From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Andreas Broeckmann)
[ local ]
Translocality, deterritorialisation, virtual communities, electronic networks - in our daily work such terms play an important role, as we are trying to get to grips with the developments they describe in the social domain. It is the declared task of the organization for which I work to do research into the fields of intersection between art, media, technology and society which means that, over the last few years, the work that has been done there since the early 1980s has suddenly come into the popular mainstream. The growing complexity of the fields is dizzying on one level, but on another there is pretty much predictable stuff, and, in the artistic field, not very many well-articulated, challenging or surprising projects.
As a prelude, let me launch an idea which we started thinking about last weekend in the Panasonic club. An excessive amount of time is currently put into adapting our imagination to the futurologists' dreams. They are often tagged with the bracketed affirmation (it's coming!) - whether it is video on demand via the Internet, holographic television or, a bit further away, teletransportation. 'It's coming!' has, if you think about it, a curious sexual connotation, it announces the orgasmic opening of the floodgates and is an attempt to facilitate the synchronicity of satisfaction (I'm coming!). In the futurist sense, however, it always means 'not yet, not yet', a promise that is always fulfilled later when really satisfaction is not that pleasurably ecstatic any more. In analogy to the potency disorder of 'premature ejaculation' the futurist discourse seems trapped with the sad condition of postmature ejaculation, it's coming, but always long after the promise. (This little passage will be successful if it implants in some of its readers the new association of 'it's coming': whatever they can promise, it will always be slightly frustrating when it actually arrives.)
I live and work in Rotterdam more than in Berlin at the moment, though I very often wish I was in Berlin - an intense and difficult place to be in, tangibly situated at the border between Western and Central Europe. I don't live there at the moment because I have a very interesting job in the Netherlands and no paid work in Germany, there is loads of stuff to do there, but very little prospect of a regular income. What's interesting about the media cultural scene in Berlin is that some of the best people seem to incapacitate themselves by being too conscientious, by wanting to do the right thing and having to consider all the ins and outs before they commit themselves. Pretty much like the revolutionaries in The Life of Brian - passionate to the point of missing the crucifixion, or: people who would rather risk missing the train than take a ticket for the smokers' compartment. Others push and push and push, with a wonderful, sometimes frightening determination. And what's also exciting is that there are those two cultures, East and West German, and you can still tell from the way people look at you where they are from.
Which reminds me. I'm fond of people, I like books and food and walking around, and there are only very few pleasures which I would prefer to sitting outside a cafe in the spring sun, drinking beer in the afternoon, talking about life to a friend. If this sounds banal, this is the banality of my life. Obviously, there are obstacles. The woman I love is in Berlin, 650 km east, and I wish I was there. My friends, people who are dear to me and who live in my heart every day (apologies for the pathetic language, but how do you say something like that in another way), are spread across Europe and beyond, many of them I miss very much. If we talk about translocal communities, this is what it means to me: the pain in the heart about not being with my friends. I may be hopelessly old-fashioned, but I want to be together with people in RL.
Take the V2_East network which we have started to set up in the winter. It developed out of the wish to connect people in the media art world in East and West Europe, both of which communities we felt can learn a lot from each other. The initiative was obviously also fueled by the curiosity of, who's that, is there anybody in that city, what are they involved in, what has he been doing in the past ten years: stories about lives. So the first step we took was to put out an invitation to come to Rotterdam for a meeting at the end of the Next 5 Minutes conference in January 1996, where eventually 30 people from 13 different countries showed up. After a productive and stormy discussion we decided to form a platform, the Syndicate, link up through a mailing list dedicated to the exchange of information relevant in the field of East/West media art, the list is functioning and now has more like 50 subscribers, and there is a slowly growing website which should in the future become a useful source for research. But what's more important for me, we are connecting as people, these 30 initial syndicalists have seen and gotten to know about each other and may have become curious about each other's work. In a context like this, the electronic networks are really useful for keeping up the information exchange. I have no particular interest in creating 'digital territories' that do not interface back into the real world.
When I was in Warsaw recently - just a six-hour train ride from Berlin and physically nearer to it than Rotterdam is - I was asked to give a short presentation about new media art. Some people there are doing very important work for introducing media art to a more traditional modern art context, and to offering artists access to working facilities and to the Net. Similar initiatives are being pursued in Budapest, Riga, Kiev, St. Petersburg, Skopje, ... Anyway, in the talk in Warsaw I found myself praising the advantages of information technology, turning myself into a traveling salesman for the Suns and the SGIs of the world, when what I really want is to be able to communicate fast and efficiently with friends and partners in Poland, it's a bummer that it is now the rule that you cannot have one without the other. And although I've told myself many times, and have heard it more often, that the desire for a morally 'innocent' position is completely misplaced in this world, it's something that sticks in my mind like an old bubblegum.
