Transmediale:Futurity Then

2-7 Feb 2010, Berlin.

Research field trip to transmediale festival: Futurity Now.

An article written for Nottingam Visual Arts which can be found here

So that was futurity then, five days of exhibition, performance, exploration, black and white and enough snow to build a forest of snowmen.

The annual trip to Transmediale is always an important milestone in the calendar for me. Established in 1988, it has always tends to dictate a certain curatorial trend for the other cross media art, electronic music and digital culture festivals and projects throughout Europe to follow. Alongside Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria and the Future Everything (formely Futuresonic) event in Manchester, Transmediale has set the precedent and is now vying for the crown as the largest and most significant creative media and technology event.

Last year the curators tackled the theme Deep North, looking at the broader scape of human interaction with global systems and sustainability. Pretty fitting really when it was such an unusually warm winter. This year the theme is Futurity Now! The title itself defining 2010 as synonymous with past visions of the future inviting you "not to ask what the future has in store for us, but what is it that we have in store for the future..."

And so I wondered what the Berlin winter weather hold in store for me in the future and as our Ryanair plane plunged into a snowglobe Schonefeld with a German-like efficiency and a budget-like fanfare, it really seemed like we’d landed in the deep north this time.

Transmediale seems to snowball each year with a larger audience, more participants and an array of ever increasing off-site exhibitions, screenings and performances. It is impossible to try and see the whole festival. This is made even more difficult by its sister festival and evil temptress, Club Transmediale, a festival in its own right which this year boasts a huge range of “adventures in music and related visuals.” Club Transmediale covers specifically sound with a week stuffed full of lectures, panel discussions and live performances by the likes of Rustie, Four Tet and Holy Fuck, which in typical Berlin fashion don’t get kicking 'til at least 3am.

The main site for the festival is based just a stone’s throw from the Reichstag, at the impressive Haus de Kulturen der Welt, a spaceship of a structure which could easily manifest itself in the Star Trek fleet. It’s a bustling base venue for Transmediale housing the main Futurity Now! exhibition, conferences, salons, screenings and performances. This year I was joined by fellow members of the Fine Art and Creative Collaborations MA at Nottingham Trent University, so we shared the load, zig zagging through the icy streets of Berlin and reporting back to one another each evening on our festival finds. This made the weight of the immense festival line-up a little easier to unpack, so I placed my main focus on the main conference and exhibition at the festival as a way of unpicking this theme of Futurity Now!

It seems like today we are obsessed with the future, with predictions, visions and aspirations which lead to unstoppable technological progress. Futurity Now! attempts to carve out a path or create a frame over the vast complexity of digital systems, mobile communications and media which we intersect in our everyday, outlining the creative use of technology as an “intrinsic part of our cultural code.”

It seems that the future is bright, the future is erm... well black and white. From the perspective of the guest curator of the main exhibition Future Obscura, Honor Harger, it certainly appears that the future is to be monotone. Upon entering the gallery space of Future Obscura you’re confronted by thick black heavyweight soundproofed curtains dividing up the route into sectioned off installations. Springing forth from the darkness are the kind of fun but over aggressive paparazzi bots. Described as tech hybrid of camera and cameraman themselves, they wonder around and stalk the visitors taking snaps and automatically uploading them on to a combination of web, press and social networking sites. Their main objective is to photograph as many visitors as possible and moving at the speed of a walking human they had an irritating omnipresence.

According to the brochure, Future Obscura... “brings together a group of diverse artworks which explore the complex condition of futurity through the lens of image-making.” There’s an obvious sense that the work deals with our experience of time through technology and the ways we capture and create imagery as memory. Some of the works presented quite literally deal with image making through optical devices, like the work of Gebhard Sengmuller who in his Parallel Image has created a highly elaborate electronic camera obscura from 2500 individual cables; every single pixel in the image is connected from sender to receiver, an intricate interactive piece.

The manner in which the work is positioned in the space builds an impression of chronology and a binary series of 1’s and 0’s. Ryoji Ikeda's piece Datatron visualises streams of data into a series of mesmorising logical patterns. Ikeda is interested in the minutiae of ultrasonics and frequencies, the essential qualities of sound. He has been known as Japan’s leading electronic composer for as many years as I can remember and this innate preoccupation for detail has shaped this investigation into pure mathematics as he continues his exploration of the infinity of data attempting to realise the codes present in everyday life.

As well as representations of data, there’s also a strong thread for the storage of data running through the works. White Noise revisits and recycles the life of video tape as hundreds of horizontal bands are vibrated under the fluctuating air currents created by fans. It resembles an uncanny resemblance to flickering of digital interference creating by a material almost forgotten, preceded by digital equipment.

Artvertising Berlin, Transmediale 2010 from Julian Oliver on Vimeo.

