Archipelagos of Fragility at KIKK Festival 2019

Author: Ian Jones

In a grey autumn of 2019 I made extraordinary use of the Substrakt conference budget by marching—via the Eurostar—off to Namur, Belgium for the 9th edition of KIKK Festival.

The organisers of KIKK describe the festival –

KIKK is an non-profit association that promotes digital and creative cultures. We create bridges between art, culture, science and technology through the organization of event and educational projects as well as the production of artworks and support to creative projects. The association organizes KIKK Festival every year. An event that has become well renowned on the international digital & creative scene.

The motto of this year’s KIKK is Archipelagos of Fragility, a suitably abstract and open-ended concept that laid the stage for a wide range of talks, exhibitions and workshops.

This was my first visit to KIKK, and I’m absolutely intending to return. Here’s a roundup of a few things I learned.

Kids in Brasil’s favelas can’t play Pokemon GO

This isn’t a rant about smartphone prices, but rather an observation on the collection of data, in particular the effect of how data is collected has on the way data is used.

In her talk “What is Missing is Still There”, artist and researcher Mimi Onuoha asked the question –

In a world mediated by computers, everything begins to look like data. But what about the things that don’t fit?

Pokemon GO is a participatory game that runs off the Google Maps API, and users must navigate the features of a map to engage with gameplay. However, if your street, village or neighbourhood doesn’t match Google’s criteria of what constitutes a mappable area, your map will not exist.

Morro dos Prazeres, Rio de Janerio

Screenshot from one of Onuoha’s interactive maps showing a densely populated yet largely unmapped area of Morro dos Prazeres, Rio de Janerio

Pokemon GO is an obvious example, but the wider reality is much more profound, as Ronaldo Lemos, director of the Center for Technology & Society at Rio de Janeiro State University, told Quartz Magazine;

by not being on the map, they (favelas) have very sad consequences in terms of public services. They don’t have an address, so they don’t get mail at the post office…You don’t get garbage collection, you don’t get electricity. That’s the reality for more than 1.5 million people in Rio.

More of Mimi’s incredible work –

Plants can dance, just like [some of] us

A huge part of what made KIKK so special for me was the installations, exhibitions and interactive artworks that made up KIKK in Town. Sometimes the most simple exhibits can have the most effect, and Cédric Sabato’s “Vegetal Balet” was one of these.

Sabato’s work presents us with a selection of plants in glass jars, each one listening to classical music. On close inspection, each of the plants is moving slowly to the music, in what Sabato describes as

an ‘interactive bio’ installation that allows everyone to create a contemplative link with nature and to develop a reflection on the question of the relationship between man and his environment.

Machine learning is both incredible and pretty f**king scary

Having met Memo Akten a few months ago in London, I had the feeling that his talk would be both insightful and mind-bending, and I wasn’t disappointed. Memo wears many hats, describing himself as an “Artist, researcher, curious, philomath working with computation as a medium and language to investigate the collisions between nature, science, technology, ethics, ritual, tradition and religion; thinking about the intersections of science and spirituality.”

In a talk lasting just under one hour, Memo took us on a journey through his mind—on how we are shaped by magic, religion and ritual, even if we don’t comprehend anything other than our own definition of consciousness. I have read, watched and listened to a lot about machine learning, but never heard it contextualised and illustrated as well as Memo was able to in his talk.

Memo Akten at KIKK 2019

Memo Akten on the KIKK stage

Memo also presented a rich archive of visual work, all related to his studies, theories and stories. His Deepdream style image of GCHQ is one that will stay with me for a while.

Spend some time with Memo’s work –

Brands have reached the end of storytelling

Base Design is a branding agency that originated in Belgium and now operates globally, with offices in Europe, North America and Australia.

Thomas Léon and Thomas Byttebier (Twomas) talked us through the history of branding, from the first act of making a mark, through logos, slogans and the present ubiquitous storytelling. So ubiquitous, they claim, that most contemporary branding falls into the category of “blanding”.

So where do we go from here? Well, the argument from Twomas is that we’ve reached the end of storytelling, and are now in the era of “Storyfeeling”.

More about the branding paradox –

The act of yawning is the first step to regaining our sleep

Working in London, New York & Barcelona, Hypen Labs are described as

an international team of women of color working at the intersection of technology, art, science, and the future.

Of the hugely creative and intelligent projects that they presented, The Gospel According to Yawn, a project that aims to create a database of yawns was a stand-out. Yawns are a signal to triggering sleep states, and as they declare

we are building a triggering database for the post-capitalist age..

See more of their work –

Dragonflies experience the world at 300 frames per second

I’ve been following Marshmallow Laser Feast for years, it’s hard to describe the work they make in a blog post, so I’ll encourage you to look for yourself.

Ersin Han Ersin delivered a mind bending look at some of their projects from the past few years, including the incredible In the Eyes of the Animal. Originally set in Grizedale forest, and subsequently world toured, this multi sensory experience lets you navigate the forest from the perspective of it’s inhabitants.

What sets MLF apart from others, is their ability to produce speculative work, in that they work with scientific facts and theories and generate narrative based experiences. I’m excited to see what they produce in the future.

More of their work here –

The reality of a festival like KIKK is that there is so much going on, everyone will have their own experience of the festival. Having never visited Namur before, I was able to go inside the theatres, churches, schools, museums and art spaces of the town, and see them brought to life by artists, designers and programmers. I am eagerly looking forward to my next visit.