After 5 days or so of –often quite engaging and definitely timely—talks, discussions, debates and long lineups (to the performances, the panels, the parties), it’s over. I survived my first transmediale. It was a tiring and intense experience: maybe because I was a participant myself and found myself stuck between the desire to absorb as much content tossed around as I could and the urge to prepare the material of my intervention.

However, I am sure, even those who have been attending since its inception were not untouched by the intense pace of transmediale, including those ultra-organized folks who were able to take images and almost instantaneously post them on Facebook; those who would take notes at the “in/compatible” panels in the auditorium (and second later, would post them on Nettime, Netbehaviour, Faces and other well-known mailinglists) and then would magically re-materialize (Star Trek style) downstairs at the reSource events in the K1; those who were symbiotically attached to their Tweetdeck and were even able to fire their tweets while sitting in their own panels.

I am a terrible multitasker. At transmediale, I immediately switched into tunnel vision mode, anchoring myself to the thematic clusters that mostly had something to do with the lab that Alessandra Renzi and I ran on Feb 2, an itinerant experimental lab going by the name of Sandbox Project [1]. I’d rather not linger on this project here. I would like to hear what other people think about our project, rather than write (though useful to us and definitely fitting the topics of Transmediale) a self-critique.

After all, a full report with pictures, comments and outcomes is available on our website/blog/quintessential web 2.0 platform (translation: online platform using anything free or free of charge we could find …an experiment in itself to see where this approach will take us until the system decides that we can’t stay there as “parasites” but have to “contribute” –in monetary terms…or find more sustainable ways to get the word out).

Still, rather than a merely descriptive report, the following is a brief “partisan account” from someone who had her eyes peeled on specific themes and had an invested interest in finding out how the leading arguments proposed by this year’s festival would both play out together and clashed; how the variety of panels, workshops and presentations would both showcase major issues in the area of media, arts and politics and pointed to newer unexplored one.

I find it very telling that of all the panels offered at Transmediale I ended up attending most reSource talks and debates [2], and that the keywords and comments contained in my sparse notes were uncannily (and conveniently) connected with the key questions I had in mind when I arrived in Berlin on the frigid Saturday morning preceding the event. Some of the issues and ideas emerged resonated strongly with the questions that came out during the Sandbox experiment itself.

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I hadn’t chosen to participate to reSource exclusively. However, upon receiving my program, I was immediately attracted by what reSource had to offer, as its statement of intent promised, in terms of new modes of non-hierarchical and unexpected collaborations, the construction of an interdisciplinary network that sincerely aspired to address and transcend the divisions between academia and the rest of the world, a network that bridged reflection and praxis; theoretical ruminations and abstraction, and hands on culture. Last but not least, I was interested in seeing how an initiative like reSource could grow outside of the institutional space of the Transmediale Festival into the city of Berlin, and maybe somewhere else.

The unique synergies vowed by reSource, a program curated by Tatiana Bazzichelli, were reinforced by the location: I probably would not have found the same atmosphere in the official panels that took place upstairs in the dispersive and more formal space of the auditorium, where theory and practice was carefully demarcated, and well-known names and personalities competed on the extensive stage to deliver their finding to a rather impersonal audience. I imagined that a different atmosphere could be created in the more intimate and flexible space of the K1 (K stands for Kantine, if my rusty German serves me well, which suggest some sort of familiar, an informal environment) and the Café Stage (another “user-friendly” location).

In general, not only all sessions manifested a strong desire to move away from traditional discursive framings, behavioral norms and economic models, but they also indicated that this process was already in progress. During each reSource sessions I attended, It was as if each project and idea were wide open to further discussion, or were waiting to mix with and accommodate new ideas. As participants appeared to be there to stir the conversation, rather than just promote their own personal project, the audience maintained an active and engaged attitude, mostly engaging in lively and honest discussions.

