For many people with a predilection for serious discussions about multimedia art, difficult electronic music, and staying up way past bedtime in massive techno clubs, this week is a big one: taking in Berlin’s always exceptional festivals, Transmediale and CTM.
Transmediale was founded as VideoFilmFest in 1988, and over the past 30 years has shifted its focus from video to multimedia-based art forms. In the process, it’s become an incredible diverse, ambitious platform for (and celebration of) digital art and culture. In 1997, the festival changed its name to Transmedia, and in 1998 to Transmediale, “in order to reflect the expanding program which now embraced a wide spectrum of multimedia-based art forms including internet and software art,” according to the team.
Its partner in crime was born in 1999 as club Transmediale, and became known as CTM in 2011. Organized by a curatorially and financially independent team with a focus on electronic music and club culture, this side of things is the hedonistic devil on the shoulder to Transmediale’s more serious, education-focused angel—the one that keeps you in Berghain listening to gabba until the sun comes up and you realize you haven’t been to bed in a few days.
The designs for both CTM and Transmediale are always excellent; as experimental and interesting as the festival program, yet considered and functional to boot. As CTM celebrates its 20th birthday this year, and Transmediale its 30th in 2018, we spoke to the designers behind each festival about their work.
Marius Rehmet, founder of Vojd, on his designs for CTM since 2011:
“I had my first CTM experience in 2004, and I was impressed by the program and the atmosphere—especially the concerts in the former club Maria am Ostbahnhof. It was great to see that there was a platform for the experimental music I was listening to. Besides that, I also appreciated the branding, which was created by the studio Die Sachbearbeiter at that time. [Jan Rohlf created the designs from 1999-2000; Carsten Stabenow of Milchhof in 2003; and Christine Gundelach and Chrish Klose of Studio Grau from 2004-2010.] After a couple of years I got in contact with the CTM crew. Finally I started to design for CTM within the framework of our former agency Studio Grau in 2011, and have continued to work with them since starting my studio, Vojd, in 2015.
“In general, a great client collaboration is not working for somebody, but working with somebody.”
“Over the years the collaboration became more of a friendship. I really like this project, and the people who make CTM possible also like it. This passion connects us. Besides the visual output, it’s important people can rely on what you’re doing. After several years you get to know each others’ workflow, and this helps to push processes forward. In general, a great client collaboration is not working for somebody, but working with somebody. Working out ideas together is fun.
“The designs each year are strongly connected to the festival’s theme. It’s a close dialogue between me and the festival curators, and we start to brainstorm and evaluate what could be an interesting mixture of hitting the zeitgeist and implementing things we already know will work. Over the years I think the standards are increasing, and it’s often a long process until the work matches the festival’s vision.
“It’s not all about being bold and insane: the design should also reflect the 20 year history that has seen CTM grow to become one of the best festivals for electronic music in the world.”
“Sometimes you do have the feeling that what you’re doing is not good enough. Of course, this keeps you experimenting. Nowadays, it’s tempting to get lost in the endless spheres of social media—it’s cool when you get inspired, but then shape your own expressions into results. For CTM it’s not all about being bold and insane: the design should also reflect a certain seriousness and the 20 year history that has seen the festival grow to become one of the best festivals for electronic music in the world.
“Without question, the branding for a festival should catch people’s eye and make them want to look closer. In the best cases, the design should accompany you and the narrative of the festival, or interact with you in a way to help you grasp the messages of the theme. On the other hand, it should work as a standalone visual thing; something that’s satisfying to look at. A mix of functionality and ‘newness’ is something I personally really appreciate.
“For this year’s festival designs, we love the idea that the term ‘Persistence’ itself is the protagonist. We didn’t want to focus on the 20th anniversary too much. No birthday cake and sparklers, just subtly showing that the festival is doing its job and continues highlighting and connecting adventurous music and related art.”
Manuel Bürger, on his designs for Transmediale since 2012
“Earlier on, Transmediale was more like a hacker, underground kind of thing. It was more DIY, with things like people building their own electronics. It has become a very discourse-based festival now; a mixture of workshops and cultural theory, and a lot of very heavy stuff mixing with more easily digestible strands, like school classes. There are lots of young people who get involved, and it’s really interesting to see people ranging from the very young to the over-60s on the opening day. It’s such a broad audience, and it makes me very happy to see all those different people.
