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<nettime> Lenghty Letter from Linz
pit on 6 Sep 2000 23:03:15 -0000

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<nettime> Lenghty Letter from Linz

hi tim,

and others who might have watched the livestream here from Linz.

thanks for your commentary, but i wasn't very satisfied how the "free
speech" panel went.

not that the debate only focused on the funding cuts but in general the
context of this side event was more of a prolongation of the "political
disclaimer", part of a legitimstic tactical manoevre rather then a open
debate, or part of the dullness of alternative radio culture. ok, that was
expectable, and i could have boycoted it easily, but the situation is more
complex to distance *now* from ars directorium. it is important to
distinguish personal involements in specific issues which are not covered
here, and the general political position of this institution. and it is
just too easy to bite the hand which used to feed you, or be angry to be
not represented as "the hip net star" any more.

this is not the place for dogmatic fights, nor is it a place to downplay
the risks of the current culturalpolitical climate shift, which makes it
for me more and more difficult, to feel comfortable enough to try to say
things in a differentiated way in a larger public, including the nettime

Let's look back: Since the last 12 years, i can't name one ars electronica
which was dedicated to social or political issues to be the main topic.
"ars e." always represented the contemporary media culture, the current
cultural fashions, including it's firework of vanities and ambigious
statements of temporary value. in this baroque play of virtual light and
electronic shadow, the political statement was only one possible 'figure'
of expression within a larger gesamtdatenkunstwerk. and admit it or not,
most who came here, certainly enjoyed themselves.

The symposia with all its eugenic sub-tones exercised a classic humanistic
aproach of generalism (now transdisiplinarity), and the continous focus on
'bio' topics just highlighten this aspect, reintegrating techno sciences in
the chorus of human sciences. especially in the local context of the urban
policies in the sim city of Linz, of reacting to the challenges of
modernisation, from industrial production to "knowledge" management, the
element of radicality is fully identified with the forces of technological
change. an techno-avant-garde in the sense of ars electronica therefore has
to be at first enthustiastically opportunistic to these changes.

this mirroring of the zeitgeist has been the case in the "King Weibel era"
as well as during the golden years of netcriticism or its mellowing out
into the bio-tryptichon under Gerfried Stocker. Always has the ars
electronica been a stage for current developments, and even if it means bad
news you shouldn't blame the messenger. As an event the ars still manages
to be maintain itself as an internationally relevant olympic games of media
cultures. There is no way to easyly distance yourself from it if you are
involved into this field.

Nevertheless, the engamenent of ars e. was serious enough to build up a
coherent archive of contemporary media culture, including all the
commissions which never received a price, a whole body of material which
materialize in the absurd concept of a "museum of the future", a constant
hunger for the latest techno-gadgedtry, but also a history of social
gatherings which in their continuity were able to bridge the quickly
appearing generation gaps and create somewhat like a 'conservative
tradition' within the electronic arts. this happens in a specifically
austrian cultural history, of a specific friendlyness towards the arts, the
dinners and multisensorial performances, the glamourous, blinking
trompe-d'euille-VR-worlds, the sound architectures in the gardens, the
large techno-installation in the public space, the transgressive moments of
fear and desire, are all directly attached to a tradition of the baroque
representation of royal grandeur, a its continuation in a bourgoise
cultural elite blended into the aristoratic court and including the
administrative apperatus of the empiric state.

so calling ars electronica reactionary is precisly right, but is everything
else but a critical statement. within the history of the ars there appeared
several singular projects or subjects which took a more political
standpoint like this year The Institute for Applied Autonomy, or years
before Criticial Art Ensemble (who layed the groundwork for the bio science
series) or once our all beloved Richard Barbrook. These peaks represented
just a nuiance within a broader spectrum, to add a colourful character to
the ongoing choreography of a bigger media opera. It also works within the
understanding of a ballanced content within the national television channel
ORF, one of the main sponsors.

The same reactionary progressivenes counts for the representation of
seasonal peaks on the scale of affirmation vs. criticism, like net.art or
net.crit. in ars we all become subjects of a longer european history of
representation of power where media technology has the metaphysical role to
praise the full-ness of the body of the king, the richness of god's
creation and the wonders of modernisation. this is at least my
interpretation, when i tried to understand the undercurrents of SGI-Art
years ago, a time where Knowbotic research for example was not including
political-economic content into their work yet, and many others were mainly
focusing on metaphysical, metaphorical, machinic and mimetic Mirrorworlds
(sorry for such silly poesy) which involved the spectator into a play of a
pre-defined "dance" of interactions.

This is just ONE aspect of electronic art according to this institution,
and it should still leave place to the admiration of a particular
crafmenship and artistic quality of specific works and of course other
possible general interpretations.

The main element of such a media culture, nevertheless, is ambiguity
towards the powers of and behind technolgical change, and 'we' at nettime
are not far from this indifference, as netcriticism is a tactical construct
to attack a system by first accepting it. it is a strategy within a liberal
setting offering "critical" positions which are somewhat pre-configured and
economically functional in a liberal media environment. therefore i was
invited to formulate the critical prototypical 'schizo' - voice, find words
for the crisis and join the party. (the music was very much of my taste
this year)

there is this situation, where the unfortunate and on the other hand
existentially nessesary fight for the continuation of cultural funding
blends over into a acceptance of the larger economic factors which in many
ways lead to the political situation we are in. the focus of the austrian
administration towards "cultural heritage" is just part of a general trend
in cultural funding policies in europe. national culture as a
countermeasure against the disintegrating forces of globalisation. that
electronic culture is not seen in a similar way, that community building
projects have integrative effects in the knowledge society are just
yet-unknown hints in the scientific handbooks of our new left sim-society

it is a complex fight for 'mental' survival indeed, and it happens very
much within the media. a situation with a certain sense of perplexity, a
massive lack of speach or a complete banalisation and pragmatisation of
public discourse. How can we (new media users) use free speech, when there
seems nothing left to say? or much more, when most what is beeing said is
completly boring in the way it is as a predictable product of its
contextual framework? How can we be autonomous when we are in the same time
complices of the same development we try to distance ourselves? Old
questions, inded..

