transmediale 2015: Why we need spaces for art and tech beyond corporate influence

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Photo: "Through the Eyes of a Paratrooper: 173rd Jumps in Ukraine for Rapid Trident 2011" by U.S. Army Europe Images on flickr. © Artwork by The Laboratory of Manuel Bürger

True to its title, "Capture All," the program of this year's transmediale festival in Berlin was ambitiously panoramic, with such a marathon, round-the-clock schedule that by the last day a number of attendees had come down with the same cold. Separated into the thematic tracks of Work, Play, and Life, the events revolved around the quantification of everyday activities, mass data acquisition, algorithmic sorting of information about people and the planet, and the systems of power and control implicit in all of those processes—topics in which most of the festival's target audience is well-versed.

The majority of that audience is made up of academics, artists, cultural workers, technologists, and students. This year for the first time, tickets sold out completely; on opening night the 1,035-seater auditorium was over capacity, and throughout the five-day festival, waiting lines stretched around corners. Besides lectures and panels, the schedule included a steady stream of performances and screenings as well as ongoing workshops in the cacophonous foyer—from a six-hour workshop on feminist network methodology to four days of open meetings held by the unMonastery.

A 14-person exhibition, sharing the festival's title and curated by Daphne Dragona and Robert Sakrowski, showcased reflections on "the future of algorithmic work and life" with artists like Erica Scourti, whose video Body Scan compares images of her own body with those of a Google search algorithm, and Jennifer Lyn Morone (Inc), who created a corporation out of herself to advocate for compensation for her digital labor. Any exhibition with the keyword #algorithm is also an invitation for artists to reflect on exhibition-making itself as a potentially algorithmic process. Jonas Lund, who has long dissected and replicated the gamification of art practice, created a pre-recorded audio tour called FTFY (Fixed That For You) describing (imaginary) artworks with an algorithmic mashup of words and phrases from previous transmediale press texts. A guest exhibition down the hall, "Time and Motion: Redefining working life," produced by FACT Liverpool, shifted the emphasis onto quantified labor in the context of mass production and automatization.  

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Expanded Internet Art and the Informational Milieu

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Ben Aqua, NEVER LOG OFF, 2013 (Limited edition t-shirt designed for #FEELINGS)

We are no longer mostly dealing with information that is transmitted form a source to a receiver, but increasingly also with informational dynamics—that is with the relation between noise and signal, including fluctuations and microvariations, entropic emergences and negentropic emergences, positive feedback and chaotic processes. If there is an informational quality to contemporary culture, then it might be not so much because we exchange more information than before, or even because we buy, sell or copy informational commodities, but because cultural processes are taking on the attributes of information—they are increasingly grasped and conceived in terms of their informational dynamics.

- Tiziana Terranova, Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age

Post internet[1], post media [2], post media aesthetics[3], radicant art[4], dispersion[5], formatting[6], meme art[7], circulationism[8]—all recent terms to describe networked art that does not use the internet as its sole platform, but instead as a crucial nexus around which to research, transmit, assemble, and present data, online and offline. I think all of the writers advancing these terms share a sense that since the rise of mainstream internet culture and social media, art is more fluid, elastic, and dispersed. As Lauren Cornell astutely points out in the recent  "Post Internet" roundtable for Frieze, terms are always placeholders for more complex ideas, and when successful, can instigate further, deeper conversation. Towards that end, I'd like to introduce another word to the list—expanded. Drawing from the definition of expansion as "the action or process of spreading out or unfolding; the state of being spread out or unfolded," I consider "expansion" not as an outward movement from a fixed entity, but rather, in light of data's dispersed nature, a continual becoming.[9] Expanded internet art is not viewed as hermetic, but instead as a continuously multiple element that exists within a distributed, networked system. In order to elaborate this term, and to take small steps towards thinking through the changing conditions for art production in the early 21st century, I will use Tiziana Terranova's notion of an "informational milieu" to describe the dynamic process of exchange among artist, artwork, and network.

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