Last weekend, Social Media Manager, Gemma headed over to Berlin for Transmediale, an annual festival for art and digital culture…
This year’s theme centred on open systems, collaborative technologies and aimed to address the way we live online. At a time when the distinction between our ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ life become increasingly blurred.
“Having become a central stage for the unfolding of our public and private lives, we must ask not only how this experience of online-liveness affects and transforms our bodies and subjectivities but also, importantly, what responsibilities and possibilities this engenders for participating in the continuous process of its evolution,” Transmediale.11 – RESPONSE:ABILITY
Having followed the festival’s projects for the last few years, I decided to use this year’s as an excuse to spend a long weekend in Berlin and get myself a day ticket for Saturday’s workshops and discussions.
The first project that caught my attention, Wanted and For Sale, offered people the opportunity to exchange knowledge, services and tools with other attendees of the festival. The collection of sale/wanted ads varied, from going for a walk in Berlin with a friendly chap named Simon, to exchanging food for coding. I offered to interpret someone else’s life story through photography, wanting to explore the differences between someone’s interpretation of an event and how it’s described.
After getting my bearings and offering my photographic services, I made it down to the “HacKaWay Zone”. Here, I was presented with artwork that questioned the way in which we experience technology and the impact it has on all aspects of our daily lives. The workshop I really wanted to take part in, BodyHack, was fully booked but luckily I could still watch from a distance.
The workshop gave participants the opportunity to “hack” each others’ faces. Interestingly, despite being able to control a person’s facial expressions through technology and wires, we are unable to produce a genuine smile on someone’s face without evoking genuine emotion. Manabe Teruoka, and his collaborator Daito Manabe, created the Face Visualizer; an instrument allowing you to move a person’s face artificially in sync with music through electroshocks produced with the Max/MSP programming platform. You can see a live performance from the workshop below.
After leaving the “HacKaWay Zone”, I went on the hunt for some of the Facebook projects I had been reading up on. With the current discourse around Facebook’s valuation, its future direction and Time Magazine selecting the young Zuckerberg as their person of the year, the Facebook backlash is beginning to fester and the longevity of the platform has been a huge point of discussion between many of my colleagues and friends. I was keen to see what type of projects this has influenced.
Seppukoo encourages us to question the difference between our real and virtual selves. They also raise the question as to whether it is right that our online identities and relationships are exploited and sold as a product. Seppuko provides a service for users who want to commit “Facebook suicide”, setting up a memorial page in their honour. It’s about liberating the digital body from any identity constriction, in order to help people discover what happens after their virtual life. It aims to help people rediscover the importance of being an individual, rather than pretending to be someone.
The second project, Lovely-Faces.com, “scraped” 250,000 Facebook profiles and used the data collected to build a huge, fake dating site. They took publicly accessible data and with technology like facial recognition they filled in the gaps, resulting in a complete picture of its “members” by providing their gender, nationality, interests and even characters.
Finally, The Facebook Resistance was a workshop held on Friday and presented back on Saturday evening. Run by Tobias Leingrube from Free. Art. Technology (F.A.T) the workshop aimed to challenge the status quo of Facebook and its dominant social identity management system, researching ways to change its rules and functionality using browser extensions to locally modify Facebook.com. Below are some of the hacks they worked on:
A gender slider
Selecting a background colour for your page
Using graffiti to write on your wall
The Facebook Resistance now has a Twitter account and Facebook group (the irony isn’t lost on us) which anyone can add their ideas to. Tobias is aiming to release the browser extension later this year, offering everyone an opportunity to go back to the earlier days of the Web and take back the control of their online identity. I’m intrigued to see how this will develop and if it will ever receive mainstream adoption, in my experience the reason people preferred Facebook and moved away from Myspace was because of the streamlined fields and the enforced design. I’m looking forward to seeing how this unfolds.