Browsing, Blogging, Tweeting, Tagging Cultural Journalism in Flux World Traveller with Sketchpad: Cosey in India | Swiss Game Design in San Francisco | CoNCa: Fresh Breeze on the Catalan Cultural Scene THE CU LTU RAL MAG AZ IN E O F PR O H E LV E T IA, N O . 5 6 , ISSU E 2 / 2 0 1 1
Cultural Journalism in Flux
With drawings by turns humorous and whimsical, cartoonists Ruedi Widmer and Philippe Becquelin bring cultural journalism to life. 6
The Rapidly Changing World of Swiss Culture Sections Culture sections in Swiss media have changed. They now focus on people and events rather than content. By Pia Reinacher.
So Who’s Going to Read All This? The age of Internet journals is over. Nevertheless, in recent years certain blogs have brought fresh life to cultural discourse. By Christoph Lenz
None of Your Friends Like This The new Internet recommendation systems are superior to traditional reviews and critical pieces. By Kathrin Passig
“The revolution has made the people braver and more critical” Cultural journalist Gamal El Gamal hopes that the emerging democracy movement will revive stifled debates about culture. Gamal El Gamal in conversation with Susanne Schanda
The Internet: No Competition Literary and arts critics in the classical culture sections need have no fears about the future of their profession. By Thomas Steinfeld
C ONTE NT 2
LOCAL TIME San Francisco: Gaming between Technology, Science and Culture By Bettina Ambühl
Shanghai: The Attempt to Find a Universal Language By Stefanie Thiedig
World Traveller with a Sketchpad By Janice Pariat (text) and Ankur Ahuja (photos) 36
PRO HELVETIA NEWSFLASH Swiss Stagecraft, Experimental and to the Point / Conversations about Arts Outreach / Applications for Grants: As of 2012, Only in Electronic Form / La Ribot in Southern Africa
PARTNER PROFILE CoNCa – the Council for Culture and the Arts in Barcelona By Cecilia Dreymüller
CARTE BLANCHE New Role for the City Theatre By Carena Schlewitt
GALLERY A Showcase for Artists “Signs and Wonders” By Christoph Schreiber
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Browse, Blog, Tweet, Tag In this edition of Passages, we take the pulse of cultural journalism, a profession changed by the economic crisis and the success of the new media. Jobs have been downsized, culture supplements have been cut and newspaper sections combined. At the same time, the supply of information about culture on the Internet is flourishing, indeed running rampant, and every newspaper with a care for its reputation is online with blogs and other features. Browsing is a thing of the past: now itâ€™s all about googling, blogging, tweeting and tagging. Anyone who appreciates the punchy opinions of freelance bloggers or wants the review of last nightâ€™s theatrical premiere served with breakfast, who enjoys spending time in digital debating rooms and loves the fantastic abundance of multimedia online culture magazines is ready for a turn on the information superhighway. And all this despite the fact that we effortlessly find what we never sought amidst the endless wealth of the worldwide web, and often do not find what we were really seeking. We need help orienting ourselves in the jungle of ever more numerous cultural agendas and PR texts if we are to locate what makes it truly worth our while. In this issue, Christoph Lenz forays into the thick of online cultural information and presents a variety of pages that matter. Authors Thomas Steinfeld and Pia Reinacher are certain that the classical culture section will continue to hold its own in future despite increasing competition from the Internet, since the readerâ€™s need for critical consideration of issues of culture and society is not simply going to disappear. In contrast to the fast-paced and entertaining Internet, the newspaper culture section boasts its qualities as a reliable source of information and a forum for social reflection. One place where the new and old media fruitfully enhance and support each other is Egypt, where, as cultural journalist Gamal El Gamal explains in the interview printed here, the new media have made a decisive contribution to the process of democratization. Now he is hoping they will breathe new life into stifled debates on culture. The cartoons by Ruedi Widmer and Philippe Becquelin, created especially for our issue, demonstrate just how amusing, and occasionally grotesque, the turn in cultural journalism can be. Janine Messerli Managing Editor, Passages
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A Question of Culture Reporting on culture has changed enormously in recent years and today is more lively and multimedia than ever. In this dossier you can read about why the culture section continues to hold its own contrary to all the eulogies. Discover the lighthouses on the culture-blogging scene and find out more about the Internet machines that know so much more about our cultural preferences than our friends do. And a trip to Egypt offers insight into cultural journalism in a country on the road to democracy.
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he news was like an insult to long-established culture sections in German-speaking Switzerland: at the beginning of May, Schweizer Monat, of all magazines, a small and not very wealthy publication that is nevertheless rich in tradition (until its recent relaunch, it was Schweizer Monatshefte) announced its new literary supplement. Literarischer Monat is intended to combat complaints about the shrinking of Feuilletons, or culture sections, in so much of the print media. This is certainly a bold move by the magazine’s young editors – even if some of the wonderful interviews, columns, correspondence, essays, and reviews generated a contributor’s fee of no more than a bottle of whisky. But one year earlier, the renowned German daily Die Welt had already heralded a turnaround in the rampant reductions of culture sections by expanding its literature section, as did the magazine Focus a short while later. For some time now, the NZZ am Sonntag, with its Bücher am Sonntag supplement, has also been betting on culture to expand its reach.
political changes are immediately reflected in the cultural pages, as in their politicization after the 1968 revolution, or the effect of German reunification after 1989, when even the Swiss culture section became an arena for political debate. Recent events like Fukushima or the Arab Revolution have shown how established the cultural pages now are as a platform for political and philosophical reflection: it went without saying that such discussions took place in the culture sections. Secondly, there is a close correlation between culture sections and the economic situation. During the golden years of the nineties, the cultural pages were euphorically expanded here in Switzerland as much as they were elsewhere, while everyone came back down to earth with the economic, financial and banking crisis that started in 2007 – which led to the firing of editors as well as a new struggle for less and less space. Thirdly, the influence of the new media on the culture section has been considerable, as has the by now easy-going hybrid behaviour of media consumers. The print media extend or supplement their Between politics, economics own cultural offerings online, and the new media where interaction with cultural themes is made conAll this was preceded by a sumer-friendly with such steady shrinking of culture Contrary to all of the eulogies, the culture lively visual and interactive sections (as much in the Swiss media as elsewhere) in the first elements as photo portfolios, sections in the Swiss media have decade of the twenty-first cenvideos and blogs. Many pubnot shrunk – but they have fundamentally tury, as a direct result of the lishing houses have an inchanged. They now focus not on dependent group of online economic crisis after 11 Sepcontent but on people and events. The cultural tember 2001, the bursting of cultural editors who compete the economic bubble and the with their own print culture journalist of the future will be a flexible subsequent collapse of pubeditors – all of which is acproducer who knows how to take advantage of lishing revenue. Mostly, the companied by anxiety-driven a variety of media channels with agility. end of the traditional elite culinternal power struggles for the cultural high ground in ture section took place here without a whimper. Many edisuch houses. By Pia Reinacher torial boards managed their This is exemplified by budget and personnel cuts disTagi-Newsnetz, whose culcreetly, as the superb special supplements on events in the worlds tural reporting can also be read on the Internet sites of the Bund, of art, film, theater and literature quietly disappeared in the search the Berner Zeitung and the Basler Zeitung – which does end up for ways to save money. The media revolutions over the last few encouraging a dangerously boring cultural uniformity in the years have been significant, and even in the culture section, the German-speaking part of Switzerland. In the course of a day, the most prestigious part of the media, nothing has been the same. “Newsnetz” takes at most three articles from the Tages-Anzeiger Everything is in flux: the identity of the culture section, the job print edition – but the mistrust is greater the other way around. descriptions of its editors and journalists – and most of all, con- Online texts rarely find their way into the cultural pages of sumer expectations. the associated print media, which are too defensive in this respect. The development of the culture section since its creation Finally, traditional cultural editors are increasingly becoming “below the line” (that is, in the bottom half of the page) around visibly “dynamized” and “democratized” by such effective niche 1800 has been influenced by three fundamental factors. First of all, platforms on the Internet as www.perlentaucher.de, www.literatur-
The Rapidly Changing World of Swiss Culture Sections
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kritik.de, Krimi-Couch.de and www.nachtkritik.de (just to name a few). These are increasingly competing with the traditional culture section.
Even a quick glance at recent studies of thematic preferences shows that readers are as interested in cultural themes as ever. A 2009 Univox study showed that a good 60 percent of those surveyed had a strong preference for the treatment of cultural themes in the media â€“ more than were interested in domestic or foreign politics. Analysis of the content of the most popular daily newspapers in the German-speaking part of Switzerland is also telling. In his 2006 study Kulturberichterstattung der Deutschschweizer Tagespresse (Cultural Reporting in the Swiss German Daily News), the media scholar Dino Nodari may have shown that cultural texts continue to feature more and more illustrations and that a larger number of short texts now appear alongside a smaller number of longer articles, but he also found that the preference for traditional categories remains. The Zurich media scholar Heinz Bonfadelli came to the same conclusion in his 2008 study Kultur-
Readers actually are interested in culture Itâ€™s no surprise that all these influences have fundamentally changed the identity of the Swiss culture sections. Still, it must be pointed out right away that the traditional intellectual culture section is in no danger of disappearing. The culture section still provides a recognized forum for a society to assert and challenge itself, while also helping its members to understand their positions in a fragmented world. Beyond that, competition in the media still appears in the culture sections today. Culture lends prestige to publishing houses and editors-in-chief â€“ a distinguished culture section is a decisive element in the construction of a reputation.
