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Two weeks till Gwangju: ACT Festival / November 25-28, South Korea


As the ACT Center in Gwangju, South Korea, and an eclectic cast of more than sixty international artists, designers and cultural producers gear up for the inaugural edition of ACT Festival, the details of its extensive four day program have begun to roll out. With only two more weeks to go, here’s an update and the highlights so far.

The difference (less than) eight weeks make! It was only September 14th when we first introduced ACT Festival (our latest and biggest festival initiative yet) to the world, but it’s truly amazing to see the things that happened since – remotely and on site. Thanks to round-the-clock and cross-continent collaboration between all teams involved (Gwangju, London, Berlin, Toronto) we now have more than sixty international artists, designers, and cultural producers ready to go and see ACT Center’s monumental facilities take shape. Walls have gone up to create a subset of spaces for a world-class exhibition and installations are presently being uncrated so the artists’ setup and assembly can begin.

With myriad puzzle pieces now in place, a wave of programming details has begun to roll out (follow ACT on Facebook and Twitter for updates). Visitors can look forward to a total of nine installations within the festival’s exhibition, nine audiovisual performances, sixty lectures, ten panel discussions, as well as seventeen one and three-day workshops (plus exhibitions beyond the festival’s immediate program) – but we aren’t done yet! While the remaining ‘plot points’ will be revealed in the coming days, the conversation about the ideas, interests and motivations driving the program has already begun. With an overarching interest in identifying and carefully considering how we define ‘craft’ in the twenty-first century, ACT Festival’s forum is full of introspection and creative inquiry. With each piece of programming revealed at the questions most central to the festival’s theme will become a little more clear. Here are some starting points:

↑ ACT Festival’s exhibition in the making: Jürg Lehni’s Otto, Carsten Nicolai’s unicolor, and ART+COM’s RGB|CMYK Kinetic

Exhibition: Ryoji Ikeda, ART+COM, Carsten Nicolai, Kimchi & Chips, Jürg Lehni & Alex Rich, LAb[au], Ralf Baecker, Exonemo, Nobuhiro Nakanishi

‘Making’ begins in the mind’s eye – with the visualization of an idea. The references our imagination draws on however are not only defined by aesthetic preferences and historical precedents, but by the technology that underpins them. To trace broader shifts in ‘making’ a tour of innovative methods of representation is a good start. Few have mastered the expressive potential of today’s technology to create new kinds of visual experiences more effectively than the artists and designers of ACT Festival’s exhibition. Taking over the 1,300 square meter space The Ground, Ryoji Ikeda’s test_pattern is an idiosyncratic visual system that translates data into a stream of high velocity barcode patterns. Part pattern study, part glowing landscape, and all arrhythmic glory, it resets and recalibrate our senses for the exploration that lies ahead. The installations in The Vault, ACT’s primary exhibition space, expand and elaborate on the representational tropes and techniques exhibited in The Ground. We see a range of strategies deployed ranging from delicate machine choreographies (ART+COM’s RGB|CMYK Kinetic, LAb[au]’s m0za1que 4x4x4, Jürg Lehni’s Otto and Empty Words), to illusionary and ‘enhanced’ projections (Carsten Nicolai’s unicolor, Kimchi & Chips 483 Lines) to applications of digital imaging strategies to traditional media (Exonemo’s Body Paint (series), Nobuhiro Nakanishi’s Layer Drawing – the Tactual Sky). We previously postulated that interruptions of ‘ordinary’ contemporary experience are required to experience the digital anew. With each piece in the festival’s exhibition being a sensual ‘tremor’ in its own right, we can only image the synaptic stimuli when they’re viewed in aggregate.

