Opening and closing remarks – I guess they still hold some relevance, even if from 2001:



Copenhagen 3 – 5 October 2001
Conference proceedings

By Pia Vigh

Ladies and Gentlemen

On behalf of CultureNet Denmark I am very happy to welcome you all to CULT2001.

CULT2001 is – to our knowledge – the first forum of its kind to bring together policy makers, artists, practitioners and theorists in such a wide range of disciplines; disciplines embracing areas of communicating the cultural heritage on the internet, state of the art technology and projects, and internet based artworks, netart.

The interface or intersection is of course ‘new media’ and new ways of media use.

And the purpose for crossing the points of these areas: digitized legacy, cutting edge technology and netart, into a line of notes and sessions at this venue, is our wish to argue new strategies for dissemination and cooperation on the internet. This argument will allow us the necessary outlook for future possibilities and positions.

Since 1997 CultureNet Denmark has functioned as a gateway to Danish culture on the internet. And along with the established cultural institutions CultureNet Denmark has been actively working with projects digitizing and communicating cultural legacy to a broad net audience.

In concert with our good colleagues in Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Finland Culturenet Denmark has also created a platform for Nordic netart, n2art, hence working closely together with netartists and curators of netart.

And next month CultureNet Denmark will release a very ambitious interactive story called “The Soldier in the Backyard”, using cutting edge technology as well as making use of state of the art tools for dissemination.

As an institution we have learned significantly from working concurrently in the areas of institutional establishment and more anarchistic playgrounds. As individuals we have benefited greatly from counting administrators of traditional organizations as well as unconventional avant-gardes and techno nodes among our colleagues and inspirational partners.

Working in this mind field – sometimes felt to be a minefield – what we have missed has been an opportunity to reflect the experiences and the inspirations in-between these fields of production and communication of culture on the internet.

We are convinced of the importance and the value of critical dialogues linking the experiences made at the frontier of new media and new media culture and the knowledge of preserving and presenting cultural assets.

CULT2001 is your opportunity for critical dialogue and exchange of knowledge for inspiration.

To CultureNet Denmark CULT2001 is a chance to unfold the incredible richness of our work field.

And working in this wide field of cultural history and new media I have often been asked questions like:

“If – in the early years of the cinema – works of the Danish film director Carl Th. Dreyer contributed to the definition of film as a medium. If Marcel Proust can be said to have invented the modern novel, if Picassos paintings suggested a new understanding of visual art …

Why haven’t we seen the netart equivalent of “The Passion of Joan of Arc”. Why isn’t there a “Remembrance of things past” or a “Guernica” challenging and reconstructing the aesthetic order of new media or new media art?”

I stand here before a very unique gathering of expertise, knowledge, and experiences. Now I have the opportunity to pass on the question to you, net artists, curators of established arts and cultural institutions, media people and curious agents of culture.

So, where do we find the cultural expressions or results of new approaches to internet communication?

Where are the highlights of the cultural heritage of tomorrow?

The answer to this question you will know by tomorrow afternoon.

New media represents a constantly shifting frontier for experimentation and exploration. While new media are understood in terms of course of the older media that precede them, they are nonetheless freed, at least to some extent, from traditional limitations.

Having to figure out how new tools work, calls for innovation and encourages a kind of beginner’s mind. New media attract innovators, trendsetters and risk takers. As a result some of the hottest creative minds spend their time hacking around with new technologies that we barely understand. We need to connect and interact with these designers of the future.

Because of their newness, new media are slightly beyond the effective reach of established institutions and our bureaucracy. Netart is a case in point. While museums started to catch on to the internet as an art medium in the last years of the nineties and began to collect, commission and exhibit net-based artworks, most artists who interest them actually made their names outside the gallery-museum matrix.

This reluctance of establishment and the freedom of the netart come at a cost. Galleries and museums serve a very important interpretive function. Museums have the qualifying ability to focus the attention of critics and audiences, to situate the artwork in a historical context, to allocate time and space for us to experience the work itself, and – not least – to preserve and protect what will be the cultural heritage of tomorrow.

Even so we are also faced with the paradox, that the internet is the perfect tool to bring down all hierarchy and bring art and culture directly to the audience. Neither the artist nor the art institutions or the viewer have the limited roles of the past any more. What role are we to play, then, as institutions, as artists, as audience?

Art – and in a general sense culture – has always been bound up with new technology, and artists have always been among the first to adopt new technologies as they emerge.

Still, it sometimes seems, that the technological frontiers of art making and communication of culture is a frontier the institutions of arts and culture fear to tread.

Working with state of the art technology, creating, developing and implementing state of the art projects, may be one way of paving the road to the cutting edge of dissemination on the web and use of new media as a tool also for production.

At least it is our experience that state of the art projects can serve as a gateway between the risky inventions of new technology and new media and the sound and approved paradigms of the establishment.

The present Artnode exhibition opened yesterday evening in connection with our reception at the National Gallery setting an interesting example.

Of course some technologies seem to hold significantly more promise for artists and culture than others, hence a critical dialogue becomes all the more important, even if the newness of the new media makes it particularly difficult to discuss.

Do we have a common language between us, when discussing areas of cultural heritage on the internet, cutting edge projects and netart? If not providing the language, I hope CULT2001 will provide the platform for discussion.

In his short story “The Aleph” Jorge Luis Borges has major difficulties describing his encounter with an inexpressible phenomenon, an Aleph.

