This work attempts to illustrate the themes incorporated in Communication Front 2000 on 'Crossing Points: East-West.' In workshops undertaken in Plovdiv in June 2000, with artists primarily from the Balkans but others from more Nordic or Eastern European countries, discussions were held on a variety of topics including communication, boundaries and transformation. The themes of frontiers falling and the changing face of the Balkan area in relation to products and capital over the last tens years became more prevalent to the work. The saturation of Western influence, be it merchandise or ideology, were paramount to our discussions and thought processes. We as a group discussed both personal and global implications of the recent bombing of the former Yugoslavia by NATO forces; the opening borders of the former Eastern-Bloc countries and the dissatisfaction that we are left with in capitalism. Many questions were posed and as a Westerner I felt somewhat ashamed of our material wealth. It was interesting for us to look at the exploitation that capitalism imposes, even in the West. It was enlightening to observe that most often we commented on 'The West,' whilst meaning The United States of America, as if we, the non-American Westerners had little or no responsibility for it.
The experience of Communication Front was one of exchange and enlightenment, with a variety of nationalities, including Americans, taking part. We learnt more about each other's cultures, personalities, creative sensibilities and habits. The intense working conditions built relationships that went far beyond our cultural and language differences, but imbued human kindred-ship and collective unease at the oppression observed in political situations that are perceived as beyond our control. How could a Web art workshop express our dissatisfaction about this? What effect would our contribution make? These are questions that we are still asking today.
My reaction to this experience is two-fold. I made friends with a diverse and engaging range of people, with whom I will continue to work on future projects. Communication Front also gave me time, space and inspiration to gather my thoughts on some incredibly emotive and complex issues, in a highly charged and creative atmosphere.
I approached the task of the project in a variety of ways, asking questions about experiences of invasion, personal or otherwise, setting up specific situations and activities to obtain materials to express my thoughts on the issues that we were all discussing.
One project obtained responses to the questions of cultural transition. I asked the participants to voice their response in their native language. These were altered by typing them using the computer keyboard layout of another language and then read aloud by a native speaker of that language. This made the results interesting and surprising, creating haunting audioscapes. The formulation of which will be worked on and made into an installation.
Being situated in Plovdiv, without familiar reference points, I was made more aware of my environment as a participant, a foreigner and a cultural tourist. Our discussions often revolved around issues of the consumerism of the West and its infiltration into the East. We could especially see, from an earlier visit the year before, how quickly Bulgaria was succumbing to the trademarks of the West. There were global corporations erecting huge holdings, and there was an increase in high-street stores selling Western products.
Materialism and waste influenced my thoughts and actions. I began by collecting items of debris - the rubbish discarded onto the floor of such a beautiful area, the by-products of this consumer culture. Waste materials that were spoiling the landscape with logos, their emblems of excess.
In the collecting of the debris, I made a conscious decision to only choose one piece per day and try to stumble upon the items in my general activities and not to go purposefully looking for particular items that would emphasise a given point. This was an act to try to avoid any overt ideological predisposition entering into the ethos of the work. I was coming from 'The West' and, I suppose, was making an attempt not to fall into the trap of patronising my host country in the same way that I felt the consumer market was absorbing the country, however inevitable this may be. I was curious to find out if the level of rubbish on the street had increased since the forces of the "open society" broke in. Or if the increase in open trade from the West had made the nature of the rubbish different. Some hints at this are discussed in the essay by Ana Peraica, in collaboration with Geert Lovink, "Con/FRONT! radio-active ideology junk [second hand truths about east and west]," which can be found on the Communication Front Web site at
In the germination of any idea, the most difficult task is to then translate ones thoughts into some practical application that may make some sense of them in a physical way. My task was actually to produce a virtual artwork, which was no less a task.
The debris collected was scanned into the computer and embedded into a neutral framework. The viewer is invited to scan the objects with a microscope icon. Whilst exploring the object, the whole image is never fully revealed and can only be seen in negative, so that each piece of debris is never received or experienced in its true, original form. The items resemble the x-ray images from the items scanned for security purposes at an airport. The 'object' is in flux when in transition from one place to another as it crosses points from, in this case, West to East.
The artwork Digital Debris conveys the idea that a subject, be it a language or material artefact or a person, may have cultural significance in one place, but this can dissipate or be substantially altered when translated into another. It is the context that alters its perception and significance.
The detritus used in this piece resonated its own sense of purpose. In its translation from waste to artwork it metamorphosed from one state into another. These items carry a whole set of meanings in one culture but their history and substance are being altered when adopted by another. These are not merely waste products from our ever increasingly consumer age in a throw-away sense, but can exemplify a migration of identity and culture across the boundaries of territory, which in turn can be reclaimed as a Westerner recognises them. Indicating that all experience is mutable.
Does the host culture take on aspects of the alien culture, consuming what it wants and then disposing of the rest, like rubbish in the street? Or does the act of consuming alter the host creating another form entirely? Are these wasteful actions inherent traits of an ideology, symbolic of the insensitive and destructive traits that are all too quickly absorbed by the receiving parties?
The representation of these ideas by technology serves as a metaphor for the way in which cultures can be mediated by various forms of translation. One can never quite become or fully understand the other, even if one learns a language. The nuances of a culture may still seem detached or foreign. This work is an attempt to illustrate that by acquisition alone, an understanding of identity cannot be fully attained or absorbed into another culture. One can only receive moments of mediated translation. Thus the experience, the meeting, transforms both items into another entity.
With this in mind I feel that the crossing point of Digital Debris is only the transition from one state to the other. By going through this transition the piece evolves from a representation of the ideas above, to an entity in itself. It has crossed over.