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berichterstattung (Cultural Reporting): since the 1980s, cultural reporting in the broad sense and the culture section in the narrow sense have not gotten smaller, but in fact have very clearly expanded. In the culture section, Bonfadelli adds, the emphasis is still on traditional elite and high culture, with the classic review at the core of such reporting. In his 1998 study Feuilleton für alle. Strategien im Kulturjournalismus der Presse (Culture Section for Everyone: Strategies in Cultural Journalism in the Press),
streams of commuters as a melodic live event halfway between art and everyday life. A radically different job description
Borders are now blurring everywhere – with good and bad sides for culture. Distinctions between reporting, reviewing, PR, marketing and consumer advice have vanished in cultural journalism as much as they have anywhere else. These days, what with the time pressure caused by reduced budgets and staffs, more journalists than one would These days, what with the time pressure caused by like have begun to write their pieces using reduced budgets and staffs, more journalists than one prefabricated PR fodder from the cultural institutions themselves. Everybody is cutwould like have begun to write their pieces using ting and pasting as much as they can. Exprefabricated PR fodder from the cultural institutions cellent background documentation, comthemselves. Everybody is cutting and pasting as bined with Internet research, make it easy much as they can.The traditional figure of the critic, for journalists to get information extremely quickly and to don an air of expertise in a broadly educated expert in his field coming to their articles even when they have no serious conclusions in his ivory tower and communiknowledge of a subject. The media’s targetcating them in beautifully written sentences, group mentality often turns cultural jouris thus dying out. nalists into writers of advertising copy. No effort is made to categorize and comment on cultural events – people are happy to Gernot Stegert had already predicted that the concept of culture sugarcoat their half-competence by appealing to the primacy of would radically expand and described how the traditional culture communication over criticism. Still, the disappearance of journalsection canon was already being extended into such areas as eve- ism that has an agenda is actually good for culture section readers. ryday culture, lifestyle, or fashion and clothes. In the absence of space, the emphasis is on over-arching topics, central questions of significance and the establishment of focal The end of text-heavy news points. And journalists don’t get lost in the discussion of ephemAll these findings cannot disguise how scholarship, by nature, is eral events as often as they did in the past. always somewhat behind the rapid changes in the media. The Swiss These trends will only grow stronger as change continues to culture section, both in the major national press and in the re- dominate the media world. With the increasing production of gional and boulevard press, has been subject to another surge of journalistic “content” distributed on all media channels by the popularization and personalization in the last five years. The pro- newsrooms of the editorial offices, as well as with “multi-channel portion of cultural reporting in the media may not have decreased publishing”, the job description of cultural journalists will itself at all, despite the frequent claims to the contrary. But cultural re- radically change. The traditional figure of the critic, a broadly edporting has shifted its focus and is still looking for a new identity. ucated expert in his field coming to serious conclusions in his ivory This structural transformation applies both to the boulevard press tower and communicating them in beautifully written sentences, and to the elite media: it is more obvious than ever that culture is is thus dying out. Even now, there is not enough new blood. The primarily dealt with in easily readable genres like portraits, inter- “new” cultural journalist will be a flexible producer who knows views or announcements of forthcoming events. As a result, the how to deftly play all the channels of the media. emphasis is on cultural actors rather than on the content of the So there are two sides to everything. But one thing is certain: works. Individual events are celebrated, and the newspaper’s ser- in the Swiss media, the culture section is livelier than ever – if in vice role is emphasized. Culture is also now being presented in a ever changing ways. For the reader, this is surely no problem at all. more entertaining, lively and tangible way by the elite culture sections – the age of text-heavy pages is definitively over. The difference between low and high culture already broke down long ago; even boulevard and quality journalism have begun to mix easily. A Pia Reinacher is an author, literary critic (Frankfurter completely successful experiment in this field was Swiss Televi- Allgemeinen Zeitung, Weltwoche) and lecturer in sion’s 2007 broadcast of Die Zauberflöte auf 2 Kanälen (The Magic culture and media at the University of Zurich. She is on the board of MUELLER Consulting&Partner. Her most Flute on 2 Channels), in which the audience could zap back and recent publication is Kleider, Körper, Künstlichkeit. forth between the stage and what was going on backstage. And Wie Schönheit inszeniert wird (Clothes, Body, Artifice: then there was the monumental 2008 production of La Traviata How Beauty is Staged), Berlin University Press 2010. in the Zurich train station, where an opera was staged between Translated from the German by Andrew Shields
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n any given Monday: around 10 million blog entries ing world for over eleven years. At the portal’s core is a daily press are posted worldwide. Hundreds of thousands of cul- roundup, which brings together the main topics from the most tural consumers broadcast the discoveries and disap- prestigious of the German language newspapers’ culture sections pointments of their weekends over the internet. Tens (including that of Swiss newspaper the Neue Zürcher Zeitung) of thousands of Twitter users post links to newspaper into a short, concise package. A book roundup with reviews, and articles. German book publishers alone send almost a thousand a media ticker, also appear daily. The online archive of this portal, Twitter messages. Dozens of papers reference hundreds of blogs. which was awarded the Grimme Prize in 2003, holds over 30,000 Tweeters blog articles. Writers of lead articles tweet blogs. Blog- book discussions, all of which are freely accessible. Numerous gers article tweets. And then there’s Facebook. intellectuals, writers and renowned cultural producers write for On any given Monday, we might ask ourselves: so who’s going Perlentaucher.de more or less regularly, amongst them Jürgen to read all this? Habermas, Imre Kertesz and Götz Aly. However, Perlentaucher. According to an estimate by BlogPulse, a seismograph for de is above all a recycling plant. Here, things that have already the Internet, there are around 150 million blogs worldwide. The been published elsewhere are processed and edited quickly invention of the online diary in the mid-nineties marked the and simply. This is the reason the magazine has been engaged in shift to Web 2.0, the interaca rights debate with the tive Internet. Since then, this Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeiform of digital communicatung since 2007. Signandtion has pluralized ad infisight.com is the Englishnitum. Every attempt to get language blog set up by an overview is hopeless; every Perlentaucher.de, and this is just as active in the disattempt at ordering it a presumption. People talk about semination of European litan ocean of data, a mine of inerature and culture. formation, a multi-media junEurozine.com also acts gle. All these concepts reflect as a pivot between the “old” the basic position of humanand “new” media. This online kind in the digital universe: magazine links up over 75 Yes, of course, Internet diaries are yesterday’s the Internet has become an of the leading European culnews. Anyone with their finger on tural publications, including inhospitable place. The metathe pulse today is on Twitter and Facebook. phor of surfing – an exciting, Du from Switzerland, and Despite this, there are around 150 million the French Revue Internaweightless rush down the face of the data-wave – is long tionale des Livre et des Idées. blogs worldwide. Most of these just add to the gone. Anyone who dares to It also makes a selection of Internet’s white noise, but over the enter the net in spite of all current articles from these last few years, a select number have brought this, moves quickly, quietly magazines available to its fresh life to cultural discourse. and purposefully. users. The central feature of Below is a presumptive attempt to order them. Yes, the culture-blogging Eurozine.com is a broadly scene does have its lightconceived and politically engaged concept of culture. houses, providing anyone who By Christoph Lenz has an interest in culture with A visit to Transcript-reuseful information quickly and view.org is also to be recommended. This is a web-based reliably. They also offer readers a guarantee that they will not only find what they are searching literary journal, which appears several times a year in German, for (after all, that’s what Google is for), but also, and much more English and French, and has the financial backing of the Euroimportantly, that they will find things it would never have oc- pean Union. Here everything turns around questions of the native curred to them to search for. The new, the unknown, the worthy, and the foreign, and the journal sounds out the geographic and the important. The following introduces a few of these interna- linguistic peripheries of Europe. The special editions are always tional, national and regional lighthouses. The selection is incom- impressive, featuring for example the literature of Macedonia, the Basque region or Latvia. plete and random – but it is, at least, a start. Only four years after its launch, Nachtkritik.de has estabBetween analogue and digital lished itself as a permanent feature of the German-language theaAmongst the Internet’s most important cultural platforms, there tre scene. This theatre magazine utilizes the time advantage that are many that stand at the interface between analogue and digital the Internet has over print media: once a show has premiered, you media. Perlentaucher.de is one example. This online magazine can read about it on Nachtkritik.de the very next morning. Rehas been reporting on literature and culture in the German-speak- views of performances are illuminating and well-founded, both
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critically and technically. Over 50 authors visit 20 or more premieres every weekend throughout Germany, Austrian and Switzerland. On top of this, press roundups give a reception to the views of other theatre critics, and the site’s blogs also pursue current debates. The use of guest authors from all over the world ensures the platform is connected to international theatre discourse. Amongst the most prestigious art blogs, Artlog.com is undoubtedly worth mentioning. This is an important online magazine in which text articles, interviews and videos stimulate engagement with contemporary art.
