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"NEW" MEDIA, ART, AND INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION [33]

 

It is fairly common — but perhaps not altogether innocent — to avoid ad­dressing new media and intercultural aspects of communication in one and the same essay. Here, however, both issues are treated together. I shall in­vestigate, in a perhaps somewhat unusual way, the phenomenon of "new" artistic media and some related issues such as virtual reality, computer and telecommunications technology, and cyberspace. I offer some philosophical remarks, especially of an epistemological kind, that are important to every debate in which terms like multimedia art, "new" media art, and screen based art occur. I argue that the novelty of some changes in the use of artis­tic media tends to be overemphasized and dramatized. Furthermore, I shall point to the lack of interest in intercultural aspects of artistic communica­tion and to the relevance an intercultural orientation can have for reflection on the phenomenon of so-called "new" media in art,

It has often been claimed that art is the best possible window into another community. Art would be a universal language and contact with works of art supposedly offers the best direct or immediate internal access to another com­munity. This is purported to be a kind of access that cannot possibly be matched by knowledge about the geography, religion, and history. Even John Dewey believes that "au fond [34], the aesthetic quality is the same for Greeks, Chinese, Americans." This idea is


surprisingly reminiscent of Clive Bell's "discovery" of Significant Form in so-called primitive art. Dewey says that barriers are dissolved, limiting prejudices melt away, when we enter into the spirit of Negro or Polynesian art. This insensible melting is far more efficacious than the change effected by reasoning, because it enters directly into attitude."

To this contention one could object in the following way. Immediate contact with for example, Congolese Nkisi nkondi fetish statues (in the museum of African Art and History in Tervuren), which are bristling with nails are quite shocking to Europeans — such as Joseph Conrad in the Congo. Only by acquaintance with facts that are external to the artwork can one get real access to and understanding of them. One has to know that the nails are meant to seal dispute resolutions and that the statues "were considered so powerful that they were sometimes kept outside the village." Only when I know this, will my first perception be seriously altered. It is an objection that is often made against the privilege enjoyed by the immediate contact with the senses: knowledge of the "context" can enhance our appreciation of the art of the foreign community.

 

Congolese Nkisi nkondi fetish statues (late 19th century)

 

Both the universalist view and the objection are flawed. First of all, we have to ask whether we can make such a sharp distinction between internal and external information and, second, whether it is correct to presuppose a typical proper aesthetics to make artistic communication possible. Is not ev­ery form of life already the (not fully definable) outcome of conscious or unconscious influence by other forms of life? What would be the "typical" English garden, which was real­ized on the basis of travel reports from the Far East? And what of the Eastern influence on so-called typical Western painters as Matisse, Whistler, and Degas or composers such as Debussy, Messiaen, Ravel, Rimski-Korsakow and Puccini? What is clear is that it is completely unclear what is "own," "typical," or "authentic." Live communities are never isolated islands de­veloping by themselves. It is as impossible to demarcate strictly the "proper" from the "foreign" as it is to find a universal language that would make artistic communication possible in an absolutely definitive way.


 

Just as it is not necessary to share a language to communicate — this holds both for people that speak the "same" language and for people that do not — it is not necessary to share the same "natural" ways in which classifications and reifications are made. Opinions, beliefs, insights, and aesthetic judgments occur in causal interaction with the whole natural and social life-world. For successful (artistic) communication to work, it is not a necessary requirement that words, images, sounds, and concepts have exact meanings shared by all participants involved in the communicative interac­tion, Hence, incommensurability between languages and concepts could be interpreted in a positive way, that is, the communication process is kept in motion by what the participants do not share.

Just as boomerangs are prized as art by Australian Aborigines, so are Kayaks[35] by the Inuit and the ibeji or twin dolls by the Yorubas. This is comparable to Italian majolica[36] and Flemish carpets being unambiguously called art. In his book Calliope's Sisters, the anthropologist Richard Ander­son is looking for something that occurs in every culture: some things are valued because of their beauty, others for their craftsmanship. Anderson proposes to define art as "culturally significant meaning, skillfully encoded in an affecting, sensuous medium." The definition makes use of some vague terms: it presupposes that one has decided what is "culturally significant" and what is not before one promotes something as art. It also suggests that meaning can be culturally significant and then (afterwards, as it were) be encoded in a medium. Yet, it is highly questionable whether, first, there is need for a universal essence "art" or second, there ought to be universal aesthetic qualities to make artistic communication (also inter-culturally) pos­sible. The opposite contention — that each community is locked up in its own image of the world and can only speak from within the own commu­nity — is equally wrong. To apply it to artistic communication: I can be moved by Chinese calligraphy, Japanese No [37]theatre, and the sensuality of Ancient Egyptian images without having grown up in Chinese, Japanese, or Egyptian "culture." All knowledge, norms, and values exist only due to a given tradition or life-practice. Yet "tradition" and "life-practice" are not well-defined patterns or entities with strict boundaries. They are rather con­tinually changing. By communicating with other traditions, we can come to a better understanding of what the human tradition(s) and way(s) of life are. There is both one and many human pattern(s) of life that crop up and disappear: no distinction between the singular and the plural can be made. Participating in (a) way(s) of life is a necessary condition for translation, in­terpretation, and communication, and hence also for artistic communication. As Jaap van Brakel writes:

