Impakt Festival 2017: Haunted machines & Wicked problems

Impakt festival

Picture yourself living in the internet of things petting a fluorescent cat in a connected house surrounded by a bunch of semi-robotic friends. Everything feels magical as you scroll through your augmented news feed merging reality with real time-data. On the other side of the room, your spectral TV broadcasts informations about our hybrid world. 2.0 proletarians are rising against corporations in remote areas, the first AI syndicate got approved by the US government and the FBI finally dismantled the “Fake news” cartels.

While ringed by an endless flow of new technologies, you start performing crypted dances  try and to grapple with those unfamiliar digital phenomenon. As you witness the emergence of a new glowing era you are unconsciously adopting this world of haunted machines and wicked problems.On the other side of the planet we, artists, writers, scientists, biologists, researchers, activists, curators… are calling for a new form of digital humanism illustrated through modern myths and stories using an universal language only existing of random algorithms.

Keiichi Matsuda Hyper Reality
Captation from Hyper Reality by Keiichi Matsuda. Hyper-Reality presents a provocative and kaleidoscopic new vision of the future, where physical and virtual realities have merged, and the city is saturated in media. 

This scenario could be the projection of a nearby future, especially after visiting the 2017th edition of Impakt Festival: Haunted machines & Problems. To quote wikipedia: "The Impakt Festival is a yearly manifestation on media art, founded in 1988 in the city of Utrecht, Netherlands. It showcases films, video art, performances, music, conferences and other special events with works from international artists.” Beyond that, it is a place where amateurs and specialists meet to discuss the singularity of our époque framed by new media. Thanks to quality speakers, audacious artworks and films along with surprising performers, the program surpassed the average expectations of what a “new tech, media & art” festival might be. Nevertheless, there was some disparity in the discussions panel certainly due to their different organization. Yet, as there need to be downsides to have upsides, it is logical that such festival has its own defaults.

Throughout the 5 days a wide range of international artists, curators, researchers, programmers, biologists, performers, scientists, scholars, students, architects, confronted their vision on the occult aspects of our relationships to technology. Exploring practices such as speculative art, modern alchemy, vodooism 2.0… the festival inquired problematics as: Who owns the future?, What does truth means in a digital era? How does technologies affect our ecosystem? Is there a form of supernatural materiality of the digital? How do our bodies respond to the IoT? What are the ethical and political challenges of this over mediated society?

This dismantling of the main topic allowed any one wether geek or neophyte to dive in several micro aspects of such macro complexity.

In between panel discussions (at het huis Utrecht) and exhibitions (fotodok/casco, HKU academie) visitors could travel through a wide range of thoughts and medias. From the screenings such as Louis Henderson “Lettre du voyant” to Dries Verhoeven “living installation” Phobiarama your mind was able to start a process of technological demystification.

Phobiarama - Dries Verhoeven

It is also important to acknowledge that the festival exhibited student’s work from the HKU giving voice to fresh practicians from the field. I will conclude by mentioning the theatrical performance of the Belgium artist Diederik Peeters which took us beyond skepticism into a real time invocations of dead spirits.

The curators Natalie Kane andTobias Revel

The festival was curated by Tobias Revell and Natalie Kane, together they are the initiators of Haunted Machines, a long-term curatorial project which led them to create this year’s program while they started with a mini-conference at FutureEverything back in 2015. Their research inquires the different narratives of magic and hauntings embed in our relationship with technology. Natalie is the curator of the digital design section from the Victoria and Albert museum as well as a researcher at Changeist. Tobias is an artist and course Leader at the London College of Communication, Senior Lecturer in Critical and Digital Design and a founding member of research consultancy Strange Telemetry

