jelena vesic on Sun, 6 Nov 2005 05:36:30 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> De Appel:Amnesia or Arrogance?

<in response to tjebe van tijen's post about radiodays project>

On the occasion of preparation of radiodays book

When I think about radiodays today [and this is the project that
demands a lot of re-thinking, as it was so big and challenging in the
terms of organization, with its 150 participants and wide range of
topics and approaches] I often turn back to the very sharp and
emotionally charged critique that we - the curators of the project -
received from the radio activist and media artist Tjebbe van Tijen ...
Perhaps this is so because we never responded to it. In the meantime I
also analyzed our silence, but the only explanation I could find for
this was the amount of work we were exposed to as curators at the
time, as participants in the program and organizers simultaneously
[the text in question was posted to nettime at the very beginning of
the project, which was continuing over April and ended beginning of
May]. Nevertheless, although this engagement was overwhelming and
engaged all of our capacities, in the more discursive perspective it
might look trivial and perfectly epitomize the title of van Tijen's
text - "Radiodays in De Appel = Artistic Amnesia or Arrogance?".

Van Tijen's dispute refers to the rich history of pirate radio
stations in Amsterdam, their experimenting with radio space free from
the burden of broadcast tradition and commercial interest, and
finally, their persecution by local or state authorities, or different
ways of assimilation into more controlled structures. Radiodays
curators were accused of "dancing on the grave of free radio history"
[because they failed to refer to the history of Amsterdam community
radio in their curatorial statement and announced radio program].

I see it as a bit difficult to find my placement within this text.
Being one of the radiodays curators, I am no doubt one of the accused
macabre dancers, but on the other hand I share Van Tijen's views of
assessment the ill fate of free radio stations in Holland. There is a
similar history of very sophisticated and smart mechanism of
assimilation of critique into institutional sphere within the arts
world as well, but, then again, hardly any results would be achieved
by this public melancholia about the "previous" or "before". Instead,
I find much more reasons to contemplate and discuss this historical
experience in order to think, in as constructive and effective way as
possible, in relation to the cultural [or media] industry of today.

What bothers me in Tjebbe van Tijen's text is the fact that as the
object of critique, following van Tijen's description and comments, I
can hardly recognize radiodays - the project I did together with 5
other curators: Rael Artel, Kathrin Jentjens, Claire Staebler, Huib
van der Werf, and Veronica Wiman. In a way, this situation appears to
me as Don Quijote's war against windmills, not a neutral act , but
rather strong political metaphor. But radiodays was not a windmill,
that is, a metaphor, it was a real project that grew up in and out of
real circumstances, founded on concrete framework, and its development
was complex and transgressive in many ways. I think that Tjebbe van
Tijen hasn't paid attention to the idea of context (and to the real
framework of radiodays) we the curators were referring to. So, I'll
say something about that.

A starting point of radiodays was blind-dating the curators of
different views, perspectives, ideological orientations, experiences
and backgrounds, who were supposed to realize a project together, in a
short period of time. That was a conceptual and structural framework
which was part of Curatorial Training Program at De Appel. The usual
result of this annual program was an art exhibition. At the very
beginning we faced all the problems of collective authorship, as we
were not a collective (group of people gathered around the common
ideas and dedicated to those ideas) but rather a team of people who
were set to manage the project. We didn't want to accept this
passively and as a given fact, and that was one of the reasons we
changed the conventional and static gallery format for the radio
format The radio is  time based and consequently more open for a
fusion of different contents and contexts [we expanded the space and
made it more democratic and negotiable, in a way], and finally more
discursive and confronting. A lot of programs were constructed as live
events, and through this attempt we generated different aspects of
sociability. Discussing the exhibitions such as Moscow Art Biennial or
Collective creativity by WHW curatorial group from Zagreb [where the
former was a good example of curatorial blind - dating that resulted
in miscommunication of international curators with local intellectuals
and local context, and the later was exploring collectives and groups
in relation to the notion of individual authorship] we also examined
and reflected upon our own position [not in order to be self
referential, but to refer to the set of problems induced by certain
politics of art]. And we brought out a number of different topics
related to radio, art and public sphere: sound/radiophonic/radiobased
art; authorship/copyright/distribution;
modernity-socialism-utopia-sovereignty; public
sphere/demonstrations/collective performances/ usage of body;
citywalk-psychogeography, and others. Every day was bringing a
different thematic [we played artworks, music, and introduced new
topics for discussion every day], and that's what the title radiodays
is referring to, the proposal for the day [not to the Woodie Allen's
movie]. We used radio as a communication tool in a very utopian way -
in a way that radio can create a link between here and elsewhere, to
establish a communication responsive in both directions. The idea to
create a temporary radio project and to mediate and maintain such an
intense, diverse communication and dialogue was based on certain
naivety and enthusiasm. I believe it had produced effects in some
people's minds and that we didn't create only the utopian dreamworld
or our own playground.

