BWPWAP Curatiorial Statement

Back When

Mobile phones were dumb. Letters traveled by pneumatic air. Tweeting was for birds. Users were chatting on the Minitel. ICQ beat IRC. Xerox challenged the Thermofax. YouTube was just another Web 2 start-up. Fax was the new Telex. You were calling up Bulletin Board Systems. Only university students were using facebooks. History had ended. We had nine planets.

Pluto Was A Planet.

 

The net jargon acronym BWPWAP – Back When Pluto Was a Planet is an expression used whenever one wants to talk about things in our recent past that have changed quickly.

 

On August 24th, 2006, at the closing ceremony of their general assembly, the International Astronomical Union infamously voted in favor of “demoting” Pluto from its planetary status. Now, even if officially Pluto is no longer a planet, for many people it remains one nevertheless. The reason behind Pluto’s demotion largely depended on new technologies of observation and along with them, a reformulation of the definition of what a planet is. So from nine planets, we now officially have eight planets in the solar system. So what is Pluto? A dwarf planet, a plutoid, a planet, a mythological ruler of the underworld, a cartoon dog. More than these possible definitions, in the context of transmediale 2013, Pluto stands for the introduction of an element that is generating crisis: its fluctuating and contested identity confirms the reformulation of established knowledge categories. The vote to “de-planetize” Pluto was, however, not popular with everyone. Complaints were heard from astronomers unable to attend the 2006 meeting and a broad public response erupted, with rap songs like “Bring Back Pluto,” T-shirts and bumper stickers protesting the vote, computer games such as “Pluto Strikes Back,” YouTube videos depicting Pluto for planet demonstrations. The list of popular and user-culture responses goes on. And then there is the net jargon acronym BWPWAP – Back When Pluto Was a Planet, used to describe things in the past or things that do not conform to established standards of knowledge.

 

transmediale 2013 suggests that this classification crisis, spurred on by new technologies and shifting knowledge paradigms, opens up a rich space of cultural negotiation and artistic intervention. The significance of Pluto does not, in the end, have so much to do with the definition of what a planet really is or is not. Instead, the story of Pluto is about our cultural situation: how technological development and new knowledge paradigms change our cultural imaginaries. However, resistance to Pluto’s demotion shows that this techno-scientific world is also a highly contested one. At transmediale 2013, you are invited to further contest the apparently given, through a program that re-enacts not-so-distant pasts and half-forgotten places, exploring unrealistic and poetic modes of cultural critique—as if BWPWAP.

 

The program follows four threads: Users, Networks, Paper and Desire. The festival will look at what these topics meant BWPWAP, what they mean today and how they might develop in the future following the sense of alternate realities that lies at the core of the theme. These threads run transversely across the different festival events and by following them, visitors can experience constant shifts of modalities and perspectives.

 

The Users thread explores the user as one of the most important figures occupying the 21st century cultural landscape: adopting a broad perspective which includes a historical look at user cultures' development in consumer society and cybernetics, as well as the changing roles of the user.

 

In Networks we ask what it means when networks are BWPWAP, when (social) networks have become a pervasive part of daily life and have contributed in changing the way we create friendships and connections.

 

The Paper thread traces the history of paper as a transcendent cultural form and its various artistic appropriations from Mail Art and visual poetry to electronic literature and beyond.

 

In the Desire thread, we look at how critical reflections on sexuality and pornography can inform digital culture and politics of the present, by creating juxtapositions, decompositions, fragments and unexpected combinations as forms of queer expression.

 

As with Pluto itself, these threads are “objects” in crisis. Their identity is not to be taken for granted in the post-digital age as is evident through the cultural, political and economical crises that they are all undergoing. These states of crisis are taken as opportunities for artistic intervention and reflection. In each thread, we search for new ways to engage with the histories, practices and futures of these familiar domains according to the time and place-shifting logic of BWPWAP: areas that we might have taken for granted until recently, but where we now need to learn from the past in order to intervene in the present and create new concepts for cultural practice. 

 

Program team of transmediale 2013


Kristoffer Gansing, Artistic Director

Tatiana Bazzichelli, reSource transmedial culture Berlin, Program Curator

Jacob Lillemose, Exhibition Curator

Marcel Schwierin, Film and Video Program