Art of Resilience

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* Conference / festival / exhibition: Resilience of art: XIV International Festival for New Media Culture Art+Communication; 2012



Anna Veilande Kustikova:

"Roughly saying: a clock working on dirty water, thinking of p2p future perspectives in social structures, listening to beetles penis vibrations in a concert and looking at MacGilly costume as an aid to become anonymous. Sounds like this could be happening sometime in the future and most likely not in somehow conservative Latvia, yet it did happen during XIV International Festival for New Media Culture Art+Communication “Art of Resilience”. Art has always been stimulating the need to explore new techniques and possibilities, today it has occupied all the media that exists including "new" and uses it as a tool for expression, still new media art is one of the less discussed topics in Latvian art critique.

The festival took place in RIXC new media art center, Spīķeru concert hall, KIM? Contemporary art center and Art Research Laboratory, Liepaja University. As usual the festival had its four main parts conference, exhibition, workshops and performance.

The history of festivals joining new media, art and technology, digital arts etc. can be traced back to 80ties when ARS Electronica, Transmedialle and EMAF emerged. In a wider perspective these festivals could also be distant relatives of the Great Exhibition held in year 1851 at Crystal Place, which specially built as site for the event, was itself a compound of science, technology and architecture.

Art and Communication festival started in 1996 introducing new by then digital culture in Latvia. First editions of the festival where focused on new technologies and possibilities of their usage in art, sociology and culture studies. Festival have been bursting its program with abbreviations and titles of organizations by establishing and hosting networks of artists and researchers, and as it was not attached to any particular venue, it grew to became an important part of Latvian culture with its major exhibition and performances. The festival has been serving as a forum for new media and technology researchers and artists, by giving a chance for Baltic and Nordic artists to tap into discussions with established operators in this field during the annual conference. On around year 2005 the festival stopped emphasizing on communication and started to investigate the discourse of interplay between technology and nature in contemporary philosophy and art. The breaking point of the conceptual content was in year 2007 when the festival found living and growing things as it's main interest. Since then themes like waves, spectral ecology, spectopia, energy, transbiotics, techno-ecology have taken up festival's focus till this day. This year Art and communication celebrated its 14th edition in which it investigate resilience processes in economy, nature and society.

How does this festival join art and science? New media in the hands of contemporary thinker is the most ultimate contemporary art form, as it deals with current trends in society, and processes in the world by using contemporary media or technical solutions which have not been used in art before. Raitis Šmits, one of curators and founders of the festival, notes that this festival is searching for and crossing over the borderlines of what can be considered art.[1] Even if new media art is one of the most contemporary art, forms it is also one of less acknowledged as art by major part of society. For this reason festival approaches the public, actually a certain segment - young people, as they are the ones whose minds are most open to and should be broadened by different ways of thinking.

By choosing one particular theme the festival attempts to be up to date with novelties in this field, bringing audience in contact with artists and scholars working on this topic for years. The conference which serves as exchange forum for professionals in different disciplines has been one of the most important parts of festival since its very beginning, and it can be proud with the first usage of such therm as locative media.[2] I happened to hear only one of the speakers – David Rothenberg who was also giving a performance in the concert that will be discussed later on. Being professor in philosophy and music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, he is also the author of the book “Why Birds Sing”, in this conference Rothenberg gave presentation on his latest research in nature and aesthetics, where at the beginning he stated that art can be seen as one of the forces that drives the existence and it can be a process that is necessary for surviving.[3] The other speaker of this conference was Michel Bauwens with his research on Four scenarios for a global-local p2p future.

Still if we come back to art, concert in Spīķeru concert hall must have been amusing for all the spectators with small chance for exclusions. If you are going to see a performance you have certain expectations on the way it will be performed, on it's evolvement and professional arrangement, but this concert's bizarre mixture was a surprise. The only thing linking all these different performances together was that they where examining nature in one way or another. When I was listening to the generated sound compositions by Mārtiņš Roķis, based on analysis of insect and bird communication, with a human touch of improvisation, I thought this was a great beginning. In this state of mind, with a positive and open attitude, I was stunned by Jēkabs Nīmanis and Maksims Šenteļevs performance Trejas tatvas which began with a ritual that is used to clean the space from negative energy in eastern cultures. It was really a struggle to dissociate this performance and religious practices; the only escape was to stop looking at the professional performer of Indian dances which was the only thing I could see as the performers where playing while sitting on the ground. By the time I almost forgot about the religious scent and sunk in to the monotony of performed sounds, when all the sudden saxophone line distracted me back to thinking of eastern and western cultures rather then listening to music. After the performance I finally saw what they where using to create sound - it was a conceptual usage of wind (blowing instruments), water, ground and wood, combined with some instruments, which at once brought this performance, dedicated to three basic elements in nature, to different level, closer to what I would consider examination of nature. The most colorful but less overtaking in terms of musical experience was David Rothenberg's performance combining sounds of living beings in their natural habitats with his clarinet improvisations. Based on slowing down the speed of recorded nature sound, this performance clearly stated that nature as an object of artistic research has no restrictions. Great approach! I would take the slowed down sounds of birds and insects drummers that resemble variety of electronic music styles as a purely aesthetic search in nature by using technology, but when Rothenberg, in entertaining manner, said that we will hear now why people love techno and played one of insect drummers beats, I started to wonder. Sure this is performance and scientific or theoretic conception can be absent, but still questions do come up: how many times should we slow down the sound to hear this, how does our brain work with this sound and can we really hear it without the help of technology? Are we the ones who resemble nature with our creations? Rothenberg did not reveal his take on these questions while introducing his studies and theories in more detail on the next day of the conference. All of his pieces needed context and background information otherwise it would seem like a man playing clarinet along with some hissing and chirping. Who would have thought that getting closer to nature in information overloaded society will mean several minutes of listening to insect brain signals, and even more – beetle's penis vibrations, that actually sounds like simple drone. The question of the concept's importance over result stays, specially for the artist who is trying to find the proof for idea that beauty is necessary to survive.

