cornelia on Wed, 9 Apr 2003 11:48:28 +0200 (CEST)

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[oldboys] France is waking up

+++sorry for crossposting+++

France is waking up
Security* is becoming a topic of serious interest

(*nobody would call him/herself "hacker" here. They say they are 
"interested in security", and there's a lot of people here interested in 
Nathalie Magnan interviewed by Cornelia Sollfrank
Paris, December 14, 2003
C.S. Nathalie, you are one of the organizers of the Zelig3 conference 
where I gave a lecture/performance yesterday (13th of December, 2002). 
Before we go into detail about the conference, its agenda and outcome, I 
would like you to talk a bit about background. I know you lived in the US for 
11 years. What did you do there?
N.M.: I studied and worked at UC Santa Cruz and at the Visual Studies 
Workshop in Rochester. I eventually connected with Paper Tiger TV and 
Deep Dish TV with whom I did several programs, such as "Donna 
Haraway Reads the National Geographic of Primates." With Deedee 
Halleck I also co-edited "Gringo in Manaña Land", an archival feature film 
about American representation of Latin America by North America. After 
returning to France, I showed the "Gulf Crisis Tapes" before the January 
15th outbreak of the first Gulf War. There was a huge difference between 
U.S. media activism and French media activism.
C.S.: When did you return to France?
N.M.: I returned in fall 1990, when the Gulf War was still going on. I was 
shocked by the anti-war activities in France, the strategies for voicing 
dissent and French media analysis. For example, there was a huge 
anti-war demonstration in Paris in December 1990. I met a group of 
journalists,activists and artists there, and we started the project "Canal 
déchaîné"--a word play on the satirical newspaper called "Canard 
Enchainé". In this group people were thinking critically about how the 
media works,  however, the group was dominated by boys. This was a 
shock for me since I was coming from "Dyke Central..." I had not worked 
in a strictly male environment for a long time. While I did work with them, I 
never felt totally comfortable.
I had just come from a university in the States that was well-equipped with 
e-mail and I simply wanted to get connected in France. You have to 
understand that the first e-mail arrived in France as late as in 1987. When 
I called my telecommunication company to order an e-mail account, they 
said it would cost €60 per e-mail...  I didn't do it :-(
C.S.: How did you go on working then?
N.M.: I was making documentaries for an independent producer, teaching 
at the University Paris VIII.  Later, I worked within a very "happening" 
department at the time -- "les programmes courts" of Canal+ (it doesn't 
exist any more). With this group we did "La Nuit Gay" (The Gay Night), the 
program that put gays and lesbians on the French media map. I also 
worked to increase media access, pushing the idea of public access 
TV(which doesn't exist in France to this day). I experimented with the idea 
of public access later,setting up a very active feminist forum of discussion. 
It's a daily chronicle of women's issues created by all who are interested 
in women's issues and includes chat on women's concerns as well as 
developed essays on these topics. 
<> .
I was relieved when I learned about the first n5m (Next Five Minutes) 
conference for tactical media in '93 in Amsterdam []. 
Compared to the dominant discourse in France, it was very refreshing! I 
was interested in the n5m conference because of their approach to 
tactical media. I completely embraced the idea of having art, culture, 
politics, and machines together infiltrating the dominant order, regardless 
of the machines,the media, and production levels.

