About the Festival

About the Festival

Andreas Broeckmann

1. For media art it seems that the festival is indisputably the most prominent event form. Visual art presents itself to the public primarily in the form of exhibitions, theory in texts and lectures, music in concerts. Yet when disciplinary boundaries and the work character of art are crossed, as in media art, then an open, hybrid form like the festival is needed, which not only tolerates diversity, inconsistency and excess, but actually raises them to a principle. With an exhibition of interactive installations and video projections, a conference, an international competition, a public media lounge for comfortably viewing Internet, software and CD-Rom projects, artist workshops and club events with electronic music and live video performances taking place alongside and sometimes parallel to one another, the festival not only offers a wealth of possibilities for finding things that are unexpected, raw, but also for making surprising connections. What is already familiar is a necessary redundancy, the noise that makes the signal transfer possible.

It is one of the characteristics of the festival that it supplies an overabundance of possibilities and offers. It is intended to be a low-threshold presentation platform and specialized media workshop, seeking simply to show art and to convey it theoretically in context as well as to have fun, to arouse curiosity, to make young artists famous and the audience hungry and satisfied at the same time. It draws from a huge reservoir of artistic productions of very different quality, which must be selected in such a way that the whole range of artistic practices is visible. Concentrating on this hybrid and not on a few undisputed positions, is programmatic. Inherent to this openness is the necessary risk of giving the audience something to see and to hear, where the quality may be questionable, but which also might simply not be understood yet.

The diversity and abundance of the program compel the visitor to oscillate between making independent selections, and just letting go and drifting. Program elements interfere with one another, intersect, block, distract from and reinforce one another. Offers have to be made available that allow the less daring to find a point of access, experience something new and perhaps become immersed. This requires attractively arranged and clearly identified channels, through which the visitor can be steered into the manifold alternatives. Not everyone will accept, but everyone should be invited.

The festival is not an exclusive alternative to other cultural institutions. The unnecessary concentration of numerous cultural events into an overflowing festival framework is, in fact, in many cases not an enhancement of either art, or the enjoyment of it. Where festivals tend to weaken rather than strengthen sustainable artistic work, and where they only offer a homogeneous distillation of the conventional cloaked as concentration, they are certainly to be questioned. However, the festival offers an opportunity to excessively experience culture in a concentrated and pleasurable manner that is as little to be missed as an occasional banquet with good food and drink in congenial company.

2. In its entire scope, media art, in other words art through and with electronic and digital media, is a hybrid of electronically generated images, sounds, machine processes and possibilities for interaction. For a long time the "art of new media" had and cultivated a pariah status with respect to contemporary fine art. The value of the latter is often determined by the usability of its products in the art market, which media art just as frequently deliberately eludes. To the same extent, however, that electronic and digital media are no longer solely the domain of obsessive tinkerers, but are instead becoming generally available as a possibility for creative expression just like other materials and methods that can be used for art, the distinguishability of media art as a separate genre will disappear. Of course a vital artistic practice will remain, which not only makes use of digital media, but also seeks to understand and reflect on them and their cultural significance, whether as interactive art, net art or software art. It is to be expected that this avant-gardist work, which specifically seeks to appropriate new technologies (and old technologies in a new way), will operate pragmatically and heuristically under the name media art for some time.

A media art festival can bask in the diversity of this field. It can follow the hybrid and mixed forms, occasionally allowing itself to be seduced by the sirens of new technological developments. In its early days video technology offered a range of instruments for image creation that still continues to fascinate artists trained in more traditional image media again and again – just think of the never-ending series of experiments with feedback effects with a video camera focused on the monitor. Sometimes elaborate arrangements or series of works are developed from these kinds of obvious experiments, which investigate the features of the technical medium and the perceptional effects that it triggers, which trace an aesthetic impact inherent to the machines, which urgently seek to tell necessary stories in a new way, which attempt to expand the scope of action for interactions between humans and machines. All of this needs to be shown, played with, discussed, whether it is finished or in progress.

The festival is thus, in the best case, a buffet dinner where a well-balancedcombination of food and drink is served. Those who have had enough for the moment can withdraw with old or new friends, with the cooks and gourmets to the smokers' corner, or they can return to the buffet to select the portions they desire according to their own taste. In the exhibition, visitors are left in peace to discover and view the works at their own pace, but in the media workshop they may well be entreated to join in. The cinema remains the cave of dreams where video artists can present and comment on their works, and artists, theorists and curators introduce their latest work on the open stage, partly to promote it, partly to find sharp critics or future collaborators. And at night in the club the mixture of music, images, voices, movement and conversations is intended to blur boundaries but not traces. A certain degree of recklessness is part of the job of the curators in making the selections for this program. Themes and theses have to be taken to a climax in individual, radical artistic positions. That requires courage – and an audience ready to take the leap.

