twitter facebook
Copenhagen Game Collective (DK). Photo: Ida Toft and Marie Schreiner Poulsen

Alt_Cph 2014 – Copenhagen’s Alternative Art Fair 0

Lizete Riņķe

Alt_Cph 14
September 5 – 7, 2014
FABRIKKEN/The Factory of Art and Design, Copenhagen

From September 5 to September 7, the ninth edition of Alt_Copenhagen will mark the end of Copenhagen Art Week. Alt_Cph 14 is organised by the Factory of Art and Design, in cooperation with Copenhagen Art Week and the IT University of Copenhagen. It is an international, alternative art fair with a focus on art that merges together science, technology, art and research. Bioart labs, international hacker spaces and new media labs will be presented. The programme includes different workshops, performances, talks, concerts and a seminar. The key words of the fair are “interdisciplinary cooperation and participation”. The fair has been established as a place for experimentation, exchanging ideas and developing new ones, as is suggested by this year’s theme of “Assemble”.

“The goal is to show diversity in the way technology can be interpreted artistically, because there is a lot of activity in this field, and because interdisciplinary collaboration is becoming more and more important as a means of understanding and developing new knowledge and new technologies”, explains Carl Martin Faurby, the project manager of this year’s Alt_Cph, and to whom had the chance to direct a few questions.

 Are there any highlights in this year’s programme that you would particularly like to recommend?

There is something for every taste; in fact, it is against our philosophy to put somebody on a pedestal. Nevertheless, we are so fortunate to have the artist Andy Gracie pay us a visit and to tell us about his artistic practice – in which he works in cooperation with the world’s largest laboratories on such projects as growing fruit flies that would be able to survive on one of Saturn’s moons. The British C-lab will participate with their award-winning project Living Mirror”, in which bacteria, light and gravity are used to create beautiful images. 8bit klubben have succeeded in inviting some of the leading names from the 8bit-milieu to Denmark, among them Trey Frey, Bitshifter and Nerdsynth. By hacking outdated technology like Gameboys, they make the contraptions play exceptionally funky dance music. They will be playing on Saturday, September 6, where we will be together with Copenhagen Art Week to celebrate the end of what will, hopefully, be a fantastic week.

8bit klubben (DK). Courtesy of Alt_Cph

How has the fair evolved during the eight years of its existence?

It’s the first time in the fair's history that the fair has had such a specific theme; this is certainly a new turn. In recent years, the fair has been curated by many different people, all of whom have made every project something extraordinary. Therefore, it is difficult to point in one certain direction. It’s more about being up-to-date and reflective about the latest developments in artist-run environments.

Are there any particular initiatives that are different from those of past years?

There is this particular thematic focus, which is also much more interdisciplinary than ever before. There is a close cooperation this year with the Danish IT University of Copenhagen and Anna Vallgård, who is Assistant Professor there, and who has curated the fair. This has lead to a large seminar at the ITU on September 6, which is free of charge and at which everybody is welcome. We hope to create a platform for a lot of new encounters between different people and disciplines who would never have met otherwise, but who, in fact, have a lot in common.

You put great emphasis on the fact that Alt_Cph is an alternative, non-commercial event. Why do you call it a fair then?

Alt_Cph was founded as an alternative to the commercial art fairs like Art Copenhagen and now, also Chart. It was developed with a desire to put more focus on the artistic practice instead of the market value of art, but also to put the artist-run spaces into focus instead of the galleries.

The field that lies in-between art, science and technology is rapidly developing on an international level, with even some of the larger institutions beginning to show an interest in it. How would you describe the situation in Denmark and the other Nordic countries?

