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Bernd Kracke

In conversation with Bernd Kracke, Artistic Director of B3, The Biennial of Moving Image in Frankfurt

by Claudia Donà

Since 2006, Bernd Kracke has served as the President of HfG, the Hochschule für Gestaltung Offenbach am Main (Frankfurt RheinMain), the Hessen State University of Art and Design, but he is also an artist, a media designer, a professor, and above all, a passionate researcher on the impact that new communication and representation technologies have had on all the creative processes that involve and continuously modify our life and perception: in art, design, architecture, cinema, politics, society, and behavior.

Bernd gained his experience through years of work and study, first at Hochschule für Bildende Künste Hamburg, from 1972-78, then at MIT Cambridge (USA), from 1979 to 1985.

Later, he became a professor of Media Design at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne (1991 to 1999) and a professor of Electronic Media at HfG Offenbach in 1999, serving as Dean of the School of Art (formerly Visual Communication Department) from 2001 to 2006.

Since 2008, he is also a co-founder, board member, and committee spokesperson of Hessen Film and Media Academy.

His fascination with the methods and potential of the contemporary new narratives led Kracke in 2012 to found and promote B3 The Biennial of the Moving Image in Frankfurt, assuming the duties of Artistic Director from the outset.


Q: In 2013, in the Expanded Narration book, you wrote that Woody Allen once said: “Everyone has a story to tell – at least one”. What is the title of your own story, and why?

Bernd: The title of my story could be: “Stay curious, stay hungry, and never give up!” If you have an idea, go for it. That attitude is what took me in the late 1970s as one of the few artists from Germany to MIT in Cambridge Massachusetts, where I studied and worked for more than eight years with Otto Piene and Nicholas Negroponte at the new intersections of art, science, and technology. The experience also helped me to open up a completely new horizon for our University of Art and Design Offenbach in the last 16 years as president, with the perspective of building a completely new campus. It also inspired the new format of B3 as a cross-genre and cross-media platform for storytelling and moving images.

Q: How did the idea of creating B3 come up? To provoke and trigger the contact between the cultures of the visual mainstream and that of the avant-garde? To create a theater upon which to stage the confrontation between new languages with social issues? Or, was it something else?

Bernd: We were asked by our ministry to come up with a concept for a new film festival. Instead, we decided to turn the perspectives inside out by transforming the edges of traditional film festivals, art events, and high-tech shows into the core of B3. By focusing on cross-genre and cross-media storytelling and the moving image as the driving cultural force of the 21st Century. B3 is meant to be an aggregator, communicator, and inspirator for the creative classes, politicians and business people, scientists and theorists, and last but not least general audiences all over the world.

Q: Since its beginning, the B3 focus themes have a very fascinating touch: one or two powerful key-words that transmit a vision, a journey, a path. The themes are themselves moving images, more than simple words. What prevails in their choice? The interpretation of today or the anticipation of tomorrow?

Bernd: B3 is a fluid setup from the past via the present to the future. As one of our marvelous MIT scientists, Joe Davis, pointed out: “You can’t open a window to the world if you don’t have a clue.” We try to make connections and build bridges not only in time but across physical and mental borders. The first virtual edition of B3 in 2020, for example, presented a four-hour live-streaming event “Extravaganza Virtuale” with participating artists from all over the world as a tribute to the 1984 satellite broadcast “Good Morning Mr. Orwell” by Nam June Paik. He anticipated very early on the new omnipresence of interactive communication and teleconferencing which has been totally increased by the Corona pandemic. Paik said: “Everybody will broadcast and receive live video images and sound on a personal level in the future.”

Q: B3 is an irreplaceable platform for digital artists. Do you believe that cross-media art is today the most advanced experimentation territory? More than other languages?

Bernd: I think that the expanded context of the arts including all analog and digital options with the crossover into science and technology is definitely the most interesting and challenging platform for state-of-the-art innovation and experiments.

Q: What role can design and architecture play in addressing the boundaries between the real and virtual world?

Bernd: Imagination and fantasy are the keys to the transition from real to virtual. Both design and architecture as well as art depend on these qualities in combination with science, engineering, and technology. This year’s theme of the Venice Biennial hit it quite well: “The milk of dreams” based on a book by Leonora Carrington. It extends principles of the surrealists into our contemporary context. B3 wants to transform the architectural settings into “urban theaters,” like we did in 2017, when Italian-born artist from New York, Federico Solmi, presented his 120-meter long animated mural “The Great Farce” on the façade of the Frankfurt Theater and Opera House. The boundaries between the real and virtual worlds also play a role in this year’s B3 key visual. Artist Felipe Lavin from Chile, who is known for photographing places in his works through which people move anonymously, filmed a new edition in Frankfurt subway and metro stations. A combination of real footage and color bars creates stunning iconic new realities.

