Tapio Makela on Thu, 19 Feb 1998 13:46:10 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> [net - critical discussion]

I recently posted this text "Doing Nettime - Fleeing from prisons of
national discourses" to Eybeam mailing list, run by Blast. Geert asked me 
to post this text to Nettime... a few words to explain the context. Before
this text went to the Eybeam list, Lev Manovich posted a text where he 
discussed national schools of net.art.

Lev wrote:
"Internet functions as an agent of modernization, just as other means of
communication did before it (...) Internet is a way for people to enter
into a singular socio-linguistic space, defined by a certain Euro-English 
vocabulary and the names of stars, by a computer competency, by pop 
music. It is a way for people in different places to enter modernity -- 
the space of homogeneity, of currency exchange shops, of Coca-Cola signs 
(...)the space where everything can be converted into money signs, just 
like a computer can convert everything into bits.

Lev claims that "we in the West" should not expect culturally specific
Internet art, nor national schools of Net art. What Lev=B4s position on the
necessity of national schools of net.art is, remains unclear. However, the
text proposed that Internet is a homogenizing space, comparable to American
culture. That very notion underestimates the heterogeneity of net users.

"To expect diffirent countries to create their own national schools of Net
art is the same as to expect them to create their own customized brands
of Coca-Cola. The sole meaning of Coca-Cola, its sole function is that
it is the same everywhere."

"...the category of "Net art" is a logical mistake. So-called Net art
projects are simply visible manifestations of social, linguistic and 
psychological networks being created or at least made visible by these 
very projects, of people entering the space of modernity, the space where 
old cities pay the price for entering the global economy by Disney-fying 
themselves, where everybody is paying some price: exchanging person-to-person
communication for virtual communication (telephone, fax, Internet);
exchanging close groups for distributed virtual communities, which more
often than not are like train stations, with everybody constantly coming
and leaving, rather than the cozy cafes of the old avant-garde;
exchanging decayed but warm interiors for shiny, bright but cold
surfaces. In short, exchanging the light of a candle for a light of an
electric bulb, with all the consequences this exchange involves."

Two problems arise from these claims. The logical mistake is not the
category net.art alone, but the attempt to conceptualize Internet or the
world as "a" space, a singulare realm where similar rules apply across a
wide spectrum of practices. Secondly, Lev nostalgically looks at
avant-garde cafes (btw notably more so male communities), which is in a way
an attempt to establish an origin against which the contemporary social
interaction is somehow fake, secondary or a replacement.

In my response to Lev's text and some other messages on the list, the
following discusses alternative ways to look at net practices, referring to
the discussion on the translocal. Doing Nettime refersto Frederic Jameson's
concept of the Prison house of language...

(Parts of this text has been published in SIKSI magazine,
parts in a column for Nokia Mediarama, and as a whole in the eybeam list

Doing Nettime
Fleeing from prisons of national discourses

"There are two big revolutions during this century - the end
of communism and the beginning of Internet."

If I recall it right, this is approximately what Lev
Manovich said in his talk during the Ostranenie festival,
held in Dessau, Germany last October. Perhaps the
advertising of communism and Internet have shared
predictions of bright futures. For European media art, the
slow opening of borders and the fast crossing of
geographical distance with Internet has been a revolution,
or at least a catalyst.

Media art has become a carrier for discussing social change
in Europe. In the process of mediation of the local politics
and events, Inernet is not only a site where several
projects are produced, but it has proven to be an important
medium for delivering information ranging from private
messages to manifestos, from invitations to press releases,
and from PR to very private points of view. It is the glue
that makes the translocal scenes work together.

To name one example, Radio B92 from Belgrade became known as
the station that during censorship turned to Internet for
international attention, and to the streets for local
support. The combination of political pressure has made it
possible for B92 now to publish magazines, run media art
projects and the radio itself.

Being translocal

One reflective "mirror site" of the changing media and
geographical landscapes is called Nettime. It consists of a
mailing list, a threaded noticeboard, series of meetings and
publications. People that subscribe to Nettime are usually
theorists, journalists, artists or net activists. (Many
readers on Eybeam possibly know this).