The speakers

One of the greatest asset of this festival was the high end discussion panel and performances. Here is whom you could have heard: Adam Curtis (GB), Ben Vickers (GB), Warren Ellis (GB), Legacy Russell (US), Anab Jain (GB) Liam Young (AU), Angela Washko (US), Simone Niquille (CH), Julian Oliver (NZ), Crystal Bennes (GB/FI), Scott Smith (GB), Füsün Türetken (TR), Peter Moosgaard (AT), Royce Ng (AU/HK), Data School Utrecht (NL), Georgina Voss (GB), Michelle Kasprzak (CA), Nicolas Nova (CH), Betti Marenko (GB), Joël Vacheron (CH), Karen Verschooren (BE), Pieter van Boheemen (NL), Lydia Nicholas (GB), Sarah Kember (GB) and Edwin Gardner (NL). (full program here)

Adam Curtis is a documentarist well-known for making film using BBC’s film archive as raw storytelling material. His movies such as “Hypernormalisation" critically analyze our modern geo-politics in a time where money and power are at lead. Often assimilated to a “leftist" he is in fact disturbingly shaking the documentary scene by using in his own words “disjointed and often wildly contradictory fragments of information” in order to reflect the chaos of our modern times. His film such as are accessible online here.

HyperNormalisation. BBC documentary by British filmmaker Adam Curtis. The film was released on 16 October 2016

Legacy Russel is a writer, artist, cultural producer, main theorist of Glitch feminism with the hashtag #GLITCHFEMINISM, using the digital as a form of resistance against corporate domination. She focuses on gender, performance, digital selfdom, idolatry, and new media ritual as she wishes in her own words to inquire “How ritual manifest in spaces ordinarily designated as ‘secular’?”. She holds an MRes of Visual Culture with Distinction from Goldsmiths College and has worked for institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

Serpentine Miracle Marathon: Not My Dad | Legacy Russell from Legacy Russell 

Liam Young is an architect who’s practice plays of the thin line between design, fiction and futures. He is founder of the think tank Tomorrows Thoughts Today whose work explores the possibilities of fantastic, speculative and imaginary urbanism. Building his design fictions from the realities of present he also co-runs nomadic research studio Unknown Fields Division.

Unknown Fields: A Journey through the Dark Side of the City from liam young

Read our interview with him: Liam Young - "I don't think there's anything new or radical about VR"


The artists

From inquiring the mythological value of oil in Middle Eastern mysticism to the use of symbolism to control self-driving cars, 14 artists where exhibiting at fotodok/casco. Monira Al Qadiri (SN), Sophia Al Maria (QA/US), James Auger (GB), Zach Blas (GB), James Bridle (GB), Ingrid Burrington (US), Wesley Goatley (GB), Navine G. Khan-Dossos (GB), Mimi Onuoha (US), Tabita Rezaire (FR/DK/GY), Thought Collider (GB/NL), Suzanne Treister (GB), Addie Wagenknecht (US) and Angela Washko (US).

Angela Washko is an artist, writer and facilitator devoted to the creation of new forums for discussions on feminism in hostile spaces. Since 2012, Washko has operated The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft, an ongoing intervention inside the most popular online role-playing game of all time. For Impact she presented her performances where she embodies an avatar interviewing other players about their perspectives on feminism, resulting in sometimes humorous, sometimes shocking outcomes.

James Auger is a speculative designer and academic whose work looks at the social and cultural value systems of machines. Jimmy Loizeau studied Fine Art at Maidstone and Birmingham and Product Design at the Royal College of Art. He has worked at the MIT Media Lab Europe in Dublin in the Human Connectedness group and now teaches at Goldsmiths and the RCA. 

Sublime Gadget Ripple Counter by James Auger
Auger-Loizeau, Sublime gadget #1: Ripple Counter.

As a partner of Auger-Loizeau (with James Auger)  he exhibits and lectures internationally with the objective to increase the dissemination of issues of technology and culture by taking this debate beyond its present existence in academia and galleries to a wider audience.

Since it was not only about technologies but about culture, politics, economics, science and more… Impakt managed to invoke critical ideas within an either too dystopian or over-enthusiastic position often seen in such venues. The festival brought an essential debate to life throughout the specificity of occult thinking. It is time to let artists, scientists, amateurs and others express their doubts and counter narratives toward an overly rational and productivist vision of technology, I would highly recommend anyone to visit Impakt next edition… in order to pursue this debate.

Juliette Pépin

Impakt Festival 2017, video report