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

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  Statement:   Yu Yeon Kim: Points of Entry
   Perhaps the most corporeal search engine at the time of writing is Altavista's Photofinder. It first displays the result of the query as a gallery of images, but then further refines the search by finding similarities in shape and colour. Using the »visually similar« option the user may navigate beyond the specificity of the initial search through the pixilated geographies of flora, fauna, flesh, fashion, automobiles, architecture, and so on, thus transversing an extensive visual representation of human activity and environments. Photofinder represents a significant extension to the layered portrait that constitutes the Internet - a construction in which we are all participants through both critical and non-critical input and interactiveness. One could imagine a development of this visual database along the lines of Mark Tinkler's Visual Thesaurus and similar programs, where the images would spin transparently over each other revealing all the while the axis of their relationships. That would be more expressive of the concepts of immersion and transparency so frequently associated with so-called »Cyberspace«, which imply that we undergo an osmotic passage of sorts through the glass of our computer screens, beyond which we are mingled, in bodiless suspension with the networked masses.
   Since the inception of the Internet we have been compelled to personalize its multiplex of data streams with the interjection of our flesh, nationalities, and geographies - anything that pertains to our anchor in the real world while we float, seemingly free, to impinge our presence on the electronic networked ether. Yet how are we translated and reconstituted by this space?
   It is not difficult to be euphoric about the way our international communities have been brought closer together through the various channels of the Internet. It has spawned the phenomena of publishing by the computer-enfranchised masses, and a multitude of alternative independent cultural organizations and networks. These networked online environments are at once an expression of the desire for decentralization of established hubs of culture, and the achievement itself - of creating a broad spectrum of informational exchange and creative initiatives that have a direct political and cultural impact on society. Within some of these networked spaces there are evolving new articulations of language and identity around the interconnection of diverse modalities, and the discovery of new forms of spatial representation.
   At PLEXUS we have recently opened OMNIZONE, a project we commenced in 1997 which sets out to explore the dynamical relationships in digital culture through the works of various artists. It does not seek to create a hierarchical and self-referential validation of digital culture, but rather (and by necessity) it is explorative, inconclusive and ongoing. Within the limitations of its funding and resources, PLEXUS has always sought to promote an intercultural forum of ideas and creativity, and this ambition is extended by OMNIZONE which we intend will further a critical understanding of informational structures and the cultural packets with which they are loaded.
   The problem with the Internet, as with any seemingly chaotic organism, is finding a vantage-point from which it can be viewed at sufficient distance to understand its evolving structure. It is like a vast game of Chinese Chess, with no borders to the board. First of all the intersections are all linked, and then it becomes evident that whole domains have been encircled. The old adage, »Vigilance is the price of Freedom« is especially applicable here. Our communication technologies not only facilitate access to information, but control, and record, how it is accessed and by whom. Furthermore, the driving force and sustaining force behind the Internet is not an international community of enlightened cultural practitioners, but the formidable power of international capitalism. The information that we constantly and habitually absorb from the mass media is infected by the controls of a consumerist market place to the degree that it probably determines even our innermost thoughts and certainly our desires. To what extent the modern Self is a consumerist invention of capitalism may be difficult to gauge as objectivity may be already compromised. The Internet can be both an instrument of mass enfranchisement, through the democratization and decentralization of power - if critical thought acquires popular usage - but it can equally allow a calculated manipulation of knowledge in the service of commercial and political interests. The fact that contradiction and change is the very essence of the Internet, bodes well for its future. Yet we are increasingly thinking and creating within the parameters of electronic programs that were created to meet specific commercial demands. The Internet changed forever the way we perceive the interconnectivity of our cultures, but the commercially orientated technologies that facilitate its navigation and define its course, also bias the way we think, perceive and assimilate knowledge. The role of international cultural practitioners should be to subvert these structures and devices in such a manner as to expose and illuminate their dynamics and effect.
   If we are to consider the Internet as a contact zone of international cultures then we must also examine the intricate operation of post-colonialist and neo-imperialist values as projected through Western consumerism and therefore through the inherent mechanisms of the Internet. Actually, there is no simple separation with the Other, that conglomerate of fabricated so-called »Third World« identities has already reinfused itself, problematically, into this milieu - the transference of meaning is well underway in many directions. However, the real zone of exclusion starts at the furthest reaches of the technologically empowered - where the technologically poor discover that they are at a new level of disenfranchisement while being fetishized as the »Other« by the technologically rich.

Yu Yeon Kim: Born in South Korea, 1956. An independent curator based in New York and Seoul, she is the co-founder and chief curator of »PLEXUS«, a non-profit Internet arts organization in New York that shows art works both in digital and traditional media, as well as facilitating international online art conferences. She has curated numerous exhibitions including »In The Eye of the Tiger«, an exhibition of contemporary Korean art at Exit Art/The First World, New York (1997) and the Ilmin Museum of Art in Seoul (1998), as well as »Transversions« at the 2nd Biennial of Johannesburg, 1997/1998. More recently Yu Yeon Kim has co-curated »OMNIZONE, Perspectives in Mapping Digital Culture«, an investigative and experimental online project.
Her essays and interviews have been published in ART AsiaPacific (Australia), Wolgan Misool (S. Korea), Atlantica, Flash Art, and Intelligent Agent (New York).
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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