The strategic publication and launch of World of the News, a newspaper originating from the PhD seminar and conference In/compatible Research (November 16-18, 2011) [3] at the start of transmediale set the tone and the general approach to the program. Mixing academics and graduate students, artists and practitioners, this early workshop had strived to foster the same type of collaborative practice that was now played on a larger scale at the Festival.

I was intrigued by the proactive approach of reSource, critical of the paradoxes and the “in/compatibilities” that characterize today’s world order, yet involved in new practices that aimed at making a (or some) difference. Thus, issues regarding the gap rich/poor and the –often invisible, but not unreal—hierarchies emerging from different forms of labor; the disconnect between the interest of the banks and the markets imperatives on the one hand, and people on the other; the clash between our dream for a sustainable future and our unwillingness to renounce our small comforts and privileges; the obsession of representability as a form of control against the complexity of the irrepresentable etc… were definitely seen through a refreshing perspective.

For instance, I was struck by how resistance to the free-market paradigm of standardized and impersonal goods could come in the form of a very concrete alternative freight network that exploited the potentials of social networks to run independently from traditional global commercial systems, as in the case of the ambiguously hybrid art/business project presented by Kate Rich [4]. In addition, I was pleased to see how some of the most innovative proposals to put a stop to the eternal cycle based on greed and speculation put in place by the bank system would not come from the world of finance but from the hacker community, with digital coinage representing a more sustainable, decentralized, and resilient alternative to the current flow capital [5].

This is great news, but also not surprising at all, since today’s financial and monetary systems are based on a paradigm whose goal, as Jaromil clearly elucidated in his talk, is to perpetuate a status quo by giving people the impression of freedom and flexibility when in reality the system has gradually crystallized into a top down control engine. This system takes advantage of individuals’ unwillingness to renounce the existing structure and to search for (and thus take risks) a completely new one that works for them.

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Whether or not the above initiatives could really make a “difference” in the worldwide order is not what constitutes the important contribution of the practices showcased and discussed during reSource. On the contrary, I believe that their significance lies in the critical momentum they created during their brief encounters, rather than in their single and immediate outcome. In other words, the lose streams under which reSource was methodically organized (reSource Methods, Activism, Market, Networks, Sex) only drew generic guidelines and inevitably ended up combining radically different projects whose similarities were only superficial, and open to discussion.

Despite the necessary division into different streams, the featured projects could not be confined to single thematic containers, since all of them addressed, to different degrees, issues pertaining to networks, activism, methods, etc.. Furthermore, more specific themes had a tendency to recur across panels and projects creating a continuous crosscontamination and transmitting an overall idea of coherence: for instance, issues of alienation, labor and exploitation were raised during the panel “Commercialising Eros” [6] as well as in the one about the “Crashed Economy…” panel [7];

the relation and the potential conflicts arising from the coexistence of different typologies of activism and political/social tactics (including a discussion about violence that seemed to acquire a somehow sterile and polarizing pro vs con approach) emerged from disparate discussions that ranged from reflections on Capitalism and its (neoliberal) discontents to subjectivity and collective identity [8].

Given this flexible structure, participants, projects, and interventions often confronted each other on similar yet differently interpreted themes or were invited to find points of contact between projects that had no apparent relations. One such occasion was during the already mentioned discussion on subjectivity in activist networks. Featuring two apparently opposite projects, one being the product of a collective effort to unify a large group under one single iconic figure, and the other the project of an artist/activist currently disenchanted with repetitive and traditional collective action (e.g. postering, protesting picketing etc..).

In both cases, diametrically opposite endeavors unveiled a common drive towards stimulating a general interest and gathering support for important principles such as education and the environment.

In the first case, the character of Anna Adamolo [9], a fictitious Italian minister of education whose name is the anagram of Onda Anomala (anomalous wave) was used as a way to unify the heterogeneous Italian student movement, and to make the struggle of the students hit by the recent myopic reforms of education visible to the media, to other students and to the layperson. This solution, which drew inspiration from the tradition of religious icons and images of saints [10], was meant to catalyze attention (more than what a protest would) and to metonymically become the symbol with which all students potentially identify.

