iliyana nedkova on Sun, 23 Aug 1998 13:35:35 +0000

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Syndicate: wro97 text for JUNCTION reader

dear all,

just occured to me that only a handful of syndicalists have been at the
wro97 conference. the unpublished as yet text below is a slightly re-worked
version of my paper which picks up on the central theme of wro97: GEO/INFO

with vr greetings,

                                                          GEO/INFO TERRITORY
                                                FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF A
                                            NOWHERE WOMAN IN A NOWHERE LAND

                      He is a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land,
                                   making all his nowhere plans for nobody.
                                               Doesn't have a point of view,
                                               knows no where he's going to.
                                            Isn't he a bit like you and me?
                                                Nowhere Man, please listen.
                                        You don't know what you are missing.
                                  Nowhere Man, the world is at your command.
                                                He's as blind as he can be.
                                             Just sees what he wants to see.
                                         Nowhere Man, can you see me at all?
                                                    Nowhere Man - No worry.
                                                 Take your time - No hurry.
                                            Leave it all to somebody else...

    On my way from Liverpool via Sofia to Wroclaw it occurred to me that
    instead of cracking an opening joke for you I would rather play this
    popular Beatles tune which could somehow frame my talk about the
    nowhere man in the rigid boundaries of a well-defined land space - that
    of Liverpool. Moreover that in my talk I would like to explore the
    notion of nomadism and rootlessness underlying the current electronic
    arts discourse. Therefore I couldn't help picking a fixed geographical
    point of reference as Liverpool, in the far North West of England, a
    city which is already stereotyped as the birthplace of Beatles and on
    the way to be cliched in the mainstream cultural map as the birthplace
    of Video Positive Festival or - one the
    equivalents of WRO97 as media art bieannales.

    This is how I found myself Liverpool-bound for about six months so
    far, initiating, coordinating and delivering a two-day conference,
    called LEAF97 - Liverpool East European Electronic Arts Forum as an
    integral part of Video Positive Festival as well as growing obssessed
    with the notion of the virtual revolutions. Actually it was exactly two
    years ago when I made my first research trip to Video Postive95 and
    ever since I got involved with digital arts activism. Ever since I am
    learning to exult both in the blessing and the curse of belonging to
    what feels like a whole new race of transcontinental tribe of
    wanderers, of privileged homeless. It is a tribe, as Salman Rushdie
    says `of people who root themselves in ideas rather than places, people
    who have been obliged to define themselves-because they are so defined
    by others-by their otherness.'

    Gradually I realised that I started to learn how to define relations in
    non-familial ways. I even started to like and appreciate foreignness.
    It was only recently when I realised that all these habits of mind and
    life would scarecely have been imaginable in my parents' youth; that
    the very facts and facilities that shape my world are all distinctly
    new developments (although we sometimes tend to put only new labels to
    old wine bottles) , and mark me as a modern peculiar type. But
    apparently to be a nowhere man or a nowhere woman is not exclusive to
    our turbulent decade of the 1990s, presuposedly because of being on the
    exodus of the millenium. It was a common concern in the 1960s as the
    Beatles song goes. It was only recently, in fact, when I realised that
    I am an example of an entirely new breed of people that is multiplying
    as fast as the international telephone lines and frequent flyer
    programmes. We pass through countries as through revolving doors. More
    and more we find ourselves as resident aliens of the world, impermanent
    residents of nowhere. Nothing is strange to us, and nowhere is foreign.
    We are visitors even in our own homes. This is not, I think a function
    of affluence so much as of circumstance. I am not, that is, a
    jet-setter pursuing gorgeous vacations from Hawaii to Mauritius; I am a
    product of a movable sensebility, living and working in a world that is
    itself increasingly small and increasingly mongrel. I am a
    multinational soul on a multi-cultural globe dealing with multi-media.
    Am I a multi-being?

