Transmediale 2008

Transmediale festival took place in Berlin three weeks ago, here is a brief report from my brief visit...


This year's Transmediale featured quite many Pixelache / Mal au Pixel alumni artists and projects, like Société Réaliste with their 'Transitioners' brand development project for revolutions, YKON group who has been working with micronations, Marius Watz the organiser of Generator.x and Naeem Mohaiemen, who received a honorary mention for the Vilém Flusser Theory Award (congrats Naeem!).



Generator.x 2.0 in Berlin / Jared Tarbell, spheroids and cubes (photo by Jared)


The theme of Transmediale was CONSPIRE..., featuring art projects that try to reveal conspiratorial strategies, or use these strategies themselves. The theme was a good choise; it focuses on an obsession that is common for many media/tech artists and activists. This obsession is often a fruitful and productive one - all kinds of diy tools, technologies and artworks have been inspired by a serious distrust towards corporations, states and other institutions. The main target for conspiracy theories today is Google, the company with a modest goal, to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.

One of the Transmediale seminars discussed issues related to GWEI - Google Will Eat Itself, an art project that has a straightforward mission: 'We generate money by serving Google text advertisements on a network of hidden Websites. With this money we automatically buy Google shares.' Anyone can join this noble mission by becoming a shareholder of GTTP (Google To The People Public Company).

Google itself has not been a big fan of GWEI: the project was actually removed from Google's search engine (so that it was impossible to find it with Google), but after a few months it was allowed to appear again. The artists never received any proper information from Google about why they were banned and why the ban was removed.



The merry folks behind GWEI have also been involved in Amazon Noir - The Big Book Crime, an automated piece of software that makes books available online for free by grabbing them page by page from by missusing the 'look inside' feature. This project received the second prize for this year's Transmediale award.


Many people might not appreciate this kind of creativity, and would rather consider there projects to be simply illegal, or even bordering on 'international terrorist activity'. This common opinion is what the artists are trying to manipulate, by demonstrating how the current law system has not been able to keep up with the development of new communication technologies. A good example of this was presented in another Transmediale seminar, The Greying Of The Commons: IP, The Law And The Street, Rasmus Fleischer spoke about the current court case against torrent search engine Pirate Bay (see presentation text). The arguments of the Swedish procecutor of why Pirate Bay is illegal would also make the services of RapidShare and Google illegal.


The law system definitely tries its best to shut down these projects - an earlier project ( from UBERMORGEN (one of the GWEI creators) resulted in multiple lawsuits in US, the total amount of paper that detailed these lawsuits weighted around 700 kilograms (!). Mr Ubermorgen was speaking about this last week in the Economie 0 seminar, he said that gave the US court system a simple reply that their servers are located in Europe and the US law has nothing to do with them. Pirate Bay has been equally successful in slipping away from the law system, they have compiled a list of legal threats that they have received over the years.

It is not only the legal system that is fragile today, it is the actual information infrastructure that can be easily manipulated. Not only the artists that are taking the advantage of this, as can be demonstrated by the on-going subprime mortage crisis, the case of Jérôme Kerviel and the lone trader who caused $100-a-barrel oil surge. Who are the ones behaving recklessly beyond the law, the GWEI artists or the stock market manipulators? What they both have in common is a high level of technical expertise that allows them to perform stunts that are difficult to control by any authorities.

Another art project that could be connected to international political turmoil in future is The tool makes it possible to browse webpages that have been banned or censored by sending them via internet as images, a strategy that spammers are already actively using. The artists traveled to China and over three weeks tested their system over the Golden Shield, the Great Firewall of China.




Check out video documentation of some of the seminars on Transmediale website.


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A few more comments about Transmediale:


* I unfortunately had only a short visit to the exhibition curated by Natasa Petresin-Bachelez but there was a lot of interesting work, and not only work that involves new media and technologies. Transmediale used to call itself a 'media art festival' but changed its title a couple of years ago to 'festival of art and digital culture', this year it seemed that the focus on 'art' was in the exhibition and on 'digital culture' in the seminars. You can find a good review of the show at WMMNA.


* One project that I personally enjoyed was the Moving Forest by Shu Lea Cheang and Martin Howse, who had gathered a massive team of people to work with them. The project was very difficult to follow, it lasted for 12 hours and took place in various locations inside and outside the main Transmediale venue.

Moving Forest, 'The Castle' code projected on a wall (photo: Juha Huuskonen)

Two teams ('The Forest' and 'The Castle') were engaged in 'a battle' that involved sending various data signals between the teams, and turning these signals into sounds and images, but also there were various performative interruptions going on. The fact that I don't actually know what was going on is what made the project interesting for me, it added a welcome doses of confusion to otherwise rather strictly organised Transmediale.


* Last but not least: We want better food! ;)... An easy way to make Transmediale a much more enjoyable event would be to get proper food served at HKW...