From 1-14 June in Plovdiv, Bulgaria
For the third year, the curators Dimitrina Sevova, Alain Kessi and Emil Miraztchiev together with the ArtToday Foundation, Plovdiv present
Communication Front 2001, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
/project of electronic and media art and theory/
At the Center for Contemporary Art in the Ancient Bath, Plovdiv and the ArtToday Lab, Plovdiv
From 1 to 14 June 2001
Under the title: Cyber and my sp@ce _ Netizens and the new geography
General background on CFront
CFront 2001 <http://www.cfront.org> is the third edition of the curatorial project Communication Front and, like the two previous years, is an international event oriented towards the production of works and analyses on a concrete topic, chosen to be directly relevant to the concrete situation of the Internet and media art and culture community, raising critical questions of immediate concern to that community. This year, we chose to focus on the relation between cyberspace and physical space and the ways new communication technologies structure one and the other, and specifically how they influence the art and culture community.
CFront is a platform consisting of three approaches, a Theoretical Meeting for developing ideas relating to the development of new media and cultural politics in the region, a Working Seminar for producing a Web site presenting and developing further the results of the discussions in the Theoretical Meeting in the form of texts and art-works inspired by the discussions, and an exhibition closely linked to the topic of the Theoretical Meeting.
CFront purposely avoids having festival or conference character, taking a critical stance to what Tapio Makela, Susanna Paasonen (both Finland) and Steve Bradley (USA) have called "media tourist" (http://www.cfront.org/cf00/workshop/tourist/index.html), namely "experts" travelling from town to town, from country to country, to present one and the same lecture to different audiences. As opposed to this, CFront includes the participants in a work process, in which new ideas and analyses, and Web-oriented works, are developed in collaboration. The concrete contacts between the participants over the period of two weeks allow us to build on the experience of each and on the results of previous projects and networking efforts, and to prepare the way for further networked activities and bring important discussions a step forward.
The discourses and ideas developed in the context of CFront are closely linked to a continuous international process. While being firmly anchored in the reality of Bulgarian and South-East European electronic and media art and theory, the project is tightly embedded in the European and world-wide media culture environment. CFront stands in a line of international projects with similar working and networking character, like Geert Lovink's temp.media.lab in Helsinki, with the working meeting "The Future State of Balkania" (October 1999, http://www.savanne.ch/balkania), or his Hybrid WorkSpace, which took place during the Documenta X (1997) in Kassel, the MoneyNations project that started in December 1998 at Shedhalle in Zurich (http://www.moneynations.ch/) and then developed into several working meetings in different countries, the series of working seminars and festivals OSTranenie at Bauhaus Dessau (1993-1997), Lina Dzuverovic-Russell's and Lisa Haskel's tech-nicks project at The Lux Gallery, London, that lasted for four weeks in summer 2000 (http://www.noaltgirls.org/tech_nicks), and numerous others. A number of such projects are presented in "The Hybrid Media Lounge" (http://www.medialounge.net). Descriptions and reports on projects similar in structure to CFront can be found in the archive of the Syndicate mailing list at <http://www.v2.nl/mail/v2east/>.
The Regional Context
Although Western curators and critics, the Art World with a big A, developed some interest in Eastern European artists in the 90ies, this has remained rather limited, and does not easily give these artists opportunities to realize themselves in this context. The net.art and media art community, on the other hand, has developed a broad network of contacts also in Eastern Europe, which has given rise to opportunities for collaborations on a variety of levels. The medium of the Internet and the less institutionalized functioning of the media art community provides opportunities for more even participation of artists, theorists and writers regardless of their geographical location.
To this day, for a large part of the art and culture community in Bulgaria and the region, the access to the international Internet and media art and culture community has remained limited, due to problems of access to technology, but also a lack of knowledge about possible uses of these technologies, and a lack of local context in which to develop ideas and work, and of international contacts to facilitate their integration in ongoing projects.
To overcome these barriers, there is a need for international events like Communication Front in which artists, curators and theorists from Bulgaria, other Balkan countries and the world at large meet and develop common perspectives in concrete collaborational work around current and important problems and questions, with which discussions and ideas on these questions are advanced in an international context of media art and culture and of the information society.
"Cyber and my sp@ce _ Netizens and the new geography"
The personal computers, e-mail, World Wide Web can be seen as tools with which to achieve a given set of tasks. More important however for our discussion is that in combination they give rise to what we can call a digital revolution, and open up an entire new social (virtual or cyber) space, with a whole variety of social groups with their respective codes of behavior. The driving forces for the development and structuring of this space are the rising power of technologies, the standardization of communication protocols, including the worldwide spread of English and the Latin alphabet, and the restructuring and decentralization of production and marketing processes by large international companies.
The corporate cyberspace (company Intranets) exerts a powerful pressure on the structuring of the public cyberspace. The rise of e-business, e-advertising and e-services reconfigures fundamentally the virtual geography. Search engines like Altavista have modified their way of sorting search results to give preferential treatment to business companies as compared to the average personal home page. You either pay, or your page becomes less visible.