    Taking planes seems as natural to me as picking up the phone, or as
    e-mailng avidly around, or as searching through internet, or as going
    to conferences; I fold up my self and carry it around with me as if it
    were an overnight case. The modern world seems increasingly made for
    people like me. I can plop myself down anywhere and find myself in the
    same relation of familiarity and strangeness: Wroclaw is scarecely more
    strange to me than the foreigners' England to which I was drawn to and
    the frequently visited Sofia that people tell me is my home. Another
    sign of the times: the leading American artist, Joseph Neshvatal, has a
    New York postal address, a web site in Germany and an e-mail address in
    France and is currently being reported to be in Ireland. I can fly from
    London to Sydney (wish to, at least) and feel myself no more a
    foreigner in one place or another; all of them are just
    locations-pavilions in some intercontinental Festival - and I can work
    or live or laugh in any of them. Nearly all have direct dialphones,
    internet access, CNN, DHL, Xerox. All have sushi, Thai restaurants and

    My office is as close as the nearest modem or fax machine. This kind of
    life offers an unprecedented sense of freedom and mobility: tied down
    nowhere we can pick and choose among locations if we can ignore the
    problems of visas, living standards and cost regulations for a
    daydreaming moment. Ours is the first generation that can go off to
    Tibet or Chisinau, Moldova for a week to find our roots - or to find
    out that they are not there. At a superficial level, this new
    internationalism means that I can meet in a Wroclaw coffe shop or more
    likely called an internet/cyberia cafe, an Australian netartist like
    Stelarc who is as conversant as I am with body issues, Liverpool
    Football Club and Spice Girls. At a deeper level, it means that I need
    never feel estranged. If all the world is alien to us, all the world is

    Unsurprisingly and pertinently there is a growing number of media art
    festivals entirely focused on the issues of estrangement and remapping
    of territories. A couple of them have made their mission statement
    prominent in their topical titles, namely Rootless & Ostranenie. They
    are both constructed around the notions of possession and
    dis-enfranchisement, location and dis-location, centre and periphery,
    authonomy and marginalisation, nationalism and regionalism, the
    individual and the collective. They are both manifesting their common
    concern in their mottos. Rootless, established by HTBA, an artists-run
    collective based in Hull, England has appropriated the motto of `Lo
    Straniero' Journal which reads: `The ignorant are tied to their native
    land, the mediocre consider themselves citizens of the world, but only
    the wise realise that they are strangers [i.e. nowhere people]
    everywhere'. Furthermore The ROOT Festival which has self-acknowledged
    itself as one of Europe's foremost programmes of international
    performance, live art, film and video and new media installation, has
    metamorphosied in 1997 as ROOTless Festival of international nomads. As
    if the festival or the root itself has lost its confortable and
    time-based identity and prides itself of this loss. A new identity is
    being coined and there is a properly planned eventful launch of the
    Nomad Territories identity card as part of ROOTless. The Co-consul of
    the Nomads Roddy Hunter is currently busy researching these ancient yet
    new mode of thinking and living. And I'm really anxious to hear more &
    experience his findings. You can also follow the developments promptly
    on http://www/

    Ostranenie [] also seems to be much-talked
about festival of live and
    new media art not in the least because of its debatable ethymological
    nature. The question of what exactly ostranenie means and how it
    relates to Viktor Sklovskij's formalist notion was raised again at
    LEAF97. It was Stephen Kovats, Ostranenie coordinator, who advocated on
    the interpretation of the term as estrangement.'For me estrangement
    unites both making strange and de-familiarisation while setting
    ostranenie on its own as an analysis of the condition of post Cold War
    Europe.'[Stephen Kovats, LEAF talk, April 97, see LEAF within ] The first so-called world war that
    provided the context of the initial term seemingly comes to its
    resolution only now. After two periods of re-adjustment marked
    predominantly by yet another hot war (which has doomed the first one
    and its millions of dead to oblivion) and a pathetically exhausting for
    all `blockies'cold war, the context of further investigation of
    ostranenie has emerged as the transformation of a society as observed
    by the influence of the electronic image upon this society. The current
    condition of Eastern and Central Europe (as well as the west) is one of
    the `the estrangement of familiar structures which require
    recalibration with a desired but somewhat de-contextualised foreign
    model.' [S.K, as above]

    Perhaps it could be argued that the overall conceptual framework of
    LEAF97 could be summed as a hope/belief that the cardinal points as a
    political provider of identity largely begun to be eliminated, such
    that eventually East, West, North and South may return to their
    geographical homes. Perhaps we have reached the level of insight and
    understanding which allows the mechanisms of exchange to work properly.
    The time has now come to reverse the direction of introspection and
    initiate media art events in the East which examines the change and the
    cultural transformation of an ever more confused West. Isn't WRO97 a
    reminder of that?