Lacking adequate words he depicts the Aleph as an occurrence, as “one of the points in space that contains all points.”

And he continues to name the phenomenon as “The only place on earth where all places are seen from every angle, each standing clear, without any confusing or blending.”

In lack of a clear definition, perhaps Borges’ portrait of the Aleph can serve as the metaphor embracing internet as the liquid media of communication, distribution and production of culture.

Mathematically speaking an aleph is the symbol of transfinite numbers. Where math meets philosophy it is the symbol of any part being as great as the whole. Perhaps also a symbol of the very fractal logic of the internet as a protocol for communication.

An Aleph is “One hell of an observatory” – Borges finally and despairingly states. A century earlier and in a very different context Kierkegaard talks about ‘an observatory of premonition’.

All language is a set of symbols whose use among its speakers assumes a shared past. To many of us the language of the new media and in particular netart is the Babylonian tongue of convergence and foreign notes.

Netart as an undefined field provides unconventional points of view as a key part of its poetics. And it does so because of the convergence between media and expression proving the argument that communication technology has always been a powerful tool of culture; a carrier and facilitator of digitized culture as well as a developing device for media art.

When computed with creative technological innovation synthetic digitalization, digitized images for example, are not just inferior depictions of our reality, but realistic representations of a different reality.

The purpose of CULT2001 is then to explore this different reality. In our two days together we hope to question and challenge new strategies of dissemination and collaboration as they present themselves in the various contexts of digitized legacy and netart. We hope to transcend the fact that to begin with we may find it difficult to speak and understand the same language.

I am confident that our keynote and session speakers will serve as inspiring interpreters and provide us all with very useful information and eye opening encouragement on the matter. And I am positive that – unique in their approach and in their points made – their papers will be of interest to all of us as we range from academics, artists, working with technology or within traditional cultural institutions.

So I will finish my welcome to you all by inviting you – together with our tour guides – to enter this exiting field, this observatory of premonition.

Pia Vigh


By Pia Vigh

Listening to the keynotes and sessions speaks of yesterday and today, I think it is safe to summarize that the internet is contributing – perhaps more than any other technology – to the challenge and redefinition of areas such as economy, collaboration, ownership as well as to dissemination and production of culture.

If characteristics of old media are the one way communication, new media qualifies by depending on interaction between the provider – the artist, the museum – and the user, the audience.

Earlier today we heard professor and artist Klaus Peter Dencker, Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Hamburg, saying:

“When the boundaries of space, time and communicator fall away, we lose the fixed points which limited the system, such as here and now, you and me, start and finish.  Communication itself becomes the object of communicating.”

The popular understanding of new media identifies it with the use of a computer for circulation and exhibition, rather than production. If we are to understand the effects of computerization on culture as a whole, this understanding is almost certainly too limiting.

It would be logical to expect cultural forms and forms of dissemination of cultural heritage on the internet to eventually adopt the conventions and experience of netart, the vehicle being state of the art technology.

There is no reason to privilege the computer as a machine for the exhibition and distribution of media over the computer as a tool for media production or as a media storage device. All have the same potential to change existing cultural languages. And all have the same potential to leave culture as it is.

Recalling Howard Rheingolds keynote the last scenario is unlikely, however. What is more likely is that just as the printing press in the fourteenth century and photography in the nineteenth century had a revolutionary impact on the development of modern society and culture, today we are in the middle of a new media revolution – the shift of culture to computer-mediated forms of production, distribution and communication. How shall we begin to map out the effects of this fundamental shift?

Perhaps by taking the stand point of the receiver, the user, the audience.

The Baudelairian flaneur was characterized as one who wanders about aimlessly, a voyeur, a wanderer, and an observer.

In William Gibsons novel “Mona Lisa Overdrive”, an aleph is a big chip which can store a huge amount of information through which one is racing without ever stopping to have a second glance.

Perhaps the average audience of digitized legacy and netart stand halfway between Baudelaire’s flaneur, the disinterested, artistically inclined surfer of the modern world, and Gibson’s data cowboy who zooms through pure data armed with data mining algorithms.

Perhaps we take the same standpoint?

Yesterday I put forward the question:

“If – in the early years of the cinema – works of the Danish film director Carl Th. Dreyer contributed to the definition of film as a medium. If Marcel Proust can be said to have invented the modern novel, if Picassos paintings suggested a new understanding of visual art …

Why haven’t we seen the netart equivalent of “The Passion of Joan of Arc”? Why isn’t there a “Remembrance of things past” or a “Guernica” challenging and reconstructing the aesthetic order or the media of netart?

In short: Where are the highlights of the cultural heritage of tomorrow?
The answer is as predictable to some of you as it may be provocative to others of you:

We have seen it! The question should instead be: distracted observing or alertly surfing – have we recognized it?

The future is longer than the past and in order for us to be able to recognize and appreciate, to preserve, to express and communicate, to provide the needed critical context for new art forms on new media, we cannot remain scanning either the Baudelarian or the Gibson way; we have to be able to precisely navigate and operate the field of new media. And the critical dialogue among the agents of new media and culture is the decisive tool for our ability to maneuver in this mind field – minefield to some.

We hope to have contributed to this critical dialogue. We hope CULT2001 has served as a stage for netartists, for new media agents and heritage sectors to converge and debate the issues surrounding the expression of heritage content through the vehicle of state of the art technology.

We hope to have provided you a glimpse of the Aleph – be it the poetic vision of Borges or the breathtaking hallucination of Gibson.

Thank you.