It would be incorrect to talk of many human forms of life, because all have in common their humanness...It would also be incorrect to talk only of one human form of life; there are variations without a common core.

That artistic communication — also conceived "inter-culturally" — is al­ways possible, does not mean at all that there is (or ought to be) a universal common behavior or universal rationality or general conception of beauty or art. That human life-practices are similar is no ground to suppose that there is one essential or prototypical "Way of Life" that they necessarily share. People do have all kinds of common characteristics, but those are always conceptualized in the language of a certain group; there is no com­mon ideal language available. There are important similarities between the different existing human life-practices; but the specific similarities de­pend on the life-practices that are compared and on the practices or language(s) in which the comparison is made. Moreover, a "life-practice" is not a permanent, unchangeable thing and every comparison that is influences the life-practices or traditions in which the comparison is made.

There is no such thing as the universal concept "art" — if this is correct, then the often heard slogan "art is dead" cannot mean much — and such a universal concept is not needed for artistic communication to work (also in­ter-culturally). If this is true, one should ask what might be the use of pre­supposing the existence of strict genres, media, and so on. Moreover, focus­ing one-sidedly on the problem of Western technology when investigating new media or multimedia in the arts is


ethnocentric. The elephant dung that Chris Ofili uses in his work, or the beads from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Japan that are used by the Huichol Indians to fabricate their masks, is at least as much (or as little) a problem of multimedia or "new" media as Bill Viola's, Valerie Mannaerts's, or Pipilotti Risf’s video- or media art.

 

    Bill Viola Ocean Without a Shore, 2007 Video/sound installation Color High-Definition video triptych, two 65" plasma screens, one 103" screen mounted vertically, six loudspeakers (three pairs stereo sound)  

 

 

A fortiori [38], what can be the meaning of the expression "multimedia"? The least one can say is that in the discussion on multimedia and art the ques­tion what a "medium" is, is not so often asked (see below). The philosophi­cal debate on so-called new media is often reduced to casual remarks about the increasing changes in space-time perception through the super-fast de­velopments of technology and "telematics." Dramatized images and wor­rying terms such as hyperspace, virtual reality, cyberspace, and hyper-intel­ligence are often used in this connection. Yet was the attack on the World Trade Center in New York more "hyper-real" (to "us" who watched it again and again on TV and on the Web) than Belgian King Leopold II's atrocities in the Congo in 1880-1920 (during which the local population was halved) to the Congolese?

The expressions virtual reality, hyperspace, and so on, were introduced to refer to the experienced space in post-industrial society, which would differ fundamentally from the space as people experienced it in the past. A famous example in architecture is the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles it has been described as a mutation of the space as it is experienced. The enormous hall of the hotel is filled with glass elevator shafts, fountains, and mirrors. Several levels are filled with small shops, fancy restaurants, and snack bars; apparently haphazardly placed moving and spiral staircases, and exits and entrances hidden in unexpected dark corners. It is not pos­sible to orientate oneself, not even after having stayed there a few days. But at the level of personal confusion or bewilderment, such examples are prob­ably not that much different from culture shocks, like those of Muslim dip­lomats from North Africa staying at the court of the French king in Paris in the eighteenth century or the man who was taken from the Highlands of New Guinea and shown around Singapore, replying to the question what he had seen: "a man carrying bananas," referring to an open truck with ba­nanas.


However, is there a problem locating oneself in relation to the Bona-venture [39]when one stands in poor East L.A. and is hindered from accessing planned urban geography without crossing a six-lane highway?

