After a long career as a journalist, José Luis de Vicente joined Sónar+D in 2013 as curator. Today he oversees the Sónar+D program, and has carried over his interest in digital culture, art and society to create a line up that forges links between the creative, technology and business communities.
Hi José Luis, what’s the most exciting part of Sónar+D for you?
For many years before joining the team I was a fan of Sónar, and love this type of project. Sónar is a kind of mutant space; open and intersital, that also presents a cross section of many different communities, and shows what divides and unites us. I can’t stand segregated spaces – the kind of thing you find in certain museums for instance. I find the conversations that take place in these ‘closed’ communities much less interesting than those that seek to answer difficult questions.
And technology plays a role in this too…
Yes, technology has always opened up these spaces for discussion. I’m actually more interested in this side of things than the fetishization of ‘technology for technologies sake’. I like the role technology plays as a ‘foreign agent’ in creative communities. If you think about it, all the serious problems we face in the modern world are ‘interdisciplinary’ in nature. So to find a solution we need to come up with a hybrid approach.
How does your background in journalism affect how you approach curating Sónar+D?
Throughout my career i’ve been concerned with the cultural, economic, social, ethical and asthetic implications of new technology. You could say that as a journalist I was answering the question ‘How will the digital revolution change our way of life?’ With Sónar+D we can actually demonstrate this – placing new developments together in one space and seeing what happens.
Who is Sónar+D ‘for’? Is it just for people invested in digital culture?
I suppose there is a specific audience who instinctively understand what we’re doing with this space that joins together Scientists, developers, hackers, musicians, entrepeneurs, makers and researchers. More and more, professionals don’t fit into defined categories when it comes to what they do, and I think this is also reflected in the type of visitor that comes to the event, and instinctively avoids easy categories. This approach is actually part of the DNA of Sónar, where the invited artists and musicians were always much more than just ‘musicians’.
This will be the 5th year of the congress. What can you tell us about how it started?
Right from the beginning we wanted to focus on creators that felt comfortable ‘changing hats’, and could move fluidly between different creative environments. As the years have gone by we’ve seen that this profile isn’t an exception anymore, but thoroughly modern. I like to call them ‘Ravers with a PhD’. Kate Crawford, who presented a lecture at Sónar+D 2016 is a perfect example: She’s a researcher for Microsoft , an academic, journalist, advocate for cyber-feminism and also runs an electronica label. These aren’t hobbies; all of these form part of her practice.
Is there any one area that you’re particularly interested in?
10 or 12 years ago, I was heavily interested in the world of Big Data, and it has been fascinating to see how something that was seen as knuckle bitingly boring, has suddenly become ‘sexy’. Another topic that people are focusing more and more on is infrastructure; from debates about ownership of the undersea fiberoptic cables that underpin the global internet, to the regulation of the electromagnetic spectrum (radio and mobile licensing). At the moment i’m very concerned with climate change, in part as i’m preparing an exhibition at Barcelona’s CCCB with the great title ‘After the end of the world’. The focus isn’t on prevention, more on how we can adapt and survive after environmental collapse.
Is there anything in the wider art, and audiovisual world that has caught your attention recently?
Tarik Barri, at this years TodaysArt festival in The Hague (part of the We Are Europe program), was incredible. He’s done visuals for Thom Yorke, Nicolaas Jaar, Monolake and Paul Jebanasam in the past, and his work is just spectacular. I’d describe it as ‘exploding abstract expressionism’, but really it doesn’t resemble anything that anybody is doing right now. Which is always a good sign.
Finally, what can you tell us about the upcoming edition of Sónar+D in 2017?
I can’t say much, as we still haven’t announced the program, but the process of curating is interesting in itself; how we decide what fits and what doesn’t, and especially not letting your own tastes define the program too much. A festival doesn’t work by choosing ’20 things i most like’, but by making a decision about what is most relevant to this moment, and to the future. At the end of the day, it’s this friction that allows us to progress as a festival, and not to get limited by categories or labels.