Like all historical time stamps, 1995 as a year is a “vanishing point” we can only see from the perspective of today, as Kristoffer Gansing writes in this essay. The present writes the past. With this in mind, Gansing approaches that particular year, which is not only a central one in the cultural imagination but specifically to the history of transmediale, in an essay originally conceived for the book across & beyond. As the artistic director of the festival since 2012, in this essay he journeys alongside the festival’s transformation over time, in the context of worldwide media evolutions in media art and theory—picking up surprising stories along the way.
The classic Nintendo quit-screen anticipated the future of the digital archive with the warning message: “everything not saved will be lost.” Indeed, even the digital artifacts we think we’ve saved often get lost or buried—or become impossible to access after a system update. Maintaining a trail on the information super-super-highway is a game of endless catch-up. Berlin-based artist duo Alessandro Massobrio and Valentina Besegher, working under the name Atelier Labor Neunzehn, created the sprawling digital archival project All Sources Are Broken in playful response to the disjointed and dysfunctional web of sources and citations criss-crossing digital and print realms.
Sarah Sharma's keynote on technologically aided escapism, entrapment, and the male fantasy of (s)exit
What does a real man do when things get tough at home? Runs out to buy cigarettes. Or so goes the male fantasy, as Sarah Sharma argued in her 2017 Marshall McLuhan Lecture, organized annually by transmediale and the Embassy of Canada in Berlin. The male fantasy of exit—the Sexit—pervades the masculine cultural imaginary at every level of society, from domestic space to the political sphere. After Grexit and Brexit, it should be abundantly clear how “pulling out” is a deceptively simple solution to real-life entanglements, and how the very privilege to imagine doing so is fundamentally a male prerogative. Sharma presents the main points of her conceptually invaluable lecture here.
Arielle Bier interviews the artist on identity, witchery, and how to heal the world
For transmediale 2017, multimedia and performance artist Johannes Paul Raether presented his latest installation investigating smartphone fetish culture titled Protekto.x.x. 184.108.40.206.pcp (2016) as part of the group show alien matter. Raether also participated in the Keynote Conversation “Strange Ecologies: From Necropolitics to Reproductive Revolutions” along with Steve Kurtz and Diana McCarty, discussing death and reproduction in the Capitalocene era. In this interview with writer and curator Arielle Bier, the shape-shifting artist discusses gender fluidity, technology as an extension of self, and the interplay of ritual, capitalism, and magic.
Finn Brunton enters the Twilight Zone of media cultures: extraterrestrial communication
The question of how humans might communicate with extraterrestrials is at once existential, semiotic, and technological. The content of the message we’d want to impart to aliens is part and parcel of its transmission. What fundamentals of human life and civilization would need to be conveyed—and what fundamentals of media technology would allow us to convey it? For transmediale ever elusive's "Prove You are Nonhuman" panel, author and media scholar Finn Brunton presented an idiosyncratic history of wild, imaginative, and arcane concepts of media in the service of alien communication.
Terminology whizzes around at conferences, sometimes congealing around a shared set of reference points and sometimes dissipating into dust. The Commons. Assemblage. Neoliberalism. We assume we're talking about the same things—but are we? Everyone knows that if you repeat a term often enough, it starts to sound absurd. Fiona Shipwright picked up on one of these conversational hallmarks during transmediale 2017: the “ever elusive” word infrastructure.
Ryan Bishop on Laurie Anderson's language of the future
transmediale 2017 closed with a performance by Laurie Anderson, The Language of the Future. To mark the occasion, in this essay Ryan Bishop reflects on language and narratives in Anderson’s decades of work as an artist shirking all categorization—“a confluence of technological reach, ambition and failure mixed with ironic humor.”
Is there a way to address the “basics” of life and art practice that is neither regressive nor future-obsessed? This question came up both in a 2005 transmediale panel discussion involving the artist Steve Kurtz, and again in his keynote presentation at the 2017 festival. Kurtz, part of the decades-running and legendary Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), overcame great legal hurdles to speak at the 2005 “Basics” event on his current work. In 2017 he described the trajectory this work has taken in the last 12 years, given the new instantiations of biopower we face.
transmediale 2017 saw the debut of Bear With Me: A Play For Two Webmasters, written and directed by net.art pioneer Olia Lialina and starring actor and artist Kevin Bewersdorf. Set in 1997, just prior to the dot.com boom and combining live coding with live action, the play follows the efforts of characters Jake, Alan, and Lisa, as they work on their web pages. In December 2016, Lialina and Bewersdorf spoke to Fiona Shipwright, from the Merz Akademie, Stuttgart and upstate New York respectively, about the upcoming performance and how revisiting this previous era of the net can inform our understanding of elusiveness online today.
Artist Simon Biggs revisits questions about multimedia art from a mysterious 1995 interview series
Time travel back to 1995, when transmediale was still called VideoFest: a group of festival participants is invited to answer a series of questions about the budding discipline of “multimedia” art while seated in front of a blue screen. The resulting recordings have become known as the Blue Screen Interviews, and while the meaning of the Blue Screen has been lost to festival lore, the interviews themselves are unique historical documents and prescient reminders of evolutions within transmediale and within media art and theory. Here, participant Simon Biggs re-addresses the questions he first answered in 1995, the year he curated the festival exhibition.