A hint of utopia – An interview about CYNETART & TMA Hellerau

Cynetart-Festspielhaus_Hellerau_A_Konstantin_Rinner_lophoto: Konstantin Rinner

The international festival for computer-based art and trans-disciplinary media projects CYNETART has been taking place in Dresden, Germany, since 1997. It presents a programme linking art, science and media technologies. In a two-year cycle, CYNETART, changes from a programme based into a competition based festival. CYNETART is run by Trans-Media-Akademie Hellerau (TMA), an institute for interdisciplinary research on theoretical and practical level focused on how new technologies influence human body, behaviour and creative expression. Between 27 April and 3 May 2015, the premises of TMA Hellerau will host a gathering of international festivals under the umbrella of the ICAS Network for the ICAS Festival with a subtitle “Networking Tomorrow’s Art For An Unknown Future”. As such, it will be also the official kick-off event of the SHAPE project, presenting 20 SHAPE artists through concerts, installations and performances. Here we talk to Thomas Dumke, TMA Hellerau project manager and former organiser of CYNETART, Nadine Bors, one of the members of the CYNETART curatorial team, as well as Joanna Szlauderbach from the organising team behind the ICAS Festival.

Could you introduce CYNETART and its genesis?

Thomas Dumke: It started in 1996 with domestic participants only, but has grown fast since 1997. Formerly it was called COMTECart and since 2001 it’s called CYNETART (“cy” for cybernetics, “net” for the net and “art”). The aim is to present the latest developments in technology. Since Festspielhaus Hellerau, where our activities are located, is a venue for dance and everything related to the human body, we also decided to focus on the body in relation to new technologies. At CYNETART our visitors experience a lot of interactive media environments, installations, performances, as well sound-related arts in connection with body-generated sounds and dance performance in general, AV performances and electronic music concerts.

How do you reflect upon the development of the festival and the themes over the twenty years. Technology has changed and so has its role in society.

TD: Each year, the festival is looking for its own profile. The new generation of artists and creatives use technologies as a common everyday tool, and there’s a shift in how we reflect upon the use of computers and new technologies. The aspect of design and the definition of interactivity have become more focused, but in my opinion, it is not as deep as it was ten or twenty years ago. Even the nature of the questions artists explore in their projects in relation to new technologies has changed. At the moment it is really more about surface and functionality rather than content.

Is the role of festivals like CYNETART, festivals which stand at the forefront of technological change and innovation, to become a critical mirror these days?

TD: I would say yes, but not as the main focus. People are able to experience on their own what artists or projects promise and are able to reflect on their meaning afterwards. Transmediale, let’s say, has a focus placed more on the DIY and hacker culture. Even if you look at the exhibition at Transmediale, it’s shows more the contemporary art character in general including media projects in research. But on the other hand how can we reflect; where lies the base to have a critical point of view, reflected in the international scene, and be subversive?

There is a change going on at the moment and it also depends on the type of funding. If you are dependent on let’s say private economic funding, you are not subversive anymore. With TMA as a non-profit organisation, which organises the festival, we have a duty towards society. And this is not always only to promote developments in digital economy in general, but also to create an alternative point of view to experience new technologies.

Could you mention some examples of projects that you have developed in this respect?

TD: We had a focus on telematic projects, for instance, in collaboration with CIANT from Prague where we connected four European cities through telematic installation. It was not based on Skype and the typical digital monitor where people can watch each other, but rather, it was more an abstract telematic approach with your own presence and state of mind. The question is how to behave with different kinds of senses and media sensations. It is about abstraction and imagination contrasting with an information overload. There is always this discussion about immersion. In our case, immersion means to get down, get calm, and try to get into the whole situation by single aspects of media control or media influence. It’s not about having 360 degree immersive environments with flicker effects and deep frequencies. These are two opposites, on the one hand there is this overloading of senses and on the other, a more concentrated, contemplative situation.

What sort of projects do you look for in terms of programming? Which aspects of media works are most important to you?

TD: There is always this next big idea behind the idea you have as an artist. If you have a look at the whole social media development in the last years, some of these concepts have been around since 80s or 90s. Somebody got economic power behind Facebook, and did it, but the idea to connect people was not new. People who are involved in creative industries have to think about an economic model behind their developments. In that case, the kind of parameters we use to evaluate those kind of art projects get more and more difficult. I’m personally still interested in alternative media and specially developed media environments, which are not coming from the consumer market and really try to show alternative views of media. There should be a hint of utopia in it.

Does the festival programming strive to reflect current trends in technology and society as such, and how do you personally reflect upon the changes in these shifts over last years?

