Date: Fri, 01 Sep 2000 04:31:03 -0700
below you will find three letters. It comes from a private correspondence from spring 2000 between a group of new media artists, curators and critics, concerned with the cultural policies of the nationalism and particularly the Haider regime in Austria and Gerfried Stocker,the director of the Ars Electronica Festival which will be opened in Linz, Austria in a few days from now. The initiative, coordinated by the New York critic Timothy Druckrey, felt that the choice of yet another bio science topic, "Next Sex", could easily be used to distract from the uneasy political questions which have been raised ever since the Freedom party was taken aboard in the government.
Will Ars Electronica remain silent and pretend there is not going on? How do racist policies, directly or indirectly, effect Europe's biggest electronic arts festival? What is clean and healthy new media arts according to the rightist rulers in Vienna? Why does Public Netbase have to be closed down? How many compromises is Ars Electronica willing to make? These topics, and many more, will for sure be debated in Linz over the next week in a last minute initiative that has appeared at Ars called Free Speech. We know that Free Speech can be both productive discourse and a convenient veil. Yet we also know that an open mike and a free speech camp is not the solution to the politics of inaction, but can be a call to action. We hope that lists such as nettime, syndicate, rhizome and others will actively follow what is going and contribute to the debate online. This correspondence underneath died somewhere in April. What the silence of Gerfried Stocker after the second letter of the initiative means (or may not mean), you can judge for yourself. We thought this was the appropriate time to publish it and look forward to a lively (online) debate about Ars Electronia and its relation to cultural policies and new media in Austria.
ps. the names of the 18 others who signed the two letters are not a secret, we just had not approached them individually, yet found it necessary, at this stage, just before the opening of the festival, to publish this correspondance. We thought it was fair they would agree first before the list is going out.
Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2000 09:43:28 -0500
To: Gerfried Stocker , Wolfgang Modera
From: Timothy Druckrey
Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org, Jutta Schmiederer
Dear Gerfried and Wolfgang,
There's little doubt that the recent political events in Austria echo and find resonance throughout the world. Rightist movements, reactionary doctrines of essentialism, the corruptions of globalization, the reinstallation of totalities (in the guise of insidious collectivities, cyber-communes, dot-topias of all kinds) are resurfacing across the spectrum, from fundamentalist theologies to theologies of technology, from grim-even aberrant-nationalisms, to cyber and techno cultisms, and they come as reminders (or harbingers) and cautionary moments. All through the last century the apologists, ideologues, conspirators, accomplices, and criminals of essentialist culture (in all its guises) proposed, and too often carried out, nearly unfathomable (but sadly no longer unimaginable) atrocities in the name of social purification, "retribalization," and, worse, as pathetic authentication within the political fetish of nationalistic identity, and brought culture its most rapacious enemies. There is just no way to avoid the constancy with which we must be vigilant for even the glimmers of the retooling of cultural isolationism veiling the dismal tropes of reactionary politics, the flagrant delegitimation of the "other," the refusal to confront the siege on artistic and intellectual culture with crude populisms or to reconceptualize the so-called 'bankruptcy of cultural hierarchies', the determinisms nestled in fallacies of social or technical evolution.
And yet the social crisis of xenophobia has remained active, infecting localized conflicts in East Timor, Kosovo, Bosnia, Kurdistan, Chechnya, Congo, Germany, France, Spain, the US (among too many others). Old tech conflicts of brute force have been replaced by the new tech conflicts emerging in broadcast politics, high technology, and e-culture. But the localizing of these irruptions can no longer be understood as aftershocks, nor rationalized within the rubric of the sustenance of cultural heritage under the duress of internationalization. The corrupt social fundamentalism surfacing in these movements sunders democracy in distorted forms of minority consensus. But artificial or engineered consensus is an aspect of totalitarianism. Too often opaque, politics has re-entered everyday life, and must be made transparent.