During the past few years, a lot has happened in this field, but Denmark is still far behind when compared to Germany, England and Holland, where there are large institutions that work with this type of art. There is still a wide gap between the artists from the academies and the people who have technical knowledge and who are interested in using art in order to work creatively in their field. Why there is such a wide gap between the traditional art scene and those who work with natural sciences and technology is one of the questions that we wish to raise at the fair. Only a few of the seven Danish participants have attended an art academy. There simply is not enough cooperation between art academies and the other institutions to further this field properly. The main goal of the fair is precisely to show that the knowledge of today is so complex that a single individual cannot contain all of it. To generate new knowledge, it is necessary to work across disciplines and paradigms, and this concerns both the natural sciences and art. Luckily, we are beginning to understand this in Denmark, as can be seen in the new documentary “Collaborative Society”, which we will be previewing at the fair in a sneak-preview version. What is crucial to the Nordic countries is that fairs like ours create networks between neighbouring countries, so that all of these people – who can seldom afford to travel and meet – have an opportunity to create future cooperative relationships and share knowledge.

Institutions in Denmark, in general, hold the opinion that the public is interested in the familiar, but neglects the experimental. Is this also your impression? After all, this is the eighth edition of Alt_Cph...

Experimental art can often be demanding, but it can also be extremely rewarding. Therefore, it is important for us to create a friendly and open atmosphere at the fair, one in which people can experience what is going on in the alternative art scene without feeling excluded. This year particularly we are showing a lot of projects that are interactive, fun and educational for professionals, children and others who might be interested. And what is exceptional about this fair is that you will be able to meet the people behind the artworks – and who are very eager to talk about their work to anybody who is interested.

Today, political art is often proclaimed as being dead, and  contemporary art is criticized as having too little to say. However, a lot of the activism within today's art has a focus on science and technology. Would you define this as the “new” political art?

Activism and do-it-yourself culture have central roles in this field. Participants at the fair are often critical of the technology that we surround ourselves with today. For many of the participants, it’s really about showing how to take technology into one’s own hands instead of just accepting the finished solution, wherein we basically just become consumers. Today it is almost impossible to repair your own smartphone, in contrast to earlier times, in which you always had the possibility of lifting the hood of your car yourself. This is a development that makes the activist-technologists very important. There are many ways of being both critical and an activist within art, and this field is extremely important because today, technology has such an enormous influence on our lives. However, it is nothing new that artists are working critically with technology. The participants in the fair are just showing that art is abreast with the latest developments in technology.

Cooperation, creativity, and the exchange of ideas across disciplines all have an essential role at Alt_Cph. Is the main purpose of the fair to be a platform that makes it possible for artists to create a network? What part does the audience, and its active participation, play?

At the fair, we are interested in engaging the audience and creating a network that crosses fields, cultures and societal backgrounds. Everybody is important. An example could be Furtherfield presenting their new game at the fair, “Play Your Place”, which makes it possible for people to express their opinions towards urban planning in their own local communities. Furtherfield is interested in both developing and trying out the game at the fair together with Danish gamers and game developers, but they also wish to show the audience all of the possibilities by playing the game together with them. At the end of the day, it is the public’s ideas that matter. Consequently, the fair is a place not only for the nerdy, but also for those who have something to say, but who seldom get the chance to do so.

Furtherfield (UK), Courtesy of Alt_Cph

Does that mean that today, everybody can do art? All you need are access and the skills necessary to use the technology? Is this an impression that the various DIY laboratories, workshops and other initiatives could give?

To be an artist means creating art through artistic practice. When people use technology in a self-reflexive, poetic and groundbreaking way, then yes, the context of art is a good place in which to operate. Here you are able to work with the meaning of technology instead of its function – which is where the focus is most often placed. A characteristic of art is that it continuously reflects and renegotiates itself.

What are your visions of the future for Alt_Cph?

Alt_Cph is being continually created by new people, and therefore, it is continually evolving. Those of us who have worked with the fair recognize the importance of such a platform for artist-run initiatives. I hope that the fair will continue to be a place for creating networks, as well as a place where the general public can encounter experimental projects to which they otherwise would not have access. It is always exciting to see what the next Alt_Cph will have to offer.

Science Friction (DK). Photo: Sara Glahn