In an art festival Dokumenta, held last summer in Kassel,
Nettimers, Syndicalists - and several other formations of
artists/writers met within "The Hybrid Workplace". A major
topic there was Deep Europe, changing understanding of the
continental mapping. Echoing the words of Bulgarian artist
Luchezar Boyadijev, "Europe is deepest where there are a lot
of overlapping identities," German critical writer Inke Arns
characterizes Deep Europe as follows:

"With the notion of Deep Europe we refer to a a new
understanding of Europe, which leads away from the
horizontal measuring of the size of a territory (thus
including East / West etc.), towards something that could be
called a vertical mapping or a vertical measuring of the
different cultural layers and identities in Europe."

In terms of Deep Europe, lot of activity has emerged from
Netherlands. Based in Rotterdam, the Syndicate/V2_East
mailing list delivers valuable information and points of
view of living, politics and media production.

Unlike the rhetoric of Howard Rheingold (and now Lev
Manovich) would propose, these lists are not about like
minded communities. Many individuals look for the
discussions they are interested in from many sources and,
what is most important, deliver the information through
local print media or radio to those who have no Internet
access. The next Nettime meeting is planned to be held in
Tirana, Albania.

If language is a prison house, as Frederic Jameson has put
it, same analogy could be made about Internet. Is the
theoretical and political discourse within Internet confined
to its technical and discoursive boundaries?

Being Digital, the Necropontean slogan, is such a conceptual
prisonhouse since it contains a Cartesian body/mind split
(but sells well). In contrast, networked media art is
characterised by being translocal.

Media artists, especially net.artists, work very fluently in
several local environments, irrespective to national
borders, yet not floating around claiming to be unattached
nomads. So instead of being confined to the net, doing
Nettime is a possible catalyst for actions in real life.

In this respect, traditional art, mostly housed in
institutions whether "avant garde" or modernist, speak to
art audiences. There is the local market with socially dense
private views, and the international market for jet set
travellers reading magazines loaded with advertisements.
(Gallerists speak of gallery audiences, museum curators of
museum audiences - and they are right. Studies show with
incredible consistency how the demorgraphics of art
institutions do not change over the years. Instead of white
well educated males, in Finland, the archetypal museum and
gallery visitor is a well educated, working white woman). I
would say that the threshold to do art on the net is
geopolitically much lower than that in the urban art

>From Practice to Policy

With the immense investments in developing telecommunication
technologies, the need for content to the networks has
become apparent. Late last year, over 20 organisations
dealing with new media and arts met in Amsterdam in a
conference called From Practice to Policy: Towards European
Media Culture.

A central point was raised in the conference. The policy
makers of information society may not know it, but a rich
network of content producers already exists in Europe. The
focus in politics could shift to support those environments
where the emphasis is on innovation, and innovative usage of
tehnology, not technology alone.

Followed by the Amsterdam meeting, British media and art
experts gathered to discuss how to develop co-operation
between the private SMEs (Small and Medium-sized
Enterprises) and media art practitioners. The meeting led to
an investigation of starting a public cultural media
prodution company, one comparable to Channel 4 for
television production.

Creating production companies that combine private and
public investments could be a solution that takes the
European media culture beyond the construction of
"Information super highway". As the copper and fiber optics
have been laid down, it is time for concrete content.

Postnational economies and public spheres

Instead of whining about Disneyfication, I much rather talk
about how to create possibilities for independent
production, whether commercial, state supported, artistic or
documentary (no binaries implied). So much money in Europe
is being wasted to battle Hollywood, just to produce similar
content on another content is not really productive. Even
worse, if the independet field also creates a discontent to
Hollywood, that is not the most fruitful point of departure.