general direction of Alain Bieber, the founder of the art, culture and politics blog Rebelart.net. Federalism on the Internet
Even Switzerland’s blog scene can hardly be summed up, and representing it here are two music portals and a general culture blog. Norient.com, based in Bern and written in German and English, can claim to be one of the most influential forums for global underground folk music. It somehow manages to bring everything together under one roof: blog, online magazine, digital debating chamber, academic exchange, videos, sound clips and much more. Blogs by established media It also maintains a constant reference to world events. So when Beyond these free platforms, almost every media house, journal Arabic youth came out onto the streets in protest recently, and daily paper that wants to be taken seriously has its own pro- Norient.com featured portraits of the Arab musicians whose songs fessionally-written blog. It’s worth noting that these publications, blared from transistor radios at the demonstrations: rappers, rockoften steeped in tradition, with their titles and prestige, will also ers and avant-gardists from Yemen to Morocco. stand behind the articles they publish solely on the Internet. The The platform 78s.ch from Zurich is another very successful equation generally applies here, that the more weight accorded example. Originally started as a blog about the Swiss music scene, to culture in the primary medium, the higher the quality of the this magazine has now undergone a huge expansion. A new musiculture blog. And if you read Der Spiegel, Le Monde Diplomatique cal treat awaits visitors every day, and the authors keep a very close or the NZZ, you will also appreciate their blogs. eye on national events in pop and rock music. Last autumn, the An excellent example of this category is the literary blog multi-media culture magazine Neuland-mag.net also got off to The Book Bench, from US magazine The New Yorker (newyorker. a hugely promising start. Using reportage and columns, mix tapes com). This is an exemplary combination of the advantages of on- and photo galleries, it addresses the political and cultural state line journalism with the elevated standards that derive from a of the nation – sometimes sardonically; sometimes with deadly seprestigious title. The discussion of books here is more agile and riousness. versatile than that of the printed edition, often also more couraLast but not least, tribute should be paid to the regional blogs. geous, more personal and humorous – all before the magazine’s These are generally characterized by greater proximity to the producers of culture themselves, and often do excellent work in communications and networking. To name a few: Kulturteil.ch, Yes, the culture-blogging scene does have its lighthouses, a blog for Central Switzerland; Kulturproviding anyone who has an interest in culture StattBern, established under the umbrella with useful information quickly and reliably. They also of the daily paper Der Bund; Kulturkritik. offer readers a guarantee that they will not only find ch, a site for the Zurich area maintained by the Zurich University of the Arts; Valaiswhat they are searching for (after all, that’s what Google mag.ch for the francophone canton of Valis for), but also, and much more importantly, that ais; Schlaglicht (http://blog.bazonline.ch / they will find things it would never have occurred to schlaglicht) for Northwest Switzerland, them to search for. and Saiten.ch in Eastern Switzerland. The blogs belonging to the magazine L’hebdo (such as Bonpourlesoreilles.net), amongst printing presses have even been started up. And what is written others, follow cultural events in the west of the country. While alhere can be read, with a few days’ delay, not just on blogs, but also most all regions control their own online platforms, there is hardly in newspapers’ culture supplements and literary journals all a single blog with a focus on the country as a whole. It’s a wonderful irony that even the new globalized multi-media jungle, where around the world. There is also opinion leadership on the Internet. For the last borders no longer exist, is still presided over by our old friend: proseven years, the writer and journalist Pierre Assouline has been vincial thinking. voicing his opinions regularly, under the umbrella of the French newspaper Le Monde. His literature blog, La République des Livres, and other blogs on cinema, theatre, art, photography and politics can be found at www.lemonde.fr / blogs /invites. The high- Christoph Lenz, born in Schaffhausen, works as a cultural quality, multilingual online offering Arte Creative should also be editor at the Bern-based daily newspaper Der Bund. He neither mentioned here: this is divided into pop culture, art, film, design blogs nor tweets, but does occasionally write postcards. and architecture sections (http://creative.arte.tv), and is under the Translated from the German by Ruth Martin
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here is no indicator of sympathy as reliable, as free This is not limited to recommendations in your circle of friends. of illusions, and as incorruptible as music. You are Most reviewers say little more than whether they liked or disliked what you listen to, or what you have listened to. And the objects under discussion, garnished with references to their if someone has listened to all the wrong things for cultural proficiency. If they try to justify their judgements of taste, years, then nothing can be done,” wrote Frank Schäfer such reviewers cannot distinguish them from ex-post-facto rationin Ich bin dann mal weg. Streifzüge durch die Pop-Kultur (I’m alizations of their own private reactions. Even here, the utility of out of Here: Rambles through Pop Culture). If I am quoting him the review for the reader is limited. here, it is not because he is especially wrong, but because he found Cultural discussions on the net and on paper largely serve such an exemplary way of stating a belief most people surely have, purposes that are rapidly getting less and less necessary. Even a whether consciously or unconsciously: our friends like the same few years ago, it was still hard to learn about any new things at all things we do. and to find suggestions about whatever you might be interested This belief is almost completely disconnected from reality, in. Such needs, once catered to by reviews, shops and lending as becomes clear when you use the various networking tools that (all narrowly limited by the space available to them), are now have become available on the obsolete. The scarcity of inforInternet in the last few years (admation about cultural products mittedly only after Schäfer’s book has become a surplus. Publicawas published). Before the Intertions that draw attention to new net made me realize it, I had had things and evaluate them according to a reviewer’s judgeno idea how little I shared with my friends in matters of taste. ment are being replaced by techIf you’re a teenager, Schäfer is nological alternatives that make certainly right: you and your it easier for individuals to put friends discover bands, films or this surplus to use. authors together, so your preferVinyl artifacts and nose-flute ences and theirs run parallel for solos a while. The illusion that this is Who needs critics these days? The book still true for your whole life is a Systems for producing individand film tips offered by the Internet bit of wishful thinking derived ual recommendations take two recommendation systems are far superior from how we prefer to talk about general forms. One option is to than anything a film critic, bookseller where our interests are the same identify similarities in products, rather than about our discrepas on the online radio Pandora, or Facebook friend could ever offer. And they ancies. It’s not that my taste in whose employees use several dispel the illusion of being part of books, films or music is so rehundred genre-specific criteria a cultural community with the same taste. fined that nobody wants to share (such as whether vinyl noises it with me; in many ways, in can be heard or whether there By Kathrin Passig fact, I swim right in the middle are prominent nose-flute solos) of the mainstream. But even the to sort every new recording by friends I largely agree with still hand. The film platform jinni. have interests so hard for me to understand that I have given up com generates similar results by automatically evaluating movie any hope of predicting what they will like and what they won’t. reviews. But most providers are betting on “collaborative filtering”, that is, having users identify commonalities themselves. This Increasingly useless cultural tips assumes that the users either have their consumption habits All this has consequences. Last.fm, an Internet-radio site that tracked automatically (as is the case with last.fm) or provide their gradually responds to the listener’s taste, has made it clear to me own evaluations. The more data the recommendation software just how inaccurate my ideas about now much I agree on matters collects, the more precise it gets. Most such offerings distinguish of taste with my circle of friends were. Ever since I began using it, between friends (that is, the users you know personally or feel I have stopped giving CDs as gifts. I believe even less than before congenial towards) and neighbours – the people you actually have in the whole point of recommendations, reviews, top-ten lists, or something in common with when it comes to films, books or muTwitter and Facebook appeals to “read / watch / listen to this now!” sic. There is little overlap between the two groups. I have also tried to make fewer recommendations myself and to But outside of insider groups, little is unknown about the solend books to people less often (although the latter is almost im- phistication, extent and economic significance of such systems. By possible now anyway, given the current spread of e-book technol- 2006, a third of all sales on Amazon derived from the company’s ogy). The damage is slight, for our recommendations and loans to own recommendations, and in the same year, the online videofriends are largely favours we do for ourselves – for the recipient, rental service Netflix established a one-million-dollar Netflix Prize they are rarely as useful as we want them to be. for the improvement of Cinematch, its recommendation software.
None of Your Friends Like This
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The goal was to make recommendations ten percent better; three years later, the prize money was paid to an international development team. As reliable recommendations help keep customers using the service for more than just a few months, the new software presumably earned Netflix more money than it invested in the prize. (I hate to disappoint you, but in case you immediately want to start using these services, neither Netflix nor Pandora is available outside the United States. I am only discussing them here as examples of how such systems work.) Nothing original from the machines, please
but in our heads, and the software developers have to decide whether to give users what they secretly desire (namely more of the same) or to confront them with new things and thus risk having them switch to the competitors, who will give them less obscure recommendations. We have to get used to two things: our quite private preferences can be predicted by the behaviour of other consumers (as is
Most reviewers say little more than whether they liked or disliked the objects under discussion, garnished with references to their cultural proficiency. If they try to justify their judgements of taste, such reviewers cannot distinguish them from ex-post-facto rationalizations of their own private reactions. Even here, the utility of the review for the reader is limited.
“But what about lucky finds made while wandering around a bookstore?” the critics complain. “Computers will always only recommend the same things to us, while good friends and experts occasionally suggest things that could expand our horizons.” I assume that such criticisms do not derive from actual use of recommendation software; they must feed on chance encounters with it – or perhaps they are just purely theoretical. I, for one, cannot confirm this impression from my own experience. For a long time, last.fm tried to get me interested in reggae despite my insistence that I was not interested in it, yet my musical preferences actually have clearly shifted in several years of last.fm use (though still not towards reggae). Shortly after I signed up for the movie-recommendation website criticker.com, when I had about thirty film evaluations under my belt, the site surprised me by recommending the South Korean director Kim Ki-Duk’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring. This film had nothing to do with my previous evaluations, and nothing to do with my usual movie preferences, either, which usually revolve around zombies and lots of blood. Years earlier, I had chanced to see Ki-Duk’s film in a sneak preview and had been quite excited about it at the time, so the recommendation was actually right on target, even though it was far-fetched. Yet the objection that software-generated recommendations are too conservative is made in almost every non-technical discussion of the topic, presumably for three reasons. The first is wishful thinking: machines are supposed to be unoriginal and limited, while people are supposed to be irreplaceable. Secondly, many of the tools (above all, Amazon’s recommendations as to what you should buy) do in fact adhere closely to what the user already knows and likes. Perhaps Amazon has not put as much money and developmental time into its tools as Netflix has, but perhaps it is intentional. Thirdly, after all, we usually ignore the very recommendations that could expand our horizons – all the ones we cannot categorize at a glance. If I had read a summary of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring, I would never have watched it. The only reason I know that that particular recommendation happened to be just right for me was that I had already seen the movie. I am absolutely sure that I have rejected many other tips that were just as good. The conservatism is not in the machine,
the case with last.fm or Netflix), and at the same time, they isolate us. We are not part of a cultural community like the one Frank Schäfer imagines. That community was an illusion that can hardly be maintained much longer. Our friends are not our neighbours when it comes to taste, and the people we share opinions with when it comes to movies have horrible taste in music. Still, we can easily find some kind of community-creating confirmation that replaces liking or disliking cultural products. Perhaps it will be more copulation (like the bonobos), or shared complaints about the unreliability of public transit, or even the formation of a meta-community that defines itself by refusing to talk about taste.
Kathrin Passig lives in Berlin and writes non-fiction books. Her latest book is Verirren: Eine Anleitung für Anfänger und Fortgeschrittene (Losing Your Way: Instructions for Beginners and Experts), Rowohlt 2010, written with Aleks Scholz. http://kathrin.passig.de Translated from the German by Andrew Shields
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Egypt has a high rate of illiteracy. Who even reads the papers here? Gamal El Gamal: in a total population of 80 million, only about two to three million people read the newspapers. Several daily and weekly papers compete for this readership. The largest are the state-controlled Al-Ahram and Al-Akhbar, with a circulation of a million copies and half a million respectively. The independent daily Al-Masry al-Youm, which saw a massive increase in its readers during the revolution, is already in third place, and today it prints around half a million copies. You’re the culture editor of Al-Masry al-Youm. What does it mean to work for an independent newspaper in Egypt? Independent papers write about the same issues as the state papers, but they take a different standpoint. While the state papers exclusively represent and propagate the views of the regime, the independents illuminate the issues from all sides, analysing them closely and without blinkers.
dependent. The owners do exert a certain influence by making suggestions. But these are not binding, and the editorial team isn’t obliged to take them up. Granted, the baselines are clear: a paper owned by business people will not back socialist or Communist ideas; it will orient itself towards a liberal economic philosophy. Papers like this have a bridging function, connecting Egypt with the rest of the world, in that they report on international economic relations. If a proprietor of the paper ends up in the political spotlight, the paper distances itself from it. When one of the owners of AlMasry al-Youm ran for parliament in 2005, the paper didn’t turn it into a story, it went on strike.
“The revolution has made the people braver and more critical”
What role do radio, tele vision and new media play? Do they compete with print media? No, quite the opposite, they complement and support each other. In the newspapers you’ll find references to Internet sites, radio and TV programmes, even to people who work Reporting on culture in Egypt is in crisis. Cultural there. In this way, newspapers profit from the journalist Gamal El Gamal hopes that the popular new media. They burgeoning democracy movement will also revive haven’t lost any readers to stifled cultural debates. Inspired by the young them. Besides their print Egyptian blogging scene, he wants to open the culture Who finances the inde versions, the papers each pendent newspapers? have online editions, and section of his newspaper to new topics. Predominantly business here they can for example people, who have differshow pictures of demonInterview: Susanne Schanda ent dreams, ideas and strations that have hapviews from those dispened just a few minutes seminated by the state previously. You can also media. This is reflected in their newspapers. However, the journal- read interviews and listen to them online at the same time. ists don’t have to share or represent the business people’s interests. They analyse, discuss and write in a way that is fundamen- You are a cultural journalist. Could you explain what culture tally free and fair. Even so, they are influenced to a certain degree means in Egypt today? by the mentality of the people financing them – consciously or There are cultural products in Egypt, but no cultural scene. On unconsciously. the one hand there is a book published almost once every three hours, and there are more and more publishing houses, projects Do the owners try to exert an influence over the paper’s to encourage reading and state translation projects. On the other, content? there is an absence of cultural policy analysis, commentary and That does happen. When I spent a year working for Al-Dustour, qualified literary debates. The traditions are hardly heeded any I was very keenly aware of the owner’s interventions. He said ex- more: nobody is interested in the grand old men of literature. Proplicitly what should be in his paper, and what shouldn’t. This was ducers of culture and intellectuals have always been expected to the reason I resigned from my position there. At Al-Masry al- play a role in society. And this is also what they wanted, but were Youm, where I work now, the journalists are professional and in- unable to do because of the threat of repression. I’m sure this will Cu ltu ral Jo u r n alism in Flu x
change over the next few years. We are in the process of developing democratic structures, and the mentality that goes with them.
political engagement. This is why Egyptian authors no longer win many international prizes.
