2 February 2015
ArtSlant Berlin

“There is a lot of freedom to being a freelancer,” once said journalist Don Gibb. “You get to work any 13 hours of the day you like.”

The same can be said for any self-employed entrepreneur—including artists. Much is to be learned from this year’s “Capture All” edition of Transmediale, the annual digital art festival famous for its screenings, performances, exhibitions, and conference that hash out media art every year in Berlin. This year the festival’s main exhibitions, held over the past four days in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, included artists whose work deals with alter egos and privacy, but also offered a smart take on the endless stream of internet-based work culture, a subject close to this author’s own heart.

Heather Dewey-Hagborg presented one of the smartest pieces in the show with Invisible (2014). Fashioned as an infomercial, she created a kit for protection against biological privacy. “The Erase Spray” allows one to remove their DNA from a wine glass, while “The Replace” adds DNA noise. At Transmediale, she revealed the recipe and instructions for her piece, which is open source and is launching a new website for community research into bio privacy.

Two visually stunning pieces included Face Cages by Zach Blas (2013–2015), which takes medieval torture devices and fashions them as metal masks, and the avatar-persona LaTurbo Avedon’s video Commons (2015), which is a curated collection of video clips from the artist’s friends and followers.

Jennifer Lyn Morone’s Jennifer Lyn Morone Inc (2014) transforms the artist into an imperfect corporation, spouting out motivational videos and business-speak. If she were actually selling a product in the videos, including clear links for downloading and fee information, she might well be successful with such a branding mechanism.

Speaking of selling, HKW’s lower level featured a guest Transmediale exhibition entitled Time and Motion: Redefining Working Life, which really hit a nerve. It looked into labor in the digital era, though to me, it showed how technology can make people broke. With home offices, we spend so much time online, but how much of that time is actually productive or profitable? A few examples spell it out, starting with the pioneering piece by Taiwanese artist Teching Hsieh, One Year Performances 1978-1986, including the durational Time Clock Piece daily selfie.

Oliver Walker showed One Euro (2014), a multi-channel video that documents how long it takes several people in places all over the world to make one euro. Some videos are one second; others go on for an hour. It puts the world economy into perspective, including the wage of the artist—how much did he receive to exhibit this video?

Our lives are no longer the standard eight hours of work, eight hours of rest, and eight hours of play, as Sam Meech points out in Punchcard Economy (shown at top). He used data collected from people’s working hours in the digital and creative industries to create a knitted banner with a design made from digital glitches fused with old school punchcard systems.

The wizard-behind-the-curtain piece was Timelines (2006) by Glasgow-based artist Ellie Harrison, who color-codes her productivity, showing how much time she spends on pitching projects and writing proposals versus actually making art. This is a stark contrast to the romantic image of the artist we hold so high, but what can be done? This show is the first step in recognizing one of the art world’s biggest problems: the financial independence of artists. The answer lies in increasing our financial education, spending time learning more about personal finance. But also, to speak up as these artists have, and continue to do something about it.

Nadja Sayej