Andreas Broeckmann on Mon, 27 Mar 2000 15:14:16 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] review: Media Revolution (ed. Stephen Kovats)

Media Revolution. Electronic Media in the Transformation Process of Eastern
and Central Europe. (German title: Ost-West Internet.)
Edited by Stephen Kovats. Edition Bauhaus 6, Campus Verlag, Frankfurt/M.
and New York, 1999. 381 pp., illus. (All texts Engl. and German.) Trade,
paper 55DM / US$30 (order from <>). ISBN:
With CD-Rom: Ostranenie 93 - 95 - 97. Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Dessau,
1999. Mac & PC. ISBN: 3-910022-30-8.

[Reviewed by Andreas Broeckmann for Leonardo Digital Review ]

Ten years after the social and political revolutions in the countries of
Central and East Europe, this region is increasingly coming into focus as a
rich and diverse cultural landscape. Artistic traditions that reach back to
the modernist avantgardes and before, are being re-connected to the
modernist and post-modernist historiographies of Western Europe and
Northern America, and join the contemporary art practices characterised by
cross-cultural discourses and global connectivity.

More than anything else, the East-European socio-cultural revolutions of
the 1990s have been _media_ revolutions. The first episode started with the
often clandestine, minor media practices of the 1980s [1], exploded into
the televised demise of the GDR and Romanian television revolution in
December 1989, and concluded with Yeltsin's execution of the Soviet Union
at the end of 1991. Then followed the influx of video and computer
technology into Eastern Europe, along with the benefits and the pains of
the culture of capitalism. The second half of the decade saw the rapid
expansion of commercial television and the Internet, influencing the
perception of a region fragmenting into superficial normality, Nouveau
Richesse, Turbo Folk and Robber Capitalism. The 90s ended with the
high-tech images and networked communication of what has been termed the
'first Internet war', as bloody and as destructive as the earlier Yugoslav
wars, but monitored by a global audience glued to their E-mail in-boxes.

Throughout the decade and across the post-Soviet continent, artists were
following what happened, with their own eyes and ears, with their photo and
video cameras, documenting, contextualising and transforming speedy events
and slow changes into aesthetic experiences.

This is where the book and CD-Rom publication Media Revolution takes its
departure. It collects essays and documents artworks that span the entire
decade and that together form what is probably the richest compendium and
the broadest overview over art using electronic media and produced in
Central and Eastern Europe during the 1990s. The basis for the project is a
series of festivals and forums which took place under the title Ostranenie
in the Bauhaus in Dessau, in the former GDR, in 1993, 1995 and 1997. [2]

The three Ostranenie forums were a showcase for East-European artists
working with new media, and a meeting place for artists, curators, writers
and philosophers interested in the way in which the societal
transformations of the former Eastern Blok was being articulated in
creative media, art, and communication practices. The three VHS tape-sized
catalogues of Ostranenie -- now fully documented on the CD-Rom that comes
along with the Media Revolution book -- read like a Who is Who? of
innovative cultural practitioners and artists from a region that was, for a
decade, poised between exoticism and self-conscious attempts at normality,
and that has become one of the precarious testbeds of a globalised world
order. Texts, stills and excerpts from videos and installations, websites
and CD-Rom productions of over 500 individuals from 32 countries are
presented through an interface that is easy to use and to search -- as soon
as one realises that the main graphical elements are sliders which are
moved up and down to select categories, names and countries.

The book itself collects texts by 23 leading media theorists and historians
and ranges from Derrick de Kerckhove's essay about the role of television
in the changes of 1989/90 (the only text in the collection that is
reprinted here, all others are original contributions) to Geert Lovink's
real-time comments on the Kosovo War of 1999. Ryszard Kluszczynski, Nina
Czegledy and Keiko Sei recapitulate the development of media art in Eastern
Europe, while Miklos Peternak, Gary S. Schaal, Ivo Skoric and Kostadina
Iordanova deal with aspects of the Internet in the region, and Calin Dan,
Siegfried Zielinski, Inke Arns and Marina Grzinic elucidate some of the
cultural and aesthetic strategies that emerged from the techno-social
dispositive of the 1990s. Lev Manovich, whose new book is coming out in the
autumn 2000, has a text about Avantgarde and Software in which he compares
the aesthetic strategies of the Russian film avantgarde with those offered
by digital imaging software, and Dejan Sretenovic writes about Video Art in
Serbia [3]

It is hardly a coincidence that, ten years after the fall of the wall, this
publication project is providing such a broad overview over the East
European media art production of the 90s, exactly at the same time when the
catalogue of Bojana Pejic's exhibition After the Wall, which opened at the
Moderna Museet Stockholm in October 1999, is doing the same for the
artistic production of the region in general. [4] In his own contribution
to the book, the initiator of Ostranenie and editor of this timely
publication, the Canadian architect and cultural theorist Stephen Kovats,
explains the artistic strategie of 'ostranenie', or estrangement, that was
introduced by Victor Shklovski in 1916 and that has been at the centre of
the entire project which, in this book and CD-Rom, has now found a
convincing conclusion.

[1] Inke Arns, Andreas Broeckmann: Small Media Normality for the East. In:
ZKP4. Ed. by Nettime. Ljubljana, 1997. (URL:

[2] URL:

[3] Cf. Dejan Sretenovic (ed.): Video Art in Serbia. Belgrade: Centre for
Contemporary Arts, 1999

[4] URL:

(Berlin, 27.03.2000)

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