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Suzanne Ciani, More For Brighton Digital Festival
Jamie Ryder , June 5th, 2018 14:06

This year's Brighton Digital Festival will host Suzanne Ciani, Gaika and more

This year's Brighton Digital Festival will feature an extensive multidisciplinary programme at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (ACCA) with the likes of Suzanne Ciani, Gaika and Gazelle Twin all lined up to appear.

ACCA’s short season occupies several artistic territories including audiovisual installation, virtual reality, orchestral performance and traditional live gigs. The festival aims to discuss digital culture, explore the cultural and artistic histories of Brighton and to provide a platform for marginalised voices. It will showcase work by a variety of international artists, concerning itself principally with experimentation, subversion and eclecticism.

Other confirmed appearances include VR artists Laurie Anderson and Hsin-Chien Huang, musician and audiovisual artist Max Cooper, and producer James Holden. The festival runs from September 13 - October 12.

This year's installation and music curator for ACCA's season is Laura Ducceschi, while Laurence Hill is Brighton Digital Festival's director. We asked them a few questions about curation, trends in art and the influence of technology on creative work.

You're enthusiastic about intersections of visual art and music. As a curator, what possibilities do you see as being offered by this kind of interaction?

Laura Ducceschi: Personally, I tend not to differentiate between the art forms too much. I love putting programmes together that enable audiences to be immersed. As humans, we are of course multi-sensory, so to consider multiple senses in art makes perfect sense to me. I fear it is the industry of the arts that has historically compartmentalised it so much. So in a sense we could call it getting back to nature.

From a curatorial perspective I seek out artists whose work is very aesthetically and/or conceptually considered. [Curation] requires you to go about things slightly differently from straight programming. It is important to really try to understand the artist and their vision so usually the exchange that goes on in putting the programme together is, in part, directly with the artist. This way we can work out how sound, visuals and the setup of the space can be used to best serve their work and the audience experience. In a time when music, to be seen as successful, is often about how it can function as a commodity, the visual presentation is often neglected or a tagged-on element. I find most of the artists who bring something fresh and progressive to the table are very multidimensional in their creations, so as a curator I want to be able to seriously consider how we honour the delivery of the work as they intended it. Many of these artists have had backgrounds in film, fine art, fashion etc, so the aesthetics are something that I feel requires full attention to deliver the best experience we can. I like to see beauty within projects - I don't mean this as in soft fluffy images, but high quality sound and visuals. I think audiences deserve it.

Can you expand on the work of one artist or installation that you've selected?

LD: Laurie Anderson and Hsin-Chien Huang's Chalkroom project will be installed in a shipping container on the lawns of Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts. Chalkroom has not yet been seen in the UK and is a VR project that has created much excitement. We could say it is untraditional as far as VR is concerned. First of all, you will enter a physical space surrounded by etchings designed by the artist. Laurie is a storyteller like no other, and in this project with Huang they have created an ability for the participant to experience complete freedom whilst you have the personal intimate voice of Laurie in your headset. At one point you are travelling in a plane when the walls start to slowly fall away, leaving you floating in the clouds. Objects are floating alongside you - a phone, flower, a crow etc. You have a choice to grab them, as you do so, you hear Laurie Anderson's voice telling a story or reading a piece of literature.

BDF has a significant social dimension- it aims to draw attention to digital inequality, or disproportionate access to and understanding of digital technology. Given that young people are 'digital natives', accustomed to various technologies from an early age, do you anticipate significant changes in the kinds of people making and consuming art?

Laurence Hill: I’m always interested in the figuration of the 'digital native', which seems to embody two separate but entwined ideas. On the one hand, yes, there’s a generation that has grown up fully immersed in different social platforms and young people are good at making those platforms work for them in ways that I'm sure many older people, including me, do not see. With that comes a democratisation of access to creativity - with a smartphone and connectivity, a young person can make films and upload them to YouTube or curate an Instagram persona that is an artwork, and we're certainly seeing those things, and more, happen.

On the other hand, the 'digital native', as are many of us, could be seen as only a proficient and voracious consumer of digital technologies, which are predominantly in the hands of a very small number of conglomerates. One of the roles of the festival, as I see it, is to encourage everybody to think about how the technologies that mediate our everyday existence have come into being, to think about who made them and for what purpose – this is in no way to suggest that we should be ditching those technologies but I think it's critical to be asking those questions because by doing that we can start to push back at some of the negative implications. It's important to remember too that the figuration of the 'digital native' is a privileged one, a largely northern and western one, focused primarily in developed economies. There are many parts of the world where the infrastructure renders the idea meaningless and even if the infrastructure is available, the only possibility that exists is to be a 'digital native' of a different land where the dominant culture of online experiences are created and the means of ownership are predominantly held.

Does the festival address some of the negative implications of living in an increasingly digitalised society - alienation, resentment, the sinister reach of marketing, cultural homogenisation? Do you think that such a society makes the creation of art more or less difficult?

LH: This is absolutely at the core of what the festival is about but I think it's critical to steer a course between techno-utopianism and techno-horror – these are the dominant narratives we are offered by the mainstream media and I see it as our role to offer something a bit more considered, though hard and fast answers are few and far between. I'm interested in the idea of 'fake news' and how it's disseminated as an example. Pressure is put on corporations like Facebook to prevent the spread of 'fake news' on their platform, but we all have a role to play in that. We need to examine not only the piece of news that's popped up in our timeline but where it came from and who has shared it. What was its journey to your newsfeed?

This echoes what I discussed in the last question. Asking questions about how various technologies are made, who by and for what purpose is crucial to addressing some of the negative implications highlighted. A basic understanding of how things work is critical too and part of the festival's role is to help people find that understanding. We are not powerless against the rise of technologies but we need to have the understandings, the language and the confidence to ask questions. I don't think it makes it harder to make art; in fact the social, cultural and political impacts of digital technologies are a rich area in which to make work.

This programme aims to expose people to new perspectives. Can you recall a significant experience of being transfixed by digital art?

LD: The first time I saw Ryoji Ikeda perform was at the Barbican when he presented datamatics. I felt like I had been sucked into a rollercoaster ride for one hour and spat out at the other end slightly unsure of where I had been. It tipped my serotonin levels - I grinned from ear to ear for hours. The marrying of the sonic and visual and the sheer scale of the screen and volume opened my eyes to immersive possibilities in a whole new way.

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