The position of the future and the technical possibility. transmediale 2021-2022: abandon all hope ye who enter here
A few months ago, in October 2021, the Berlin International Congress Centre (ICC), unused for several years and considered a kind of architectural still life, was occupied by The Sun Machine Is Coming Down, a group exhibition with names such as R. W. Fassbinder, Cyprien Gaillard, Barbara Hammer, Arthur Jafa, Ulrike Ottinger or WangShui. The mega-production aimed to bring together in the same space-archive, the ICC, works in tension with the future – as an idealised universe or because they are decadent, melancholic images of their present.
We cannot say that the same happens with abandon all hope ye who enter here, part of the transmediale 2021-2022. There is not even an official connection between the two exhibitions, participants or artists in common. But it seems to have been the same question preoccupying not only the organisation and curatorship but also framing all the works, which take a stance relative to their own time, where it seems to be shown in semi-retrospective.
Aiming not to revisit idealisations about outdated futures, but rather to problematise the relationship with the future and the exoticisation of that time as novelty, abandon all hope ye who enter uses here semi-retrospective only as a starting point. Moreover, it seeks to focus the aura of that novelty and haughtiness with the way some artistic proposals and techniques relate to their historical moment. In essence, doing not only the same thing that The Sun Machine Is Coming Down did – bringing the future of yesteryear into the future that succeeded it, presenting it as the past – but also presenting a resistance version. There arises the idea of refusal: “how can the technological hellscapes we are producing – and the futures they are making – be refused or rejected?”.
So the exhibition now at the Akademie der Künste (AdK) goes further. There is not only the intention to reduce the forms of a possible future mythology to the condition of permanent promise. Here we do not wait. The present is archive, documentary and immediate criticism. In the artwork, the future is like a political act, either by its lack of commitment or by the way it is considered an element of concern. In one way or another, its presence is approached as a symptom of an idea of value. It allows diagnosis, problematisation.
Not surprisingly, all the works have in common, as a theme, an intersection between religion/myth/spirituality, technique and politics. If the aim is to explore the idea of value, it makes sense that it should. Value – in general, but also in art in particular – is always defined as a complex relationship between the conditions of possibility from a technical point of view and the way they are embedded in the tension between beliefs/desires/mythologies and the real world. In this case, the aura of the future is a myth. Intersection uses this to problematise it, satirize it. There are several, in fact: NFTs, 3D modelling, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, data storage, cryonics.
Resistance is also a leitmotif. Not only for the transmediale, but for the exhibition itself, for the physical location of AdK. Between rooms, the collective Underground Division presents the steps of the manual Queering Damage, a kind of document/performance that tries to ascertain the damages resulting from “patriarchal-colonial techno-sciences, (of) turbo-capitalism and totalitarian informatics”, delimiting the rooms where the other works are exhibited.
Limited in this way, The Dust, a video work by Tianzhuo Chen, presents at the entrance of the second room one of the key questions: does the novelty – technical, but above all the value generated by it – correspond to being part of an epoch or wanting to be? In other words, is the presumed exception with which certain techniques, categories or denominations present themselves, the aura, a natural consequence of a rupture or a place defined at the outset with that claim? For instance, the NFTs, heralded as a revolutionary element, capable of triggering a new working regime, and even a new artistic landscape, do they deliver what they promise or are they just a speculative narrative, resulting from the repeated urge to occupy that place?
We can also ask whether the cryonic process, a practice that allows the preservation, through freezing, of corpses who believe that, at some point, science will develop to resurrect them, is not just another moment of assessing the possibility of extension and transformation of the digital landscape into a material landscape. At least, that’s the scenario pointed out by Dawn Chorus: Beta by Stine Deja, using children’s animations, arranged on screens lying in prams, as if they were fetuses.
In Mad Man’s Laughter, a video work, Alaa Mansour explores a different side of this landscape, stretching a face into several transformations over an hour. The trails of the faces always take on a new form, always on the same plane, always in the same space. Something that only in the virtual landscape seems possible. Entanglement, by the Annex collective, responds in the opposite room with an installation of cables, wires, coal and fans. Several videos are played here simultaneously, on the scale of a temple: information occupies a physical space; storage pollutes and has sound. In other words, the idea that the limits of the body have been blurred, as the very dimension of the image might have us believe, is a mirage at best.
Cihad Caner, The Subterranean Imprint Archive by Lo-Def Film Factory, and Remaining Threads by Ibiye Camp reinforce this. On one side is a stage where a puppet play generates volume only through the shadow of a screen; on the other is a research project into the role of the African continent in the development of the first atomic bombs and the ramifications and effects of that participation. In the background of the lights, of the ever-clean world of the projections, is extraction, mines, rubbish.
In the end, we feel that The Sun Machine Is Coming Down perhaps needed this exhibition to ask the most important question: what will happen after the sun comes down?
abandon all hope ye who enter here is part of transmediale 2021-2022 for refusal and is at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin from 26 January to 18 February. It can also be visited online. The exhibition features work by Annex, Ibiye Camp, Cihad Caner, Tianzhuo Chen, Stine Deja, Constant Dullaart, Lo-Def Film Factory, Alaa Mansour and The Underground Division. Artistic direction is by Nora 0’Murchú and curated by Lorena Juan, Ben Evans James and Jade Barget.
 “There, where today the aura of what was once state-of-the-art technology has faded, where operations have come to a standstill, and where the deterioration of the building dominantes its presence, bodies, plants, sounds, discourses, and movement are returning, and – with a project named after the title of David Bowie’s song “Memory of a Free Festival” (1969) – are promising light, space, and transformation. At the beginning, there was the desire to make the ICC, which is like a spaceship stranded and floating through time while running on emergency power, able to be experienced as a vessel to other worlds and species. The crackling of time, the groaning of the machine, the echo of the goods of earlier and other cultures – all of this was intended to flow through the ICC as sounds. Eerie, disturbing, and seductive, all at the same time.” Available here.
 Queering Damage.