Steve Dietz


Architecture for Temporary Autonomous Sarai
Architecture for Temporary Autonomous Sarai

Raqs Media Collective and Atelier Bow-Wow, "Architecture for Temporary Autonomous Sarai," 2003.

Translocations | Media List



An online exhibition of network-based art from Brazil, China, Croatia, India, Japan, Mexico, Phillipines, Singapore, South Africa, Turkey, and the United States by Danger Museum, entropy8zuper! with Julie Mehretu, Fran Ilich, Takuji KOGO, Andreja Kuluncic, Fatima Lasay, Raqs Media Collective, Re:combo, Warren Sack + Sawad Brooks, Sarai Media Lab, The Thing, Trinity Session, and

“. . . sarais were the typical spaces for a concrete translocality, with their own culture of custodial care, conviviality, and refuge. They also contributed to syncretic languages and ways of being. We would do well to emulate even in part aspects of this tradition in the new-media culture of today.”
—Shuddha Sengupta, Raqs Media Collective, Translocations

“Think locally, act globally,” artist and theorist Tetsuo Kogawa exhorts. Translocations explores notions of what constitutes the local in a globally networked environment. This is not simply a question of where the “trans-there” lies. If the nonspace of cyberspace can create the possibility of a diasporic community, united not by geography but by shared interests, what precisely is held in common? How do similarly worded ideas translate across cultures? Do the same mixes sound different depending upon where they are sampled? Is there the possibility of transcultures that are neither isolationist nor imperialistic? What is the public commons of digital intercourse?

Translocations is a series of platforms—the physical, networked exhibition installation of Architecture for Temporary Autonomous Sarai; the streaming media platform of the Translocal Channel, which is programmed by a number of artist groups from around the world; and the platforms of individual artworks such as OPUS and Translation Map, which require the participation of viewers to establish the possibility of translocal communities over the network.

Architecture for Temporary Autonomous Sarai, 2003
Raqs Media Collective, formed 1991, New Delhi
Jeebesh Bagchi, born 1966, India; works in New Delhi
Monica Narula, born 1969, India; works in New Delhi
Shuddhabrata Sengupta, born 1968, India; works in New Delhi

Atelier Bow-Wow, formed 1992, Tokyo
Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, born 1965, Japan; works in Tokyo
Momoyo Kaijima, born 1969, Japan; works in Tokyo

“. . . for us, the creation of a sarai was to create a ‘home for nomads’ and a resting place for practices of new media nomadism. Traditionally, sarais were also nodes in the communications system (horse-mail!) and spaces where theatrical entertainments, music, dervish dancing, and philosophical disputes could all be staged. They were hospitable to a wide variety of journeys—physical, cultural, and intellectual. In medieval Central and South Asia, sarais were the typical spaces for a concrete translocality, with their own culture of custodial care, conviviality, and refuge. They also contributed to syncretic languages and ways of being. We would do well to emulate even in part aspects of this tradition in the new media culture of today. . . . This might create oases of locatedness along the global trade routes of new media culture.”—Raqs Media Collective

This is precisely the intention of Architecture for Temporary Autonomous Sarai in How Latitudes Become Forms—a place for social intercourse, both onsite and translocally; a place for the investigation of both artists’ work and the exhibition context.

Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Momoyo Kaijima, of the Tokyo-based architectural practice Atelier Bow-Wow, are proponents of what they have named da-me (no good) architecture. Multilayered structures with varied uses (underpass + cinema + bar + barbershop + store, for example), these buildings epitomize, for them, a new creative, adaptive aesthetic.

The Walker commissioned Raqs and Bow-Wow to collaborate on a “Temporary Autonomous Sarai” (TAS)—something that is physically modest, intended to be temporary, and could function programmatically as a sarai for the exhibition. In September 2002 they came to Minneapolis for a weeklong residency. The cross-disciplinary collaboration and the physical, social space for presenting net art and its context is an exciting experiment, which will inform future practice at the Walker.

big Other
Fran Ilich, born 1975, Mexico; works in Mexico City and Berlin
Text-based reality show, February 1–March 1, 2003
With Cindy Gabriela Flores (Mexico City), Pedro Jimenez (Seville, Spain), Eduardo Arcos (Ecuador/Mexico), Teresa Arozena (Tenerife), Luis H. Rosales (Tijuana, Mexico), Pacho (Mexico City), Tony Dushane (San Francisco), DJ Pod (San Francisco), Jeroen Gouluze (Groningen, Netherlands), Osfavelados (Seville, Spain), Germán Maggiori (Buenos Aires).