So here we are again, poised between the disaster of cultural regression and the catastrophe of social evasion, a crisis moment in which equivocation is implausible, in which determined and responsible actions confront bleak reactionary movements emerging in intolerance and the perversion, if not usurpation, of the principle of democracy. Already besieged by the weighty plots of the internationalized cartels of the media, the economy, technology, or genetics, the infosphere has not been cleansed of its dirty histories, the ecosphere of its dirty realities, or the political sphere of its filthy corruptions. We just cannot delude ourselves in either political complacency or the complacency of virtualization.
A century of social catastrophes should not be followed by either acquiescence, ignorance, or evasion that verges on complicity. The reactionary engineers of social destruction have been supplanted both by the more insidious programmers of 'neo-biological', neo-economic, and neo-social determinism and by far more visible political chameleons of corrupt social politics. But innocence in the name of an obsolete notion of normalization is intolerable, social retrenchment in the name of sovereignty is untenable, the alienization of the displaced or the refugee is depraved, the delegitimation of migratory labor is slavery, the abandonment of social pluralism is incomprehensible. Similarly, the retreat into technology is contemptible, refuge in the sphere of art is failure, sanctuary in the clean-rooms of biotech is denial.
No simple situation. And while international political administrators vacillate, or better, squirm, with anxious liberalisms and political correctness, the discourses of the streets and the net leave little doubt that the "internet generation" (that Schüssel helplessly attempts to discredit) provide a most revealing and farsighted view of this situation. The broad debates range from acts of solidarity to outright boycotts, polarized maneuvers that could serve to embolden or confirm the positions of the opposition, and that represent short-term approaches to issues that extend beyond localized or temporalized boundaries. Yet it is clear that an international community with considerable knowledge -if not experience-of the spectre of xenophobia knows that inaction is unacceptable. The international right has made clear its disdain for art and autonomy and the architects of retrenchment are already acting to concoct the faux populisms that will no doubt emerge from an atmosphere of increasingly 'repressive tolerance.' And we know that the sad relationship between ideologies of exclusion and coercive populisms (particularly in the realm of art) is antithetical to our shared concerns. We know too that the camouflage of "resignation" - in which Haider performs strategic (should one say charismatic?) retreat from media visibility to avoid accountability for the support of the largest right party in Europe - is a ploy that cannot be ratified.
For the past two decades Ars Electronica focused its interests on the cultures of technology. As a series of events dedicated to "electronic arts and new experience S a character of incalculability, of risk, and of daring," it has devoted considerable attention to the understanding of the social reverberations of technologies in the face of the inexorable institutionalization and incorporation. In turn, Ars Electronica has been championed and sustained by a growing international community of artists, scientists, theorists, and historians. As we all would acknowledge, the willingness to responsibly confront the relationships between cultures and communities has been a consistent aspect of Ars Electronica's role in the maturing media arts. We see Ars Electronica as a platform both for the sustenance of serious approaches to creativity and as a forum to address the consequences of contemporary culture in the electronic age.
We know from the kind of support you have offered to RadioB92 and for the cultural debates in the Syndicate list (among many other kinds of support), that your commitment to the debates about social politics is well rooted. In the past months we have seen several striking events in the media sphere: sustained and costly attacks on ETOY and Leonardo, staggering mergers (AOL/Time Warner, for example) that will surely affect the communication environment of the next decades. These are among the wake-up signs that we must account for. But such urgent events in the political sphere must be countered decisively -- especially considering the disturbing reactionary precedent that could be set in Austria. For us these events are more urgent than an affirmation of bio-tech after the LifeSciences events of the past year. Yet it is clear that a critical inquiry of identity, identification, race, difference, nationalism, xenophobia, otherness, the dilemma of the relationship between universalization and particularization, are issues that link the international issues of society with those of media, bio-tech, networks, web communities, and a range of issues that are relevant to the media community.
