Transmediale 2018 – Face Value, a premise to Post-Transmediale?

Transmediale 2018

What are the remaining ethics in an era of Face value? How can information warfare be deconstructed? Is knowledge enough to steel ourselves against global radicalization and, if so, which knowledge?

transmediale 2018
Photo: Adam Berry, transmediale, CC BY NC-SA 4.0

With its ambition to “expose the reality of the twenty-first century in all its ambiguity and dysfunctionality” by a dissection of nowadays global commodification's process, Transmediale 31st edition – Face Value turned to be rather bewildering. As one of the many resident of the post-truth epoch, I approached the festival with excitement, shamefully longing for theoretical and practical proposals to make sense of this mess we are in. Thus, those expectations were not quite reached. Beside perplexity being an initial state to critical thinking, a certain generosity in language along with empathy would have been essentials to empower the public of such venue. Unlike the expeditious yet worth reading review Fuck Off Transmediale by Cristina Bogdan about the festival undeniable gentrification and esoteric aspects, this report tries to discern and address the disparity experienced throughout the event.


Face Value Definition – Graphic Design by The Laboratory of Manuel Bürger

Founded aside to Berlin’s Berlinale in 1988 by Micky Kwella and MedienOperative, Trasmediale was initiated as a platform for electronic arts. Over its three decades of existence it fostered a critical understanding of contemporary culture and its socio-political context as saturated by media technologies and, by doing so, became one of the leading media arts event. It is a pleonasm to say that Transmediale 2018’ program was dense. Yet, unlike previous editions such as 2012 – 2k+12, Face Value voluntarily complex depth revealed to be somehow inconstant in quality and communicativeness. Akin to its antecedents, this year event unfolded throughout various formats with conferences curated by Daphne Dragona, exhibitions directed by Inga Seidler and film projections programmed by Florian Wüst. The overall curatorial approach was that of “binary”, interrogating value on the one hand and value’s perception under the influence of perpetually shifting socio-cultural and political contexts on the other. The festival core content stretched-out between January 31st and February 4th at the HKW – Haus der Kulturen der Welt, while further events were outsourced to other spaces thanks to partnerships with CTM Festival or Marshall McLuhan lecture program at the Canadian embassy.

The exhibition – Territories of complicities explored how mobility is significantly involved with economic value and the perception we get from it. “Designed” as a Freeport (a logistics hub and high-security storage space that allows free trade outside of national regulation) the exhibition space constrained its visitors in black containers while inviting them to explore a chaotic number of referential documents accompanying each “artist” work. Even if depth was necessary, the overall curatorial decision as well as some of the work displayed lacked the necessary communicative, not to say aesthetical, quality one “mainstream” visitor needs to dive in such topics. Hopefully some works made a difference, Lisa Rave – Europium proved to succeed on every level. Throughout her movie she weaved a narrative around europium and its link to the shell money taboo with the European currency. Using solely archive images intertwined with digital flat screen ads and European Union imagery, her piece demonstrated informative and poetic qualities, merging rational information with poetic empathy.


Lisa rave europium
Europium by Lisa Rave - Photo: Luca Girardini, transmediale, CC BY NC-SA 4.0

In the meantime, by exploring new technologies of genomic identity construction and revealing their impact on our social moment, the second exhibition – A becoming resemblance by Heather Dewey Hagborg and Chelsea Manning successfully illustrated this year theme. The disturbing central piece – Probably Chelsea consisted of a series of the whistleblower hypothetical portraits showcasing the multiple cellular levels of scientific portrayal. Each 3D printed faces resulted from DNA reconstruction based on cellular samples such as cheek swaps and hair clippings mailed out of prison by Manning to the artist. Here, the aesthetical and conceptual qualities made it possible for the public to experience the work on many levels and by such gain a certain understanding of how Face Value could be addressed.

a becoming ressemblance
A Becoming Resemblance by Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Chelsea Manning - Photo: Adam Berry, transmediale, CC BY NC-SA 4.0

Regarding the performances, I can only assess James Ferraro – Plague as the seemingly interesting piece from In Hotel Sequel 1# - Please be careful out there, Lisa Marie was mostly in German. Besides its undeniable musical quality, James Ferraro “Performance” unveiled as an esoteric over-referential cliché of what bad media arts tend to be nowadays.

