transmediale 2015: Why we need spaces for art and tech beyond corporate influence



Photo: "Through the Eyes of a Paratrooper: 173rd Jumps in Ukraine for Rapid Trident 2011" by U.S. Army Europe Images on flickr. © Artwork by The Laboratory of Manuel Bürger

True to its title, "Capture All," the program of this year's transmediale festival in Berlin was ambitiously panoramic, with such a marathon, round-the-clock schedule that by the last day a number of attendees had come down with the same cold. Separated into the thematic tracks of Work, Play, and Life, the events revolved around the quantification of everyday activities, mass data acquisition, algorithmic sorting of information about people and the planet, and the systems of power and control implicit in all of those processes—topics in which most of the festival's target audience is well-versed.

The majority of that audience is made up of academics, artists, cultural workers, technologists, and students. This year for the first time, tickets sold out completely; on opening night the 1,035-seater auditorium was over capacity, and throughout the five-day festival, waiting lines stretched around corners. Besides lectures and panels, the schedule included a steady stream of performances and screenings as well as ongoing workshops in the cacophonous foyer—from a six-hour workshop on feminist network methodology to four days of open meetings held by the unMonastery.

A 14-person exhibition, sharing the festival's title and curated by Daphne Dragona and Robert Sakrowski, showcased reflections on "the future of algorithmic work and life" with artists like Erica Scourti, whose video Body Scan compares images of her own body with those of a Google search algorithm, and Jennifer Lyn Morone (Inc), who created a corporation out of herself to advocate for compensation for her digital labor. Any exhibition with the keyword #algorithm is also an invitation for artists to reflect on exhibition-making itself as a potentially algorithmic process. Jonas Lund, who has long dissected and replicated the gamification of art practice, created a pre-recorded audio tour called FTFY (Fixed That For You) describing (imaginary) artworks with an algorithmic mashup of words and phrases from previous transmediale press texts. A guest exhibition down the hall, "Time and Motion: Redefining working life," produced by FACT Liverpool, shifted the emphasis onto quantified labor in the context of mass production and automatization.  


Guy Debord Limited Edition Action Figure Giveaway


To mark the launch of McKenzie Wark's new book The Spectacle of DisintegrationVerso Books have offered Rhizome readers in the UK a chance to win a 3D printed Guy Debord action figure.

3D-printed Guy Debord action figures (2012). Produced by McKenzie Wark, design by Peer Hansen, with technical assistance by Rachel L.

The figure is part of a limited edition run of 200 made by Wark, who was inspired to delve into maker culture because of Debord's own investment in craft as evidenced in the twelve handcrafted issues of Internationale Situationniste. (You can read more about this in Brendan Byrne's recent interview with Wark on Rhizome). It's important to note that you can also make your own Debord figure based on Wark's 3D model, which will be released under a Creative Commons license.

The questions, which were supplied by Verso, are after the jump. They are not to be taken lightly...


A Cavalier History of Situationism: An Interview with McKenzie Wark


McKenzie Wark’s new book The Spectacle of Disintegration: Situationist Passages Out of the Twenty-First Century (Verso, out today in the US and May 20 in the UK) completes his non-trilogy of writings on the SI, begun with 50 Years of Recuperation of the Situationist International (Princeton Architectural Press, 2008) and continued with The Beach Beneath the Street (Verso, 2011). I sat down with Wark to discuss the application and recuperation of SI tactics in the contemporary mediated landscape. 

3D-printed Guy Debord action figures (2012). Produced by McKenzie Wark, design by Peer Hansen, with technical assistance by Rachel L.

BB: You’re very upfront about how you didn’t intend to write a “great man” history of the Situationist International, instead incorporating marginalized and forgotten figures. Yet The Spectacle of Disintegration focuses on Guy Debord, especially in its second half, if simply because there is no one left.

MW: The place were I started the whole thing was just an obsession with two late texts of Debord’s, Panegyric and In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni. I think they’re two of the most luminous critical Marxist texts, avant-garde texts, prose poems, of the late 20th Century. It took me a long time to even understand what they were doing. And so the whole thing grew over 20 years, just returning to those texts and trying to figure out a framework for interpreting them. The whole project was somehow leading up to writing about those. I learnt to read French by reading these texts. I just taught myself. And my French is terrible. I make no claims to be a scholar of the language or anything like that whatsoever.

BB: Debord’s conception of the interactivity of the spectacle seems to be a bit limited in terms of where ...