Cultural Exchange via Internet - Opportunities and Strategies
Forum of the House of World Cultures, Berlin

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Summary of the discussion (1):  12 - 25 October, 1998

Two weeks after the start of the forum, the mailing list has grown to include 109 members. Among them are curators and art administrators, members of museums and cultural organizations, representatives of the art community, artists, journalists, media experts, students, webmasters, etc. The list of those who have allowed for the publication of their personal data is now available via e-mail (mail to forum1-info@hkw.kbx.de, write in the "Subject" field: get members)

At the beginning of the forum the 10 introductory statements were published. Apparently most mailing list members first dedicated themselves to the study of the comprehensive material as the debate began fairly slowly. All the entries are in the web archive, ordered according to Date, Thread or Author and can also be read on the e-mail level (see Options). I will summarize a few of the, in my view, important aspects. I would like to ask the authors for their understanding that this will result in inevitable abridgements and simplifications.

Manfred Brönner (director of the Goethe Institute in Houston) was the first to speak up. He felt, among other things, that one of the decisive questions for discussion must be how the "self-centered" in the self-declared world centers could be "forced" to perceive what they have been ignoring until now. His suggestion of, "creating ONE forum (virtual and real) which, by instrumentalising it efficiently, over the years becomes THE place to visit, the publication to consult regularly, if you want to be acknowledged as a curator, a choreographer, an art critic etc." met with disapproval.

Pat Binder (Argentinian artist, lives in Berlin) welcomed the idea that such statements regarding the "self-centered" were made by an official of an institution whose role it is to spread German culture throughout the world. The obsession with "forcing" the "centers" to more awareness is usually found with those who feel they belong to the periphery (of whatever). But that is exactly what retains the status quo "Center-Periphery". More self-criticism and self-confidence on the part of the alleged "other" would be more appropriate in this connection. Binder quoted Geeta Kapur on this in an excerpt taken from an interview: "I'm no longer interested in repeatedly telling European curators that they must include Asian art in their exhibitions. There is a certain kind of parallel development of regions now, and thatęs for the best. ... it's not necessary to have everything come to Europe or go to America."

Olu Oguibe (artist, art historian, poet, cyberculture commentator) reacted vehemently to Sabine Vogel's criticism of the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale, which Pat Binder had only meant to use as an example of what information is still available after the Biennale‚s website disappeared from the Net. He pointed out the special merits that, in his view, this Biennale has. This topic was discussed further in postings by Binder, Sabine Vogel and Yu Yeon Kim, and, as a result, some of the misunderstandings were cleared up.

Yu Yeon Kim (curator in New York and Seoul) proceeded from a statement by Manfred Brönner in which she suspects he is referring to her statement as well as that of Tom Vincent: "Unfortunately it is futile to lament about the development which uses and incorporates the arts in its strive for business." Kim added: "My point was how relationships and language have already to an extent been predefined in digital discourse by the nature of its commercially orientated structure and tools as well as the market place, which fuels its technological development. To work critically and creatively within or in relationship to such an environment requires recognition of these aspects of it, at least." Other lengthier comments on the character and mechanisms of the Internet follow. The "Global culture" in the Internet that arises from the multitude of individuals, organizations, companies, governments, etc. "essentially implies plurality, but also a confluence of cultures that are in a continuous process of contact, exchange and evolution that is determined to an extent, by the problematic entwining of their histories." Kim continued: "Indeed, it must be very difficult from the Western perspective, with its history of colonialism, to go further than the mere fetishization and stereotyping of Asian, African and so-called Third World cultures. These cultures do not need protection from being infected or contaminated by, as Armin Medosch puts it 'the kind of globalization that can bring harm to previously protected local economies and cultures'". As a result of the evolution of global culture that set in long before the Internet came about, "both the carrier and the recipient are 'contaminated' by their meeting". "The development of cultures has always been an issue of interchange rather than a preservation of local integrity." "Modern 'global' culture is a pluralistic discourse of cultures in which the transport (I hesitate to say 'exchange', as what is transferred is transformed in the process) of cultural ideas has been accelerated perhaps beyond our ability to reasonably assimilate them. However, this data is always translated on arrival according to its relevance to the locality."

As Guillermo Gómez-Peña (performance and media artist from Mexico, lives in the USA) is on tour until the end of the year, he could not take part directly in the debate. He has, however, agreed to the posting of his "1st Draft of a Manifesto: Remapping Cyberspace", the most current version of the fourth chapter of his text "The Virtual Barrio @ The Other Frontier (or the Chicano interneta)". We are offering it complete as e-mail (send a mail to forum1-info@hkw.kbx.de and write "get gp1" in subject or content field for the first part and get gp2 for the second)..

Proceeding from Gómez-Peña Andrea Siemsen (House of World Cultures employee) expressed her opinion on the limitations and possibilities of the Internet in terms of global communication and information. In view of many homepages, she also questioned if the medium is really being used for this, or whether it often just has to do with McLuhan's "The medium is the message".

Klaus Jürgen Schmidt Trustee & Managing Editor, gave a comprehensive presentation of "Radio Bridge Overseas", located in Zimbabwe. It is astounding that up to this point in the forum, more use has not been made of the possibility of discussing the usage of the Internet for cultural exchange in terms of one's own concrete projects and experiences and thereby introducing oneself to a larger circle of potential partners.

In his last posting Olu Oguibe this time referring in a quite another way to Pat Binder's question of why the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale's website disappeared from the WWW while the 1st Biennale's site is still available, wrote: "there is a reason, and that reason may not be very innocent. it is a reason that may return us to one of the questions set for this forum: whether cyberspace is able to alter or affect attitudes and practices in real life, whether individual or institutional." Oguibe did not receive any official information as to why the site was taken from the server, but: "my suspicions bring to mind one of the fundamental shortcomings of exchange through cyberspace ..., namely the vulnerability of digital information. while many have applauded the power of the internet to take information out of the hands of traditional structures of control, often we have ignored the fact that the opposite is also very true; that the very nature of server-based information places it at the mercy of those who control real locations, and the individual who controls the server. because of our increasing confidence in the marvels of the internet, we have come to rely so much on its availability that we take it for granted that we can always return to a site and find the information it once contained. but time and again this proves not to be the case." "... real life political calculations, inclinations, and prejudices can affect or determine the nature and availability of internet information." "... any effort to muzzle traditional sources of information in the past could be traced and challenged, with digital information it is easier to erase without trace."
Olu Oguibe ended his posting with an urgent warning: "the internet is at best a most fragile and unreliable reliquary for information, whether on cultures or events, and therefore deserves to be treated with even more savvy than traditional sources. for this reason, we must continue to provide fall-backs and alternatives for important bodies of information: through mirror-site proliferation, site downloads, monitoring, print back-ups, alternatives to official sites, even inquiries to institutions when sites and pages that we consider important are withdrawn from the public. otherwise cultural exchange through the internet will remain, to a large degree, a mere privilege at the mercy of institutional server-control."


Summary: Gerhard Haupt

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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. 1998/1999

Project direction: Gerhard Haupt - haupt@uinic.de