Memefest

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Memefest- International festival of radical communication Url: http://www.memefest.org/

Description

Founded in 2002, Memefest is a complex international, semi-online project that uses the form of a festival as a tactical, educational, research and communications tool. Memefest creates, thinks, researches, educates and works on the intersections of art/science/communication profession/theory and practice. It encourages students, academics, artists, professionals and activists to interrogate the commercialisation of everyday life and critically analyse current dominant media and communication practices.

Through an annual competition that transpires on the project’s website and various cultural events, Memefest aims to create a global cultural space that encourages research, creativity and critical reflection on consumer society while actively working towards social change. Ultimately, Memefest wants to help people shape the way meaning is produced in our society. Into this maelstrom, Memefest steps, awake to the fact that many of the dominant ideologies of modern consumer culture are inherently toxic to our physical and mental environment.

And as such, the festival’s aim is to build a forum where the hold these “contagious ideas” have in our society can be investigated and critiqued. Moreover, Memefest bills itself as a “festival of radical communication” to indicate not only a commitment to finding revolutionary and extreme solutions to the ills that arise from consumer culture, but also to indicate a belief that a fundamental rethinking of communication is in order. It gives young people who are in the process of developing their analytical skills and creativity an opportunity to concentrate on building solutions to social problems and democratic forms of communication. And they get to do this in a supportive – yet challenging – environment before their talents and intelligence are coopted into the economic mainstream. Since the beginning, the festival website has appeared in both English and Slovenian. Thanks to the growing networks Memefest has opened new nodes in its network: Memefest Latinoamerica with two teams in Brazil and Colombia with two websites in Spanish and Portuguese started communicating in end of February 2005.

For a short period of time Memefest also opened a node in Belgrade, which was Memefests center for the whole Balkan area. These teams work virtually in the global Memefest networks as well as in physical space with Memefest sub projects in their own local environment. These nodes in the Memefest network not only promote media democracy and a critical attitude towards current market communication in South America, and in the Balkans but also act as a showcase for all of the festival’s South American and Balkan entries. One example of local intervention was the Memefest tactical media workshop, titled “Local communication for global ethics”, held in Manizales, Colombia in April 2006.

Memefest has become an important event and an internationally recognised figure in the media activism, critical design and communication community. As a festival, Memefest studies ideas and the processes of their dissemination. It encourages dialogue, collaboration, and through this, it is bringing together a vast number of ideas, concepts and tools, all of which are meant to support and inspire activist interventions within the public sphere. Memefest represents an intermediary institution and uses the form of a semi virtual festival as a tactical educational communications tool. Memefest’s unofficial motto has been: “Subvert. Create. Enjoy.” It is a call to action. And while the play of dialogue that Memefest facilitates is edifying, the long term goal of the festival is to be a participant in the transformation of our society.

In 2007 Memefest became a special research field : “Critical studies of (visual) communication” at the Center for social psychology at the Faculty for social sciences- University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Memefest is currently (apr 2009) working on a local center in the United Arab Emirates, based at the American University of Sharjah. Memefest is also tightly connected with Poper Studio, based in Ljubljana and Inkahoots, based in Brisbane- both professional communications/ design studios that practice socially responsible /radical communications.

Discussion

Design and other communications professions -structurally related to advertising, public relations and marketing, creates mainly (visual) communication walls of hidden authority of commercial interests, protected against deconstruction mainly by blind fascination with the visual. The culture of decontextualised image and blind logic of a spectacle is interwoven into institutionalised education, research, profession and practice.

Design and advertising are to a large extent understood as product, and this is also mainly the way they are made. As profession and culture they are to a large extent based mainly on external authority. These mechanisms are institutionalised first of all in the form of festivals, tenders and competitions established as simulacra of the profession. Critical communication frequently moves in the dangerous area of coopting criticism on the side of market discourse, frequently visible in competitive consumption, »conquest of cool«, as well as quasi critical thinking. Quasi rebellion is in its final stage manifested also in an engaged subordination to the authority of advertising and other types of market driven communication like for exmpl. graphic design.

However, the problem of market communication is in the structurally conditioned battle of the market participants for the maximum possible profit, in self-reference and communication limitations of communication approaches used in market communication, as well as in a large share of (visual) communication, introducing into its own practice the dimensions of society and culture mainly in comodified form and in the form of a spectacle.