    LEAF97 however comes neatly within the symbolism of the number two as
    if playing further with the handy dichotomy east/west:

    :: a two-day event with a massive number of speakers -some 45 from
    about 20 countries and as much audience, both local [UK-based] and

    :: a two-purpose driven event in terms of its current & future agenda
    and aspirations: firstly aimed at Syndicate/V2-East Network members,
    being the core of the `leaves' yet open to the public as a show-case;
    secondly as a paving event for ISEA98, Liverpool & Manchester by
    exploring the same topic of Revolution.

    :: two major concepts underlying the talks: firstly - around recent
    EastEuropean revolutions with explicit yet soft political undertones
    secondly - around east/west, as overpoliticized notions, as
    misconceptions and prejudices, asremapping of territories, as new

    :: two distinct manners of 40 blitz presentations:ones with with
    theoretical touch and others like practical reviews and reports + two
    closing performance at the end of each day.

    :: two facets of the format: blocks of talks with 3 panelists followed
    by pointed discussions afterwards.

    :: two moderators - Lisa Haskel & Andreas Broeckmann.

    :: two extra meetings were held alongside LEAF: a successful one of the
    Syndicate/V2-East Network and a failed one - a Face Setting lunch of
    women art practitioners.

    :: two special EastEuropean highlights within Video Positive97: private
    view @68 Hope Street Gallery featuring Luchezar Boyadjiev, Sofia - the
    only EastEuropean installation project within the exhibition series of
    Video Positive 97 and Virtual Revolutions Screenings - an hour of
    selected shortvideoworks from Eastern and Central Europe focusing the
    issues of gender, identity, re-writing of history.

    :: yet more than two rather four socializing events with four nights of
    complimentary drinks in the major night clubs and bars in both
    Liverpool and Manchester.

    :: and finally more than four months of dedicated leafing/e-mailing
    around with more than 60 invitees at LEAF + initiation, promotion,
    curation, find-raising, logistics, documentation, publication, crisis
    management and perhaps much more.

    It also can't be denied that LEAF97 has elided many unpalatable
    possibilities of what it terms the `digital revolution' and its impact
    in the virtually transformed Europe of the 1990s. I have deliberately
    shifted it to the notion of Virtual Revolutions [VR] which refers both
    to the influx of new technologies and the nearly transformed Europe. I
    have personnally never been fond of the buzzphrase `digital
    revolution', a feeling shared by many in Europe, where the word
    `revolution' carries an ambiguity, an aura of violence, fanatism and
    chaos which seems to be absent in the romantic American memories of
    their founding moment. Just a brief sidelook which could run a parallel
    with the split identity of Wired Magazine. For instance copies of Wired
    US boast of its millenarian qualities and its promise of total
    transcendence of current social realities which definitely don't square
    with the uneasy world in which most people feel themselves to be

    With all my reservations, though I will still be working for the
    digital arts in the nowhere land of tomorrow, because I still believe
    that information technology and the subtle control systems can have
    immensely positive, liberating effects, not just for some `angelic
    info-elite' but throughout societies at all economic level. Networks
    that don't require a centralised authority to function, which
    facilitate the creation of communities and movements in spaces where
    traditional entities based on ethnicity, class and geographical
    proximity have ceased to function, networks which by their nature cross
    the geographical fault-lines that cause so much conflict in the world,
    have to be a potential force for good.