Will the human organism be able to cope with these developments? Or is this worrying too much? But how disturbing or really "new" is all this? What about the approximately 75,000 Herero and Nama people in Namibia, whose wells were poisoned in 1904-07 by the Germans and consequently starved to death, or the more than 200,000 Chinese women who were raped one after the other by Japanese men in the notorious Nanjing Massacre (Rape of Nanking) in 1937-1938? Also the fear that the super-fast development of technology (in art) banishes the singularity of the here-now (for instance, of the aesthetic experience) — as Husserl thought — is fallacious. There is no longer an Archimedean observatory where the whole can be overlooked and whence it is worth trying to transcend the local situ­ation or tradition: Real and Virtual become more and more confused in our "hypervisual network." It is, for instance, worth noticing that, despite Laura Bush's unusual conversion to feminism during the war against the Taliban, the new Afghan government announced in January 2002 that adultery by women would still be punished by public stoning to death. "Although the war against the Taliban was retroactively announced as, in effect, a war for women...it appears to have ended as another enactment of Baudrillard's 'hyperreal.'" What about history? Is it still possible to tell one history of art or of visual culture? Yet whose history or histories should we tell? And how can or should they be told?

These general concerns about the consequences of the super-fast devel­opment of Western technology are not immaterial to aesthetics or philoso­phy of art. Yet if one keeps asking the question of art in terms of: What will (does) art look like in cyberspace or hyper-reality, then we are setting off on the wrong foot. The question should be: "how does cyberspace change the production and perception of artworks in our world?" The question should not be: How will the authenticity of art be contaminated by virtual reality? but: How does Cyborghia influence the production and reception of art? One of the more important and crucial tasks of aesthetics in the twenty-first century will be to look for an answer to these questions, based on a thorough study of artworks throughout the world.

A second complicated but related issue that I wish to address concerns media and medium specificity. It is not that simple to identify genres on the basis of uniqueness of medium. Moreover, the expression "artistic medium" is very vague. It has been suggested that we can do away with the term al­together. Speaking about the medium in relation to a form of art is in gen­eral a misleading simplification or abstraction. Reifying a medium has only local relevance, that is, has only meaning in connection with social, cultural, stylistic, aesthetic, and other concerns. Moreover, the tendency to treat art forms and genres as autonomous entities is itself disputable as such. Theo­reticians that are convinced that there is medium specificity will tend to consider genres as homogeneous, strictly separable entities. From that point of view each art form would possess some unchangeable, irreplaceable, and untranslatable uniqueness which is anchored in the specific medium by which it is characterized. If we stick to this kind of reasoning then we are going back to Walter Pater's nineteenth-century aestheticism (in his re­markable The Renaissance) which advocated some "untranslatable charm" to each and every specific medium or genre. Take film, for instance: what are the media of film? Cameras perhaps. Yet there are many films that are made without cameras: for example, so-called flicker films or painted films. What is one to make of CD-ROM films? Apart from this "internal" hetero­geneity, there is the fact that art genres always overlap each other: many formal qualities of film, such as the use of lines, shapes, movement, space, narrative structures, and so on, can easily be found in other art genres such as literature or painting. Apart from problems with defining a medium and distinguishing one medium from the other, it is also impossible to discover one distinctive medium {of for example, drama or film) that could distinguish once and for all this genre from another.

Artworks, genres, media, and so on, are human artifacts that cannot be understood as at all separate from human values, intentions, interests, habits. That is why they are not unchangeable: they


are being changed by and adapted to the human ways of life or communities that are equally temporary, historical and continually transforming. To mention only one case in point: musical instruments. New musical instruments are "invented" again and again. Usually those changes originate from changed stylistic forms or new spheres of interest. (Thus people started to fabricate pianos when composers got interested in sustained crescendos.)

Moreover, it is not clear at all what is meant by a "medium": is it the matter that an artwork is made of (for instance, watercolor, acrylic paint, tempera, oil paint in painting) or is it the means or utensils used to create the work of art (such as knives, fingers, brush, or body)? One could add that certain media can occur, for instance, in film as well as in sculpture (celluloid) or in dance as well as in theatre, painting, and so on. Are words the unique medium of literature? No, since words emerge in all types of speech and writing and in diverse sorts of art forms (opera, theatre, even painting and sculpture).

Does this mean that we have to agree with Noel Carroll's cry, "Forget the medium"? Not really, because behind this appeal, essentialism is lurk­ing. Carroll seems to be saying that we had better not speak about media anymore because "medium" does not refer to some unchangeable shared meaning. Furthermore it is impossible to connect the existence of one art genre with the use of a specific medium. His appeal has much in common with two extremely popular ideas in cognitive science: (1) if people use words they mean something precise or specific, and what they mean can be traced scientifically; and (2) there is a strict number of categorization do­mains that consist of an exact amount of basic categories (or "prototypes" or "cores"). Yet I wonder whether or not every undertaking that seeks to discover the "universal rules and concepts" that form the so-called "foun­dations of human (artistic) communication," is doomed to failure.

