INVISIBILITY OF THE PRESENT - TRANSMEDIALE 2010

The speed of our times is accelerating, day by day the rhythm grows faster. We are doing more and more things at the same time. Our digitalized lives are virtually (social-)networked. Digital technologies and information last only for very short time. A computer is outdated within less than 5 years time, news are updated in a 5 second frequency and thus outdated within a couple of hours. Thanks to micro-blogs, messages get shorter and shorter, provide us with life search to keep up with the pace.

The huge amount of digital data processed per day makes it difficult to keep track of them. This also occurs to digital art projects, whose creators or buyers stand before the problem on how to archive them in a reliable way. Everything we do and use is more temporary than ever before. The present seems to get shorter and shorter. To be able to project towards the future, we'd need to be able to define presence more thoroughly. To know what the present is. BUT: The importance of thinking of the future helps us to give meaning to the present. A viscous circle then?

Contemporary visions and imagination of future have a big identity problem.

Future is no longer what it had been. Present is no longer what it had been. And the present is not yesterday's future... tm10 (Transmediale Festival 10, 2 - 7 February 2010) was dedicated to this contemporary identity crisis of the future. With its great varieties of installations, performances, conferences, workshops , etc., we had wonderful, very versatile and contrary discussions and approaches, not so much to tackle the problem of the future's identity crisis, but to name it and think about it, to raise new questions, to explore solutions for not being part of a disappearing past.

After an inaugural speech that shows us images of the moon landing (yes the original 1969 event), the tm10 opens officially with a flashback to "modern" vision of future. Charlemagne Palestine, modern composer, musician, bell expert (& whiskey lover), gives us a half hour concert, ringing bells of the Tiergarten's bell tower…. With this image of an ancient means of communication, the bell tower, we are prepared to travel towards a nearer past, the 1980s: At the same time Yvette Mattern's7-colored rainbow laser-beam was projected from Berlin's hkw, (with its' stunning 1950s architecture in shape of an oyster shell) to the 1960s architectural gem Fernsehturm at Alexanderplatz.

© Photographer: Frank Paul
hkw © Photographer: Frank Paul

© ANBerlin
Fernsehturm Alexanderplatz © ANBerlin

Two symbolic architectonic cold war signs of the former east and the former west part Berlin. A sign for the reunification of Berlin, she states. To me it seems rather a time travel to a period when two superpowers were competing to own the future. The whole opening ceremony was visually, sonically and conceptually a collective time travel towards a moment when
utopia and future vision were still intact.

Let's jump to more present times: tm10 invited — amongst many others - Bruce Sterling (placing him next to an overhead projector he unfortunately didn't use). Sterling, sci-fi novelist and a central figure in utopia and visions of future, gives us an entertaining but dark-visioned speech about atemporality [1], to place ourselves in the present, questioning the relations and concepts of past, present and future. His talk, full of pleonasms and contradictions gets confusing, as he seems to mix up art-historic terms. The difference in postmodernism and network culture/atemporality is, that the latter doesn't define the problem, gets overloaded by irrelevant information and stays completely disorganized. That's why we cannot define history or present.

He appeals to "creative artists" to refuse being driven by technology, refuse reverence to the past in order to move forwards; to become the vision of the future ourselves in order to be convincing with our art. To give a ••• about what others think of us and personify our utopia(s).[2] His visions will give you a chill….

THE EXPOSITION

At Future Obscura, the festivals exhibition at hkw, the presented artworks are using language of the past to talk about the present situation. About a present that might have been future in the past. A nostalgic and historical presence. The artworks use any historic image making techniques (rather than THE state of the art) from photography, film-making and robotics to "create a collisions between the past, the present and future" [3], whereas I found future visions were lacking completely .

