Transmediale 08, Conspire, report

Transmediale 2008, Conspire, transmediale_08_report.jpg

Transmediale 08 photo set

Transmediale festival 2008 edition brought a series of important innovations: a new artistic director, Stephen Kovats, taking over Andreas Broeckmann after a seven-year period; the coming back to the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, after two editions spent at the Akademie der Künste; the publication of a book on the same festival theme, offering visitors a chance to go deeper with the festival topics and a starting point for a critical reflection, usually precluded with the traditional program guide (still available); the Vilém Flussser Theory Award introduction, an acknowledgment (organized with the homonymous Universität der Künste archive recently opened) to the best research in the media theory field, that probably will evolve in the near future into a residency program open to researchers and theoreticians. The spacious and modern Haus der Kulturen architecture has hosted the usual succession of conferences, sessions, video, exhibitions, performances, and lots of visitors, with events following each other so swiftly to constitute a literally breathtaking schedule. The ample Haus’ rooms has facilitated the people flow, almost completely avoiding the tiring cues that have characterized the two previous editions at the Academy. Nevertheless if the organizers would consider to reduce the sessions in parallel and contemporaneous events, they’d probably meet the public’s approval. This year theme, “Conspire” has been developed in different ways mostly in the conferences and video selection. If (almost) all the entries in the program can be considered in a political perspective. It’s also worth to mention that, especially for the works in the exhibition, it’s easy to spot where the ostentation of a political issue seem to be only a pretext to pure aesthetic experiments. Other eminently political opportunities have been presented during the Salon meetings, that this year was named after the Bilderberg group, paying homage to the homonymous conspiratorial group from the past century. The informal meeting structure however settled an ideal atmosphere for spontaneous exchanges and extemporary people/ideas connections as well as ludic moments (an outstanding one was the Monopoly revisited by Hilda Yàñez). The exhibition (also entitled “Conspire”) has been curated by Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez and it brought an important discontinuity from the previous festival exhibitions, that often blinked to galleries and the art market, consequently loosing their focus on digital art and culture. Curatorial selections has cleverly reconciled the need to clear the new artistic languages with the (often forgot) need of not corrupting them just to please the market. The outcome was a very enjoyable exhibition, where close to many works worth to remember (“End of secrecy”, “New worship”, “Transitioners” and “Amazon noir” only to name a few), there were others less meaningful, that seem to be there just to purify the mind before a new stimuli and charms assault. Something to definitely improve is the almost missed informations about the works (title, year and author are not enough for both professional and passing-by visitors), either in the exhibition areas, in the program guide and in press releases. The film and video section was a minor one, with some exceptions, avoiding any connection with the digital culture. On the contrary the number of external events, out of the Haus, was substantial and very interesting. Among them it’s worth to mention Keiichiro Shibuya’s “Filmachine” exhibited at the Podewils’sches palais, and Gregory Shakar’s different works exhibited at the characteristic Gravis flagship store. The awards were assigned during the usual ceremony: the media theory first prize was given to Simon Yuill, while Julia Meltzer and David Thorne won the first prize in the artworks category with their video “Not a Matter of If but When”; second prize was awarded to “Amazon Noir” (by, Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico), while the third prize went to Gordan Savicic’s “Constraint City: The Pain of Everyday Life“. Club Transmediale, the parallel festival devoted to sounds, has been mainly hosted in the usual venue: the Maria am Ostbanhnhof club (except from a few events taking place at the Ballhaus Naunynstrasse and elsewhere). This year title (“Unpredictable”), announced artistic investigations conducted among errors, coincidences and other accidents able to alter the creative gesture dynamics. Among the program highlights there were the Sonic Wargame creative battle and the “Kassetten konzert” by Schnizeler and Seidel. Some live acts were “unpredictable” indeed, in a positive sense in the case of Andy Stott e Claro Intelecto, in a negative one especially in the case of Mouse on Mars: it was widely know that they were reflecting on their artistic identity, but everybody was at least puzzled to see a “rock band” concert even with the ritual strums. So Transmediale proved once again to be a topical and unmissable festival, but a reflection on the current digital culture status is needed. If it’s true that it is definitely out of the underground culture ghetto (also thanks to the two decades of this Berlin festival), but it’s also true that confusion reigns here: artists, musicians and teoreticians that used to have a specific identity before, now seem to be bewildered as characters in search of an author. Some have embraced mainstream and institutional paradigms and logics, some are still fighting some rearguard battles with an antagonism spirit, and some are simply stuck in the middle, unsure about doing. In this chaotic situation big festivals are suffering from being constitutionally inadequate to summarize what’s happening. The necessity to be as exhaustive as possible prevent festivals to specifically focus on specific phenomena. In this very moment of such a radical redefinition, public often seem to be lost and come to prefer attending smaller events that, even if with an obviously limited perspective, let the public come back home with a few more certainties.

Vito Campanelli