Established in 2002, Memefest is a complex and internationally active entity, bent on facilitating innovative and socially responsible approaches to public communication. Its foremost manifestation is a semi-online festival that annually publishes an open call for works that relate to various modes of disseminating ideas, such as advertising, visual communications and journalism.
A selection of these works – from design solutions and public artworks to theoretical texts – is then presented on the Memefest's website and at occasional live exhibitions. Since it inception, Memefest has facilitated the creation and curation of thousands of works from more than sixty countries, with many of these available at the festival's online galleries and repositories. Its other activities include book publishing, public interventions, conferences, symposiums, workshops and lectures.
Set up by a group of students from the University of Ljubljana's Faculty of Social Sciences (UL FDV) in 2001, Memefest has been led by Oliver Vodeb since its inception. Its fundamental aim is that of challenging established modes of public communication and the ubiquity of marketing based semantics. As such it calls for the participation of students, communication professionals, artists, researchers, activists and anyone else interested in rethinking communication.
The name is taken from the theories of memetics, pioneered in the 1970s and later taken up by cultural theorists such as Douglas Rushkoff in his book Media Virus. According to memetics theory, a meme is "a contagious idea that replicates like a virus, passed on from mind to mind. Memes function the same way genes and viruses do, propagating through communication networks and face-to-face contact between people." From the point of view of memetics theory, the mass media functions as the most sophisticated engine for the dissemination of memes.
Two of the three main festival categories are "Critical Writing" and "Visual Communication Practice". For these, Memefest asks the participants to respond to an academic or culturally-critical text – sometimes an excerpt from a book, a manifesto or even an image. The third category, called "The Beyond...", accepts those submissions whose format deviates from the requirements of the first two categories, but which revolve around the intention to influence social reality and generate "genuine participatory relations with its audience". Usually, a few hundred works from all over the world are submitted.
The submissions are evaluated by an international board of hand picked curators, composed of distinguished artists, researchers, media activists and professionals from the spheres of social theory and humanities, design, arts and social communication. All authors of chosen works get written feedback from Memefest curators. The entries are presented in the Memefest online galleries, inviting website visitors for further discussion.
At the conclusion of the festival the Memefest Awards are given in each of the categories (sometimes further divided into student, academic or non-academic sections), with other inspiring works receiving honourable mentions. All this is done under an important disclaimer that it is a "friendly competition".
Occasional special awards are also given, like the "Memefest / Queensland College of Art Award for Imaginative Critical Intervention". The recipients of this award were invited to Brisbane (AU) to take part in a five-week residency programme. Similarly, the winners of the 2014 Memefest were later invited to a special live event in Melbourne to speak at the Memefest Symposium and to participate as mentors during the workshops.
In the Communication section of the 2003 Memefest, participants commented on Thomas Frank's The Conquest of Cool, while designers were given Ken Garland's 1963 First Things First manifesto as an outlet for static visualisation, moving visualisation or web design. In 2006 the text chosen for the first group was Richard Barbrook's "The High-Tech Gift Economy", which discusses the co-existence of market and gift economies on the net and poignantly argues that the idea of utopian anarcho-communism within such an environment is dead. The text chosen for the Visual Arts group was "The Principles of a Global Ethic", a call to the raising of a universal "spiritual" consciousness as a long-term solution to the economic, social and political crises in the world. Recent topics have been Food Democracy (2013), Radical Intimacies (2014) and Pleasure (2016).
The Memefest network
Memefest is mainly based in Slovenia and Australia, but there are also local Memefest groups in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and the Balkans. This loose network integrates education, curatorial and editorial work, publishing, investigation, production of various media, theory, design and art. Furthermore, Memefest is also the wider community of individuals who offer commentary on the presented works, write blogs and present their projects on the website.
Some of the institutions that are or have been active parts of Memefest are the Queensland College of Art, the Swinburne University in Melbourne, the UL FDV, KID PINA and the Slovene weekly magazine Mladina.
Numerous events have happened under the auspices of Memefest, among them the 2014 international Memefest/Swinburne Extradisciplinary Symposium / Workshop / Intervention, focused on the theme of "Radical Intimacies: Dialogue in our Times", and as such a continuation of the 2014 Memefest festival. Approximately 100 participants attended the three-day symposium, where thirty-two leading experts from the fields of Communication Design, Media and Communications, Games and Art presented their work. They included speakers from Europe, Canada, North America, South America and Australia. This was followed by a 5-day workshop centred around helping Australia's Aboriginal community with its struggles. Art and communications projects were conceived and executed with the active collaboration of Aboriginal team members.
In 2012, Memefest organised an exhibition called Memefest: Demonstrating Relevance: Response-Ability. It presented a selection of works curated as part of the competitions between 2002 and 2010, and was shown at Kino Šiška, KID PINA and in Berlin and Nijmegen. Other events have included a ten-day event based in Brisbane at the Queensland College of Art, the aforementioned residency programmes, and workshops (led by Vodeb) at the London College of Communication and at the Instituto Superior de Disegno, Havana, in 2015.
A recent Memefest publications is the book project "InDEBTed to Intervene – Critical Lessons in Debt, Communication, Art and Theoretical Practice", published in January 2014. Before that, Vodeb co-edited and co-curated the book Demonstrating Relevance: Response – Ability, Theory, practice and imagination of Socially Responsive communication (published by Memefest and UL FDV in 2010) and Love/Conflict/Imagination (published in 2011).
In 2015 Memefest partnered with Intellect Books UK, with whom they are working on a new series titled "Socially Responsive Communication/Design and Art: Memefest Interventions", starting with a book on Food Democracy.