Transmediale, the infamous event for art and digital culture is back to celebrate its 30th anniversary with a monumental one-month festival programme and special exhibition. Entitled “ever elusive”, the programme, led for its sixth year by artistic director Kristoffer Gansing, takes a contemporary approach and not a retrospective one. It aims to exploit the critical and artistic knowledge created throughout the festival’s history to reframe contemporary questions about media today. The parallel exhibition “alien matter” will mark the reopening of the recently renovated Haus der Kulturen der Welt on 2 February. Opening events will run nonstop through 5 February, followed by separate thematic excursions and finally closing events 4-5 March.
Transmediale began as VideoFilmFest in 1988. Since then, it has transformed into a globally visible platform for media cultures. Originally founded as a side project of the Berlinale, it was intended to serve experimental media productions not accepted at traditional film festivals. It was renamed to transmedia 1997, then transmediale in 1998 before its program was expanded and relocated to Haus der Kulturen der Welt in 2001. An independently organised partner event club transmediale was founded in 1999 (renamed CTM in 2011) with a focus on electronic music and club culture. Since 2004, transmediale has been funded as a cultural intuition of excellence by the Kulturstiftung des Bundes, Germany’s most preeminent public cultural fund.
The central question to be addressed at this year’s transmediale is: “In a world where technology increasingly operates independently of humans, where does the power to act and mediate lie?” It will permeate the month-long program encompassing a conference, screening programme, workshops, and live performances. The title “ever elusive” refers to the elusiveness of perpetually transitioning media cultures — a pertinent thematic headline in light of current media-influenced political phenomena such as emerging far-right populism worldwide.
The title also points to how the festival sees itself as an elusive or dynamic project; a shape-shifting platform on continually shifting ground. The festival invites participants to explore speculative positions beyond current categorical dichotomies like human/nonhuman and nature/technology. The festival exhibits a motivation not only to understand but also transform global media infrastructure. Whether or not transformation is possible is likely to be scrutinised. After all, isn’t the category “what’s possible” itself only one half of an established dichotomy?
“Ever elusive is curated by Kristoffer Gansing, Daphne Dragona (conference), and Florian Wüst (film and video). The opening ceremony on 2 February will include a series of performative and audiovisual programme teasers. Metahaven are also showing “The Sprawl (Propaganda About Propaganda)” the video which served as the inspiration for their contribution to SLEEK 52’s Cabinet.
The exhibition “alien matter”, curated by Inke Arns, focuses on “neo-cybernetic couplings” between humans, creatures and technologies, and human and nonhuman forces. The title refers to man-made matter and at the same time “radically different, potentially intelligent matter”, the outcome of a naturalisation of technological artefacts. By being able to learn and network, these artefacts become autonomous agents that challenge the central role of the human subject. As technical objects shape the environment, the resulting transformations shape the relationship between man and machine as well.
About 20 artists from Berlin and around the world will exhibit works that deal with shifts within such emerging power structures, part technical and part natural. They will raise questions about the state of the global environment and whether or not it has already passed a tipping point to become “alien matter”. Artistic positions will address four aspects of “alien matter”: artificial intelligence, plastics, infrastructure and the “Internet of Things”. Like the festival and the concept of “alien matter” itself, the exhibition will likely elude critique in the form of established discourse.
The exhibition “alien matter” at Haus der Kulturen der Welt opens on 2 February at 18:30. The festival weekend runs 3-5 February and continues with three thematic excursions targeting the “ever elusive” theme. The closing weekend takes place 4-5 March with a performance by Laurie Anderson.