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Fusing Theory and Practice at MUTEK’s Twentieth

Eroding privacy norms, a planet in crisis, reactionary cultural narratives – at the 20th anniversary edition of MUTEK Montréal (Aug 20–25) CAN & HOLO combine critical discussions with hands-on exercises to address some of most pressing issues of our time.

When it launched in 2000, MUTEK signalled a convergence of forward thinking artists and labels, pre-dating global interest in minimal techno and the EDM explosion. It was a moment when online networks created transatlantic ties to strengthen subcultures and when software democratized music making. Continuously celebrating emerging technologies and all the creative avenues they present, MUTEK has not only persevered as a music festival but grown into the multifaceted fixture it is today. “The practice of research and discovery, of being curious— that’s the frame of mind that we hope to give to people,” said Patti Schmitt, MUTEK’s longstanding artistic director in a 2017 interview. “We’re super lucky to have an audience that cares about that and trusts us.” Headed into its remarkable 20th edition, MUTEK continues to serve as stalwart promoter of the sounds that remain outside the machinations of the broader electronic music industry and the creative practices aligned with it. From August 20–25 more than 80 international artists will showcase the best in how technology is aiding music, performance, and the arts today.

There’s a darker side to that same technology however that is increasingly difficult to ignore: corporate surveillance ensures that all our digital interactions are quantified and monetized. The algorithms governing the internet perpetuate conflicts that push democracies to the brink. Worst of all, technology’s hunger for dirty energy (and increasingly rare materials) is fuelling the planet’s ecological crisis, putting all life in existential risk. MUTEK has, of course, recognised this. To complement the loaded audiovisual program with critical conversation, Patti Schmidt, Katharina Meissner and their team have organized Forum IMG. From August 20th to 23rd a dense, multidisciplinary symposium will examine “a range of arts intersecting with technology and how they affect social, political and lived experiences.” Befittingly, acclaimed American author, broadcaster, and academic Douglas Rushkoff will open the program. Drawing on his provocative manifesto Team Human (2019) and the eponymous  podcast, Rushkoff will unpack the anti-human agenda embedded in our markets and technologies. What follows is a sprawling set of sessions that bring together leading artists, designers, researchers and theorists spanning everything from artificial intelligence to blockchain technology, and museum strategies to indigenous futures. As long-time MUTEK collaborators, we are thrilled to have been invited to shape the program as well.

Following IMG’s critical mandate we will convene leading artists, designers, and thinkers to not only weigh in on pressing social issues but share knowledge in hands-on exercises as well. Over the course of three panels, each echoed by corresponding workshop, we will tackle data sovereignty and privacy, the climate crisis, and the potential for speculative design to shift the cultural conversation. These topics are all action-oriented and grounded in the belief that the arts need to do more than follow and reflect our current cultural crises and lead. Read on for how we will fuse theory and praxis.

For the entirety of the program see the MUTEK festival page.
Special 15% ticket discount for CAN members: log in for more info!

A Forum IMG keyword gallery, courtesy of our speakers: drone fiction, server farms, interspecies communication, Extinction Rebellion, Neo Detroit, VR performance lecture, paranoia framework and wireless-network intervention, Zuckerberg deepfake, offshore banking cartography

I. Data Practice & Network Forensics:

How are privacy and agency at risk in our current moment of leaky networks, hacked elections, and ‘smart’ cities?

Paolo Cirio (IT), Bill Posters (UK), Sava Saheli Singh (CA), Moderator: Ryan Stec (CA)


→ Theory: Tue Aug 20 12:00
→ Praxis: Tue Aug 20 15:15

Theory: Data breaches, the footprint of infrastructure, and the hard edges (and soft underbelly) of the web services we entrust with our data. In this session we gather artists and thinkers working in and around network culture for a stocktaking of the state of privacy. Italian artist Paolo Cirio will speak to his sustained critique of Silicon Valley and global information culture and how these interests drive his practice; British artist Bill Posters recently caused a global stir with his Mark Zuckerberg and Kim Kardashian deepfake videos – he’ll discuss his related collaborative project Spectre; and Sava Saheli Singh will present an overview of the Screening Surveillance project that she led at Queen’s University’s renowned Surveillance Studies Centre; and our longtime collaborator Ryan Stec, of the University of Ottawa and artengine will serve as moderator for this conversation.

Praxis: Paolo Cirio leads “Track, Flag, Ban: Fighting Technologies of Social Manipulation,” in which participants will convene to consider how discrimination, polarization, and addiction are built-in to everyday products and services – and how we can fight back! The session will culminate with an intervention: the printing and posting of large-format technology patents (extending out of Paolo’s related project Sociality).

II. Relief Effort:

As the planet warms at an alarming rate, what responsibility do the digital arts and creative industries have for the ecological footprint of the tools, technologies, and infrastructures they rely on?

