My last visit to Berlin was in 1990 in early March, a few months after the fall of the Berlin wall, Checkpoint Charlie was still in operation while I was there, East Berlin still wearing the ragged clothing of tears of Soviet rule; the flower stall, a bucket of daffodils, the greengrocer shop => a pile of huge unwashed potatoes with can of Coca-Cola placed on top.
Families wander through the park, some leaning up against hot dog stand – the whole family sharing one hot dog. Trabants broken all along the barbed wire fenced motorway leading out of Berlin to West Germany, rows of repaired identical alarm clocks with identical cardboard labels waiting for customers to collect them in the department store. Capitalism manifests again in grimy car parks with Polish families on blankets, selling their children’s toys for bread as vile West Germans swoop in to buy up the bric-a-brac from the comfort of their Mercedes and Bmws.
Today, Capitalism oozes out of every crevice, from the ‘hipster’ Kreutzberg to the immense tower blocks capturing space all over the city. It was a shock to me, to see the transformation of a city – and yet, the energy and power of the city and its people helped me forget my memories of the 80’s and threw me into a future… But why does no-one speak German?
I recall why I am in the city, I continue my innocent ventures into Computational Art spend almost all of my four days attending Transmediale 2018 – I decided from the outset that I would attend as many talks as I could endure, allowing for mental/physical fatigue. My college classmates roll in at 06:30 just as I get dressed and showered…
No, I did not ‘enjoy’ all the talks, however, overall the sessions were all extremely stimulating but I had my likes and dislikes.
First, the dislikes.
The panel discussion Nefarious Values: On Artistic Critique and ComplicityMarc Garrett, Eric Kluitenberg, Sven Lütticken, Ana Teixeira Pinto, belit sağ, Lioudmila Voropai,Moderated by Marc Garrett
Eric K was absent. Sven Lütticken gave a measured, slightly vague presentation, discussing the rising inequality and failure of capitalism. Lioudmilla Voropai was really hard to follow, her English was not flowing and presentation poor. Her main points were concerned solely on the aspect of critique; how the artist will develop his/her practice. She seemed to ramble and was not able to communicate and made any points with clarity. Ana Teixeira Pinto was not much better, more concerned with rattling off a very dense text she read out and proudly proclaimed she finished in 2 minutes 30 seconds in the allotted 5-minute time slot. The third panellist (NOT LISTED) over-ran but showed a 2-minute video concerned with the plight of Kurds and war criminals in Turkey/ censorship. She was earnest and genuine I felt but the moderator seemed to take a dislike to her and challenged her, demanding she gave some ‘answers/solutions’ to the problem. I left feeling quite annoyed at the pompous Ludmilla, the vague co-presenters and felt it a wasted hour.
‘Fuck Off Google’ was another disappointment to me, if only because it reminded me of the unfocused anarchist meetings I attended during the ‘occupy’ period over 2011. The general posits; to demonstrate against the start up space and Google’s plan to move into the (already gentrified) Kreuzberg, a distinctly bohemian/creative area of east Berlin, to what the presenters claimed was becoming rapidly becoming gentrified. The two presenters were convincing enough but I felt I could have spent less time at the session, even though I arrived a few minutes late. It made me conclude; how far can we divorce ourselves from the racial capitalism that continues to dominate our world without completely descending into nihilism? We have a tension between the world as we have it and an idealised world we would like to have. It is important to speak up and point out imperfections, one of which is how ‘greenwashing’ – crumbs of money off the table to appear green and ‘right on/trendy/cool’ by corporates such as Google, how Google has gentrified cities like San Francisco – now Berlin is in the sights of Google. I felt the motivation of the talk was valid but the free form questioning exposed how little the speakers had to say and went on too long.
However, I really liked all the other presentations of the day, particularly the keynote speech by Jonathan Beller; Derivative Living: “Platform Communism: A Program for Derivative Living Against Regimes of Informatic Subsumption”. It is worth following up with the video of his talk:
Beller described eloquently and in a well-structured way, Toxic Media, Toxic Finance, Toxic Information and New Economic Spaces/ECSA.
His conclusion; blockchain offers technologies to frame a means of enabling small communities to bypass the toxic capitalist system, offering a small window of opportunity for those imagining a new beginning. He did not claim to describe how this all may play out as he stated the tech was still in its infancy. The questions raised at the end were excellent also, challenging him but he maintained composure and responded credibly.
Another favourite of mine, a keynote speech by Professor Lisa Nakaruma ‘Call Out, Protest, Speak Back’, I found to be the most memorable and thought-provoking. Nishant Shah gave an excellent presentation and introduced Professor Nakaruma as being inspirational to him.
Her talk revealed my own ignorance, but that was OK, because I benefited – I followed up on her talk – reading up on bell hooks, Audre Lord et al. Prof. N. points out examples of misogyny and racism ‘strengthened and consumed’ in gaming platforms, also presentations VR technology products – particularly via ‘new media’ . She offers an example; a black woman being seen using a VR product is not only shallow but also reveals the efforts by tech companies to counter balance expectations to show their true white middle-class customer base. A stroppy member of the audience pipes up 1 hour 16 minutes in the Q and A, demanding an explanation from Nakaruma, claiming she ‘knew’ VR and how it works… the audience howled in horror! Prof. N calmly agrees, she does not know how to make VR but asks us to see how these products are being sold. Well worth listening to.
Perhaps I attended too many talks, overloading my brain – however – in no particular order of merit, all good: ‘Soundtrack for Webcams – Live’,
‘Hard Feelings: A Conversation on Computation and Affect’ (with my lecturer Helen Pritchard), ‘The Space In-Between: The Value of Interpretation and Interaction for the Next Generation Internet’, ‘Politics of Forgetfulness’,‘Calculating Life’ (With Heather Dewey-Hagborg, excellent!), ‘Artists Re:Thinking the Blockchain ‘, ‘Reimagine the Internet: Affect, Velocity, Excess’, ‘The Weaponization of Language’ and ‘Growing a Repertoire: The Preservation of Net Art as Resistance to Digital Industrialism.’