This year’s edition of Transmediale seemed slightly smaller than previous rounds and focused more on ideas than technology. Entitled “Fly Utopia!,” it allowed all sorts of takes on the topic, and proved to be much more enriching on the subject than last summer’s similarly focused Utopia Station project at the Venice Bienalle. The highlights included Norman Klein’s “Bleeding Through: Layers of Los Angeles,” a DVD essay that is rich in content and elegant in design (Klein’s discussion on possible designs for utopias with John Thackara was just as enlightening and wide-ranging). David Crawford’s “Stop Motion Studies” proved an oddly compelling work built from simple animations of public transit riders. Bernard Gigounon’s Starship turned the simple passage of boats into something both humorous and unworldly. And the charms of Jeroen Offerman’s Stairway at St. Paul’s eight minute one-liner only grow as the piece unfolds.
But the big winner, both in terms of prize money and popular response was Zhou Hongxiang’s “The Red Flag Flies,” a video examining the changing status of a communist utopia in contemporary China. People in a variety of highly staged scenes recite Maoist slogans while holding tiny Chinese flags. The words seem at once meaningful and meaningless, and the actors appear to know this even as their performances reveal a deep ambiguity around just how inhabit them.