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 ³transformationã 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 ³smallã in 1993 as a ³projectã, 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 ³revolutionã 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 eventâs 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 1993âs 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
³inclusionã 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 �revolutionaryâ media pioneers, and to define how
the �new orderâ 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
�netivityâ, 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 1920âs,
into ³new 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.

Manovichâs research into the �newâ treated the technology of computer
graphics, which he finds to be a typical �modernistâ 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 Manovichâs 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, ³...in 1996, I woke up and realized that I had survived the

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 Teslaâs 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 ³Murderã 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 Baljakâs ³The 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 Yugoslaviaâs 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 ³perfect 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.