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Behind the Screen / Russian New Media


Should we be surprised that as the new computer-based media expand
throughout the world, intellectual horizons and aesthetic possibilities seem to be narrowing? If one scans Internet-based discussion groups and journals from London to Budapest, New York to Berlin, and Los Angeles to Tokyo, certain themes are obsessively intoned, like mantras: copyright; on-line identity; cyborgs; interactivity; the future of the Internet. This follows from the Microsofting of the planet, which has cast a uniform digital aesthetics over national visual cultures, accelerating the globalization already begun by Hollywood, MTV, and consumer packaging: hyperlinks and cute icons, animated fly-throughs, rainbow color palettes, and Phong-shaded spheres are ubiquitous, and apparently inescapable.

So, given its intellectual traditions, totalitarian experience, distinct twentieth century visuality (a particular mixture of the Northern and the Communist, the gray and the bleak), and finally, its continuing pre-occupation with the brilliant avant-garde experimentation on the 1910s and 1920s, can we expect a different response to new media on the part of Russian artists and intellectuals? What will - or could - result from the juxtaposition of the Netscape Navigator web browser's frames with Eisenstein's theories of montage? It would be dangerous to reduce heterogeneous engagements to a single common denominator, some kind of unique "Russian New Media" meme. Yet a number of common threads do exist. These provide a useful alternative to the West's default thematics, while articulating a distinctive visual poetics of new media.

Article  1997