    I feel there is something valuable in this vision of de-centralised,
    de-territoriarised networks of which the Syndicate/V2-East Network of
    media professionals is a paragon []. Crucially we
    have yet to see anyone propose a workable alternative to these
    networks, and that is the only thing which will move the debate along.
    And yet, sometimes I stop myself and think. What kind of heart and body
    is being produced by these new changes and new telecommunications? Must
    I always be None of the Above? My passport says one thing, my face
    another, my accent contradicts my eyes. Place of residence, final
    destination, even EU nationality are not much easier to be filled in;
    usually I just tick `other'. Beneath all the boxes where do we place
    ourselves? How does one fix a moving object on a map? I am not an
    exile, nor a refugee really, nor an immigrant; not de-racinated, I
    think, any more than I am rooted. I have not felt the oppression of
    war, nor found ostracism in the places where I do alight; I have
    scarecely feel severed from a birth-home I have scarecely known lately.
    Yet is a `citizen of the world' enough to comfort me or does it come
    with an air of mediocrity as some media art festival mottos suggest?

    Alienation, we are taught from kindergarten onwards, is the condition
    of our time. This is the century of exiles & refugees, of boat people
    and stateless. To understand the modern context, we are often told we
    must read VS Naipaul, and see how people estranged from their cultures
    mimic people estranged from their roots. Naipaul has got to symbolise
    the definitive modern traveller not for his stamina, nor for his
    bravado, nor for his love of exploration - it is his congenital
    displacement. The strength of Naipaul is the poignancy of Naipaul: the
    poignancy of a nowhere man, who tries to go home, but is not taken in,
    and is accepted by another home only as long as he admits that he is a
    lodger there.

    There is however another way of apprehending foreignness, and that is
    the way of Nabokov, of which I am more fond of in my land and
    net-exploring operations. In Nabokov as well as in Roderick Buchanan's
    recent Video Positive97 media project, called Notes on Pronunciation
    [check we see the avid cultivation of
    novelty: they both collect foreign worlds with a connosseur's delight.
    They both see foreign words as toys to play with, and exile as the
    state of kings. In Nabokov we can recognise an European's love for the
    US rooted in the US's very youthfulness and restlessness; we can
    recognise in him the sense that the newcomer's viewpoint may be the one
    most conducive to bright enthusiasm. Unfamiliarity in any form, breeds

    Nabokov shows us that if nowhere is home, everywhere is. That instead
    of taking alieniation as our natural state, we can feel partially
    adjusted everywhere. That the outsider in the Festival/feast does not
    have to sit in the corner alone, taking notes; they can plunge into the
    pleasures of their new home with abandon. This is how I can make sense
    of the keen ardour with which net artists cling to the once visited and
    tested `promised' land of tomorrow which breeds such an array of
    diverse scenarios for artistic difference. `I'd do it differently...
    like this' and in doing so, the net.artist still reminds us of that
    vast possibilities that arise from difference. Thus I can argue with
    Roy Ascott and Lorry Anderson's vision of the net.artist as a
    content/context provider but rather as a difference provider. For
    instance the self-proclaimed director of the nowhere bound WWWArt
    center, Alexei Shulgin [] strikes a
    different chord altogether with his project which introduces a cash
    prize out of his pocket for the most generous of funders and sponsors
    to be shortlisted in the arts on the net. Not to worry, Alexei's pocket
    won't be deprived of a substantial amount soon though, I suppose, for
    there are hardly any sponsors yet to fit in his category.

    So we can go on circling the world sometimes using internet
    communication and exploration as an itinerary defining tool in our
    physical wandering around (refer to Heath Bunting - a great spokesman
    for the homeless privileged for travelling tips on or to JODI [] as the
    paragons of vicarious travelling within internet for tips on how to get
    your projects `promoted' and diverted from the still non-artists
    friendly nowhereness, called internet, known also as an old junk car
    park. And so we go on circling the world, well above the ground,
    displaced from time, above the clouds, with all our needs attended to.
    We disembark at airports, like in internet discussion groups, which are
    both self-sufficient communities. At customs we have nothing to declare
    but ourselves. But what price do we have to pay for all this?

    Iliyana NEDKOVA, Sofia/Liverpool


@fact, liverpool, uk