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

  1998    1999:    12344-2[ 4-3]4-4 deutsch  |  español
Insights into the Debate:
September - December, 1999
  -  Part 3
Print-version of the whole text - Part 1
Freedom of Art / Democracy content

As an example of repression towards active cultural work, Hans Braumüller drew attention to the case of Humberto Nilo. He attached a letter (in Spanish) in which Nilo documents his case [English translation, see: Pat Binder] and informed us about an international protest campaign. Following a Mail Art action for the freedom of artistic education, Humberto Nilo was dismissed as director and academic of the Arts School at the University of Chile.
[see also Katz and Braumüller]

Further participants saw parallels to this case in other parts of the world, whereas the contradictions between the democratic claim and the reality in the USA were cited as well, and it came to a debate on democracy and freedom in general. [see among others Ferrera-Balanquet, Zetina, Schiavone, Isseroff, Ferrera-Balanquet]
Discussion about »Sensation« content

In the context of the exchange on Humberto Nilo's case, Juan José Díaz Infante, mentioned that the mayor of New York wanted to shut off the subventions to the Brooklyn Museum. With that, the exhibition »Sensation«, which was behind it all, became the point of departure for a lengthy and long-lasting discussion in the Forum. At the beginning, the participants touched upon the question of public funding for the arts [see Marquez, Isseroff, Díaz Infante, Drew, Drew, Marquez, Sheffield Sanford, Ellis] and discussed the exhibition and the Saatchi collection as a marketing phenomenon.

At one point in the debate, their strong concentration on New York was criticized, although the exchange with and between Africa, Asia/Pacific and Latin America should have been the focal point of the Forum. [see Machan, Drew]. Other participants countered, more members of the list would just have to be heard from [Oguibe] and called for a greater diversity of statements [Drew]. As it soon turned out, the exchange of views increasingly branched off in the most diverse directions and took on specific phenomena in other cultures (e.g. China) as well as questions of general interest, while various topics and aspects merged into each other.

It is impossible to sum up the flow of this discussion in the short space offered here. Therefore central points will be brought up in the following sections, points which were to some extent discussed separately from »Sensation« and at other places in the Forum.
Finding Attention / Marketing Strategies contents

After Christy Sheffield Sanford had protested about the fact that the »bad guys« of art were receiving more attention than artists who had really earned it, this phenomenon was discussed within the context of media mechanisms and marketing strategies in the art field. Charity Ellis recalled the basically similar scandal almost 10 years ago surrounding Andrew Serrano's »Piss Christ« and opined, the »bad guys« weren't just finding the attention of the media but also that of the politicians which, in turn, can have an effect on access to financial resources.

Juan José Díaz Infante sent a posting with the provocative subject »Lady D was a prostitute« which dealt with, among other things, the »art to get attention« in order to get public funding for the arts (with Mexico, among others, as an example) as well as marketing strategies for art. In answer to this, Gerhard Haupt referred to the texts of Michael H. Goldhabers about the conditions of production and distribution of art under the circumstances of a new »Attention Economy« [published since 1996 in the German online magazine Telepolis - see links in the posting]. They deal with, among other things, the efforts that must be made today to get a piece of the increasingly scarce attention pie, and with the economical advantages of those who have made it and become »Stars«.

Pat Binder contributed a few passages she translated from the essay by Luis Camnitzer »Corruption in the Arts/The Art of Corruption« (published in Universes in Universe in German and Spanish). In his complex reflection on the artist's complicated conditions of existence, Camnitzer was concerned with, among other things, the question of how »one can use corruption without letting oneself be corrupted«. Binder quoted one of the answers he gave himself: »The dilemma has no solution, therefore I have armed myself with a moral structure, which I ended up calling 'ethical cynicism'. The essence of this position is based on the idea that, to prostitute oneself consciously is better than to do it unaware. In the first case it is a strategy, in the second, it is corruption. As a strategy it serves me to identify the line, I am about to trespass, and therefore, it allows me - to a certain point - to reverse the action. Restricted to corruption as a product of unawareness, the act is forced to lead to a rhetoric of justification, without the possibility of assuming the responsibility for the decision.«

Francisco Córdoba endorsed this as he explained his »selling strategies« and his view of »culture, ethics and aesthetics«. Often it is not easy to bring both aspects in accord with each other. Donna Hand Lee had already told of her work as a fine art marketing consultant. A part of that is to »advise visual artists in business development so they will have more time to create«.