big Other is a text-based reality show/community web log or “blog” organized by media activist Fran Ilich with 11 other participants also working with media.

big Other is in part a reaction to the supposed “reality TV” epitomized by shows in the United States such as Big Brother, Survivor, Fear Factor, and any number of other programs that are, in fact, slickly produced and heavily manipulated narratives that have little in common with “real life.”

Blogging is an online diary/journal, and like many of the artists in How Latitudes Become Forms, the participants in big Other intend through this modest, contemporary practice to blog about the daily experiences of their lives. They will be writing from behind their monitors, situated in different geographies, but sharing the common space of their communications; sharing their inner worlds, their net.browsing, their media projects.

Audiences anywhere on the Internet will be able to “listen in” on these conversations (in Spanish and English) among media activists and artists from across Latin America, participating virtually and vicariously in a different kind of reality show that bothers to attempt to self-consciously but openly explore the many Others that constitute our globally (dis)connected world.

Eduardo Arcos is an Ecuadorian living in Mexico City. He is the media director of Noiselab, and one of the best known webloggers writing in Spanish.

Teresa Arozena lives in Tenerife on the Canary Islands. She works mainly with electronic culture issues and photography.

Tony DuShane lives in San Francisco where he is a writer, radio show host, film festival director, and jumps around at local punk bars.

Cindy Gabriela Flores is a cyberfeminist living in México City She currently works at an NGO dealing with youth sexuality issues.

Jerome Goulooze lives in Groninger, in the Netherlands. He used to be a squatter many years ago, and now works on new narrative schemes for interactive scenarios, and is about to release the design for a program.

Fran Ilich is a Mexican working on several narrative media projects. His latest film will be shown at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Pedro Jiménez is the director of the audiovisual festival Zemos98. He studies audiovisual communication in Seville, Spain.

Germán Maggiori lives in Buenos Aires. He is both a dentist and a university teacher; he won an important award sponsored by Editorial Alfaguara with his novel Entre Hombres.

osfavelados, aka Jose Perez de Lama lives in Seville, Spain. He is a teacher and architect specializing in hackitecture and zapatismo.

Pacho lives in México City. He is the drummer of la Maldita Vecindad, one of the best-known rock bands in México since the early ’90s. He is also a columnist of alternative culture for the Reforma newspaper.

DJ Pod lives in San Francisco where he works reassembling world music into a tactical media/culture jamming form he calls “Pan Optic Radio.”

Luis Humberto Rosales (aka cybercholito) lives in Tijuana, where he works as a medical doctor. He was the founder of Indymedia Tijuana and is part of the Borderhack collective.

Fox 9 News: Non Broadcasting time @Twin Cities
KOGO (Takuji Kogo), born 1965, Japan; works Yokohama, Japan

“I'm just trying out some broken conceptual art with this computer stuff". --KOGO

Since 2000, KOGO has been creating a series of projects, Non Broadcast Time, which he refers to as “photo between video.” Basically animated views of empty TV sets—from the Japanese TV drama Chyugakusei Nikki (Middle School Diaries), one of the longest-running programs in Japan, to a TV station in China to the Australian soap drama Neighbours. Non Broadcast Time is a kind of Web art interstitial that relies on the disjuncture of our cultural memory of TV shows and the emptiness of the set on which they are taped to animate our contemporary experience of time as disjointed, speeded up, narrative, unfathomable, local, and global all at once.

For Translocations, KOGO has created a new project using a series of images from the sets for Fox 9 News in the Twin Cities.

Takuji Kogo has organized collaborative and web projects at *candy factory, a gallery space in Yokohama, Japan, he founded in 1998. In 2000 the gallery space closed and since then he has been developing projects in museum or exhibition spaces. (

*candy factory projects have been exhibited at the Multimedia Art Asia Pacific (MAAP 2001, 2002), the Yokohama Triennial (2001), and the Institute for Modern Art in Brisbane, among other venues.

