A Guide to FIBER #2 – by Julia Nuesslein

We know, we know – our festival programme is massive. So how to choose? We asked some of our friends to tell you which parts of the programme they are stoked about. Read A Guide To FIBER Festival #2: the recommendations of Julia Nuesslein, producer of our programme at De Brakke Grond.

A Beginner’s Guide to FIBER

It’s 2017, and the world is changing at an exponential rate. On the one hand, we are facing global threats such as climate change, scarcity of resources and the financial crisis. On the other hand, rapidly emerging new technologies that question the concept of humanness, like artificial intelligence, big data and decentralised networks. We’re starting to understand that our technological advances have a profound impact on Earth and nature. (In fact, scientists argue that we have entered the geological era of man, the Anthropocene, in which human actions substantially impact the Earth’s geology.) Many artists are concerned with this development and want to provide insights into these matters that go beyond scientific papers.

So, what can we do to (re-)establish an emotional relation to the earth and to redefine our position on this planet in a more emotional way? A methodology that has recently gained followers is the ancient tradition of alchemy. Traditionally, alchemists experimented with raw, natural materials in order to understand the Earth’s material and possibly change it. Think: gain insights into chemicals, turn metals into gold, and create artificial life. Alchemists needed to trust somewhat in magic; the results of their efforts weren’t rationally predictable yet determined, as each material they experimented with has its own intrinsic behaviour.

Nowadays, the experimental and speculative process of knowledge creation that alchemy employed can be seen again in the realms of art and science, but in an updated way. Metals gave way to algorithms, chemicals to digital shaders, and the topics shifted to the questions of our time. This is the topic of this year’s FIBER Festival.

What follows is a selection of programmes at FIBER Festival that I would recommend anyone who is looking for an entrance to the topic.

1. Stones - Quadrature

Exhibition, Looiersgracht 60 – Thu 11 – Sun 21 May
Stones (2016) transcribes all of the currently known exoplanets on which life could develop into binary code, and imagines a way to communicate our knowledge to future generations. I love two aspects of the work:
  1. It poses the question of how to store and transmit knowledge in a universally understandable way. It reminds me of the efforts that are taken to design a warning symbol for nuclear waste that will still make sense in 10,000 years.
  2. There is a reason why we’d want to communicate knowledge about exoplanets. While the artwork seems to be aimed at the future, it talks about pressing issues for the exhibition visitor, in the now: what are we doing to our planet?

2. Critical Making [Research Consortium]

Conference, De Brakke Grond – Sat 13 May, 15:30 – 16:00
If you are wondering about the role of artists in society (I do that a lot), this talk might give us some answers. Janneke Wesseling and her collaborators, all from renown research institutes in the Netherlands, introduce the concept of ‘critical making’. It combines the hands-on making process with more abstract critical evaluation – it means: grab that Arduino, start experimenting and exploring, and you will find yourself surprised by the unpredictable outcome! You will give context to and engage in the artistic interpretation of your chosen material or technology, and thus contribute to the critical exploration in a very different way than theoretical research would.

3. Terraeconomics - Monique Grimord

Exhibition, Looiersgracht 60 – Thu 11 – Sun 21 May
What if stock value was determined by the overall health of planet earth, instead of by supply and demand? Imagine value was intrinsically connected to the environment and to efforts of limiting the damage brought to our planet. Global economics developed in a completely different way, affecting the fundamental concept of trade. Even if this might not happen anytime soon, this work questions the status quo of the stock market and capitalism, and our deceitful concept of value as a force independent from nature.

4. Parlor of Futures (A Reading of Tarot Cards) - Denisa Kera & Daniël Erasmus

Conference, De Brakke Grond – Sat 13 May, 11:30
You get the hang by now: we take something from our world, and go ahead and experiment with it to understand it better and deeper. Denisa and Daniël chose to combine tarot with modern business strategies. The audience is asked to imagine possible and desirable elements of our future, which then will be represented by a set of specially prototyped cards that connect with IoT and chip technologies. I imagine the ancient divination technique of tarot to come in here; the combination of the cards will likely tell us more about the future than we initially could imagine.

5. Thingclash - Changeist

Conference, De Brakke Grond – Sat 13 May, 16:30
Have you laughed along with what seems the whole internet, about the recent slip in IoT-land: Juicero? The $700 internet-connected, app-controllable juicer, squeezing $6 bags of fruit and veggies into juice, turned out to be entirely unnecessary – you could squeeze these bags with your bare hands just as well as with the machine. Plus, imho, technology was getting in the way: the expiration date code-scanning algorithm would not allow you to make juice out of an almost expired bag! Hello, food and plastic waste!

Thingclash is a project that tries to make sense of technology, more specifically IoT. The smart people from Changeist are seeking to provide guidance and structure in this designer’s Disneyland, where every single appliance suddenly seems to be connected to other devices. I hope to find an answer to my long-time question: should I rethink my reluctance to the Internet of Things?

6. 12 Bit Alchemy - Waltz Binaire

Exhibition, Looiersgracht 60 – Thu 11 – Sun 21 May
Related more to classical alchemy, this work experiments with digital shaders that have certain physical properties programmed into them. While observing the mixing and processing of the digital materials, we learn about the conditions for designing an algorithm that represents natural properties as well as about real-time video rendering techniques. We can learn how difficult it is to imitate a natural material’s thousand characteristics.