Event: 23rd Transmediale Festival “Deep North” (tm.09) – International festival for contemporary art and digital culture
Hosted by: Transmediale09
Date(s): January 2009
Location: Berlin | Germany
Transmediale is an international festival for contemporary art and digital culture. Located in Berlin, it presents advanced artistic positions reflecting on the socio-cultural impact of new technologies. It seeks out artistic practices that not only respond to scientific or technical developments, but also try to shape the way in which we think about and experience these technologies. Transmediale understands media technologies as cultural techniques, which need to be embraced in order for us to comprehend, critique, and shape our contemporary society. The festival includes exhibitions, competitions, conferences, film and video programmes, live performances and a publication series called Transmediale Parcours. It cooperates with an entity called Club Transmediale (CTM), which deals with electronic music and club cultures. The 2009 iteration of Transmediale was entitled “Deep North.” It sought to explore the cultural consequences of an issue that has come to dominate virtually all aspects of life and society: the disastrous impact of late capitalist society on global ecological, social and economic systems.
SPARCK was invited to participate in two Transmediale sessions. The first session was entitled Re-Hacking Your world: Sensible Software. The focus of the session was around the development of digital and cellular cultures in Africa and activist possibilities arising as a result of this – ways of impacting social, political and economic divides imposed by global, market-driven systems. Digital practitioners / FOSS (free open source software) activists from Uganda, Kenya and South Africa connected via Skype to the panel and audience in Berlin, as well as discussants from across the world present simultaneously in a live online chat room, to explore existing digital technologies on the continent, access to these technologies, their impact, if and how they are being tailored to fit Africa’s needs, and the critical role of FOSS in all of these regards. SPARCK was invited to speak specifically about digital developments in relation to artistic practice on the continent.
The second session was entitled Critical Consumer Practice. It centred on the work of one of SPARCK’s collaborators, a new media collective based in Kinshasa called Mowoso. The session was a live, online collaboration between Mowoso and SPARCK, linking Kinshasa and Berlin in real time with discussants on four continents, around one of the most pressing issues of the day globally: the trade in coltan, a metal essential to the production of cell phones, satellites and computer equipment. Coltan mining and sales have had a powerful and violent impact on whole regions of Eastern Africa (DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, among others), resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths over the last decade. At the heart of the collaboration was a live videosonic interface and online performance (Mowoso in Kinshasa and on the Internet) and discussion about this with an audience of over a hundred (SPARCK in Berlin and on the Internet). Mowoso and SPARCK were joined in this process by a collective called Tsuba Ka 23 (a pseudonym, created to protect the identity of the collective’s participants, several of whom are Congolese and could face reprisals for their involvement in this politically engaged project). The Transmediale catalogue features SPARCK’s first publication, a text and image intervention by Tsuba Ka 23. An experimental cross between epistolary fiction, activist tract writing and visual culture production, the piece addresses and condemns the atrocities that have accompanied coltan mining in the DRC. (For more on the Tsuba Ka 23 publication, click here).
Several of the artists with whom SPARCK collaborates are already working with issues that were addressed in both Transmediale sessions. The exchanges at Transmediale facilitated a better understanding for the SPARCK team around issues of digital technology and how to integrate aspects of it into the SPARCK programme. This has led to reflection around projects that would give artists in SPARCK partner cities access to these technologies as well as a training programme structure that would (1) provide selected individuals with necessary skills to use such technologies for their own artistic practice and (2) for these individuals to become peer mentors who would transfer their skills to other practitioners in their communities. SPARCK is currently in discussion with stakeholders interested in this undertaking, including a number of organisations that might be able to assist in funding its activities.