Transmediale 2016: Anxiously Digital Berlin

Called ‘Conversation Piece’, Transmediale 2016 seeks to reboot the format of this big annual gathering of post-digital international culture, by transforming it into a truly ephemeral forum for discussion around the anxious nature of our post-capitalist world. Interview with Kristoffer Gansing, artistic director of Transmediale since 2012.

The four interlinked themes at Transmediale 2016 (Anxious to Act, Anxious to Make, Anxious to Share and Anxious to Secure) all refer to an active principle of anxiety. Why this choice of central focus in the context of an event devoted to post-digital culture like Transmediale?

In fact, it is not anxiety as such that is the main theme but rather the anxiousness “to do something” in the various fields covered by the four thematic streams of the conversation piece. Of course it is related to anxiety but it has a double-meaning: to be anxious to do something means that you are nervously eager to take action but nervously hesitant at the sSame time. It's this ambiguous tension that inform our Conversation Piece and I think of it as a continuation of how transmediale has previously dealt with the the discussion of the relations between art, technology and culture as we regard this complex in its irreducibility: you can't boil it down to a purely aesthetic, technological or cultural framework. 

Tele_Trust, Eric Kluitenberg Lancel/Maat Michael Seeman aka @mspro

However, in the context of the social and political instability of our global societies, in the current context regarding security here in Europe, it may be questioned if the general feeling of anxiety that emanates from it is likely to interfere with contemporary digital creation. Do you think that reflection by digital art players and theorists could prompt some possible answers to global anxiety?

A lof of art is also created in contingency with the mentioned global anxieties, and since many of those play out across digital networks, artists that engage with digital media as a material also do engage with such questions. And topics like security, terrorism and surveillance have been very present within the history of media/digital art. I think that art should not necessary deliver answers however, but rather open up new questions: it is good at bringing contradictions to the fore, bring about new empathies, spark off new directions in a discussion or perhaps even suggest possible courses of action.

A more participative approach suddenly seems to be the one that Transmediale is adopting this year, with a very formal reflective angle called ‘Conversation Piece’ which seeks to ‘reboot the format’ of Transmediale. What does this entail?

The title Conversation Piece is meant to be understood very literally: as Conversation Piece stands for something that kicks off a discussion. As the various dictionary definitions for Conversation Piece go, this something kicking off the discussion can often be an object that because of its novel or unusual character attracts attention. So in this sense, Conversation Piece is not so much a theme as it is a format. In our adaption of this format we will also encounter a lot of unusual objects, often they will be art and often they will deal with the relations between society and technology. In this way you can say that transmediale is always to some extent a Conversation Piece and that what we have done this year is simply to put this dialogic aspect of transmediale in the foreground rather than let it be overshadowed by a monumental theme like afterglow or Capture All to mention just the two most recent ones.

The program as such does not follow one methodology for establishing conversation but rather we are dealing with a lot of customized settings adapted to the different projects. But we also tried to provide a structure that guide you through the conversations in a more thematic way and that is where the four streams come in, Anxious to Act etc. that you can see as the thematic conversation starters. So there are no sections like “exhibition” or “conference” but key events within each stream that take on different characters, some are more panel-like, some contain installations and performances and some are workshops. We also created the new framework of the “Panic Room Sessions” to encourage that participants and festival pass holders engage more with each other in discussion outside of the more stage based events. This is a space for long free-flowing discussions that has a more open-ended moderation and where each session unites topics and participants from all of the streams.

Vorspiel 2016 Interview Marathon © Udo Siegfriedt / CTM 2016

For each of the four thematic streams, can you give us a few examples of what kind of debates or piece of arts/installations are going to take place and in what way they are going to stress out (or try to struggle with) this identified situation/principle of anxiety of our late capitalism world?

Among many many events, in  Anxious to Act, I would single out “ Five Years After” as a hybrid event with talks and an installative element. It deals with the aftermath of Arab Spring, trying to sense what happened with the energies that made the people of a series of Arab countries rise up against their ruling regimes during 2011. The anxiousness to act is very much still there, but it is now outlined against a much darker picture of social backlash where nobody is speaking about Facebook or Twitter revolutions any longer. As the stream on the whole discusses, we need to reorient the thinking and doing through media, asking what is a media act today?

Hatsune Miku – Still Be Here (c) Image: LaTurbo Avedon / Crypton Future Media Inc. 2007

The presence of which artist or speaker are you particularly pleased with this year in view of this focus of reflection?

The presence of John Young from (American website disclosing sensitive documents Wikileaks style) is an event this year. I am intrigued to hear what this legendary information revealer will say. I am also impatient for the performance that we are co-programming with CTM (Club TransMediale, the more festive counterparty of Transmediale, produced simultaneously by the partner organisation of this name): Still Be Here with Hatsune Miku (Still Be Here is a live AV project bringing together the conceptual artist Mari Matsutoya, the musician Laurel Halo, the choreographer  Darren Johnston and the visual artist LaTurbo Avedon, and where the humanoid popstar Hatsune Miku features, famous for her concerts in hologram form). This will be one of our biggest performances ever programmed. 

Interviewed by Laurent Catala

Transmediale / Conversation Piece
HKW, Berlin
From 2nd to 7th February 2016

Hatsune Miku - Still Be Here Teaser Transmediale 2016 from LaTurbo Avedon 


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