It seems that the situation in Austria particulary triggers a break thru of
the media realm , people taking their representation in their own hands, go
onto the streets, and absurdically creating a happy moment of collectivity
in the face of anti-democratic danger. Even if these carnavalesque
celebrations only exist temporarily they radiate a rush of hope and
exitement. if they do not lead into a long-term culture backing itself up
with creating new/remixed languages and theories they just remain exotic
objects in the museum of movements.

(an alternative can always be to focus on a local framework in the
geographic and physical sense, the small public, and operate from there to
prepare for a future *loose* connection of those cells of critical
activity, but carefully handle the own representation in mass media. by now
it is been seen as a success to be mentioned in the press, i am very much
not sure about the use of media coverage, besides a darwinistic pragmatism
within an economy of attemtion. if post therefore i exist. )

there is a very strange idea which came to my mind while i was very much in
contrary, sitting in the train, next to a guy in a suit appearently coming
from India, and we were both hammering in our Laptops, lucky to share one
of the few power plugs in the train..

what if the externalisation of internal conflicts, the creation of a
pathogenic climate which applies to the families with schizophrenic
members, also applies to the macro-psychological climate of national states
within the european house? what raphael lozano hemmer called "identiarian"
policies, is more of a scary tendency or climate change then something
which has to be fought against in its late states of extreme manifestation.
this doesn't mean that action is useless, but the cure of symptoms needs to
be combined with the question of the factors which might lead to such a
"sick" climate of reaction. (it is in this tradition that Max Weber for
example developed his critique of capitalism, protestantism, authority and

the particularisation of the "we" against "them", is what we (as the
collective participants of the ongoing media orgy) do not only have to face
in the balkans, but also for the last years on the nettime list itself. the
creation of a we/them line which leads to a inherently authoritarian or at
least stupefying situation, where the representative voice of the we-ness,
the master-singers, create a follow-the-leader phenomenon. This happens
usually in an external environment which seems overly complex,
intimidating, and indifferent. the discoursive trauma of kosovo, the
mail-bombing and implosion of information spread an element of unexpressed
disillusion in many online-comunities.

since then the news-ticker is the abstract machine which governs "our"
discourses, and those who play that piano with the most virtuosity, govern
the borders within which someting can be said. our own (nettimer's)
campaigns of "political activism" can lead to a canonical discoursive
framework in which only certain thoughts are ought to be expressed
(journalistically) and a kind of redundancy is created which gives you the
feeling of "Home". a home which includes aspects of "family", which is very
common in underground structures such as labels, clubs and small media labs
but nevertheless recreate "family values".

the idea of critique: a proposed we-ness, a voice of unification, is in the
same way reactionary as the model of otherness we try to distance from. in
works also perfectly within the opaque idiology of the middle class, an
ideology of balancing-out the differences towards the "middle". as a member
of the middle class you are under constant fear to "fail and fall" and
become a member of the "losers", the lower strata. therefore the extremist
has to be painted in extreme pictures, no matter if left or right the
"legality" of extreme political statements has to be constantly put in
question. it is a constant appelation to the weakness of the human
individual, combined with the promise of full personal freedom,
self-realisation, maximum performance and hedonism. individualisation and
identitarianism are two sides of the same coin (call it yen, euro or
dollar). you cannot promote one by preventing the other.

is it a surprise that right wing extremism happens to appear in
"structurally weak" areas of east-germany, or the banlieuxs of large
metropoles - these zones of low intensity civil war? the no-go-zones of
global capital as the locatisation of an existential abyss in the
post-protestantic psychogeography of the middle classes, the gated
communities, the individualized members of an enlighted hyper-rationalized
citizen. "Next Sex" as far as it was in detail very interesting, is such a
promise: "edit your own sex". "realize your personal phantasies" (and pay
for it like all the others which happen to have identical phantasies).

the economical changes which leads to the intimidation of historically weak
members of the society which we have to face today have similarities to the
situation in the beginning of this century when electrification was feeding
an explosion in productivty and transnational capital investments while the
national/royal societies where not ready everywhere for the consequences,
so instead in the most pathological center of industrilisation indentified
the enemy of global capitalism with "the jews".

On the other hand: The crazy serb, the rural skinhead, the fascist gang, is
the exact product of an urban civil sim-society which manages to export not
only its poisonous trash, but also its political conflicts to the
test-fields of social conflict, where the extremism can do no "serious"
harm to the system. the stages of scandalisation, and media campaign, the
screens in the save suburbs, are where the very pity spectacles of murder,
burning houses, and man hunt multiply after they actually happened. and as
the skin head idiot develops a hate onto the foreigner, the middle class
member develops a disgust for the skin head. both is happening on the
screen of identity politics, the psycho-economic engineering of
subjectivation. it is not enough that protest is beginning to express
itself, as long as it doesn't reflect its own complicity in the wide realms
of reactionary liberalism.

i very much hope that the next ars electronica will more aim at the good
old topic of "poltical digital economy" and non-european media cultures.

all best /pit

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