On the resistance to net/media-art

E-mail by Geert Lovink, reacting to a statement by Alexei Shulgin.

Date: Mon, 4 Mar 1996 13:22:04 +0100
From: geert@xs4all.nl (Geert Lovink)
Subject: on the resistance to net/media-art

Dear Alexei and others,

it took me a while to sit down and answer your realistic / cynical / funny description of the situation in Moscow. I am in Budapest now. I appreciated your text a lot because it focuses on aspects of net/media-art that are mostly unknown for the users, artists and curators who are not familiar with the current situation in Eastern Europe and Russia. Most people will only think in objective terms: The lines are bad, the computers might be old, there will be no money, perhaps there is no proper training for the electronic artists-to-be, not enough bandwith, too expensive access providers, etc. All this is true, but it also counts for many West- and South European countries. For me these problems are relative, everywhere it is a little bit different: too much money and therefore no interest (Swiss), an unwillingness to get organized (Hun-gary), telecom problems combined with a deep distrust in technology (Germany), difficulties in collaboration (Austria) and a hegemony of small, commercial providers (almost everywhere). What interests me are the hidden, unspoken objections to media-art in general by the cultural agents who are in charge. In Moscow I found the most outspoken resistence against these developments. You mentioned some of them and I would add some. They are perhaps not only acurate for Moscow. I found similar tendencies in Romania, Bulgaria and in dull, right-wing, elitist circles in the West who are on their 'decline' trip. These arguments are hard to counter because they are not addressed in the open. Hardly any conservative art critic will ever bring those thoughts on paper, mainly because they are full of resentment. Still, we encounter them everywhere. The undercurrent resistence against new media is responsible for the fact that computers are still in the hands of companies, universities, big institutions, etc. Where do we find large scale cultural/art programs, raising public awareness and training? Nowhere. Any-way. We do not complain. Some hidden reasons:

  • the dominance of literature over visual art and thereby, also over all the new media of the 20th century. Writers (and art critics) as the old intellectual class still make a lot of decisions when it comes to grants, prizes, subsidies, government policies.
  • the fear of an older generation to lose their jobs because they feel that they are not anymore able to learn anything new (universal problem).
  • the low intellectual discourse on new media, lack of good critics and a lack of training of young critics who can deal with media/art/theory.
  • the dark side of the current hype surrounding 'the Net', producing almost only superficial data, again stressing the bad and banal image of 'media', compared to serious literature, opera, painting.
  • the actual crisis in the art scene and the strong wish to produce 'objects' that are easy to sell (already a problem for the previous video art generations).
  • the fear of becoming a craftsman/woman (programmer/designer) and thereby losing the possibility of ever becoming a 'genius artist'.
  • some specific cultural aspects, like religion, like the orthodox church, who prefers to see a return to traditional art forms.
  • an unspoken hatred against mass culture, which media (and the Net) are certainly part of.
  • the idea that experiments, avant-garde, underground, counter culture, alternative movements, marginal artists etc. are historical categories and that we are now living in the age of professionalism. A fear to get associated with amateur undertakings who will finally lead nowhere.

I would like to challenge these bureaucrats and their intellectuals. Perhaps it is a waste of time. Should we convince them? Or should we try to formulate the current conservative trend so that we understand a bit better why (despite all the hype) media-art-experiments remain a mar-ginal part of the cultural life in many countries. Many visionairies proclaim a sort of inevitable revolution from below, inherent to the logic of the technology, as a kind of built-in device. Amongst us there is a strong wish and a hope for a paradigmatic change that seems to be in the air. But perhaps completely other processes are taking place around us, if we allow ourselves to look away from the screen for a minute.


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