Tom Vincent held the view that »part of an artist's job is marketing. ... The struggle between the artist's standards and society's standards is a vital part of the artist's job.« This is true for basically everyone, he wrote. Ami Isseroff did not agree. One need only think of the artists who had to work under a repressive regime, or of the scientists whose ideas have been lost or were oppressed. Acknowledgement in one's lifetime is not always a question of talent, rather sometimes just one of luck or fate or energy in terms of »marketing«.

Kim Machan emphasized once again that when artists use the Internet, they can open new canals to the public and new networks for an exertion of influence. And, in the end, marketing has to do with access to the public.
Artist, Freedom, Civic Duty contents

New York mayor Giuliani's anger regarding the exhibition »Sensation« was especially set off by the image »The Holy Virgin Mary« (1996) by Chris Ofili, in which the artist placed elephant dung on the sacred motif. In one posting Olu Oguibe meticulously analyzed Ofili's artistic point of departure. He demystified a self-mystification that referred to Africa of an artist born in England, and revealed with what kind of skill for self-promotion Ofili persistently searched for success.

In a further contribution, Oguibe questioned the view of femininity and especially the black woman in Ofili's painting, a work attacked by one and defended by the other. He could only wonder that of all images such a portrayal could »come to represent the cultural community's icon of battle against statutory and religious 'intolerance'«.

Olu Oguibe's third e-mail on this subject deserves particular consideration. This longer text should be read in its entirety so that none of the conclusive argumentation is lost. Oguibe went into depth in his analysis of Ofili's strategy of provocation and showed the scandal's instrumentalization in New York. Based on this, he dealt in a most critical way with the »self-centeredness« of cultural work and the view that an artist has »greater freedom to express than the rest«, which he called the »I-am-sacred-because-I-am-an-artist syndrome«. One of the core thoughts in his reflection on the »artists' relationship to the public and the state in general« goes as follows: »... while censorship is unacceptable, it is nevertheless part of the artist's civic duty as a member of society rather than a god, to be sensitive to their environs, and to take the varying sensibilities of their public into consideration especially when it is their intention to take their work to that public.«

Later on in the Forum, the responsibility of artists was brought up as well when Britta Erickson described the influence of »Sensation« on young Chinese artists. Although they had never seen the exhibition, they knew the catalogue and took the shock effects even further. »Where British artists made installations with dead animals, Chinese artists have been able to use dead humans and live animals.« Erickson referred to photos of the relevant works on the net.

After Christy Sheffield Sanford had rigorously rejected such cruelty, Tom Vincent replied: »'Cruelty' is one of the many building-blocks that make up what we humans are, and so it is a very relevant resource for artists to use.« ... »The value put on individual life - human, animal and vegetable - varies from culture to culture.« Personally, he shared Sheffield Sanford's sentiments regarding such artistic practices »but I am also very skeptical about the humanitarians, not because of what they do so much as what they often _don't do, or _don't consider. We must be very sure, before we judge, that our own position really is the right one..«

José Tlatelpas found that it is often so that »artists without enough mastery, message or aesthetic, spiritual, cultural contribution try to make noise using the resource of scandal. It is a way of to get attention ...«
Censorship content

First there was a discussion on whether the New York mayor's intention of cutting off public funds to the Brooklyn Museum due to the »Sensation« exhibition was an act of censorship [see Díaz Infante and Drew], or rather just politics meddling in art - not to be termed as censorship [Isseroff]. Later on, Chris Drew inquired about cases of censorship in other areas of the world and added questions on, among other things, the power of curators, state control and the influence of the artscene on »local thought patterns«.

Raul Ferrera-Balanquet gave an example from Mexico, but felt that much worse was the self-censorship practiced by artists there. There was a short dispute between Kim Machan and Dianne d'Alpoim Guedes on the situation of the Internet in Australia and the effects of new laws on art websites. Machan also reported that the planned presentation of »Sensation« in the Australian National Gallery was cancelled due to the scandal in New York. Although it was not censorship, Fran Ilich wanted to bring the aspect of »exclusivity & exclusion« into the discussion. He described what he meant with that by way of the example of the 1st Cyberculture Festival in Latin America in Tijuana, organized by Laboratorios Cinemátik. Francisco Córdoba saw the worst form of censorship in repression and gave examples of that as well.

back Part 2
continues Part 4
Documentation up
  1998   1999:
12344-2[ 4-3]4-4
   Feedback   Would you like to participate in the discussion? Please note, that it takes place via a mailing list (see modalities).

To subscribe, send an email to or use the registration form. After receiving the confirmation email, you can actively participate in the debate.

If you are already a member of the mailing list, you can directly send your comment to   (in English, please).

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 / 2000

Project direction: Gerhard Haupt -