(June 23-27, 2001)
 in the frame of XXIII Moscow International Film Festival Rambler's Top100

F e s t i v a l & C o n f e r e n c e



The permanent re-invention or
…a festival is a show is a laboratory is a seminar…

The hype of media art festivals is still unbroken - whilst new festivals spring up internationally, the more established festivals have to face the fast development of media art and vast changes in media culture which lead them, as a consequence to rethinking of their structure, their content and their goals.

Some of the older European festivals like the transmediale in Berlin, Germany, or the Viper in Basel, formerly Zurich, Switzerland started nearly 15 years ago as pure video festivals, and reacted on the impact that the Net, computer graphics and interactive tools had on art by opening up the competition, introducing new categories and extending of the programme. This all happened because there was a need for forums that could show and discuss the exciting artistic experiments that were in no way covered by the traditional art institutions like museums and art galleries. And there was the artists’ urge to present their work to a public larger than their small communities which emerged partly as a reaction to their exclusion from the commercial and institutional art scene, and partly as a result of the lack of interest which the young media art scene developed towards the more conservative art field.

Media art in the nineties was strongly related to a variety of disciplines like society, technology, science and philosophy - in contrast, the traditional creative art scene’s relations were much poorer and appeared to be a sort of closed circuit construct and still is to a large extent. These new references of media art needed to be analysed and debated, so media art shows soon were accompanied by conferences and experts’ meetings.

Nowadays these two formerly separated and parallel systems of artistic creation - media art and creative art are gradually convergencing. We can observe a slight approach of both towards each other, and video art has already found its way into collections, art biennials and white cube galleries.

Due to this movement the question arises whether festivals like the transmediale have carried out their task with regard to video and should focus on other artistic and medial activities. And if so, which duties does a today’s media art festival have? Is it still only showing and debating, maybe supporting current art production - or going into it from the other side - in which state is media art and its audience today?

What we usually consider as media art is a wide range of artistic production based on new technology, and reaches from video art to software art, from Net-based projects to interactive local systems. Some of it reflects essentially on media culture, some of it has a more general approach and amongst these some only repeat belated artistic standpoints with the help of new media.

For example: video. Artistic production of video has split into various fields in which so called video art is just one genre. Today, digital video is used as a basis medium for all kinds of moving image: classic feature film, short film, Internet-movie, email-movie, non-linear DVD or CD-ROM, documentary, documentation, video art, experimental film, etc. Video art which developed mainly in the eighties was first and foremost a search of artistic expression apart from still image and cinematic picture. These opposing positions no longer exist. Consequently, what should happen in a festival that deals with innovative media art is a change of perspective, a search for current digital imagery, a closer look upon the distribution and reception of these moving images and upon their aesthetic evolution.

These days, still the biggest challenge for media art is to be produced and to go public, to be presented in an adequate way and to find an audience. In the Western cultural system, the governments mainly endeavour for the preservation of art, and in comparison the states’ support of art production is rather modest. Especially in the field of media art where it takes more than canvas and paint, but rather expensive cutting edge technology to produce art work, there is a strong need for governmental support and aid programmes. To a small degree only, festival awards can fill this gap. Most festivals being endowed only with finite budgets do a good job if they search for adequate forms of media art presentation which get more complex the more conceptual the work of art is. This is not a new problem, but something which is quite hairy with regard to the audience on which a festival depends.

For example: software art. For the first time, transmediale.01 called for submissions in this category which, as a genre, is still being debated. For next year’ s festival, again projects are invited in which the artistic process is largely dependent on the execution of code. Software not as a functional tool on which the “real” artwork is based, but software code as the material of artistic creation. Naturally, software art implicates some problems of presentation during the festival. As the creative process and the aesthetics of software can hardly be recognised only by showing the final result, i.e. the artwork which could assume a definite form as a website, an installation or just a program, needs to be presented in a way that gives more insight. Software art is self-explanatory for a bunch of software experts, the others long for explanations and demonstration, a gap which a festival can fill slowly, e.g. by adding illustrative information material to the exposed work or by implementing workshops as a means of intensive exchange of media competence.

Fortunately, a festival is a flexible structure which is a big advantage with regard to the speed of media culture. In this aspect, ii benefits from its status as a project, not as an institution. Every year it is a challenge to sound the borders of feasibitlity and to find the proper perspective under which the enormous societal and technological changes that have a direct impact on art can be examined.

Susanne Jaschko (born 1967) did a PhD in Art History at the RWTH Aachen and worked as a freelance journalist during her studies and later as a gallery assistant in Berlin. She initiated an number of small exhibitions of contemporary art, e.g. at the Ludwig Forum for International Art in Aachen. Since 1997 she has worked as a curator at the transmediale - international media art festival berlin - where she is deputy director now. In 1999/2000 she was in charge of the programme management at the monomedia - the intenational conference on the cultural changes posed by new media - at the Berlin University of the Arts.

    © 2001 MediaArtLab; design - @division