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Interview: Derek Holzer
for TML Sao Paulo
In preparation for the TML next week in Sao Paulo Brasil, I was just asked by Brasillian journalist
Alexandre Mathias to answer a few questions ahead of time, and I thought I might
present them here for your consideration, as they touch on issues I find
important to this whole TML cycle.
1) What are you expecting in relation to the Midia Tatica Brasil event next
week? Are you aware of what's going on in Brasil in terms of cyberactivism
and electronic resistance?
Quite honesty, I expect I will be learning more than I could ever come to teach.
One might think that this culture of "electronic resistance" of which we speak
is global --even universal-- but the fact of the matter is that any type of
cultural or political movement is deeply rooted in the localized culture it
springs from. Much early net.art emerged from a desire of eastern and western
Europeans to find an unmediated and effective network for communicating
discoveries about each others' worlds. More recently, however, it has become a
very formalistic exploration of the medium in Europe, and a
corperate-culture-driven design fetish in North America. In each case, but with
notable exceptions, I would say that the practitioners have been somewhat
seduced into an aestheticization of the tools of their own trade, and away from
using those tools to engage in deeper social concerns. Therefore, my own
interest in visiting Brasil is quite similar to that which took me to eastern
Europe several years ago: to see an electronic community that is still under
development, and to learn which, if any, other models are being imported and the
degree of critical thinking which goes into adopting these models.

2) Was the Brazil calling somewhat of a surprise? What are your feelings
toward the worldwide appeal of this new electronic culture?
Having been instrumental in giving the push for this Midia Tactica event from
afar, I can't claim suprise at being invited! Still, I'm quite impressed with
the coherence of the program, and certainly can't wait to hear what the local
speakers have to offer. Even in this culture of cyberactivism and cybertheory,
the cult of the "rockstar" exists. In an attempt to legitimize themselves
better, many events in countries with so-called "developing" new media scenes
over-stuff themselves with the same names who have been presenting the same work
for the last 8 years. The local voices sometimes simply get snuffed out. It's
good to see that, in this event [at least to my knowledge], the local voices are
really at the forefront. I think Brasillians have a lot to teach each other, as
well as to learn from other artists from Europe and the States.

3) What are the relations between the electronic culture, the
antiglobalization movement and the recent antiwar demonstrations all over
the world? People tend to think that's all about instant communication, but
there's a deeper undestanding...
One of the things that I think really seperates the new developments in
electronic resistance, whether to corperate globalization or massive war
mobilizations, is a willingness to meet the opponent head-on, using their own
tools and tactics against them. An excellent example of this is the www.gatt.org
site -- a fake site for the World Trade Organization which recently announced
the termination of the WTO and its reformation as an organization dedicated to
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This announcement was taken quite
seriously in many quarters, including the Parliament of Canada, where it sparked
a discussion on how this would affect pending timber sales regulations. These
kind of tactics were not only impossible for a generation or two before us, but
also would not have been considered, as the focus during those times was much
more on creating utopian counter-cultural communities which were often quickly
assimilated, coopted, disarmed or turned to ghettoes through the influence of
worldwide, homogeneous media. David Garcia and others have marked a distinctive
turning point for the cultural of resistance and its relationship to the media
in the AIDS awareness activism by groups such a ACT-UP in the mid 80s. With
their militant "out of the ghetto and into the media by any means necessary"
approach, they defined a strategy which still lies at the core of much media
activism today.

4) I'd like you to talk a little about the online radio movement and its
links with the free radio mentality that spreaded over Europe after WWII.
Since some of my first engagements with new media culture came in the form of
net.radio, I feel especially close to this movement. One of the first key
players in the net.radio scene was the Re-Lab in Riga, Latvia. To them,
net.radio was a way of establishing connections with other artists around the
world in the face of the expenses which kept them from doing it in person: visa
requirements, airplane tickets and so on (many of the same things most
Brasillians would be familiar with, I am certain...) For the net.radio pioneers
in Latvia, the communication wasn't necessarily the broadcast radio model of
one-to-many. Instead, it was a peer-to-peer network which shared audio
experiments through a close group accross east and west Europe. Participation,
rather than spectation, was the focus, with the end result often not being so
important as the communication process along the way. This, of course, paved the
way for what came after, especially the Indymedia explosion after the Seattle
demonstrations in 1999. Net.radio then took up the one-to-many (or perhaps the
many-to-many) model again, often using hybrid combinations of internet
transmissions with broadcast pirate, free, community and university radios to
spread the message far and wide. In my own experience, I saw my project in the
Czech Republic, Radio Jeleni, go from an average of 3 listeners daily to 3000
listeners during the demonstrations against the World Bank and the World Bank
during the fall of 2000. After the end of the demonstrations, when global
attention was focused on the "next big demo", listenership fell back to 3,
reflecting a momentary, but impermenant, shift from the peer-based model to the
broadcast-model. For further insight into this peer-to-peer model of
communication, I would refer you to Eric Kluitenberg's essay "Media without an
Audience", which is based quite heavily on the experiences of the early
net.radio innovators of 6 or 7 years ago.

