|Kathy Rae Huffman on Fri, 2 Jan 1998 11:39:27 +0100|
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|Syndicate: Ostranenie report|
Dessau, Germany OSTranenie 97 5.-9. November Das Internationale Fourm Elektronischer Medien Kathy Rae Huffman (for Telepolis online Magazine www.heise.de/tp/) The 1997 Ostranenie festival videotapes and Forum sessions took place in the Bauhaus Aula, which was filled to capacity (160 persons) for most program of the festival. The central space of the festival, and the site of the famous Bauhaus architecture/design collective --which found it necessary to disband under the dictates of Hitler in Nazi Germany-- the setting was an inspiration to all. Perhaps because of this, my personal interest in video, which I have dismissed in favor of Net.surfing for the past three+ years, was renewed. It was my first visit to Dessau, and although I knew it well from the previous catalogues, had not been able to attend in former years. It is sometimes spelled OSTranenie, giving emphasis to its focus on the development of media in Central and Eastern European countries and issues surrounding the East/West Â³transformationÃ£ and the resulting cultural relationships made possible by the melting of the cold war, and the opening of borders into the east. It was a true meeting place of media artists who normally live in the grey area of their newly emerging cultural situations at home. It all began Â³smallÃ£ in 1993 as a Â³projectÃ£, according to Stephen Kovats, a Canadian who came to the Bauhaus with an architecture background for research and to lead a workshop in media art. He started the festival concept as a personal exploration to find out more about the role of the media in the Â³revolutionÃ£ against Communism (and Russian control) that began throughout East Europe during the early 1990s, making headlines around the world. With no real experience or financial support, Kovats personal energy, along with the participation of numerous advisors, has developed Ostranenie into a major international event. In the beginning, it was very orientated towards video art, as that was the experience most of the eventÃ¢s first advisors, which included Keiko Sei (Prague), Marina Grzinic (Ljubljana), and Alexander Koprin (Moscow). The event was launched with approximately 120,000 DM cash, raised from the regional and local sources, most of which was used to bring artists to Dessau, and lots of in-kind support. Inke Arns was co-director of the first event, which Kovats jokes was organized from phone booths. But, the result provided the first major meeting, a celebration so long awaited by the media art community. By 1995, Ostranenie festival applications doubled, and the money diminished almost by half. The 1993Ã¢s event clearly had revealed the spectrum of media activity going on in the otherwise invisible east. For 1995, Kovats was determined to establish dialogue between the participants. He also notes that the work itself changed in 1995, from the more professional style of well known influential filmmakers who worked in video, to a new generation of amateur artists who came of age during the conflict for independence. These younger artists had little interest in the east/west analysis, and were more curious to explore their regional turmoil, often using the media as a tactical tool to expose subtle tensions and conflicts otherwise unknown. Ostranenie became a neutral zone in 1995, a place where Croatian and Serbian artists, as well as Russian and Latvian artists (for example) could show their tapes, installations, and speak up in podium discussions, meeting on common ground with civilized dialogue about personal and political realities. The city of Dessau was also utilized in a new way, highlighting historic buildings in the former East German city with media installations and performance events. More than 500 proposals inundated the festival organizers in 1997, who really did not know what they could do, as the interest and need was far greater than the structure could handle. In a great attempt at Â³inclusionÃ£ a curatorial committee was formed, which included a number of bi-cultural representatives, and women like Nina Czegledy (HU/CA), Adele Eisenstein (USA/HU), and Bojana Pecic (YU/DE). A primary objective was to find Ã?revolutionaryÃ¢ media pioneers, and to define how the Ã?new orderÃ¢ of Europe was defining national identity. By curatorial intervention, the hope was that pioneering work in the east countries would be brought into perspective. The opening address entitled Ã?netivityÃ¢, was delivered by Dr. Lev Manovich, a Net theoretician and historian, who is professor of at University of California San Diego. Manovich referred to the Bauhaus group as an example from the 1920Ã¢s, into Â³new ways to seeÃ£, to bring art into life and in closer proximity to industry...much like the new multi-media collectives are doing today, using Art+Com (Berlin), de Waag (Amsterdam), and Anti-Rom (London) as current examples. ManovichÃ¢s research into the Ã?newÃ¢ treated the technology of computer graphics, which he finds to