Transmediale 2006 conferences report.
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This year’s Transmediale, ran under the slogan ‘Reality Addicts’. As it has happened before throughout the history of the Berlin festival the focus of the event has shifted according to current discursive settings. This year the organizers have explicitly changed the subtitle of the event from «international media art festival» into the more neutral denomination of “festival for art and digital culture” as to proclaim the term ‘media art’ as own genre to be overcome. This general purpose seemed to have permeated all the sections of the festival. The ‘Salon’ is Transmediale’s forum for the presentation of current cultural projects and addresses a predominantly professional audience. This year a range of artists, curators and critics publicly discuss topics like ‘art and copyright’ (panel hosting among others Volker Grassmück, and Cornelia Sollfrank), aspects of media integration within the urban context (panel speakers Christian Möller, Thom Sokoloski a.o.). Tin addition the ‘Salon’ program provided a presentation platform for non-European media art contexts were Brazilian, Russian and Chinese artists and curators illustrated the recent repercussions of digital technology on the artistic production in their countries. Furthermore a number of artists invited as participants either at the ‘Smile Machine’ exhibition or at the ‘Lounge’ area had the chance to talk about their work in depth (as for example did Platonique with their ‘Burn Station’, Maja Bajevic or Chrisitan Möller). New books were presented, as the recently published ‘Readme 100’ reader (Olga Goriunova, Alexej Shulgin) a documentation to the recent readme software art festival in Dortmund, or Siegfried Zielinski’s new book ‘Deep Time’ (The MIT Press) which in the tradition of media archaeology re-itinerates the historical forerunners of technology enhanced research and creativity. ‘Smile Machines’, curated by the French university professor and curator Anne-Marie Duguet, evidenced best the emblematic shift intended by the Transmediale team. With a mainly historic approach the exhibition was assembled with a rather traditional curatorial style, unfortunately not being able to reinforce the Transmediale role as ‘cultural seismograph’ for which this festival has always been known. The conference program stood in close correspondence to the thesis of the main exhibition. ‘Humour’, declared this year’s Transmediale, is a highly subversive cultural strategy when applied in reflecting upon ‘Reality’. As primary conceptual attempt to tie in with the art historic tradition it might have been an unhappily chosen approach. As also Sebastian Luetgert pointed out in his contribution during the opening panel, humor has indeed been an ever recurring topic in art history, as in avant-guard movements like Dadaism, Surrealism and Situationism. But not in its easily digestible shape rather than for its acid and critic aspect which addressed the dominant powers of their times. Therefore the various mottos of the following panels, with titles such as ‘Transgressions’, ‘Mystakology’ or simply ‘Media Addicts’, were probably meant as variations of the main tune. The general impression was that many of the invited speakers and moderators did not take the chance to propose new models of practice or simply did not engaged in a fertile debate about the need of repositioning the so called media art, as postulated in the past. This year’s award winner seems also to reveal Transmediale’s intent to slowly disavow the strategies characteristic to net or software art. Agnes Meyer-Brandis’ entry ‘SGM Eisberg Sonde’ is a long term project, presented in its earlier stages at the Ars Electronica in 2003, simulating ground drillings in ice surfaces. Thanks to an especially built microscope-like device the drill material can be viewed exposing the existence of elfs, undoubtedly poetic in its intention to blur the borders between the traditionally functional nature of technology and a more associative use. Definitely a highlight in this year’s Transmediale was Mieke Gerritzen’s video piece ‘Beautiful World’ shown twice during the conference program. In her very own signature style she produced a fast-paced video collage strictly composed of typographical elements and sound clusters. The text fragments, quotes and diverse essay excerpts, all selected by Geert Lovink, read as critical comment towards the current conditions in global politics and economy. The piece manages to strike it’s highly polemic and sarcastic note through calculated editing and intended combinations of visual elements. Transmediale once again appears to be in the means of undertaking a self-induced change-management process. What seemed obvious since a while now is finally getting spoken out loud – the current chance of dropping obsolete labels such as ‘media’ or ‘new media’ art, which simply promoted the machinic aspect in cultural production. Putting the focus on the tools with which cultural analysis and production realizes its means lacks any deeper interest – although on the other hand the whole art market, galleries and museums included, still bases lots of its theoretical approach on categories like painting, sculpture, photography or video art without any hint of historic and contextual relativisation. But let’s set aside matters of taxonomy. Since some years the crucial question appears to be the issue of social relevance of contemporary cultural production in the first place. Therefore the stake which is at hold now is the role that ‘the arts’ (consciously spoken in its plural form) will manage to play within the growing complexity of our contemporary society. Do the arts still fulfill the eternal challenge to reflect upon and expressing the ‘human condition’? Do the arts manage to engage in a communication with the public used to numerous other sources of information and entertainment? Will the arts manage to enhance a different, eventually deeper understanding of the world we live in? That world is changing fundamentally also due to digital technology. And therefore the task of critically engaging with their effects on our society, creating ruptures and points of intervention will remain vital. We are curious and are looking forward to see what next year’s Transmediale will through in the discussion.