Testing Grounds

This year’s edition of Cinnamon Colomboscope is titled TESTING GROUNDS: Art and Digital Cultures in South Asia and Europe.

Digital technology plays a significant role as Sri Lanka seeks to reimagine its future and find its unique position in an increasingly globalised, business-driven world. As in all other fields, the arts too responds to the changes brought on by digitisation. This year, Cinnamon Colomboscope will provide 'testing grounds' for the liaison between contemporary art and digital technology in Sri Lanka, the South Asian region and Europe.

The festival will be experimental in nature, and rich in contrast. Cinnamon Colomboscope has commissioned over 10 Sri Lankan artists to conceptualise and produce artworks that use electronic and digital media. Over 50 Sri Lankan and international artists and speakers will contribute to this year's programme including an exhibition, film screenings, audio-visual performances and an online exhibition. Through a series of workshops, artists’ talks and thematic conversations, the festival will foster knowledge exchange between Sri Lankan and foreign artists, local and international technology specialists and the audience.

TESTING GROUNDS was conceived and is curated by Dr Susanne Jaschko, a leading a renowned expert in the field of media arts who can look back on an impressive list of international art events and exhibitions.


Curatorial Note / Testing the Grounds

The techno-sphere is all around us. It has entered our houses, our pockets, our bodies and our minds. It has become integral to our existences; it has become atmospheric. It subsists on our data bodies, processes us, our movements and actions, and predicts our desires. We recognise its surfaces — the displays, cameras, the card readers and the insurmountable fences around data centres. We see its blinking satellites moving across the night sky and telecommunication towers rising in our cities. But who shapes our technological and information environments and hence our economies and cultures? And with which agenda? How can we actively participate and be a strong force in this process?

The access to communication technologies and information remains unequally distributed, and the levels and stages of digitisation largely differ between regions and countries around the world. Cultures coexist, and so do their distinct info- and techno-spheres that are rooted in the countries’ political past, geographical location and cultural history as well as their present-day economies.

Today, as Sri Lanka is recovering from its violent past and setting out to ‘reconfigure’ its future, digital technology is attributed an important role in this endeavour. It is in Sri Lanka where Google and Facebook can trial out their new technologies and services such as Project Loon or Aquila Solar. While Sri Lanka is striving for more connectivity, and for participating in digital economies, how will the increasing technologisation impact society and its cultures? How can its side effects be controlled?

How does contemporary art respond to the noticeable digital shift that Sri Lanka and other countries in the region undergo? Which perspectives do artists take on their respective digital cultures and politics? How do they explore technology as a medium before the background of strong local art traditions and the influences of Western art practices and discourses?

TESTING GROUNDS tries to give some answers to these questions through an intense programme of thematic and artists’ conversations, films, workshops, performances, and an exhibition. This year’s festival contrasts and fuses the different artistic perspectives on their distinct digital cultures, thus offering strong experiences as well as many entry points for a critical debate.

The festival offers three themes or rather ‘thematic lenses’ with which to approach and view the artworks and current shifts in our info- and techno-spheres. While this scheme enables visitors to explore one thematic strand in depth, the three themes ‘Under the Cloud’, ‘Kaleidoscopia’ and ‘Deep Sensing’ are naturally connected and allow for an incessant change of perspective.

TESTING GROUNDS takes place at the former General Post Office, an iconic colonial building erected in 1895 and has been closed off for the last 20 years. In this non-conventional space representative of the Sri Lanka’s past, and the past of communication, an experimental space for new media based arts unfolds. Electronic and digital media are still a widely uncharted field for most artists living and working in Sri Lanka today.

In this light, the artistic responses that Cinnamon Colomboscope 2016 TESTING GROUNDS has produced within Sri Lanka, are of particular interest. These artworks — the majority of them being commissioned by the festival — give an idea of the diverse and parallel realities that exist in the country at present.

When zooming out onto the South Asian region, TESTING GROUNDS features the work of some, if you will, ‘post-digital’ artists who use digital media next to other media as a means of artistic production. Post-digital is a term that has been used in order to describe an approach to digital media that no longer seeks technical innovation or improvement, and that implies digitisation is a ‘fait accompli’ – and that can therefore be played with. However debatable this term and its suppositions are, it draws attention the changed point of departure for artists today and 20 years ago.

The festival also raises awareness for darker sides of the atmospheric digital technologies; the asymmetric systems of power and the seemingly irrecoverable loss of privacy. In Europe, the critical debate on these issues has been going on for years and has inspired artists to hack and unveil the systems in place.

Cinnamon Colomboscope 2016 TESTING GROUNDS invites the audience to participate actively in its discourses and conversations and to carry them forward after the festival. I hope that this year’s festival can help to prepare the ground for a new and lasting liaison between the art and the diverse forms of expression offered by new media.

Susanne Jaschko
Curator, Cinnamon Colomboscope 2016 TESTING GROUNDS

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