The artworks thematize already existing technologies, putting them in context with contemporary everyday life. They translate common digital situations and phenomena into the visual, sonic, into the artistic field. The little Paparazzi-Bot, a robot that recognizes movement and (if you're not too quick), shoots a photo of you, that is transmitted via a noisily disturbed wifi connection to a small flatscreen just behind it. The images shot by the robot will be uploaded to the webpage manually by human beings. Quite a 1970s manual work for nowadays…

Paparazzi-Bot © Jonathan Gröge
Paparazzi-Bot © Jonathan Gröge

The most impressive work at the exhibition was Gebhard Sengmüller's A Parallel Image. An electronic Camera Obscura, the installation uses 2500 copper cables connecting a photo sensor unit with a display unit, consisting of 2500 light bulbs. It illustrates how the composition of a digital image would look like if serial data transmission had never come to existence. The installation sends all pixel data in parallel. A very poetic way of reflecting the present, assuming past events didn't happen and offering a "new" solution to an old, already solved problem: how to live-project moving image.

A Parallell Image - © Gebhard SengmüllerA
Parallell Image - © Gebhard Sengmüller

A Parallell Image - © Jonathan GrögeA
Parallell Image - © Jonathan Gröge


SATELLITE EXPOSITIONS

[The User], with Coincidence Engines One & Two: Universal People's Republic Time translates the "atemporality" problem by using the time machine itself as part of his installations. The two-part installation, takes the clock out of context and uses it as a sound and light making machine. Coincidence Engine One is a tower of unsynchronized analogue alarm clocks whose tickings build up to a beautiful sonic environment. The second part is a wall of synchronized clocks, that are equipped with an external control, so each clock ticks only in response to instructions issued by the artists. Patterns of light and sound events move rhythmically across the vertical plane. Coincidence Engines is an actual reflection about the present, about time and atemporality with thoughts and play behind it.

the_user_part01_karla



One of the few women present(ed) at tm10, AgnesMeyer-Brandis surprises amusingly with an unimaginable imaginative piece of work: The installation Cloud-Core-Scanner – Inside the Tropospheric Laboratory [4] exhibited at Schering Stiftung. Agnes Meyer-Brandis explores the experimental edge between art, science and technology and borders between facts and fiction, which
you definitely will discover when looking at the installation. My first impression left me confused. You really have to confront yourself with the piece to dive into it's surreal narrative.

The installation Inside the Tropospheric Laboratory gives insights into material that Agnes Meyer-Brandis generated under conditions of extraterrestrial realities: it was developed in micro-gravity on a scientific flight in corporation with the German space agency. The oversized test tube construction consisting of a variety of elements that, one after another get into action at a certain point, has something theatrical, scenic about it.

A laser printer and a lit candle produce CO2 particles which are captured into a glass balloon. The number of particles are measured. At a certain amount, a noisy sound coming from a vacuum pump (that leaves the bowl in vacuum as you can imagine), announces the creation of a little cloud. This triggers (or seems to at least) subsequent events: a disc filled with objects is rotating. A video of one randomly selected object filmed in microgravity is projected on the wall and on a thick piece of plastic. At the same time a stone who seemingly lives in zero gravity, is being measured by a constantly moving aluminum bar.

Far away from artistic romanticism she wants to scan the cores of the clouds. To get into the heart of the object of investigation. As artistic science the results are images rather than formulas. Images and relations. A very poetic research-experimentation on how the future of art could look like.

She was also participant at tm10 salon talk: Destination Moon, where she made the listeners dive into her surreal scientific dreamlike narratives.[5]

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ROUND UP

A big trend in the exposed artworks at tm10 was the visualization of the invisible. In his audio visual performance Test Pattern, Ryoji Ikeda, pictures the invisible: Data-streams we are exposed to continuously are transformed into a stroboscopic optic attack of black and white barcode patters, flittering flickering and flashing in an almost unbearable speed (100s of frames per second), synchronized perfectly to aggressively electronic sounds that remind of an overlay of dozens of digitalized morse codes, morphing towards some very heavy beats. The system of Test Pattern is converting any kind of data (such as texts, sounds, images, videos….) into barcode patterns. A visualization of the immaterial in the most minimalistic and direct form.