The most accessible and longstanding part of festival was the exhibition, which contains two works: Installation and performance "Dance with'out Darvin" Yvonne Wilhelm & Christian Hübler / Knowbotiq (Switzerland/Germany) and project "Biotricity No. 5" RIXC artists Rasa Šmite, Raitis Šmits, Mārtiņš Ratniks in collaboration with Voldemārs Johansons (Latvia). This is the smallest exhibition in the history of this festival, what lays major responsibility on the artistic capacity of exhibited works.

The first part of exhibition is installation “Dance with'without Darvin” - is a re-reading of Black colonial history and the refusal of becoming part of such history.[4] It consists of several objects, that can be red as symbols of the refusal mentioned above along with the dominance of white color that seems to be erasing this history and leaving space for new beginning. Second part of the work is performance. Here artists use the MacGhillie costume created for hunting and used by man in war as a camouflage, place it in city environment and, most important, offer to anyone interested to become absolutely anonymous on the condition that one cannot communicate with others. MacGhillie is used as a tool to investigate nowadays society and its relations, the result shows anonymity as threatening, crossing the boarders in a way and seem to associate with aversive actions to the most part of society. Both installation and performance bring up many questions in the perspective of resilience. Starting from the history of intolerance towards different race, going in to nowadays and asking - what will happen to those who are not resilient?

The Biotricity No.5 is part of RIXC research project, where chemical energy of living bacteria is converted in electrical energy and sonificated by artist Voldemars Johansons. First time when I saw this part of exhibition the bacteria sounded like the buzz you can hear next to some high tension wires, in fact like a powerful energy producer, but it generates just a low stream. So the volume is misleading us, as sound is the only proof of energy emitted by life captured in those semitransparent containers. Bacteria reacts to the changes in environment, but to hear the difference - to spot if the bacteria reacts on you and twenty more people, you have to be constantly present. During the discussion of this project the author of sonification Voldemars Johansons said that he is translating the signals to understandable and perceivable material to spectator. And when asked, if this is really necessary as the work can be understood without the sound, he replied that then we could not call it art in some way.[5] I would not agree as the first impression was that the sound is almost the same all the time, if only I would not be lucky to be present on the last day of exhibition. When bacteria transmitted a clear and high sound that was slightly changing. If I should describe it I would compare it to Northern lights - pure cold beauty. It would be interesting to find out conditions that make the bacteria produce more energy and hit the right buttons in the program created by Voldemars Johansons, but this time it is enough to enjoy the result - this goodbye song of bacteria battery in a concert-like lighting.

This project looked at one of masters of resilience who has all sorts of behavior and is present everywhere. We strive to live in anti-bacterial world, only some years ago society understood that we and some bacteria are in symbiosis. Thinking on future and renewable energy RIXC artists use the bacteria to create energy that is transformed in to beauty, by allowing us to think on the world in microscopic scale. Our part is to think on what to do with this information, soak it up to get the vitamins so to say. The good thing is that most of works in this festival do not take the didactic approach - they do not teach us how to live instead making us think by setting carefully chosen questions.

Whole history of this festival is outstanding and can be seen as a source to study artists, interdisciplinary scientists and researchers interests and reflections on development of digital culture, technology and finally also questions of ecology. Although going the right direction to reach its objectives – broaden knowledge on nature as well as different understandings of the world we exist in - still this festival seemed quite controversial, as both works of the exhibition were somehow a mere representation of concept that unleashes extensive variety of interpretations. The concert did not turn out to focus on experience of sound being rather contextualizing, interpreting, comparing, and neutralizing practice. And last, the festival is turning to be more of a forum as the conference, workshops and parallel events in other parts of Latvia, take major part of it in contrast to exhibition and performances, which to my point of view are the most the most vibrant and appealing." (

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