The conference also brought geeks and hackers together with the TV 
people, and independent media makers. This made me feel totally at 
home. People acknowledged the gender issue, but it wasn't given much 
attention. I simply wanted to believe that the men in n5m were more 
aware than my French colleagues who were old lefties. In fact, there were 
women around me in Amsterdam, mostly Americans. Later, in 1995, 
when the nettime mailing list emerged, and internet access in France 
became possible, I subscribed immediately. And although I did not post 
much myself, the list was my breathing channel. I realized that there was 
another woman from France who posted interesting information about the 
situation in France on nettime, Christine Treguier. (She organized the 
whole security track for this Zelig conference). Through this list, I learned 
about other people in France who were interested in tactical media.
C.S.: Did this finding change your situation in France?
N.M.: Certainly, but the problem was that these few French people did not 
make a critical mass which is needed for a thinking group, for a 
confrontation, and a discussion.
Together with Patrice Riemens and Geert Lovink, we came up with the 
idea to start a French nettime list, which we did with Benoit Cristou, Boris 
Beaude and Philippe Riviere. In a short time we had 200 people on it, but 
as all lists it had its moments, still does. There are a lot of 
announcements. Announcements are ok, but if nobody invests extra time 
and energy in a mailing list, it simply doesn't function as a forum. We have 
new moderators now, Aris from Samizdat & Nicolas from constat 
(Belgium). The list moved to SAMIZDAT (, a French 
portal for a lot of political and activist lists. It really started to pick up. It 
would be desirable to connect it also to Canada, African, the Pacific 
Islands and Asian countries where French is used.
 C.S.: What is the current relationship between French independent media 
activities and the n5m/nettime activities? Is there an exchange going on?
 N.M.: I think that the work that is being done in France is now easier to 
understand from the outside. There have always been some excellent 
people working here, but the structures to make the work visible were 
missing. Also, French people have started to circulate (travel) a bit more 
than they did previously. More French artists have started going to other 
festivals and conferences, and have started to network.
 I also created a helpful book together with Annick Bureaud, "Connexions : 
art, réseaux, média". The idea was to filter and translate material from 
international mailing-lists (nettime, syndicate, rhizome) but also Leonardo 
and texts that we considered to be part of the canon.  This was helpful for 
people who have difficulties with English--and there is a lot of them. The 
book is our selected texts, but it covers material that seems necessary to 
be familiar with, in an international conference.
C.S.: Do you really think that France is/was isolated because of 
N.M.: It's always overdetermined. Language is one reason, but also the 
French have a tendancy to consider themselves as the center of the world, 
universal, enlightened... Some workshops at Zelig were in English and 
people attended those. Younger people are more open to speaking 
English, and they understand the need to do so. The attitude that France 
is the intellectual center of the world is starting to disappear.
C.S.: Let's finally talk about the Zelig conference.
N.M.: The Zelig conference (it was the 3rd) is the French version of an 
international conference that strives to attract a variety of types of people 
working in technology, networks, activism, culture, and art. Art is not the 
strength of this conference, though.
C.S.: Can you roughly describe what kind of people took part, from what 
fields, and what was on the agenda ?
N.M.: The organizers and participants were a mix of conscious 
technicians, political activists, and people who are interested in culture. 
The participating technicians are really deep into technology.  They are 
access providers or hosts, and one could also add "hackers." Nobody 
would call him/herself ‚Äö"hacker" here. They would rather define 
themselves as "people being interested in security." There is a lot of 
people in France who are interested in security'...[laughs]
C.S.: Why is the term "hacker" being avoided?
N.M.: I think it is a way to avoid the romantic image of the hacker and to 
stay away from the fear that people have of hackers, particularly in France 
since the elections.  It is important to really do the work, the political work 
because there is such an urgency.  For me, this large and varied group of 
people are all connected by their interest in resisting the commercial 
systems that limit our choices.  We all want to maintain our own open 
channels that exist outside of the commercial system in case the 
commercial filtering becomes too heavy.
One of the outcomes of the first Zelig was "gitoyen" 
(  This was a collaborative structure in which 
resources such as bandwith and competences were shared in order to 
provide non-commercial access to associations and groups of citizens.
C.S.: What was discussed during the conference?
N.M.: Basically, there were three main tracks--in addition to the basic 
exchange of technical know-how in workshops. The three main areas of 
focus were: "independent media," "security," and "cyberfeminism."
In the discussions about "independent media," different issues around 
"indy media" and the necessity of creating a media center were raised. 
Would it be more efficient to have one press center for one event? In the 
past each national indymedia site published different information on their 
site which seemed inefficient.  If you wanted to obtain complete 
information, you would have to visit 70 different sites. Would it be helpful to 
put the machines in different locations so as to avoid what went on in 
Genua (police cracking down on lawyers' hard drives, among other 
things)?  One idea was to divide the center for production and the center 
for distribution of information. We also discussed the filtering policies and 
problems of indymedia. Indymedia originates from the tradition of public 
access television, but it is a different medium, and therefore the filtering 
process must be different. Finally, there is the definite need for European 
independent media. There are a lot of things happening on the European 
level but almost no media reporting on them. A more abstract discussion 
questioned the terms "information" and "communication" in general, and 
determined that these terms would need a re-evaluation.
C.S.: Could you now please report on the topic of "security?" 
N.M.: You should really ask Christine... One part of the discussion 
revolved around technology and the use and types of cryptography, 
specifically the Palladium story. By using Palladium, Microsoft can spy on 
private pcs, check the installed software, and remotely destroy pirated 
software. This alone raises a lot of questions about security on the 
internet, as well as censorship. Tony Bunyan(from Statewatch) spoke of 
governments that are putting "unlawful" and unconstitutional laws into 
place since September 11. By using "international terrorism" as their 
reason for implementing these dangerous laws, many governments, 
together with media, create and propagate societal fear.
C.S.: Could you give an example of this?
N.M.: One simple example is the law that coordinates all the European 
police forces (implemented by European politicians), and Europol. 
Another law concerns data retention. Who should keep what record and 
for how long?

