|Cultural Exchange via Internet - Opportunities and Strategies
Forum of the House of World Cultures, Berlin
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Insights into the Debate:
September - December, 1999 - Part 4
Chris Drew described the exhibition practice of the Uptown Multi-Cultural Art Center in Chicago, where he works, and set against that an - in his opinion - unsuccessful attempt by the Chicago Cultural Center to show the diversity of art in Chicago in 1990. In it, the jurors had chosen almost exclusively works that were in accordance with their own »European background«. Raul Ferrera-Balanquet, too, held the view that as a result of the USA's education system, curators and art historians would be fixated on »eurocentric notions« and not understand, for example, the »complexities of Latino and Latin American art«.
In a comprehensive answer to this, Pablo Helguera brought up some fundamental problems and contexts. Here are several quotes from his contribution:
»To my view the question lies in whether we, the cultural administrators, curators, critics, artists and educators, have adequately fought to structure a system in which minority artists can integrate into the dialogue of the mainstream without necessarily loosing their individual identities or cultural discourse.«
»We created terms as 'community art', which, with very few exceptions, have never been taken totally seriously by the international museum and art world. At the beginning of multiculturalism, artists found that ethnicity gave them grants, opportunities and shows. However, with the passage of time, it backfired - rightly so- by showing that these goods were given because of their being minorities, and not necessarily on the basis of their being good artists.«
Further down Helguera wrote: »... we have thought too long about modernism and post-modernism as a white Anglo-Saxon concepts this entire time, and this is not true at all - as conceptualism, for instance, has existed all throughout Latin America for decades. And, even if they where Anglo-Saxon concepts, nowadays all belongs to everyone, and an exciting lingua franca ... allows us to communicate visually throughout the world...«
»A final word, which hopefully ties with the whole 'Sensation' discussion: the mainstream is here to stay; it is the nature of every single specialty, not only art. Art will always be structured in such a way in which there will always be a more informed minority and an excluded majority which will always resent its exclusion. All we can do is understand this process and articulate our language and our actions in a way in which we can communicate properly to the various constituencies. And of course we can do it: it's our job.«
Chris Drew defended the »community artists« who had worked within their communities long before the boom of the term »multiculturalism«. At the conclusion of his polemic discourse is: »The 'Art World' is not the world. The 'Art World' is an elite group that performs for itself. They value art so it can be traded between themselves. There is no unified aesthetic that explains and measures quality across cultures and all time.«
In his reply, Pablo Helguera »... I don't think you can generalize by saying that there is only one 'elite' and one 'hierarchy'. The richness of the art today is that there are a lot of different groups and a lot of different individuals and institutions that support different kinds of things. There are thousands and thousands of artists showing at innumerable museums and galleries throughout the world.« ... »I have a problem with the conspiracy theory that all art supported today is determined by Western critics ... Although it is absolutely true that a lot of really valid art hasn't been given its deserved value, this argument has been used too long by too many artists who can't find who else to blame for their lack of success in their careers.«
His conclusion is also worth considering: »Individually, at this moment, we will not be able to transform the world in a drastic way. As communities will continue, elites and other structures will continue too. It is possible to adopt an anarchist attitude and question everything. But I think it is more practical to understand the realities that we live and try to challenge them with our means. And try to instigate dialogue, not a self-glorified isolationism.«
José Roca took a similar direction. He began with the ascertainment: »Art is about communication. You have to reach people in order to get your private obsessions known, so they might trigger something significant in somebody else...« Even Land Art, which attempts to escape the museums and the market, would remain widely unknown if there weren't books on and photographs or prints of it. »Why is it that the most virulent attack on the museum system comes from Hans Haacke, someone that regularly exposes worldwide? They [these artists] are all aware that the virus strategy is better: to attack and overturn from within. But also to establish a connection between art that happens at the museum, and art that happens elsewhere. The exhibition system and the market are there, to be used, not as a goal but as a mean.«
In other contributions, the role of museums in cultural politics and the museum system itself were more explicitly addressed. Juan José Díaz Infante named two possible models that could bring about a change. Pablo Helguera agreed with him that, among other things, the established hierarchies do not necessarily guarantee the quality of art presented in museums. As a matter of fact, more open structures are necessary. The term »contemporary art« museum seems to be an oxymoron, as »the new art of today will be old tomorrow«. He sees one important point to a museum in the art world in communicating context. Helguera also gave a short report on the symposium »Fiction Inside and Outside the Museum« that he had just organized in Mexico City. At the symposium the following questions, among others, were discussed: »1) the museum as a place which we need to have in order to rebel against it; 2) artists who appropriate the 'context' of the museum into their own work; 3) the museum as a cultural Disneyland (or Disneyland as the accultured museum); 4) the museum as having lost the sense of wonder which originated its very roots.«
The work of curators as a part of the art world was brought up time and again in the Forum. For the most part, artists were the ones who criticized the curator's power and asked if the »non-attention« to art was not an exclusion mechanism that had to do with censorship. Christy Sheffield Sanford contradicted this before the discussion of this topic even began when, in another context, she wrote: »I think many curators depend too heavily on their existing networks. Exclusionary tactics are often not tactics at all. People don't have enough time or impetus to search for new voices.«
Juan José Díaz Infante asked later: »Is a curator by definition an examiner, a guardian of art, a supervisor of communication?« Pablo Helguera often found the role of curators to be viewed too negatively. »Curators, as museums ... are needed to bridge those gaps of communication which often exist between the artist and the audience.«
Britta Erickson returned to this subject one month later and basically held the same view: »Curators can provide a service to both artist and audience, if they can act as effective advocates for the artists and interpreters for the audience. They should be able to do this in a non-intrusive way, too, so as not to come between the audience and the direct experience of the work of art. And the curator or critic should be able to point out to the audience the process that gave birth to the work of art - if process is important to a particular piece.«
»How do audiences connect with works of art? This is a question of great interest to me, since I write English-speaking audience about Chinese art. This puts me in the questionable position of interpreting a culture into which I was not born.« Erickson thinks that she is able to and thereby contradicted the point of view of a Chinese critic who wrote in an article, »Westerners cannot understand Chinese art«. She quoted several passages from a reply which she had sent him.
Raul Ferrera-Balanquet added, among other things: »What fascinates me about 'good curators' is their ability to see the subtextual connections among works from different cultures and artists.« What he meant by this he explained with the example of the British film and video curator Mark Finch. The questions he posed to Erickson concerning her work are at the same time of general relevance: »Are you aware that in the process of translation a new interpretation takes place? How do you negotiate with your translations when you know that socio-linguistic and cultural referents could be misunderstood and lost in that process? ... When you make the translations do you speak about the object, or the context in which the object was created, or the history circumscribing the object, or the sico-emotional experiences of the producer of the object?«
Within the context of Olu Oguibe's description of Ofili's strategy, Beral Madra, herself a curator, had already polemicized on the phenomenon she has become aware of in the work of curators as well as in that of artists: »And as to Ofili's work, we have seen the 'Utilizing Artists of Non-West To Attract Attention' story many a times. Since the beginning of the 90's the 'clever emigrant' artists have understood that the time has come for them, deciphered the requirements of the contemporary art industry, and started to produce works which metaphorically reflected the desires and opinions of the Western viewer on the Non-west! Vice versa, since quite a time the Western curators are discovering the remote art scenes in order to utilize them for the fulfillment of their EGO's. When investigated and discussed properly, these 'Western Curator's Non-Western Shows' syndrome is as scandalous as the Sensation event!« As an example of this she mentioned the Israel Biennial in Jerusalem, curated by Kasper König, and Paolo Colombo's Istanbul Biennial. At the Biennials' symposiums, delicate questions would never have been posed, but thanks to the Internet it has become possible to discuss these issues within a larger framework.