Translocal Mixer, 2003
Re:combo, formed 2001, Recife, Brazil
artist collective, Recife, Brazil, and worldwide

"We believe in the possibility of artists creating music, art, and films in a collaborative way, open and free." —H. D. Mabuse

Re:combo is a Brazil-based but now worldwide collective of “musicians, software engineers, DJs, professors, journalists, and computer geeks” who combine live events, peer-to-peer networking, and music resampling as their medium.

For Translocations Re:combo has put out a “Call for Noises” on the Internet for three elements from different cities around the world: percussive patterns, noise, and speech. These then become the samples for the Translocal Mixer, a new Flash-based project that uses sliders to allow participants to create their own mix of world sounds—a kind of urban synth online, on the fly.

Because part of Re:combo’s message is the idea of a creative commons, where ideas and sources are freely shared--intellectual generosity instead of intellectual property--the repository for the sound files from the Call for Noise will be OPUS, the “Open Platform for Unlimited Signification” by Raqs Media Collective, which is also part of the Translocations exhibition.

Re:combo will also be doing a live, two-hour program on the Translocal Channel every Friday at 16:00 (Brasilia), 14:00 CST, 20:00 GMT. WHY REPEAT THIS URL? Tune in to

OPUS, 2002
Raqs Media Collective

“We want to create a digital commons, and try to find out if people are willing to share work in this area.”—Monica Narula, Raqs Media Collective

OPUS, or Open Platform for Unlimited Signification, is an online environment for presenting content and a work space that allows for collaboration, modification, and republishing of others’ content. According to Raqs, “The idea for the project is taken from the Free Software principle. In Free Software anyone can download something, modify, customize it, whatever you want, and again distribute and share it. And we were wondering if it will work as a methodology also for cultural production.”

There are two fundamental aspects to OPUS. The first is simply to allow a member-user to download and upload work. The second--what distinguishes OPUS from any number of other file-sharing projects--is a powerful concept that Raqs calls “rescension.”

“Normally,” especially in intellectual property law, but generally in at least Western culture, there is the idea of the original and anything based on it is derisively deemed “derivative.” In OPUS, Raqs deploys the notion of “rescension.”

“A re-telling, a word taken to signify the simultaneous existence of different versions of a narrative within oral, and from now onwards, digital cultures. . . . The concept of rescension is contraindicative of the notion of hierarchy. A rescension cannot be an improvement, nor can it connote a diminishing of value. A rescension is that version which does not act as a replacement for any other configuration of its constitutive materials. The existence of multiple rescensions is a guarantor of an idea or a work’s ubiquity.”

OPUS, then, becomes a digital commons for cultural production by acting as a platform for self-motivated communities of users to freely share their creative work—and build upon the work of others, with specific acknowledgment but no hierarchy of value implied.

For Translocations, the Walker Art Center has taken the open source OPUS kernel—the software code—and created some modifications that are specific to its presentation in an exhibition context. Users of this recension of OPUS, for instance, can modify images online, without having to download them. More critically, all of the texts contained in the exhibition catalogue are available directly from the Web site for downloading, modification, and reuploading, to create a channel for alternative points of view—rescensions—to the official institutional voice.

Finally, students from the Minnesota Arts High School have participated in creating a model project using OPUS for viewing during the exhibition of How Latitudes Become Forms.

Translation Map, 2003
Warren Sack, born 1962, Minnesota; works in Santa Cruz, California
Sawad Brooks, born 1964, Columbia; works in Williamsburg, New York

“While there is great hope that the Internet will one day truly be worldwide, mutual understanding and worldwide communication cannot be accomplished simply by running fiber optic cable across international borders. Right now on the net, discussion is dominated by the English language. If we hope to include most of the Earth’s population in a global conversation the means will need to be found to connect people across languages and cultures.”—Warren Sack and Sawad Brooks

Functionally, Translation Map is a multiprotocol message delivery system. It allows someone to write a message and have it delivered anywhere—such as my great uncle in Poland, whom I haven’t seen in 20 years—in any language.

The anywhere part is based on Stanley Millgram’s famous six degrees of separation experiment, in which a package with only a name and a vague location was given to someone in Nebraska and usually within six “hops” it arrived at its intended recipient. Similarly, Translation Map will use a combination of network resources: a language database to identify where a language is spoken; a world facts database to automatically generate contextual information that can help refine choices; a geographic database to identify major cities in the regions identified by language, and a database of net communities in cities around the world. Simple, right?

