geert lovink on 1 Sep 2000 15:45:57 -0000

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<nettime> Ars Electronica and its political context

Dear nettimers,

below you will find three letters. It comes from a private correspondence
from spring 2000 between a group of new media artists, curators and critics,
concerned with the cultural policies of the nationalism and particularly the
Haider regime in Austria and Gerfried Stocker,the director of the Ars
Electronica Festival which will be opened in Linz, Austria in a few days
from now. The initiative, coordinated by the New York critic Timothy
Druckrey, felt that the choice of yet another bio science topic, "Next Sex",
could easily be used to distract from the uneasy political questions which
have been raised ever since the Freedom party was taken aboard in the

Will Ars Electronica remain silent and pretend there is not going on? How do
racist policies, directly or indirectly, effect Europe's biggest electronic
arts festival? What is clean and healthy new media arts according to the
rightist rulers in Vienna? Why does Public Netbase have to be closed down?
How many compromises is Ars Electronica willing to make? These topics, and
many more, will for sure be debated in Linz over the next week in a last
minute initiative that has appeared at Ars called Free Speech. We know that
Free Speech can be both productive discourse and a convenient veil. Yet we
also know that an open mike and a free speech camp is not the solution to
the politics of inaction, but can be a call to action. We hope that lists
such as nettime, syndicate, rhizome and others will actively follow what is
going and contribute to the debate online. This correspondence underneath
died somewhere in April. What the silence of Gerfried Stocker after the
second letter of the initiative means (or may not mean), you can judge for
yourself. We thought this was the appropriate time to publish it and look
forward to a lively (online) debate about Ars Electronia and its relation to
cultural policies and new media in Austria.

Timothy Druckrey
Geert Lovink

ps. the names of the 18 others who signed the two letters are not a secret,
we just had not approached them individually, yet found it necessary, at
this stage, just before the opening of the festival, to publish this
correspondance. We thought it was fair they would agree first before the
list is going out.


Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2000 09:43:28 -0500
To: Gerfried Stocker <>, Wolfgang Modera <>
From: Timothy Druckrey <>
Subject: concerns
Cc:, Jutta Schmiederer <>

Dear Gerfried and Wolfgang,

There's little doubt that the recent political events in Austria echo and
find resonance throughout the world. Rightist movements, reactionary
doctrines of essentialism, the corruptions of globalization, the
reinstallation of totalities (in the guise of insidious collectivities,
cyber-communes, dot-topias of all kinds) are resurfacing across the
spectrum, from fundamentalist theologies to theologies of technology, from
grim-even aberrant-nationalisms, to cyber and techno cultisms, and they come
as reminders (or harbingers) and cautionary moments. All through the last
century the apologists, ideologues, conspirators, accomplices, and criminals
of essentialist culture (in all its guises) proposed, and too often carried
out, nearly unfathomable (but sadly no longer unimaginable) atrocities in
the name of social purification, "retribalization," and, worse, as pathetic
authentication within the political fetish of nationalistic identity, and
brought culture its most rapacious enemies. There is just no way to avoid
the constancy with which we must be vigilant for even the glimmers of the
retooling of cultural isolationism veiling the dismal tropes of reactionary
politics, the flagrant  delegitimation of the "other," the refusal to
confront the siege on artistic and intellectual culture with crude populisms
or to reconceptualize the so-called 'bankruptcy of cultural hierarchies',
the determinisms nestled in fallacies of social or technical evolution.

And yet the social crisis of xenophobia has remained active, infecting
localized conflicts in East Timor, Kosovo, Bosnia, Kurdistan, Chechnya,
Congo, Germany, France, Spain, the US  (among too many others). Old tech
conflicts of brute force have been replaced by the new tech conflicts
emerging in broadcast politics, high technology, and e-culture. But the
localizing of these irruptions can no longer be understood as aftershocks,
nor rationalized within the rubric of the sustenance of cultural heritage
under the duress of internationalization. The corrupt social fundamentalism
surfacing in these movements sunders democracy in distorted forms of
minority consensus. But artificial or engineered consensus is an aspect of
totalitarianism. Too often opaque, politics has re-entered everyday life,
and must be made transparent.

