Art Seen: International

AFTERGLOW // TRANSMEDIALE 2014

by Dominique Moulon

This winter in Berlin, two complementary events share the same public: Transmediale, with its dedication to digital arts and culture, and the CTM Festival, which focuses on sonic practices and electronic music. The Transmediale has gradually evolved over its 27 years, and the especially strong focus on video practices involved this year have naturally given way to digital culture. Kristoffer Gansing, the artistic director of the event this year, focuses on our Post Digital era, considering this 2014 edition the “diagnosis of the current status of digital hovering between ‘trash and treasure.[1]” The choice of an anonymous portrait photographed by John Einar Sandvand on a background of a dump in Phnom Penh is an identity marker for Transmediale 2014. The aesthetics of the output is perfectly symbolized in the e-waste that artists Michael Ang and Jonah Brucker-Cohen have “revived” during their workshop entitled Art Hack Day, grouping about 80 participants at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt during the duration of 48 hours. The piece also evokes the unloaded data of URL shortening services that Justin Blinder and Benjamin Gaulon, who are both very attached to the practice of recycling, manage to eradicate without permission. Digital technologies in this Berlin winter are at the center of debates about monitoring data and people – between Big Data and Big Brother.

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John Einar Sandvand, Cambodia Tales, 2009.

Conferences and panels, such as the grouping of Jacob Appelbaum, Trevor Paglen, and Laura Poitras, follow one upon the other at Haus der Kulturen der Welt. As for the festival itself, subtitled Afterglow, it features some photographic images from the series Untitled (Reaper Drone) taken by Paglen – images of “secret” technologies taken from a great distance. There, among the images, a picture of a morning sky, whose milky aspect evokes atmospheres that pervaded the landscapes of Romantic painting, such as the Punta della Dogana by JMW Turner in 1843, in particular, an element is to be discovered in the latent image. What interests Paglen are the visible parts of secret activities the United States participates in, in government organizations, the army, and the CIA. Paglen illustrates it is not difficult to know where these observation or combat drones take off – piloted with controllers similar to video game consoles. In watching the subject who watches us “in secret”, Paglen photographs the skies in which tiny details that are barely visible manage to withdraw the work from abstraction.

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Trevor Paglen, “Untitled (Reaper Drone)”, 2010.

CTM, which emerged from Transmediale, appears to have finally gained its independence. The exhibition The Generation Z: Renoise, organized by Andrey Smirnov on the emergence of sound art in the Russian avant-garde, features, in particular, a film entitled Enthusiasm (1930) by Dziga Vertov, whose soundtrack is the first historical record of what we now call the practice of field recording – the director had recorded urban and industrial sounds with a device in 1929. One can also play the musical instrument designed by Léon Theremin in 1919 in another room of the Künstlerhaus Bethanien without even touching it, managing the volume with the left hand and the pitch with the right. In addition to being one of the oldest electronic musical instruments, the Theremin was highly appreciated by music composers of science fiction movies of the 1950s. Generation Z reveals the historical origins of the correspondence between graphics and tone through soundtracks literally drawn by Arseny Avraamov, in Ornamental Sound, from 1929–30, that a number of sound artists today have reactivated.

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Andrey Smirnov, CTM Festival, 2014.

The Ernst Schering Foundation, dedicated to bringing together the arts and sciences, presented a partner exhibition An Ecosystem of Excess by Pinar Yoldas. A native of Turkey and living in the United States when not in residence in Berlin, Yoldas presented the organs and species of a “speculative biology,” considering the essential role of the oceans in the emergence of life on Earth, according to the theory of primordial soup. In knowing our ability to pollute the bodies of water with ever increasing amounts of plastic, she examines the existence of the vortex of waste discovered in 1997 by oceanographer Charles J. Moore in the North Pacific. “The ocean, according to him, has been turned into a plastic soup,” says Yoldas, her reflection on this discovery is imagined in her plastivore or plasto-sensitive organs. Everything in her eco-system of excess is coloured, down to the bird feathers done in Pantone colours, while simultaneously asking the question: what life forms may emerge from this “contemporary primordial ooze”?

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Pinar Yoldas, “ An Ecosystem of Excess”, 2014, © Sascha Krischock.

The exhibition Schizophrenia, on view at the Collegium Hungaricum, is dedicated to the Taiwanese new media art scene. Previously unveiled during Ars Electronica in Linz, and again at Cyberfest in St. Petersburg, the exhibition will soon be presented at the Maison des Metallos in Paris, followed by the Instants Vidéo in Marseille. The multichannel video installation The Unconscious Voyage by Wan-Jen Chen is featured – the world it represents is flat, grey, and infinite. The people who live there are only passing through. They move quickly, strangely rushed within a stretched sense of time, without any beginning or end. Nothing can disturb them or remove them from their personal stories, as if their lives were parallel to one another, with no chance of intersecting. The scene evokes the ordinary mornings – whether in the corridors of Penn Station, the Gare du Nord, or Shinjuku, when ignorance prevails over sharing.

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Wan-Jen Chen, “ The Unconscious Voyage”, 2008.

In the Mitte district, there are a few galleries who set up in an old Jewish girls’ school that has just been renovated (Auguststraße 11-13), where the 1503 series by Christian Tagliavini can be seen. The nine photographic portraits reference the date of birth of the Florentine mannerist, Bronzino. Tagliavini patiently crafts caps, collars, and dickies out of cardboard, inspired by the liberties taken by the 16th century mannerist painters in the representation of the body. Lucrezia seems to have too many vertebrae, as is the case for La Grande Odalisque by Ingres.

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Albrecht Pischel, “8mm film”, 2009, © Uwe Walter, Courtesy Eigen + Art Gallery.

The exhibition Still (not) Moving at Eigen + Art, curated by Dieter Daniels, brings together a few artistic proposals situated precisely between photography and film. The three-minute 8mm film loop projected in the gallery was taken by Albrecht Pischel with camera in hand at the MoMA in New York. The sequence shot represents the painting Vir Heroicus Sublimus (1950-1951) by Barnett Newman – over time, consecutive vertical stripes produced from wear, come to add to those originally painted by the artist, though viewers cannot visually separate the pictorial from the filmic. Another work by Pischel features a 16mm projection of an image that evokes the photographic scenery of the American West, where there is a waterfall provided on mini-applications from Apple’s operating systems. Titled Yosemite, the piece is even more monumental in the fragility of its analogue demonstration than it is on a flat screen – in depicting a distance between space and time, the sense of proximity appears evermore distant in this installation.

 

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Text by Dominique Moulon for digitalmcd.com and translated by Geoffrey Finch.

Founder of MediaArtDesign.net, Dominique Moulon is an art critic and independent curator. He has recently published the eBook Contemporary New Media Art and teaches in several Parisian schools and universities.


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