That surprises me. After all, intellectuals like the bestselling author Alaa alAswany have been criticizing society and the re gime in independent newspapers for years. I believe that intellectuals have betrayed culture, they are traitors to culture. They stopped writing about their own experiences, weren’t active as writers in the literary world, and wrote instead as politicians, about general issues. Since the fall of Mubarak on 11 February, Alaa al-Aswany has been writing for Al-Masry al-Youm as a party follower and a politician, not as a writer. It’s entirely understandable that writers, too, have to let off steam now and then. Many Egyptians love reading these articles, because they identify with them and have the feeling that here is somebody speaking to them from the heart. But this is nothing to do with literature; these pieces are political manifestos. So, for example, the well-known author Youssuf al-Qaid writes mediocre literature, but readers like his novels because he criticizes the regime in them. Al-Aswany’s novel The Yacoubian Building is nothing but social criticism. Literary qualities are absent from these books. Their authors, however, become stars, and frequently appear on television. Ibrahim Issa serves this need that readers have to insult Mubarak. And that’s
How do you see your remit as culture editor? Cultural reporting is in crisis. There are no longer any specifically culture magazines, just a few extra pages in the daily newspapers. At Al-Masry al-Youm, we’re planning a supplement entitled “The Publisher”, which will contain products of creative work from the most diverse sectors. Besides review and short stories, it will also cover political bills and research projects. So you want to open up the culture section, thematically speak ing. What do you hope to achieve by this? We want to revive the idea of culture on the street. The emerging blogger scene has been leading the way on this for several years now. Bloggers experiment with different elements of style, and use mixed forms of Classical Arabic, Standard Arabic and slang. The goal of this is to allow simple people with little education to understand these texts and songs as well. Many of these blogs have subsequently been published as successful books. Their ffect was evident during the revolution. In a short time, they achieved what established political parties hadn’t managed over a period of decades: they shook the population awake and led them to take their fate into their own hands.
We want to revive the idea of culture on the street. The emerging blogger scene has been leading the way on this for several years now. Bloggers experiment with different elements of style, and use mixed forms of Classical Arabic, Standard Arabic and slang. The goal of this is to allow simple people with little education to understand these texts and songs as well. Many of these blogs have subsequently been published as successful books. Their effect was evident during the revolution.
how he became a star. The popular Hisham Abu al-Nasr is not actually a good director, but his films take a clear political position against the normalization of relations with Israel, which is something the people love.
How far does blog culture influence tra ditional media? The most famous example is probably Ghada Abdelaal’s blog, “I Want to Get Married”, in which the author writes about the Egyptian marriage market and the problems faced by modern young women. The blog became a bestselling book, and was made into a television series. The papers then want to gain bloggers like her for themselves, and invite these bloggers to write for them.
Anyone and everyone can write a blog. It’s not prepared for pub lication by an editor or a subeditor. Where’s the quality control? There is a huge multitude of blogs. Society has become very dynamic. There are no longer any clear guidelines and criteria. That’s the case for blogs and bloggers too. You can find every level out there, from very good to very bad, everything is there. They employ language in numerous different ways. Some people write only in curse words, others in a very nuanced way. Bloggers also have the possibility of commenting in the papers on what they’ve read or seen. We permit all of this without editorial interference or censorship, because the public can decide for themselves what is good and what is bad. The bloggers, however, have to live with the reactions they receive to their comments. This is a kind of quality control by the readership. I am for allowing all of this. The good will win through in the end, and the bad will be weeded out.
These intellectuals open up debates and are successful. What is your criticism of them? These films and books are a type of political merchandise, and it sells, but they are not works of art. We have lost a lot of authors as writers. Take Youssuf Idriss, who writes a weekly column in Al-Ahram, but hardly writes literature any more. Politics has won the authors that literature has lost. Naguib Mahfouz’ political observations were always rather weak, but he was all the better as a writer for that. He won the Nobel Prize because he wrote books of a superior literary quality. He belonged to a generation who tended towards arbitration, rather than loud and direct criticism. Today we have hardly any good writers, but they are very strong in their
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Are there debates on cultural policy in the Egyptian media? wanted to write about dancing, and used the term “dance teacher”. No, debates have largely been stifled. There is no cultural policy But the word “teacher” has a religious connotation in Arabic, so with anything other than money at its heart. Cultural activities the editor intervened and decided that the word couldn’t be used are seen by many as a form of income insurance. This goes back in connection with dance. Eventually he cut the whole page. to the mid-1970s, when Anwar al-Sadat was in government, and his concept of “Liberalism and Capitalism”. Everything to do with So there is also censorship in cultural journalism? the mind – art, beauty, criticism – was wiped out. Human beings Yes, though mostly in the form of self-censorship. should eat, drink and earn money, but not even think about thinking. In the universities, students were forbidden from engaging with politics. The journalists’ or laywers’ unions only got involved in pension rights. Debates have largely been stifled. There is no cultural Earning money became the most important thing, while culture fell by the waypolicy with anything other than money at its heart. side. The authors’ or writers’ associations Cultural activities are seen by many as a form of income also remained concerned with pensions, insurance. This goes back to the mid-1970s, when income and decent accommodation, but Anwar al-Sadat was in government, and his concept that was all: there were no more debates about literature and society. In the era of of “Liberalism and Capitalism”. Everything to do with the Mubarak, the culture minister Faruk Hosni mind – art, beauty, criticism – was wiped out. systematically advanced this position. The Human beings should eat, drink and earn money, but concept of the “culture cowshed” came not even think about thinking. into being, in which producers of culture stood around in the ministry’s stall like cattle, being fed.
Where does cultural criticism – a critical debate about art and culture – take place today? In the 1980s there were attempts at cultural criticism, but the journals that fostered these lost a lot of money; some went bankrupt. There is still cultural criticism going on in the corridors of the academies. But in the media there is no critical engagement with literature, music or art. In the media you often read things that are mere adverts for books, put together by the author himself. Literary criticism is a demanding endeavour that requires a great deal of learning, knowledge and skill. The state literary journal Al-Akhbar al-Adab has lost a lot of its significance. Its authorized literary critics are officials who earn money by doing this job, not people who seriously engage with a book and read it twice. But I think a lot of things will change in the years to come, because the revolution has made the people much braver and more critical. In Europe, social debates about things like Islam can also be found on the culture pages. How does this compare to Egypt? Culture can’t be separated from societal issues. Advice columns about life’s questions belong there as well, the search for happiness. We produce social supplements with basic themes like the relationship between parents and children, man and wife. Here we realize that the family is losing its significance. Instead, it’s the friends you meet at the club who become more important.
The Egyptian cultural journalist Gamal El Gamal, born in Cairo, studied in the archaeology faculty of Cairo University, and holds an MA. Today he works as cultural editor and critic at Al-Masry al-Youm, Egypt’s first and largest independent daily newspaper, founded in 2004. This interview took place on 12 March 2011 in Cairo, one month after the fall of Hosni Mubarak. Ola Abdel Gawwad acted as translator during the interview.