So here we are again, poised between the disaster of cultural regression and
the catastrophe of social evasion, a crisis moment in which equivocation is
implausible, in which determined and responsible actions confront bleak
reactionary movements emerging in intolerance and the perversion, if not
usurpation, of the principle of democracy. Already besieged by the weighty
plots of the internationalized cartels of the media, the economy,
technology, or genetics, the infosphere has not been cleansed of its dirty
histories, the ecosphere of its dirty realities, or the political sphere of
its filthy corruptions. We just cannot delude ourselves in either political
complacency or the complacency of virtualization.

A century of social catastrophes should not be followed by either
acquiescence, ignorance, or evasion that verges on complicity. The
reactionary engineers of social destruction have been supplanted both by the
more insidious programmers of 'neo-biological', neo-economic, and neo-social
determinism and by far more visible political chameleons of corrupt social
politics. But innocence in the name of an obsolete notion of normalization
is intolerable, social retrenchment in the name of sovereignty is untenable,
the alienization of the displaced or the refugee is depraved, the
delegitimation of migratory labor is slavery, the abandonment of social
pluralism is incomprehensible. Similarly, the retreat into technology is
contemptible, refuge in the sphere of art is failure, sanctuary in the
clean-rooms of biotech is denial.

No simple situation. And while international political administrators
vacillate, or better, squirm, with anxious liberalisms and political
correctness, the discourses of the streets and the net leave little doubt
that the "internet generation" (that Schüssel helplessly attempts to
discredit) provide a most revealing and farsighted view of this situation.
The broad debates range from acts of solidarity to outright boycotts,
polarized maneuvers that could serve to embolden or confirm the positions of
the opposition, and that represent short-term approaches to issues that
extend beyond localized or temporalized boundaries.  Yet it is clear that an
international community with considerable knowledge -if not experience-of
the spectre of xenophobia knows that inaction is unacceptable. The
international right has made clear its disdain for art and autonomy and the
architects of retrenchment are already acting to concoct the faux populisms
that will no doubt emerge from an atmosphere of increasingly 'repressive
tolerance.' And we know that the sad relationship between ideologies of
exclusion and coercive populisms (particularly in the realm of art) is
antithetical to our shared concerns. We know too that the camouflage of
"resignation" - in which Haider performs strategic (should one say
charismatic?) retreat from media visibility to avoid accountability for the
support of the largest right party in Europe - is a ploy that cannot be

For the past two decades Ars Electronica focused its interests on the
cultures of technology. As a series of events dedicated to "electronic arts
and new experience S a character of incalculability, of risk, and of
daring," it has devoted considerable attention to the understanding of the
social reverberations of technologies in the face of the inexorable
institutionalization and incorporation. In turn, Ars Electronica has been
championed and sustained by a growing international community of artists,
scientists, theorists, and historians. As we all would acknowledge, the
willingness to responsibly confront the relationships between cultures and
communities has been a consistent aspect of Ars Electronica's role in the
maturing media arts. We see Ars Electronica as a platform both for the
sustenance of serious approaches to creativity and as a forum to address the
consequences of contemporary culture in the electronic age.

We know from the kind of support you have offered to RadioB92 and for the
cultural debates in the Syndicate list (among many other kinds of support),
that your commitment to the debates about social politics is well rooted. In
the past months we have seen several striking events in the media sphere:
sustained and costly attacks on ETOY and Leonardo, staggering mergers
(AOL/Time Warner, for example) that will surely affect the communication
environment of the next decades. These are among the wake-up signs that we
must account for. But such urgent events in the political sphere must be
countered decisively -- especially considering the disturbing reactionary
precedent that could be set in Austria. For us these events are more urgent
than an affirmation of bio-tech after the LifeSciences events of the past
year. Yet it is clear that a critical inquiry of identity, identification,
race, difference, nationalism, xenophobia, otherness, the dilemma of the
relationship between universalization and particularization, are issues that
link the international issues of society with those of media, bio-tech,
networks, web communities, and a range of issues that are relevant to the
media community.

