Report From FutureSonic 2009

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Focusing on a wide array of themes such as the context of a rapidly changing planet, our evolving human / natural ecosystem, the growing global strain on natural resources, and the advancement of artistic methods on potential of technological infrastructures, the 10th edition of the FutureSonic festival spanning 14 years integrated a wide and impressive array of international speakers, workshops, exhibitions, and performances. Scattered around the bustling city of Manchester in the United Kingdom, the festival took into account both its local strengths and its global outreach to encourage debate and showcase a wide arrange of artistic projects that examined just how far we have come in these debates and how far we have to go to make sense of the evolving technological apparatus that surrounds us.

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Mix It Up

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Video: Matthew Ostrowski, Atopia, 2004

Mixology, the annual festival curated by the new music and new media organization Roulette, got off to a strong start last week with opening night performances by Pamela Z and Elliott Sharp, presented in collaboration with Harvestworks. Pamela Z demonstrated her use of gesture to control sound, which she produces with her own operatic voice as well as electronically. Elliott Sharp was a one-man noise band, playing both an amplified saxophone and a keyboard-based instrument while manipulating both on his laptop. The night ended with an improvised duet, in which Pamela Z played her iPhone like an ocarina.

Performances continued through the weekend and will resume tonight. Tomorrow’s program features Matthew Ostrowski, who will pick up themes of gesture and sampling with a new work titled “Patterns of Changing Light.” Mixology runs through May 30, concluding with a performance by downtown stalwart David Rosenbloom, whose piece Sound and Light I continues his thirty-year-long exploration of dense sonic textures with a more recent integration of video as the basis for an evolving score. The full program for the rest of Mixology can be found on Roulette’s calendar.

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A Short Week in Shorts

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Long a destination for filmmakers to showcase their work, the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen has expanded its program in recent years to incorporate experimental film and video art. Beginning in 2006 distributors, such as Lux, Electronic Arts Intermix, Netherlands Media Art Institute, and the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Center, were invited to spotlight works recently added to their catalogs. This portion of the festival was rounded out by “Unreal Asia”, a themed series of screenings of Southeast Asian film and video art, as well as a profiles on Japanese experimental filmmaker Matsumoto Toshio, Mexican filmmaker Nicolás Echevarría, German filmmaker Herbert Fritsch, the Sarajevo Documentary School and a retrospective on the Russian art group the Factory of Found Clothes. Annual segments, such as the MuVi award for music videos, an international competition, a competition including only German work, and films made by children, were scheduled alongside the thematic programs, resulting in a diverse and active six-day calendar. I had the opportunity to attend the festival for the first time a week ago, and caught a number of the screenings.

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Surveying the Limitless Field

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Image: Still from Lucy Raven's "China Town"

When the staff of the New York Underground Film Festival decided to end the fifteen-year-old institution and start fresh, they named their new venture Migrating Forms. The title of the new festival, which debuted last week at Anthology Film Archives, resonates with the theories that heavyweight curators like Roger Brueghel and Nicolas Bourriaud have proposed to describe art-making in conditions of international interconnectedness, where a finite number of cultural models yield a seemingly infinite number of variations. The term “migrating forms” could also refer to the travel of moving-image art between gallery and cinema, or describe aspects of films in the festival program, from the content of documentaries like Lucy Raven’s China Town, a stop-motion photographic animation about the U.S.-China copper trade, to the form of shorts that repurposed found footage, like Jesse McLean’s Somewhere Only We Know, which included a montage of reality-show contestants’ faces as they are kicked off television.

Oksana Bulgakowa’s The Factory of Gestures, based on her book of the same name, explored how Russian and Soviet cinema manufactured and recalibrated codes of body language over eighty years of social upheaval. Running commentary explained gestures’ shifting meanings, and the replacement of the films’ sound with a spare, atonal score helped separate the actors’ motions from narrative. The subject matter of The Factory of Gestures had limited appeal for the experimental film crowd (I was the only viewer at the Saturday afternoon screening), but Bulgakowa’s work suggested an interesting direction for creative presentations of scholarly research.

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Image: Still from Jacob Ciocci’s "The Peace Tape"

The lecture format appeared again in Oliver Laric’s Versions, a pithy essay on the irrelevance of the notion of authenticity and the “animistic” attitude that has taken ...

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The Benders

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Snaps and crackles and bleeps and bloops prevail at New York's annual circuit bending festival Bent, which kicked off last night and will continue through Saturday evening. Hosted by The Tank, the event brings together benders and homemade electronics aficionados for three days of workshops, demos, installations and concerts. If the promise of a Chiptune Marching Band or an army of miniRunglers isn't enough to peak your interest, perhaps the stellar lineup for Saturday's concert, which includes a performance by Lesley Flanigan using her signature feedback instrument the Speaker Synth as well as composer Tristan Perich's epic 15 channel work involving 18 modified television sets and 5 dancers Impulse Manifold will be enough to get you off your couch and over to Hell's Kitchen.