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Conversely, Victoria Estok’s Interpelled [11], a sound project that utilizes a hypersonic sound device (a sound laser) to deliver messages to, or to evoke emotional responses from, targeted individuals, appeared to have the opposite goal. Standing outside the Hotel where the representatives of the 2010 Climate Change Summit were sojourning, the environmental activist and sound artist proceeded to transmit to them sounds of children playing: instead of incentivizing the identification of a group under a collective identity, Estok appealed to the individual conscience and the emotional responses of a few.

Despite the different objectives and context of Estok and of the collective behind Anna Adamolo, self-identified as the heteronym Salvatrice Settis, the two interventions had strong points of contact. In fact, whether the intervention was made to encourage a collective self-identification or to single out specific individuals, the common belief that new forms of creative interventions that in many occasions are deemed as “just art” could work as more than legitimate forms of activism, resulting most effective in the most unexpected situations.

While the lose themes of the reSource program functioned to link a diverse range of projects together, they often worked as starting point for much wider discussions and triggered more complex and general reflections on the issues at stake and on their relations to worldwide socio-political aspects. The “Commercialising eros” discussion, which generated an animated debate still ongoing in various mailinglists [12], is one case in point. The panel featured a diverse group of individuals involved with the sex industry at various levels: as sex workers, like Liad Hussein Kantorowicz, a Palestinian-Israeli activist and performing artist who carried out her profession online and engaged in a practical demonstration of what it means to live as a sex worker; as human right activists, like SWAN coordinator and human right activist Aliya Rakhmetova [13],whose concern is to improve the living conditions and the rights of sex workers in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia by means of a wide network of solidarity and advocacy;

as employees of online pornography sites, like Jacob Appelbaum, who did not engage in sex work proper, but spent the early years of his career working for the IT department of a pornography and sex toys enterprise, witnessing first-hand the labor divisions and the social and economic dynamics of such enterprise; as artists and queer activists such as Zach Blas, whose work Queer Technologies uses “queered” toys to raise awareness on and subvert sexual stereotypes [14].

Because of the variety of the panel, which represented widely different perspectives on the significance and on the perception of sex work, because of the broad definition and the variety of sex work itself, and, one should admit, because of the stereotypes and biases that affected the judgment and the responses of the audience, the discussion located the different aspects of sex work into the general context of the economy of labor and on the issue (also connected to the latter) of whether consent could be considered what makes sex work a profession and not rape.

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While the above discussion never quite touched specific core issues related to the sex work industry, it was instrumental in laying down the precedents for further reflection. This is another important element that characterized the series of panels and events offered by the reSource program: by the end of each session, the initial focus of each panel would inevitably open up to accommodate further investigations.

For instance, the focus on labor of the above panel revealed that there was something missing in the picture, that is, a sustained reflection on the distinction between different types of sex work and how adding such definition to the equation can ultimately affect the way we see such profession: after all, there is a huge difference between performing in front of a web camera, talking at the phone, starring in movies and engaging with real life clients on the street.

The naming of the problem of consent, which helped frame the discussion around sex labor, revealed how we might understand this activity in the much wider context of neoliberal capitalism (thus enabling the connection with other activities unassociated with sex work but also manifesting similar patterns of labor exploitation). On a different note, the mixing of different projects and interventions under a few umbrella terms revealed the actual variety and dramatically different contexts that accommodate the projects presented during the sessions.

For instance, the phenomenon of Anna Adamolo, popular in Italy, but probably almost unknown outside of Italy, is characterized by a cultural specificity that was only made clear during the question period and that was explained not without difficulties thanks to some inquiries from the audience (i.e. its link to a certain iconography and socio-political tradition, which explains the reasons behind the use of such fictional character).

