Les Bains Numériques: on the korean way

The sixth Les Bains Numériques festival will take place in Seoul, Korea, in October. A relocation that stresses out network’s stakes of a wellestablished festival and, at a broader scale, of international events dedicated to digital arts.

For its 2011 occurence, Les Bains Numériques will be hosted by Seoul’s Art Center Nabi, continuing a partnership that was already put forward last year. The shared curating between France and Korea will grant a high visibility to telepresence systems – with, for instance at the opening event, The Last Wall by Yun Jung Kim. A performance based on the principle of dance and play, questions the possibility of a new communication facing the last walls (Korean peninsula is still confronting a situation where the south and the north are separated), through the gestures and scenic languages. And Intangible Reflexions, a distinctive installation work done by the designer Maurizio Galante who got its inspiration from the nature and the mythology. A life allegory is reinterpreted in this work composed with red threads densely hanging from the ceiling. Like an invitation both dream-like and sensual, the spectator is asked to draw himself into this magical space… An exclusive relocation that marks an important step in the history of a pioneering digital festival and thus offers a good opportunity to assess this five-year old venture. With Dominique Roland, director of Les Bains Numériques and of the Centre des Arts d’Enghien-les-Bains.

Dominique, Les Bains Numériques have reached their fifth year. How do you look back on this long-term festival endeavour, notably in terms of affluence and artistic proposals?
I simply think that, despite the heavy processes involved in such a large event, running over a ten-days period, we’ve been able through these five years to set in the French and international scenes an event both dedicated to bring a large public to discover digital arts and to a transdisciplinary programming. The festival was initiated with a mainly professional approach, akin to a festival like Via, and this has given birth to the RAN (Réseau d’Arts Numériques). But, by opening up digital arts into the public and urban spaces, we have also reflected upon what art in a city meant. The concern was to find a good balance between artistic proposals open to the public and a more professional time because our attendance has grown tremendously, if you consider that we went from about 7,000 people for the first year to around 34,000 for the last one. At first, people finally didn’t really know what digital art was. Most thought about town and country planning but not about an art approach that offered a range of propositions based around arts/science links, electronic music, contemporary dance, installations, special connections between the artworks and the public (through city drifting for example), visual arts related to the public space and architecture, sound arts. It was therefore very important for us to create an unprecedented event with a recognized and free access festival. As early as the second year, we developed a special opening onto the public space. On a professional view point, we defended important stakes (dance and technologies competitions, for instance), mostly aimed at festival curators. We have chosen a stronger international involvement because it would be difficult to establish digital arts if worldwide professionals couldn’t see emerging works, with so few funding and diffusion opportunities? The festival is meant to be a locus for discovery and, at the same time, a crossroads where professionals can enrich their experience by seeing presentations by artists and award-winners. This is why we created grants and then production residencies for artists. Creations such as the ones of Adrien Mondot [Adrien M], Sandra Devaux’s Hermself, have found a real international echo. This is a way to share production stakes. For us, there is a real interest in simultaneously pointing out the emerging experimental digital creation and setting up professional meetings and to become widely accessible to a non-specialist audience.

This year, Les Bains Numériques are going to leave its Enghien-les-Bains sanctuary for the 2011 festival that will take place in Korea. How has this French/Korean collaboration been prepared?
I suppose that it is an offshoot of the 2010 festival that was already based on a strong partnership with the Art Center Nabi in Seoul, around real time performances through telepresence or young digital Korean artists’s installations… It is very important that France has a distinctive and prestigious event with an international echo. But we also work as a network and, in a relationship of reciprocity within the RAN network – which Art Center Nabi in Seoul is also a member of) -, Korea has already been invited in France. For this festival, the whole line-up will be curated jointly. The issues of territory and the sharing of expertise are also at stake. With our cultural differences, we have to see how we can work together and expand our projects circulation and presentation network. It would have been too difficult to produce two events this year, one in France and one in Korea, all the more so telepresence will occur again this year… In any case, the Korean event will occur from October 15 to 22, and soon after it will be time for the 2012 festival in Enghien, with a specific partnership with Futurs En Seine this time. All this is very complementary and aims to structure projects of the international network such as MADE (Mobilité Art Digital Europe) a work in progress that will precisely be presented for Les Bains Numériques 2012 in partnership with Futurs En Seine.

Does the future of digital festivals rely on these reinforced partnerships, through the networking of all energies and professionals in involved?
This is the future of all festivals but the advantage of the digital arts ones is that they already are at the heart of new practices. How to improve the sharing of spaces that constitute new approaches in city networking? How to share the various issues? A true quest for convergence exists. For instance, in 2012, the SAT [Société des Arts Technologiques de Montréal] will be present in Enghien. Issues concerning the public or the city are very different in Montreal and Enghien but there is a real interest to produce events that could indistinctively take place in Seoul or in Rio. Currently, there is a decrease in funding availability. Therefore, this kind of approach facilitates the awareness of an international cartography of actions carried out by professionals in the digital field. It is necessary to group coproduction budgets and distribution circuits. There is a need to constitute a real digital art market, with acquisition funds, etc.

words collected by Laurent Catala
(article published in MCD #63, Guide des Festivals Numériques 2011-2012)

Opening event: Saturday, October 15th, 2011 at Enghien-les-Bains/Seoul
Website: www.cda95.fr/programme/bains-numeriques

Published in the Digitalarti Mag #7.

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