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Popi Diamantakou

The Balkans: a virtual space of dialogue, hostile difference and global similarity.

We are being bombarded by images: images that inhabit the mind or the imagination, images that meet life and sometimes represent it, images laden with messages that dictate the way in which we perceive the world and that shape our understanding of ourselves and of others, the latter being the most powerful feature of the contemporary culture of the spectacle in which the television holds sway.

The impressive, recurring images that the media promote constitute the triumph of stereotypes. They are the major forms of ideology, as Roland Barthes would say, since the viewer is not treated as a free individual, but as a subject to and within ideology. The interpretation of images and of their message is a socially conditioned activity and presupposes an interpretative strategy on the part of the viewer or interpreting party. This in its turn is a strategy dictated by the system of national and social myths, fantasies and stereotypes inherent in the viewer’s culture. On this basis, the viewer will bring into his/her reality the elements which he/she will identify with.

This is why the contemporary spectacle -the images that make up our civilization- is a colossal system of silent propaganda that is of global proportions and that uses highly aggressive methods of promoting the stereotypes produced by the most powerful cultures. In other words, one may trace within the world of images a representation of the way in which the peoples of the world perceive themselves and others, a reproduction of contrasts, distinctions and marginalization that best serve the interests of the planet’s most powerful economies and that help them spread and establish their power further.

An interesting field of research in terms of the stereotypes that are being reproduced by the media and that impose ways in which the people negotiate their existence and their relationships with their neighbors or perceive their place within the global reality, is the media field of the Balkans. The media field of the Balkans can be seen as the crucial meeting point of an old world of ghosts, the spawn of the divisive, discriminatory, hostile politics that have for ages plagued the Balkan peoples and of a new world that by means of technology can question the confrontational dimension of different identities, turning them via the channels of communication into a richness of culture.

This potential is present in the work of the Personal Cinema group, which by making the most of new technologies creates works that belong to the space of the internet where through a role playing game (video games) the visitor/user/viewer can come face to face with, be acquainted with and become aware of the stereotypes that have constituted the various national cultures in the Balkans and on which were based the hostility and fear of one people for the other. The work is an impressive combination of elements from what we know as the space of the Balkans, of the fantasies that make it up and of its special features. The Balkans, a space of deeply rooted tradition and historical reconstitution, of ever changing borders, of intermixing cultures and religions, in any case make for an ideal field of research into the myths on the basis of which local culture is built and the stereotypes reproduced by mass culture – the television in particular – to serve the politics of generating difference that has long made conflict and geopolitical change possible.

A dialogue between national and virtual identities

The term national culture signifies the culture of one or other predominant group among many others included in the nation-state. Consequently, images promoted by the media reproduce the symbols and myths of the predominant culture, which uses the spectacle, especially via the television, to enforce its power. This, however, is no simple process despite the viewer’s given passivity. At the same time the image’s message is filtered through the viewer’s special conditions the make up his/her reality. The distance between virtual reality and real life is the basis for drawing up a system of questioning and, in the end, for the rejection of media constructs.

We might say that the work of Personal Cinema transforms the field of technology into one of active dialogue and of an artistic expression of identities and stereotypes in exactly the same way as the canvas was once transformed into and arena for action rather than a space for the representation of a real or fictional object.

This is a unique kind of dialogue, open to those who are privy to a knowledge of the syntax of technology, which can offer the viewer/activist the possibility to take on different identities and in doing so to recreate historical events or to devise and “direct” new ones that are, however, conditioned by preexisting stereotypical roles and identities.

In reality, the global scene of the media is one where mythological constructs of local identities with roots in the history of each area clash with the new model of man as consumer of products and images.

Isolation, combined with a fear of the other, the neighbor, at the same time when identical consuming habits are encouraged around the world, finally leads man to a conflict with his own self. There is conflict between the images on the basis of which his identity has been constructed and the constructed needs that the global model of life as consumption attempts to create in him. It is so that what emerges as the era’s principal conflict is that between traditional culture – which includes national and social myths – and the new culture of consumerism which attempts to impose its own life-style myths as more powerful than the largely intricate and versatile previous ones.

Like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, the viewer is invited to enter the mirror and converse with ghosts, with representations of reality and the world around him. Waves of immigrants in the area of the Balkans (the result of fluctuating economic conditions), emotional wounds caused by the disintegration of former communities in the wake of war and divisive propaganda that made the most of the stereotypes of difference, are all facts in the context of which the citizen of the Balkans is confronted by the reality of orchestrated efforts to construct polarized identities of difference. Like Alice, he too is invited to enter the mirror and negotiate the conditions of his existence by means of that very same technology used to create their representation.

Thus, by the same method that allows the universe of images to function toward the direction of isolation and conservation of a field of hostile difference through constructed identities, one may also parody those very same identities and abate difference through a conciliatory strategy of exchange and reversal of roles, of disintegration and re-construction of identities and of their constituent elements. Within the immaterial and timeless space of virtual reality, the viewer/visitor/user of the work of Personal Cinema is invited to a game of re-inventing him/herself assisted in his/her web-based and -in general- media-based exploration by an awareness of the global nature of cultural elements. However effective and complex a facet of technology may be, it is never neutral. No one can ignore the fact that it always goes hand-in-hand with a programme of social change. Personal Cinema attempt the construction of an impressive mirror of the Balkans, in which the ideologically charged elements of mythological constructs are reflected, subject this time to the social change symbolised by the language of that very same technology that has re-produced them, by the technology of the media and of communications.

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Page last modified on September 01, 2006, at 09:25 AM