Project Background

Based in Slovenia, Memefest, international festival of radical communication is the biggest festival which encourages students, academics, artists, professionals and activists to interrogate the commercialisation of everyday life focussing on the media and visual communication environment. In its seven years history Memefest established a international network with participants from more than 60 countries and local nodes in Colombia, Australia, Spain and Brazil.

Memefest breaks new ground because it turns the philosophy of communication and design festivals – as mechanisms of social construction of value and quality measures, on its head. Most communication and design competitions /festivals are grounded on spectacle and decontextualised approach to design, while serving as one of the primary mechanisms that define what is good work and who is a excellent author/designer/communicator.

Their methods of evaluation are also based on the ideology of competition through which the neoliberal relation between winners and losers is constantly reproduced. Instead as a spectacular event Memefest uses the form of a festival as a tactical educational communications tool. It uses several web based platforms combining them with institutionalised and non institutionalised pedagogical processes in to one multidimensional educational and communications platform. Memefest designs a particular public space that constitutes a collaborative multitude of design related voices which approach design as a contextualised social and political communication practice. Memefest encourages students, academics, artists, professionals and activists to interrogate the commercialisation of everyday life.

In constructing their entries, participants are expected to incorporate their response to a "seed text" (a written or visual text) that has been chosen to serve as a focal point for the festival. These "seed texts" represent a particular critical take on the current media environment and serve through their structure as a frame for developing specific visual communications methodologies. In years past the festival has selected texts from sources as diverse as Thomas Frank’s Conquest of Cool, Naomi Klein’s No Logo, the First Things First Manifesto, a report penned for the RAND Corporation entitled "Cyberwar is Coming.", The People's communication charter, to explore the current ecological crisis- an excerpt from Hitchcoks movie »Birds« and in 2008- to explore »radical beauty«- David Lachapelles »Rize«.

The "seed texts" not only encourage thematic cohesion among the entries, but, as unconventional or provocative texts are sought out, they also have a pedagogical function in that they should inspire participants to rethink their disciplines and visual communication approaches.

Memefest combines theory and research; practice; and journalistic mediation and teaching in that that it creates a unique intermediary environment/public space connecting academic, business/professional, non governmental and activist spheres in a global network and through a creative and educational process nurtures socially responsible and innovative design practices. More than this it connects theory and practice in to a interdisciplinary field combining visual communication with communications studies and sociology, particularly focusing on the disciplinary boundaries establishing a theoretical practice through productive tension between different fields of knowledge and a design practice through it’s educational and public intervention dimensions.

Participants engage in the educational process through their creative engagement in to a specific theme and through written feedback which a list of 60 best preselected submissions get from all members of the Jury. (list of jury for Memefest 2008 can be viewed here: http://www.memefest.org/2008/en/index.php?meme=jury&submeme=visual_arts) Memefest breaks new ground because it turns the philosophy of design/communication/advertising festivals – as mechanisms of social construction of value and quality measures, on its head. Most design competitions /festivals are grounded on spectacle and decontextualised approach to design, while serving as one of the primary mechanisms that define what is good work and who is a excellent author/designer/communicator.

After a year of reflection, months of discussions, conceptualization, design and now programming, Memefest: International Festival of Radical Communication is back. New, social network based web site- www.memefest.org- has been launched September 17th 2010.

Memefest reader with best written and visual works from eight festival years, edited by Nikola Janović and Oliver Vodeb, will be published by Faculty for Social sciences, University of Ljubljana in November. Memefest nodes in Brasil, Colombia and Balkan are also revitalizing and will be actively involved in Memefest RECHARGED.

A series of exhibitions is planned in the following year as well as a bigger event in Nijmegen. Memefest 2010/2011 theme is LOVE:CONFLICT:IMAGINATION

Community

Memefest is also an alterntaive community for the discussion of radical and critical communication projects.[1] From their website:

" While Facebook is a commercial environment of mainly instant communication, here – this is what we hope- networking and communication will be focused towards the art and profession, education, theory, practice and research and fun of communication. You will be able to find like minded, interesting and talented authors from around the globe that will inspire you and with whom you might want to communicate and maybe even collaborate. The platform is structured as a open dialogue. It enables you to contribute to the global scene of radical communication. Of course this network should not only be serious and especially not only academic. It's a open network, a organic culture. In time we hope it will evolve to a wide international social network of people interested in any aspect of socially responsible communication. And remember: what ever you do here you are not working for other's people financial profit! No one will ever use your data and on-line actions for marketing campaigns, branding, coolhunting, trend prediction, market analysis or similar."