Writing in 1998 for Wired, Nicholas Negroponte announced “The digital revolution is over”. Which is bad news for those of us who have only just got to grips with our i-Phones or understood what a blog is. This concept is, however, behind the theme for this year’s Alpha-ville Festival of Post-Digital Culture, part of London Design Week.
Taking place from the 22nd to the 25th of September, both online and in venues across the capital, the festival explores the digital world post-revolution and asks the simple question – where do we go from here? Simply put, digital media is no longer new but is, rather, something which for most westerners, passively or actively, has infiltrated every avenue of our lives. Negroponte’s prediction, that “Like air and drinking water, being digital will be noticed only by its absence, not its presence” has become a reality and everything from brand advertising to paying your gas bill, or learning a language, has a digital expression.
Alpha-ville explores this new ‘post-digital’ era, showcasing contemporary digital artists whilst investigating the intersection between art, technology, and society. It asks the question as to how new technology is affecting and changing creative practice and society at large.
The festival will feature a screening of PressPausePlay, a documentary film including interviews with some of the world’s most influential creators of the digital era. With computers, smart phones and digital technologies readily available to the masses, it explores the recent deluge of creativity and creative opportunities and addresses the question ‘Does democratised culture mean better art, film, music and literature or is true talent instead flooded and drowned in the vast digital ocean of mass culture? Is it cultural democracy or mediocrity?’
“Rather than mediocrity there is a lot of experimentation going on at the moment” says Estela Oliva, who founded Alpha-ville with fellow digital-enthusiast Carmen Salas. “There is a need for organisations and curators to understand the difference between experimentation and work with more longevity - we need to put a rationale behind what is happening and make a call for everyone to start thinking about digital as something which is going to stay and which needs to be criticised and analysed as any other art-form has been in the past”
And so Alpha-ville was born. Estela, a former Google employee and digital entrepreneur, and Carmen, an arts manager and creative entrepreneur, were both fascinated by digital culture and wanted to create a formal environment for this work to be explored and exhibited. Having spent time in 2008-9 visiting digital festivals in Europe, including the long-established Transmediale in Berlin and Cimatix in Brussels, they spotted something of a gap in the market in London, where no such forum for digital culture existed.
“Unlike fine art and new media art, where there is already a system in place, in digital art the lines are blurred and there are people entering the game who were not traditionally artists, like creative developers, who 5 years ago were considered as technological geeks. Now people like Aaron Koblin are working at Google who are both artists and developers.”
Alpha-ville started in 2009, and began to take its shape as a festival in 2010, when events were held over a number of days at the Whitechapel gallery and at The Rich Mix in Shoreditch. This year, with the help of funding from the Arts Council and Hackney Council, it is taking place over 4 days at various venues across London. The theme this year looks beyond digital culture into how people are communicating. How, for example, Facebook has changed countries and how people are using digital media to collaborate in new ways. There are four strands to the festival programme this year: Art & Innovation, Live, Screening and Exchange.
Art & Innovation takes place in the ground floor of Netil House in Hackney. This 5000 sqft warehouse will be transformed into a dynamic creative space incorporating works of art, meet-ups, labs, workshops, and speakers-corners. Highlights of this programme include a piece commissioned specifically for the festival created by a graduate from the Bartlett School of Architecture's film, animation and motion graphics unit, Keiichi Matsuda, working with James Alliban, an augmented reality specialist. The piece will be interactive, playing with the concept of online identity. Body-movement will trigger Facebook status, Tweets and other marks of digital identity to be 'tagged' onto the visitor's body as they move through the piece.
Also included in the Art & Innovation programme is an installation performance linking Netil House in East London with the Victoria and Albert Museum, who are holding their own digital design weekend at the same time as the Alpha-ville. A live performance will take place online on Twitter, as well as in the two London venues.
Alpha-ville features a strong electronic music and audio-visual programme, Live, featuring a range of artists from electro-acoustic to techno, including Pantha Du Prince, a producer from Berlin and Jacaszek a Polish musician who uses acoustic elements to create a more classical sound. The majority of the programme is live music, with musicians bringing instruments and controllers. The shows will, of course, be simultaneously screened online.
The Screening element of the programme takes place in Dalston in a temporary venue being designed and built as part of the Art for Empty Spaces programme. The Arcola Tent, at the Arcola Theatre, will screen a programme of film including PressPausePlay and films from the Bartlett School of Architecture's Unit 15, as well as a small project by guest curators from the Athens video art festival.
Exchange is a new element to the festival for 2011 and refers to the exchange of ideas, feedback and evolution which digital media offers. As part of this discourse, a symposium will be held on Friday 23rd September at the Rich Mix, with speakers including Tom Uglow, Google's Director of Creative Labs Europe Google; Patrick Hussey, Digital Director at Arts & Business and Ben Fawkes, Audio Content Manager at Soundcloud. The symposium will consider 'the transition from a digital to a post-digital culture, looking beneath technology at how human behaviours such as collaboration, participation and interaction have redefined the creative practice and society itself, and at how the physical boundaries between reality and online are being blurred'.
Early-bird tickets are currently available from the festival website.