Inke Arns on Mon, 17 Mar 1997 19:11:35 +0100

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Syndicate: my proposal for Convergence...

Dear Syndicalists,
on Friday I have posted the Call for Papers for the Convergence summer 1998 
issue. Today I would like to send you the more extensive proposal which I 
wrote for the Convergence editors last week. We decided to keep the Call for 
Papers more general, but I think that the proposal might a) provide you with 
a better insight of what the planned issue could deal with and b) stimulate 
reactions and discussions for the upcoming LEAF'97 event.
Please note that my proposal is intended to give a first outline of the 
possible topics for the summer 1998 issue of Convergence and up to now 
represents but a preliminary sketch.
Looking forward to hearing from you and to seeing you in Liverpool,
greetings from Berlin,
Inke Arns

Proposal for the Convergence summer 1998 issue 

The summer 1998 issue of Convergence should serve to place recent East 
European media art activities and the respective discourses on new 
technologies and electronic arts in the consciousness of a broader European 
Therefore we would like to gather papers relating to research projects or 
case studies on media art, the specific electronic arts discourse(s) and the 
cultural, as well as social and political implications of new media 
technologies in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe.
Almost ten years after the revolutionary changes of 1989 the history of 
media art in this region is yet to be written. There have been independent 
developments of media art in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe which 
make it necessary to treat these traditions not as an appendices to Western 
media art, but to examine their particular dynamic and strategies and to 
place them in the historical and cultural context from which they emerged, 
and thus to show and understand their specificities.
However, the growing implementation of global media networks, communication 
technologies and their subsequent use in the electronic arts raises the 
question of globalization effects as opposed to local specificities in the 
electronic arts. Do local specificities tend to disappear in the era of 
global communication? Do we really - according to McKenzie Wark - "no longer 
have roots," but "arials"? Or shouldn't we rather question this assumption, 
stating that "even in the era of global communications we have our roots, 
not only arials" (1), as Ryszard W. Kluszczynski put it during the V2_East 
meeting held in Rotterdam in September 1996?

Suggestions of possible topics and areas that should be included in the 
summer 1998 issue of Convergence:

a) Current developments in electronic arts and the specific aesthetic 
strategies in the post-socialist Eastern European countries. With regard to 
the structure of Convergence, authors should not focus exclusively on 
investigating the developments of recent projects in a single country at 
length; rather they should 
*) either provide comparative analysis of developments in several countries, 
focussing on similarities and differences in the approaches or 
*) localize regional or local media art projects within a broader context of 
general cultural, aesthetic and theoretical discourse.
The existence (or the lack) of formative factors, i.e. the historical 
background, should be taken into account: today's artistic choices are 
largely - though not exclusively - determined by historical experiences in 
the sphere of media art in the various countries. Insofar as it adds to the 
understanding of specific developments of media art practices, predecessors 
of media art (such as experimental film, performance etc.) should be included. 

b) provide an insight into Eastern European approaches to using new 
technologies and attitudes towards the effects of new media. These new 
"mental cartographies" have been developing over the past few years mainly 
through festivals and other initiatives launched in a number of these 
countries, which, according to a paper published by the Council of Europe, 
"raises hopes that [these countries] will not find themselves drowned under 
the weight of foreign audiovisual products that in no way reflect the 
cultural identity of the receiving countries." (2). Does the "historically 
inherited distrust of media", repeatedly stated by producers and artists 
from Eastern European post-socialist countries lead to a more critical 
awareness and a more attentive approach towards the social and cultural 
implications of new media technologies? The Albanian artist Eduard Muka 
stated in an interview that
        "We inherited a sort of hatred towards the media. There were a lot 
of lies, nothing was exact, there was only propaganda. Still there is only 
one state television channel and it is even worse than it used to be. The 
distrust towards media could be a good starting point for artists to make 
their critical approach in regards to media. I look at media as the highest 
degree of manipulation humanity has ever invented. In this sense, this could 
be really used [to] raising social or individual imperatives." (3) 
Reacting to the polemical text "Art, Power and Communication" by the Russian 
artist Alexej Shulgin, Lev Manovich, artist and 'post-communist subject' now 
living in the US asserted that
        "The experiences of East and West structure how new media is seen in 
both places. For the West, interactivity is a perfect vehicle for the ideas 
of democracy and equality. For the East, it is yet another form of 
manipulation, in which the artist uses advanced technology to impose his / 
her totalitarian will on the people." (4)
I could very well imagine some of these topics as responses to previously 
raised issues in the Debates section of Convergence.