Are taboo themes like religion also addressed? There are always delicate subjects, like gender relations, for example. With careful wording, you try to defuse the subject a little. While taboos have been broken in politics, religion and sex continue to be problematic. I’ll give you an example: a journalist
Susanne Schanda is a freelance journalist focusing on the Middle East. Having spent long periods living in Egypt, she has an insider’s knowledge of Egyptian day-to-day life, culture and society. She works for various German-language print and online media, as well as for Swiss Radio DRS. Translated from the German by Ruth Martin
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t may be that a great deal of the internet commentary pub- lar have not lost any significance in the past few years because of lished these days on literature, literary criticism and the lit- competition with the Internet – even if blogs and internet journals erature industry will one day be among the documents of do sometimes produce better, more informed and more precisely cultural life that are worth preserving. But at the moment, argued reviews than those in newspapers. To be sure, the Internet is a public space, one in which everyit does not look like that day will arrive. While many people become very enthusiastic when they talk about the possibilities one can be present at least semi-publicly, which in turn makes the and the future of the Internet, they have also not yet developed a development of firm structures, or indeed classifications and hierhistorical awareness of the genres, writing techniques and text archies, difficult. This has frequently been attempted, but it seems types used in this new medium. The archive, the chronicle and the to be quite hard, in the German-speaking world more than in Engpublic diary, for example, are all being seen as types of written doc- lish-speaking countries, to construct a stable intellectual infraumentation specifically connected with the new technology of the structure in the Internet capable of accruing public validity over a Internet (in the form of a blog, or in the storage of digital data), but protracted period. This problem is also made visible by the fact that the often centuries-old history of such genres is forgotten. The the websites available on the German-speaking cultural scene, great ideas inspired in the past decade by new technology (the blog from Perlentaucher to S.P.O.N. (the joint site of the Internet arts as a new, universal, perhaps fundamentally democratic medium journalists of Der Spiegel), essentially feed on the culture sections of discussion with anyone and everyone; the free review sites of the print media: they consist in large measure of commentaries on the net; the digital novel) on what colleagues have published in the paper press. The have all fired imaginations for a while, only to then gradually ironic, often condescending lose their importance (as with and occasionally ill-tempered the literaturkritik.de portal, for tone frequently taken by net commentaries (in particular example) or even completely on Perlentaucher) with redisappear, like the Internet portal ampool.de produced by the gard to the traditional culture group of writers around Elke section may have its objective reasons – occasioned by Naters and Christian Kracht, or Culture blogs, review platforms, digital the attempt to make up for a the digital Lesesaal (“reading novels – for a while, all these Internet structural inferiority by way room”) run by the Frankfurter phenomena fired many people’s imaginations. Allgemeine Zeitung. of an increased degree of subBy now, though, says Thomas Steinfeld, jectivity. Web presence: a tributary of most of them have disappeared again or lost the print media Constraint as quality
The Internet: No Competition their significance, so the journalists
Even Perlentaucher, the most There are three reasons for writing in the traditional culture section have ambitious project of its kind, the superiority of print media no reason to worry about the future of in the realm of criticism, and may aim to be not only a daily overview of the Feuilletons or none of them has any necestheir profession. culture sections of the major sary connection to the quality newspapers but also (at least as of the texts. The first is brevBy Thomas Steinfeld far as its ambitions are conity: in a printed culture seccerned) a kind of “überfeuilletion, only a limited amount of ton”, but it has remained a site space is available for criticism that is primarily for semiprofessional readers, most of whom surely – no more than one or two pages a day. The competition for this see Perlentaucher (like artsandlettersdaily.com) as a table of con- space does not necessarily mean that better reviews get published tents rather than as an independent intellectual organ. The reader – yet the constraint itself makes journalists conscious of the need reviews on Amazon could be said to be more important (at least to make choices and distinctions. This is part of the inner logic of with respect to book sales), but it is not entirely clear whether the the newspaper as such. For there is indeed a grain of truth in the texts published there should be understood as reviews or as reader Munich comedian Karl Valentin’s early twentieth-century joke testimonials. Ten years ago, it was frequently asserted that the am- that every day just enough happens to fit into a newspaper. For in ateur reviewer or the blogger could seriously compete with the providing news, commentaries, reports, opinion pieces and reprofessional reviewer primarily connected to newspapers, but this views, the newspaper compresses the multiplicity of events into a has not come to pass: such dilettantes do exist, and the canny pro- strict format of great durability. In contrast, every post on the Infessional critic will read them sometimes, if he comes across one ternet has infinite potential for development, and not just in terms – not least because the amateur (in the original sense: the lover) of its own length, for it is also an element in a potentially infinite often has a great deal of positive knowledge at hand. But in the network. And if an Internet diary appears as a book after the pasprint media, the culture section in general and reviews in particu- sage of some time, as in the case of the blogs of the Berlin writer Cu ltu ral Jo u r n alism in Flu x
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Rainald Goetz (and then becomes more successful than the same have differently, because of the educational prerequisites involved, text was as a blog), that is also evidence of the effectiveness of and thus look considerably more threatened) and film reviews brevity. (such as those on aintitcool.com or slate.com). Conversely, there On some literary blogs, this structural point leads to the con- appears to be an affinity between film and criticism on the Interclusion that more texts, and more frequent publication of them, net, which presumably derives not only from how clips can easily are an appropriate way to establish a position on the net and thus be integrated into the digital medium but also from the fact that to attract attention. The opposite is true: a newspaper also involves there is more social overlap between moviegoers and intensive usthe presentation of a small number of texts in one place for a more ers of blogs or digital magazines than between book readers and or less limited period of time, texts whose physical presentation is Internet users. also limited. This is the second reason for the continuing and probably also fundamental superiority of print media in the domain Culture as a site for social confrontation of culture and criticism: its essential connection to paper. For a Literary critics in particular (and cultural journalists in general) medium is determined by more than just its circulation, its speed, should thus stop worrying about the future of their profession in its general accessibility and its adaptability to individual needs (all traditional media: for the time being, no serious competition will of which give the Internet more potential than print media). It is also positioned on Ten years ago, it was frequently asserted that the amateur a spectrum of heaviness and lightness, of reviewer or the blogger could seriously compete with durability and fragility. Within its limits, paper has the advanthe professional reviewer primarily connected to newspapers, tage of being infinitely variable: it can be but this has not come to pass: such dilettantes do exist, very “heavy” and still lie in the garbage the and the canny professional critic will read them sometimes, next day, or it can be very “light” and still if he comes across one – not least because the amateur be worth keeping for centuries. And it can transport the information it contains over (in the original sense: the lover) often has a great deal of great temporal and spatial distances. And positive knowledge at hand. that brings us to the third argument for the superiority of the print medium as far as reviewing is concerned: in its material structure, in the relationships come from the Internet – up to now, its importance, seen in terms of top left to bottom right, of front to back, it is related to the book. of its professional possibilities, has been primarily in the qualificaThe literary (or cultural) criticism in newspapers and magazines tion and recruitment of young cultural journalists as well as in the will thus share its future with the book, which surely cannot be documentation of large volumes of text that are otherwise harder said about reviews of popular music (reviews of classical music be- to manage. Because of its very high growth rates, the Internet, of
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course, has seemed to be the more successful medium in the past few years, and many publishing managers have begun to judge traditional formats according to the standards of digital presence. This mistake has generated hybrid forms that tend to make the paper culture section look quite hapless. Instead, it is necessary to develop the particular laws inherent in each individual medium and to use them appropriately. This has become especially true since the temporal difference between event and news has been reduced to an absolute minimum by the social media. So far, with varying degrees of success, all media have measured themselves on the scale of the fastest medium, but now they are all drifting apart in their own particular ways. This is already visible on the Internet itself, which increasingly has not only the function of a gigantic archive but can also present very long texts in places specifically designed for them. At the same time, printed periodicals, including such weekly magazines as Die Zeit, have begun to profit from their relative slowness: the delay is seen as a benefit, providing distance and time for reflection. But the most striking change is in the daily newspapers: they are increasingly relieved of merely providing information – for they cannot compete with the speed of audiovisual media, especially the Internet. They react to that by giving more space to slower (and
longer) text formats such as the background article, the dossier, the editorial, the portrait – and the review: in short, the reflective and narrative genres. Such a culture section does not have to get bigger. Its techniques, styles and working methods will also be used by other departments to report on politics, business and not least sports. In many respects, then, we are currently returning to old relationships in which culture was the site where all the other spheres of society were discussed – except that culture itself, alongside sports, the lives and deaths of celebrities, and a political system increasingly limited to symbolic acts (for the real decisions are made in the economic world), now only receives a fragment of the social attention it once received in, say, the late eighteenth century. And yet these are actually not bad prospects for cultural journalism. However, it is easier to understand them with a bit of knowledge of the history of the field.
Thomas Steinfeld is editor of the culture section of the Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich and Extraordinary Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Lucerne. Translated from the German by Andrew Shields
Ruedi Widmer is a graphic artist, cartoonist and writer of satire. He draws and writes regularly for the Tages-Anzeiger, Der Landbote, WoZ Wochenzeitung, TITANIC, SALDO and many other periodicals. Ruedi Widmer lives and works in Winterthur. He counts more than one film journalist and more than two music critics among his acquaintances, with whom he enjoys drinking a few beers and carrying on lively debates; these last would be shown on television if the broadcast truck were allowed to pull up outside the pub (unfortunately there’s a no-stopping zone). He is a passionate Facebooker and perilously uninterested in Twitter. www.ruediwidmer.ch
Philippe Becquelin lives in Lausanne. Following studies at the Beaux-Arts de Lausanne he devoted himself to creating illustrations for the press. He draws under the pseudonym Mix & Remix for the French-language Swiss magazine L’Hebdo as well as for “Infrarouge”, a show on the Frenchlanguage Swiss television station. His drawings can be seen outside Switzerland in Le Courrier International newspaper and the magazines Lire, Clés and L’internazionale. Philippe Becquelin is not a great consumer of culture. He buys a CD every now and then and occasionally goes to the cinema. He rarely reads film reviews since they have the bad habit of giving away the entire story. He lets his daughter advise him on music or sees what his friends are recommending on Facebook. http://mixremix.ch
Cartoons translated into English by Rafaël Newman
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L O CA L T i m e
san fr ancisco
Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council, maintains a global network of branch offices, which serve cultural exchange with Switzerland and support worldwide cultural contact.
Gaming between Technology, Science and Culture san francisco
swissnex San Francisco is getting young Swiss game designers in touch with the lively gaming scene on the West Coast of the United States. The Swiss will show their stuff at a travelling exhibition in San Francisco in October.
By Bettina Ambühl, San Francisco – From simulations on home computers and Sudoku on mobile phones to digital yoga trainers, electronic games and applications are becoming ever more varied. With its Game Culture programme, Pro Helvetia has begun to explore the bewitching
Game Over, a video game by artist Yan Duyvendak, encourages players to think about the act of playing.
phenomenon of computer games and to draw attention, both at home and abroad, to what is going on in the field in Switzerland. A traveling exhibition called “Swiss Game Design” will make a stop in October on the West Coast of the United States. in collaboration with Pro Helvetia’s partner Lo c aL T im e
organization swissnex San Francisco, the show will be an interactive occasion for both professionals and anyone interested in gaming. As a bastion of digital technology that is a stone’s throw from Silicon Valley, San Francisco offers the growing gaming in-
dustry an especially lively and exciting platform. While reservations about computer games, such as their potential for encouraging violence, are often the first thing to be mentioned in Switzerland, people in California are primarily interested in new developmental possibilities in gaming technology. The Game Developers Conference has already been taking place here for 25 years; every year, it attracts 18,000 gaming professionals to the Bay Area. A quick glance at the conference programme from last march is enough to show how broad the interest in gaming is here: workshops on the latest technological advances in game development are offered, along with lectures on legal, ethical and psychological issues associated with gaming. For example, mia Consalvo, a professor at the massachusetts institute of Technology, gave a lecture on the types of social interaction that actually take place in “social games”. Serious gaming: more than a pastime This year, with the support of Pro Helvetia, Switzerland had its own stand at the conference for the first time, while swissnex, a branch office of the State Secretariat for education and Research that is dedicated to Swiss innovation abroad, set up an interactive exhibition about the degree programme in Game Design at the University of the Arts in Zurich. And of course the latest games from the mills of Swiss devel-
The successful iPhone game Orbital was designed by Reto Senn of Switzerland.
opment studios were also presented. Reto Senn, co-founder and COO of the Rapperswil company Bitforge and the developer of the successful iPhone game Orbital, sees the opportunity for Swiss game designers to participate directly in the lively exchanges in San Francisco as an important step in the development of an independent Swiss gaming industry. But what is even
more significant to him is that, thanks to the Game Culture programme, lively exchanges have begun among game makers inside Switzerland as well. The traveling exhibition Swiss Game Design created by the House of electronic Arts in Basel makes immediately clear that in Switzerland, too, interest in gaming does not end with entertainment. Collaborations between game designers and scientists go both ways. Computer scientists from the eTH have been working closely with the entertainment industry at the Disney Research institute in Zurich to develop ever more realistic animation. elsewhere, rehab patients are being encouraged to do their exercises with games that speed up their recovery: the therapy software Gabarello, for example, which was created in 2009 at the University of the Arts in Zurich in a joint project with the Zurich Children’s Hospital, the eTH and the University of Zurich, is used in the motor rehabilitation of stroke patients. Their movements are transferred to a playing figure on a screen, which has to go through a variety of adventures. While the patients try to get as far as they can in the game, they retrain the motor skills of their legs, with the goal of someday being able to walk again.