TD: Sometimes I’m wondering where these trends are coming from. When there are public discussions on let’s say the economic use of private data, we tend to get a lot of projects related to that topic. On the other hand, what I recognised last year was that there have been a lot of projects related to other species and new technologies, such as birds and other animals or plants. And this is what I’m interested in. With Festspielhaus as our venue, a lot of submissions tend to come from the dance or performance scene which are using new technologies as a media element of their dramaturgy in their performances. In terms of sound, it’s going back to show visitors how music is produced, which concerns the age-old discussion about sitting at a laptop in front of an audience checking emails while performing. Musicians are getting aware of that and there are lot of interesting developments, for instance Moritz Simon Geist with his Sonic Robots project. The idea is to make visible how sound is generated or developed in live performance.

How important is the educational aspect of the programme?

TD: There’s this effort of mediation, making it more transparent. It’s not about a mysterious black box. Another trend is with people leaving these new technologies behind because they are not able to handle them anymore. There’s also an aspect of DIY and making and building things on one’s own, the engineering element. This is something we could keep in the development to get an idea about what’s going on inside these new technologies and make it more transparent.

You mentioned utopia as an important element in your curatorial approach, but is also the other side of technology, dystopia, something that you take into consideration?

TD: Both. I cannot promise that utopia will be realised, but I like people who still have utopian ideas and charisma to bring people together to work on one thing to change something or create their own world, rules and culture with its own expression based on technology.

Could you introduce the umbrella organisation of CYNETART, the Trans-Media-Akademie Hellerau, which is based at the Festspielhaus Hellerau in Dresden?

TD: Trans-Media-Akademie Hellerau was founded in 2001 as a result of a need to have an organisation behind the festival. The one focus is the CYNETART festival, but besides that we are involved in a lot of European projects, for instance the ICAS Network and its European initiatives like ECAS and SHAPE. We also run a media lab, the so called Trans-Media-Labor Hellerau, which is a mixture between a media lab and a rehearsal space. We invite artists to provide workshops for pupils aged 12 and 16 to work with us for a week, for instance.

Nadine Bors: We interact in a local and international based network through productions and presentation in media-art projects on the consequences of media technology development for the self- and the worldview, especially from an interdisciplinary point of view and are dedicated to the practical, theoretical, artistic and social research on body-related communication and perception technologies. Our public activities focus on teaching the current trends shaped by technology and medialization culture and thus illustrate the relationship areas of applied media technologies in their aesthetic, social, cultural, economic and political dimensions. 

What are you planning for this year’s festival and what’s are the longer term plans for CYNETART?

NB: This year’s the 19th CYNETART festival, running from 12th – 18th of November 2015, is a programme event in which the focus lies on the theming of the change of body-related communication and perception technologies by the new information technologies. With large-scale audiovisual installations, performances, audio-visual shows, workshops, DIY events and a satellite programme throughout the city that involves the visitor. CYNETART 2015 will present its latest projects produced in cooperation with our international and local networks. A central element of this year’s festival, since we’re running onto our 20th anniversary in 2016, is that we’ll look back in time focusing on the preforms of the computer code, and forward on the technique of translation and body-related individuality and biometric masks as we find them in fashion and games now.

You are the host of the upcoming ICAS Festival, which will be a week-long multimedia event focusing on the artists and organisations involved in the International Cities of Advanced Sound network.

Joanna Szlauderbach: It’s the most interesting festival that I’ve ever worked on. There are more than twenty other festivals and organisations participating, not only regarding the content, but also in terms of finances. It’s a huge collective event and it’s taking place because it’s the final event of the European Cities of Advanced Sound (ECAS) project that took place for five years with nine festivals from the ICAS network participating. It’s also the official kick-off for the new European project by the ICAS Network, the SHAPE platform, which has 16 participating festivals involved. It’s the first festival of this kind and it will also be the place where the network will be formalised.

Can you explain the subtitle of the festival, “Networking Tomorrow’s Art For An Unknown Future”?

JS: This is also the general motto of the network – to develop tools for this unknown future of festivals active in the field of advanced or adventurous music and related arts. It’s something that is really important to all participating organisations – which is to think about alternatives and develop and test them in this lab-like situation. It’s great that it can be discussed and lived in the form of this festival.

In what way is the ICAS Festival different to all the other festivals that you have been working on?

JS: This one is more about networking. It’s a huge meeting. Content is also important, but I have the feeling that this festival is more about the people. Artists, organisers and audience. There will be a picnic, networking lunch and meetings, so there are lot of opportunities to meet. Aside from this, there will be also A/V performances, clubbing nights, a small documentary exhibition, as well as a film programme.

www.cynetart.de