Volkskrant 28 October 2017
Festival: Utrecht’s art festival Impakt sheds light on the future: what does the black mirror in your trouser pocket do to you?
Robert van Gijssel
Fake news takes huge leap due to the mythologising of technology
When you invite a politically engaged and recalcitrant science-fiction writer to speak about his vision on our times you can expect somewhat gloomy reflections. The British Warren Ellis, writer of unequalled and dark comic series such as Transmetropolitan and The Authority, as well as the new Netflix series Castlevania, is honest about it: “We’re doomed. Stay inside.” He is the main speaker on Wednesday during the opening of the five-day art festival Impakt in Utrecht, in a packed theatre hall of Het Huis. There he tries to clarify the festival theme that, in a nutshell, concerns the mythologising of our modern machines. According to Ellis our hyper-technological machines have replaced the function of myths, and that’s not necessarily good news.
In a distant past myths served as a way to guide man in a dark world, Ellis explains. “The myth about Lorelei in the Rhine, for instance, was meant to warn skippers: take care at that rock in the river. The warning was packaged in a story about a singing nymph, because a story can be better remembered and retold.
Now we know everything about the world and we think that we don’t need stories anymore. Ellis: “In our trouser pocket is a machine: a little black mirror in which we can directly follow storms at the other side of the world. We live in a world of over-communication: everyone knows everything about everyone. On Facebook we read fake news that has declared a curse over truth. On TV new fascists appear who tell us what we should be afraid of.” The scariest thing, according to Ellis: “This process has been completed within a few years. We find ourselves in the future of science fiction and realize that it is not as nice as we hoped.”
The opening moves of the Impakt festival offer more food for thought with installation art, lectures and films. The film The Fragility of Life by the Swiss Simone Niquille is also very ominous. The short documentary follows the American Teresa Barnwell: a Hillary Clinton imitator who finds that her identity is slowly absorbed by that of the presidential candidate, in the run up to the elections of 2016. The person Barnwell is turned into a mechanical avatar, a mechanical imagination of Hillary Clinton. Barnwell also tells how the weapons lobby NRA wants to abuse her appearance to put Clinton in a bad light.
“I was always just an entertainer,” says Barnwell, who would perform at parties and as a funny interlude at award shows and TV-shows. Now she is used for malicious fake news. “I wonder whether I want that.”
Volkskrant 28 October 2017
Art about magic and technology
The exhibitions at Impakt are on point and worth seeing
How much does Donald Trump pay in taxes? What are all the extinct languages? How old are famous actors really? The Library of Missing Databases (2017) by Mimi Onuoha contains information that we really shouldn’t know: so-called holes in the surplus of data. The artist has put them all in a simple filing cabinet that now forms the entry to the main exhibition of the five-day long Impakt Festival. A cabinet that just holds the classified secrets – a wonderful idea. The theme of this year’s festival is the connection between magic and technology. With the new Blade Runner in cinemas and the prospect of robots guarding world peace, this subject is on point, something Impakt has patented. In the exhibitions, that last a bit longer than the five-day festival, the three main themes of the festival (Myth, Magic and Monsters) run together. From the way we look at photographs (and what kind of algorithm can be made of this, a project by Coralie Vogelaar), to a mask that can prevent facial recognition (Zach Blas, a work from 2012). The horoscope of espionage services, the connection between African systems of belief and binary code, a confused robotic vacuum cleaner – the exhibition is rather diverse, but entertaining. A smaller exhibition by HKU students shows the younger generation of artists. Third-year student Erin Dekker made a somewhat clumsy but fun short film in which she portrays how she saw the navigation system TomTom as a child: a man who sat hidden somewhere, inspecting a map and provided a live explanation of the route. Magical thinking, technology can’t do without it.
Parool 23 October 2017
Also in Silicon Valley, magic is never far away
Impakt focuses on the space between optimism about, and aversion to technology. We are no longer as level-headed about machines and technology as we think. Impakt festival provides a vision on the relation between technology, magic, religion and the occult with art. Everyone knows the strange emails of Nigerian Internet scammers, but in Ghana cybercrime takes an even more extreme form with sakawa. Contemporary crime is diluted with traditional voodoo practices. It is the subject of Louis Henderson’s documentary Lettres du Voyant. In passing he connects the goldmines that attracted the early colonists to the rubbish heaps where the Western world dumps its discarded computers. The film is a good signpost for the 29th edition of Utrecht’s Impakt festival. Haunted Machines & Wicked Problems is the theme of this multidisciplinary art festival.
