At the Exponential Festival, Case Studies in Category Busting

84 30/05/2022

You know a show was hatched during the pandemic when it incorporates QR codes.

At the Exponential Festival, Case Studies in Category Busting

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.)

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