Toward the end of competition

In Memory of Ivan Illich (1926-2002)

Tetsuo Kogawa , Art on the Net Guest Director

Is it a contradiction to eliminate the idea of competition from an event and still offer prizes? Today's sports events demand athletes to be engaged in fierce competition, and once-evident intimacy between sports and play is not felt anymore. But we know that playing a leading role in a group play is different from being a winner of sports competition. In play, he or she incidentally comes into the spotlight and for a moment acts as a protagonist. In the same play, he or she is soon replaced. The name of the game is not vying for the leading role, but continued participation, through a process of assuming a role and then passing it on to others.

Ivan Illich used the word "conviviality" to direct a way of overcoming the modern times plagued with dominancy, efficiency and competition. Illich said, "Such a society, in which modern technologies serve politically interrelated individuals rather than managers, I will call 'convivial.'" Modern technologies would then be "tools for conviviality" rather than tools for "industrial productivity." He said, "Convivial tools are those which give each person who uses them the greatest opportunity to enrich the environment with the fruits of his or her vision."

As Steven Levy suggested, it was Illich's Tools for Conviviality (1973) that convinced their pioneering way for Lee Felsenstein, one of the founders of "Community Memory." "Community Memory" was the first attempt to bring back the computer, which was then limited to industrial use, as a tool for communication among individuals to freely pursue new relationships or as a medium of artistic expression.

For its theme, Art on the Net 2002 chose "9-11" because we see the incident as an extreme consequence of competitiveness. We wanted to provide a playground in which people can work on overcoming the competitiveness by focusing on this theme together. The only playground we were able to provide, unfortunately, was the "forum" due to our limited planning resources. Chat, IRC or live streaming were suggested, but restrictions on our part as a "museum" thwarted us from providing them.

Illich's In the Vineyard of the Text published 20 years after Tools for Conviviality points out that the roots of literacy, the foundation of modernization and industrialization, go back to the time before the printing technology. When "bookish text" came into existence, it set its own course to run. Printing was merely a completion of new technologies and tools present at that time to organize them into a fixed direction of the course. Then, in order for us to dismantle the oppressive aspect of literacy, we must reexamine the nature of the hand technique that produced "bookish text." Illich doesn't dismiss literacy; he thinks of ways for literacy to perform functions other than those evolved from modernization and industrialization (i.e., the basis of globalism), namely, power of criticism and wisdom of insights into the history.

As usual, the Internet is turning into very modernistic media technology and deviating from convivial function that "Community Memory" served. Radio is being taken over by Internet streaming radio, but it has nothing new but a completion of the conventional radio. It is a matter of time for television to follow suit. The Internet is now turning its back on its initial expectation as a new communication medium, of which we were able to get a glimpse of emancipation, and hardening into a complete form of modern medium.

Regardless of the presence of electronic technology, art would always return to the physical realm of hands and crafts. Computer technology is increasingly digitizing this physical realm and going further away from crafts. It is eventually going to replace the physical presence with something virtual. However, Art on the Net shall never cut itself off from the relationship with hands and body as long as it remains art.

What is the Internet art that always holds on to its physical aspect? What are the ways to use the Internet that shorten the distance between the communicant and the communicated, rather than separating them further apart physically? Exploring another possibility of the Internet would require our going back to the times it didn't exist, at least down to the time of telephone and wireless telecommunication network, just as the radical historian Ivan Illich looked for ambiguity of literacy in the heart of the 12th century manuscripts. Illich passed away recently in Bremen, but his insights into the technology is still very much inspiring. Mourning over the death of a man who spent time with me talking for a long time at our mini FM station, I pondered on the Art on the Net and its future.


The Grand Prize: Andrey Velikanov


The Runner-Ups

Eryk Salvaggio