Art reflects on games Gaming does not just connect technology and science with entertainment, it also has an artistic side. But the degree to which digital games themselves can be regarded as art is another issue. Christian Lorenz Scheurer, a Swiss heavyweight in the design of console games and animated films, who has lived and worked in Hollywood for years, has this to say on the subject: “Not every game is art, just as not every film can be regarded as artistic – but there is always at least some artistic potential.” The designer’s creativity is certainly one artistic feature of a game; when Scheurer takes on a design project, as in his latest, still secret film project, whole worlds are In the simulation game Spore, players create their own creatures. Christian Lorenz Scheurer created under his guidance. contributed to visual development. They are then built as backLo c aL T im e
grounds that come to life in the films he contributes to. But Scheurer adds that this form of art still lacks a metacriticism along the lines of the art works of Joseph Beuys. interestingly, the Swiss Game Design exhibition does include a few works that stimulate reflection about themselves and about gaming, as in the artist Yan Duyvendank’s video game Game Over, in which the artist himself can be seen shooting at invisible opponents. But with the addition of a self-referential level, such works also distance themselves from the primary goal of offering the player an entertaining pastime. This is made clear by how these works mostly fluctuate between game and video installation; they confront the player or observer with content that justifies itself independently of the course of the game. This creates a possible distinction between gaming culture itself and the art that reflects on that culture. Such critical reflection in the works of artists shows that gaming today is recognized as playing a formative role in many people’s lives. information on further events can be found on the swissnex website: www.swissnexsanfrancisco.org Bettina Ambühl studied German at the University of Zurich. For a year now, she has lived with her husband in California as a correspondent for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
The Attempt to Find a Universal Language shanghai
The exhibition series Action and Video – CH/CN Art Now in Shanghai shows video art from Switzerland and China and offers artists from both countries a platform for dialogue.
By Stefanie Thiedig, Shanghai – Performance and video, form and medium – these are the grand concepts addressed in the exhibition series Action and Video – CH/CN Art Now, on show in Shanghai from April to December 2011. The series is a joint production of the minsheng Art museum and the Chinese artists exhibiting there and Pro Helvetia Shanghai and the invited Swiss artists – and between them is Li Zhenhua, a curator who divides his time between Zurich and Beijing and serves as the link tying the whole show together. This intermediary position is also occupied by the work of intercultural understand-
ing, which requires a great deal of patience from both sides, as well as the willingness to engage with one another. Contrasts and parallels Retrospectives of contemporary Chinese art have been booming in China since the summer of 2010. This past September, the minsheng Art museum staged a major overview of Chinese video art. The new Pro Helvetia office in Shanghai and curator Li Zhenhua have also taken up the topic. By juxtaposing contemporary video art from Switzerland and China, the Action and Video – CH/CN Art Now project aims
Art students from Shanghai produce the works under the artists’ supervision.
Lo c aL T im e
Photos: Jin Jingyi
Translated from the German by Andrew Shields
to point up contrasts and parallels and offer artists from both countries a platform for dialogue. As part of this dialogue, Swiss artists Yves Netzhammer, Bernd Schurer, Roman Signer, Yan Duyvendak and marc Lee, along with art historian Beat Wyss, encounter Chinese artists Liu Wei, Lu Jie, Aaajiao, Zhang Peili and Lu Chunsheng. The series was inaugurated on 19 April in the presence of Swiss Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter. The first exhibition featured Yves Netzhammer accompanied by computer and visual artist Bernd Schurer – the original title, Die Anordnungsweise zweier Gegenteile bei der Erzeugung ihres Berührungsmaximums (The Configuration of Two Opposites during the Generation of Their Maximum Contact) was abbreviated in its english version as Nature Fear Entity.
find that i am in the midst of a tremendous learning process as far as the different working methods of Chinese and Swiss artists go,” says Li Zhenhua. The Chinese expression Manman lai (“easy does it”) gets to the heart of cultural misunderstandings, and europeans often have difficulty grasping it. Another reason for such misprisions
Hoping for the butterfly effect The exhibition series is not meant as a classical object of contemplation but is intended instead to serve as a means of communication rendering palpable the process of artistic creation as it unfolds. For this reason, the project heads also engaged the minAesthetic experiences become art: Yves Netzhammer at work sheng Art museum along with numerous Shanghai art students. Once the first murals have been painted, when is the fact that so much is planned and the installations are in place, the videos in- implemented simultaneously in China – tegrated and the sounds synchronized – which is why it was decided to produce the once the basic framework of the exhibition exhibition series as a work in progress. is standing, the show receives finishing touches from the students under the su- New Pro Helvetia office in Shanghai pervision of the artists. Chinese art schools Because Netzhammer’s work is not simple, continue to focus mainly on methods and and cannot be understood at first glance, production processes – the Chinese educa- the students are very cautious with their tional system doesn’t leave room for much commentary and often use his animal figelse – but the perspective of contemporary ures to approach his subjects. “As unenartists is also discernible precisely by way crypted elements not laden with value, anof formal aspects. in reference to the drill imals are ideal bearers of emotion, and system favoured at Chinese schools, Li afford room for associations,” says NetzZhenhua notes: “Of course our approach hammer. The artist’s preoccupation with cannot change the Chinese system, but the individual, culture and nature raises who knows, perhaps it will produce a but- questions for him about existence. The terfly effect.” Accompanying workshops, surface can no longer be trusted – it prolectures and visits by schools and institu- vides a glimpse of the psychological space tions are intended to contribute to this beneath: of our fear of breaking with conprocess. ventions, of the labile nature of our view of The two cultures must also learn to- the world. Not everyone is able to read evegether: “Although i’ve been working with rything, but the aesthetic experiences repSwiss artists for quite some time already, i resented in his scenes have a vital and enLo c aL T im e
compassing expressive power that offers participants from both cultures the opportunity to discover a universal language. The new Pro Helvetia liaison office in Shanghai, officially inaugurated in October of 2010, is also counting on such an effect. Since 2008, almost seventy artistic projects have allowed those involved to test the waters for a cultural exchange between China and Switzerland. The office has a staff of three local employees: head Sylvia Xu is assisted by Cathy Fu in Shanghai and eliza Wang in Beijing, who serves as a liaison between Pro Helvetia Shanghai and the capital. “We are a small office, and thus extremely flexible,” says Xu, “and our structures are not as hierarchical as they are among the representatives of many other countries abroad.” The office’s specific focus is renewed each year: this year features video art, while design and architecture are planned for next year. All the same, artists are seldom supported directly; instead, Xu works mainly with Chinese institutions, which provide financial and networking support for individual projects. The minsheng Art museum, partner of the current project, is doing pioneering work in this regard, since it is China’s first and, so far, only museum of contemporary Chinese art to be entirely financed by a bank. “Now other banks are planning to found museums,” says director Zhou Tiehai. “We are breaking new ground in China – at the moment we are still preoccupied with the fundamental processes of museum work, and with building up our collections.” For information about the current exhibitions and events of Action and Video see www.prohelvetia.cn Stefanie Thiedig works as a freelance arts agent under the name Kulturgut in Beijing. in September of 2010, together with Katharina Schneider-Roos, she co-edited the volume Chinas Kulturszene ab 2000 (Chinas Cultural Scene as of 2000), about the arts in China during the first decade of the 21st century (published by Christoph merian Verlag). Translated from the German by Rafaël Newman
R eP oR TAGe
World Traveller with a Sketchpad Swiss graphic novelist Cosey is on a six-month residency in India, a country he has visited before on a number of occasions and loves. He is spending time in the capital city New Delhi, where he battles chaos to find pockets of vibrant inspiration for his future visual works. By Janice Pariat (text) and Ankur Ahuja (photos)
It’s a warm afternoon in March and in the air hangs the end of winter. Honeyed sunshine streams in through long windows and creates pretty patterns on Cosey’s studio floor. It’s quiet outside; Lajpat Nagar, a usually bustling South Delhi neighbourhood, is buried under a dusty yellow haze. “It livens up in the evening,” Cosey tells me, and he should know: after all, the city has been his home for almost three months now. Cosey is in India on a residency supported by Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council. He finds his neighbours pleasant and has made a few good graphic novelist friends in Delhi, including Vishwajyoti Ghosh (author of Delhi Calm), Sarnath Banerjee (author of Corridor, The Barn Owl’s Wondrous Capers and, most recently, The Harappa Files) and Anindya
Roy (who runs Manic Mongol, a publishing house for graphic novels). They are, according to Cosey, “talented and lovely people. And funny!” Poetic stories full of detail You can see how he has added personal touches to his living space to make it his own – carefully chosen chicks (curtains made of cloth and bamboo) hang over the windows and a variety of things he’s bought lie neatly on the divan. These include a toy autorickshaw, a colourful picture frame, a mounted Ganesha (the Hindu god revered as the remover of obstacles), a furry Tiger-face cushion,a beautifully embroidered Rajasthani wall-hanging and cushion covers. His work desk is in the corner and it is befittingly littered with paper Re po R tag e
Breathing in the city: comics artist Cosey (above left) sets down his impressions in sketches. Nizamuddin (middle) is a destination for Muslim pilgrims in Delhi.
and tubes of paint. An earthenware pot holds an assortment of paintbrushes. “At the moment I am working on a story set in Japan,” he says, “the book is due out at the end of this year.” Cosey shows me a page in progress – a transparent plastic sheet with black ink sketches and another painted in colour. Placed together, the former over the latter, they make a complete picture, a page out of a graphic novel. It reminds me of what Sarnath has to say of his work – “Cosey is the master of watercolour. He practises the tradition of great european album style and tells straight tales that are poetic and transcendent. They are beautifully, intricately drawn.” even before I ask my next question – “Are you sketching a story on Delhi?” – I am quite certain of his answer. Cosey, who has travelled across the world in the past three decades, from Tibet and Burma to the USA and Nepal, has a method of working that is uniquely his own. Rather than rushing headlong into a project inspired by the place he is visiting, Cosey prefers to allow things to simmer – like a witch’s cauldron slowly brewing many strange and magical things. So it’s no surprise when he says, “It’s too early for me to answer that.