Analysis of the media companies (Is there an update of Ben
Bagdikan's Media Monoopoly to cover recent conglomerations?)
may reveal that Hollywood does not exist anymore as a
geographical site of production; it is not quite as an
imaginary "place" as Internet, but to look at media or media
art production through a national framework means to dismiss
how the production and economy works. The postnational
companies have developed much faster networked economies
than the nation states.

Another interesting twist in the previous comments on Eybeam
is the surveillance paranoia, very frequently encountered on
mailing lists and media art exhibitions. A culture that
defends the rights of an individual to guard her/his
property with guns regrets the protection of enterprise
property with cameras (and more sophisticated techniques) in
so called public sphere.

Jurgen Habermas writes in his "The Structural
Transformations of the Public Sphere" how it was the
commercial exchange letters that gradually transformed into
journals. According to Habermas, the bourgeois public sphere
was open to property owners that communicated to create a
public opinion, which in turn assured a calculatable
environment for production, and later for investments.

My analysis of the contemporary networked economy, and its
seeming unpredictability as it is written about in news
media, is very unstable since the controlling function of
the public sphere has ceased to exist. It isn not a public
sphere of arts, education etc, but a political public sphere
that could through legislation control the economical
environment. There is not yet a public sphere that could
counter-balance postnational companies.

Even though the European Union was 90 % economical and
geopolitical move, as it replaces some of the power
structures of nations it is closer to the economical and
political sphere of actions. Hence... it seems obvious that
the challenge for the construction of a public shphere in
Europe is also postnational. That should be the starting
point for political parties as well.

For media art practice to break national boundaries,
Internet is the most affordable medium. Art is mostly funded
through national sources. The EU-centeredness also creates
Eurocentrism, as many non-European partners are not included
in projects due to funding restrictions. So, in a sense, EU
can be seen as a massive nation...

Perhaps it would serve right for European artists to be
bundled up as "European Artists", since European art
institutions still today use concepts such as "African art"
and "Asian Art Treasures". However, those individuals or
groups that most actively seek less bordered (rather than
borderless) working environments, attempt, at best, to leave
also behind Eurocentrism - and orientalism.

Virtual Market Economies

Internet is as genial common denominator for theoretical
exploration than paper. It is not quite the book, the
newspaper, the letter - but still worth discussing.
Networked means perhaps more "connectedness" which is
possible through paper still. Furthermore, being digital is
as interesting as being pulp.

Internet initself offers nothing. McLuhanist wankers keep on
repeating the "Jesus comes" type of assertions, "medium
is..." or "global..." as cited from his texts... oh when
does it end? Give me a time capsule, and let me go back and
talk to McLuhan and to persuade him to start only
gardening... But, as this is not possible, perhaps to
connect it to the previous discussion of economy, in that
realm, yes, McLuhan's concepts perversly have a function.
(Now I will probably be turned back from the North American
media theory nation border, blasphemy... :-)

In stock markets, a release of a single product (like
Netscape Navigator 4.0 for free) can, through increased
market share prophecies, indeed be a multimillion message.
In economical terms, internet, the cables, number of people
with access, different software are indeed messages that can
float virtually without content (within both national
political and postnational economical spheres). In the
cultural discourse, where the medium is a carrier of
messages, more than less, McLuhanist slogans fail. (See a
recent Nettime posting by Andy Freeman for a vivid
description on how the software market may work virtually;
perhaps the increasing value within the art market resembles
that within the virtual media market).

But, like "being digital" and "disneyfication" etc., slogans
that become debatable, kind of virtual theory junk, can sell
extremely well in areas where the economies of media and
theory merge - even if the theory or product was never put
to use, or critically contextualised.

/Tapio Makela <tapio@projekt.net>

Some links
Ostranenie festival <http://www.orstranenie.org>
Amsterdam Agenda
>From Practice to Policy <http://www.dds.nl/~p2p/>
Nettime <http://www.desk.nl/~nettime>
To B92 throuhg this page:
V2_East mailing list and archives:

Tapio Makela
writer, critic, researcher, producer, X
Projektnet Ab Senior Project Manager <tapio@projekt.net>
Muu Media Base co-producer

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