Electronic Media in the Transformation Process of
Eastern and Central Europe
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., Germany, and New York, NY, 1999. 381 pp., illus. 55DM/US$30. Trade, paper. ISBN: 3-593-36365-8. Also available with CD-ROM: Ostranenie 93-95-97. Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, Dessau, 1999. For Macintosh and PC. ISBN: 3-910022-30-8.
More than 10 years after undergoing massive social and political revolutions, the regions of Central and Eastern Europe are increasingly coming into focus as a rich and diverse cultural landscape. Artistic traditions leading up to and including the modernist avant-gardes are now being re-connected to modernist and post-modernist historiographies of Western Europe and North America, joining contemporary art practices characterized by cross-cultural discourses and global connectivity.
The Eastern European socio-cultural revolutions of the 1990s were primarily media revolutions. The first episode began with the often clandestine, minor media practices of the 1980s , exploded into the televised demise of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and Romanian television revolution in December 1989 and concluded with Boris Yeltsin's execution of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991. Following this was the influx of video and computer technology into Eastern Europe along with the benefits and pains of the culture of capitalism. The second half of the 1990s 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 decade ended with the high-tech images and networked communication of what has been termed the "first Internet war," as bloody and destructive as the earlier Yugoslav wars, but monitored by a global audience glued to their e-mail inboxes.
Throughout the decade and across the post-Soviet continent, artists followed what happened with their eyes and ears, with photo and video cameras, documenting, contextualizing and transforming speedy events and slow changes into aesthetic experiences. This is where Media Revolution takes its departure. By documenting essays and artworks, it forms probably the richest and broadest overview of 1990s Central and Eastern European art using electronic media. The basis for the project was Ostranenie, a series of festivals and forums that took place at the Bauhaus in Dessau (in the former GDR) in 1993, 1995 and 1997 .
The three Ostranenie forums were showcases for Eastern European artists working with new media and a meeting place for artists, curators, writers and philosophers interested in how societal transformations of the former Eastern bloc were being articulated in creative media, art and communication practices. The three VHS tape-sized catalogs of Ostranenie--now documented on the CD-ROM with the Media Revolution book--read like a "who's who" of 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 globalized world order. The CD-ROM presents texts, stills and excerpts from videos, installations, websites and CD-ROMs of over 500 individuals from 32 countries. The interface is easy to use and search, the main graphical elements being sliders that one moves up and down to select categories, names and countries.
The book collects texts by 23 leading media theorists and historians. It ranges from Derrick de Kerckhove's essay about the role of television in the changes of 1989-1990 (the only reprinted text here; all the others are original contributions) to Geert Lovink's comments on the 1999 Kosovo War. 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. 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 autumn 2000, contributes a text in which he compares the aesthetic strategies of the Russian film avant-garde with those offered by digital imaging software, and Dejan Sretenovic writes about video art in Serbia .
It is hardly coincidental that this project emerges with an overview of such a field at the same time that the catalog of Bojana Pejic's exhibition "After the Wall"--which opened at the [End Page 75] Moderna Museet Stockholm in October 1999--does the same for the region's artistic production in general . In the book, Stephen Kovats, the Canadian architect and cultural theorist who initiated Ostranenie and edited this publication, explains the artistic strategy of ostranenie, or estrangement. The concept was introduced by Victor Shklovski in 1916 and has been at the center of the entire project that, in this book and CD-ROM, has now found a convincing conclusion.
References and Notes
1. Inke Arns and Andreas Broeckmann, "Small Media Normality for the East," in ZK Proceedings 4: Beauty and the East, Nettime, ed. (Ljubljana, Yugoslavia: Digital Media Lab, 1997). Also see <http://www.v2.nl/~arns/Texts/Media/kl-ost-e.html>.
2. See the website at <http://www.ostranenie.org>.
3. See Video Art in Serbia, Dejan Sretenovic, ed. (Belgrade, Yugoslavia: Centre for Contemporary Arts, 1999).
4. "After the Wall" opened in Berlin 29 September 2000. See <http://www.modernamuseet.se>.