Eden, D Media 2006. Video by Nita Mocanu.
Part of Made in Italy compilation.
Intimissimi textile factory, Arad suburbs.


D Media interview
Raluca Voinea with Joanne Richardson

1) I would start our conversation from the mission statement of D Media, “to produce and disseminate digital culture” and from the theoretical reflection you developed upon the traps of looking at digital media as being more democratic than others and potentially more suitable to be used in artistic practices that are not aiming at reflecting the world but at bringing about some change.

Actually I don't remember where this quote "to produce and disseminate digital culture" comes from, the aims mentioned on the D Media website are more elaborate. They include: fusing art, social activism and new technologies, promoting a do-it-yourself ethic, empowering non-experts to actively participate in media production, organizing events and information campaigns about freedom of information and alternative media, and networking with similar initiatives in Romania and abroad.

Looking back, I recognize this as the ideology I was immersed in in 2002, when D Media began. In 2000, I had spent several months working at C3, the new media center in Budapest. And in 2001-2002, I was in residency at Multimedia Institute (better known as net culture club "Mama") in Zagreb where I co-organized two media art festivals. I was an also one of the international organizers of the Next 5 Minutes Festival of Tactical Media, which had been based in Amsterdam but decided in 2002 to go global and organize smaller events around the world. When I moved back to Romania in 2002, it was with the intention of creating something similar to the new media initiatives I knew in other countries.

The first event I organized in 2002 was a conference on media art and activism in collaboration with Tranzit House, Idea Foundation, and my partners from Amsterdam, Next 5 Minutes. The conference was followed by a hands-on workshop to produce a radio program for simultaneous internet streaming and mini-FM broadcast. Some 15 people participated, doing everything from recording and editing the program, to building the antenna, repairing the 1 Watt transmitter, and configuring the network protocols for streaming. The workshop included a few brilliant techies and other enthusiasts passionate about the idea of do-it-yourself media, and in the weeks that followed we decided to start D Media together as an informal group (it became an NGO about 9 months later). The first activity of the group was maintaining the net.radio, which had a few irregular broadcasts from live events organized in collaboration with visual artists, the writer Sandu Vakulovski, and the music group Luna Amară. Aside from the net.radio, our main activity during the first couple of years was organizing a lot of events.

2) Could you say something more about the workshops, screenings, conferences and other events you organized? How did you work within your collective to have the public involved in these events, especially in the participative formats?

Many of the events we organized were participative, hands-on workshops - in keeping with the idea of do-it-yourself and of empowering non-experts to produce digital media. During 2002 -2003, we organized a radio workshop with Tilos Radio from Budapest that focused both on creating content and streaming technologies, a video workshop with a feminist filmmaker from Zagreb, which focused on producing short clips about student life in Cluj, and a workshop for building solar-powered acoustic-instruments with a noise-performance group from Berlin. In 2004, we organized a second video production workshop with teenagers that lasted several months, and in 2006, an Eclectic Tech Carnival for women that focused on new technologies and free software (in collaboration with h.arta from Timisoara and Genderchangers from Amsterdam), and another radio workshop about street art (in collaboration with different net.radios across Europe). For each of the workshops we recruited local participants through fliers and announcements posted in schools, bars and cafes, and the participation was very intense. Most workshops lasted 2-3 days and the volunteers worked collaboratively at every step of the production process. Our longest workshop was Real Fictions in 2004, for which we collaborated with high-school students over a period of several months to produce 4 videos together. I would say that for these workshops there was no public or audience - and this was precisely the idea, to transform the passive consumers of media culture into active producers. The conferences and screenings were more traditional events that maintained a separation between experts and audience, since they were mainly focused on disseminating and debating new ideas among a larger public.

3) What kind of reaction was there to the events you organized in Cluj? And more generally, how do you see the development of the interest in digital culture in Romania in the past decade(s), could you trace some key moments along this parcours (important for you and for the work of D Media at that time). Were there other people/institutions which shared your perspective?

I think the conference in 2002, which I organized in collaboration with Tranzit, Idea and Next 5 Minutes, was the first event in Romania to debate ideas around media activism, public domain, open source, the dangers of intellectual property and the importance of free culture. The audience at this event were mostly local artists and intellectuals. And a small group of students. To me, it seemed as if the conference participants from Romania and the West were speaking different languages - Dan Perjovschi spoke of free culture in a context of Romanian media censorship, which was very different from how media activists from Amsterdam understood free culture. The discussions about free software, public domain and net.radio seemed to spark little interest, except among a small group of enthusiastic students, mostly geeks and techies (some of who later became members of D Media). In retrospect, it seems to me that 2002 was too early for this kind of discourse in Romania. I'm not aware of similar initiatives who were interested in these ideas at the time, except for Indymedia Romania (which I was also a founding member of), and Strawberry Net, which was mostly a technical service providing free software content management systems for Romanian NGOs. I don't know if AltArt already existed then, I remember their first event focusing on digital culture, which coincided with the opening of their media lab, as taking place much later, in 2006.

