Ayşe Draz interviewed Ekmel Ertan, 2012 (published on LabKultur)
AD: Amber Art and Technology Festival holds its 6th edition in 2012; could you please tell us about why and how you started such a festival that brings art and technology together?
EE: amberFestival started in 2007 with the initiative of a group of people who came together and founded BIS Body Process Arts Association (Beden İşlemsel Sanatlar Derneği). Since 1999 I was teaching at Visual Communication Design Department of Bilgi University and several universities as part timer. New media culture developed around VCD departments of few universities. In 2007 there was a visible need for an independent platform that creates a community of young researchers, students and artists that are working or interested in the field of new media to exchange experience and knowledge internationally as well as locally. This need was the actual base for amberFestival. The founders of BIS who were artists, researchers, academics from divers disciplines, were already working in the field of art and technology and looking for a multi discipliner platform to support the development of the field in our local. Therefore we decided to start with amberFestival in order to bring international artists together with local artists, students and art followers to create a platform for exchange and to provide visibility for young local artists. I believe we succeeded in what we intended when we set off. We have accelerated the developments in the field and gave it a direction with a critical approach.
AD: Where might we draw the line between art and technology in our age? Or would this already be a futile attempt?
EE: We do not need to draw a line between art and technology on the contrary what we are trying to do is to withdraw that line which is a forced abstraction that lets “system” continue without any questioning. The technology has always been the most powerful actor that transforms the society. Today we all, regardless of nations and borders, deeply dependent on technology, our lives have been shaped by the technology. In such a time we cannot draw a line between art and technology which prevent us understanding the current condition and detaches us from the reality. In order to have a voice on our lives we need to expose the inner processes of the new technologies and deeply understand the threats that comes along the pleasant outcomes of it. We cannot understand and/or criticize today’s life without utilizing technology itself in an artistic manner. Therefore we have to withdraw such a line that detaches art and technology from each other. We need to support developing a culture that merges them together and gives both to the hands of people.
AD: How has the festival contributed to creating an awareness of the (potential) relationship between art and technology for the Turkish audience?
EE: The relation between art and technology is not potential but actual; it is there. We are only bringing that inevitable relation to the audiences’ attention to amuse and/or make them think critically. What we are showing to the audience is what they already know or have an idea throughout their daily life. To provide channels -through the technology- for an easy access to the content is the advantage of New Media art.
The problem is about understanding the second paradigm shift after sixties that arises with the new media in the last three decades. This is not a local problem of the art audience in Turkey but global. The criticality of awareness is not between art and technology but between art, technology and life. I believe amberFestivals, like most new media or say art and technology festivals, helps creating such awareness in our local as well.
AD: The festival’s theme this year is “Paratactic Commons”; could you elaborate on what this term encompasses/refers to, also as one of the curators of this year’s festival?
EE: Since the beginning of amberFestival what we are trying to do is to bring the critical questions to the attention of the audience in general. That is why amberFestival is athematic festival that raises a question every year. If you follow the themes from the beginning you will see a continuous relation between the themes of every year. After the last years theme “Next Ecology”, this year we came up with “Paratactic Commons”. “Paratactic Commons” suggests reclaiming the commons as a para-political tactic. Reclaiming the commons is the only way for an “exodus from the disaster capitalism” –as Aslihan Senel, the local organizer of “The Mapping of the Commons of Istanbul Conference and Workshop” in the frame of amber’12, phrased it.
The Commons is what we focused this year. Not the private and not the public but the commons we wanted to bring to the table. We believe that we can survive and create a better life for the humanity, only by reclaiming the commons, which are the essentials, from the air, water and other natural resources to the concepts like human rights, freedom, right to knowledge and so on. Paratactic is about placing the commons just next to private and public without any subordination or coordination sort of relation. There are commons, which are the resources owned in common and not belong to anybody or any entity. The commons, this common ownership of resources from natural ones to human-made, are what we already loosing. Reclaiming the commons will re-set the private and public and will be the only change for the humankind; that is what we believe and wanted to discuss this year at amber’12.
AD: What activities, workshops and events are highlighted in this year’s festival?
EE: As every year, amberfestival consist of a conference about the theme, exhibition of new media works, workshops, performances and presentations. This year we exhibited artworks in four venues including İTÜ Taşkışla Habitat Hall, Çukurcuma Hamamı, Beyoğlu Belediyesi Gençlik Merkezi and Pasajist. The conference took place in Taşkışla on the first weekend. This year we had another conference followed with a connected workshop before the festival formally starts. This was the Mapping the Commons of İstanbul Conference held in Taşkışla with the participation of researchers, professionals and artist from Istanbul. The participants presented their understanding of commons regarding İstanbul to provide a practical input for the following conference although it was a stand alone discussion platform as well. The following workshop led by Hacktitectura from Spain. The output of the workshop also exhibited at Çukurcuma Hamamı during amberFestival.
AD: What difficulties or facilities does Istanbul have in terms of bringing art and technology together?
EE: Under the current condition of capitalistic market, it is difficult to find support for an independent art event. Local public money is needed to support independent art scene; otherwise art scene as well will be surrounded and led by the corporations, which is almost the actual situation in Turkey. Either a grass root movement or a socially responsible government as well as socially responsible private sector are what the independent art scene needs in Turkey. What I am talking about is not opening new, well-designed, high class, impressive buildings and venues to attach your name with but investing on creativity and production, which means investing on people and initiatives.
İstanbul may be a difficult city to live but so rich as well especially for creative people with its diversity and its multi-centered structure. This diversity and high population requires new technologies to manage the city and to provide a better life to the citizens. This is a potential, not fully utilized yet. Although Turkey is 7th biggest population in facebook, we still need to develop much richer and functional use of the new technologies in the management of daily life in İstanbul. Therefore Istanbul is a very good test bed for the creative and innovative use of technology. In that sense amberFestival and amberPlatform with its year-long activities and on going research projects have an important role for the city as well beside its networking and other art related functions.