[iDC] Re: Interactive City: irrelevant mobile entertainment?

Anna Munster A.Munster at unsw.edu.au
Tue Aug 22 21:15:43 EDT 2006

Steve, John and others,

I'm glad that you, Steve, took the time out to interact with this discussion
and to add some of your comments about the background and intent to some
of the projects and themes you worked on. I think this is important
information to have because, in fact, it can be then passed on, informally
to others in terms of organisational and process 'notes'

Without wanting to detract from the fact that you and Joel and many,many
others obviously put a great deal of work into the event (and I have been
involved in conference organisation and know that it's long, hard and
thankless), I still think you have to take account of the fact that many
people who went to this year's ISEA and 01 Festival think it didn't work.
This is evidenced from: this and other list discussion, everybody I ran
into commenting upon this while there and various blogs. It's ok for
something not to work. You should also be aware that there were many
individual events and particularly curated aspects that did work, were
The point is why did it not work overall and how can things change toward
something more productive in the future.

It didn't work NOT because you didn't put a huge amount of work into it.
It didn't work for all the reasons that people have been speaking of on
this list:
- irrelevant or not completely articulated and worked through themes.

- a general sense of experiencing the relationship to the city of San Jose
and its space and architecture as dislocated, nonlocated, delocalised. And
while you list various projects that did try to work with place and
community this did not come across as a major experience for many who
participated over the 7-10 days.

-a sense that too much was trying to be achieved in too many disparate
spaces. That's a case of being over-ambitious and obviously
Less things more tightly drawn together might well remedy this. People do
not need to be constantly entertained but rather thoughtfully provoked.

-a sense among many artists and thinkers and cultural producers that there
are terribly more urgent issues at stake right now and that there is
responsibility from a critical, artistic community holding any event in
the US now to foreground these issues: imperialism/empire/nonempire,
war/ethics, technology/military, poverty/human rights,
precarity/labour/illegality, paranoia/regulation/deregulation,
fundamentalism etc etc...

I also believe that this is the creative responsibilty of a country such as
Australia right now and pointed to the Sydney Biennale as an example of
another lost opportunity in this area.

I did not expect ISEA to be smooth, slick or perfect. I expected chaos and
the rough and ready...However what I primarily took away from the event
overall was a kind of disconnected emptiness. Unfortunately I did see a
kind of biennale structure being emulated and this is quite possibly an
effect of the scale of the projects ISEA is trying to achieve. In the
Pacifc Rim summit the point was made a number of times that small-scale,
localised participation in relation to locale can often be more successful
an experience for participants. I have to say I agree.

As for John's comments about the devolution of Anglo-American societies
toward fascism at the moment - yes, I couldn't agree more. I certainly
don't exempt my own 'nation' from that either. I returned to a whole bunch
of news reports about outbreaks of anti-semetic and anti-islamic graffiti
and desecration of mosques and synagogues throughout Sydney. We are just
as racist a country and it is State sanctioned racism similarly buffeted
by organised fundamentalist religions.

But what I did really sense from going to the US (and this is not the
first time - I spent about 3 months in NY in 2004 during the period Steve
Kurtz was arraigned and have been back and forwards many times b4 that)
was the very deep level of militarisation of every aspect of civilian
life. To me this is fundamentally frightening and the most obvious sign
that we have moved headlong into neofascism...what is to be done,
socially, culturally...has never been a more pertinent question...

Best Anna

> your comments strike deep at the fundamentals of the developed world
> and the US in particular.  As an American who left the US back at the
> height of the "War on Drugs" -- a time which left the lasting legacy
> of mass incarceration of minorities over the last 20 years -- when I
> returned for visits, and now, after a full year in the US -- it is
> very difficult to articulate the whys of the transformation of the
> society, yet it proceeds.
> At any rate, I think it is still true that whatever particularity you
> confront in the US, there are many contradicting alternatives.  Some
> hidden, some disguised, some in the process of morphing from one form
> to another.  Creativity is becoming the enemy of those in power.
> Fear is the primary instrument for them to maintain control.  Many
> people here are afraid (of the Other).  This is an evolution of State
> which has happened historically in other places.  I personally see
> this condition as a demonstration of how the Nazi regime gained
> control of the German state with no substantial protest from the
> population.  The identification of the Evil Other was a critical step
> in that process.
> You are observing the results of this evolution.
> Amurika has always identified itself by its opposition to the Evil
> Other -- and in that comes to severe crisis when there is a hint that
> there is no Evil Other, only the self in the mirror.  So it hunts for
> an image to lean against for its own self-worth.  A fundamental
> psychic problem.
> I essentially empathize with your observations.  And admit that it
> can be that Empire is indeed rotting to the core.  Just look around
> at the infrastructure there in San Jose.  Imagine what the US
> education system, public infrastructure, health services would look
> like if they received an infusion equal to that spent on bombs, guns,
> and other killing devices in the last 4 years.  Splendid.  But the
> cynical leaders are stealing the country blind in every sense --
> morally, spiritually, physically, psychically -- sowing fear instead.
> I would have liked to talk with you f2f about this situation in San
> Jose -- I find it helps to speak with people who are not directly
> subject to this surrounding social system -- to begin to articulate
> what is happening here.  It is frightening on one hand, and on the
> other, it is simply the de-volution of this empire, and nothing else
> should be expected in the trundling, crushing, passage of beast into
> the historical pantheon of Empire.   It is not normalized for people
> who are still capable of feeling, though feeling in this system is a
> contradictory and challenging prospect.   As the Canadian filmmaker
> Bruce Elder observed:
> "The darkening of the world, the flight of the gods, the
> transformation of humans from flesh to metal, the spread of the
> hatred of fertility and creativity are all processes that have gone
> so far that they sometimes seem irreversible. They have proceeded so
> far that we no longer even remember what was lost in forsaking our
> humanity, and are unable to gauge how far we have declined."
> The most radical action against this process is the facing of the
> Other and engagement despite the fear of that unknown on through to
> understanding.  That can happen on a 1-2-1 basis, actually HAS to
> happen at that granular level for the re-volution, re-velation, and
> creation to proceed!
> Cheers
> John
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Dr. Anna Munster
Senior Lecturer,
Postgraduate Co-ordinator
School of Art History and Theory
College of Fine Arts
University of New South Wales
P.O Box 259
NSW 2021
ph: 612 9385 0741
fx: 612 9385 0615

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