To understand what is really going on with new media and multimedia, looking for nomological laws that can explain how works of art communi­cate with us is to no avail. People learn from and about each other without sharing essences or universally valid definitions being needed, neither for things (artworks) nor for concepts (of beauty, art, and so on). Looking for some well-defined meaning of words (such as "medium") and ceasing to discuss media, because there is no strict entity or strictly determined con­cept underlying it, leads to Brave New World: a world where something as "untruthful" as art will have been abolished long ago.

 

2. Answer the questions based on the text:

- How do you understand the phrase: “Art is the best possible window into another community”?

- Do you know what “primitive art” is?

- How can knowledge of the "context" enhance our appreciation of the art of the foreign community? Describe the example with Congolese fetish statues.

- Do you agree that live communities are never isolated islands de­veloping by themselves and all the cultures are somehow interconnected?

- Is it necessary to share a language to communicate?

- What definition of art is offered by Anderson?

- Is there any universal conception of beauty and art that can be equally perceived be the representatives of different cultures?

- What modern media can you name?

- How does the author define virtual reality and hyperspace?

- Can you comment on the following: the fear that the super-fast development of technology (in art) banishes the singularity of the here-now (for instance, of the aesthetic experience) is fallacious?

- What are the media of film according to the author?

3. Read again Jaap van Brakel statement: It would be incorrect to talk of many human forms of life, because all have in common their humanness... It would also be incorrect to talk only of one human form of life; there are variations without a common core. Discuss it in class.


4. What role belongs to music in the process of intercultural communication? How have musical tastes changed overtime? Can listening to English songs assist in learning English? Watch the video “MTV Launch First Day”. Do you like MTV? Does music help you understand other cultures better?

 

DISCOVERING OTHER CULTURES

What is romance about? [40]


In many highly industrialized parts of the world, images of romance and sexuality come flooding in huge amounts, through the media and through advertising. It would be very difficult not to be influenced. Sex sells, as they say. All this is thought to be strongly supported by biology. Many people believe that men are genetically programmed to mate with as many partners as possible, while

women want to hang on to a good provider and defender as partner. Thus the culturally determined conviction that love is “eternal” and that man have a duty to stick with and provide for one partner and her children. This has become institutionalized by many states and cultures, of course, and it is not difficult to see why, for example, the Christian Church and modern capitalism encourage not exactly love as such, but monogamy and the family. Societies where women are permitted to have many partners – though they do exist – are quite rare compared with the opposite. There is a very striking statistic here: British (married) men and women were asked if they would marry the same partner again: 60% of men said yes, but only 35% of women did so. At first sight this might appear contradictory, but on the other hand, men – married or not – are known to be much more promiscuous than women. Maybe they simply know when they are well off! Of course, things are changing fast here. Humans seem to be the one of the few species for whom sex is fun, and who for the last forty years have generally been able to manage not to reproduce as a result of it in the industrialized parts of the world. Marriage is getting steadily less popular, and living together – much easier to end – is becoming more widespread.

All the above is very northern and western-culture oriented. You may well have very different ideas.

 

Do you also think men are genetically programmed to mate with a lot of partners and women prefer to hang on to a good provider, a (potential) father? Why? Or why not?

Is it also common in your culture to sell a wide variety of products with the help of pictures of (half) naked women?

Do you know what the divorce rate is in Ukraine?


 


[1] Matsumoto D. Emotion and Intercultural Communication / David Matsumoto, Seung Hee Yoo, Jeffery A. LeRoux. – URL: http://www.davidmatsumoto.info/Books/chapter3.pdf

[2] Beamer L. Intercultural Communication in the Global workplace / L.Beamer, Varner I.- 2005

 

[3] Beamer L. Intercultural Communication in the Global workplace / L.Beamer, Varner I.- 2005

[4] http://www.bali1.com/bali-island/religion-in-bali.htm

[5] The picture used to represent a unit: “Tolerance in America” by Soraida, 1992

[6] Beamer L. Intercultural Communication in the Global workplace / L.Beamer, Varner I. – 2005

 

[7] Lin Ma Is There an Essential Difference between Intercultural and Intracultural Communication? / Ma Lin // Intercultural Communication, ISSN 1404-1634, 2003-2004, issue 6. – URL: http://www.immi.se/intercultural/nr6/lin.htm