James Ferraro presents: Plague, Photo: © CTM, Camille Blake, 2018

Nate Boyce’s visuals for the piece, supposedly depicting an AI struggling with the meaning of human life, were just an exaggeration of contemporary 3D aesthetic as trendy and irrelevant as it can sometime be (even though the rest of his body of work is much more interesting). On the other hand, the performance’s protagonists, a Steve Job simulacrum and some post-digital zombies wired to VR gears, were merely caricatures stumbling upon superficial interpretation of philosophical concepts linked to cybernetics.

Meanwhile, the projection program devoted itself to contemporary issues by inquing the role of language(s) and media, within historical specific moments, in building narratives on progress. Among other films, Lawrence Abu Hamdan provocative piece - Rubber coated steel addressed the role of media technologies as tools to create counter narratives to fake discourses. Dealing with an incident which happened in 2004 and involved the killing of two Palestinian by an Israeli officer, he provided a decisive proof of the soldier’s guilt throughout an audio ballistic analysis of what was described as rubber bullets and turned to be actual steel.

Rubber Coated Steel (Trailer) from Lawrence Abu Hamdan 

Afar from artistic stimuli, Transmediale’s visitors could attend several workshops dealing with different topics yet again showing inconsistency. Triple Canopy – On resentment was rather disappointing. Despite eminent speakers and Ana Teixeira Pinto great irony, the workshop literally did not involve the public. Hopefully, although a certain chaotic framing, Critical Media Lab Basel – Masquerade for commoning took an intriguing stand on ways to re-define commoning around a constellation protocol. Resulting in a binary outcome the two groups of participant confronted a rather empathic approach to a more structural way of commoning.

Impression of transmediale 2018 face value - Photo: Andreia Afonso, transmediale, CC BY NC-SA 4.0

While curated to address the crisis of politics, values and meanings in today’s economized world, the conference program was maybe the most puzzling due to its multiple language games (yet, public panels were more accessible, therefore I mainly talk here of the “non-free” venues). Afar from being a critical media specialist I felt as if this part of the event was addressed to a specifically educated audience, able to grasp each nuances, meanings and sub-meanings thrown at it. Furthermore, the overall built a sense of seizure between “us” the white privileged intellectuals, “them” the oppressed minorities and this “other” either called racist, supremacist or fascist without offering alternatives. And as fractured as our society is, I have this naive intuition that creating new semantic segmentations might not be the best solution to address this global crisis we’re in. Hopefully, the following interventions, by three female lecturers, offered understandable ways of looking at Face Value in both theoretical and practical manners.
During her lecture – Truth as event: The affective politics of believe, academic Megan Boler propounded ways to cope with information warfare using a non-dualistic approach. Involving the affective-ness of emotions as an alternative tool to deconstruct and understand post-truth, she suggests using empathic approaches to counter information’s commodification and its disastrous effects such as radicalization and online racism.

Later during the venue, academic and activist Françoise Vergès gave a keynote – Politics of forgetfulness, where she discussed past and contemporary forms of colonial dispossession within history. She offered a framework to rethink our contemporary western culture without denying its history using post-colonial theory as method, as well as encouraging active forms of activism in opposition to the sometime passive position of intellectuals.

Finally, Lisa Nakamura keynote – Call out, Protest, Speak Back inquired how colored women could play a role against rising online racism. She proposed ways to understand how the colored body became a commodification and by which means one could deconstruct images of its objectification using post-colonial theory.

Lisa Nakamura
Lisa Nakamura delivering her keynote "Call Out, Protest, Speak Back" - Photo: Adam Berry, transmediale, CC BY NC-SA 4.0

Apart from an overall feeling of uneven readability and access, Transmediale proved to be again one of the main prominent political and cultural event dedicated to Media arts today. Yet, as suggested by some of the public during the closing discussion, it is important that such venue remains approachable to a wide audience. It might be valuable to question some of the language games in use as well as few of the curatorial decisions which, this year, proved to be sometimes esoteric and exclusive. The concern underlying Face Value is a global warning, and it is therefore an urgency to share it with as many as possible to counter this global rise of stupidity’s banalization manifested through daily online racism and similar idiocies.

Juliette Pépin

Photo Tiltle: A Becoming Resemblance by Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Chelsea Manning, Photo: Adam Berry, transmediale, CC BY NC-SA 4.0


Juliette Pépin is a Paris based designer, her work roughly focuses on modern means of communication influenced by new technologies.