- Transmediale's Postdigital Proposition
Across and Beyond: A Transmediale Reader on Post-digital Practices was ostensibly published to mark thirty years of Transmediale, the art and digital culture festival that happens in Berlin each winter. Summing up just one iteration of this sprawling festival is hard enough; doing justice to thirty years of art and theory is something else again. Should the editors of this kind of book document its history? Serve up its greatest hits? Try to influence its future? Over its fifteen essays and ten profiles of artworks, Across and Beyond does a little of each. The result is a book that uses Transmediale as a platform for a series of propositions about how we might think media now—and imagine its futures differently.
This book's editors include Transmediale's outgoing director, Kristoffer Gansing; Winchester School of Art professors Ryan Bishop and Jussi Parikka; and the writer and editor, Elvia Wilk. To lend it coherence, these editors frame the book with a proposition of their own: our present, they posit, has become "post-digital." Their idea—which builds on previous work presented by Florian Cramer at the festival and developed by others (Berry and Dieter 2015)—is that digital media are so ubiquitous and widely distributed that contemporary culture can only be thought "after and in the digital" (11). This concept sounds grand-historical, but that's not its aim. Media might be everywhere, but their ubiquity is mostly banal. Thinking through this banality is crucial to understanding their influence on contemporary culture and politics. For the editors, this concept offers us a "heuristic" for analyzing culture and politics today (12). It's also what gives this book its critical edge. [End Page 274]
Across and Beyond is divided into three sections. The essays in the first, "Imaginaries," share a concern for the ideas that shape how digital media are understood and used. One standout is Dieter Daniels's essay on the institutionalization of media art. This essay helpfully historicizes the crisis confronting media art practice: if it once drew its charge from artists' tacit belief in "progress" for its own sake (59), "being digital" is no longer a "criterion for artistic or even cultural innovation" (57), but a gauche given. As a result, media art struggles to articulate what it's for. This essay is complemented by Parikka's on the "institution" of the media lab (78). Labs, Parikka notes, aren't just the province of scientists. Thanks to programs like digital humanities, they've sprung back up in the arts, too. By studying how these institutions manufacture and circulate "imaginaries" of media, Parikka argues that we can bring the "asynchronous nature of contemporary media culture" into critical view (86). The recent scandal over the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab's receiving donations from Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier, played out this point in real time: the mediated worlds peddled by such places is big business, which means it's also deeply political.
"Interventions," the book's middle section, is the most inward looking. Essays by Daphne Dragona, Tatiana Bazzichelli, and Cornelia Sollfrank provide critical reflections on themes dear to the festival itself: respectively, art's capacity for subversion, the relationship between the festival and the city, and the historical status of cyberfeminist practice within and without the festival proper. All of these essays are of particular interest to those involved in Transmediale itself or who research cultural events like it. Because of their focus on the festival, though, they may be of limited appeal to scholars interested in more general cultural-political topics. This is less a problem than the natural consequence of editing a book like Across and Beyond, which can't fully escape its host organization's orbit.
The book's final section, "Ecologies," is for me its strongest. The essays in this section all place media into broader contexts, making them appealing to readers who may not be so interested...