In response to the thematic framework of transmediale 2012, in/compatible: Interview with Kristoffer Gansing, artistic director of transmediale

Giannina Lisitano

What questions does the theme in/compatible raise?

The fundamental question of how we relate to technology in our everyday life. Do we see it in an instrumental way, as a tool in order to achieve rational goals or do we think about it as inescapably part of the messy realities in which politics, culture and nature cannot be clearly separated?

It is in this context an attempt to question what role different social actors ascribe to technology and media. Think about terms like digital culture, new media and social media – they all imply a certain perspective on technology, and what you mean by these terms will depend on whether you are an academic, an entrepreneur, politician, journalist, activist or a consumer / pro-sumer, etc.. We often see that people come together in conferences and research projects and claim to be interdisciplinary, but we seldom discuss the differences between the concepts of media and technology and their relation to society at large. The different points of departure are not discussed, and thus in/compatible should be a step back, a non-instrumentalised discussion where you bring these tensions and differences into the open. Often, such sensibilities to tensions and conflicts within a rational idea of technology is found within artistic production. But, in order not to sound completely like Heidegger, today we also need to acknowledge the ambiguity of artistic production itself – its complicity with business and the aestheticisation of politics. A further aspect is the increasingly everyday nature of creative work, which means it is not necessarily in the institutional scenes of artistic production that we find the most interesting examples of possible social critiques, but incompatible aesthetics work in the interstices of incompatible systems (financial, political, cultural).

Why was this theme chosen? Is there a figure or example that clarifies its relevance?

This theme confronts the myth of convergence. The idea that all previously separated media seamlessly come together as a digital ‘Universal machine’, envisioned by computing pioneer Alan Turing. It is only true in a metaphorical sense that digital and networked technology has led to a unification of many different previously separated media. ‘Old media’ doesn’t simply get digitised, but in fact we are dealing with a complex set of what Chris Salter has called “entangled” materialities, of old and new, and what Jussi Parikka recently called “medianatures” where there is no longer a clear distinction between technology and our daily environments (be they human, non-human, natural or cultural). Now, with already a long experience of convergence worldwide (not only technologically, but also politically and economically on a global scale), it is becoming clear that new types of tensions are being articulated. The examples of these seem very concrete: financial, ecological, technological (energy retrieval, for example) cultural, political (the Arab Spring) and educational (Bologna process and UK riots) crises. But these are only concrete in terms of their felt (physical and medial) impact – such crises are also very abstract, networked phenomena, and co-produced through their real-time mediation.

Above all it is just that: a position. To be incompatible means to not accept easy solutions to states of crisis. When things are not working, there is always the desire for the status quo to implement the easiest solutions and integrate problems into business as usual. In technology this of course happens all the time – developer and hacker cultures are about modifying the system into something better functioning. But there is a difference: in the practice of hacking, you don’t always have the functional motivation – it also works as a form of disruptive critique, stopping the system for a moment. Let’s use these kinds of stopped moments in the festival, the incompatible positions, in order to talk about how to go further (or backwards or sideways) on renewed terms – hence the in/compatible.

Can you give us an example of when failing technologies lead to specific innovations?

I would prefer not to use the language of innovation, which has been so co-opted by the creative industries at the moment. But I think I know what you are looking for… an example would be different kinds of ‘reverse-engineering’: In the so-called Arab Spring, when mobile connectivity and the internet was shut down in Tunisia, the network of Telecomix (with main figures in Berlin and Scandinavia) stepped in and basically ‘crowd-sourced’ internet connectivity. They didn’t do this by any fancy new technology, but instead simply utilised dial-up internet, that is through analogue phone lines. This is not an example of a ‘failing’ technology but analogue communications are increasingly becoming incompatible in a deeper sense – they do not fit into the business plans of the global telecommunications industries or of complicit government agendas (where digital is easier, at least in the imagination, to render compatible on/off logics). So this is more an example of incompatibility on a broader scale, not about errors and failure, but about being incompatible with technological development. The in/compatibility comes into play when this leads to a kind of innovation in the sense that the terms of communication and of its development are being renegotiated, modified, hacked and reverse-engineered.

What technologies are compatible for some and incompatible for others?

Perhaps the above answered that. Of course one could go further and elaborate… In the current ecological debates, it is clear that nuclear power is compatible with certain quick economic expansion, but on the other hand incompatible with matters of environment and security which in the long run might even be incompatible with the original economical concerns… Again, these are entangled media natures which function in networked ways – hence compatibility and incompatibility depends on your standpoint – that is why it so important to talk about different starting points for viewing technology before engaging in interdisciplinary collaboration. If anything, a forum like transmediale, with its strong socio-political focus and transdisciplinary nature, not lodged in one single institutionalised field, can contribute to such discussions. […]

In what way do in/compatible beings drive the logic of cultural production?

Here I refer to Tiziana Terranova, and the logics of counter-production and incorporation. Without moments of incompatibility, of things not working together, you can’t have any development… “The media age proceeds in jerks, just like Turing’s paper strip,” as Friedrich Kittler wrote, and in this he could just have well been talking about technological development in general where the production of incompatibilities is central to having any development at all. Digital culture events continuously celebrate the open and free as if these paradigms of cultural production are an anti-thesis to our present crises and could somehow rescue us. It’s the big media against small, it’s the creative commons against the copyright industries. But these incompatibilities are only superficial – they don’t get to the heart of the matter that people like Christian Marazzi have analysed – that financial capitalism is totally dependent on, and itself generating, these new modes of open and free production and co-production. They won’t save us from financial crisis because they are part of the system, that in itself needs saving (or not). Let’s saviour the position of not trying to be productive for a moment, an in/compatible moment for in/compatible beings exploring the paradoxes of contemporary network culture, economy and politics. And furthermore, transmediale 2012, and the in/compatible theme stresses an alternative to synthesis, more in line with incomplete synthesis; or more correctly, transversal thinking and practice.

 

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