Hence at this year's Zelig, there was a presentation on "no-log" 
(, a system that guarrantees the privacy of a user's data 
through crytopgraphy and without registration. What's different from any 
other anonymizer is that this is being done precisely in response to the 
data retention laws, hence, they can and will not keep any log.
C.S.: Now we should finally talk about the "cyberfem" track?
N.M.: The open mic/fem demo done with the mailing list "faces" during 
ISEA two years ago definitively put things on the map here. During this 
year's Zelig, the "cyberfem" discussion was part of the conference 
program (a first!)along with the technical workshops, discussions and 
presentations. We also had an open microphone session because I think 
it is important for women to get to know each other, and to find out about 
each other's activities. The problem with the open-mic format is also its 
strength.  Since you don't select who speaks, you cannot avoid having, 
ummmmmm, weaker work being presented. Many wonderful women 
came, and important new connections were made on a one-on-one 
basis. Afterwards we had a fiesta organized by Beatrice Rettig at EOF, an 
artist space, where we had an excellent line-up of women djs. It was a 
terrific program to have the open mic first, then the fiesta. On the practical 
front, we had two genderchangers workshops-- one  was about taking 
apart and putting together computer hardware, the other was about free 
software, especially linux.
Peggy Pierrot organized the public conversation between Milica from 
"Zeena ne delu" (Serbia), and Laurence from "constant" in Brussels.  This 
discussion confronted two different experiments with women working with 
new technologies coming from very different perspectives, but crossing at 
several points. What I liked about both was their critical approach to 
technology.  There were interested not just in training women, but also in 
raising a critical consciousness about the use of technology. And then we 
had the star from Hamburg...[ironic]
C.S.: Who was that?
N.M.: She said she was not an anarchist, but a cyberfeminist, and she did 
a wonderful job in local recruitment.
C.S.: What did she talk about?
N.M.: She talked about "The tacticial use of terms" in general, and then 
applied her theory by applying it to Cyberfeminism. The whole talk is on 
our website <>.
Very often the audience feels provoked and reacts aggressively when it 
comes to gender issues.  This happens for many different reasons. 
Some people associate clich?©s about feminism with cyberfeminism, 
while others get angry exactly when those clich?©s and stereotyped 
rhetoric are being questioned. She was very good at handling a variety of 
strange dynamics and has a lot of experience. She does not get angry any 
more J
She presented the lecture in a performative way which was nice. There 
were four people reading the lecture in French; herself, myself, and two 
boys who had helped to translate her talk into French. It was very cute 
when the boys read parts saying "my experience as a cyberfeminist" etc. It 
became a statement about roles and language. It also brought 
translators, who usually do work unnoticed in the background, to the 
This issue is not really a critical part of cyberfeminism, but related to it. I 
must mention the "yesmen" presentation. It was good to have them in the 
program.  They provided feedback on the use of technology for political 
activism, tactical politics, and masquerade as a form of subversion.  All of 
these are commonly shared interests with cyberfeminists. They also 
announced the difficulties The Thing was having.
C.S.: Back to Zelig. Could you tell me what the outcome of the conference 
N.M.: One important result was the wonderful visibility cyberfeminists had 
at such a meeting. These meetings are usually 99% boys. In my humble 
opinion, the cyberfeminist discussion was a total success. It informed 
everyone that there women using technology, that they want it, they can do 
it, and they are conscious about what they're doing. It was the first 
time-since I returned from the US-that it was not a struggle for me to claim 
that presence in a boy's group.