Running in parallel to the exhibition, the conference offered a fat slice of discussion pie with a wide range of guest speakers across the fields of art, technology, science and economics. It was kicked off by The Long Conversation, billed as a relay of one on one conversations; a kind of speed dating for theoretical musings. Developed with Artangel and the Long Player Trust, this was a durational process which was meant to be a “media technologically appropriate way of perceiving time and the durational process.” Drew Hemment started proceedings with his theory of “geek time,” a continuous revisiting and back fixing to replicate the latest version, which definitely struck a chord for me with the way technology is shaping our current experience and sense of time. It did twist and turn and Ken Rinaldo’s comment about Alan N. Shapiro’s car of the future as being for him the bike was sharp, although as I dipped in and out over the eight hour period each 22 minute conversation did seem to dilute into discussions about the participants backgrounds.

I concluded that a much more stimulating way to watch The Long Conversation was conceived outside the auditorium as Transmediale Award nominees Sosolimited unveiled a new reading of the conference. Members of the public were invited to become part of this tandem live coding performance attempting to speed type word for word the whole eight hours worth of banter. This was then fed through their ground breaking text and visual analysis process to provide a new visualisation. A kind of cataloguing and a mash-up of all the “buzz” words, televisually and sonically transforming events live, creating an unpredictable narrative... Really how many times can the words future and time be uttered?

Sosolimited were nominated for the top prize at the awards ceremony, which is definitely becoming a recognised distinction in this field of creative technologies and this year had a certain surrounding it. I really thought that they had to come away with something as the live remix of the three US presidential debates felt truly groundbreaking last year. In the end the plaudits were bestowed upon two nominee’s Aaron Koblin and Daniel Massey’s Bicycle built for two thousand, who for their version of the song Daisy Bell comprising of 2,000 voice recordings collected from Amazon’s mechanical turk web service. Leaving Michelle Teran to scoop the top prize for her Google Earth, youtube and simultaneous bus journey around the Spanish town of Murcia where audiences are introduced to reconstructions of everyday performances. A fantastic idea which will no doubt emerge all over the globe in some sort of TV format; that is when they work out just how she did it. A worthy winner really.

Michelle has recently been working with Nottingham and Berlin based organisation Radiator (R8R) on their Tracing Mobilities project. Look out for more details at Broadway in April, well I had to drop in at least one plug!

F.A.T. Lab: Fuck Google Week Wrap Up from Evan Roth on Vimeo.

As the opportune moment arose and the prize was about to be handed over to Michelle, up stepped the FAT Lab to churp in. They had been plastering their Fuck Google motto all over the foyer area throughout the festival and deservedly so they too were nominated for their research and development in creative technologies. The Kanye West inspired “I’mma let you finish Transmediale” introduction was followed by a tirade about how we all might join the dots between the fact that Google sponsored the festival and quelle surprise the two pieces which utilised google tools won the awards. I’ve been a fan of Evan Roth et al and the whole FAT Lab open source ethic for some time and you have to admit they do have a point. Upon reflection Frank Abbott and myself have coined a new theory when it comes to sponsorship in the arts and the wider creative economy... the theory of the last five yards. Imagine if you will the athlete as artist or cultural producer with the finish line in sight, press photographers poised for that timeless crossing the line shot, when thrown in from the sidelines comes the silver marathon blanket embellished with in this case maybe an illuminous Google logo just in time for the flashes.

So this is 2010, maybe we can’t predict the future now, but it is clear that we are becoming a global society which is neither the utopia we once dreamt of nor the dystopia in the fictions, architectures and theories of the 20th century. Rather, we are living in an increasingly complex web of economic, political and cultural systems dependent on the coming together of these rapidly evolving technologies. Technologies which help reduce down our original ideas of the future into a somewhat more manageable present.

Treading water on a dense dose of theory and healthy helping of German beers, thinking back, however black and white the festival seemed, there was one powerful image which will stay with me from Transmediale. Yvette Mattern’s installation From One to Many, a rainbow of seven laser beams, slicing through Berlin from the HKW, past the glass dome of the German parliament to the TV tower at Alexanderplatz . Puncturing through the freezing Berlin skyline reaching up to that iconic stalwart the TV tower of Alexanderplaz still somehow trying to demonstrate the superiority of communist technological design. Maybe my head is clouded by my recent visit to Nottingham Contemporary’s Star City exhibition, but it seems like there’s certainly something to be said for the future possibilities of the past today. Such a strong and uncomplicated gesture and a Kodak moment that I’m sure every visitor has taken home ingrained into an abundance of digital cameras memories.

Live data visualisation
Sosolimited: Live data visualisation

Gebhard Sengmuller
"Parallel Image": Gebhard Sengmuller

Ryoji Ikeda
"Datatron" : Ryoji Ikeda

Zilvinas Kempinas
"White Noise": Zilvinas Kempinas

Adam Somlai-Fischer and Usman Haque
"Panoramic Wifi Camera": Adam Somlai-Fischer and Usman Haque

Yvette Mattern
"From One to Many": Yvette Mattern