Interview with Jailbreaking Curator Florian Wüst
Florian Wüst is a Berlin based artist and independent film curator who works on issues concerning the history of post-war Germany and modern technical progress. For this year’s Impakt Festival, he curated the Jailbreaking programme, which combines historical and contemporary works of video art, experimental and corporate film. Jailbreaking is defined as the process of overriding software limitations in computer systems, and gaining root file access in smart phone and tablet devices in order to execute modifications and install third-party components. In a recent interview, Florian told us about the two Jailbreaking programs, which reflect on the potentials and limits of reciprocity in our information and media driven society.
Can you flesh out this idea of jailbreaking and talk about why you chose it as a theme for the program? What should audiences at Impakt expect when they come to the screenings?
When [Festival Director] Arjon asked me to contribute to “The Right to Know” Festival I thought that [jailbreaking] would be a great starting point as a metaphor. It doesn’t relate directly to the theme of the festival, but the programme creates a reference to historical and contemporary artistic interventions into the media mainstream, from television to the internet. It takes jailbreaking as a background metaphor to discuss the potentials and limits of reciprocity in our information-driven society.
It seems like the program is specifically interested in approaching jailbreaking from a historical angle. Can you talk more about that?
The program combines films from 2010 with films back to early the 1930s. Not only that, it also combines different genres: experimental film, video art, and also corporate films that were made for promotional reasons to document not only production processes but also to promote the technologies in the first place. Hans Richter’s Europa Radio is about the potentials for radio. Another one that’s about early television is the RCA presentation Television from 1939. It explains how television works technically, and of course wants to introduce TV as the media of the future, as a totally new culture of information dissemination and entertainment. A really interesting example is Das Magische Band, about the magnetic tape from the late 50s. Das Magische Band is not an industrial film in the classical sense of the genre, but rather an essayistic reflection on the benefits of magnetic tape for modern society. For instance, it philosophically discusses sound, the nature of hearing, the nature of recording—instead of bluntly documenting the manufacturing of magnetic tape in the factory.
How does jailbreaking resonate with the Impakt theme, “The Right to Know”?
It’s a lot about the ambiguity of the current situation. On the one hand you have the seemingly unlimited access to information, everything seems to be out there. On the other hand there’s a new dimension of restrictions that restrict that type of access. The question is how you access it and how it’s controlled or not—and of course that’s something that becomes very clear in this moment of jailbreaking. The program wants to reflect on how media is produced.
There is a wide variety of films in this program, spanning many decades and produced in many parts of the world. Can you talk about this variety and how the films work together in the program?
What I’m generally interested in in my short film program is that the films contrast each other but [simultaneously] they create a multiplicity of perspectives on a theme, by nature of their different genres and different intentions. I hope that the composition of these various perspectives creates an interesting trajectory for the audience to blend in with their own knowledge, experience and ideas about the respective subject. Besides, you always communicate the shifting of film aesthetics, which is related to all kinds of social and technical processes and advancements over the decades. We’re obviously in a very different world today than in the 1950 and 60s when television became a mass media.
The first programme “looks at the realities behind the production of media content.” How does jailbreaking expose these typically concealed processes, and what do we do once they’re exposed?
The role of art is not so much to provide solutions, but to raise the right questions and to look behind the business-as-usual face of society. [For example], take Babak Afrassiabi & Nasrin Tabatabai’s piece, Satellite, As Long As It Is Aiming At The Sky, from 2010. They just create glimpses of Iranian satellite TV production in L.A. from a different angle, literally from the side, and without any comment. They show what’s usually not seen…this reality which is unknown or hidden. Then it’s up to the audience to do something with it.
The theme of the second program concerns the “constantly shifting power relationship between users and owners, producers and mediators, individuals and corporations.” Does this power flux look any different in the older films vs. more contemporary entries in the program?
Now we have a much more horizontal media. Through the internet there is the possibility to post whatever you want…which on the other hand is not a guarantee that anyone sees it or how long it exists on certain media channels. That’s a different situation [than before] and it creates a different reality…almost a hide-and-seek game. You put things out there and others chase them down. It’s very different from the limitations of TV, where there are only a certain number of channels and frequencies. Dominic Gagnon’s work Rip in Pieces America reflects very interestingly on this theme, [with] all these apocalyptic and conspiratorial visions of these people. At the same time it shows how content on the internet nowadays is produced.
The wide variety of content in the program is also reflected in the wide variety of the films’ original formats: 35mm film, digital, video—what is the significance of the technological medium for jailbreaking? Do different formats afford different possibilities for jailbreaking?
Definitely. The work always communicates its format, its aesthetic. Of course today 35mm projection makes a huge difference. Then the quality is almost similar between a youtube clip and 80s video art, because the 80s video is quite low res for contemporary professional standards. So that definitely plays a role and I hope that’s one thing that people get from this program…to see how certain projects or contents go in loops.
Do you have a methodical process for programming or do you simply follow your gut?
I see a film and take it as a starting point. I have touched on this subject quite a lot, of technical progress, the subject of industrial film, computerization in the twentieth century. I do have quite a lot of material in that field. At same time I always try to do new combinations and watch films over and over again.
You are an artist yourself. How would you contrast the process of making art of your own and the process of curating the art of others?
At the one hand it’s not too different because my artistic work also deals with these same materials and re-appropriates them. That’s also what a film curator does. [Even] if it was from last year, you can see the film as a historical artifact. You put it in a different context with other films. But the method and how you present it is totally different.