Heather Davis (US), Ellie Irons (US), Joanie Lemercier (FR), Julian Oliver (DE/NZ), Moderator: Julia Kaganskiy (US)


→ Theory: Tue Aug 20 14:00
→ Praxis: Wed Aug 21 12:30

Theory: Heatwaves, rising sea levels, tsunamis – to describe the climate crisis as anything but an existential threat is foolish. This panel gathers artists, scholars, and activists to discuss the role of the arts in the climate conversation. Participants include writer and editor Heather M. Davis, whose research focuses on the intersection of art, politics, and ecology; also from NYC, Ellie Irons will summarize the central role that ecology and environmental awareness plays in her practice; French artist Joanie Lemercier will share his recent experiences embedded with anti-coal activists; and New York-based curator and cultural strategist Julia Kaganskiy will serve as moderator. A special treat: Berlin based artist (and outspoken climate crisis advocate) Julian Oliver will provide introductory remarks via Skype.

Praxis: Ellie Irons handles workshop duties here, and her session “Standing at the Precipice: Why we Need an Ecosocial Art” will underscore our pressing conversation about climate and the arts by mapping the interdisciplinary field of ecosocial art, through the lens of practitioners working in urban ecosystems and other landscapes heavily impacted by human activity. Participants will get a sense of the strategies and tactics by which artists can address the climate crisis to foreground the dire threat within the cultural sector.

III. Counter Narratives:

What can artists and designers borrow from sci-fi to rebut outdated cultural narratives and envision alternate futures?

Ingrid Burrington (US), Ali Eslami (IR), Dietrich Squinkifer (CA), Moderator: Tim Maughan (CA/UK)


→ Theory: Wed Aug 21 16:15
→ Praxis: Thu Aug 22 11:00

Theory: In this session we look to move beyond banal shiny visions of seamless interactions and discuss how are artists and thinkers can more critically engage ‘the future’ to counter problematic, unjust, or unsustainable cultural narratives. Joining us from New York is Ingrid Burrington, whose eclectic practice ranges from experimental cartography to speculative fiction email newsletters; UK-ex-pat and author of the recent (notable) sci-fi novel Infinite Detail Tim Maughan will bring a healthy blend of cutting cynicism and latent hope to the session; Montreal’s Mx. Dietrich Squinkifer will delve into their use of games and playable experiences to explore issues like gender identity and social awkwardness; and Iranian artist Ali Eslami will join the group to bring an ‘immersive media perspective,’ and speak to the VR performance lecture he’s giving immediately before the session.

Praxis: Our resident sci-fi authors Tim Maughan and Ingrid Burrington are teaming up to offer the workshop expanding on this session. In “The Future is Trash: A Speculative Archaeology Workshop,” the duo will task participants with imagining that they are future historians, “creating mythologies, museum wall texts, and folktales” around mundane objects and (literal) trash. By reimagining the role and meaning of these everyday objects participants will learn about how inflects their assumptions and beliefs, and the multiple futures we can glean from a thing or a moment in time.

Other MUTEK highlights:

Monolake, Tim Hecker & Konoyo Ensemble, Ryoichi Kurokawa, 404.zero, Akufen, Jlin, Wajatta, fuse*, Circle of Live, Drew McDowall & Florence To, Johanna Knutsson, Ash Koosha, Huerco S, Deena Abdelwahed

We’re truly excited about fusing theory and practice at Forum IMG – it’s a treat to be able to work with artists to conceive workshops to expand the conversation. The topics we’re convening around are all pressing, and posit that artists and designers ‘have a place at the table’ in addressing and mitigating key cultural issues. Beyond our contributions, the IMG program is deep. Obviously we’re there for artist talks by folks like Joanie Lemercier and Lawrence Lek, but there’s a broad range of promising sessions on immersive media, urban design, and innovation in the museum sector.

Enjoying MUTEK is a longstanding tradition for the CAN and HOLO team. Beyond the recognizable techno legends like Monolake and Dandy Jack, it is always a treat to delve into the abundance of more under-the radar electronic musicians it brings together; this year we are looking forward to hearing Jan Jelinek, Lotus Eater, and Ensemble d’oscillateurs. On the audiovisual performance side of things we’re looking forward to France Jobin, Richard Chartier, and Markus Heckmann’s collaboration – and quite curious about Tim Hecker & Konoyo Ensemble’s performance.

We hope you’ll join us in Montréal for critical conversations and hands-on exercises (and some fun afterwards) as we celebrate MUTEK’s 20th edition.

MUTEK 2019
| Forum IMG | MUTEK on CreativeApplications.Net

CAN members are entitled to a 15% discount on MUTEK ticket purchases: log in for more info!

AV in S,M,L,XL: MUTEK delivers everything from intimate moments to supersized spectacle (photos: Bruno Destombes, Vivien Gaumand, Ella Rinaldo, Trung Dung Nguyen)

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