Can we find, in virtual geography, structures similar to cities, to neighborhoods, or other structures known from physical space? To what extent do the Web communities, consisting of users attracted by commercial portal sites like Yahoo, GMX or MSN/Hotmail with free e-mail and other services, show characteristics similar to those of a city or neighborhood? It may be interesting to note that the digital `cities' build up around market needs, much like the physical cities of the middle ages.
The term Netizen (from Net & citizen) was introduced back in the mid-70ies, at the time of the first Usenet fora and long before the World Wide Web would give access to the Internet to a broad audience. The Netizens of the time debated the freedom of speech, the development of the Internet and perspectives for the future of communication. In 1980 the MacBride Commission to the UNESCO <http://www2.hawaii.edu/~rvincent/mcbcon1.htm>, named after one of the leaders of Netizens, prepared a special report on the future of communication. In the report titled "Many Voices _ One World", the commission criticized the unequal access to information, which in practice leaves the countries of the Third World without a voice. The commission demanded a free flow of information.
A large part of the world population (as well as of the Balkan population) are `PONA' _ People of No Account. They have no access to the Net, or if they do, they have insufficient knowledge about it to use it. They form what Olu Oguibe has called the `digital third world' <http://camwood.org/springer.htm> (see also <http://eserver.org/internet/oguibe/>). The Internet, in its development, ignores local interrelations and jumps over borders. How will the relations between Netizens and remaining `PONA' pockets in various locations develop?
If someone from the Balkans, or another `PONA'-dominated region, has a personal access to the Net, does that automatically make her/him part of the Internet community? How does the lack of a supporting (sub-cultural) environment influence her/his possibilities for contributing to an innovative development of the Internet community?
Robin Bloor extends the meaning of the concept `PONA' to include people who do have access to and knowledge about the Internet, but who access it through Internet Cafes and other anonymous access providers. A typical example of this case is hackers. How will people escaping identification be considered by other Netizens? How might mechanisms installed to prevent anonymity and activities considered as suspect turn into instruments of censorship that could, among other things, place restrictions on art projects?
In the interactive `jungle' of cyberspace, on mailing lists such as Syndicate and nettime and a variety of smaller lists, that have formed like global neighborhoods around people with a common interest in media culture and Net practices, important questions about the development of the cultural, artistic and social environment in cyberspace. Such fora provide artists, theorists, writers and others from Eastern Europe with a feeling of community, with a way to interact socially while escaping the structures of the local art scene.
Is there a private space on the Internet? What could private space mean on the Internet at all? Maybe closed chat rooms can be compared to hotel rooms that provide the coziness of a temporary rented `private' space? How does the illusion of private space, through personalization of public cyberspace pioneered by e-commerce giants like Amazon, affect the relation of people/clients to cyberspace?
Given that the Internet never sleeps and has no opening hours, how does this time regime affect Internet users and the Net community as a whole?
How do people use communication technologies (and thus fill them with "sense" or "meaning"), and how do technologies influence and change people?
The focus of CF01 on space and its structuring allows references to historical discussions of women's movements in the 70ies on relations between the (private) personal and the (public) political spaces. How have the radical changes in recent years, under the influence of new technologies and means of communication, affected the relations between urban space, cyberspace, working space, personal space, as well as, in parallel, the relations between people among themselves and between people and technologies. How do gender relations express themselves on the Internet? What kind of professional and social hierarchies can be found? What is the effect of voyeurist projects breaking the taboo of the personal space? Does the gendered hierarchy between client and service personnel get carried over from physical into cyberspace?
The different parts of CF01
The exhibition "Cyber and my sp@ce"
This year's CFront exhibition presents multimedia installations by women artists. The exhibition opens on 6 June in the downstairs exhibition space of the Mexican House in the Old City of Plovdiv, where the theoretical meeting and working seminar are taking place. It will remain open until 21 June. We hope that by organizing an exhibition of women artists' works in the context of an international project like CFront we can contribute to overcoming the isolation of Bulgarian and South-East European women artists, to creating a context in which they can further develop socially critical art practices, and to legitimizing feminist approaches.
The theoretical meeting
In daily round-table discussions and work in smaller groups (5 hours a day), the participants will develop new ideas on relations between people and technologies and social changes under the influence of new technologies, and texts to be published online and in book form bilingually in English and Bulgarian. The working language for the seminar is English.
The working seminar
Taking up ideas from the round-table discussions, the participants will develop web-based artistic projects (texts, sound, artworks, software) in a common process, while developing at the same time an integrated interface for the web site. The working language of the seminar is English.
The accompanying program of public lectures
In daily evening lectures, the participants will present to a local audience their work and experience in the field of media culture. A special emphasis will be put on discussions after the lecture. The lectures will be in English, with consecutive translation to Bulgarian.