“The Internet is not what I thought it was, and not what I wanted it to be. In some ways it has turned against me and hurt me.” These statements are all the more surprising given that they were expressed by one of the Internet’s major proponents: the author and blogger Sascha Lobo is one of the best-known members of the Internet community in Germany. In an article he wrote in early 2014 for the daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, he explained how disappointed he was that the Internet has become less of a medium of freedom than a medium of surveillance. He is not the only one with this concern – those who share his fears will find a forum at the Transmediale in Berlin.
As the title for this festival of art, culture and technology in Germany, its organizers in 2014 chose a term that has nothing to do with media but in fact describes a natural phenomenon: “afterglow” refers to the different colours which often light up the sky following a volcanic eruption. The message this is supposed to convey is that many of the effects of digitization fade away in the longer term, while others were more illusion than reality right from the start. Then there are the revelations of Edward Snowden, the former US secret service employee, which showed among other things that the NSA has spied on German citizens and listened in on the mobile phone conversations of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
These darker sides of our modern digital world play a central role at the Transmediale, which is keen to explore the relationships between art and politics and between man and machine. One of the speakers is likely to be particularly eagerly awaited: documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras was one of the media professionals who contacted the whistle-blower Edward Snowden with a view to publicizing his claims. In Berlin, Poitras will be talking about art as evidence.
In addition, video and performance artists will be showcasing their work at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt – Berlin’s “house of world cultures”. One of the projects brings together 70 computer hackers to stage an instant exhibition with the space of just 48 hours. This, on the other hand, sounds very much like a dynamic process of renewal. “We must not allow this low point to be the end”, wrote Sascha Lobo. “The Internet is kaput but the idea of digital networks is not.”
Transmediale 2014 from 29 January to 2 February in Berlin