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Abandon All Hope: Transmediale’s technological hellscape

The Transmediale festival casts an urgent, critical eye on technology.

Lo Def Film Factory The Subterranean Imprint Archive 2021 installation Luca Giradini CC NC SA 4 0

The concluding part of the Transmediale festival for art and digital culture is a brooding and at times gripping examination of the complexity of human choice in a world increasingly ordered by technology.

Themed around the notion of refusal, the exhibition stages its own refusal to be pinned down. Ambivalent throughout, it combines wide-eyed enthusiasm for the benefits and efficiencies brought by technology with corresponding fears of increased surveillance and rising social atomization. Stine Deja’s Dawn Chorus shows baby avatars mounted on screens in a ring of pushchairs. It’s perfectly executed and creates a simultaneous sense of attraction and repulsion at their whimpering new-born gurgles. 

With its dramatic title, Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here, the 3-week long festival has swapped its usual home at Haus der Kulturen de Welt for the interior of Akademie der Künste in Tiergarten. It feels liberated. The space is dark and atmospheric with the intention of plunging you into a technological hellscape (if more empty techno club than Dante’s Inferno). Random walls lead to nothing; you’ll find yourself peeking through curtains which might reveal a blank wall or to a new video work. It’s disconcerting but inviting, serious and intriguing. 

It doesn’t always hit the mark. There was perhaps one video work too many and the queues for a virtual reality piece were long enough not to bother. What the exhibition does well is keeping the focus on the human and its vulnerabilities. Effortlessly weaving the legacy of African exploitation, in a multi-screened work by Lo-Def Film Factor, with a repeating and multi-layered exercise in healing by The Underground Division.

In the case of the video work by Tianzhuo Chen, the human is missing from the landscape altogether. All that’s left in this stark and at times beautiful film, is the traces of spiritual absence in man-made and physical environments. As with the centrepiece of the exhibition, a towering installation by Annex, revealing the material cost of our data, you feel the urgent fragility of human life. Without providing any clear answers, the exhibition is an excellent meditation on technology and its discontents.

Through 18. Feb 2022

Akademie der Künste, Berlin  (Hanseatenweg)

Abandon all hope ye who enter here exhibition design purple. Photo: Luca Giradini (CC NC SA 4 0)