	We were also analyzing the constellation of public and experimenting
with the classic participant-observer relationship imposed by existing
systems of observation in a gallery space. In collaboration with the
artists Laurent and Pascal Grasso, as well as with association
Apsolutno, we transformed the gallery space of De Appel into radio
studio and listening room [space for collective listening, performing
the program and observing the program in the process of making with
possibility to comment on it] and a radio archive, a place where users
could search, sit and read. Both spaces were not arranged as
architecturally ergonomic, utilitarian for the purpose and
comfortable, but were accentuating moments of observation, of
listening and using the information. Program was broadcasted on FM
107.4, Amsterdam city area, and webcasted on, and we
dubbed this activity "exhibition on air".

But, [and here I speak on the grounds of my personal impression of the
results of radiodays] the project was not very successful as an
attempt to play with the backdrops located between the sphere of
participation and the sphere of observation. Although we had an open
studio and situation of collective listening in the actual space where
the program was performed, and also a webstream with a possibility to
post comments on our website, nobody really responded in a subversive
(creative, unexpectable) way, the public was just too passive and too
gallery-obedient. It made me think about "empty offers", because it
can be that staging of the studio and archive spaces and filling the
program by already scheduled and attractive contributions maybe
produced spaces of difference and feelings of non-equality among the
audience ... or maybe it induced the "reality show" effect. But, on
the other hand, the situation was pretty much transparent and clear
concerning this openness, and different from classic commercial radio
strategy of open space where, for example, public is supposed to call
and give their opinions in conversation with presenters [of course, in
that case power relations are unambiguous]. Radiodays project has many
participatory aspects. As one of examples I'll mention a nice piece
that we realized for the opening day, which was fully performed by the
audience. It was 5 hours long performance of One million years by On
Kawara, where public was invited to sit for a moment in a studio cabin
and read the numbers with a full concentration. This, collectively
realized, amateur performance was directly broadcasted and webcasted.
At the same time, the performance we started our radio program with
was functioning as a statement of how we spend the time in relation to
the value of one minute in commercial radio stations. We also had one
unexpected statement of AGF - poetess and musician from Berlin - who's
act closed the opening day, that I latter on liked to interpret as the
two possible perceptions of radio: background noise, or  foreground
presence that requires certain attention and voluntary participation.
While the public was a bit lost in the mix of opening celebration and
performative atmosphere in one moment during her performance and as a
part of it, AGF said that those who don't want to listen to the music
can now leave the space and continue to chat outside. I think this
statement was not imposing the rules of behavior, but rather referring
to the specific nature of the work, which was not designed to be
entertaining in the classic sense ... and for us it functioned well as
a statement very close to our own usage of radio ...which today [as
Ligna radio group from Hamburg mentioned in one text] is not more than
a background noise.

SO, Radiodays was our "modest proposal" to the both curatorial and
radio practice, and to the practice of mediation between artists,
theorists, radiomakers, musicians, amateurs and professionals, and it
was an attempt to open relatively closed art space a bit, to negotiate
with arrogance and to fight with amnesia. The two works I mentioned
were just a few percent of the very diverse content we broadcasted for
over a month. I don't have an urge to defend the project, and there
are probably many possibilities to approach it in a very critical way.
But there are no reasons to observe radiodays appearance exclusively
through the history of free community radio. Considering radio and
community relations, radiodays could be seen as a community, or a
neighborhood radio in the broader perspective. Our working space
[which turned to be more or less a living space for some months during
and around the project] was one floor above, and a lot of people used
to hang around and later collaborate with us in making the program and
bringing more people. Radiodays was community-based in the same way
the international blogs are community-based, because it was an
international project and it's community aspect was based on sharing
the same obsessions rather then same location. Therefore, I think that
 the series of dichotomies such as community-non/community,
pirate-official, local/international, are very broad and general, and
relate to radiodays in a very broad and general way. Radiodays was not
 a militant political radio, and its political effects are limited by
the possibilities of art itself . With or without some or all the
elements of a free community local radio in Amsterdam, of which most
of us knew very little before entering the project, there are many
aspects of radiodays (some of which I mention in this text) on which
the evaluation and critique ought to be based.

At the end, and referring to Tjebbe van Tijen's objection that
radiodays was safely positioned within institution that failed to
recognize media talents in the past I would say that we should not
necessarily observe an institution as an ivory tower, because it is
built as a public sphere, which is never static and homogeneous. I
think that radiodays project produced interesting model of positioning
within the frame of institution and established a creative and
debating platform.

For anybody interested to explore what was happening in Amsterdam
during April, there is an overview of the whole program and audio
archive of all the broadcasts available as MP3 streams/downloads at The program is Creative Commons licensed.

Jelena Vesic


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