Q: Now the Metaverse, this infinite digital platform joined simultaneously by everybody, has become real. A new virtual kingdom of full accessibility and democracy? Or a fragile place where ethics, limits and educational tools must be put in place to avoid the risk of confusing the simulation of reality with true reality? In other words: simultaneity makes the boundary between physical and virtual reality increasingly blurred. In perspective, what becomes the boundary between killing in the virtual world and having a laugh in the real one?

Bernd: Metaverse seems to be one next big challenge for the human species. The question is what will be the rules, the politics, and the economic settings? Will it be heaven or hell, or just another playground? Will there be one metaverse or more in parallel harmony and networked or in unresolved antagony and competition? These are only a few of the pending questions. The EU just demanded a European-wide regulation of the metaverse with inclusive ethical standards for all participating nations and people. Is this utopia or a real perspective? How will climate change and economic and political crises affect the metaverse? B3 will address these questions and discuss strategies and options.

Q: I see B3 as an extraordinary encounter between a bottom-up creative, cultural, and artistic movement and the top-down influence of high-tech companies that push the threshold of technology and digital devices, now creating the expected symmetry between the speed of computers and the speed of communication. Who are the drivers of this transformation? Artists, scientists, technicians, or… the hyperscalers?

Bernd: We see it as a new Renaissance that brings together the best talents to generate solutions for the dramatic dangers of our world, from ecology to economy, and for the survival of democracies. The alliance of art, science, and technology must advise society to create a better world, as Joseph Beuys put it: “We have to invent our future according to our desires, otherwise we’ll get a future we don’t like.”

Q: In each edition, B3 bestows the B3 BEN Lifetime Achievement Award—the most prestigious recognition—to major players on the national and international scene: artists, musicians, directors, and actors. What are the criteria for this choice? Do you think it could also be assigned to a physicist in the future?

Bernd: We select outstanding protagonists for the B3 BENLifetime Achievement Awards who are most influential and game changers not only in one artistic field but in various fields dealing with storytelling and the moving image. Laurie Anderson was the inaugural recipient in 2013 for her outstanding and pioneering achievements in combining her music with performance, storytelling, and visual art. Seven years later in 2020, the German artist Anne Imhof, who studied at our University, was awarded the B3 BENAward for the most influential artist in the category Gesamtkunstwerk, again in appreciation of her acclaimed and celebrated work in performance, music, and visual art. These are just two examples of our award winners and their complex artistic agendas. With the dynamic developments of AI and the metaverse, the moving image and storytelling with all their facets will be key and the influential and most creative protagonists might very well be physicists or mixed teams of artists, scientists, and technologists. This year the Honorary B3 BENs goes to two power duos: the Belgian film directors and producers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, a philosopher and a filmmaker, and to Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau, a German visual artist and a French artist and scientist. There you go!

Q: B3 2022 has Transformation as its focus theme and addresses the metaverse, NFT, and cryptocurrencies, etc. These are fundamental topics of the transformation we are facing. New doors in experience, edutainment, finance, energy, and currencies: we are on the threshold of an epochal metamorphosis and in front of the bareness of a new fragility. Most of all, we see a big revolution in the languages of narration. Do you think that classical written words are on their way to their sunset?

Bernd: There is a profound process of transformation going on affecting all aspects of our lives and our societies, nevertheless I strongly believe in the parallel existence of different media and forms of expression from analog to digital. The written word is part of it, not necessarily on paper but on screen. Part of the courses at our university are unplugged sessions to focus on the manual recording of thought processes and ideas. That is a very important and accessible freedom of expression and creation we shouldn’t give up. Plus, words are the basis for storytelling and thus the intellectual fuel for moving images.

Q: What goals do you have for the next B3, what future do you imagine?

Bernd: We will continue to follow, present, and discuss state-of-the-art developments in storytelling and moving images. The complexity and the speed will increase towards the metaverse, incorporating seamless telepresence and adaptive AI. There might be parts of future B3s entirely curated by AIs. Nevertheless, B3 will remain a people’s business, and we will grow our community in physical presence and online in all fields of the creative industries as well as in society at large.

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