Transmodern: Radical Culture and Accessible Art Through Interaction
For the past 6 years, the Transmodern Festival has been the premier gathering of interactive and avant-garde art and performance. The event serves to both highlight women and GLBT artists, and bring modern art—what is in many cases thought of as haughty, cerebral, and un-relatable—to the feet of everyday people and artists alike. The thing that sets Transmodern apart from other art events is interactivity, the back and forth between artists and observers. “If you go to a show and watch a band it’s a one way street, even if you go to a gallery and see a show its still a one way street, where in Transmodern you try to engage that dialogue” says Pancake. It is important to note that collectivity and dialogue exist mainly in the bottom sector of the gallery scene, not in museums. The museum and high-class gallery atmosphere is uninviting toward open conversation, however there are plenty of spaces in Baltimore that are.
Baltimore is unique in that there are a lot of big warehouse spaces that people live and work out of, and there are several artist-run galleries within these spaces, which Pancake uses to the advantage of the festival. The artists who run the spaces Transmodern has used throughout the years have been very open and willing to participate. The spaces, which include this year Gallery 4, The Whole Gallery, Nudashank, Floristree, and others, bring a vast group of people to the event, and let the festival evolve as it moves from place to place. This year is unique in that Tide Point, part of the waterfront will be activated in an outdoor session, and the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) will also be included.
When I heard the BMA was going to host the first night of festivities I was a little confused. The BMA is one of the few large and prestigious institutions in the area, and with the festivals history of artist-run spaces, and ideology of non-traditional aesthetics it seemed not to fit. Though with the festival’s growing popularity and critical acclaim, larger artists with wider recognition are being asked to contribute, and in order to accommodate them and show them with the professionalism they deserve, a more prominent venue became necessary. Plus, a small endeavor that started with about 60 people showing up each day growing to the extent that an institution like the BMA will become involved is a great milestone and achievement no matter what the history or ideology. An artist or organizer’s greatest goal is to be widely recognized, and moving in part to the BMA is an opportunity that simply cannot be turned down.
My final question for Catherine was regarding her thoughts on the carnival-like aspects that grow out of many arts festivals. Transmodern is pretty silly at times, to be more interactive and to break the ice between strangers. She pointed out to me that what seems silly from afar ceases to be once you take part in it, interacting makes it fun. So I urge anyone who wants to experience new radical culture and interactive art and killer performances—like the Annex Theater’s rendition of Fantastic Planet—and overall just wants to have some fun, to get down to the Transmodern Festival.
The Transmodern Festival will be held at the BMA, Tide Point, and four floors of the H&H building downtown from April 15th-18th. Find more info at www.transmodernfestival.org
Video is an odd media. It has trouble being shown in just about any gallery setting. In group shows video work is often placed on a television with headphones for someone to walk past, maybe listen for a few seconds and then move on. In a setting with other work with which people are accustomed to viewing for a few seconds and continuing on their way, video never has a chance. That is why it is becoming increasingly popular to showcase video art in a screening, and not in a gallery setting. Although the gallery is what is comfortably uncomfortable for artists and patrons, the space is not conductive to showing video as it should be shown, by itself and with audio, after all what is video without audio? Some video artists, like Doug Aitkin, prefer to make their videos multichannel installations in a space, where the viewer is immersed by sound, and must walk around to view the channels of video at once. But for those artists who create single stream works, a night in a theater viewing pieces back to back, like the opening night of the Transmodern Festival, is a thoughtful solution.
Given Transmodern’s history of interactive performance, I at first questioned the entire set up before realizing the festival is first and foremost an arts festival, not an interaction festival, and further “not a new age festival and not a transgender festival” as Catharine Pancake, the primary organizer of Transmodern, fist explained the Transmodern Age to me. The four day festival is largely based on interaction, true, but also includes concert performances, 2 and 3-D work, and a video showing which are all based, perhaps more importantly, in radical and unusual culture. The first day of Transmodern is a warm up, much like the first day of Whartscape, which interestingly enough was also held at the BMA last year.
The video reel showed 8 artists, ranging from Martha Colburn’s stop motion animation, to Amie Siegal’s YouTube mash up, to Nancy Evelyn Andrews’ part documentary, part fantasy story of a human/bird hybrid being brought back to life. In general I thought it was a good collection of work, there were several different approaches to film making, and a mix of humor and seriousness. As I was walking to the BMA before the screening, I hoped that there wouldn’t be any bad video art, as much of it is today, by anti-narrative film makers who appreciate cinema-verite but do an awful job realizing their ambitions, and to my surprise, that element was absent. Most of the videos were short and simple and not overdone, they got to the point. Gregg Beirmann’s The Hills Are Alive took a rotating stock of one second clips of it’s title song from The Sound of Music, overlaying them in a constant drone and delay. I’m almost positive the sound wasn’t altered in any way, and that use of simple cause and effect made his piece stand out for me.
Conversely, Nadia Hironaka, who I know to be a master of post production and rendered files, seemed to go too safe in her video. “Vanitas” was a series of shots of a kitchen table slowly bending and swirling, and returning to normal. I thought the piece could have been better, and knowing Hironaka’s work, I know it can be better. Syntactically “Vanitas” was a series of short movements and changes, where it could have been a long continuous shape shifting object, with more channels on top stopping and starting more abruptly. I really felt like it wasn’t a whole, it was a series of short movements that failed to climax.
Though Hironaka’s was, for me, the most anticipated, the most impressive video of the night had to have been Martha Colburn’s “Myth Lab” which took viewers on an historical journey from the pilgrims first landing to the present, chronicling everyone’s fantasy crystal meth addiction. It is a beautifully done stop motion animation which at times used real space to create in and out of focus objects, and was shot very erratically mimicking the content.
At intermission I was satisfied, the curators had put together an impressive collection of filmmakers and animators to kick start the Transmodern Festival. The three performances after intermission were Transmodern regulars, and if I’m in the right mood I can handle them, but being on a tight schedule and having seen them all before, I ducked out after the video segment saddened that I would not be able to attend any more of the festival because of my work schedule, and gladdened that what might be Catherine Pancake’s last year organizing Transmodern started with such a great collection of videos, and was able to move to the BMA for the first time.