Sarajevo Film Festival 2024

CPH:DOX INTER:ACTIVE: Intersections of flesh and code

REPORT / When CPH:DOX opened its doors for its 21st instalment between 13 and 24 March 2024, it centred on issues ranging from fertility, ableism, discrimination and trauma, regarding the body as a site of socio-political conflict.

When CPH:DOX opened its doors for its 21st instalment between 13 and 24 March 2024, it did so, embracing the theme «Body Politics.» Centring on issues ranging from fertility and ableism to discrimination and trauma, the Copenhagen festival delved deep into discussions regarding the body as a site of socio-political conflict. The event probed into inquiries such as: What constitutes the «normal» body, and to what extent has society constructed barriers for those falling outside the so-called «ordinary body» parameters? On this topic, Marie Erbs Ørbæk, the Programmer and Head of Live Events at CPH:DOX, reflected, «The autonomy of the body is under continuous negotiation, and nowadays, our grasp of both rights and infringements is ever more connected to our direct bodily experiences.»

Across an independent film programme focusing on the body and three days with «Body Politics» as the focal point when the festival’s three theme stages open, CPH:DOX also included in its annual INTER:ACTIVE programme to sit alongside this theme. The INTER:ACTIVE sub-theme for this year, «Who Do You Think You Are: The Body Reexamined,» further delved into the complexities of our bodily perceptions, experiences, and interactions in an age profoundly shaped by digital advances. «Much of this work comes from members of marginalised communities – those most impacted by technological change – using embodied media to present a deeply visceral experience of how we relate to ourselves, our natural and digital environments, and society at large,» curator of the INTER:ACTIVE Exhibition and Head of Studies at CPH:DOX said of the programme.

Glitchbodies Rebecca Merlic
GLITCHBODIES, a game by Rebecca Merlic

In this year’s INTER:ACTIVE exhibition, CPH:DOX explored the rich fusion of art and technology, featuring 17 immersive bodily-focused narratives across various mediums, from the intimacy of web-based chatbots to the expansive realms of virtual reality. Augmented reality installations and interactive games merged the physical with the digital, while experimental video art and sound installations deepened the experience. As Modern Times Review explored the INTER:ACTIVE exhibition, held mostly in the Upper Foyer of CPH:DOX’s festival centre Kunsthal Charlottenborg, several connective themes occurred under the broader exhibition umbrella.

Firstly, In the exploration of dis/abilities, bodily functions, gender, and desire, Antipsychotic by Matt McCorkle immersed audiences in the nuances of bipolar disorder, blending sound and visual art to navigate the complexities of mental health. Rebecca Merlic’s Glitchbodies was a game that championed diverse body transformations and LGBTQ+ identities. Jess Coldrey’s Into the Rabbit Hole offered a mixed-media reflection on endometriosis. Poulomi Basu & CJ Clarke’s Blood Spoke employed VR to critique gender and oppression, while The Sound Voice Project bridged live opera with synthetic voices to delve into the intrinsic connection between voice and identity.

The interconnectedness between human bodies and the natural world was brought to life in Garden of Ghost Flowers – The Embodiment Archive by Untold Garden & Lundahl & Seitl. This VR experience explored the symbiosis between technology, humans, and nature, symbolised by the growth of virtual ghost flowers responsive to human interaction, advocating for a harmonious coexistence between the natural and the digital. The INTER:ACTIVE AWARD winner, Intangible, explored the paradox of digitally reconnecting with nature, engaging users with simulated natural phenomena through touch. Our strained relationship with the environment was confronted by offering a digital means to fulfil the innate desire for natural contact. On the project, the jury trio of Helene Nyborg, Peter Fisher, and Sofie Hvitved commented it is «an immersive experience that is a playful, physically convincing and instantly satisfying experience that challenges the expression of contemporary art and left the jury wanting to come back for more.»

Cecilie Waagner Falkenstrøm’s I Saw It, So You Didn’t Have To exposes the veiled challenges that micro-workers faced in the AI industry, merging machine learning with Jacquard weaving to reflect labour dynamics reminiscent of the early industrial era. Similarly, Nouf Aljowaysir’s Where Was I From? embarked on a genealogical journey, contrasting personal stories against the backdrop of an AI «narrator» to unearth the biases and stereotypes inherent in AI systems. Anamnesis, created by Petr Salaba & Ondrej Hrach, was a web-based chatbot game that probes into empathy levels for an AI-simulated being. Vocalize by Halsey Burgund & Francesca Panetta introduced an AI voice coach within a narrative that explored both the potential and challenges of AI in the voiceover industry, probing the blurring lines between human and artificial intelligence, and stirring contemplation on identity, empathy, and the future of our digital selves—a particularly apropos project given the recent focus on AI technology of last year’s U.S. actor’s strike.

