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INTERVIEW: Alpha-ville Festival goes Post-Digital

London's most exciting annual digital arts festival is now in it's third year - and we think it's 100% zeitgeist! Run Riot's Emer Grant caught up with the co-Directors Estela Oliva (left) and Carmen Salas (right). Brace yourself for Alpha-ville 2011, set to explore the intersection between arts, technology and society. Running from 22-25 September, this years edition presents social media and interactive art, open labs, meet-ups, talks, workshops, screenings, live music, AV performances and a one-day Symposium on Post-digital culture.

Run-Riot: Hello Ladies. How are you both doing?
Estela Oliva:
Hello! I’m very well, full of energy at the moment, something is going on. I guess it must be Alpha-ville!
Carmen Salas: Same here, working lots and no social life, but very excited.

RR: So what have you been up to this week?
CS:
Being in the studio pretty much 9am to 5am Monday to Sunday. When we realise it’s too late to have food at night, we go to the off license in Mare Street and we get minestrone soup for £1.15 and Danish Salami for £1.20 – very healthy indeed.
EO: Yes, 'the week' has been pretty much Alpha-ville for the past 5 months, but the highlight for me was a friends wedding this week - that was special.

RR: Why a festival of ‘post digital’ culture?
CS:
We have evolved from 2009, absorbing what has happened in the last years and thinking that we don’t want to get stuck in the digital idea. For us post-digital means to use the existing technology as a medium to enable and find new solutions to problems. This year we want to highlight five key concepts: participation, collaboration, interaction, hybrid, and experimentation.
EO: We don’t really know what is happening after digital, what we know is that digital is part of our lives now. We are joining the discourse initiated by Nicolas Negroponte about post-digital and we believe that when technology becomes like bread in the shop it’s not a revolution any more and there is something else.  We are actively looking for that “something else”, so we have invited people to experience, speak, discuss, think and exchange new ideas.

RR: How have you deciphered the difference between digital and post digital?
EO & CS:
Research has been key in this process and also talking to people in our industry who feel that digital is not the right term to tell what they are doing.  The difference is in the way we are using the technology and the outcomes of this usage: for example social media has been used as medium of communication to change countries in the Middle East. But the medium is not important any more – it’s what you can do with it.

RR: What was your main inspiration into producing this festival?
CS:
Discovering festivals in Europe: Transmediale, TodaysArt, Sonar, Cimatics, and others and seeing how those festival influence a positive change in communities, cities, governments. Also some books: 'A Thousand Machines' by G. Raunig or 'Interface Fantasy' by A. Nusselder.
EO: A film actually 'Alphaville' by Godard, that tells a story in a future where society is controlled by machines and feelings are not allowed. As a person completely immersed in a digital career I was looking to provoke the opposite result of the film.

RR: How does the festival create an ideal environment to experience the work?
EO & CS:
The festival is planned in 4 different strands: innovation, live, exchange and screening - that allow people to have different experiences during the day and also at night. We’re trying to show variety of genres to make sure that every person can learn or enjoy something exciting.
We have been very careful in designing the programme and choosing the right venues. There are day and night activities and very different, from a mini conference to an audio-visual night in a beautifully decadent warehouse.

RR: Participation and interactivity are words used a lot in terms of cultural manifestations- how interactive is your festival?
EO:
Interactivity is key for Alpha-ville, we want people to get involved. Not only with some of the works but also through social media, labs and workshops. You can also participate in the open labs, demos and there will be a web experiment where people will participate in the creation of a music video.
There is also a web element which allows people to participate. One of the main performances is Grey Matter by Man Bartlett, an artist from NYC, presents a live and online performance based on twitter and real physical connections. The aim of the performance is to connect live and online audiences in east and west London through a link with the Digital Design Weekend at V&A. We are also curating a free online programme in mubi.com from 12th September.
CS: It’s difficult to measure but the kind of format we are using is pretty interactive, except for the nights that are more in the format of a live/ AV showcase. We are also looking at ways to experiment with this format in the near future.

RR: What do you think are the main issues/ concerns facing artists practising in a ‘post digital’ landscape?
CS:
Funding is a big issue at the moment and also any post-digital work will require the technology and this is usually costly. Also the fact that some artists using new mediums can’t fit anywhere.
EO: Finding that the world around them is not even half digital.

RR: How would your festival differ to a more traditional festival like Glastonbury?
CS:
First in size, also programme. We invite people to think and have a good time rather than just the latter.
EO: Mainly the aim, Alpha-ville is a space for ideas and experimentation, it’s a city festival part of a community, in our case it’s Hackney.

RR: What/ Who is grabbing your attention at the moment?
CS:
Lady Gaga’s Drag Show and Ben Frost.
EO: What a cocktail Carmen, explosive! I am very intrigued by mobile and use of geolocated technologies to reach the public space.

RR: What are you looking forward to most in the festival?
EO:
The symposium is very exciting for me cause it bring along a side that we have dreamt about: thinking and exchanging ideas. We’re are super excited about the Bjork’s Biophilia App presentation at the symposium by Scott Snibbe who was creative director in the project. He is joining the symposium remotely.   I am also very much looking forward to visiting the Innovation Space in Hackney because there is lots going on: installations, demos, labs, meet-ups, performances…
CS: I am also very much looking forward to the Thursday Opening Concert with Svarte Greiner and Jacaszek.

RR: Tell me more about the new space - what is coming up there?
CS:
We have new venues confirmed this year, actually a total of 5 new venues this year, apart from Whitechapel Gallery and Rich Mix. The programme at Whitechapel is small, just one talk. But on the other hand we have extended the number of events during the day at Netil House which will be transformed into our main innovation hub. Also during the nights we are taking over 2 venues in Shoreditch and the Saturday night is a very exciting one because we are running our own night in a beautiful warehouse space just off Curtain Road.

RR: What do you think of London’s digital community?
EO:
It’s fascinating, very dynamic and engaging. What is happening in Hackney is amazing: studios, developers, designers, artists, musicians. The traction online is overwhelming – I read somewhere that Google+ was most used in east London.

RR: Is the demand for these practices getting bigger, is culture embracing digital practices?
EO: Definitely, the recent Arts Council Digital Innovation Fund says it all.

RR: What do you see your role as a Festival Producer entailing?
EO & CS:
We have to do pretty much everything, from strategy to programming to production, as the project is still a start-up. This year we’ve been very lucky finding a small but highly dedicated team.

RR: Where do you like to go in London?
EO:
When I go out of Hackney, I love to go to the Battersea Power Station – it’s a gorgeous building
CS: I like Wapping Project, so I guess we have a similar taste?

RR: What are London’s best-kept digital secrets?
EO & CS:
Come and discover them at Alpha-ville!

RR: What is a good night out for you?
CS:
Wigs, techno and friends.
EO: Dance, techno and friends. Carmen, what do you mean by wigs?

RR: What is the aim of the festival- what do you want to achieve?
EO & CS:
We want to inspire to keep living and creating and going forward.

RR: Tell me your best festival moment. (We’ve all had one)?
CS:
Working with you Estela at 6am in the morning and stopping for a minute to dance to a good track: 'Boys' by Sabrina.
EO: Yeah I feel we are very lucky about the moments we spend with our team, it’s fun. I also really liked the after party last year in Hackney Wick, when we did finally let go and shared drinks, we were super tired but so happy that it went very well.

RR: Thanks and looking forward to it!!

Alpha-ville 2011, 22-25 September
www.alpha-ville.co.uk

@alphavillefest