Under the banner, RESPONSE:ABILITY, transmediale 11 attracted works that critique how we live and work with the Internet today. Running its course over six days at Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of World Cultures), transmediale expanded upon a foundation of art, society and technology, to ask what happens when we break beyond the barriers of social media and networks. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to translate what undulates in that void – is it tangible, definable even? Can it be exemplified through an installation? Tested through a theory? Or rhetorically probed in the dry vernacular so common to PhD-mongering intellects who exhaust terms like transparent, liveness and open source? Of course, out of 200 participants from 30 countries – an amalgamation of artists, media activists and analysts, philosophers, coders and researchers – there were some who made proper, and purposeful, use of such concepts.
Equal parts lecture-workshop-installationpresentation, transmediale offered an experimental laboratory for digital technologies in the spirit of “live” process-based, participatory work which probed the cultures of the Internet and open systems. The Open Zone, located in the foyer of the House of World Cultures, offered guests the chance to interact with artists and their processes, be it creative fundraising & microfunding initiatives – or the mere exchange of ideas around free software and open source movements. As part of the Open Zone, the Berlin-based creative studio, KS12 – which attributes itself to producing original transmedia narratives – shot, edited and screened a participatory documentary during the six days of transmediale that re-purposed social media such as Twitter, Vimeo, Flickr, SoundCloud, etc. as a distributed collaborative storytelling platform, also combining Creative Commons licensed photos and videos.
«Twitter, Vimeo, Flickr, SoundCloud, etc. as a distributed collaborative storytelling»
The result is The Future of Art, a 20-minute “immediated autodocumentary.” It cuts together a series of opinions and viewpoints from artists, both attending transmediale and those connected through social media. This is about the next incarnations of art in a digital culture – from painting to programming, and how webbased processes and tools are changing content, along with the notion of the Great Man Theory, or auteur. New York-based painter Ken Wahl, who was one of many talking heads featured in The Future of Art, says, “Ideas today just get thrown out there and used, and it’s the use that in a way is the art, rather than the person who comes up with the idea.”
Coined by KS12 founder and Berlin based filmmaker, Gabriel Shalom, the term “immediated autodocumentary’, refers to content that can be uploaded into media, narrowing the gap between what is happening and what is mediated. A filmmaker can videotape his subjects, transfer it to his hard drive, edit the material, and then project it for the subjects he’s just interviewed, all within the same period of time. ‘Auto” is as in autodidactic, meaning “autodocumentaries” are made by the people they’re about. And often these people, says Shalom “are making films about themselves making films – this subject matter can be incredibly tedious and narcissistic and vapid, it’s dangerous territory.” Fortunately, Shalom and his team turned their autodidactic film into a collaborative effort: “If part of the film is me talking about my process, but the rest of the film is others talking about their processes, then it’s kind of a collective auto-document, and it starts to move away from this egocentric tendency and become a genuine collective reflection.”
In terms of the traditional documentary form, where a subject matter can be groomed over the course of years, the idea of immediate gratification – screening what is right now – forces the documentation process to accelerate. What is being documented must be of a nature that is ready to “go live” at any minute, without being scrutinized by a producer, director, editor, distributor, sales agent, etc. for months, or even years, on end. In the traditional form, the majority of key personnel involved in a production are often not very close to the subject matter, perpetuating the distance between the filmmaker and what is being filmed, which in some cases can be an advantage to the story, as it allows certain objectivity. Generally speaking, the filmmaker and the subject have different skillsets, and do not come from the same “subculture.” Of course, there are those who make films about themselves, their families, their childhood, but the filmmaker is foremost the director, then the subject.
«The role of the filmmaker is being distributed into the crowd. I look at the work we’re doing as some kind of conductor or facilitator.» Shalom
The “immediated autodocumentary” is a different production model altogether. It’s a process that has the potential to be performative in nature, with multiple authors working onlocation at a co-production site and interacting with each other, not only through social media, but rather in real-life exchanges. For Shalom, the essence of the “autodocumentary” process was to take behaviors that are learned online and bring them offline: “All the infrastructure we created with social media sites had far less significance than the personal connections we made with artists at transmediale, as well as the chance happenings of people coming by our physical space and off-loading some video footage onto our computer,” says Shalom, “our notions of privacy, property and attribution must shift.”
With mobile media and phone cameras, we are constantly equipped with movie-making gear in a society that accepts, and expects, us to engage with it.
Another concept hashed out in The Future of Art is the idea of nomadic artists with mobile technology, not succumbing to one place of work or living. Social media platforms like twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and pretty much any blog out there, are consistently offering us the chance to self reflect – whether though photographs or written statements and constant updates – and we find ourselves in a perpetual cycle of self-expression.
Where filmmaking is concerned, this state has the potential to broaden the horizon of directing and producing, while at the same time lowering the bar of what constitutes challenging art. Shalom says that “the role of the filmmaker is being distributed into the crowd. I look at the work we’re doing as some kind of conductor or facilitator”. Traditionally, there was the director – the Auteur – whose perspective was sharp and singular. But with multiple hands and eyes cinematically sharing the focus, whose “voice” and through whose “lens” are we shown the world? Everybody’s, apparently. Social media build and layer digital identities, which means attribution becomes a difficult task as artists who share the KS12 philosophy become more like transmedia producers, selecting material from pools of footage shot by various videographers.
But what happens to the cinematic experience? Is the magic lost when viewing video content on the web?
As a film itself, The Future of Art is by no means an example of exceptional cinematography. Many of the talking head interviews are choppily edited and what we’re seeing – cutaways to artists’ performances/ installations – doesn’t always correlate to the interviews we hear in voice-over. But what a film like The Future of Art represents is sheer possibility by providing a well-rounded discourse. Shalom admits that the next step in filmmaking for him would be to take this documentation – these interviews – and write a screenplay as a work of fiction. Being able to publish work on different platforms doesn’t necessarily mean it can be reformatted to fit all platforms, which then moves us into the realm of merchandising.
In The Future of Art, American artist Caleb Larsen says he uses new technologies only when a project requires it. He’s careful not to produce art for the technology, because then the work simply becomes about technology. Many of the artists and filmmakers interviewed for The Future of Art also expressed hesitation about incorporating too much technology into their work. “I like certain limitations,” says filmmaker Reynold Reynolds, whose latest installation, The Secrets Trilogy, was currently on display at the House of World Cultures in Berlin. “I think film already has not enough limitations to be able to focus.” Ultimately, content is king, and the social media platforms are merely the tools. “You don’t want to watch a documentary on Flickr, you want to see a documentary that’s about the people who do high-speed photography and post it to Flickr,” affirms Shalom. And he’s spot-on in thinking about future transmedia productions as being both format agnostic and narrative, with the potential to be on the big screen while staying connected online.