Inventing the Future at MUTEK_IMG

It was just three weeks ago we were in Montréal for the 4th edition of MUTEK_IMG, MUTEK’s forum on digital creation. Invited to contribute to its symposium, we curated five panels. Today, we share some highlights.

While we’ve collaborated with MUTEK in a number of capacities over the years, the recent 4th edition of MUTEK_IMG was the first time they’d asked us to curate a portion of their program. To compliment some of the themes in their wheelhouse (projection mapping, VR, digital scenography, hacktivism) we devised a series of five panels around pressing aesthetic and sociopolitical questions. In total, we invited two dozen artists, educators, curators, and critics from North America, Europe, and Asia to participate, and the resulting two days of sharing and discussion were illuminating.

Our capstone panel asked ‘What role do artists and designers play in shaping our vision of the future?’ and it brought together speculative architect Liam Young, Eastern Bloc’s Artistic Director Erandy Vergara and Chiedza Pasipanodya and Andre Baynes (who curated “Hacking Black Futures” at the most recent edition of Toronto Design Offsite Festival). In his keynote, Liam delivered on of his signature cinematic lectures that deploys his extensive library of footage collected from all over the world, to schematize ‘City Everywhere’ – a kind of globe-spanning urban field where the linkages between activities and technologies, and the resources and labour they are derived from is not invisible; it’s embedded above and absolutely deserves your full attention. Guided by moderator Régine Debatty the four thinkers engaged in an exciting dialogue about worldbuilding that set the tone for the rest of our first day quite nicely.

Beyond ‘inventing the future’ our invited speakers and discussants cast a pretty wide net. We were extremely fortunate to be joined by Daito Manabe, who tore himself away from the last minute preparations of ‘discrete figures’ to deliver our other keynote, about his practice and the evolution Rhizomatiks Research’s collaboration with the dance troupe ELEVENPLAY; beyond sharing the expected glimpses of technical wizardry, Daito sketched out a pretty compelling backstory of sound/movement researchers, stretching back to Xenakis, Bauhaus, and even the earliest days of photography.

Our other panels covered the frontiers of digital aesthetics, design than enmeshes the human body in interactive system, the implications of automation’s ascent, and (slippery) notions of truth in the #fakenews era. Some highlights: Tega Brain detailing the media scrum around her and Sam Lavigne’s project Smell Dating; Alan Warburton expanding on the thinking around his influential video essay Goodbye Uncanny Valley; Madeline Gannon making a compelling argument for amping up our emotional connection to robots (somebody book her for a TED talk already); describing the (at times) occult interactions with the stock market – using it as material – in their practice; and Mouna Andraos sharing details about the making of Hello Trees! a ‘walking serenade’ in Houston, and just one of Daily tous les jours‘ many idiosyncratic interactive spaces from the last few years. In addition to great talks, a range of erudite moderators framed each session and ‘air traffic controlled’ the ensuing conversations; big thanks to Nathalie Bachand, Tim Maughan, Ryan Stec.

And while it sounds like we just described an avalanche of talks, our curation was just ‘a slice’ of a large four-day program. Picking up on the VR thread that has been central to MUTEK_IMG since its inception, a collaboration with the Goethe-Institut paired German and Canadian creators for collaboration, and representatives of the National Film Board, CFC Media Lab, ARTE Germany, and SCI-Arc’s Fiction and Entertainment program developed a ‘VR (Anti) Manifesto’. There was also a public projection mapping contest (that opened up the process so the public could see mid-development work) and a VR exhibition at the host Phi Centre. And, most notably, all the talk, theorizing, and demo-ing ended with the world premier of the Rhizomatiks Research and ELEVENPLAY collaboration ‘discrete figures’, which captivated a thousand-strong audience with bold new ideas about the intersection of dance, augmented reality, and machine learning – magnifique!

We’ll be back in Montreal for Edition 19 of MUTEK’s flagship electronic music festival this August. The first wave of artists were just announced, and the promise of a collaboration by Martin Messier and Élie Blanchard, as well as a new project by synaesthetic laser maestro Robin Fox, have definitely raised eyebrows and piqued interest here at CAN.

Photos: Bruno Destombes