The speculative work, The Pathogen of War, dived into the real science of antibiotic resistance, depicting how a benign bacterium was transformed into a lethal pathogen by the ravages of war. Elsewhere in India, by Murthovic & Thiruda, offered an immersive musical narrative pondering the dystopian effects of technological progress on cultural heritage, set in a future where global cultures were on the verge of extinction. Astria Suparak’s Finite Horizon provided a critique of Asian futures as envisioned by Western filmmakers, employing elements from science fiction cinema to interrogate cultural appropriation and stereotyping.

Unbuilt Environments Alistair Gentry
Unbuilt Environments, a video loop by Alistair Gentry

Several project developers featured across the INTER:ACTIVE exhibition would also present themselves as part of the 2024 INTER:ACTIVE SYMPOSIUM. Held as part of the 2024 CPH:LAB, the SYMPOSIUM brought together a selection of invited guests from across the creative spectrum to explore the intersection of art, technology, and documentary storytelling in a conference-style setting. The symposium kicked off with Astria Suparak, who, as the keynote speaker, introduced her thought-provoking project Asian Futures. This initiative questioned the implications of white filmmakers crafting futures heavily influenced by Asian culture but devoid of Asian presence. Further enriching the discourse, Alistair Gentry discussed his collaborative works with disabled communities outside traditional art venues, while Poulomi Basu shared insights into her post-colonial artistic and activist endeavours, emphasising the urgency and impact of art created in crisis situations.

The symposium’s narrative arc expanded as Avinash Kumar took the stage with Elsewhere in India. His speculative narrative performance with musicians Murthovic & Thiruda, drew from a futuristic perspective, delving into the decolonisation of global entertainment narratives via advanced AI art techniques, illustrating a keen eye on the future of cultural production. The discussions throughout the day reflected a deep dive into how technology intersects with societal themes, highlighting issues of inclusion, representation, and the transformative power of art. The day culminated in the CPH:LAB Prototype Pop-Up exhibition at the Odd Fellow Palace, where attendees were treated to a tangible showcase of the nine innovative ideas and future possibilities discussed. For projects featured at past CPH:LAB’s were ultimately included in the 2024 INTER:ACTIVE exhibition—The Pathogen of War, Vocalize, Garden of Ghost Flowers and Anamnesis.

I See It, So You Don't Have To
I See It, So You Don’t Have To, a wall hanging by Cecilie Waagner Falkenstrøm

The entirety of the 2024 CPH:DOX INTER:ACTIVE exhibition was a coherent and consistent journey through its body-central theme. With an increased focus on underrepresented markets, the Global South, and physical and mental bodily focus, it was one of the more well-rounded interactive presentations MTR has experienced across the festival landscape. Our frequent criticism is that much of the new media that is displayed comes from the wealthy North, which has both funding and infrastructure in place. However, the marginalised and underrepresented indeed use their respective new media presentations to present narratives beyond the commercial and easily accessible. The ongoing reckoning of AI as a foundational aspect of modern Big Tech remains a concern. Whether the Unreal game engine, the hardware of VR headsets, or the frequent reliance on tablets, smartphones, and systems produced by some of the world’s premiere technological monopolies, it still seems that new media must create and operate within its own space of independence.

For Modern Times Review, several projects stood out, primary amongst them was the never-the-same live performance of Elsewhere in India. Additionally, the intricate physical tapestry of I See It, So You Don’t Have To was a grand and almost imposing presence within Kunsthal’s Upper Foyer. Its tactile presentation of digital data is an interesting combination of modern labour, moderation, and technological dynamics. The psychotropic cyberpunk of Antipsychotic also hit a nerve, given the prevailing and consistent misunderstandings around mental health. Its high-fidelity sound and poetry offered a window into the complexities of bipolar disorder, pre and post-treatment. In a way, cyberpunk aesthetics also found their way into the speculative skyline of Asian futures in Finite Horizon.

The essay is written by:
Steve Rickinson
Steve Rickinson
Steve lives in Bucharest, Romania. He is Communications Manager and Industry Editor of MTR.

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