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Raising the Question of Power

Text by Andreas Broeckmann and Inke Arns, related to V2_East, and part of the Deep Europe reader (1996).

Date: Sat, 5 Oct 1996 11:50:42 +0100
From: abroeck@v2.nl (Andreas Broeckmann)
Subject: V2_East Meeting 09/96 Report

Raising the Question of Power

Report on the V2_East Meeting during DEAF 96

Inke Arns (Berlin) & Andreas Broeckmann (Rotterdam)

The second V2_East Meeting about media art in Eastern Europe was held in Rotterdam during the DEAF96 festival from 18 - 20 September 1996.

The Meeting was very successful in fostering new contacts and friendships between the more than 30 participants from all over Europe, improving East-West as well as East-East relationships. Several new projects have been discussed and we believe that this personal meeting will lead to other cooperations in the near future. As well as putting our work 'on the map' for each other, the public programme on 18 September, during which we had a whole series of presentations about media art in different countries, served to place East European media art activities in the consciousness of many of the guests of DEAF96 and ISEA96. The programme is available at: http://www.v2.nl/DEAF/96/nodes/v2-east/

The first part ("'The Electronic Alternative' - Media Art in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe", 18 September) consisted of a series of lectures about the history of media art in Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Macedonia, Poland, Russia, Slovakia and Slovenia. These lectures dealt, for example, with experimental film and video art since the 60s, with the situation of independent media artists in the 80s and 90s, new laboratories for interactive and media art and with the latest activities in the field of internet and digital media.

During the second, specialist part of the meeting ("V2_East Meeting on Documentation and Archives of Media Art in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe", 20 September), curators, archivists, historians and artists discussed the practical problems of finding, accessing and preserving the historical material about media art. This material is often spread across many small, private archives, and agreements should be made about how to exchange information and provide access to the available sources for research and exhibition purposes. The availability and compatibility of data bases was also a crucial issue that was discussed.

We also had two internal discussion meetings with the V2_East group, during which we talked about the next steps necessary for improving the network as a support structure, as well as what needs to be done to improve the archival situation of media art. Many ideas came up during those meetings and will be further developed in the course of the next months. Some of them are summed up in the second part of this report.

The V2_East Meeting during DEAF 96 possibly represented the largest gathering of experts on media art in Eastern Europe, although some people were clearly missing. In June 1996 on the Syndicate mailing list we posted a first call for participation for the meeting. There were no real invitations, the meeting came together through the wish in people to come and participate. Financial support came from the Dutch Foreign Ministry, from APEXchanges in Amsterdam and the City of Rotterdam, as well as many other, local sources, plus people's private contributions.

Unfortunately we could not find a consistent contact to Romania, and there was nobody from the Ukraine, from Bosnia, Yugoslavia, and Croatia. (We particularly invite the participation of people and organisations from these and other unrepresented countries to join the network, and would like to ask members of the sydicate network to extend their contacts into these countries and regions, and to establish new links there. Personal contacts are essential for this.) Some people, like Michael Bielicky (Prague), came to Rotterdam for ISEA96 and joined us midway, others made a last-minute effort to come. The visa for people coming from Eastern European countries are still a drag, each embassy has different requirements regarding invitations and confirmations, and it is often difficult to get hold of the right person in the visa departments. However, we had no real problems and everybody who applied for the visa could come. We were particularly happy about the participation of Eduard Muka from Tirana/Albania, who gave us an important first impression of the situation in his still very much isolated country. More than anything, the meeting showed how valuable it is to meet people in person and to exchange information and material about each other's local situations.

The Reader which was produced very quickly in the week before the V2_East Meeting, gives an overview over some of the work that was presented, as well as offering some starting points for a data base, bibliography, etc. We hope that we will have the possibility of putting these materials on the website very soon, as well as adding more.

Archives and Documentation

In the Eastern European countries the question of documentation and archives (who is doing this, what is being preserved, etc.) is especially important because in most of the cases - for political reasons - it has not been dealt with documentation and archives except on very local and limited bases (e.g. various printed samizdat publications). What is being done right now will be decisive for the yet unwritten history of media art in this part of Europe.
Miklos Peternak (Budapest) reminded us that it is important to distinguish between the different formats in which 'archives and documentation' can come: collections, archives, documentation centers, information centers, and data bases (local, online), all pose different problems, just as different media (video, computer graphics, performance, installations, etc.) require different solutions.

