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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:forum1
Date:Wed, 25 Nov 1998 15:53
Author:Alisa Kottmair  [alisamorenavang@iname.com]
Reply To:forum1@hkw.kbx.de


To the forum

I am very happy to hear about the projects that are out there, their hopes and problems.

I've been thinking about the topic - can the internet be used, explored, to actually and effectively reach more people, promote cultural diversity and inclusivity - a lot these days.

People in this forum and elsewhere have called upon artists (who) to use this medium (more) because they have the vision, because art is transnational, etc. They also have the need to communicate their vision to others. If one has access to the internet, then it is less problematic to show there than in a gallery. And of course, not everyone has access.

I was astounded and very pleased when I found young artists and others in Vietnam using the net. Since I was first in Vietnam last year, internet access has gone from a few privileged traveler cafes to many others - though many of whom have frequent contact with foreigners and the US-dollar. I don't know about access in university, secondary, let alone primary schools.

And of course, this is where further steps must be taken. The age old saying about the future leaders of the world. Of course, what old-person wants to be superseded by some young squirt in the newest technology, weltanschauung that is so -- different and challenging? Since it's obvious that this can never be avoided, we must proceed. In my work with young Vietnamese people in the 'periphery' of eastern Berlin (where I recently overheard some young Germans jokingly, yet almost proudly/defensively saying, "I live in the ghetto. Do you live in the ghetto? No, you donāt live in the ghetto. I do.") I get the impression that internet and computers still are mere tools for games, for text, expensive, inaccessible except for limited use at school. Not so much for communication. Of a group of 30 or so young people aged 14-21, only three are active net-users. At the same time, I am aware that there are classes and interest groups elsewhere in Berlin that are quite active with the 'new media', as they have physical access to the hard and software, teachers or advisers with initiative, time and funding to guide them in their explorations.

As the group I work with meets in a kind of cultural center, they are of different age and grade: what joins them is their vietnameseness and their relatively recent emigration to Germany (generally 3 - 6 years). This kind of center has been criticized by some for not promoting integration with other youth of other nationalities, but they get that at school, and it serves their concrete need and desire to spend time in a special place with peers of common background and language. I see this as an important aspect in self definition and self esteem. 'Integration' is difficult when for example at some metro stations people are known still to walk by and stare, make comments or spit (yes!) when they perceive that you are 'foreigner'.

Community building. I was surfing the other day for Vietnamese and oversees-Vietnamese sites, and found tons of them coming from the US, Australia and (less) France. These have been set up by and for longer-established emigrants adults, university level students, and young adults/youth in secondary school. Sites range from music and fashion interest groups, match-making, historical and cultural information about Vietnam and Vietnamese communities elsewhere. (not to mention tourism and experiences of war veterans) They function mostly in English, then in Vietnamese (which uses roman letters with extensive diacritical marks). As far as communicating inter-nationally, I'm not sure how extensive this is. Many 1.5 and second generation Vietnamese don't write Vietnamese as well as they speak it. The youth in our group at Reistrommel have had English and French in school, but have, like all school-kids, little occasion or motivation to use these languages. They are still trying to perfect German enough to pass their courses here. Of course they are exposed to English through MTV and Karaoke texts.

As a recent 'young adult' myself (I think in Europe the official cut-off age is 26 years), who has intentionally 'displaced' myself from the US to Berlin, and now occasionally to Vietnam where some relatives were born and live, I am still involved in issues of identity. My search and work have led me to contact other relatively young American, German, French and Australian half-Vietnamese and 'whole' oversees Vietnamese whom I've met all over the place. I contacted them per fax and letter, in language schools in Vietnam, at gallery openings, seminars. Most of these people have been excited to meet others who are also on some sort of search. I have managed to create a kind of virtual community, or database of acquaintances, as we are spread out all over the place, have different interests and lives of course that exceed the identity thing. While I don't wish to define myself only according to my pedigree, my relationship to Vietnam and Vietnamese culture is one that is always present.

I can abstract this, and see it as being border-less, between 2 (or more) cultures, acknowledging the position of the individual in a world that is conflating and merging while still retaining very definite lines of social, economic, political etc. differentiation.

It is great, it is depressing, a hypercard existence. When I think of my own history, it is too rich to be 2-dimensional. It is full of links and layers. It's practically screaming out to be an internet project. And, typically, my (inter-) actions start from my composite self. The people whose histories, lives reach beyond a chapter in some history book. Who want to communicate themselves to others, anywhere, because almost everywhere is now more accessible than ever.

Currently, I am working with 2 groups of similar-minded folks in Berlin.
(a) We who want to re-write the history of Vietnamese in Berlin from many points of view, to especially challenge the dominant stereotypes of illegal cigarette Mafiosi or (older) helpless brave little boat people. And especially with input from young people who are already dealing with their own German-ness and Vietnamese-ness together. This will hopefully take the form of an exhibit to happen next year. Our big questions are will we get funding and how do we reach as many people as possible
(b) We who want to work with young people in general and the internet on a global basis for real communication and through that, growth. How can we see/write/promote youth culture as a composite of past, present and future, not reduced to music-video-culture and other objectivizing, exoticizing (fetish of youth culture in advertisements) 2-dimensional images? How can history be recorded as 3-dimensional?

I ally myself with others in the diversity/ identity/ etc. discourses who seek to (re-) claim certain discourses in order to explore (with) them in a more complicated, "multi-lingual" way. Hmm. I think there is no way that a teenager would understand me if I phrased it this way. As I recall and as I see now, young people still like to have fun while they learn something new. And once they've been introduced to something they like, they have little problem in wanting to do as much as possible. The only limitations are the usual: technological, funding, organizational / time. What I and my colleagues are tying to do is think of fun ways, scenaria, which might take the focus (ours and theirs) off the limitations and keep it on the ideal. Of course what we are also looking for are benefactors who can supply the necessary technological support.

This is important. If we make something for world use, then the world must also have access to fast-enough computers, software, telephone lines. It doesn't make sense otherwise. The only sources I can see are Very Big Benevolent Companies or Institutions. And this is where more of the hard work comes into play -- where 'smaller' groups and individuals should ideally be helping each other, as opposed to fearfully protecting their sourcces.

I would like to know if there are others out there who are working in innovative ways to foster cultural and personal exchanges with and among young people. I've noted some of the URLs passed along, but have had some trouble accessing them recently (must try again with different server). Any feedback?


Alisa Kottmair
Berlin



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