As your colleagues, supporters, and friends, and because we realize that the
situation in Austria is the sign of a global set of issues, we are compelled
to respond. We feel that it is necessary to urge Ars Electronica not to be
silent in the face of its international constituency and to undertake an
open and persuasive re-evaluation of the events planned for 2000 in the
light of what we consider a situation in which the global stakes are too
great and the responsibilities and reactions of the international media
community too high to ignore. We write this letter to you directly so as to
offer the opportunity for reflection and a good faith response. It is a
letter of support and solidarity, and as an invitation to enter into a
dialogue about the possible ways of responding, a proposal to strengthen the
argument that Ars Electronica is one of the most visible international
platforms for articulating the social and political meaning of technology.

It would be equivocal to suggest such a reconsideration without ents lightly
and, of course, offer more than our cautious objections, but our labors as
well. We offer to participate in the organization of any events related to a
reconceptualization of this year's events. We also propose that the Next Sex
theme for Ars Electronica 2000 be replaced by broader themes like Next
Steps, Next Societies, or Next Cultures, themes that decisively tackle the
global issues of xenophobia, the media, technology (including bio-tech),
social responsibility, and an agenda tuned to the conditions that are
responsive to both short and long term analyses and strategies. We also
believe that a significant portion of Ars 2000 be allocated to allow for
exhibitions, performances, forums, lectures and debates concerning the
politics of exclusion, the new right, the political uses of media and
telecommunications, and the development of extreme resistance to the false
consensus of reactionary extremists.

In solidarity and with sincerity,

Timothy Druckrey  <>
and 19 other new media artists, curators and critics.


From: Gerfried Stocker <>
To: "'Timothy Druckrey'" <>
Subject: AW: concerns
Date: Fri, 17 Mar 2000 07:03:41 +0100

Hello Friends,

Thank you very much for your mail and the sincere effort you undertook for
it. Please excuse that I can't take the time to formulate my position as
elaborated as you did, but I want to react fast, (and English is not my
favourite language.)

As you probably don't doubt we have been in very serious and resentful
discussion about proper reactions to the present political situation in
Austria. Already in January when it more and more became clear what will
happen with the government.

And of course our first reaction was to make an emphatic and demonstrative
move like changing the title and theme of the Festival. But for several
reasons, after long consideration we decided not to do it. Not because we
are afraid of a confrontation with the government.  - (BTW we don't have
much to lose, only 10% of our budget come from Vienna.and until now we don't
even know whether we will get this money or not)

 The main reason is that Ars Electronica is (and always was) a festival that
was not only dealing with art or science but always with the social and
political implications. Any of the themes of Ars Electronica has been
approached from the standpoints of a strong socio-political responsibility.
The lecturers and discussions at the symposiums, the selection of the
invited artists provides a long list of proofs for this. Ars Electronica
never has stepped back from conflicts and was always a platform for
critique. Not just in the rather abstract way that one could say that
contemporary art always is a political statement, but in very often in a
clear and precise way. And this was not always comfortable for the

 It is important to see that "Next Sex" is by far not an attempt at
affirmation of genetic engineering. The questions that this theme raises are
much more rooted in the discussion of the mechanisms of discrimination based
on sex and gender or heredity. It will engage in gender studies and women
rights, the vilification of homosexuals.

In a situation where the present government seems to replace women-rights by
family-values this becomes a very serious issue.

Or as another example, look at the legal situation of IVF in countries like
Austria, where it is only allowed to people who are married and not allowed
to lesbian or homosexual couples. Where it is only allowed when the man is
infertile but not allowed if the woman is infertile. Than I consider it
absolutely worth to discuss questions. Because this are pure forms of
discrimination of minorities.

It is not a question of the title it's a question of the consequence and
seriousness of the discussion and a question of the approach. So our
decision was to refine and intensify the relevance to the actual political
situation for major parts of the festival.  Thus we have already taken some
measurements to integrate "special" activities in the frame of the festival.

Besides the intensification of the symposium, one obvious area for this will
be open-x (the net. art format of Ars Electronica) which has been a platform
for critical artists already in the past and will focus on issues like the
etoy- and leonardo-case, public campaigning in the web, free media and open
source etc. This is an almost natural stage for the political debates and
probably more.