be a typical Ã?modernistÃ¢ idea, as it generally records the surface of things, and which easily allows for the viewpoint to be changed easily. He brought up the new resources for artists to utilize in artmaking, such as the Database as art (i.e.: George Legrady) and the website as not only catalogue but also one that can become an associative experience with links and narrative elements. There were several websites, but few examples of computer graphics at the Ostranenie festival to back up ManovichÃ¢s thesis. It was a basically a festival of videotapes. The strongest selection centered around the war in Yugoslavia. An impressive selection of video from Bosnian artists brought a new sensibility from a generation which has emerged from conflict and strife. The delegation of Bosnian artists drove two days from Sarajevo, overcoming restrictive visa requirements that severely limit their travel outside the protected borders of their newly recognized country. Their visit was made possible by funding from the Soros Center for Contemporary Art in Sarajevo, and tapes were presented in-person by Enes Zlater, Timor Makarevic, Jasmila Zbanic, and Srdjan Vuletic. These personal testaments revealed the courage of the human spirit to continue to search for humor and interest in life under the most unbearable conditions. As Jasmila Zbanic states in one of her videos, Â³...in 1996, I woke up and realized that I had survived the war...Ã£ Likewise, historic presentations and tapes from Yugoslavia, revealed both historic and new visual information from the Belgrade and Novi Sad, both active centers for the opposition since the early days of the breakup of the Yugoslav Republic in 1992. Dr. Velimir Abramovic, a scholar and historian from Belgrade, revealed fascinating information about Tesla, the inventor who he calls the father of radio, and states in his catalogue essay that TeslaÃ¢s 1989 patent for a remote-control device provides that basis for all telecommunications to follow. Dejan Sretenovic, director of the Center for Contemporary Art Belgrade, described the annual SCCA exhibition called Â³MurderÃ£ and the struggle to convince Soros and local journalists with the necessity to give artists an opportunity to reveal the human response to the war. The Yugoslav videotapes were exceptional. Presented in several sections of the festival, they included Janko BaljakÃ¢s Â³The Crime that changed SerbiaÃ£ expressed the horror of a social system controlled by Mafia thugs, and the resulting dysfunctional police and official structure. Alexander Davic showed several films and videos that document the demonstrations of the opposition in Belgrade. These works did not reveal a pathetic or apologetic point of view, rather took a clear look at the situation in the hope of bringing truth to the local audience as well as to the world. In the juried program, in a special selection of video by women, the Yugoslav artists Dragana Zarevac presented Ocaj-Le Deuil/the Despair, which uses the traditional art of female chanting for mourning as the background for media representation of the war. Biba Vickovic, on the other hand, brought personal performance art to the video medium, in her work The Democrat, which presented the alternative youth scene of Belgrade and their strong political consciousness. The two channel video installation XY-Ungeloest - Reconstruction of a Crime, by Milica Tomic, brought the historic perspective of YugoslaviaÃ¢s troubled Kosovo, from the incident there in ...... The Net projects of Novi Sad based Absolutno were presented by three members of the group, and created a full program of conceptually based theoretically sound political strategies for the confrontation of power, misused and misplaced. By incorporating the full spectrum of interests of artists from Eastern Europe, the Ostranenie festival is a special tribute to the history of this community of thinkers who incorporated life and spirituality into their art. Kovats felt it was the Â³perfect placeÃ£ in 1992, and the works of the 1997 media artists lived up to the standards of honesty, and sense of purpose that the artists, designers, and architects from the Bauhaus would surely appreciate in spirit. For 1999, Kovats will change. Why? Because the work itself has changed, and systems have emerged to link individuals and institutions outside of the festival. The Syndicate, for example, a loose group of East artists and individuals has been collected into a mailing list and informal face to face gatherings under the guidance of Andreas Broeckmann (V2, Rotterdam), and the Regional network of Soros Centers for Contemporary Art emerged since the first Ostranenie festival in 1993. Starting in 1999, the Bauhaus and Dessau will no longer be the focal place for Ostranenie, which will be moved into the next Century with a CD ROM and book, reflecting on the transformations of the opening of the East. Kovats hopes that Internet connectivity will improve substantially in the East, allowing the organization of an on-line conference which will include more than the handful from each country.