What I really like are the traveling and the communication bit, being able to mail to Kathy and knowing that she'll get the message in no time, whether she is California or in Budapest, or even in Vienna. And then seeing her again in some other strange place which we have both decided it is important to be in at that moment. Talking to Pit in Berlin and to Yvonne in Cologne, picking up on both conversations in an e-mail exchange which is cc'ed around, and then meeting in the Spaetverkauf in Berlin-Mitte some Saturday night ... But I'd hate it to be stuck in one place and to have to make myself believe that digitized tele-communication, preferably in 3D, is much better and more exciting and what it is really all about and also much more important culturally and politically etc. Sure, there are crucial effects that the electronic networks have on the way we (will) live, but I cannot see myself being teletransported into a state of mind where this is not a Sunday night in May and I'm at home, sitting on my bed rather uncomfortably with cold hands and a stiff shoulder, with my tummy rumbling, and on which it would not simply be much, much nicer to be watching Channel 4 with Lynnette, smoking a roll-up and getting the vodka which I brought from Poland out of the freezer.
The art bit doesn't really worry me too much. I guess using the word is a way of saying that you don't want to have to restrict yourself to one profession, and to one way of doing things. I care a lot about the transformation of ideas, I find the contents of conversations often as exciting as the people themselves. At the moment, besides the reading, letter-writing and talking for the DEAF festival in September, I'm working on a series of texts that are trying to describe the new aesthetic field opened up by the electronic networks. While a year ago there was very little talk of the 'art' part in media art, this year there is a whole series of events that are asking whether it is possible to pinpoint aspects or even define categories for the evaluation of net art.
In my perception, which may be distorted, the problem of the relationship between media and art arises more urgently in Eastern Europe, where the arrival of media technology to a field of artistic practice that was formerly rather restricted in ideological and material terms, is experienced as heftier, and even less understandable culturally than in parts of the NATO countries. This may be because in the West media and telecommunication technologies have for several decades been an integral part of everyday culture - which might point to a close corollary between media art and consumer culture in this part of the world. In Eastern Europe, on the other hand, the new culture of communication and consumption arrives with a different dynamic and hits an art scene that is, if you apologize the crude categorization, often concerned with the individual, with the body, or with the metaphysical. For the role of media technology in art, this means that technology is seen as a medium, a tool that is to be used for presenting or doing something beyond it, whereas Western artist seem to engage - perhaps more fetishistically - with the machine as an Other, as something that is or behaves as though it was independent. It would have to be discussed whether this also affords, for instance, different kinds of net politics and net critique between East and West.
My own take on the discussion of a new form of aesthetics is not so much directed at finding a basis for value judgments, but at developing descriptive tools which make it possible to begin to understand more analytically the diversity of what it is that net art projects 'do', and then see whether this leads to an understanding of why some 'succeed' and others don't, and in which contexts. Everybody seems to agree that they do not follow the rules of modernist aesthetics, but we yet have to find a language and categories that underpin their specificities. The descriptive concepts I am thinking about at the moment are collective creativity, in/dependent agency, and interpersonal communication. These will be worked out in relation to concrete art projects, and it will have to be seen whether they are actually useful. The direction in which I am pointing the arrow of the 'net aesthetics' question is not so much about formal rules, beauty, or a particular moral code. Aesthetics here describes, in a pre-modern way, an attitude, a way of conducting one's life and of making decisions, a field for ethical and formal positions and choices rather than for a universal moral code. As we regain an understanding of art that shows it in dialogue and dependent interrelation with science, technological and social developments, and as historically determined, we also need to re-evaluate the attitude from which particular artistic decisions emerge, and the impact that they may have on the related fields. The inquiry into a new aesthetics has ethical, political, as well as formal and subjective dimensions and asks for the position, the vector or trajectory which particular works or groups of works are taking.
The transforming media ecology, which is affecting not only our position in relation to the world, but our very ways of being in the world and our sense of self, keeps us on our toes and will continue to demand an experimental attitude and intelligent tactics. There is not much reason to get overly pessimistic, things are bad already, and I think we can once more shed the dream that one day we are going to rule the world.
V2_East [http://www.v2.nl/east/east.html] Next 5 Minutes
[http://www.dds.nl/n5m/] Tactical Media / New Media Ecology