Transmediale: Deep North

The theme of this year’s Transmediale was relevant enough: how does media-art respond to, is responsible for, or take part in solutions for climate change? The exhibition presented works with these questions as a theme (more or less), but as a whole felt quite haphazard and disjointed. A few works that made an impression: Reynold Reynold’s 6 apartments (two screen continuous film portraying people living with decay in their individual surrounding, while being confronted with reports on climate change on a global scale); Wright, Harwoods, Yokokoji’s Tantalum memorial (the mining of ‘Blood Coltran’ addressed in mysterious ways … this piece won the Transmediale price), Man with a movie camera (Perry Bard, interesting re-make of a classic, now in the public domain), Fernando Jose Pereira, Remoteness (Webcam images from a northpole station edited into a beautiful videowork).

The conference did not feel much more coherent; strange to experience it’s low intensity, lack of hospitality, visitors and intellectual energy. The opening speech on Klima Kultur (the idea that climate and culture, just like nature and culture, are not two opposite entities but deeply connected and need to be addressed as such), was as Deep as it got.

A session we enjoyed, was Fair Trade Hardware (moderated and introduced by Aymeric Mansoux ). Although most of the discussion circled around the necessity of opening up hardware rather than specifically addressing fair trade, it was good to see the interest of many students and artists in the issue plus the collaborative effort of people around the table, all busy making hardware accessible in their own way. Central questions were: What is open hardware? Why is open hardware not so widespread as open source software? Aymeric listed three important methods:

  • Understanding hardware and schematise it, distribute schematics under free licenses
  • Build + test the schematics, implement in existing hardware
  • Test new hardware and update the schematics

Goal: break open blackboxed hardware, so components can be recombined in new configurations; open specifications prevent deadlocks by companies. This is beneficial to the environment and reduces costs (re-use, recycle). Problem: Equipment needed to produce hardware is expensive and not readily available for consumers.
The debate took as a premise that the room knew the importance of open source software and thus understood that the transition of 4 freedoms to the domain of hardware, can be somewhat problematic (understatement: ‘have the freedom to copy …’) This assumption was unfortunately wishful thinking … Transmediale is clearly not very F/LOSS minded.

Massino Banzi, founder of Arduino : Arduino promotes and collects cool projects using arduino boards as a way to promote the usage of the boards. Check out the site .
Mat … (University of Toronto; present in a pre-recorded videopresentation) The Critical Making Lab produces critical reflection on social issues connected to hands on technology production: works with students to produce a ‘biased voting system’, to investigate how systems generate perspectives. Important to reduce barriers between thinking and making.
Martin Howse (micro research, xxxxx ). Martin organises weekly hacklabs in his studio in Berlin, and ran the lab at Club Transmediale, one of the most interesting venues. Speculative software: describing the world is creating the world . Finding out about hardware by making it. Also nice to hear him connect electro magnetic spectra to hardware hacking. Beautiful images.
Gisle Frøysland (director Piksel festival ): Both Gisle and Martin stress the importance of hacking hardware. Froysland points out that piksel moved from showing media art to giving space to work on hardware projects. Also underlines the importance of giving attention to Open Source Art.
Reto Wettach: Teaches physical computing and designed Fritzing software which allows you to draw Arduino boards; a visualizer for Arduino configurations drag and drop style, automated circuit calculation, export to technical drawing in pdf. Design: Dirk (ex-PZ student)
Adam Somlai-Fischer (Kitchen medialab, Budapest ): Presentation: / An interesting collection of hacked toys . Kitchen made ‘reconfigurable house’ (remember Hasselt?) . Prezi is a presentation tool developed by Kitchen, very Flash-y (but is it?). Gisle Frøysland asks why this project that started out intended to be open source, now has closed source code … Probably because Kitchen is partly commercial, sponsored by companies … they are interested in patenting software that they develop.

In the second part of a session entitled Critical Consumer Practice, Jaromil presented facts and figures on ‘Blood’ Coltran, the expensive mineral mined in Congo, used in phones and laptops to make metal heat resistant. He launched a protest campaign: to stop using mobiles and laptops on 2 July 2009. Dominique Malaquais made the analogy to drug trade, to explain the violent practices around this mineral. The session included a skype-connection to MoWoSo, a media collective in Congo. In a live performance they played out tensions between war, computing and connectivity (to be on line cost them ca. 100 euro per hour = 1 month salary in Kinshasa). Besides a necessary reminder of the unbearable lightness of ultra mobile computing, their performance was intrigueing to watch and we would like to find out more; for example about Mikili (‘this practice exists only by watching together. Anything can happen; it is a dream and a nightmare at the same time. Urban, tagged, sung. Invented identities in the eyes of others. Includes being ‘sap’ (amazingly dressed) … which is on the edge of the knife. Re-inverting an imposed economy’). Also: Dominique explains that there are people in Kinshasa with a precise knowledge of the Brussels city plan without ever having been in Brussels!

Club Transmediale, completely parallel to the activities in/on the main location, had altogether another atmosphere. Not so much addressing climate change, but more generally dealing with ‘media ecology’ it housed a hardware hacking workshop (Martin Howse and Derek Holzer), discussions on copyleft music practices, a few nice installations and a Platoniq Free Knowledge Exchange station. It was inspiring to see their well-executed and well-designed plans in action; during the festival a Free Knowledge Exchange session took place every half hour. Yes, we got the t-shirt!

With only three other festival-visitors (!) we visited the Flusser Archiv, housed in a small room in the Universitat der Kunste. The archive is maintained by Ziegfried Zielinski and his assistent, interesting to see these men taking care of the memory of an other. Browsing through the collection of books (a selection of Flusser’s own sourcematerial and books authored by the prolific writer himself) plus a staggering collection of ca. 2500 typoscripts of essays and lectures, it was hard to know where to begin or end. We chose almost randomly and photocopied a text on tools, on universal language and on typography. Half of the typoscripts (in German, French, English and Spanish) have never been published and are simply classified by title and by language; there is a rudimentary keyword list, which we photocopied as well.

Outside Transmediale, we visited the Bauhaus Archiv and library (some useful insights on norms and standards), and much enjoyed seeing the Re-Akt exhibition curated by Bettina Knaup and Beatrice E. Stammer. An extensive videolibrary of 60’s, 70’s feminist performances (including contemporary re-enactments) formed the heart of the exhibition, and was made accessible through two types of catalogue: one with extensive descriptions, and one with a screenshot from each video. The exhibition part was precise and insightful, and presented a carefully curated overview of the various issues informing feminist performance work, told through the works of protagonists such as Esther Ferrer, Nicola L, Colette and Yoko Ono. Especially since we were excited to see materials from some lesser known artists, we would have loved to take home a catalogue, or a copy of the videocatalog. Hopefully it will be published later on? A pdf maybe?

The Museum der Dinge is the contemporary housing of the Werkbund Archiv. It was inspiring to visit this small but well curated museum for it’s decision to display everyday objects side by side, whether high design or ultra kitsch. Radically mixing disparate categories (‘metal’, ‘black and white’, ‘1946’) resulted in an interesting exhibition, and most of all a sharp comment on the assumption that good and bad taste should be considered unambiguous qualities. The artists museum by Barbara Muller, meticulously documenting the rise and fall of a terrain vague and Berlin squad, felt right at home there.