3. The festival lives from the fact that it lasts only for a limited period of time and that it brings its visitors together in a space and time that are as concentrated as possible. Its success largely depends on the presence of participants and visitors, who sit together during the breaks in the cafe, in hallways and in the lounge, talking about old and new plans, what they have seen and experienced, friends in common and popular enemies, thinking up new projects and making use of the concentration of interesting people. Art and social function are in a symbiosis here – a public sphere is constituted. If the festival succeeds in carrying itself and its themes over into the local surroundings, mass media and the global networks in actions and partner events, then we experience media culture in its native context, namely fragmented, translocal urban space ranging beyond the boundaries of the respective individual city.

The festival offers program formats that make it possible for the general public to see and experience artistic works. Exhibition, video presentation, performance evening and conference follow more or less familiar patterns, which are intended to make it easier for those interested to take the step into the festival. With some luck these visitors may find their way into the media lounge, the salon or the open workshop to come in contact with those, for whom dealing with digital media and its creative means have become everyday culture. The media art festival is thus a meeting point that becomes a stage for an intensive engagement with current developments in digital culture, not only for the producers, but also for a curious public. One of the curatorial challenges is to arrange flexible intersections in the program and in the arrangement of the rooms, so that they are open in all directions for these unpredictable encounters.

For the "digital generation" of youngsters who have grown up with computer games, mobile telephones and the Internet, the festival offers a copious everyday environment, more diverse and varied than a LAN party and so well equipped with artistic content and questions that what has long been familiar is no longer taken for granted. Those who know that a computer is more than just a console for playing predetermined games can delve into the appropriation and reworking of the media apparatuses and their applications together with others. For this generation, at least in the places in the world where computers are readily available, media competency is less of a problem than an awareness of the individual and collective scopes of action that these apparatuses offer. And this scope can best be represented with practical examples of the work of invited guests on site. Here the smooth transition between play, art, programming, consumption and critical reflection also becomes clearly evident.

Digital image media, electronic music and mobile communication devices are increasingly at the disposal of a broad international artist scene newly negotiating the significance of art in the age of digital media. New forms of cooperation and globally networked resistance against the consequences of globalization, the perceptibility of ecological disasters, the emergence of new styles and identities under the influence of migration and a cultural industry that operates worldwide – all of this marks a society that creates forums in its cultural events, where these changes can be expressed and subjected to a critical evaluation. Although the optimistic and also cynical promises of technology developers occasionally take center stage in media art, they are certainly no longer considered in isolation, but rather embedded in an understanding of social processes that artistic action seeks to influence or undermine.

Yet the focus always remains on the artistic discussion of digital media and the aesthetic and thus also ethical formulations of a digital culture. To this end, a scene of artists, curators and cultural producers can meet at the media art festival and investigate the status quo locally, nationally and internationally, depending on the size and range of the festival, over the course of several days on the basis of the presented program and the ideas and experiences they bring with them. This lives on in journalists' descriptions, sound and image documentation and retrospective publications, but also in subsequent and competing events, which pick up the same threads and continue or unravel them, and in individual, curatorial and culture-political projects resulting from the events of the festival. And when the requisite, open discursive platforms are available in and beyond the actual program, these more professional debates can intermingle with the valid questions of non-professionals into a real symposium on media art.

4. The culinary metaphors of the banquet and its program, the tastes and preparations, the seasoning and combining, simmering and frying, what is sweet, tangy and spicy, the conviviality and shared enjoyment – these are not to be taken only metaphorically. The festival should be a feast – for the palate and the eyes, for the ears and the hands to the same extent. Long evenings with friends in the bar, interrupted by a concert or a film screening supplying new food for thought and discussion, meeting new acquaintances, discovering the unknown and daring to try something entirely different: the festival is capable of making all of this possible, if it is successful. A festival is a place, a moment, an occasion of hopes and projections, an in-between space in which something can arise that cannot arise in everyday life. It is a secret, a surprise, a carnival – when it goes well.

(originally appeared in German as "Über das Festival" in "Bandbreite – Medien zwischen Kunst und Politik" edited by A. Broeckmann and R. Frieling. Kulturverlag Kadmos, Berlin 2004)

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