Marina Grzinic (Ljubljana) stressed the importance of the conference's topics: "A discussion on archives and media documentation is important. Especially because of the wild cannibalization of art and history going on inside and outside the Eastern European countries. We are losing a lot of important details. With this topic you are not raising a question of documentation but of power, who is doing this, why and how."

Marina Grzinic also pointed to the legal problems connected with material databases and archives concerning copyright. In some instances, artists have been asked to submit their private archives to documentation centers, without keeping control over who will continue using this material and for what purposes. There is a clear danger of a monopolisation of historical material and of content management. Tjebbe van Tijen (Amsterdam) responded to this that it may be advisable to work together with larger institutions, like national archives or libraries, because only such large institutions can guarantee a long-term commitment to preserving the material. Tjebbe warned that too many private archives are lost or dispersed due to the fact that people don't prepare for the moment when the owner dies or cannot maintain them any more. The flipside of this coin is the problem that media art is often not recognised by larger archives as something worth collecting. They don't have the possibility of buying and storing the hardware needed to access tapes, data files, etc., and it may be necessary to combine the collection of media art with museal collections of hardware and of software. Possibly, contact should be sought with technical or science museums. - All this relates to the as yet unanswered question of what a restructured public space will look like, and whether we are make our claims to freedom of information and communication in a situation when the electronic networks begin to resemble the hierarchically structured and segmented spheres of other social contexts (economy, politics, academia, etc.).

The planned V2_East WWW database is not a material archive, but rather a database collecting information about information sources, a 'catalogue of databases' which will have to be extended over the next months. The problem of lacking compatability of different databases was mentioned (e.g. the problem of transliteration), but it seems unavoidable that people develop their own systems according to their local needs. On the other hand, it seems advisable to share information, experience and possibly customised software in order to avoid having to invent the wheel over and over again. Nina Czegledy (Toronto/Budapest) brought some examples of database forms from Canadian video archives, and Laszlo Toelgyes from the Artpool archives in Budapest reported about their extensive experience of bringing the material online. Similar initiatives are being pursued at the SCCAs in Skopje and Sofia.

A critical question remains the role of the Soros Foundation. The SCCAs have very different attitudes towards the support of new media developments, and the possibilities for artists and curators to draw on the funds of the SCCAs or Open Society Funds vary widely from country to country, depending on the local traditions as much as on the power structures between the different departments within one Center. The Soros Foundation remains a very important source of support for the media art community, and it is often a very welcome partner in the setting up of long-term and short-term projects. However, just as in relation to other governmental, public or private institutions, it seems that it is important to look also for alternative sources in order not to create dependancies between artist groups and these institutions, relationships in which the artists tend to become vulnerable to the internal politics of the funding institutions. There are important examples that show that alternative forms of funding can work very well.

The following issues came out of the 'archives' discussion as the most crucial to follow up:

- Create a wider critical awareness of the need for the preservation, conservation, restauration of media art in material archives. In the case of hesitant institutions it is important to press home the point that these are important documents of cultural heritage which need to be preserved. For this it may be necessary to refer to media art on a broader, international scale. Mutual support and interest within the Syndicate group and the media art community in general will make this much easier.

- We may need to think about our recent and current practice in a more long-term perspective. What is happening at the moment needs to be documented, and the documents kept. Janos Sugar (Budapest) suggested an oral history project in which the oral history of media art should be recorded. Somebody should begin thinking about this, maybe as a project for PhD research.

- The accessibility of archives and information about their holdings needs to be addressed locally, but we also need to create a system of information exchange about existing systems and sources, and we need to continue building and connecting the data bases that already exist and that are being constructed.

