The Transmediale in Berlin, an event created as a side project of the Berlinale to host electronic media productions, celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. On this occasion, the festival’s founders and curators chose to discuss various aspects of art production in the digital era, where boundaries between different media are constantly being blurred. Even though we see these changes happening in front of us, we tend to stick to a traditional division between analogue and digital that usually boils down to the material and immaterial, tactile and impalpable, real-life object and projection. But as the introductory essay of Transmediale‘s new publication emphasises: “the materiality of the digital is not reducible to the screen, not to software, and not even to hardware. It is a massively distributed reality that in turn conditions our perceptual realities.1“
The alchemic term “prima materia” refers the metaphysical substance, which was said to connect everything in the cosmos. Pre-17th Century scientists looked for it to understand what the essential element of the all things in the world is. Nowadays, having the digital along with physical, artists create works that play with our perception and senses. Moving back and forth from virtual to real, it’s time to rethink the meaning of “matter” all over again.
12 Bit Alchemy was created for this year’s Fiber Festival in Amsterdam by a Berlin-based studio which designs synthetic realities and deeply engaging moments through immersive audio-visual experiences, digital narratives and interactive media performances. The artwork refers to processes used by alchemists throughout history and translates them into modern technology. In alchemy, various experiments were executed in an attempt to find solutions to problems such as finding a method to produce gold from less precious materials. Since not enough knowledge of scientific processes was available at the time, most alchemists counted on blind luck. 12 Bit Alchemy transfers this method to digital matter – code is being tinkered on the spot and combined with rendered materials to create a real time generated video. Combining digital shades with different physical properties generates new physical attributes in digital material. The result is ambiguous and unexpected, showing that digital and physical matter have more in common than we usually think.
The majority of modern telecommunication is based on fiber optics, however we rarely have the chance to experience them sensually. Raum Industries bring fiber optics to the forefront as an artistic medium, reminding us both of their practical and aesthetic aspects.
Strands of fiber optics are arranged in a grid on the interface, in essence pixelating the image into individual points of light. Each visitor can interact with the way optics are lit by simply touching the screen. Thousands of gently illuminated threads hang from above as an invitation for the viewer to walk inside or lie down and admire the view.
The work was shown at SXSW Festival in Austin this year as a part of its inaugural Art Programme. Ken Dineen, one of the founders of Raum Industries, tells me that it was created specially for the festival as well. “One thing we really loved about showing it at SXSW was the fact that it was a juxtaposition to the chaos of the festival going on all around us. The installation immediately slowed people down, and we feel, gave people a chance to relax and unplug a bit from the chaos. Peaceful, meditative, serene, calming, were all words we heard a lot. “, he added.
For his masters project at the University of the Arts in Bremen, Luiz Zanotello ponders what it means to live in air-like times, when everything is transparent: data, contacts, sometimes even social relations. The apparatus he created tries to measure the air in the room – it interacts with subtle changes of airflow and converts the measured airspeed difference into mechanical linear motion. “The project speculates on the gaseous state of matter as Zeitgeist. It investigates how the contemporary digital utopias of network and information are shifting towards the turbulent tensions between materiality and boundaries, orientation and borders, homogeneity and transparency2” – we read in the project description.
Installation made for the German Pavilion at the EXPO in Milan aimed at transforming everyday objects into interactive media surfaces. In this technology “no_thing” is necessary – a piece of paper can become a remote control and an umbrella would work as a screen. The system uses infrared markers – the viewer doesn’t perceive technology at all, images seem to appear magically with just a simple hand movement. The authors reveal: “We wanted to create a smart space that is aware of my presence and that provides relevant information when and where I need it, without me having to carry around any equipment, punch in numbers or navigate a screen. To achieve that we use nothing but light — visible and invisible.3”
The Polish artist created an immersive installation, which sonifies real-time data flow transmissions. Viewers can interact with it either physically through bone-conduction speakers or remotely using smartphones or tablets to control the way the data is being visualised. The artwork consists of a black geodesic dome with speakers and a screen showing real-time Internet and satellite data which is used as a base to create the music. “The geodesic dome is a unique material embodiment of code-based thinking: it is a sensual (sensorially accessible only) programme for matter which reminds that digitality – as derived from digitus, Latin for a finger – bespeaks also physicality, touch, the scanning of body parameters and self-knowledge.4” – the artist explains his idea.
Written by Monika Kozub
Edited by Maggie Kuzan
- Ryan Bishop, Kristoffer Gansing, Jussi Parikka, Elvia Wilk (eds.), across and beyond: A transmediale Reader on Post-digital Practices, Concepts, and Institutions, Berlin: Sternberg & Transmediale, 2016
- Scott Contreras-Koterbay, Łukasz Mirocha, The New Aesthetic and Art: Constellations of the Postdigital, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2016