BWPWAP - Some Thoughts On Transmediale 2013

Guest post by Katja Kwastek

Transmediale 2013, even more than previous years, operated on several intersecting layers and on an excess of different events and formats – including the intersections with Club Transmediale, the partner festival dedicated to music. This year's title was BWPWAP, or Back When Pluto Was A Planet. I thought this was a great notion to emphasize how our worldview is made up not only of things but also of how we name and explain them – while Pluto did not at all change materially when demoted, our worldview/worldmodel did. Although, in the festival, the internet meme was mainly used for referring to the outdated or somewhat displaced. So there were lots of 'retro'-references', like fax-performances or a great letter shoot installation, the OCTO (

At the beginning of the festival, at the opening ceremony, there was a reenactment of the demotion of Pluto, from planet status to "dwarf-planet," given by Kristoffer Gansing. It is possible that the curators had hoped for the public to vote for Pluto to be upgraded back to Planet-status – but after a great American style pro-demotion presentation by Mike Brown, followed by a rather weak anti-demotion presentation, which inspired an amusing tweet, "BWPWAP = Back When Powerpoint Was All Paragraphs", surprisingly the audience reaffirmed the demotion of Pluto to non-planet. 

In addition to the title, BWPWAP, there were four 'threads', entitled PAPER, NETWORKS, USER and DESIRE, and a parallel thread on the 'Imaginary Museum' – apparently a notion that Transmediale utilised for its self-reflection as a festival.  Regarding this excess of (often parallel) events and topics, my impression is of course very partial. Unfortunately, the exhibition was quite weak (though with a nice title: "the miseducation of Anya Major"). Actually, it was a combination of three exhibitions, one showcasing early works by Sonia Sheridan, interesting work historically, though not really suited to the solo-exhibition format; one showing 'tools of distorted creativity' (interface hacks etc.); and the best being the 'Evil Media distribution Center' by YoHa, a response to Mathew Fuller's and Andrew Goffey's book titled Evil Media (2013, MIT Press).  

The better exhibitions were the one organized by Club Transmediale, 'In That Weird Part' dedicated to the relations of music and internet culture, with projects like 'Curating Youtube', appropriations of the 'Techno Viking', misheard lyrics etc., and the one organized by LEAP, dedicated to abstract/scientific world models, with nice work by Sascha Pohflepp entitled 'Yesterday's today'.

Concerning the conference threads, I can't say much about DESIRE, as I was only able to attend a sappy performance lecture by Sandy Stone. The USER thread had some interesting moments, though it did occasionally fall back to outdated notions of the user. It included presentations by Olia Lialina about the 'general purpose user' as a media competent user of software, and by Olga Goriunova about her idea of aesthetics as transindividuation applied to creative activities on online platforms, especially in relation to meme culture (a pertinent topic throughout the festival). 

The NETWORKS thread was very broad, with an interesting panel on 'depletion design', with David Berry, Jennifer Gabrys, Marie-Luise Angerer, presenting a recent book with the same title. There were also critiques of commercial social media platforms, for example in the keynote by Geert Lovink, who presented various projects by or related to the Institute of Network Cultures, or in Florian Alexander Schmidt's analyses of crowdsourced design. 

The PAPER thread was interesting because it brought the 'digital humanities' to Transmediale, with continuous workshops on Post Digital Publishing which were located in a vacant spot under the staircase and allowed only for 10 participants, which had people continually crowding around the area. A highlight of this was the keynote by Kenneth Goldsmith on conceptual writing, with the provocative thesis: "with the rise of the web, writing has met its photography" – I don't think I really agree, but it is worth thinking about it – and which goes into the whole discourse of computationality, which was also represented by David Berry. 

The 'side threads' on the imaginary museum and classification, represented by the Pluto metaphor, were also interesting conceptually, although my impressions was that all back-references to Malraux etc. have many shortcomings. There was a nice paper by Ian Hacking, given at the Marshall McLuhan lecture in the Canadian Embassy, about classification issues, labeling theory etc. 

Further general observations, I noticed that there was a very young audience in attendance, and although there were innumerable events, all were well attended. This struck me that Transmediale 2013 was more of a festival on digital culture than a festival of digital art.

Dr. Katja Kwastek is an art historian at the school of arts at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. She served as vice-director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute Media.Art.Research. in Linz (Austria), where she directed the research projects on interactive art until 2009. Prior to this, she worked as assistant professor at the art history department of the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and was a Visiting Scholar at the Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, RI). Her research focuses on contemporary and new media art, media theory and aesthetics. She has curated exhibition projects, lectured widely and published many books and essays, including Ohne Schnur. Art and Wireless Communication, Frankfurt (2004). She recently finished a book manuscript on the aesthetics of interaction in digital art (forthcoming MIT Press, 2013).


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