[June 18th 2003]
Alexei Shulgin and Olga Goriunova, the Read_Me organizers.
Report from the Read_Me 2.3
On Friday 30th and Saturday the 31st of May the
second Read_Me festival was organized
in Helsinki, Finland. The first festival was held in Moscow in May
2002. Lars Midbøe reports from the festival.
Readme software art festival
Helsinki 30th 31st of May 2003
Say it with Software Art
So what is this festival with the strange name that is usually
associated with the file that accompanies most software applications
the file that no one reads unless the program does not work
or behaves strangely?
Read_Me is a festival, or rather a conference, with a small
exhibition, dedicated to software art. Software created with purposes
different from traditional pragmatic software, software that are
works of art in their own right. The Read_Me festival aims to change
the far too common view on software as only being a neutral tool
for information processing.
During two days artists and theorists meet for presentations and
discussions on various aspects of software and code;- and art. One
might think this would be a really nerdy event with people discussing
advanced programming issues and the usual religious
discussion of different flavors of UNIX. But Read_Me is far different
from such an event since the organizers did a really good job on
keeping the conferences linked to art and at the same time focus
on code and creativity as the main issue.
Left: Just put on a cheap suit and put on
the show, like the Yes Men do.
Right: Alessandro Ludovico
is constantly working, gathering info, even at parties.
Gulliver travels to UNIX land
The closest the festival got to religious was the
quite lively discussions generated by Florian Cramers brilliant
lecture on the topic Artistic Subjectivity and the Unix Commandline.
Florian Cramer teaches Comparative Literature at Freie Universitaet
Berlin and with his background he managed to draw parallels between
operating systems and classic literature that few would have thought
of. Parallels used as a tool to make his point on why one should
or could reconsider the marvel or graphical user interfaces. I will
for sure reread Gullivers travels, especially the passage
where people are carrying out discussions with the help of physical
objects. It is a really amusing comment on todays Graphical
Bringing Capitalism and Democracy Closer Together
In strong contrast to Florians rather strict and concise lecture,
where all presentation graphics were presented in the
UNIX command line itself, was the colorful presentation given by
Hans Bernhard a Swiss artist living in Austria. He is also
working together with his girlfriend Liz under the assembling name
Ubermorgen. There are not many artists who can present documentation
of an artwork in the form of videotape containing a 27 minute broadcast
from CNN. The whole broadcast was dedicated to discussion related
to the opening, shutdown and then reopening of Hans Bernhards
website called [V]ote-auction. During the US presidential elections
in 2000, Ubermorgen and James Baumgartner ran a web site buying
and auctioning votes via the Internet. This website was of course
upsetting to the US authorities but somehow they just did not see
the irony and therefore tried to sue the pants of the artist. The
project generated 14 lawsuits, 2500 news clippings and by running
this project he managed to waste a large number of working hours
at institutions like the FBI, CIA and NSA. Hans Bernhard also runs
the website injunction generator. So if you would like
to be an instant hacktivist you could log in there and scare a company
by your own choice, and probably waste a good number of lawyer hours
somewhere in the US.
Left: Overview of the exhibition at Read_Me.
Right: An essential part in any good conference is
a good party the last evening. Here the guys from micromusic providing
good music created on laptops and Gameboy consoles.
Hacktivists and other disturbing people
Apart from individual artists and theorists there were also
a couple of presentations by people representing various communities
and projects. First in this group was Alessandro Ludovico, who presented
both his online and printed version of the new media magazine Neural.it.
Neural has been published in magazine form since 1993 and online
since late 2000 and its focus is on new media art, hactivism and
other phenomena related to creative use of new technology. During
Alessandros presentation one is amazed by the work that is done
by one persons keeping the rest of us updated on the latest development
in the world of new media art. It is worth mentioning that from
this issue and forward the paper version of Neural will be published
in both an English and Italian version.
The old school of hackers and coders was represented by the infamous
organization Chaos Computer Club. Founded in 1981 it has been around
since the beginning of the personal computing era and is well known
throughout the world for various projects, not all of them, confirmed
by the club itself. Tim Pritlove from the Berlin branch of CCC gave
a good quick start guide to the world and terminology
of hacking. He also gave a presentation of the clubs latest project
blinkenlights where they turned an eight story building into one
large monochrome computer screen, a cool project on art in public
space only too bad the presentation was a bit too detailed and long.
The most humorous presentation in this group was in my opinion the
Yes Men. They are not as the name implies only men, they call themselves
genderless, but they always say yes.
By running a rather unclear website they are frequently, and deliberately,
mistaken as the world trade organization. When asked to come to
various conferences and symposiums to talk about free trade etc.
they will of course say YES! Once they are invited and have told
the organizers that they are not able to send the CEO but will send
a professor this or that. From there they put on the show. They
travel to the conference, paying their own tickets to avoid lawsuits,
and will then present a completely nonsense presentation on subjects
like free trade or maybe present news like WTO will shut down
its organization since we have recently come to the conclusion that
we only make problems for poor developing countries.
A project like this might be in the far end of software art but
it is important to remember that the creation of this wonderful
new media called the Internet is based on the development of code,
and Internet is the media that has created a possibility for social
and political actions like these.
Left: Florian Cramer and the UNIX command line.
Right: Hans Bernhard on stage.
Focus through variations
In my personal opinion I think the organizers of Read_Me festival
made a wise decision on putting together persons and groups with
so different backgrounds, as a way of focusing on the unsung hero
of new technology namely software and code. At the same time they
manage to focus on the fact that code will only be boring code without
the people who take on the challenge to use this tool in new and
The total of lectures and presentations was eighteen, featuring
a couple of more well known, and less well known, names than some
of the people mentioned above, but it would be impossible to cover
it all without writing a small book. If you have not been to a lecture
by e.g. Lev Manovich before, you might think that his lecture was
more interesting but Read_Me created a good opportunity to experience
not so well known but really interesting people and subjects.
On the critical side one could wish that the festival was spread
out over three days to give some more room for pauses and informal
discussions. Sitting through eighteen lectures and presentations
during two days is quite demanding on the audience. But anyway it
was really worth the effort.
Left: Read_Me gathered quite a good crowd. Right:
Still from the CNN program discussing Vote Auction.
I would strongly recommend that anyone interested in the development
of new media art to visit the runme.org website and if possible
try to get their hands on a copy of the Read_Me 2.3 Reader, a small
but interesting book published for the Read_Me festival.
The next trend?
A roughly recreated/interpreted quote or comment from one lecturer
could be described like this now that the art establishment
has exploited the term net.art beyond the point of further possibilities,
it might be time to coin a new phrase, and software art seem to
be the right one. Since this quote is a construct from memory
I will not mention, who expressed this. But feel free to browse
through the complete program of the festival and try to make a guess.
The Read_Me festival is organized by Olga Goriunova
and Alexei Shulgin. The organization and the online project called
runme.org. run by them together with an additional group of people.
Apart from the two day conference the festival also includes
a small but interesting exhibition presenting a selection of software
artworks. The exhibition showed eight works selected from the run.me
website, where all works can be downloaded and viewed and/or experienced.
Lars Midbøe is one of the people behind Malmoe
based Electrohype (http://www.electrohype.org).
About the Read_Me Festival:
The Read_Me Program:
The Runme Site:
The Read_Me Reader:
Neural.it by Alessandro Ludovico:
Hans Bernhard and Ubermorgen:
CNN on Vote auction:
Tim Pritlove Blinkenlights:
The Yes Men: