Cultural Exchange via Internet - Opportunities and Strategies
Net-forum, House of World Cultures, Berlin

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  Statement:   Coco Fusco
 
Can the Internet help to overcome the dichotomy between »curated and curating cultures«?

   I don't think the Internet in an of itself can effect that sort of socio-political change at this point, particularly in light of the fact that access to new technology is so restricted in most parts of the world that are the sites of the »curated cultures«. There are some well known examples of »electronic disturbance« in which historically disavantaged groups or regions have gained access to international public discursive arenas via the Internet - I am thinking here of the EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, México), or of radical uses of the Internet by activists in Serbia and Croatia, for example. But the imperatives that shape these interventions are political, rather than aesthetic. There are plenty of artists as well in many parts of the world who have set up their own web sites, thus obviating the exclusionary mechanisms of art institutions and curators - however, they face the problem of how to gain access to audiences in an overwhelmingly large virtual space where huge commercial entities have the advantage of controlling channels that put Internet users in contact with the services and entities that interest them. All this to say that it is extremely difficult to break through hegemonic corporate control of the Internet.

Does the medium contribute to the changing of established value systems? Does the Internetās dissolution of geographical borders support a multicentric view of art, and thereby the overcoming of the »center-periphery« paradigm?

   There has been a great deal of romanticizing about the Internet's supposedly decentralized form, the fluidity of identity one experiences within it and the supposedly multicentric ways that users communicate on it. I would argue that this techn-euphoric rhetoric is both politically problematic and logically flawed. It seems to me that what has happened with the Internet is that cultural dynamics that were at one time radical or subversive have been deracinated from their social and political contexts and most importantly, they have been removed from the public sphere where their social repercussions would be evident; instead, in the virtual domain they can be rehearsed ad infinitum with little actual effect. (So we get interactivity for the sake of interactivity, performativity for the sake of performativity, etc.) Whereas the networks may appear to be fluid, the economic underpinnings of the net are that of multinational corporate capitalism, which is highly centralized and far from disinterested. The majority of the opportunities for interaction on the net and the ways of organizing users into groups correspond to the imperatives of the marketplace - which is to say that engagement usually takes the form of consumption and that people are addressed as members of a »market« joined by like interests and consumer tastes. This would hardly suggest a radical revision of established values, since it is precisely the goal of pancapitalism to commodify leisure activity and to transfer the energies once invested in political engagement to consumerism. As for whether center/periphery boundaries are disrupted, there is a small elite in third-world countries that can access many Internet services and thus break out of geographic marginality to a certain degree. However, that access is extremely limited at this point.

What has been genuinely useful till now in building cultural networks on the Internet?

   For me the advantages have to do with time and speed. I can communicate with many people at a much faster rate than before. I can stay in touch with artists and intellectuals without having to worry about the inefficiency of the postal systems in their countries. I can avoid the time and cost of usually regular mail and faxes. I can get access to information about news in other countries that I would not find as easily in newspapers or on television. I can learn of artistic events without having to leave my desk.

What repercussions would be felt by the »real« cultural operation system by working with the Internet?

   The Internet should not be separated from a host of new digital technologies that were made more widely available to consumers in the 90s. In addition, digitalization is the key to understanding how transnational banking has in effect created globalization and restructured economic relations among countries and between the first and the third world. Furthermore, digital technologies, while opening up possibilities for enhanced telecommunications, have emerged at the same time that »public space« pretty much disappeared in the US, or it has been criminalized to the extent that it is no longer usable for many people.
   In a sense the introduction of digital technologies and the Internet has offered artists a new arena in which to present work and a new domain to conceptualize in an aesthetic manner. On the other hand, the pressures of privatization, the predominance of corporate support for art involving new technologies, and the high cost of working with new technologies have created a milieu that does not encourage critical or political critique.


Coco Fusco: New York-based writer and interdisciplinary artist. She has lectured, performed, exhibited, and curated programs throughout the U.S., Europe, Canada, South Africa and Latin America.
Website: Welcome to Exotech Industries - Coco Fusco's Virtual Laboratory.
Includes: publications, performances, videos, curatorial projects, biographical information, resume.
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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