 

[8] Huber-Kriegler M. Mirrors and windows: an intercultural communication textbook // M. Huber-Kriegler, Lázár I., Strange J. – URL: http://archive.ecml.at/documents/pub123aE2003_HuberKriegler.pdf

 

[9] Lin Ma Is There an Essential Difference between Intercultural and Intracultural Communication? / Ma Lin // Intercultural Communication, ISSN 1404-1634, 2003-2004, issue 6. – URL: http://www.immi.se/intercultural/nr6/lin.htm

 

[10] Huber-Kriegler M. Mirrors and windows: an intercultural communication textbook // M. Huber-Kriegler, Lázár I., Strange J. – URL: http://archive.ecml.at/documents/pub123aE2003_HuberKriegler.pdf

 

[11] Alessandra T. Communicating at Work /T. Alessandra, P. Hunsaker. – NY, 1993. – P. 69-78

 

[12] Huber-Kriegler M. Mirrors and windows: an intercultural communication textbook // M. Huber-Kriegler, Lázár I., Strange J. – URL: http://archive.ecml.at/documents/pub123aE2003_HuberKriegler.pdf

[13] Alessandra T. Communicating at Work /T. Alessandra, P. Hunsaker. – NY, 1993. - P. 34-44

[14] http://ezinearticles.com/?Communication-Style-Quiz&id=97457

[15] http://www.analytictech.com/mb021/cultural.htm

[16] Alessandra T. Communicating at Work /T. Alessandra, P. Hunsaker. – NY, 1993. - P. 44-50

[17] Billikopf G. Cultural Differences? Or, are we really that different? / G.Billikopf. – URL: http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/ucce50/ag-labor/7article/article01.htm

[18] Dominick Joseph The Dynamics of Mass Communication / Joseph R. Dominick. – 6th ed, 1998. – P. 493-498

 

[19] Billikopf G. Cultural Differences? Or, are we really that different? / G.Billikopf. – URL: http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/ucce50/ag-labor/7article/article01.htm

[20] Singh P. Communication challenges in a multicultural learning environment Journal of Intercultural Communication, ISSN 1404-1634, issue 23, June 2010. - URL: http://www.immi.se/jicc/index.php/jicc/article/view/203/148

[21] Billikopf G. Cultural Differences? Or, are we really that different? / G.Billikopf. – URL: http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/ucce50/ag-labor/7article/article01.htm

[22] Fisher R.Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate / R. Fisher, D. Shapiro - Viking /Penguin, 2005.

 

[23] Beamer L. Intercultural communication in the global workplace

 

[24] Edwards V. The Role of Communication in peace and Relief Mission Negotiations / V. Edwards. – URL: www:http/google.com/The translation journal

[25] http://www.cyborlink.com/besite/china.htm

[26] http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/wiio.html

[27] Billikopf G. Cultural Differences? Or, are we really that different? / G.Billikopf. – URL: http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/ucce50/ag-labor/7article/article01.htm

[28] http://www.ehow.com/about_6498605_internet-its-impact-global-communication.html

[29] http://www.netaddiction.com/index.php?option=com_bfquiz&view=onepage&catid=46&Itemid=106

[30] http://www.businesscommunication.org/resourcesNew/ic/cases/interculturalIncidentsNew.html

[31] Wang De-hua Nonverbal language in cross-cultural communication / De-hua Wang // Sino-US English Teaching,. - Oct. 2007. – Volume 4. – No.10 (Serial No.46). – URL: http://www.linguist.org.cn/doc/su200710/su20071016.pdf

 

[32] http://www.businesscommunication.org/resourcesNew/ic/cases/interculturalIncidentsNew.html

[33] Vandenabeele B. "New" Media, Art, and Intercultural Communication / B. Vandenabeele // Journal of Aesthetic Education. – Vol. 38. – No. 4. (Winter, 2004). – P.1-9. – URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0021-8510%28200424%2938%3A4%3C1%3A%22MAAIC%3E2.0.CO%3B2-5

 

[34] По суті (франц.)

[35] Каяк (човен)

[36] Майоліка (вид кераміки)

[37] Но (традиційний театр в Японії)

[38] Тим більше (лат.)

[39] Один із найдорожчих та найбільших готелів Лос-Анджелеса.

[40] Huber-Kriegler M. Mirrors and windows: an intercultural communication textbook // M. Huber-Kriegler, Lázár I., Strange J. – URL: http://archive.ecml.at/documents/pub123aE2003_HuberKriegler.pdf







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