↑ Four of nine audiovisual performers: Ryoji Ikeda, Rhizomatiks x ELEVENPLAY, Diamond Version, Myriam Bleau

Performances: Diamond Version (Carsten Nicolai, Olaf Bender, Atsuhiro Ito), Ryoji Ikeda, Ryoichi Kurokawa, Rhizomatiks x Elevenplay, Joanie Lemercier, Myriam Bleau, Sam Conran, Yuri Suzuki, TACIT Group

Beyond systems that create and perform autonomously once set in motion, contemporary artists, designers, and musicians harness advanced technology for more intuitive and immediate modes of human-machine interaction. From Rhizomatiks and ELEVENPLAY’s choreography of twenty-four blinking and whirring drones and five elegant human dancers, to the warbling deceleration of Myriam Bleau’s spinning sonic tops, to the industrial-infused technopop of Carsten Nicolai’s and Olaf Bender’s Diamond Version, to the bitcrushed, staccato-rhythms (and graphics!) of Ryoji Ikea’s supercodex – the ACT Festival’s nighttime schedule is stacked with an unparalleled lineup of many of the world’s most innovative audiovisual performers.

↑ Learn from the best: Rhizomatiks Research, Allain Bellet, Elliot Woods, Jürg Lehni, Yuri Suzuki and others

Workshops: AR/VR++ & Motion Capture (Rhizomatiks Research), Empty Words (Jürg Lehni), Drawing++ (Zach Lieberman), DIY Instruments with OTOTO (Yuri Suzuki), Projector Hacking (Elliot Woods), Sound Gun Smartphone Objects (Diana Band), 3D Printing, Generative Sculptures and Data Aesthetics with Processing (Marius Watz), Custom Synthesizers and ARM Programming (Karsten Schmidt), Sensuous Transformations of a Binary Signal (PROTOROOM), Narration (Ilona Gaynor) and many more …

“Nothing quite beats meeting, learning, and sharing knowledge face to face,” we explained our motivation to bring people together in September. At ACT, festival visitors will have the opportunity to learn from the best in seventeen one-day and three-day workshops. Want to know how to create AR/VR content with a motion control system? Sign up with Rhizomatik Research. Want to learn how to hack your projector for ultimate brightness? Sign up with Elliot Woods (of Kimchi & Chips). What does drawing in the twenty-first century look like? Sign up with Zach Lieberman. Controlling lights with Derivative’s TouchDesigner? Sign up with Markus Heckmann. Building kinetic sculptures with mechanical, electronic and programmable materials? Sign up with LAb[au]. And so much more – see the complete workshop program here.

↑ Incisive inquiry and conversations: New Cultural Narratives, Instruments of Change, Performing Systems

Forum: Golan Levin, Régine Debatty, Joachim Sauter (ART+COM), Zach Lieberman, Hearyun Shim, Ilona Gaynor, Marius Watz, Karsten Schmidt, Daito Manabe, Elliot Woods & Mimi Son (Kimchi & Chips), Laleh Mehran, Matthew Clark (United Visual Artists), Ivan Poupyrev (Google ATAP), Taeyoon Choi, Byungjun Kwon, Els Vermag & Manuel Abendroth (LAb[au]), Jürg Lehni, Ana Ascencio, Anthony Dunne, Emiko Ogawa, Yuri Suzuki and many more …

Organized in carefully considered sessions, ACT Festival’s conversations around ‘new making’ will cut across disciplines, tools, cultural contexts, and pedagogy. What happens, for example, when artists and designers create new instruments? How do they go about performing with these inventions, and how do we evaluate or appreciate the sounds they generate – without any standard or frame of reference (Instruments of Change)? How can open ended experiments and mediums – interactive installations or even websites – become platforms for telling complex stories about time, space, or social realities (New Cultural Narratives)? If such open-ended machinations semi-autonomously generate audio, video, or animation what are the philosophical basis of their ‘performance’ or ‘personality’ (Performing Systems)? Drawing on the practices, insight, and experience of its roster of global participants, the forum’s seventy lectures and ten panel discussions will offer a thorough, incisive, and timely consideration of contemporary art and design.

Join us at ACT Center, Asia Culture Center (ACC), Gwangju, South Korea from November 25-28. Tickets are available here.