By Rolinde Hoorntje
TodaysArts festival director Olof van Winden welcomes visitors into the Royal Theatre of The Hague with a wristband around his arm pulsating with dots of blue and red light. Upon inquiry he readily demonstrates his ‘wifible’: a mobile hotspot that does not confront the user with a pop up asking for a password but rather with the snapshots that visual artist Aram Bartholl took of oblivious people passing in the street. The pictures taken against a green backdrop are part of Bartholls performance intervention in public space, Green Screen.
The work is illustrative of the shift in focus of TodaysArt, the multidisciplinary festival that took place on 22 and 23 September in the political capital of The Netherlands. New technology itself was no longer a leading theme at the festival at the intersection of technology and fine arts, but rather the way technology invades our everyday lives. The Royal Theatre was once again home to the nomadic festival that was held on four different locations around town. Tweens and teens, probably largely students of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, wandered around its silk wall papered halls between the otherworldly bell techno played by Aleksi Perälä and the dreamy reverb beats of SkyH1. Against a backdrop of sparsely flickering red and blue tubes attached to the balconies, visitors could dance on the main stage where actors normally display there art.
On Friday DJ’s Fausto Bahia, Omaar and Lao of Mexican label NAAFI played the main stage. TodaysArt can be applauded for its effort to put an interesting new label on the map although their very danceable fusion of salsa, cumbia and trap started of a bit too heavy.
On Saturday night Laurel Halo played songs of her latest album Dust live on the main stage with no more than a few pieces of hardware and her voice. The concert was introspective, subtle and completely captivating. The songs may be leaning towards pop but Halo proved to be a sound design artist first, crafting spacious and multi-layered compositions that fit the intimate and dark vibe of the big stage perfectly. Visitors stretched out on the wooden beams between the stage curtains and closed their eyes as complex yet subtle drum patterns were adorned by various manipulations of her voice.
Upstairs Marie Davidson, the breakthrough Canadian artist, slammed her poetry-songs onto the audience (‘work, and work!’). Her dark yet appealing mix of slam poetry and wave got everyone into motion. She really knew how to establish a connection with the crowd in an electrifying way and had some relevant things to say with a sensual diction.
In between navigating the different floors visitors sipped on a gin and tonic or drank a local brew and explored visual works of art at display in the chic foyers such as the Gag Reflex, a video installation covering the art of puking as a response towards the growing complexity of society or a sofa balancing on one leg supported by a robotic internal mechanism. The classy festival location had its flaws as well. Sound-systems were not always well adjusted to the DJ-sets. In the foyer the music was so loud that people were literally driven outside onto the patio. Upstairs Swedish beatsmith Toxe literally set one of her monitor speakers on fire with her sonic explosions. The room had to be cleared for the rest of the Friday night as a result.
The festival at the intersection of art, music and technology invaded the wind city in different and unexpected ways. Visitors that biked or walked in between the four different venues could stumble upon the Santa Melodica Orchestra, a close harmony choir of 25 melodicas connected to a plastic long tube and a balloon. By blowing air into the tubes and swaying them at different tempi the musicians created organic arpeggio’s that sounded like trance avant la lettre.
The most appealing thing about TodaysArt is the different ways in which it stimulated the senses and provided context on current and very relevant topics. During the day there were panel talks on, amongst others, our rights as workers for the GAFA-consortium (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple). Like Asterix and Obelix had to defend their village against the Romans, we should free ourselves from digital slavery and reclaim our online identity was a much heard phrase. It’s comparable to smoking, said Renata Avila, human rights lawyer and part of Julian Assange's team: ‘We know that the storage and encrypted transfer of these data may have negative effects in the future. Your insurance will become more expensive and if you’re living in Turkey your neighbour might be arrested [for being your Facebook-friend]. We know this may happen but we choose to ignore it for the time being.’ Proposed solutions included not using Google, the use of Blockchain-technology and the advice to store personal data in a digital safe.
There were workshops on how to make a self-driving car, new technology that can be incorporated in human physiology and there was a dj-workshop for women. In the evening there were audio-visual performances such as ‘Still be Here’ with Hatsune Miku. The part documentary, part concert was a fascinating introduction to the cult around vocalloid Hatsune Miku. The 3D-animated figure is the face of one of the voices in a Japanese music software program that has a huge following in Asia. She was projected on four screens in hologram-style. At times her performance was so sugar coated it made you cringe, yet it also provided interesting background as to why grown men in Germany start making there own Miku-costumes. It questioned the way technology isolates and alienates us from each other in subtext.
The absolute highlight of the festival was the opening concert ‘Sacred Horror in Design’ by Iranian experimental composer Ata ‘Sote’ Ebtekar and visual artist Tarik Barri – known from previous collaborations with Nicolas Jaar and Thom Yorke. The concert started subdued and acoustic with two Iranian musicians playing the santoor (a string instrument from India) and the setar (a small guitar). Only the setting in minor would predict the arrival of a thunderstorm. Sote started out with slow and thick soundscapes but as he twisted his knobs and manipulated his synths and drums into ever faster and distorted drones the visuals of Barri turned from a colourful mosaic into pixels that spun out of control into kaleidoscopic patterns. When Sotes composition turned from glitchy sounds into white noise, the gritty visuals turned black and white. As the volume increased the snare-instruments could hardly keep up with the pounding beats and the screen lit up in red flames. The arrival of technology seemed to be a sweet promise at first but proved to be a disaster in the end.