transmediale 2015 is something of a closed-loop system, where endless data capture and gamification is turned back on itself, and where digital labour is both critiqued and revelled in. The flickering spasms of Tehching Hsiehs’ ‘Punch Clock’ (part of FACT Liverpool’s touring show, Time and Motion) are from a performance work made in 1980-81 - long before we were all tagged with phones and tablet devices. Despite this, it forms an apt motif for the digital and social overload that ‘CAPTURE ALL’, the theme for this year’s transmediale represents.
The festival itself feels like a forced digital labour camp, with tablet-wielding masses struggling to keep up with the themes. The twin strategies of artists in the CAPTURE ALL exhibition are either to fight against or give in to the ‘full scan’ of our relationship to the collection and surveillance of personal data revealed by Edward Snowden, the man who in one year has become almost the patron saint of digital Berlin. LaTurbo Avedon is the first ‘artist avatar’ to take part in the exhibition, while Tobias Revell’s work ‘Mercenary Cubiclists’ is set in ‘Galtham‘, a fictional, dystopic British council estate where tenants have to perform digital labour (the tagging of images and videos) in exchange for food and drink. Should the fictional worlds of LaTurbo Avedon and Galtham collide, she would have to enter through the ‘poor door’ at the entrance to the estate as instructed by the sign: “Non Domiciles Only – Avatars use Entrance A”.
Fighting back are Erica Scourti, Jennifer Lyn Morone and Heather Dewey-Hagborg. Scourti’s flashing iPhone scans of her own body combined with adverts that commodify women herald a “single player game between lovers (which) turns skins into readable interfaces full of the potential for miscommunication”, meanwhile Jennifer Lyn Morone (tm inc.) has tried to patent her own body as a ‘humanoid/corporate hybrid’ in protest of the use of her personal data by corporations, and Dewey-Hagborg gives our DNA a tool for ‘bionymity’ in her work ‘Invisible’.
The opposite is proposed by collaborative group Art is Open Source (AOS) and their work ‘Stakanov’. They have set up a global data religion, whose ‘data-god’, in a ‘playful neo-religious invasion of privacy’, spews out thousands of predictive printouts of captured social media outputs about transmediale itself.
The whole exhibition is framed by metal protective fencing of the type ubiquitous in cities where landscape is constantly undergoing massive building development. The Berlin group Raumlabor are responsible for herding us through this maze.
As usual there is also an excellent screening programme. Notable is ‘Lessons on Leaving your Body’ by Nadav Assor, about Jake Wells of ‘FleshPilot’ who is both a professional tattooist, DIY drone builder and possibly the world’s first ‘RC’ - remote control Christian minister. While observing himself through a live video feed attached to his drone in a forest he reflects on the connection between religion, drone technology and his own personal struggles. Also programmed is ‘Labour in a Single Shot’ by Antje Ehmann and Harun Farocki, who passed away in 2014. Farocki was the man who had something to say about forced digital labour and he is sorely missed in a festival in which both the conference element and visual programmes are dominated by explorations of the subject.