The translation part is a bit more complicated, but also interesting in terms of computing theory. “Our . . . approach is based on the following observation made most acutely by the sociologist of science and technology, Bruno Latour: "The word translation has at least two meanings: one linguistic, the other geometric.” The meaning of "translation" in the discipline of geometry means a movement from one position to another. Rather than as a problem of linguistics and text, we propose to examine language translation as a problem of border crossing, movement, and spatialization.

Sack and Brooks believe that, essentially, the problem of computer-based translation has been misunderstood for than 50 years: “In 1949 one of the inventors of the mathematical theory of information and communication, Warren Weaver, wrote and distributed a report to two hundred of his colleagues. The title of Weaver's report was "Translation." Its purpose was to explore the idea that one might design a computer program to translate texts from one language to another. Those familiar with Claude Shannon's and Warren Weaver's mathematical theory of information and communication will not find the following too surprising. But, anyone who has done the work of a translator is likely to find Weaver's understanding of translation fantastical:

"When I look at an article in Russian, I say, 'This is really written in English, but it has been coded in some strange symbols. I will now proceed to decode'."

They continue:

After half a century of sustained work on Weaver's translation-as-decoding problem, how much progress has been made? When measured against the enormous amount of money that has been spent on computer programs written to "decrypt" novels, newspapers, technical reports and other sorts of texts, has the small amount of progress achieved been worth the budgets -- indeed careers -- expended? Perhaps, fifty years later, it's finally time to admit Weaver's folly: translation is not a task of decryption. In fact, it may be time to critically examine many of the so-called "fixes" of computer science with the same sort of scepticism Ludwig Wittgenstein applied in his examination of the "problems" of philosophy (Wittgenstein, 1951). Many of the "problems" of natural language processing may stem from a badly chosen set of foundational propositions (e.g., translation-as-decryption) and might, therefore, be more properly understood as pseudo problems or just silly games.

While Translation Map is presented, in part, as a research agenda, it is also pointedly interested in the social underpinnings for the work and its aesthetic output. In a way, I think it encapsulates one way to think about the title of this conference, “From the Aesthetics of Communication to Net Art” – which would be “From the Aesthetics of Communication to Net Art … and Back Again.” It is focusing on the connections, a kind of social resonance of the networks, not necessarily as an instrumentalized end product or patentable algorithm.

Translation Map was one of three net art projects commissioned by the Walker as part of Emerging Artists/Emergent Medium: Translocations with support from the Jerome Foundation.

alpha 3.8, 2003
Tien Woon, born 1975, Singapore; works in Singapore
Charles Lim Yi Yong, born 1975, Singapore; works in Singapore
Launches March 31, 2003

alpha 3.8 is part of an ongoing series of works that explores the relationship of cyberspace to physical space. For one year, beginning March 31, will host their Web site, on servers physically located in 44 different countries, from Myanmar to Afghanistan to French Polynesia. Around the world in 80 hops, so to speak. The site will effectively—and electronically—migrate from country to country every 8–10 days. In cyberspace, in theory, the migration will not be noticeable to the user. In practice, however, will negotiate contractual arrangements for this cyber-migration, documenting and challenging the extent to which a frictionless, borderless economy “really” exists independent of national boundaries, international regulations, and local customs—i.e., translocally. will migrate to the following countries: Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Canada, United States, Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, French Polynesia, Tonga, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and Singapore.

alpha 3.8 was one of three net art projects commissioned by the Walker as part of Emerging Artists/Emergent Medium: Translocations with support from the Jerome Foundation.

Distributive Justice: America, 2003
Andreja Kuluncic
Born Croatia, 1968, lives and works Zagreb, Croatia
Launches April 2003

Everyone is sensitive to the question of their share of the common good—how much access they get to material good, money, information, services, jobs, rights, political power. Those who get the best pieces of the social pie often need to justify the actual model of distribution; those less lucky tend to dispute it. Both rely on certain moral intuitions.