Projects and ideas for the future

In an ad-hoc meeting on Thursday 19 September, as well as at the end of the discussion on the 20th, we talked about the next practical steps to be taken by the V2_East/Syndicate network in order further to improve our cooperation. A crucial point is what the Eurocrats call 'subsidiarity', which means that problems should be solved at the lowest possible level. Very often it is the easiest and most efficient to search for local solutions to local problems. Also, we should make sure that what we build are purposeful cooperations, which means that a good contact in itself always has potential, but it is not yet a guarantee of a good project. On the other hand, we can learn to use the power of the Syndicate which connects individuals from some of the most important institutions and groups active in media and electronic arts in Europe. Every one of us can draw on this network if we need support, whether practically or politically. The V2_East initiative should, as Eric Kluitenberg (Groningen) put it, help build local infra-structures that enable people to solve their problems themselves and locally.
A lot of research still needs to be done regarding opportunities for getting funded, especially regarding international projects. We will also need to do some lobbying to get to the koffers of the various EU institutions. For this it is crucial that we share our experience with certain programmes, Commission departments, foundations, etc. In order to get European funding it is necessary to find partners from one or more of the countries of the EU. Possible partners that were mentioned during the meeting include: MUU Media / FI (contact person Tapio Makela), Hull Time Based Arts / GB (Mike Stubbs), Ars Electronica / A (Gerfried Stocker), Hypermedia Research Center / GB (Richard Barbrook), SCAN Groningen / NL (Eric Kluitenberg), ZKM Karlsruhe / D (?), Kulturachse Linz / A (?), ECNA (European Computer Network for the Arts) and V2_Organisation / NL (Andreas Broeckmann), HILUS / A (Kathy Rae Huffman). A useful sourcebook is "More Bread and Circuses. Who does what for the arts in Europe." (1994), edited by the IETM Brussels and the Arts Council of England (contact IETM, 19 Square Sainctelette, 1210 Brussels, Belgium Belgique, fax +32.2.2030226). One of the other, less well known sources of funding is the SCARP programme of the Soros Foundation that supports East-East contacts.

The Council of Europe holds a conference, about the role of new media in society, in Prague in November. This should be a useful moment to draw attention to the importance of sustained support for media art projects. We will try and prepare a petition which should, if possible, be acknowledged by the members of the Syndicate and which will stress the significance of our network and the need for support programmes directed at the field of media art. It should also mention the point that it is virtually impossible for smaller organisations to get support from the rich funds of the EU, given their complicated and extremely long-term application procedures.

In order better to be able to communicate our requirements, we should discuss the 'hierarchy of needs', i.e. define which problems we feel must be tackled first, and which things will have to wait, given the limitation of sources. This will again be something that will vary locally, but it would be good to find a consensus regarding the large-scale projects that we can do together.

Something that we have already started thinking about is to draw up a grant scheme for post-graduate studies abroad. This could be a fund supported by the EU and national institutions which is organised by a committee from within the Syndicate.(As with all the other suggestions made here, if you have ideas how to go about the development of these plans, please, get in touch. Another, much more 'low-tech' plan is the exchange of lecturers: if anybody who can teach, lecture, or be of some other use, is travelling around Europe, please, let other people in the area know that you will be coming through. There is an urgent need of lecturers of all sorts everywhere. Also, when you have invited somebody interesting, make it known via the Syndicate mailing list or otherwise. A general travelling timetable of potential lecturers would be great, but seems a bit grandiose as a project. Anybody dare organise this? Similarly we should think about ways of pooling the knowhow of programmers and other experts.

Also we should think about setting up organisational structures for recycling hardware. The latter point means finding companies that will donate their 'outdated' computers, photo copiers, fax and other machines to artists and art centers. Anybody who sneers at the fact that this might be hardware that is not as good as we deserve can decide whether it is better to have an old fax machine or no fax machine at all. As regards the problem of connectivity for Internet sites, several people have offered to put mirror sites on their own servers of sites that may suffer from bad connections.

Another important project that can be pursued on local as well as on international levels is that of text translations and bilingual publications which could do a lot for the mutual understanding between communities in neighbouring countries (Hungarian-Romanian, Macedonian-Greek, German-Czech, etc.). Especially texts about media theory, philosophy and history are often painfully lacking, and we might think about finding cheap and fast ways of publishing in this field, 'making the differences productive.'

As an immediate and practical result of the meeting we prepared the #Refresh Action, "a Multi-Nodal Web-Surf-Create-Session for an Unspecified Number of Players" which took place on October 6th. Check (e.g.) http://sunsite.cs.msu.su/wwwart/fresh.htm for the result.

Otherwise the message of the V2_East Meeting was that, with great pleasure, we will continue working together, travelling, meeting each other in obvious and in strange places, and that we will stay in touch in this shrinking world. There was some confusion about the term V2_East among people from Japan and East Asia who had referred the notion of 'East' to themselves. Also, there were questions whether people living in Turkey and France can join the network. As far as we are concerned, there is no limitation to the network, so long as the participants feel that they can put something into it and get something out. V2_East is a tool that will have worked when it has made itself obsolete: when coming from Bukarest, Ljubljana, Amsterdam or Liverpool doesn't mean much any longer and when, as Ryszard put it, people can begin to forget that they are from Eastern Europe.

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