Transmediale this year seemed to be a routine affair, with no single exhibition, performance, or presentation standing out as a marker of the new media state of the art. Perhaps this absence speaks for itself, but with a background of economic malaise and impending war it comes as no surprise that the both the festival theme, “Play Global,” and latest takes in electronic art and culture practice looked a bit flat here. Only Peter Greenaway’s presentation of his new multi-perspectived movie/website/tv series/interactive DVD/book/exhibition Tulse Luper Suitcases seemed to generate much buzz. This was as much due to his engaging personal style as it was to the fact that big money (in experimental new media terms) was being spent to provide high production values and a strong cultural and media presense to ideas that have been common currency in interactive art practice for the last decade or more.
Other noteworthy Transmediale events:
- Writer David Toop read excerpts from an upcoming book about his travels to research, curate, and create sonic environments worldwide. Late in the reading he described a “crisis of memory” resulting from the ingestion of too much data, music, and other media stimulus. It wasn’t clear whether he intended his free-form writing style and the live soundscape mix that accompanied his talk to provoke its own crisis of memory, but it had that effect.
- “I Love You”, an exhibit on the history of computer viruses, reprised a show presented last year in Frankfurt. Featuring examples of code, screenshots of infected computers, and information about hacking practice, the show was engaging up to the point where you realized that it had been sponsored by a computer security firm that had their own promotional area set up as part of the exhibit.
- Also on the virus track Jodi‘s show, “INSTALL.EXE” at local gallery Büro Friedrich featured distressed operating systems and a series of games made for ancient ZX Spectrum computers (each of which holds a mighty 48k of memory and has their programs loaded by cassette). Though the press release said that the exhibition was an important step out of the “crisis of web art”, the show’s presentation didn’t do much to alter the usual format of screen-based work awkwardly deployed in a gallery setting. One was tempted to imagine it as an example of the “crisis of web art presentation”, though in fairness this problem has been around far too long to be called a crisis and Jodi’s usually savvy work could scarcely help but suffer when taken out of its normal internet context.
Elsewhere in Berlin Heike Baranowsky’s “American Skies” at Galerie Barbara Weiss features three videos of land and sky scenes from the United States: one in the California desert, one of a blimp slowly turning over Pasadena - its silhouette changing shapes in a hypnotizing ballet from oblong to disk and back again, and one of a flock of birds moving around a watertower in Illinois. The pieces all look sharp, but the latter piece, “Die Vögel” (The Birds) does have the misfortune to be shown at this time of year when the slowly lengthening days here encourage the perpetual crow population to circle hard into the sky in anticipation of spring. One must puzzle as to whom would pony up 12,000 euros for a DVD of the midwest birds when a much more wonderous version can be seen here at no cost during any snow-free dusk.
Caught at the Berlinale film festival, Joerg Siepmann’s “Golden Lemons” is a documentary about a two-week tour of an aging punk band, Hamburg’s Die Goldenen Zitronen, through the West Coast and Southwest a few months after September 11. Sharing the tour and tour bus with Grand Buffet, an unlikely rap duo who sing about things like finding a lost cat and their love of candy bars, and headliner Wesley Willis, a 350-pound schizophrenic black man whose songs sung over a programmed keyboard are as engaging and and oblique as he is, the German crew with their anti-capitalist messages and terse sound find themselves lost in numerous ways. As the grind of playing in small, sometimes hostile venues and staying at truckstops wears on, Die Goldenen Zitronen become increasingly puzzled by and alienated from both their immediate surroundings and the culture that they are traveling through. At one point an electronic billboard over one truckstop promises temporary relief consisting of “Showers, ATM, Time,” but here these things seem like nothing more than devices to enable a portable exile. Though Grand Buffet seem aware of their limited shelf life and Willis knows he will always be an outsider, they at least can navigate through the travel and gigs and boredom without letting it get to them. The Zitronen have no such luck. “Do you believe in rock and roll?”, the group asks at the beginning of every concert, “Well we don’t.” A portrait of displacement on numerous levels, I can scarcely remember a film that presents so many different kinds of malaise concurrently.