“I began working with the festival when the team saw my publication Digital Folklore from around 2008. They really liked the designs I did when I was studying, and since then I’ve worked with the team. We change the design every year, it’s very concept-driven and depends on the topic. We try to challenge how people approach the festival—how and when they get certain information, for instance. This year we’re being a bit more punk about it in a way, so sometimes that means more ugly fonts, not using ‘proper’ sizes, neon green next to normal green, so that people feel a certain irrationality. Like, ‘Why is it like this?’
“The design is a part of the festival as well, rather than just a layer of information on top.”
“What Kristoffer [Gansing, the 2019 artistic director] likes is that the design is a part of the festival as well, rather than just a layer of information on top. It has an emotional impact and relates to the topics that are being discussed. The referentiality of the design is a very good, playful way of expressing the festival itself.
“We usually start work on the festival each year around August and develop a set of references like a puzzle, creating a physical mood board, and talking about the elements we find interesting. So the studio looks very crazy at the moment. The designs deal with emotions and social media and that kind of thing; Transmediale always uses a lot of vernacular symbols and references that appear on the internet. My design thinking is summed up as “Slippery Design”—that which defies balance and order, and relies on dissemination through irritation, mutation, failure. Internet language has become a very common form of communication, and we really embrace this: not by only using emojis or something, but by looking at how certain signs can change, and playing with those references by putting them into another field where they don’t really mean anything, but start to unfold in new ways.
“The visual language of Transmediale 2019 is a wild combination of signs based on forms and gestures of digital communication to express emotional states. The main references are from signs in direct peer-to-peer channels (Telegram or Instagram messenger for example) or signs of meme-culture, such as reddit and 4chan. What is the relationship between affection and disgust, education and punk? How do supposedly rational people feel about irrationality?
“Transmediale actually left Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in the summer. Kristoffer and Filippo [Gianetta, the 2019 festival manager and communications lead] made the decision as an experiment to see how you can take yourself off social media but still talk to younger audiences through fewer channels, or through peer-to-peer interactions.
“Rather than doing what ‘marketing’ would usually tell you to do, we wanted to try our own channels.”
“Being a designer can become a job where you’re allowed to start from scratch; and really think about how you communicate and where certain steps will lead. Rather than doing what ‘marketing’ would usually tell you to do, we wanted to try our own channels. The possibility of creating an audience that really cares about the activities of Transmediale is an important and exciting part of being a designer today, and Transmediale’s information channel on Telegram is a new way of creating communication. We did our own emoji sticker set for Telegram with symbols of the festival, so we’re playful with inventing new media and forms. That’s been good for us, as for the last three years communications for certain institutions have been very restricted and led by everyone concentrating on Instagram and Facebook (we don’t print so many posters any more, for instance). This year we wanted to concentrate on an audience that’s more aware of what we do, and give them little gifts.
“It’s more effort, but we do have a very strong audience. There’s at least 500 people on our channel, and obviously through Instagram or something you could easily reach so many more, but at the same time it’s really good when you have an audience that appreciates what you do. My personal feeling about being a designer isn’t about being a very commercial designer with a broad reach; I’d rather try to experiment with the format and media and how to communicate today. I like to build a narrative and see if can people catch up with it or not.
“The logo, which is three intersecting lines, really transforms itself each year. We call it the transversal, where one line crosses two other lines, so it’s always ‘in-between,’ and crossing these borders on both sides. Being ‘in-between’ is what Kristoffer wants Transmediale to be. This year the logo reminds you a bit of [Sulley from] Monsters, Inc. It’s a bit like the furry culture fetish thing; the idea of dressing up as animals and playing with cuteness, almost behaving like kids, was really interesting to us.
“We’ve previously used the Union typeface by Radim Pesko. Some people think it’s Arial, some people think it’s Helvetica, so it’s a mixture of high and low culture—an easy way to communicate what we do with Transmediale more generally. We’ve played a lot with the black and white dichotomy in the last few years, but we also recognized that, after three or four years, you try to become slicker and slicker, but maybe that’s not what’s so interesting. This year, we broke with the design and used Arial Rounded. For me, the interesting part of developing a brand is that it’s not 100% safe—there are always ways of developing it further.”