Robyn Moody (CA), Cristina Picchi (IT/GB), Gail Priest (AU), Steve Reinke (CA), Mónica Rikić (ES), Soda_Jerk (AU/US), Isabell Spengler (DE), Christoph Wachter & Mathias Jud (CH/DE)


The full programme as well as videos documenting the .move ON exhibition and conference are available at http://moveon.werkleitz.de/


*Judith Funke is a freelance curator, writer, and editor working between the fields of art, film and media culture.