As your colleagues, supporters, and friends, and because we realize that the situation in Austria is the sign of a global set of issues, we are compelled to respond. We feel that it is necessary to urge Ars Electronica not to be silent in the face of its international constituency and to undertake an open and persuasive re-evaluation of the events planned for 2000 in the light of what we consider a situation in which the global stakes are too great and the responsibilities and reactions of the international media community too high to ignore. We write this letter to you directly so as to offer the opportunity for reflection and a good faith response. It is a letter of support and solidarity, and as an invitation to enter into a dialogue about the possible ways of responding, a proposal to strengthen the argument that Ars Electronica is one of the most visible international platforms for articulating the social and political meaning of technology.
It would be equivocal to suggest such a reconsideration without ents lightly and, of course, offer more than our cautious objections, but our labors as well. We offer to participate in the organization of any events related to a reconceptualization of this year's events. We also propose that the Next Sex theme for Ars Electronica 2000 be replaced by broader themes like Next Steps, Next Societies, or Next Cultures, themes that decisively tackle the global issues of xenophobia, the media, technology (including bio-tech), social responsibility, and an agenda tuned to the conditions that are responsive to both short and long term analyses and strategies. We also believe that a significant portion of Ars 2000 be allocated to allow for exhibitions, performances, forums, lectures and debates concerning the politics of exclusion, the new right, the political uses of media and telecommunications, and the development of extreme resistance to the false consensus of reactionary extremists.
In solidarity and with sincerity,
and 19 other new media artists, curators and critics.
From: Gerfried Stocker
To: "'Timothy Druckrey'"
Subject: AW: concerns
Date: Fri, 17 Mar 2000 07:03:41 +0100
Thank you very much for your mail and the sincere effort you undertook for it. Please excuse that I can't take the time to formulate my position as elaborated as you did, but I want to react fast, (and English is not my favourite language.)
As you probably don't doubt we have been in very serious and resentful discussion about proper reactions to the present political situation in Austria. Already in January when it more and more became clear what will happen with the government.
And of course our first reaction was to make an emphatic and demonstrative move like changing the title and theme of the Festival. But for several reasons, after long consideration we decided not to do it. Not because we are afraid of a confrontation with the government. - (BTW we don't have much to lose, only 10% of our budget come from Vienna.and until now we don't even know whether we will get this money or not)
The main reason is that Ars Electronica is (and always was) a festival that was not only dealing with art or science but always with the social and political implications. Any of the themes of Ars Electronica has been approached from the standpoints of a strong socio-political responsibility. The lecturers and discussions at the symposiums, the selection of the invited artists provides a long list of proofs for this. Ars Electronica never has stepped back from conflicts and was always a platform for critique. Not just in the rather abstract way that one could say that contemporary art always is a political statement, but in very often in a clear and precise way. And this was not always comfortable for the organisers.
It is important to see that "Next Sex" is by far not an attempt at affirmation of genetic engineering. The questions that this theme raises are much more rooted in the discussion of the mechanisms of discrimination based on sex and gender or heredity. It will engage in gender studies and women rights, the vilification of homosexuals.
In a situation where the present government seems to replace women-rights by family-values this becomes a very serious issue.
Or as another example, look at the legal situation of IVF in countries like Austria, where it is only allowed to people who are married and not allowed to lesbian or homosexual couples. Where it is only allowed when the man is infertile but not allowed if the woman is infertile. Than I consider it absolutely worth to discuss questions. Because this are pure forms of discrimination of minorities.
It is not a question of the title it's a question of the consequence and seriousness of the discussion and a question of the approach. So our decision was to refine and intensify the relevance to the actual political situation for major parts of the festival. Thus we have already taken some measurements to integrate "special" activities in the frame of the festival.
Besides the intensification of the symposium, one obvious area for this will be open-x (the net. art format of Ars Electronica) which has been a platform for critical artists already in the past and will focus on issues like the etoy- and leonardo-case, public campaigning in the web, free media and open source etc. This is an almost natural stage for the political debates and probably more.