The context of reSource was surrounded by a number of art projects that had relevance for the general Transmediale in/compatible theme as well as the reSource subthemes. For instance, the Telekommunisten’s R15N [15] utilized traditional phone technologies to invert our habit to select those with whom we want to communicate and to only function within a delineated and closed social network (though repetitive and unoriginal), a tendency that recurred during the discussions and that was repeatedy criticized during reSource.

People who had registered with the system would receive random calls from other registered individuals and were encouraged to have a conversation. A phone installed in strategic locations around the KHW (at the entrance and at the café stage where people tended to gather between sessions and which hosted a series of events) would ring every once in a while.

Answering would connect you to a random individual. Interestingly, once the phone numbers of the stations were known, one could reverse engineer the process and call with specific requests and tasks to be accomplished by whomever was in the vicinity and dared picking up the phone (for instance one could ask the responder to look for a specific person). This tactic was used during the sandbox project to encourage the audience attending the open session to exit their comfort zone and not only to cooperate, but also to trust unknown individuals giving them instructions.

Thus, the apparent miscommunication produced by R15N surprisingly restored a more community-centred (as in made of people) social structure while revealing the limitation of today’s super-hyped web 2.0 social networks (whose alleged decentralized structure is redirected and recentralized around small clusters of easily controllable individuals).

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A second project, the One year Google project [16] by interface artist Johannes Osterhoff achieved somehow similar effects, this time using Google as the preferred technology. Osterhoff had agreed to record and make public his Google search during one year, an action that basically would reveal, potentially to the world, his interests, his research and other private details about his personal life. During Transmediale, a number of individuals were asked to do the same. His project not only shows how a simple search on Google can reveal a lot about the personality and the interests of each individual, but in doing so he also asks questions about who really owns and is in charge of the Internet.


Note:

[1]http://sandboxproject.wordpress.com/

[2] - http://www.transmediale.de/festival/resource

[3] – the blog of the seminar could be found here http://darc.imv.au.dk/incompatible/ you can also download a copy of the newspaper here http://darc.imv.au.dk/worldofthenewspaper.pdf

[4] - http://www.feraltrade.org/cgi-bin/courier/courier.pl

[5] – for more information, see http://DYNDY.net, and http://FreeCoin.ch . A very interesting interview on Dyndy can be found here www.digicult.it/digimag/article.asp?id=1984

[6] – Commercializing eros, on Feb. 4 http://www.transmediale.de/content/commercialising-eros

[7] – Crashed Economy, Debugging and Rebooting, on Feb 3 http://www.transmediale.de/content/crashed-economy-debugging-and-rebooting

[8] – Among others, part one of “What Capitalism?” on Feb 3 and the panel entitled Isolation and Empowerment, also on Feb. 3 http://www.transmediale.de/content/isolation-and-empowerment-after-web-20

[9] – Anna Adamolo (Onda Anomala) http://parcodiyellowstone.it/anna_adamolo/

[10] – see for instance the earlier phenomenon of St. Precario, the saint patron of Precarious workers, or Serpica Naro (anagram of St. Precario), the mascot of the precarious workers in the fashion industry.

[11] – Victoria Estok http://victoriaestok.com/art/interpelled-hyper-sonic-sound-at-cop16-cancun-mexico/

[12] – see for example the discussion about consent and sexwork as affective labor generated on the Nettime mailinglist http://www.mail-archive.com/nettime-l@mail.kein.org/msg00795.html

[13] – Sex Workers’ Rights Advocacy Network (SWAN) http://swannet.org/

[14] – see Zach Blas http://www.zachblas.info/ and Queer Technologies http://www.queertechnologies.info/

[15] - http://r15n.net/tm12/ by Dmitry Keliner, Baruch Gottlieb and the Telekomunisten

[16] - http://www.johannes-p-osterhoff.com/interface-art/google-one-year-piece by Johannes P. Osterhoff

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