5) What events such as Midia Tatica Brasil can do for the public
understanding of the electronic culture? For through the eyes of corporate
media, we're just a bunch of hacks, freaks and nerds, mostly worried about
individual status than "important affairs", such as politics, economy and
I have a few thoughts on this, perhaps not a blueprint but some words of advice.
First: consider your public. Much discussion happens --and is still very
necessary-- on the topic of tactical media at the "expert" level. That is, the
level of the media practitioner. These discussions should be as transparent as
possible to an interested public, reflecting the idea of a transparent media
over the closed media of the mainstream, but should never be confused with an
event intended for the general public. Discussing tactics of comunication with
the general public is NOT the same as communicating ideas to the general public.
The "end product" of Tactical Media, in my own opinion, should be just as
effective in delivering information as any other media, but should be ten times
more inviting to participation. Nothing is less inviting to direct participation
than insiders' meta-discussion, which leaves most people with the feeling that
all this electronic culture stuff is really only for the experts, geeks and freaks.
Second: keep it local. I mean this in several ways. Foreign advisors can bring
new ideas, but look what they have done for politics in Central America, the
health care systems of several African nations, or the economic transitions in
eastern Europe and the Baltics! Use them carefully and with healthy criticism.
There is an impression in many places I have visited and made projects that
people will listen to foreign ideas more receptively than to local ones. While
this may be partly true, ideas coming to Brasil from Holland, for example, can
be much more quickly dismissed as belonging to "another culture", or being
"imperialistic", or other such dismissals. On top of this, I myself have a very
limited knowledge of Brasil and its culture. What business do I have making
media for its people? Far better to provide what information and inspiration I
can, and let Brasillians make media for themselves. Likewise, the media
infrastructure of Holland and Brasil are about as different as their climate.
What works in Amsterdam --pirate radio, broadband internet, and independent,
non-commercial cable television-- may not be the ideal solution in a country
with stronger restrictions on radio, a weaker internet infrastructure and less
public money for alternative television. Finding your strengths in public
distribution, rather then relying on imported models wholesale, keeps you that
many steps further from the media ghetto of preaching only to the enlightened.
Third: stay loose. Allowing oneself to be stereotyped is equivalent to being
coopted or marginalized by the mainstream media, which eats what it can use and
shits what it cannot. The media-archetype of the "hacker", for example, is
useful because it creates paranoia. Paranoia is useful because it sells things
--everything from anti-virus software to national defense programs. Likewise,
time spent debunking myths about ones work is time wasted. To engage in a
discussion of whether or not one is a glory-seeking computer phreak rather than
a real activist, or worse yet to publically try to seperate the former from the
latter, is to use borrowed terminology and reenforce media-archetypes. Keep it
fresh, change your tactics before they get stale, refuse or subvert labels
created for you, and you will find that public reception to the unexpected is
much stronger than to the expected. Recent actions by the Critical Art Ensemble
and others in the field of biotechnology deserve note here. Who could ever
predict, much less find a suitable media-archetype for, a group of activists who
reverse-engineer genetically modify crops, making them vulnerable to the
herbicides they are supposed to be immune to? "Gene-terrorists"? "Crop-hackers"?
By the time any label sticks, the effects of the action have already been felt.
6) How is Brasil seen by the global electronic community?
I haven't had time to take a poll yet. I'll get back to you in a few years on
that one!
Seriously, I think that a lot of attention is falling on South America as a
series of economic laboratory experiments by the International Monetary Fund and
other world-governing financial bodies fail, one after the other. The World
Social Forum in Porto Allegre also demonstrated popular support on a widespread
social scale for determined resistance to global economic rule in favor of human
rights before business priviledge. My own hope is that Brasillians prove to be
just as ready to create their own ideas in the electronic front, rather than
become a marketing group for flashy design schemes from abroad, as they are on
the social front. I'll be finding out about exactly this over the following week.
Derek Holzer
Vienna. Mar 9, 2003.