Following Christy Sheffield Sanford introduction of her web project »My Millennium«, Pat Binder asked if there is »a web-specific curating-exhibiting modality. Online-time is money, that's why the audience usually doesn't take the time to really get through the proposed web works. However, for the very reason that the audience is spread around the world, it becomes especially important to publish contextual information on the artists and their works.« Sheffield Sanford added: »Another option is to ask those involved to discuss the technical/artistic aspects of their work in introductory paragraphs.«
After that, Janet Swartz told us about a lecture given by Benjamin Weil, Director of New Media, ICA London and co-founder/curator of Äda'web, at the Museo de Monterrey in Mexico and mentioned a few core thoughts from it. Weil curated the second edition of the »Virtual Tours: Thematic proposals in Internet about art«, a project of the museum's Mediateca. He published an essay with images and links to art projects on the web with the title »Readme.txt - Browsing online art: An exploration of various directions in networked art projects«. It is available on the Museo de Monterrey's website in English and Spanish.
Raul Ferrera Balanquet, who lives in Mexico, criticized the Museo de Monterrey's project for »the absence of Mexicans, Latinos and Latin American web art, even though the curator stated that he was fascinated by the amount of technology that he found in rural Mexico«.
Juan José Díaz-Infante stressed, Raul's commentary »is pointing out a complex of having to be imported in order to be good. Complex of the 'industrial' relationship between first and third world«. In conclusion, Díaz Infante wrote: »... A curator, from any center of arts in London, will never be able even to grasp a culture that by the very common reality surpasses by far his levels of understanding. Just by the simple fact that he lacks the frames of reference to decode our art.«
In this summary's appendix, you will find a list of art projects on the net which were touched upon in the Forum. In most of these postings, the curators and artists reported on their concrete experiences in the creation of the projects.
In December 1999, an interesting exchange on Chinese art took place between Josette Balsa und Britta Erickson in which other participants joined in. Whoever is interested in this area can find important information and reflections in the relevant postings. Among other things, it dealt with the work of Gu Wenda and Xu Bing. [see among others Balsa /16.12., Knote, Erickson / 20.12., Balsa / 22.12., Erickson / 22.12.]
During the months summarized here, a continuous and often controversial process of understanding took place on the nature of art, which was picked up as a central theme in December once more. This could basically make up a Forum in itself. It would go beyond the scope of this summary if one attempted to take a more detailed look at the various facets and directions of the debate. For this reason, only a few basic points are mentioned here:
Among other things, it dealt with art as a game, as a lie, as myth and as action. Contexts between art and communication as well as art and politics (i.e. how political is art) were also discussed. A further question was, to what extent can art be understood at all and who is in a position to do this.
A comment by Tom Vincent made apparent how difficult it is to grasp such a vast topic, for this reason it is being quoted last: »I'm not really sure there _is_ any true understanding anywhere - especially regarding this slippery thing we call 'art'. Perhaps we can only 'do', and then 'do' some more - all the while attempting to keep our eyes open to what we are not expecting to find, and struggling in the direction that appears to be leading towards satori.«
[Satori - Enlightenment, Buddhist and Zen: the absolute understanding of the composition and the truths of the universe and human beings]
See, among others, the following postings: Díaz Infante / 8.10., Díaz Infante / 8.12., d'Alpoim Guedes / 10.12., Davin / 12.12., Díaz Infante / 12.12., d'Alpoim Guedes / 13.12., Vincent / 13.12., Ferrera-Balanquet / 13.12., Díaz Infante / 14.12., Braumüller / 14.12., d'Alpoim Guedes / 15.12., Vincent / 15.12.
See also the
list of presented projects and information.
Summary: Gerhard Haupt
Translation: Rebeccah Blum
© House of World Cultures, January 2000
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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 / 2000
Project direction: Gerhard Haupt - email@example.com