Another step was to change the so called "night-line" of the festival from a concert-series into a series of lectures, discussions specially dealing with issues that are addressed by the political situation in Austria. E.g. emotional instigation against immigrants and refugees, the role of the media in the "success-story" of Haider. The way how right-populists like Haider use language. This has such deep implications to the political culture but also to media- and communication culture of our modern information-society and is barely reflected until now.
Also the Thursday-Events will be dedicated to this concerns and we are working to set up a special collaboration with newspapers to improve the impact of this measurements.
So I'm absolutely sure that is the appropriate way to go, and an efficient way to create and sharpen the political discourse.
I appreciate the motivations of your concerns and requests very much and I would be very happy to discuss these issues more in detail. Especially since you expressed that you might have already suggestions that could add important elements to the measurements that we already working on.
I hope you understand and support our point, since I think it is actually very close to yours.
For now all the best
Date: Sat, 15 Apr 2000 12:31:30 -0400
To: Gerfried Stocker , Wolfgang Modera
From: Timothy Druckrey
Cc: email@example.com, Jutta Schmiederer
Our initial letter was not a reproach for inaction. Surely we assumed that the issues of the situation in Austria were being discussed and considered. Nor did we think that the broad implications of the Next Sex symposium would be limited to blank affirmations. Indeed, the issues you cite in this regard are essential in developing a reasoned and pertinent approach to bio-tech and its relationships with ideologies that reach into the very political circumstances we are concerned with.
Of course it is important that we are aware that you are not ignoring the problem and appreciate your willingness to engage in this dialogue. However, even though you cite possible "special" events for Ars 2000 (open-x, "night-line," and "Thursday events"), we would suggest shifting these events into the mainstream of the symposium. Perhaps it is right not to make "an emphatic and demonstrative" alteration of the general theme, but the positioning of critical/political responses as peripheral to the central issues seems unconvincing -- especially considering the strong public responses (and consequences) by and directed at Camera Austria, Public Netbase, and others -- no less on numerous web sites.
The only public statement that has emerged from Ars Electronica in the past months has been the announcement of the Next Sex theme. We are concerned that no debate or reconsideration is happening in public view. But it should. You certainly understand that there are already discussions (in meetings, mailing lists, and personal exchanges) focused on what appropriate actions might emerge in response to the events of the past months. These range from limited to broad boycotts to more open debates about arts policy and strategies of disruption. These debates are sure to affect artists already questioning whether they should submit work to the Ars events (particularly to the Prix Ars) as they currently understand them. We all agree that Ars Electronica's most cogent work is precisely at the intersecting point between the broad spheres of media, art, and social change. In this, you surely have to consider the community of artists in your thinking about how to evolve a way to incorporate a public response into any plans you might be considering.
We are absolutely for critical engagement and thus offer to work with you to broaden the discourse and to frame the issues in an international debate. We wholly agree that "the deep implications" and significance of events facing us are at the core of the future of communications and creativity. Thus, we want to encourage the development of a bolder response and are proposing a public and political acknowledgement of a situation that is an aspect of the so-called new order, the post cold war, in which the destabilization of identity by engineering (genetic or otherwise), by ideologists of xenophobia, by privatization and globalization (witness the strong reactions to the WTO and World Bank), by fragmentation and virtualization, is a sweeping transformation that is intensified by, but in no way limited to, the events in Austria.
It is in this area that we would like to participate with Ars Electronica and would like to propose some approaches:
1. That parallel events be planned in the context of the main symposium .
2. That other Austrian and international groups be invited to publicly participate, debate and develop cooperative, strategic, and collaborative strategies and projects.
3. That an on-line debate be immediately initiated to allow the international community an opportunity to have an active voice and to create an open environment for critical discourse.
4. Allocate and support space for exhibition, performance, open-debate, on-line initiatives focused on the situation.
Timothy Druckrey and the 19 others.