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Migrating Forms Kicks Off Today!

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Video: Migrating Forms Trailer by Michael Robinson

Migrating Forms, an offshoot of the defunct New York Underground Film Festival, runs tonight through Sunday at Anthology Film Archives in lower Manhattan. The five-day program is book-ended with feature-length films -- a 1960s-flavored, episodic satire of religion, philosophy, and criticism (Owen Land’s Dialogues) and a documentary about creationist geologists who offer evidence that the world is 6,000 years old (Michael Gitlin’s The Earth Is Young). In between there are almost one hundred long and short works to suit every taste. If you can’t get enough YouTube appropriation, montage, and computer effects, try going Saturday at 7:15 for "Mixed and Maxed," a program featuring Animal Charm and Oliver Laric, or Sunday at 4:45 for "Mature Audiences," with works by Jesse McLean and Takeshi Murata. At Saturday night’s "Tube Time!" tournament, audience members will decide which contestant found the weirdest footage online. The full schedule is here. Single tickets cost $10, and a festival pass costs $50 -- or you can get one free by being the third person to email info[at]migratingforms.org with Rhizome in the subject line!

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Picture Stories

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Image: Kristin Lucas, Travel Advisory, 2007

This year's Artefact festival is organized around the notion that "images inevitably show and hide at the same time." Given the theme of "Behind the Image/ The Image Behind," the fest will feature the usual assemblage of great performances, panels, lectures, and installations. From the 10th through the 15th of February, Leuven's STUK Museum will be headquarters for deep discussion of the semiotics of digital images, the cultural snapshots that looking at code provides, and the patterns by which both are circulated. These form vs. content questions are part of the event's goal of "covering and uncovering media," as a means of exploring the nuances of contemporary digital visual culture, and the politics of representation and sharing in this realm. The lineup of speakers attests to a continuum of modification practices ranging from secret messages encoded in images to remixing other people's images, and the organizers hint explicitly at the connection between these transitional forms of textuality and the ideological transitions in representational strategies that coincide with technological development. That's right--this is a no fluff conference! Smart practitioners Taryn Simon, Ines Schaber, Harun Farocki, Pia Linz, Kristin Lucas, Peter Weibel, and ShiftSpace will be among those present to crack into these deep discussions. Not to worry, the evening programs are full of fun events to stimulate your eyes and ears after days of thinktankery. - Marisa Olson

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Media Parasol

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Interview with Perry Bard from tagr.tv (Screengrab)

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Interview with Petko Dourmana from tagr.tv (Screengrab)

The online platform for media art festival documentation (yes, one exists!) tagr.tv took a rather unconventional tack in their coverage of Berlin's transmediale last week. The team shot a number of interviews using their own "mobile interview environment." The device, an umbrella outfitted with a camera and microphone, served as a nearly private location for one-on-one discussions with artists involved with the festival. The short clips are interspersed with more traditional installation shots, providing a unique "overview" (get it?) of select projects showcased during transmediale. (On a related note, be sure to check out transmediale's comprehensive streaming video archive from the 2009 session as well.)

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FILE 09 Open Call

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Art and technology festival FILE, based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is seeking projects for this year's fest, which will occur from July 27 to August 31, 2009. Categories include media art, installation, game art, sound art, and a symposium. For the application and more information, visit FILE 2009.

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Putting Faith in the Internet

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Depending upon the utopian or dystopian narratives to which you might subscribe, the internet is a bit like heaven or hell--with the pearly gates of cyberspace welcoming you to a world where you want for nothing or a fiery apocalyptic dungeon big enough to house all your nightmares. Either vision is intense and exactly the sort of stuff that religious iconography was once made of; yet the wide distribution of devotional messages broadcast on the web seems only to have cast a dim shadow upon the net art community. More recently, spiritualities new age and old school have been forceful fodder in contemporary art, while glossing over a true connection to the divine. Italian curator Domenico Quaranta suggests, "take Martin Kippenberger's crucified frog, for instance, or the cross submerged in the urine of Andres Serrano, or Maurizio Cattelan's Nona ora, or the Virgin Mary blackened with elephant dung by Chris Ofili, or Vanessa Beecroft's recent Madonnas. All of these works are undoubtedly imbued with their own form of 'sacredness,' yet they would hardly be hung in a church." Quaranta's exhibition, "For God's Sake," installed now at Nova Gorica, Solevenia's 9th annual Pixxelpoint festival, looks at the simultaneous increase in religion-themed work and the ever wider distribution of mass-mediated sermons and religious messages, through new technologies. The question is whether this amounts to an increase in religious devotion, or rather a diluted or muddied conflation of spiritual values in a time of mixed forms and mixed messages arriving in convergent media. As with ZKM's "Medium Religion" show, which we covered last week, Quaranta's show (and in particular his poignant curatorial statement), look at attitudinal shifts parallel to media developments. The long list of international media artists he's selected present us with mostly ...

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