Another approach to the data visualization: the Panoramic Wifi Camera by Adam Somlai-Fischer, Usman Haque, Bengt Sjölénvon, who illustrate the wifi-nets as colorful clouds and their physical behavior;

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Julius von Bismarck visualizes the camera movement of movies in his The Space Beyond Me [6], Agnes Meyer-Brandis with her Cloud-Core-Scanner the consistence of a cloud, Ken Rinaldo's Paparazzi-Bots the users that interact with it, Alice Miceli's Chernobyl Project the invisible radioactive contamination in Chernobyl…

On the contrary, the Artvertiser project un-visualises the visible by replacing (visual) data we usually consume on a daily basis. Julian Olivier and Clara Boj, Diego Diaz and Damian Stewart have developed a little binocular which, walking through the city, distresses our overcharged visual senses. Ads are detected by the machine and replaced by artworks of your choice (still images, video, animation…).


AWARDS

The aspects of Bruce Sterlings "atemporality" idea, the shallowness and disorder of contemporary (or atemporally) art are mirrored not only in this year'snominations, but also in the awarded work by Michelle Teran, "Buscando al Sr. Goodbar". Connecting the virtual and "real life," Teran uses geo tagged youtube videos in the city of Murcia, Spain, that automatically get displayed on GoogleEarth. The "participatory performance" offered a bus tour to explore the city's the geo-tagged places. The tour took simultaneously place on Google Earth and YouTube. With this (voyeuristic) work she wants to question the reason behind publishing intimate data with the exact geographic location. Her answers are not really convincing, seemingly shallow she states "people seem to have the urge to reveal and display their private lives." The award jury's statement didn't help to convince either. [7]

Connecting the (social) web and the physical space is in not so much a novelty and has been done in more interesting ways before.[8]

It seemed not to have undergone the filter of the artists' perception/opinion, world and future view, seems rather the ingredients for an uncooked meal. Take a youtube, take a google earth, travel to the place of investigation and invite some viewers to travel the map….

Should transmediale's future-barometer be the only truths, we'd face a mixture of a quite stressful, chaotic and indigestible digital era of consumption without time and space for reflection…. And a time of wild creation of new visual forms of anything you'd never known about…. It was definitely a very communicative, networked and entertaining event, and a big petty I couldn't stay for the whole event.

__________

[1] Atemporality is a "modern (I think he means contemporary) phenomenon… a problem in the philosophy of history. His definition is well worth checking out: The full transcript of the speech can be read on Sterling's blog

[2] The whole conference can be seen in video here. An interview with Bruce Sterling in german at de-bug

[3] Comment by Honor Harger, the curator of the exhibition in an interview with freshmilk.tv

[4]Agnes Meyer-Brandis' installation Inside the Tropospheric Laboratory looks for an answer to the question: "what are clouds made of"? By moving towards the clouds, on a micro-gravity flight with a German Space Agency plane, she leaves terrestrial realities behind, gets close to her subject of studies, trying to grasp it with her hands.

[5] here she was presenting various of her projects: the one I liked most was meteorites… a project in a siberian she organized public meteorite-crash-onto-earth-viewing event together with the museum.

[6] Old school film camera with a light source to convert it into projector. A software analyses the camera movement and makes the projection move accordingly. It is a mechanical version of a process that happens in the brain when watching a film with camera movement.

[7] Jury Statement:“Buscando al Sr Goodbar by Michelle Teran is a timely and considered exploration of synergies between online social space and physical urban spaces. Her work asks us to consider the hidden pockets of virtuosity that take place all around us. In her hands, online tools become not only a platform for display, but a method of discovery and reconnection to other people. She combines old methods (bus tours)and new (online tools) to create a work that is a complex commentary on our present moment, but also points the way to future layering of our digital and physical selves."

[8] Looking at works like Goldberg's 'The Robot in the Garden'[ link], and at [link], the builders association, Blast Theory, you will find a relevant use of the connection between the virtual and the "real"

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