During March, Croatian artists Andreja Kuluncic and Ivo Martinovic are in residence at the Walker to develop their multidisciplinary, multimedia project Distributive Justice: America. Their work in the Twin Cities will focus on how Americans see their involvement in the share of the common good. Kuluncic and Martinovic will work with local participants involved in science, politics, and the arts, employing roundtable discussions, interviews, questionnaires, and databases to help compile and document opinions and research relating to this topic.

Julie Mehretu, born 19790, Ethiopia; works in New York
entropy8zuper!, formed 1999; based in Ghent, Belgium
Twin Cities as East African Cities, 2002-2003
Launches April 8, 2003

As an immigrant herself, Julie Mehretu has always been fascinated with urban spaces and the ways that city fabrics change as new arrivals are stitched in. The faces of East African immigrants that she found upon initial visits to the Twin Cities reminded her of the Ethiopian-American community she grew up in Michigan. She knew those faces held fascinating and multilayered stories of change, movement, community, and growth.

When the Walker subsequently invited Mehretu to develop a residency project, she immediately decided to encourage the Twin Cities East African community to give “voice” to their own stories. After developing the project concepts closely with her brother, David Mehretu, she asked 30 young people, most of whom attend Edison and Roosevelt high schools, to spend several weeks recording their own lives through photographs and sound recordings. The images they took range from scenes at the dinner table to choir rehearsal and soccer practice to trips to the mall and local African supermarket. The accompanying recordings of ambient sound animate their narratives in unexpected ways that could not happen through visuals alone.

In an interesting confluence of art and philosophy, Mehretu's residency project delves into many themes that underlie her painting practice: family history, social and political themes, the individual and community in urban space, and mapping of the self within the larger whole. The self-exploration process initiated by the residency project proved to be a highly organic and creative one that moved several participants to investigate their own family histories and see their own lives in a new and refreshing light.

The personal and often moving stories generated by the participants’ hard world have been gathered together virtually to create a rich, multilayered Web site designed by the award-winning web team entropy8zuper! (Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn).

Julie Mehretu’s artist residency was made possible by generous support from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund.

Translocal Channel, 2003
Danger Museum (Singapore/Denmark), Fran Ilich (Mexico), KOGO, Japan, Fatima Lasay (Philippines), Re:combo (Brazil), The Thing (United States), The Trinity Session (South Africa)

“DIY communities and self-organizations are the main source of sustainability, the main force in the revival and continued development of today’s post-planning cities. The creation and development of alternative art spaces is a perfect example. Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zone shifts constantly between the existing center and the periphery, creating a kind of ‘emptiness’ that subverts the established order.
—Hou Hanru, “Initiatives, Alternatives: Notes in a Temporary and Raw State”

As part of the “zone” of the Architecture for Temporary Autonomous Sarai of Raqs Media Collective and Atelier Bow-Wow, and in recognition of the dynamic importance of DIY communities, Translocations has asked a number of artist organizations around the world to program the Translocal Channel.

The Translocal Channel is a kind of prototype global C-Span for the arts based on a streaming media player and scheduling software called Frequency Clock, itself developed by the artist group r a d i o q u a l i a (Adam Hyde and Honor Harger). Basically, Frequency Clock allows for distributed programming of multiple channels of streaming media content viewable over the Internet. As such, it knits together geographically separated programmers, a loose network of hosting nodes, and a global audience with new media content that does not need to meet the homogenizing mcglobal standards of commercially driven, broadcast media. It is truly a set of translocal flows.

The Translocal Channel becomes a platform within the Architecture for Temporary Autonomous Sarai—and on the Internet—for programmers around the world to insert their own point of view into the exhibition, from the periphery to the (Walker Art) center, so to speak. Content ranges from a bi-weekly two-hour live mix of sounds by Brazil-based Re:combo to a weekly series of programs by Trinity Session in South Africa to artist work from Southeast Asia programmed by the Danger Museum to a lecture series entitled “New Ideas on Globalization,” featuring such notable speakers as Tariq Aziz, Siva Vaidhyanathan, and Carol Becker.

Danger Museum
The Danger Museum is a nomadic organization whose codirectors are the artists Miho Shimizu, Øyvind Renberg, and Woon Tien Wei, working respectively from Japan, Norway, and Singapore. The Danger Museum adapts to each location that it visits and questions the basic functions of the art institution, hoping to fill the gaps that the art museum leaves behind. The Danger Museum's working practice is dedicated to bringing together projects from different cultural, geographical and social contexts. By creating a meeting point for artists, the Danger Museum aims to promote practices that are not widely documented. Danger Museum was established in 1998 and has previously been seen at Contemplation Room, Overgaden Gallery, Copenhagen (2002), The Show, Insa Art Centre, Seoul (2002) and Soft, International Institute of Visual Arts, London (2002).

