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Cultural Exchange via Internet - Opportunities and Strategies
Forum of the House of World Cultures, Berlin, 12 October - 4 December, 1998

[as of December 1st 1998 the forum has been prolonged - ... open-ended]

Subject:Some opinions to the Forum 1
Date:Fri, 13 Nov 1998 16:43
Author:Francisco Córdoba  []

Rome, November 1998

First of all, I'd like to express my special thanks to the House of World Cultures (HKW) for this possibility to exchange our opinions. I think this is already a concrete way to use internet and create cultural democracy. Even if I must admit that, compared to many other people in the world, I'm a "priveleged" artist, since I can afford this means of communication, I deeply believe that it does make a difference whether one uses technology only to promote the established art business rules or to create and develop exchanges, links and personal or social changes.

But before I go on, I'd like to underline that even if I write in English, I don't always use this language. Therefore, I hope those who will read my contribution will also understand that I'm trying my best to be the clearest possible.

I was born in Costa Rica. I've had my residence in Italy for the last 16 years. My family is not Italian but, since I was a child, I always wanted to come to this country. During all these years in Europe I've tried to carry on my art research in a serious and professional way. By this I mean: not following "art fashion rules", "not accepting art critics and art journalists impositions", not accepting "easy commercial and political temptations". The result, I believe not so difficult to guess, has meant lots of sacrifices, solitude, as well as an endless economical race to cope with all the expenses. I don't think I'm the only artist who, unfortunately, must pay high "prices" to defend his/her own research, though. I also think that being seated in front of the computer can mean struggle and the need to defend our own rights.

Italy's artistic heritage is immense. However, it's one of the few European countries, which does not have a Department dedicated to contemporary art. The only Department, "Ministero per i Beni Culturali e Ambientali" ("Department for Culture and Environment Goods") DOES NOT HAVE A SINGLE SECTION DEDICATED TO CONTEMPORARY ART. After the fascism era the Department for Culture was abolished. Every City Hall, every Province and every Region has a Culture Department. However, there is not one single national public institution, to which artists can address their requests or needs, nor have their rights recognized by the State. At the end, everybody struggles his/her own way in an economic/political market. In such a market, "survival" sometimes does not follow any basic ethic behaviours at all.

Mr. Manfred Brönner (Goethe Institut in Houston), wrote about one international forum. I believe this forum became already a reality when the House of World Cultures (HKW) decided to organize this project and through the people of Universes in Universe we received an e-mail invitation to participate. Knowing how many decisions are made around the world because of political "favours", the idea of one single "official" forum scares me. Unless, those public institutions involved do look for democratic cultural exchanges, which, in my opinion, can be accomplished only by making contacts with the widest variety of artistic and cultural worlds possible.

As a matter of fact, the idea of a National Art and Culture Forum in Italy roused among some of us and in 1996, in the Roman Capitol I myself handed into the politician who afterwards became the Minister for Culture and Environment Goods a request for the creation of an independent forum dedicated, among others, to cultural policies. We (a group of artist I work with and I) proposed the creation of a permanent observatory on contemporary art, capable of interacting with culture public institutions. Artists were supposed to be a part of such a forum, of course.

Such a document was presented at the worldwide known Int. Bologna Art Fair, too (Bologna is the seat of the oldest European university). It was given to art critics and professors involved in the Bienal of Venice and in well known Italian universities. Last year, it was given to the person who is now the new Minister for Culture and Environment Goods. So far, NOBODY, I underline it, NOBODY has ever sent one single response!

I still remember that in 1996, at the Unesco headquarters in Paris, a group of artists and others, wrote the Document of the Rights of the Artists. Such a document, among others, was addressed to governments: less than 2 years before the year 2000, still the artistic creation is not considered nor is it defended by the law as an essential characteristic of mankind. It is not considered as a precious natural resourse in danger. Its potential culture and economic enrichment for the entire society is never taken into consideration as such.

Most countries do not recognize the artists working role as a proper working activity. Indeed, most artists, in order to carry on their research, must have other jobs. I think also through internet we can point this out and struggle to change it, if we believe it should be changed.

However, I do realize very clearly that internet uses and increases the present world market rules. Artists who only wanted to do art business before internet will probably keep on doing so with internet. I cannot speak about how internet will change art techniques and exhibits or the way to enjoy and learn from and through art. This time I wanted to focus the capability of exchanging information and views through internet, rather than sending my opinions on computer art theory and computer art techniques. I certainly believe that internet can give us the possibility to get in touch with many more people than before, people who might share our ideas and ideals. Of course, this will not be automatic and, in order to reach those goals, we'll need to keep on struggling.

A respectful relationship between artists, art critics and art media will be accomplished if we do not only follow monetary rules. The Unesco letter speaks of reinforcing groups of artists as well as artistic projects carried on by small cultural industries organized by the artistis themselves. But this will not be accomplished only by the governments, conciousness of defending our roles, which are not only economic, must rise among people related to art.

I'd also like to point out a real fact. It was just a case that I happened to visit Universes in Universe web page last January, when I was just learning my first steps with internet. There, I found out there had been a Bienal in South Africa. I was so happy with those news. As an artist, I became an active member in the Culture Section of the Italian National Committee Against Apartheid in 1986. In 1987, I received an invitation to participate as an observer to the 1st. Int. Meeting of Artists Against Apartheid, organized by the U.N. Committee Against Apartheid and the former Greek Ministry of Culture, Melina Mercouri, in Athens. Only "well known" artists, such as Glenda Jackson, Harry Belafont, Little Stevens, etc. were at the table of discussions. I was an "observer" of an "independent" group and there was no possibility for "observers" to speak, just hand in printed documents if they wanted. Of course after this meeting, I kept on painting and making performances against apartheid with other artists on the streets, at universities, at workers union seats, on tv and so on. When the apartheid regime was abolished we celebrated it as our victory, too. I participated at the Bienal of Venice in 1990. The painting which "represented" me on the Bienal catalogue was a reproduction of a mix technique called "In South Africa". When Mandela came to Italy, I had the possibility to shake hands with him in a "non official" way. I gave him that painting, too. The paper I used to wrap it had the ANC flag's colors. His body gards unwrapped it just there and checked to see if it was "safe", leaving the paper on the sidewalk. The Roman Seat of the Italian National Committee Against Apartheid became the "Roman Association for Friendship between Italy and South Africa". SO FAR, NOBODY IN THAT ASSOCIATION HAS EVER RECEIVED INFORMATION ON THE BIENALS IN SOUTH AFRICA AT ALL! (I CAN PROVE THIS!). When I started "sailing" with internet in January, I discovered the South African Dept. of Culture. Of course, I sent them an e-mail: so far, no answer. I'm afraid the construction of a democratic culture in the world will take many years, the same as building democratic information exchanges. May I ask to keep on working for this TOGETHER please?

Francisco Córdoba
via degli zingari, 39 - 00184 ROMA

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Forum of the House of World Cultures, Berlin, on the use of Internet in the cultural exchange with and between Africa, Asia/Pacific and Latin America. 12 October - 4 December, 1998

Project direction: Gerhard Haupt -
©  House of World Cultures, Berlin. 1998