Biometric technology is on the rise. Its applications are wide-ranging: facial scanning to replace passwords; iris recognition to replace debit cards; fingerprints to replace passports. Value is increasingly tied to faces, and faces have increasing value. Boaz Levin and Vera Tollmann, theorists and cofounders of the Research Center For Proxy Politics, explore the “token value” of identity resulting from such software and hardware, where one’s “digital identity and physical body become closely entangled” and one’s virtual proxy enters the political realm. Can the one-to-one relationship between self and proxy be skewed through forms of obfuscation? What will happen when the face on the screen looks back?
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. 126.96.36.199.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.