Wednesday, January 2, 2008

re:place re:viewed

re:place 2007 was the second international conference on the histories of Media, Art, Science and Technology. It took place in Berlin from the 15th until the 18th of November 2007 at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. re:place followed the first conference Refresh!, the First International Conference on the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology held at the Banff New Media Institute, Canada, in 2005 (cf. Oliver Grau ed., MediaArtHistories, MIT 2007). In the second conference, re:place was chaired by Andreas Broeckmann and Gunalan Nadarajan supported by an advisory board and a program comittee with all the wellknown key players of the field Media Art Histories. The conference consisted of several pre- and post-conference activities, which were only partly open to the public, and many parallel events. The three-day conference itself was organized into ten thematic panels, evening key lectures, lunchtime lectures and poster sessions. The conference was also complemented by three independently organized exhibitions that were shown in Berlin at the same time: 9 Evenings Reconsidered: Art, Theatre and Egineering at the TESLA, From Spark to Pixel at the Martin-Gropius-Bau and History Will Repeat Itself at the KW. The combination of conference proceedings, parallel events and exhibitions, gave conference attendees many choices to engage in a wide range of activities during re:place.

In his opening speech, Andres Broeckmann mentioned, that they had to convince some of the panelists that the field they were working in would be part of Media Art Histories. This rather arbitrary approach later showed to be one of the weaker points of the conference. The question of distinctions arose also in relation to another comment by Broeckmann. During his opening talk Broeckmann referred specifically to the comma between "Media" and "Art" in the subtitle of the conference. He repeated this comment later while introducing the speakers of Panel 5 (which he moderated). Broeckmann stated the organizers gave a great deal of consideration to this distinction while organising the conference and that it is indicatory of their approach. Still the questions of what Media Art Histories consist of, what are the boundaries between Media Art Histories and other disciplines such as Cultural Studies, what are the Media Art Histories themselves, how are they formed locally and internationally, and what is excluded from the field were questions encountered in the conference, but thoroughly addressed. In Broeckmann's explanation, most of the panelists came from very diverse fields. Panels were arranged around special topics. This combination of various fields and approaches in the topical panels would have offered the opportunity to inform a crossdisciplinary toolset of Media Art Histories methods and strategies, but this chance went by unused as well.


The 10 panels of re:place covered a variety of subjects and topics with a few themes connecting multiple panels and presentations. Longer panel reviews follow this general review of re:place.

Panel 1 was on the topic of Art, Science and Engineering as sites/places where early experiments in Media Art took place, most often as a combined form of research and development, focusing on examples of their intersections. The panel was moderated by Edward Shanken, with panelists Michael Century, Stephen Jones, Eva Moraga and Robin Oppenheimer and is reviewed by Nina Wenhart.

The second panel, Intersections of Media and Biology, incorporated speakers from vastly different study or artistic backgrounds and study epochs. The first two speakers, Assimina Kaniari and Jussi Parikka, adopted a historical approach on understanding the relationship between Biology and Media Art, while the last two attempted to incorporate theories into their respective art works with Michele Barker describing how the Life Sciences interact with Digital culture and Boo Chapple experimented with sound in relation with biological systems. This panel was moderated Ingeborg Reichle and is reviewed by Winnie Fu.

In Panel 3, Histories of Abstraction, the four lecturers offered brilliant and sophisticated studies on seemingly quite different subjects. Laura Marks, Arianna Borrelli, Amir Alexander and Paul Thomas offered complex and diverse perspectives with highly specialized and elaborated insights that are detailed in the review by Nicolas Romanacci.

Panel 4, The Comparative Histories of Art Institutions, was moderated by Stephan Kovats and included presentations by Lioudmila Voropai, Renata Sukaityte, Christoph Klütsch and Catherine Hamel. This panel raised questions of the possibilities of institutional critiques and is reviewed by jonCates.

Panel 5 traced some of the Media Art Histories that can be told in a local context, namely in Australia, Poland, Japan and the North American Pacific Coast. This panel, Place Studies: Media Art Histories, raising the complex issue of how national and local processes relate to broader national and international media art contexts. Eleni Michailidi reviews this panel, discussing how, as Media Art's global networks have had an acute impact on the development of local artistic and critical practices, analyzing their interactions and mutual influences can help us understand the different ways in which Media Art develops.

