Pekka Airaxin from DEMO festival: The planet is too complex for one species to manage

Pekka Airaxin from DEMO festival: The planet is too complex for one species to manage

DEMO is an artistic moving image festival taking place online during June and July. We spoke with Pekka Airaxin, the designer behind the DEMO platform and to Felice Moramarco, one out of two of the festival’s curators. 

What kind of experience has it been to organize an online art festival during the time of lockdown?

Felice: During this spring everything has been moving online very quickly. We haven’t seen, yet, the full effects of it. Still it felt necessary to start to reflect on what was going on and that’s where a lot of our creative and intellectual energy was deployed to. DEMO is a result of these reflections. It was important to us to think carefully about the online as a virtual space for cultural production. We’ve been trying to look at the potential this medium could offer and in the end of it, lots of positive things emerged. We managed to create a broad network of collaboration and were able to work with artists with whom, I think, we otherwise wouldn’t have collaborated with. 

You talk about contagion as both an aesthetic and political paradigm. What do you mean by this?

Felice: There was a lot of ongoing reflection on the subject of the pandemic itself. At some point, we decided to talk about contagion without repeatedly mentioning the pandemic. The idea was to elaborate this theme – to think about contagion not only as the way in which viruses spread, but also as ​a dimension of coexistence, which implies mutual contamination of multiple agents. From the political perspective, for instance, the ongoing situation has forced us to rethink boundaries, national borders and divisions. Those borders haven’t disappeared and in some cases even they’ve even strengthened, but the pandemic revealed to us the fictional nature of them.

Pekka: I’m in charge of designing, in collaboration with programmer Akinsola Lawanson, the virtual world where the festival takes place. It’s kind of a visual metaphor of the material origins and results of the pandemic. Of it originating from human expansion into the sphere of wildlife and it possibly resulting in actual infrastructural change. And in a broader image, the chaotic trajectory of the planet becoming a human-designed and a human-managed object. 

Could you say a bit more about the platform? What is the experience like for the viewer?

Pekka: We wanted to depart from traditional two dimensional websites, but also did not want to replicate the idea of a virtual art gallery, which seemed to be the standard answer for institutions facing “emergency virtualization” at the start of the pandemic. We ended up with a small and quite minimal game environment, a composition of 3D natural and manmade objects such as rocks and branches and pieces of concrete and styrofoam around which you navigate in a foggy emptiness. The entire programme of the festival is found embedded in the objects. One of the little stones in the scene also broadcasts a subtle soundscape I created. It’s louder the closer you get to it. 

Could you highlight some projects that are part of the festival?

Felice: There are three types of projects included to the festival: screening programme, special projects and a reader. One of the projects that has been specifically commissioned for the festival is a new chapter of BLACK MED, an ongoing project by artist duo Invernomuto. They have created an archive of music of the Mediterranean area. For this chapter IV they form a conversation with researchers and cultural practitioners, concerning the Mediterranean as a cultural and political space. Their discussion will be activated by a selection of sound materials from the BLACK MED archive. 

Another commissioned project is called Protocols of Immanent Conflicts, which is a collaboration between sonic perception research group AUDINT and practice-based researcher Anna Engelhardt. The work combines video and sound to investigate hidden or invisible sides of the warfare. It aims to explore ways in which software, ultrasound and information technologies are deployed in the context of warfare or surveillance. 

How do you see the future of international collaboration and mobility in the arts after the pandemic?

Felice: What we’re witnessing at the moment is a contraction of the art world and a monopolisation of its resources. The ongoing situation has wiped out small art spaces and cancelled out many opportunities for people working in the arts. This is also happening on the educational level. Many organisations and art practitioners are trying to go digital but it’s more easily said than done.

How do you think the themes of the festival will live up and continue to reflect in the world after the pandemic?

Pekka: I think for many people living in relatively privileged conditions, the pandemic has brought a sort of crisis awareness. People enduring less protected conditions have, for example, faced the effects of climate change for decades already, but for a more privileged population, the pandemic has maybe given a first glimpse at an upcoming continuum of overlapping crises. Hopefully this awareness could begin to translate into a more urgent, egalitarian and planetary approach to crisis management and planning in our societies.


DEMO Moving image festival 15 June – 24 July 2020 on

Text: Rosaliina Elgland     Photo: Still from Sunday Fantasy, Zoe Williams

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