Professor's electronic performance at Norway's foremost music fest explores the art of plurality
Vivek Venkatesh — filmmaker, multimedia performer, learning scientist and newly appointed UNESCO co-chair in prevention of radicalisation and violent extremism — is taking his band on tour this summer.
Festspillene is one of the longest-standing and foremost music and theatre festivals in Norway — and for Venkatesh and his collaborators, it provides an international stage for encouraging people to express themselves creatively about hate.
Landscape of Hate is an electronic performance band, founded and curated by Venkatesh, who performs live vocals and improvised noise electronics. Other members include Owen Chapman, an associate professor in the Faculty of Arts and Science, Jason Wallin, an associate professor of media and youth culture at the University of Alberta, composers Leticia Trandafir (aka softcoresoft) and anabasine, as well as filmmaker and Concordia alumnus David Hall.
According to Tonje Elisabeth Peersen, program manager for the festival, Venkatesh was invited to Bergen because of his research on hate speech, as well as his involvement in Project SOMEONE.
When Venkatesh first told them about Landscape of Hate, Peersen thought it would make a good addition to the festival – as well as an opportunity to perhaps start a national school project.
“We want to make a difference, maybe change the curriculum in a positive way and knew we could make something happen together with Dr. Venkatesh,” says Peersen. “Landscape of Hate is both artistically and thematically interesting. We hope it will make a strong impact, both on the students involved but also the audience.”
We cannot sit back, comfortably numb
Venkatesh and his bandmates source social media, pre-recorded public voices and nature-based soundscapes from the places where they perform. Cut together, the audio and visuals pack a provocative punch.
“Landscape of Hate is a concerted effort to get the public to think critically, to reflect, to engage about a topic that has a lot of relevance in today’s age of narcissistic indignance on social media,” says Venkatesh.
Peersen adds that hate speech and hateful rhetoric are a huge challenge in society. “We need to find ways to change, to learn how to deal with it, or in some cases simply learn to see it. We cannot sit back, comfortably numb, thinking it doesn’t matter. It does. And the arts are a powerful tool to enlighten people.”
A UNESCO co-chair in the Prevention of Radicalisation and Violent Extremism, Venkatesh notes hate is not novel, but has been “a fabric of our society for centuries.”
Festspillene will host the band’s third performance, and their European premiere. The event will include a panel discussion, art exposition and concert. The panel consists of cartoonist Josef Yohannes (creator of the Urban Legend), Danish human rights and internet activist Emma Holten and Canada’s ambassador to Norway, Artur Wilczynski.
As with each of their performances, the Landscape of Hate show will be tailored specifically to the region where they are performing.
To wit, on May 24 and 25, Venkatesh, his bandmates and Concordia curricular specialists Sandra Chang-Kredl and Martin Lalonde will be hosting workshops with local artists and teachers to curate original content for the performance on May 26.
Different perspectives can co-exist
Venkatesh’s inspiration for the band stemmed from wanting to engage and include the public in the performance. Its creative aim is to present a mirror to society by asking people to think about what hate means to them.
“Unless we allow different perspectives to coexist we're going to end up living in the same echo chamber or silo, where basically everyone will agree with what you say,” says Venkatesh.
“The idea is to get people listen to conflicting opinions, and to not try to build a consensus, but to understand the rationale behind others’ ways of thinking.”
Venkatesh’s research focuses on building awareness, creating spaces for pluralistic dialogues, and finding ways to create resilience against hate.
He’s done so through multiple projects. Project SOMEONE (Social Media Education Every Day) is a web-based portal of multimedia materials designed to prevent hate speech and build resilience towards radicalization that leads to violent extremism.
Venkatesh’s Grimposium festival and conference series has hosted concerts, panels and art exhibitions that have directly tackled the issue of racism, misappropriation of cultural symbols and discrimination in underground cultural scenes.
“We want Landscape of Hate to become an oblique and bizarrely stark reflection of society and its people,” says Venkatesh. “And that's a neat thing for us to do, to think of ourselves as the vehicle, and not the mouthpiece.”
Find out more about upcoming Landscape of Hate performances.