Our highlights from this year's festival of art and digital culture in Berlin include Erica Scourti's 'scan' of her own body through image recognition software and Timo Arnall's haunting film set in a data centre
True to its name ‘Capture All’, transmediale festival of art and digital culture in Berlin seized a spectrum of ideas around data, surveillance, and network effects, through talks, screenings, and exhibitions. Lines from Richard Brautigan's 1967 poem ‘All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace’ resurfaced during the programme as a past dream of an utopic ecology between humans and machines: "I like to think… of a cybernetic meadow / where mammals and computers / live together in mutually / programming harmony." The authority of technology emerged as invasive as well as instrumental, as we find ourselves both captive and doing the capturing through quantified selves, algorithmic predictions, and social media. Here, we scan the highlights that emerged from the intertwined logic of capture all.
Erica Scourti, 'Body Scan'
Body Scan was produced by feeding iPhone photographs of the artist’s body into image recognition software and linking them with similar images online. The screen takes the dimension of a smartphone, hung in the festival’s main exhibition. Scourti constructs the identifying tags – ‘Offensive’, ‘Human Skin’, ‘Nipple’, ‘Black’ – into a spoken, bot-like narrative, turning “skins into readable interfaces” and revealing the generic classifications of software. Body Scan seems in dialogue with artist Hito Steyerl’s text on porn detection software and relational photography ‘Proxy Politics’. Steyerl writes: “As humans feed affect, thought, and sociality into algorithms, algorithms feed back into what used to be called subjectivity.”
Timo Arnall, 'Internet Machine'
In the dark back of transmediale’s main exhibition, Timo Arnall’s film installation exposes the chilled architecture of data centres across a triptych display. A slow panning camera scans the interior and exterior of a secure Telefónica data centre in Spain, clocking server racks, buzzing cabinets, lead batteries, and cooling corridors. The measured pace of Arnall’s frames encourages reflection on the spatial and material reality of the internet, in order to surpass the ephemeral myth of "the cloud."
Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon, 'World Brain'
Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon also reveal the physical infrastructure of the internet with their World Brain project, which takes its title from H. G. Wells’s speculative essays on a shared world encyclopedia – an early reference point for the information age. The film and interactive website (produced by ARTE Creative) consider the role and control of data through a mix of documentary and tongue-in-cheek fiction, combining shots of undersea fibre optic cables and old computer-graphic diagrams with a new-age narrative about an experiment in forest living (where the influence of Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog shines). At times the voice-over slips into the very language of digital dualism it sets out to avoid, but as an exploration of how material and digital intertwine, World Brain is both playful and didactic.
The Otolith Group, 'Sovereign Sisters'
The Otolith Group look to an earlier communication infrastructure - the Union Postale Universelle - to summon an emblem of haunted media. Working with ScanLab, the collective produced a 3D scan of French sculptor René de Saint-Marceaux’s monument to the postal service, which still stands imperially, and somewhat anachronistically, in a park in Bern. A sculpted symbol for physical mail is transformed into a digital moving image work – the results are fine, X-ray-like visuals, where flying messengers twirl in a ghostly rendering.
'Time & Motion, Redefining Working Life', curated by FACT Liverpool
This exhibition reflected upon material and immaterial labour, headed by the question: “How is digital transformation changing the time management of our working lives?” Works include Tehching Hsieh’s historic Time Clock Piece, clocking on every hour for a year; Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen's 75 Watt, a film of a choreographed Chinese production line, displayed alongside the functionless object the artists commissioned to be fabricated there; and Oliver Walker's One Euro, a six channel video installation that represents across a scale of screens how long it takes for workers to earn one euro, from a multinational CEO at his laptop (a fraction of a second), to a Syrian cotton picker (over an hour).
Lorna Mills (and various artists), 'Ways of Something'
This updating and perverting of John Berger’s classic documentary “Ways of Seeing,” compiled by Canadian artist Lorna Mills and originally commissioned by The One Minutes, presents 58 one-minute video works by web-based artists, working with gifs, kitsch remixes, and webcam performances. The chapter on female nudes and the male gaze is particularly hard-hitting, contrasting the BBC-accented art critic’s narration with girls’ selfies, Japanese queer goth styles, and CCTV footage from celebrity gossip websites. The aesthetically diverse ensemble seeks to re-visualise how we “see” art after the “cacophonous conditions” of the internet.
For more information on the transmediale festival programme, click here