The panelists of Panel 6, Media Theory In Practice, charted intersections of Media theory and practice through points of tension and friction, conflicts between innovation and institutional frameworks, displacements, immateriality and the instability of memory in all its forms. This panel included Kathryn Farley, Nils Röller, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Antony Hudek and Antonia Wunderlich as panelists and is reviewed by Rachelle Viader Knowles. Interdisciplinary Theory in Practice, the 7th Panel, started by a brief introduction of the speakers by the Moderator Sara Diamonds. She buttressed the effort made by the speakers to apply the emerging forms of Interdisciplinary Theories to Practice, not only in Media Art History but across various domains of knowledge. The papers presented by Christopher Salter, Simone Osthoff, Janine Marchassault and Michael Daroch painted pictures of a hybridized knowledge of Meta Analysis of Methodology and the various points of Productive Collision; not only to New Theories but as they relate to New Practices.

Panel 7 is reviewed by Reginald Njemanze. All lectures of Panel 8, Place Studies: Russia/Soviet Union, as well as an introduction by Inke Arns (who tried to outline the importance of Russian avant-garde movements and its technology related utopias) clarified the background of New Media Art in Central and East Europe.

In Joanna Walewska's review of Panel 8, she discussing the panel's attempt to extrapolate the future meaning of collaboration between artists and engineers from the histories of such collaborations.

Panel 9, Cross Cultural Perspectives, investigated the interrelationships and differences between Western and non-Western views. The moderator, Bernd Scherer, stated that this investigation involves a great deal of exchange between cultures, and that the results may challenge the current definitions of modernity. Each panelist, including Erkki Huhtamo, Cynthia Ward, Manosh Chowdhury and Sheila Petty, presented a paper that attempted to challenge the traditional Western view and encourage exchange between cultures. The Cross Cultural Perspectives panel is reviewed by Mary Hammer.

The final panel, Cybernetic Histories of Artistic Practices, was introduced and moderated by Geoff Cox. The connections between cybernetics and artistic or, more precisely, emergent everyday practices was presented in two computer-archaeological case studies by David Link and Kristoffer Gansing. Both speakers were seperately looking at different occurrences in the early software/hardware history when engineers and programmers were experimenting with the cybernetic machines to produce something other than what they were originally designed for. Brian Reffin Smith then delivered the literally final speech of the panels in a kind of conference performance. In his review of Panel 10, Rolf Wolfensberger, describes how Brian Reffin Smith passionately denounced the ongoing mystification of the computer by artists, scientists and art-critics alike since the early 1970ies and the progressive culture of the spectacle fed by the capitalistic IT-industries since the mid 1990ies.

Poster Presentation

In addition to the panels, re:place also hosted a Poster Presentation of about 20 projects, reaching from doctorial projects about individual artists such as Lenka Dolanova's poster on her research into the Vasulkas or Darko Fritz's research on Vladimir Bonacic to a poster from and about The Experimental Television Center. If time is limited, posters are a way of at least including projects in the context of the conference. But the way in which the posters were physically presented at re:place was very impolite. The posters were put on simple stand, quite small and too close to one another. Still, the worst aspect of the presentation of the posters was their location. The posters stood in the last corner of the entrance hall, a place with no sufficient lighting. In addition there were two poster presentations, where everyone had 5 minutes to present their projects. Even if time is limited, there can be better ways of showing and presenting these posters, if the organizers are really interested in enriching the content of the conference.
the re:place posters (in the dark, on the very left)

Links to all the posters can be found here:

Key Note

The most pointed approach to describe the framework of a potential field of media art histories was formulated, performed and put into a flaming manifesto by Siegried Zielinski. He made a claim for being enthusiastic, something which was missing in a lot of presentations.

Zielinski's Key Note speech

Critique & Conclusion

The notion of 'place' in the title of the conference was not as evident as the premise of the conference seemed to promise. Perhaps the proposed "thematic focus on locatedness and the migration of knowledge and knowledge production in the interdisciplinary contexts of art, historiography, science and technology" was by definition too vague. Glimpses of local practices at the fringes of mainstream reception (such as the Eastern European Media Art Histories thread that connected a few panels and panelists) or inspirations taken from crossing borders and boundaries did come up momentarily during several of the panels, but practically none of the panelists or moderators made a specific reference to the title of the conference or used this theme to 'locate' her presentation in a broader context. Some of the panels left the impression of a more or less artificially concieved theme with a collection of presentations. This impression seemed to render the hope of the moderators for controversial discussions almost futile from the start. Seen in retrospect the conference did not fully re:cover its 'place' although many of the presentations, posters and discussions as such were fascinating without doubt.

- re:place 2007 at Haus der Kulturen der Welt:
- 9 Evenings Reconsidered: Art, Theatre and Egineering at TESLA:
- History Will Repeat Itself at the KW:
- From Spark to Pixel at the Martin-Gropius-Bau:

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