At the Exponential Festival, Case Studies in Category Busting
You know a show was hatched during the pandemic when it incorporates QR codes.
At the start of Christina Tang’s streaming “Traffic,” part of this year’s Exponential Festival, that code took me from a YouTube page to one where I could pick a screen name and a number. A model of a car with my number was then placed among others on a board-game-like grid filmed from above. Participants could choose from a series of prompts (“pull forward,” “honk,” etc.) and disembodied hands would move the cars, or not, on the grid.
At the same time, a series of messages in another window was going on and on about someone named Angela, who was dead, or not — or maybe a ghost. Since I was simultaneously trying to watch the cars and follow the comments in the chat box, I quickly lost track of the Angela side of things. (It’s best to experience “Traffic” with two screens; I spent the 45-minute running time toggling between my laptop and phone.)
The overall effect was like a puckish re-enactment (with a soupçon of Battleship visuals) of Jean-Luc Godard’s “Weekend,” in which a monstrous, paralyzing traffic jam devolves into violent chaos. Except that 55 years after its release, Godard’s movie remains more trenchant, formally and politically, than “Traffic” — though it ends on a suggestion of existential dread — or any of the other six shows I caught at Exponential.
Unlike its higher-profile January siblings, the Under the Radar and Prototype festivals, which canceled their 2022 editions, the smaller, nimbler Exponential — which focuses on emerging experimental artists — managed to go ahead by pivoting to a free digital format. (It runs until Monday, and most of the programming will remain available on its YouTube channel for the foreseeable future.)