c) critically deal with the notion of technology as a "unifying" or 
"normative" factor. This topic is not only important for media art in 
Eastern Europe, but for art using new media technologies in general. It 
touches upon the broader field of techological determinism and the 
possibility (or impossiblity) of individual artistic expression through 
technology. Are the globalizing, unifying or "normalizing" tendencies 
inherent in global media technology erasing differences of - or at least 
affecting - specific regional ways of expression? Does the use of technology 
lead to the disappearence of differences, to a convergence or a unifying of 
artistic expression? Can media art be "neutral towards cultural values"? Or 
does media art "imply [a] kind of thinking which is West-orientated and 
linear, masculine etc."(3) - as the paper announcing a symposium held in 
December 1996 in Prague was suggesting?

d) question the viability of notions such as East and West, analyzing local 
developments within a broader global context. How are certain topics and 
themes dealt with in Eastern Europe (e.g. "technology", "the body"(4), 
"reality", "the self") and how can they be linked and compared to global 
media art history? Even if there exists no coherent written history of media 
art as such, how could one add to it the experiences that have been and 
still are being made in Eastern Europe? Can the differences be made 
productive, perhaps allowing another perception of what is happening in the 

e) provide critical analysis of the agendas and goals of institutions and 
non-institutional networks and structures promoting and supporting new media 
technologies in Eastern Europe. Especially the role of the 'Soros Foundation 
for an Open Society' should be discussed here. Since the early 1990s an 
impressive network of regional 'Soros Centers for Contemporary Art' (SCCAs) 
has been established in most of the countries of the former East bloc. Due 
to the underdeveloped system or the complete lack of institutional support 
for contemporary art and culture, the SCCAs, which are under the umbrella of 
the International Soros Foundation (ISF) based in New York, remain virtually 
the only supporting infrastructure for contemporary (media) art in many of 
these countries. It was due to the financial support of the SCCAs that 
exhibitions, seminars and symposia on new media and media art could take 
place in the capital cities of Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe 
(e.g. "Ex Oriente Lux", Bucharest 1993; "New MediaLogia / New MediaTopia", 
Moscow 1994; "Orbis Fictus", Prague 1995-6). Yet the role of the Soros 
Foundation in Eastern Europe should be critically questioned: being a 
presupposedly philantrophic initiative guided by Karl Popper's ideal of an 
'Open Society', the ISF is no less an initiative of a private entrepreneur 
guided by concrete economical and political interests in the region, as John 
Horvath, among others, has suspected: 
        "The most likely use of the ISF, however, would seem to be as a 
means for shrewd market penetration in an economically prostrate region. By 
concentrating on the media and telecommunications infrastructure 
development, to what extent is the ISF building a Soros-controlled 
telecommunications empire that spans from the Pacific to Central Europe?" (7).
Besides this, an analysis of the activities of other 'alternative' or 
non-institutional networks and structures supporting new media technologies 
and media art in Eastern Europe should be of interest for this issue.

(1) Ryszard W. Kluszczynski, The Past and Present of (Multi)Media Art in 
Central and Eastern European Countries - An Outline, in: Inke Arns / Andreas 
Broeckmann (eds.), Reader V2_East Meeting, DEAF96, Rotterdam 1996, p. 12
(2) Don Foresta, Alain Mergier, Bernhard Serexhe, The new space of 
communication, the interface with culture and artistic creativity, Council 
of Europe, Sept. 1995, p. 56
(3) Eduard Muka, interview by Geert Lovink, "Media Art in Albania, First 
Steps", Syndicate mailing list, Sept. 29, 1996
(4) Lev Manovich, "On Totalitarian Interactivity", Syndicate mailing list, 
Sept. 1996
(5) "Media Art - Intercultural Hope or Art without a Message?", 
International symposium held at the Goethe Institute Prague, Dec. 3 - 5, 1996
(6) This theme was extensively dealt with during "Body in Communism", 
International symposium held at the Literaturhaus Berlin, March 30 - April 
1, 1995, organized by Kathrin Becker and Bojana Pejic
(7) John Horvath, The Soros Network, Nettime mailing list, Feb. 7, 1997 and 
Telepolis Journal <>, Jan. 31, 1997


Inke Arns * Pestalozzistr. 5 * D-10625 Berlin * Germany
Tel / Fax + 49 - 30 - 313 66 78 *
have a look at:
* Int. Meeting on the Documentation of Media Art in Eastern,
Central and South Eastern Europe (Rotterdam Sept. 96)
* discord. sabotage of realities. (Hamburg Nov. 96 - Jan. 97)