The mixing of technology and the supernatural doesn’t remain limited to West Africa. Impakt shows that our handling of devices is a lot less rational than we’d think or like. In its early days Apple was selling its machines of wonder with the slogan “It’s almost magic.” And what to think of software names like Wizard, Obi-Wand and Merlin? Actually, it’s quite strange there aren’t more festivals like Impakt. The world is saturated with technology, it couldn’t even exist without it, and yet we seldom realise it. Impakt shakes us awake. Not in the alarmist fashion of the contemporary luddites, who prefer to live off the grid, but definitely also not in the techno-optimist way of Silicon Valley. Impakt shows a nuanced and sometimes pretty strange world between these extremes.
Not just for nerds
The festival programme is built like a play, with a prologue and an epilogue. The opening act immediately shows that Impakt is not just interesting for computer nerds. Warren Ellis creates his vision of the world with ink on paper. His graphic novels were the basis of many superhero movies and within the comic book world this American is seen as a living legend. Even the concluding words come from the mouth of an international celebrity: filmmaker Adam Curtis. This Brit, who never before performed in our country, will be interviewed about his recent work HyperNormalisation. Curtis delved through the BBC archives and cut and pasted a film essay that shows how since the seventies the complex “real” world has increasingly been replaced by a simplified version that is run by companies and politicians.
The programme between the opening and conclusion consists of films, performances and lectures. Big data is examined in response to Kitty AI, a short film in which the future world is led by an animated cat. Artist and writer Angela Washko interviews gamers about feminism with an avatar and reveals with these conversations the gender differences that are ingrained into computer games. And the film Dreams Rewired looks back from our hyper-connected world to the time when the telephone, film and television were still deemed revolutionary and were ascribed the same revolutionary potential as social media is now.
Criticism and wonder
The combination of criticism and wonder can also be found in the central exhibition. Work is on view that cannot be seen in many other places and has been, in many cases, especially created for the festival. Wesley Goatley produced a new version of his Dark Age of Connectionism, in which he explores the boundaries of the Amazon Echo, the interactive computer system with the virtual assistant Alexa.
The most poetic work is Suite from the Rythm of Life by Thought Collider and Dave Young. It is an installation with gongs, managed by a software programme that converts personal characteristics into music. A middle-aged Dutch bank employee, for instance, sounds different than a French plumber. Clear and elusive at the same time. Magical indeed.
NRC 28 October 2017
Eternal happiness and other technical dreams
Lucette ter Borg
Technology in all its aspects is central to the artworks, performances and lectures at the Impakt festival in Utrecht
Utrecht. In the near future, according to Israeli historian Yval Noah Harari, we will see humanity reaching – that’s right – a kind of immortality as well as everlasting happiness. In his bestseller Homo Deus Harari paints a picture of a future in which technology can prolong our lives up to five hundred years, during which time unhappiness is banished due to biochemical means. Harari’s book creates a great deal of questions. Can we really profoundly understand technological developments? Is technology admirable or is it rather terrifying? These are a few of the questions that are discussed at Utrecht’s Impakt festival, which will be held on various locations in Utrecht. Haunted Machines & Wicked Problems, as this edition of the festival is called, focuses on the technology of the present, the past and the future – and especially the dreams and expectations that are involved. British guest-curators Natalie Kane and Tobias Revell have collected a range of films, video’s, international star guests, performance artists and speakers.
Natalie Kane explains during the opening of the festival: “in our programming we show alternative strategies and views and we research how developments in technology influences our way of telling stories.” This year’s edition wants to explore the space in between, which goes beyond the contradiction between either fear or faith in technology.
Up until Sunday, technology will be illuminated with audiovisual art. British artist Wesley Goatley researches the hidden forces of always-listening devices such as Amazon Echo, in an installation that is equally serene as it is cacophonic. Suzanne Treister, also British, maps secret prisons and CIA research centres and represents these in a wonderful mosaic. Swedish filmmaker Erik Bünger dissects the first audio recording in his film essay The Girl Who Never Was (2014), a recording that was thought to be the voice of a girl. This fact – the voice of a girl appears to be the voice of a grown man – is the starting point for a poetic exploration of the history of mechanically reproduced sound and the influence on its environment. A similarly remarkable and long essay film is Dream Rewired (2015) by Manu Luksch, Martin Reinhart & Thomas Tode. Rare archive material is combined with fragments of more than two hundred films, and supported by a rousing score. Voice of actress Tilda Swinton seduces us to absorb all images of the past 120 years. Until the end, when it becomes clear that: “to be is to be connected.”