In 2004, there was a significant shift within D Media, both in terms of the composition of the group and our interests. One reason for this shift was my own skepticism that the discourse about free software and tactical media seemed to be an exotic fruit that I had imported from the West, which had little connection to the local reality in Cluj. The other reasons were connected to the constant obstacles that got in the way of the net.radio project. After spending a lot of time and energy looking for a regular space (during our first year the net.radio was streaming from several temporary locations), we were finally offered a long-term radio studio inside the Students' Cultural Center. But a few months later, we were thrown out by the director. Loosing this space seemed like the final defeat of the net.radio project, and the people connected to this initiative began to leave D Media. There was also a video group within D Media, and video production became our dominant interest starting in 2004, with the first large-scale project in collaboration with local teenagers, Real Fictions. The focus of Real Fictions were the immediate realities around us - two of the videos focused on the nationalism and xenophobia in Cluj and another focused on the inadequacies of the system of contemporary art in Romania. The shift to video production felt more attuned to our local context. However, I remember that many of my net.activist friends from other countries were surprised, seeing the turn to video as a regression to old media, even though we were working with digital tools and making the videos available online.

To return to your first question, it was after the Real Fictions project that my theoretical reflections became increasingly critical of the claims made for digital media, and especially for the internet, as more democratic and more liberating than "old" media. Many manifestoes since 1995 had euphorically predicted how the growth in cheap digital technologies would bring about a revolution from below, as people would become empowered through producing their own media and representing their own versions of reality. I began to question this liberal democratic utopia, and its naive assumptions that social problems would disappear if every one got a chance to make their voices heard. My reflections were also fueled by a practical disappointment with Real Fictions, which had relied so heavily on the idea that putting technologies in the hands of the people would empower them to create their own media and radically transform their world.

Although I think other members of D Media shared some of my reservations about the project, I will speak only from my own perspective. What I realized during the Real Fictions project is that many participants were content simply to travel to different locations to film and to learn a few new tools, but felt a kind of apprehension when they realized how much work the editing would be. Empowerment is not just about the joy of creativity, it's also a lot of work. For my own part, I found the videos aesthetically weak - since so much focus went into making the process of of production collaborative and non-hierarchical, we ignored questions about style, montage, form and spectatorship. It is these questions that became increasingly important to me later as I shifted my focus to what making video politically can mean beyond how the process of production is organized, in terms of the politics of images, the relation between content and form, and issues surrounding ownership and dissemination.

4 ) The videos produced by D Media analyse the post-communist transformations in Romania and Eastern Europe, by looking at some topics which are generally ignored by both mainstream media and the cultural actors; among these: activist practices in an exceedingly policed state, working conditions for women from a historical and actual perspective, public apparatuses for the display of nationalism. How do you look at these topics today and from a distance?

Many of the videos focused on the legacies of transition and the differences between Romania and the West. For example, nationalism exists everywhere, but the mechanisms for its display in France or Germany are different from Romania, where leading intellectuals openly express nationalist and xenophobic sentiments, and many cities have streets named after the "hero" Ion Antonescu, who was responsible for the genocide of thousands of Jews and Roma. It's also very different from ex-Soviet countries, where nationalism is mixed with anti-colonialist sentiments, and where socialism during the Soviet Union suppressed nationalism, in contrast to Romania, where socialism and nationalism were intertwined. Some of the videos focus on dispelling different myths of generalization - Precarious Lives (2008) challenges the idea that precarity is a new global phenomenon that functions the same in Italy or Spain as it does in Romania; it focuses on the specificities of local situation. I think what makes activism different in Romania is not that it occurs in an exceedingly policed state, the brutality of the police during the Anti-NATO meeting in Bucharest was much milder than during events in Seattle or Genoa. The real difference is that the majority of the Romanian population remains hostile to any leftist ideas, which are immediately dismissed as part of the evil communist past - and this creates a kind of isolation, self-repression and internal weakness among activist groups. It also explains why simply importing slogans from Western movements into a Romanian context is such an ineffective tactic.

Looking at topics and perspectives that are generally ignored by the mass media was only important for Real Fictions, because the project defined itself in traditional video activist terms as challenging or in some sense competing with the mainstream media. In truth, most activist works are never seen by the majority of people who watch the evening news on television; the audience is usually a small number of activists, intellectuals or artists who are already sympathetic to the perspectives being expressed. I think that making a video for an activist audience that simply confirms their perspective and makes them feel good is not genuinely "activist," it just affirms their own status quo and doesn't provoke any questions or transformations. So although later videos like Two or Three Things about Activism (2008) and Reconstruction (2009) both present alternative perspectives that were ignored or falsified by the mass media, the real intentions of the videos were not to do battle with the mass media but to question the assumptions about activism among activists - from the inside, dialectically, by showing both their liberating potential as well as their failures and limitations.

5) Does D Media still exist as a legal organization? Would you see it working again, maybe with other collaborators involved?

When D Media crystallized in 2002, it was a motley group of people who didn't really know each other but came together around a set of ideas: freedom of information, participative and open technologies, a do-it-yourself ethic and media activism. Along the way, as many members left and others joined, we discovered that we had very different interests and ideologies. But we still found a space for working together because the structure of the group was so loose that it permitted our individual passions to flourish. D Media was never a collective, we weren't united by an ideology and we didn't distribute our labour equally or make all decisions by consensus. We worked collaboratively on some projects, while on other projects individual members worked alone or in collaboration with other groups but still used the D Media name as an umbrella for their activity. From my own perspective, the differences among our interests and styles and the fact that the projects were running purely on enthusiasm (we weren't paid salaries, only small fees, and sometimes nothing) meant that the organization couldn't sustain itself in the long run. D Media is no longer existing since 2009; some members have moved to other cities and others have become involved in new projects and collaborations. It has been a rewarding part of my personal history and development, as I hope it was for the other members, but I don't see it coming back to life in the future.



This interview was partially published in the catalogue of “European Travellers. Art from Cluj Today” exhibition at Műcsarnok, Budapest, 2012.


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