Top 5 takeaways from transmediale 2020 - End to End

transmediale is one of the major festivals for digital art and culture. It takes place in Berlin every year and consists of an exhibition, a student forum, a film day and two symposium days. This year, transmediale focuses on networks, and not only the Internet, but both pre-Internet ideas and contemporary or speculative alternatives to the Internet as we know it.

Quoting from the transmediale 2020 website:

Leaving behind a decade marked by a backlash against the Internet and the network society, transmediale aims at a comprehensive re-evaluation of networks and their limits. [...] By drawing on the legacies of critical and autonomous network cultures transmediale 2020 not only wants to make the limits of Internet-based networks visible but also highlight alternatives to bring about sustainable social change.

The transmediale 2020 festival brought me an almost overwhelming amount of new impressions, thoughts and references. It was inspiring to see so many brilliant people thinking and acting on questions surrounding modern digital technologies. How we as media artists and technologists choose to engage with contemporary digital technology is crucial in organising and molding it into positive change.

I'd like to thank CASTOR and IoD for graciously sponsoring my participation in transmediale. Below are some of my highlights from the festival:

end-to-end, p2p, my to me - Olia Lialina

In this performance lecture, net artist Olia Lialina looks back at webpages from up to the year 2003 and uses them to tell a story about content and hyperlinks.

On the early Internet people hosted their webpages with their information, not necessarily information about themselves. People had their own Orlando Bloom page, guides to their favourite knots, poems etc. They added music and GIFs to their pages and linked to their favourite sites.

According to Lialina, the web industry has pushed the narrative that the only interesting content for you to put online is "me" (not "my"). Web designers used a language of alienation and ridicule of personal webpages. Instagram only allows the one link in your bio and even that is almost too much.

Someone said they were thankful that Instagram allowed them to upload their own images.

Remember 2019 when we were allowed to upload images ourselves?
Remember 2019 when we were allowed to type our own search query into Google?
Remember 2019 when we were allowed to insert the web address ourselves into the address bar of the browser?
Remember 2019 when we were allowed to use a typewriter style interface to input text into the computer?

Lialina ends by asking if we can reclaim the web, go from me to my?

Feel My Metaverse - Keiken + George Jasper Stone

Feel My Metaverse is an installation work using a game engine to make a 3 screen CGI film set in the (far?) future. When the Earth becomes uninhabitable humans escape into virtual worlds, the metaverse, for a purely or almost purely synthetic living. The film touches rather beautifully on interconnectedness, experiencing reality virtually. I was especially fond of the moment when a character in the film wished to feel a real sadness, pain of love and the body biodegrading, missing the fragility of a non-virtual existence.

Feel My Metaverse also existed as a performance that sadly I missed.

Critical Atlas of the Internet (2015) - Louise Druhle

Search engines are at the heart of the Internet edifice. They guarantee the "visibility" (access) of Internet space by controlling the hyperlinks.

  • Boris Beaude - Internet, changer l'espace changer la société

Louise Druhle maps the Internet in from several different perspectives, one of which focuses on the search engine as a means of reducing and warping distance on the Internet by mapping through a single point. Geographic distance no longer matter, whereas the distance from the top of the search result page is highly significant.

The work is available in several format including differnet print media and as a web page (temporarily down at the time of writing):

You Will Go Away One Day But I Will Not - Maria Thereza Alves & Lucrecia Dalt

This sound installation took place in the Botanic Garden and was actually part of the CTM festival, which is closely tied to transmediale. At the entrance to the main part of the Botanical Museum we were given headphones connected to something looking like a rugged smartphone and invited to walk around among the tropical plants. An everchanging soundscape envelopes me where tropical sounds from nature are mixed with speaking, singing and synthesised sounds. As I walk around the greenhouse some sounds change gradually, some sounds areas are large while some seem to me audible only if you stand inside about a square meter. There is a joy to finding these different parts of the soundscape, like little treasures that you only notice if you walk slowly and listen intently.

Next to some of the plant, in addition to their normal white name signs there are red ones with a different name. The scientific Western (latin) name is accompanied by a new name by the Guarani people of the Jaguapiru Reservation in Dourados in Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil with which Alves has worked and collaborated with since the 1980s. One flower is called "Yvoty mboporã pónhuregua", meaning "five-sided flower of the spirit of the fields and forests: you will go away one day but I will not", another "Hoguepere pytãvo gueruete marangatu año ypere ñuvere." meaning "My leaves cover my tears of sorrow. But they are admired by the other plants.". The songs heard in the soundscapes are songs these flowers have been honored with by the Guarani people.

Marshall McLuhan Lecture 2020 Expanded Networks

Split onto two excellent speakers and researchers, this lecture touched on so many interesting subjects.

Joshua Neves shone a light on the many faces of optimisation society with examples such as HVMN and other nootropic supplements ("smart drugs"), but also IoT tools for optimising our behaviour. Will enhancement go from possibility to requirement? Who will get access to improved brains and bodies?

Mél Hogan has previously done research on the power consumption of data centers and the processes within them which led her to consider alternative storage media. In her talk on genomic media she presented some of its technical qualities, but also the role it is given and language around it. Oftentimes, genomes and genomic media are being talked about in religious terms e.g. "the language in which God created life" or the thinly veiled Arch Mission Foundation which stores "human knowledge" on different highly persistent media (incl. genomic) and sends it out into space as a backup for the future. One example that stuck with me was of a 16-year old who converted parts of the Qur'an and the Bible into DNA and injected himself with it as a "symbol of peace between religions and science".

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