Fran Ilich
Raised in Tijuana, Mexico, Fran Ilich is a filmmaker, novelist, screenwriter, new media artist, border activist, and organizer. Ilich serves as the general director of Cinemátik, the first cyber-culture festival in Latin America, as well as the editor at large of Sputnik Digital Culture, an online daily news service and monthly print magazine. He also moderates nettime-latino; edits the Mexico City edition of Rhizome; and is the author of the best-selling novel metro-pop. His screenplay of Interacción was broadcast on the Discovery Channel in Spanish and Portuguese and took second place at the 1st International Awards of Hispanamerican screenplay by the New York Film Academy & USA Network in 1997. His film Una Ciudad Sin Estilo was screened at the next SUPPOSED TO BE SMASHED TOGETHER? 5minutes III International Conference in Amsterdam in 1999 and is now part of the database of the Internationaal Instituut Voor Sociale Geschiedenis. Ilich's current project Modem Drama is a digital film collaboration with, a group of young Mexican feminists working with the Internet. His latest film will be shown at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Fatima Lasay (Philippines)
Fatima Lasay is an artist, writer, researcher, and assistant professor of new media art at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts. She obtained her BFA in Industrial Design and MFA at the University of the Philippines.

Lasay’s new-media projects include Manipulation (2000, Galeri Situ, Manila), Geocentricity and Gimokud the Melting Soul (2001, online), Healing Cultures through Digital Art (2002, online), and the Digital Media Festival 2000–2002 (Corredor Gallery,Manila).

Lasay may be contacted by e-mail ( or through the College of Fine Arts, Bartlett Hall, E. Jacinto Str., University of the
Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City 1101, Philippines. Her Web site is at

Re:combo is a Brazil-based but now worldwide collective of "musicians, software engineers, DJs, professors, journalists, and computer geeks," who combine live events, peer-to-peer networking, and music resampling as their medium.

The Thing

The Trinity Session
The Trinity Session is an independent contemporary arts production team practicing in public art projects, project initiation and production, curating, researching, and critical writing. Specialized interest areas include urban development and criticism, technology, and the body and web and electronic art.

With local galleries and institutions facing closure and/or radical restructuring, we believe that the processes of absorbing, producing, communicating, and representing art will shift in quite interesting ways that will seem invisible in the so-called art world landscape. We are interested in intercepting such interstices and making them tangible.

By acting as correspondents and consultants, and approaching the work process from a network and ‘accommodation and exchange of information’ angle, the purpose of our working dynamic is to produce in a cross-platform, multidisciplinary way with artists, institutions, and corporate brands and services.

Our interests lie in closing some of the gaps between contemporary art, fashion, and culture by interpreting and visualising trends and developments in collaboration with like-minded partners.

Individually, Trinity members have been commissioned to write for the Taxi series (artists’ monographs), Fresh (residency programme at the South African National Gallery), Jalouse magazine, Nka – Journal of Contemporary African Art, Flash Art International, Fine Art Forum, Leonardo Electronic Almanac, magazine and various other local and international publications, catalogues, and journals.

The Trinity Session acts as creative directors of The | PREMISES, a new project room and gallery at the JHB Civic Theatre, and teaches at various institutions in Gauteng. We also act as agents (advertising and distribution) for Flash Art International.

As individuals, we are active, practicing artists.

“The most thrilling moments in any exhibition are when the art catches us off-guard, takes us by surprise and launches us into moments of unpredictable insight, wonder, and pleasure. Unfortunately, the very act of exhibiting an object as ‘art’ often dampens the possibility of this happening.” (Ralph Rugoff, frieze, issue 44, jan-feb. 1999)


New York Times
February 17, 2003, Monday
“Cross-Cultural Ventures With Digital Artworks”

The best work in “Translocations,” an online exhibition of nine new Internet-based artworks presented by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, succeeds aesthetically because it is destined to fail electronically.

