Report from RAM2: A Joker in the Global Bunker Workshop
Feb 5-9, 2003
By Jonah Brucker-Cohen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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In the frozen city of Oslo, Norway, over twenty participants from more than ten countries met for the second RAM (Re-Approaching New Media) workshop. A European Union (EU) project, RAM is focused on providing a meeting point and international network for artists, technologists, designers, media activists, and academics to engage in critical discourse about their respective fields. RAM2 centered on the theme, "A Joker in the Global Bunker", or how local and global media art practices can impact people regardless of location, economic condition, or cultural biases.
The first day included introductions from the various participants as well as a few presentations. Some participants included the Belgrade duo of SKART (Dragan Protic + Djordje Balmazovic), who's projects range from giving out coupons for emotional experiences on the street to handing out tags that represent people's sadness. Other attendees included LA-based artist, Michael Mandiberg who sold all his belongings online in a coup against ecommerce sites, Leon Cullinane (UK) a self-proclaimed "anti" campaigner and street stencil graffiti artist, and Jane Suviste (Estonia) who's work in theater focused on the idea of expressing joy through creative performative interventions. All participants spoke not only about their art and practice, but also about their involvement in the larger context of local and global by emphasizing the communities surrounding their work.
Afterwards, Jorgen Svensson presented "Public Safety", a site-specific art project from four international artists in the small town of Skoghall, Sweden where each artist was asked to engage with the people of the town. The projects ranged from Svensson's introduction of two American police officers into the small town, to Paco Cao's instantiation of himself as an art piece by trying to cross the border into Sweden as an object. After introductions, Katherine Moriwaki (USA), who's work focuses on wearable technology and fashion interventions in public space, and Jonah Brucker-Cohen, who builds projects about creative applications of physical networks, gave presentations at the Oslo National College of the Arts.
The first day of discussion covered topics in response to the previous day's presentations. One focus was on art creation within specific contexts and communities. These projects exist not only as art but also as strategies for survival and engaging the public. For instance, the SKART project "Warning Kit" included a series of custom designed street signs for Belgrade of people running from dropping bombs. Made as social protest and to engage the public, the project allows for subtle interventions into urban landscapes. In addition to art being made, funding issues were raised that centered on questionable tactics of potential monetary sources. Is it art if corporations use it for personal and commercial gain? Although rarely the case, perhaps the solution is to provide grants for artists without any kinds of conditions or expectations.
On the strategic design front, Spanish designer Victor Vina argued for systems of connection where the art exists as way for others to convey their messages. Examples included interactive installations and web-based projects that provide a toolset for creative intervention by the general public. Paula Roush (UK/Portugal) argued for art practice divided into the two worlds of Nicholas Bourriaud's "Relational Aesthetics" which sees art related to the culture at large and site-specificity where sites exist as provocative spaces for new work to exist. Despite the attempt to engage in critical debate, the mood was much more focused on accessibility in art and how new forms of art distribution allow for culture jamming on a large scale. But does culture jamming work when exported to other countries? Jane Suviste pointed out that in Estonia, people have trouble accepting contemporary art and find more of a messy event that disturbs their everyday lives. In this case, new models of engagement with the public are needed.
The second day began with five minute "pitches" where presenters outlined a framework or project they were involved in that could be open for future collaboration. Pitches included Barcelona-based artist, Vanni Brusadin's "YoMango" (translated as "I shoplift") street action performances which included an improv fashion show where participants dressed in custom designed clothing and paraded around the Ramblas. Software interventions included Paula Roush's presentation of CoyBot,net, a stock market / corporate boycott 3D visualization that showed relationships between brand boycotting and donations to cultural institutions by organizations being sanctioned. Atelier Nord's Atle Barcley presented his biomatic.org/tactival.virii computer virus that details the recipe for a computer virus that can strike specific targets including corporate networks. Despite it's tactical focus, participants thought that by giving the virus a humorous slant like having flowers cover your desktop when infected, its message might be more effective.
Following the pitches, discussions centered on responses to the idea of "Tactical Media" and how it can be applied to art practice on both local and global scales. The term itself stems from the introduction of cheap video equipment and guerilla broadcasting up to recent revolutions of cheap electronics that enable people as producers instead of consumers. In today's world, tactical media might be the digital age's version of sit-ins from the 1960s. Some concerns were raised by RAM2 participants about the idea that independent media often has an exclusive or independently focused audiences which exist as a minority. The trick is to combine media with creative interventions where planning and actions can co-exist. Maybe the focus should be on what we are for, not what we are against. In the art world, the utopia for showing work exists as a "white cube" like space where context is flushed from artistic expression. Through public space interventions and site-specific work like that presented at RAM2, public assumptions of the perception of art can begin to change.
As the workshop concluded, new connections were made between artists working across disciplines and media. Those participants who's context for creative work might have seemed self-involved opened up to new possibilities of future collaborative and public artistic interventions. In this sense, RAM2 not only provided a meeting point but also served as a catalyst for action and contemplation into new forms of expression. Despite concerns that the structure of the three day workshop inhibited some people from participating, due to extended group discussions, the overall consensus seemed to rest on the theme of democratization of media and practice. By sharing expertise, knowledge, and experience in creating work, the possibilities for future collaborations seem endless.