Cosey Born in 1950 in Lausanne, Switzerland, Bernard “Cosey” Cosendai is a wellknown comic book creator with a series of widely successful graphic novels under his belt. The young Cosey started out working as an illustrator for an advertising agency before becoming an apprentice to Swiss comics professional Claude de Ribeaupierre or “Derib”. They share a common interest in oriental philosophy and have become lifelong friends. After a number of small projects, Cosey joined Tin Tin in 1975, creating his most popular character, Jonathan, and launching an extremely successful phase of his career. The Swiss graphic novelist began his worldwide travels in 1976 to Ladakh, India, and has since ventured to the USA, Nepal, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Tibet. His travels inform his beautifully illustrated stories, filling them with intricate detail, vibrant settings and insights into local life. His list of awards for his works includes the Grand Prix Alfred for best album in the Angoulême Festival, the Grand Prix Soleil d’or in Solliès and the Bonnet d’âne, the career prize of the Quai des Bulles comics festival of Saint Malo, among others. Cosey was on a residency in New Delhi supported by the Swiss Arts Council from January to April, 2011. http://cosey.rogerklaassen.com
At the moment, I am absorbing the city, breathing it in. Maybe a year on, or even later, I will use what I have seen and collected.” This is how Cosey’s creative process functions and at its heart lies the element of travel. “Travel helps me know my
subject better; I can bring back things that I will not find in beautiful touristy books.” These items, as can be seen in his previous works Saigon–Hanoi, Le Bouddha d’Azur, Joyeux Noël, May! and Le voyage en Italie, include cigarette packs, beer labels, roadside banners, intricate little details that bring Cosey’s world to life. Delhi’s first Comic Conference – a commercial event In his time in Delhi, Cosey has been busy. He attended the capital’s first-ever Comic Conference – “It was rather a commercial festival, but why not?” he says. “Comics need to be sold. And cartoonists to live. It’s funny to remember that the first festivals in France (Angouleme) were very intellectual and elitist, and now Angouleme is a huge commercial phenomenon. Maybe Delhi will follow the opposite way?” He has also visited a number of sights, such as Humayun’s Tomb, the atmospheric Purani Dilli (old Delhi) in the north and the chaotic Central Market, located down the road from where he lives. During his expeditions, he has taken many photographs (“it helps to later recreate architectural detail and urban-scape,” he explains) and has captured myriad local details through pen-and-ink sketches. He lays them out for me – a hand decorated with mehendi (a herbal paste that leaves a reddish stain on
Meticulousness and love of detail: portrait of a Muslim fakir
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the skin), a graceful dancer practising Kathakali (a highly stylized classical Indian dance form) in Khajuraho (a town in Madhya Pradesh that boasts World Heritage Jain and Hindu temples), a statue of a ten-armed Kali (the Hindu Goddess of time and change) and a great number of portraits. Sarnath calls them “nice, acute observations of day-to-day life in India.” The drawings are delicate in touch and one in particular, of a Muslim fakir (a religious ascetic), is exquisitely washed in soft watercolour. It is the one image with the most amount of care and detail, explaining perhaps why Cosey suggests that we make a trip to Nizamuddin Dargah, the place that inspired it. “I choose this place for its people and scenery,” he tells me, “and also because it reminds me of old Delhi.” Close to the historic Humayun complex, this is a holy spot for Muslims across the country and visited by thousands every week. It is a maze of dark, crowded alleys that have sprung up around the mausoleum of Nizamuddin Auliyah, one of the world’s most famous Sufi saints, buried here in the early fourteenth century. The dargah forms the heart of the labyrinth, and is perpetually bustling with devotees and hawkers. The afternoon is waning as we set out on our expedition. Vegetable carts appear along the roadside, the nearby park is filling with walkers and boys playing a game of cricket. As the city cools, it comes to life. Along the way Cosey talks about his mixed feelings for Delhi. “I don’t know where I am – Istanbul, London. It’s such a melting pot of different things. There is nothing typically Indian here, unlike say Hampi (a village in Karnataka and site of the ruins of the Vijaynagar kingdom) or Khajuraho; maybe that’s because Delhi is a city of immigrants and refugees.” We leave our slippers at the entrance with a man selling mounds of rose petals and candles. He urges us to buy some but Cosey waves him away politely and firmly. When we enter the dargah, it’s as though we have stepped back in time into a different world. Cosey is right: Delhi is made up of different cultural pockets, all sewn together to form a rich and vibrant social fabric. Lining the alleyways are make-shift
stalls selling pictures of Mecca, cloth banners printed with Islamic prayers, copies of the Quran and other holy souvenirs. Cosey carries pen and sketchpad in hand, searching for inspiration. We pass the water tank rumoured to be over a hundred feet deep, the poet Mirza Ghalib’s tomb and finally enter the dargah complex with its mosque
“What is that firang doing?” Cosey is unperturbed.
and latticed walls. Burkha-clad women sit outside (women aren’t allowed into the dargah), praying and chatting, fakirs beg for alms, while a slow stream of people tie long orange thread to the dargah’s latticed walls. I explain to Cosey that it is believed that doing so makes your wishes come true. We move deeper into the complex and finally Cosey makes himself comfortable in a corner opposite a group of women and children. He begins sketching and rapidly a crowd gathers. “What is he doing?” I can hear them whisper. “See that firang (foreigner), he is drawing pictures.” A group of young men watch him intently. one of them walks up to Cosey and peers over his shoulder. Behind me, a lady asks shyly, “Where is he from?” Unperturbed, Cosey R e po R tag e
deftly sketches on, capturing the portrait of a burkha-clad woman. The crowd patiently watches. At that moment, as though on cue for a period film, from the other side of the dargah, in the far distance, comes the faint sound of drums. The Thursday-evening qawwalis (Sufi devotional music) is about to begin. This haunting music and the tall dome of the mosque form the backdrop to the scene – the cinematic setting is complete! When he finishes, Cosey walks around taking photographs with his small digital camera – the archways of the structure, children playing, a woman devoutly praying. Not much misses his eye. Just colour and form “When I work on a book on India, I want to do something completely different from my other works,” he tells me as we make our way out. “Stylistically, it will not be a comic strip or a graphic novel. There will be no characters. Perhaps it will be a visual documentation with just colour and form. That is how this residency has informed my senses.” He explains that he wants to do this to be “free to draw whatever inspires him.” “In a graphic novel, you have to follow the script, even if you wrote it by yourself, you are not completely free.” As we exit, a group of pigeons flutter up into the sky. Cosey stops to admire an amulet inscribed intricately with an Islamic prayer. He walks on. Sooner or later he will bring these details to life. Janice Pariat is a freelance writer based, depending on the weather, in Shillong, Delhi and Kolkata. Her work has appeared in OPEN magazine, Art India, Outlook Traveller and Forbes India, among others. She is currently working on a collection of short stories. www.janicepariat.blogspot.com Ankur Ahuja has worked as a cinematographer, photographer and editor for over ten years. She is based in New Delhi and has several documentaries, short films, music videos and ad films to her credit. She is presently exploring video art. www.ankurahuja.com http://oddends.wordpress.com
PRO H ELV E T I A N E W SF L A SH
Swiss Stagecraft, Conversations Experimental and to the Point about Arts Outreach
If you’re interested in Swiss theatre, you’d be well advised to go in December to – France, where the Comédie de Saint Etienne, sixty kilometers southwest of Lyons, is presenting Made in Suisse, a major in-depth look at Swiss dance and drama. From 5 to 17 December the programme features productions distinguished by experimental artistic approaches and a precise aesthetic. In addition to such noted performance artists as Yan Duyvendak and Massimo Furlan, young talent the likes of Eugénie Rebetez and François Gremaud will also be on show. The roster is further enhanced by a film series offering Swiss feature and documentary productions as
well as a range of musical, literary and architectural events. Made in Suisse is an offshoot of Pro Helvetia’s La belle voisine programme, which in 2007 promoted exchange between institutions and cultural figures in Switzerland and France’s Rhône-Alpes region. The festival continues the encounters and partnerships initiated during that period. www.comedie-de-saint-etienne.fr and www.prohelvetia.ch.
The subject of arts outreach is being talked about everywhere and growing in importance, whether in work in the cultural field, arts promotion or education. Nevertheless, there is as yet no consensus on many basic issues. Whom is it intended to reach? Is arts outreach a mandate for the educational sector, or for cultural policy-makers? And who should pay for it? Experts from Switzerland and beyond will discuss these and other fundamental questions in four forums held between September and March. The knowledge exchange is intended to help raise awareness and improve the quality of arts outreach. Pro Helvetia launched the discussion series as part of its Arts and Audience programme in conjunction with four partners from two linguistic regions, the canton of Valais and the cities of Bern, Basel and Biel. The forums are intended for decision-makers in cultural and educational policy as well as heads of cultural institutions, but are also open to the general public.
In December, Massimo Furlan – shown here with Anne Delahaye in a restaging of the Eurovision Song Contest – was a guest at the Comédie de Saint Etienne.
Pro H e lv e t ia N e w sflasH
Photo: Pierre Nydegger
9 September 2011: www.ferme-asile.ch 25 November 2011: www.dampfzentrale.ch 20 January 2012: www.literaturhaus-basel.ch 1 March 2012: www.theater-biel.ch
Applications for Grants: As of 2012, Only in Electronic Form Are you a jazz musician in need of financial support for your foreign tour? Are you an author hoping to spend a significant amount of time on a literary project without worrying about money? Then submit an application online to www.myprohelvetia.ch. The Swiss Arts Council’s application portal will take you through your submission quickly, simply and without red tape and give you information on deadlines and support criteria specific to your project. Data is accessible anytime, anywhere, which means an event organizer in New York can add to a dossier just as easily as an accountant in the Emmental. Up until submission, applicants have no problem revising their data and enhancing them with au-
dio or video examples as well as additional documents. Since the quadrilingual portal was launched in 2008, myprohelvetia has been continually adapted to the needs of applicants. Almost half of the producers of culture applying now make their submissions online, and the trend is increasing. As of 1 January 2012 applications will only be possible via myprohelvetia. The electronic submission form simplifies the process and makes handling applications more efficient. www.myprohelvetia.ch
Submissions made easy: on the online platform myprohelvetia
Photos: Anouk Fürst (below), Tamara Lorenz, Velvet (above)
La Ribot in Southern Africa La Ribot – dancer, choreographer and visual artist – tours southern Africa from 7 to 22 September. At festivals in Capetown, Johannesburg and Maputo, La Ribot, who now makes her home in Geneva, will present three works on the interface of performance, video and live art, featuring a medley of dance and visual arts. In Llámame Mariachi she goes in quest of a new theatrical language, an intimate combination of dance and film: while a moving camera captures the experience of the dance, the dancers themselves slow their movements to the point of abstraction. In Laughing Hole, meanwhile, La Ribot challenges the usual conventions, spends hours tumbling
The dancers in La Ribot’s Laughing Hole beneath the weight of the words
through the room in fits of uncontrollable laughter and takes over the space with handwritten cardboard signs. Finally, PARAdistinguidas, her newest work, takes up her series of pièces distinguées from the 1990s – performance pieces that the choreographer sold at the time to collectors as if they were artworks. In Pr o H e lv e t ia N e w sflasH
addition to the festival appearances there will also be workshops, master classes and roundtable discussions featuring La Ribot and her troupe of dancers. The tour is made possible by Pro Helvetia Cape Town. www.prohelvetia.org.za
Binding proposals for all those involved in culture All the more laudatory, then, is the initiative of the former socialist mayor of Barcelona, Pascual Maragall, who insisted, aware of this old-boy network, that parliament appoint a commission that would be independent of the political parties: the CoNCA. Its president, Francesc Guardans, identifies a double mandate for his council: its aim is to set out guidelines for cultural policy, and to promote all artists not attached to such state institutions as the national theatre or Catalan orchestra. “CoNCA’s mission is to defend the fragile promotional structures and to ensure that their work is visible not only on paper but in the cultural life of Catalan society as well.” In fact, the conditions for such a mission are good. CoNCA’s proposals and eval-
PA R T N E R P RO F I L E
CoNCa CoNCA, the newly founded Council for Culture and the Arts in Barcelona, is bringing a fresh wind and some bitter-sweet fruit to the Catalan cultural landscape.