Another step was to change the so called "night-line" of the festival from a
concert-series into a series of lectures, discussions specially dealing with
issues that are addressed by the political situation in Austria. E.g.
emotional instigation against immigrants and refugees, the role of the media
in the "success-story" of Haider. The way how right-populists like Haider
use language. This has such deep implications to the political culture but
also to media- and communication culture of our modern information-society
and is barely reflected until now.

Also the Thursday-Events will be dedicated to this concerns and we are
working to set up a special collaboration with newspapers to improve the
impact of this measurements.

So I'm absolutely sure that is the appropriate way to go, and an efficient
way to create and sharpen the political discourse.

I appreciate the motivations of your concerns and requests very much and I
would be very happy to discuss these issues more in detail. Especially since
you expressed that you might have already suggestions that could add
important elements to the measurements that we already working on.

I hope you understand and support our point, since I think it is actually
very close to yours.

For now all the best

Gerfried Stocker


Date: Sat, 15 Apr 2000 12:31:30 -0400
To: Gerfried Stocker <>, Wolfgang Modera <>
From: Timothy Druckrey <>
Subject: concerns
Cc:, Jutta Schmiederer <>

Dear Gerfried,

Our initial letter was not a reproach for inaction. Surely we assumed that
the issues of the situation in Austria were being discussed and considered.
Nor did we think that the broad implications of the Next Sex symposium would
be limited to blank affirmations. Indeed, the issues you cite in this regard
are essential in developing a reasoned and pertinent approach to bio-tech
and its relationships with ideologies that reach into the very political
circumstances we are concerned with.

Of course it is important that we are aware that you are not ignoring the
problem and appreciate your willingness to engage in this dialogue. However,
even though you cite possible "special" events for Ars 2000 (open-x,
"night-line," and "Thursday events"), we would suggest shifting these events
into the mainstream of the symposium. Perhaps it is right not to make "an
emphatic and demonstrative" alteration of the general theme, but the
positioning of critical/political responses as peripheral to the central
issues seems unconvincing -- especially considering the strong public
responses (and consequences) by and directed at Camera Austria, Public
Netbase, and  others -- no less on numerous web sites.

The only public statement that has emerged from Ars Electronica in the past
months has been the announcement of the Next Sex theme. We are concerned
that no debate or reconsideration is happening in public view. But it
should. You certainly understand that there are already discussions (in
meetings, mailing lists, and personal exchanges) focused on what appropriate
actions might emerge in response to the events of the past months. These
range from limited to broad boycotts to more open debates about arts policy
and strategies of disruption. These debates are sure to affect artists
already questioning whether they should submit work to the Ars events
(particularly to the Prix Ars) as they currently understand them. We all
agree that Ars Electronica's most cogent work is precisely at the
intersecting point between the broad spheres of media, art, and social
change. In this, you surely have to consider the community of artists in
your thinking about how to evolve a way to incorporate a public response
into any plans you might be considering.

We are absolutely for critical engagement and thus offer to work with you to
broaden the discourse and to frame the issues in an international debate. We
wholly agree that "the deep implications" and significance of events facing
us are at the core of  the future of communications and creativity. Thus, we
want to encourage the development of a bolder response and are proposing a
public and political acknowledgement of a situation that is an aspect of the
so-called new order, the post cold war, in which the destabilization of
identity by engineering (genetic or otherwise), by ideologists of
xenophobia, by privatization and globalization (witness the strong reactions
to the WTO and World Bank), by fragmentation and virtualization, is a
sweeping transformation that is intensified by, but in no way limited to,
the events in Austria.

It is in this area that we would like to participate with Ars Electronica
and would like to propose some approaches:

1. That parallel events be planned in the context of the main symposium .

2. That other Austrian and international groups be invited to publicly
participate, debate and develop cooperative, strategic, and collaborative
strategies and projects.

3. That an on-line debate be immediately initiated to allow the
international community an opportunity to have an active voice and to create
an open environment for critical discourse.

4. Allocate and support space for exhibition, performance, open-debate,
on-line initiatives focused on the situation.


Timothy Druckrey  <> and the 19 others.

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