“Translation Map,” one of the works, allows viewers to write and send e-mail to any of 250 countries. There is just one small problem: the Internet is considered a global village that inspires free-flowing conversations, but few of these messages will ever be received.

“Translation Map,” by Warren Sack and Sawad Brooks, argues against the Internet's utopian promise. The work's achievement is to show just how disconnected parts of the online world still are. Before universal communication can occur, Mr. Sack said, “there are various fractures that have to be bridged.”

Despite the shimmering image of the earth that introduces it, “Translation Map” is primarily a conceptual artwork designed to reveal those fractures. Here's how it works: Before each message can be delivered, its text must be translated into the language of its recipient. There are 6,000 choices, from Algonquin to Zulu. Once the message has been converted, it will also be published on the work's Web site.

Don't expect the “Translation Map” site to fill up soon with messages in different languages. The work does not use a computer program to translate a message from one language into another. Instead it finds online forums in which both might be spoken, then ships the message there with a request for human help. Whether through incomprehension or apathy, the likelihood seems that most messages will be ignored, as has been the case so far.

Given that all of the newly commissioned works in the Walker exhibition involve some form of cross-cultural collaboration in cyberspace, “Translation Map” provides a backhanded reminder that such virtual ventures are more easily imagined than realized. As Mr. Sack, who teaches media theory at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said, “The borders are still there.”

Most works in “Translocations,” which went online on Feb. 8 at, try to break through those borders rather than explicitly expose their presence.

For instance, Fran Ilich, a new-media artist in Mexico, asked artists from eight countries to contribute daily comments to a bilingual Web log, an online journal known in geek-speak as a blog. The Raqs Media Collective from New Delhi created an online space where anyone could post a story, photograph or music file, which other international visitors could alter at will.

Boundary crossing has suddenly emerged as a hot topic in new-media circles. Earlier this month the Transmediale festival in Berlin was built around a Play Global theme. And Paris Connection, a site with commentary in four languages about French online artworks, opens today at

For Steve Dietz, the Walker's new-media curator and the organizer of “Translocations,” it is a timely notion. With governments closely monitoring who is traversing their geographical boundaries, he said, “it seems valuable to look at the Internet for its ability to cross those borders and get alternate points of view.”

“Translocations” is running concurrently with “How Latitudes Become Forms: Art in a Global Age,” an exhibition in the Walker's regular galleries. Like “Latitudes,” the virtual exhibition asks how art has been affected in a world where there is a Starbucks on every sand dune and the country-pop singer Shania Twain slaps sitars and tablas on her songs to boost their overseas appeal.

So, as the world gets even smaller via the Internet, will Western art traditions vanquish all others or will they become more open to other perspectives? The question gets even more interesting in the digital domain. On the Internet one can skip quickly from digital art in one city to art in another. As artists rapidly assimilate one another's work, this could lead, at least in theory, to a drab homogeneity. Is it possible that cyberspace will lose its sense of place?

As the work by Mr. Sack and Mr. Brooks suggests, there are still too many impediments for this to be an urgent concern. Yet the other works in “Translocations,” with their riot of foreign sounds and images, indicate that the question is worth asking. If anything, the exhibition resembles the international-arrivals area at an American airport. The site teems with people and their artistic baggage. Art, texts and video clips collide chaotically, and more pour in continually. But while the site looks like a big, fat multicultural wedding of artistic sensibilities, everyone's final destination seems to be disappointingly domestic.

For instance, “Translocal Mixer,” by the Brazil-based arts group Re:combo, is an interactive audio-control panel that allows listeners to combine sounds gathered in Recife, Bucharest and other cities. But except for the exotic sonic content, the project is no different from countless online music-mixing toys.

The upshot is that, at least for the moment, voices from other latitudes are not creating new forms for online art. But if the Internet truly becomes a global medium, will local characteristics survive in online work?

Jim Andrews, a co-producer of the Paris Connection site, thinks so. He developed the site because of its strong French accent. “The French art has an élan and sensorial richness, an experiential focus that would seem to have something to do with French culture,” he said. “I don't see this sort of art coming much” from English-speaking countries.

New works are to be added to “Translocations,” and online viewers from around the world can augment some works with their contributions. But if the exhibition is intended to demonstrate that the Internet can be a global medium while retaining its local color, that message is lost in the translation.