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IMPAKT Festival 2022 The Curse of Smooth Operations

At the centre of the IMPAKT Festival 2022 stands a proposition:

THE MOST DISSATISFYING TECHNOLOGY OF ALL IS THE ONE THAT WORKS

It is clear to everyone that technology gives rise to dissatisfaction when it doesn’t work – when it underperforms, when it causes unforeseen side effects, and when it breaks down. From 2–6 November 2022, the IMPAKT Festival invites the audience to embark on a train of thought that runs in the exact opposite direction. Could it be that technology reveals itself at its most dissatisfactory precisely when it operates well or when it exceeds expectations?

Algorithmically enhanced image technology is making it increasingly difficult to distinguish news from propaganda, facial recognition from racial profiling. New models of co-working and co-living that herald the value of home, family and collectivity commit the individual to a 24/7 prison of creative productivity. Universally adopted systems of measurement, invented to make the same standard equally accessible to everyone, allow a few hegemonic powers to mete out the earth between them. The fundamental technology of language, which helps us communicate and orient ourselves in a chaotic world of fleeting experience, reduces the expressive potential of the human body to a ready-made programme of sign and syntax. Did you think that technology was dissatisfying enough when it froze, crashed, burned and caused unpredictable death? There may be greater dissatisfaction in store for you. What if the most dissatisfying technology of all is the one that works?

The most common way to look upon technology is from a humanist perspective that views technology as a set of tools that respond to desires pre-existent within the human culture that gave birth to these tools. The Curse of Smooth Operations begins from a conjecture that reverses this order: technology becomes a force that controls us rather than the other way around. From this alternative perspective, satisfaction and dissatisfaction do not pertain to desires that belong to individual human beings, free to choose what to desire. Rather, such desires are themselves deeply technological and form a network with other machines which make up the total technological system of a culture. The aim here is to force the common, humanist view to confront this alternative view on technology, and let their antagonism act as the fuel that drives the narrative of the festival.

By considering technology in the broadest sense of the word – knowledge put to practical use – the curators Erik Bünger and Florian Wüst move away from a discourse around technology confined to electronic devices and digital applications. They combine excursions into the history and future of natural science, industrial capitalism, computational infrastructures, social polarisation and biopolitics in order to critically address a contemporary lifeworld whose every aspect has been radically transformed by technology.

With The Curse of Smooth Operations the curators put emphasis on function rather than malfunction, and break with the fetishisation of error so common in media art. If artists seek novel ways to undermine the predominating technocratic system, they often remain committed to exposing and utilising the tiny cracks in this system. IMPAKT Festival 2022 is diametrically opposed to such fetishisation. It does not deal with the beauty of error, but with the horror of things working perfectly well. It does not linger on the subversive potential of tiny bugs, but focuses on the oppressiveness of a totalising system that is immunised against all failure and able to perpetuate itself ad infinitum.

The idea that technology can provide ultimate satisfaction and at the same time be ultimately dissatisfying is baffling and paradoxical. Since art is uniquely able to deal with contradiction, The Curse of Smooth Operations places art at centre stage in a programme of two exhibitions, film screenings, lectures, talks and performances.

Curated by Erik Bünger and Florian Wüst.
Original curatorial concept developed in collaboration with Manuel Saiz

View the programme