lery owner and a theatre producer as well as such well-known figures as the actress and documentary filmmaker Silvia Munt, meets three times a week. In personal discussions with actors on the cultural scene they develop a comprehensive inventory of the current state of arts and culture in Catalonia and promote coordination of artists with public support agencies. To this end, members of the cultural world are invited to ConCA hearings in the Ramblas, says Xavier Antich, an art historian at the University of Girona and a commission member, where they explain their situation and make proposals of their own. That did not use to be a practice of the cultural functionaries of the Catalan national government and the city of Barcelona, he notes. Resistance and skirmishes over authority with the entrenched cultural bureaucracy are all part of a normal day at work, according to the pragmatist Francesc Guardans. “If ConCA did not ask uncomfortable questions and were unafraid to cause a stir we wouldn’t be doing our job properly!” He sees these difficulties, too, as part a longer process. “This is just the beginning – but at this year’s parliamentary hearing we were applauded for the first time!” www.conca.cat Cecilia Dreymüller lives in Barcelona, where she works as a freelance journalist and literary critic. Translated from the German by Rafaël Newman
uations are binding for all those involved in culture, for the Catalan cultural institute, for the region’s schools and universities as well as for programmes supporting musicians, dancers, philosophers, performers and producers of theatre, visual and circus artists. Syllabi are scrutinized by CoNCA (which also issues reminders as need be) as is the worthiness of an art project or music ensemble for support. In addition, Francesc Guardans delivers an annual report to members of parliament. Asking uncomfortable questions The 11-member commission, a diverse team of experts including professors and critics, an architect, a jazz musician, a gal-
PartNer Profile: Cou NCil for C u lt u r e aNd t He ar t s iN B ar C e lo N a
By Cecilia Dreymüller– According to a Spanish proverb, you shouldn’t expect pears from an elm tree – and yet that’s exactly what’s growing in cultural policy in Barcelona: the Consell Nacional de la Cultura i de les Artes (National Council for Culture and the Arts), which commenced operations two years ago, has just published its comprehensive second annual report. Known as CoNCA, the Consell was established in 2008 explicitly according to the model of the arts councils of the English-speaking world and is the only one of its kind in Southern Europe. This constituted a daring step forward for the autonomous region in Northwestern Spain, with its capital of Barcelona, away from political musical chairs and toward an independent promotion of arts and culture. This is all the more remarkable since Catalonia, while prosperous, is a small nation; nevertheless, in the larger Spanish context, it invests extremely generously in culture. And yet, although it was able to maintain its own cultural tradition in resistance to Franco’s dictatorship, since attaining its autonomous status in 1978 the region has not always been marked by worldliness and the spirit of innovation. In Barcelona, in the wake of the 20-year monopoly on government of the conservative Partei Convergencia, cultural institutions are in the firm hands of a patriarchy that keeps everything just as it has always been.
CA RTE BL A NCHE
Illustration: Rahel Eisenring
New Role for the City Theatre By Carena Schlewitt – The German-speaking world has seen a lot of debate in recent years about the crisis of the city theatre: about its artistic slant, its audience, its finances and its buildings. For me, the question of the crisis of the city theatre poses itself as a question about its current social claim. The city theatre must be more than a traditional institute of classical enlightenment, and should play a progressive, active role in today’s urban society. A brief look back makes this clear: in the 19th century the bourgeoisie created its own stages with an eye to emancipating itself from the nobility, and established the theatre as the educational institute of the German nation and “the stage as a moral institution” (Friedrich von Schiller). From the outset, the correlation of city theatre– bourgeoisie–nation was challenged by alternative, socially relevant theatrical forms – the Volkstheater (people’s theatre) in the 19th century and the freie Szene (free stage) in the 20th. Since antiquity, theatre has been the art form that addresses issues of relevance to society artistically, live and before an audience. The interaction of theatre and society is decisive for the artistic and structural forms within which it is produced. Today, the (city) theatre no longer addresses a homogeneous, middle-class public, but rather a mixed and restless urban society: a distinctly heterogeneous audience of the most diverse origins, languages and educational levels. The dynamic technologization of all areas of work and everyday life and the geopolitical changes in Europe since 1989, and in the world since 11 September 2001, have triggered an enormous broadening of theatre’s spectrum: it has responded with new and renewed aesthetics and has attempted to establish a fresh relationship with the increased complexity and diversity of society.
The free stage in the German-speaking world has reacted both aesthetically and structurally to the altered social situation since the mid-1990s. It has developed a new theatre for the city, banking on participatory forms of communication with an audience in flux. It uses other art forms and cultural practices: pop theatre and live art, documentary theatre, media theatre, international collaborations and city projects are the hallmarks of the new theatrical avant-garde. These new participatory forms are paralleled by a dynamic quest. Theatre is on the move: it has begun by seeking out new actors and specialists from other occupational domains and areas of life, and in the process is putting a changed urban society on stage. Second, theatre is in search of new spaces, and with them new communities within the city. Plays are now produced in apartments, on the street, in public squares and on construction sites, in streetcars and cafés, among other places. I call for a nomadic style in contemporary theatre: for co-productions, networking, exhanges, an international reach and the establishment of new and temporary theatrical spaces. Theatre has the potential to create communities that are capable of functioning beyond professions, social C ar t e BlaN C H e
classes and generations. It can develop communicative forms that transcend the typical social patterns. To this end, theatre must establish a forum that functions as a marketplace, offering a variety of colours, smells, narratives and sounds and performing a social function of encounter. Nomadic theatre is not determined by the decision for or against city theatre, for or against the free stage. It is time to consider a contemporary theatre of the future through the optic of common structural development. City theatre must change, must open itself and redefine its role within the city. The free stage, in its relationship to city theatres, must be afforded additional production opportunities to allow it to further develop its potential. And perhaps someday, the two theatrical forms will meet on an equal footing. Carena Schlewitt has been artistic director of the Kaserne Basel since 2008. She has worked as a dramatic advisor at various production theatres and venues for guest performances as well as at festivals, most recently from 2003–2008 at the Berliner Theater Hebbel am Ufer. Translated from the German by Rafaël Newman
SCH AU FE N ST E R
Signs and Wonders Signs and Wonders, 2009 Lambda print on aluminium dibond, 60 × 71 cm by Christoph Schreiber Christoph Schreiber’s works begin with photographs, which he takes in his studio or on his travels with a medium-format camera. Working in a variety of collage technique he then uses a computer to create worlds of a strange poetry – moments in which time seems to stand still. Schreiber’s cosmos also includes video works and installations. Christoph Schreiber studied visual arts at the Zurich University of the Arts and law at the University of Zurich. His pieces, for which he has won a range of prizes, have been on show as part of many exhibitions in Switzerland and abroad. www.christoph-schreiber.com
Each issue, Gallery presents a work by a Swiss artist.
Passages, the magazine of the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia, reports on Swiss art and culture and on cultural exchanges between Switzerland and the rest of the world. Passages appears three times a year in 60 countries â€“ in German, French and English.
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Performance The performance scene in Switzerland has undergone enormous change over the past ten years, conquering new places as its stage and giving rise to an amazing variety of festivals. The lines between the traditional art forms are increasingly dissolving and today it seems as if almost everything can be called “performance”. In the coming issue of Passages we ask just what performance is, and why the genre is so in vogue – and not only in Switzerland. We illuminate the explosive political power of performance and what role its audience can or must play. The next issue of Passages appears in mid-December.
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Passages Recent Issues:
Creativity and Culture Shock No. 55
Creativity and Culture Shock Cultural Exchange around the Globe By the Suez: Artist in Quest of Evidence | Design: Objects That Testify to Human Creativity | Experiment: Musicologists Meet Sonic Tinkerers T H E C U LT U R A L M A G A Z I N E O F P R O H E LV E T I A , N O . 5 5 , I S S U E 1 / 2 0 1 1
Pro Helvetia supports and promotes Swiss culture in Switzerland and throughout the world. It supports diversity in creative culture, stimulates reflection on cultural needs, and contributes to an open and culturally pluralist Switzerland.
Computer Games: The Art of the Future No. 54
Computer Games: The Art of the Future Gäuerle and Chlefele: Swiss Folk Culture in Argentina p. 6 Exoticism with a Twist: Chopin as Modern Opera p. 36 On the Heels of a Poet: Writer-in-Residence in Buenos Aires p. 41 THE CU LTU RAL MAGAZINE OF PRO HELVETIA, NO. 54, ISSU E 3/2010
Art Will Make You Happy! No. 53
Art Will Make You Happy! Epiphany in a Petri Dish: Artists-in-Labs p. 6 The Walls Have Tongues: Swiss Sound Art in San Francisco p. 36 Inspiring Rome: Turning Time into Art p. 38 T H E C U LT U R A L M A G A Z I N E O F P R O H E LV E T I A , N O . 5 3 , I S S U E 2 / 2 0 1 0
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imPrES Su m / PASSAG E S o n lin E / n E xt iSSu E
Most reviewers say little more than whether they liked or disliked the objects under discussion, garnished with references to their cultural proficiency.
” Yes, the culture-blogging scene does have its None of Your Friends Like This Kathrin Passig, p. 15
“ lighthouses, providing anyone who has an interest in culture with useful information quickly and reliably. They also offer readers a guarantee that they will not only find what they are searching for (after all, that’s what Google is for), but also, and much more importantly, that they will find things it would never have occurred to them to search for.
So Who’s Going to Read All This? Christoph Lenz, p. 12
Everybody is cutting and pasting as much as they can. “ The traditional figure of the critic, a broadly educated expert in his field coming to serious conclusions in his ivory tower and communicating them in beautifully written sentences, The Rapidly Changing World of Swiss Culture Sections is thus dying out. Pia Reinacher, p. 6 www.prohelvetia.ch/passages/en
Pro Helvetia supports and promotes Swiss culture in Switzerland and throughout the world.