We managed to print a paper before the conference.  This is always a 
good propaganda tool. The web site has most of the intervention in 
French, English, some Italian, and Spanish‚ (
C.S.: What I am interested in now, is to go back a bit in time. What is the 
history behind or before Zelig.
N.M.: Zelig is closely related to a site called Samizdat‚Äö which collates a 
variety of French mailing lists that address political issues 
( This site also hosts Multitudes, an academic 
publication in French, which is affiliated with Hard-Negri's thinking.

Two years ago, "mini-reseau" was prominent. They are responsible for 
coding and developing SPIP: a very popular French open publishing 
software, soon to come up in different languages.
The first Zelig conference facilitated the first physical meeting of this 
diverse group of people. It occurred after a very important event that shook 
the entire non-commercial internet in France. One of the most prominent 
hosts of non-commercial sites-"altern" <> was attacked 
(see, and had been many times 
before. This particular time, they almost got him. One of the sites he 
hosted contained an image of a nude, 20 year-old woman. She is now a 
By making this available, Altern was making the statement that 
"technicians are not judges; they are not responsible for ethical 
judgement, technicians are technicians". The implication is that if 
commercial technicians start to make ethical judgments,  they will cut 
access as soon as a "problem" arises. Altern insisted that a judge should 
make such decisions, not a technician. This is not to say that technicians 
have brains and can develop politically pertinent projects (such as 
no-log), but that is another issue.
At this time there was only one non-merchant server in France--a terrible 
situation indeed. In response to this, Valentin Lacambre (director of 
Altern), donated all of his software ( in 
order to create a server to "lautre," a cooperative. Everybody was very 
shaken because we realized Altern could have been closed.  All this 
simply because an opportunist wanted to make money. This story 
happened three or four years ago and made everybody think carefully 
about the law.
C.S.: Was it before the first Zelig conference?
N.M.: Yes.
C.S. You have also mentioned a project that some of the French people 
do in Africa...
N.M.: Yes. It's AlternC. AlternC consists of software for housing and server 
management. It's easy to use and easy to install and is based on free 
software only. AlternC is free software itself. Hence Globenet (one of the 
organisers of Zelig) is developing relations with Sub-Saharan Africa in 
order provide access to and control of their information.  This would allow 
them to stop needing to transmit via occidental countries such as the USA 
C.S.: You say that the situation in France has changed. What do you think 
French people would or could contribute to an international network of 
media activists like the upcoming n5m conference?
N.M.: Definitely, alternC, spip, no-log, experiences with independent 
media, security watch, European legislation, and certainly cyberfems.
We are at a point now where the whole issue of surveillance, control and 
the merging of different databases is quite frightening. We should start 
connecting with artists and activists from different countries and discuss 
our positions on these topics in order to be able to resist. This is 
especially important because there will be European laws around these 
issues. I don't think it should be left only to official politicians and lawyers 
to settle these issues. There should definitely be a broader discussion. In 
that sense, it might be a good thing to have some French people 
participating at n5m.

Many thanks for proof-reading and editing to:
Rachel Greene (raw version)
Heidi Kumao (finalizing)

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