Global vs. Local ?
The Art of Translocality

Ewa Wojtowicz


The global village, the network society - these are the essentials of the current net culture and its discourse. The Internet-based culture has a global impact although its origin is blurred. Is it local? Are there any tendencies of locality visible in the world of net art? The status of net art itself is still unclear. Undoubtedly, this art generates its own discourse and it’s own online community, based in the mediated, virtual space. Its nature, as the nature of the World Wide Web is fluent and unstable. However, the noticeable transformations wrought by the Internet are mostly visible in the field of online art projects that toy with questions of embodiment, identity, and – last but not least - locality.

Therefore, the artists’ interest in the cultural dimensions of globalization is inevitable. The Internet offers a new visual language as well as the possibility of feedback which is inextricably linked with the new ways of artistic collaboration.

Zygmunt Bauman argues that the opposite and the inevitable consequence of globalization is the emergence of locality, as the opposite factor. While global means being capable of directing events, being local means being excluded and isolated from the mainstream of global life.

According to Arjun Appandurai:

"The globalization of culture is not the same as its homogenisation, but globalization involves the use of a variety of instruments of homogenisation (armaments, advertising techniques, language hegemonies, clothing styles and the like), which are absorbed into local political and cultural economies, only to be repatriated as heterogeneous dialogues of national sovereignty, free enterprise, fundamentalism, etc."

Defining the globalization, Appandurai usefully sums up the issue of locality:

"Yet it’s hard to know exactly what locality might mean in a world in which other places are constantly part of our own worlds. For intellectuals, artists and other cultural workers, especially in post-collonial contexts, being local – in other words, imagining and representing the here and now – always encounters a double challenge. One it the burden) of repetition I.e. how to be modern or contemporary for what always seems like the second time. The other is what I am calling the anxiety of tradition, i.e. how to be local or regional or national or otherwise culturally distinctive without always having to work through or rewrite the cultural, civilizational and historical genius of one’s own specific traditions or localities. The best imaginative efforts to dispel this anxiety and to re-figure this burden are necessarily both cultural and political."

The next consequence is the translocality, which does not mean a location in a geographical sense, but rather networked individuals and groups of similarly-thinking people, the translocal agents existing within the cyberspace. Translocality means a series individual, local nodes situated within the geographical and cultural system.

Among the implications of the World Wide Web there are changes in the way art is being created, collected and distributed. The global network includes one of the significant features: the dislocation and delocalisation of art. Paul Virilio, argues that the virtual reality created a delocalized art. According to Virilio, it is a kind of deconstruction but not only in a Derridian meaning. This word comes from the latin term "dislocare" and brings the question – to what extent art can be dislocated and delocalized. The answer to this question leads to virtual reality. "We have gone from spacial dislocation to the temporal dislocation that is now underway." – says Virilio.

"Delocalization began, with the easel painting that stepped free of the cave and the skin to become a displaceable, nomadic object. The delocalization we're dealing with today is nowhere. Art can be nowhere, it only exists in the emission and reception of a signal, only in feedback. The art of the virtual age is an art of feedback."

This "nowhere art" refers perfectly to net art, as a purely immaterial and virtual form of art, based on interactivity, assuming feedback as one of it’s most vital features. Virilio asks about the presence of contemporary art, pointing out that there is no simple answer yet. Although the presence of art and its localization are in jeopardy, the immediacy of contemporary art might be a good answer. As Virilio emphasizes, we have reached the end of acceleration, near-instantaneous intercommunication, directness and ubiquity.

"Virtuality is the electromagnetic speed that brings us to the limit of acceleration. It's a barrier in the sense of 'no crossing.' That is the whole question of live transmission, global time, near-instantaneous intercommunication."


Art has entered the phase of globalization. Virilio suggests that the answer is in the questions that should be asked by artists themselves. The amount of net art collaborative projects seems to be referring to this subject. One of them is The Universal Page by Natalie Bookchin and Alexei Shulgin which is based on collaboration and assumes co-working with someone who is distant – both geographically and ideologically. Without physical limitations, artists can cooperate and remain open for the endless possibilities that may result from this collaboration.

The Centre Is Somewhere Else

The good example of translocal artistic community is Nettime. It consists of several forums, each one attracting people, depending on the language and local culture. There are seven mailing lists: 2 English (moderated and unmoderated one) – which have international impact, as well as locally-oriented: the Dutch, French, Romanian, Spanish/Portuguese and Chinese one. The latest one is especially significant, regarding the limits of free speech and Internet access in China.

Nonetheless, within the global network a new culture has emerged, and it’s the cyber culture and all its consequences. The emergent net art is one of them. Soon it became clear that the centre of its art is somewhere else than the acknowledged Western centres of art and culture. Steve Dietz, writes in his call for net art proposals for the Emerging Artists/Emergent Medium 3 event:

"If the topology of the network is one of connected nodes, every node is global. Is any node local? No node is the centre. Is every node is a centre?"

The newly developed diasporic groups of artists included Eastern Europeans, Asians and South Americans, and many more. However, there was still no visible centre. The network made the world of new art decentralized. Apparently a new territory is being shaped – where old borders are obsolete and the new ones are created by the border of language which is the border of the greatest significance so far. It refers to the limits drawn by language and specific local intellectual markets.

There is a Tuesday Afternoon project by Trebor Scholz and Carol Flax that analyses the issue of individually experienced border crossing, while the border can be situated anywhere. While border-crossing is easy for global capital, the borders are tightened against unwanted migration. The project is easy-accessible and interactive in the game-like way.
The issue of access is vital in this context. Some of the projects assume that the web would be for the underdeveloped countries a gate to the most important thing these days – the information. In that sense border means exclusion, because those who are excluded from the flow of information are also isolated and their voices will not be heard.

"Fast, Cheap and Out of Control"

Those Timothy Druckrey’s words can be related to the numerous "Do-It-Yourself" initiatives that are being launched all over the world, and are easily accessible. As Zygmunt Bauman suggests, within the Internet -globalization seems to be the fate of the world. But no one seems to be in control of it. Therefore many decentralized, local communities are appearing. They are essentially translocal in nature, concentrating on the local interest groups who are sometimes dispersed over different regions and countries. It seems quite easy and there are plenty of manuals in the Internet, explaining the aspiring global-thinkers how to make a D.I.Y. network:

1. Browsing for the other groups of similar views
2. Establishing links
3. Providing the information needed
4. Asking questions. (When one is an artist, one should put these questions in one’s artwork in order to generate feedback.)
5. Make contact with net.radio stations, as well as any other forms of alternative communities online.

Certainly, those advices sound very simple and are not always that easy to follow as they seem. However, there are successful examples of the global networking. The information circulates within the global network, without any control or censorship, and makes a snowball effect sometimes.

The most famous one, though politically-oriented, is the struggle of the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico. Their online activity has sparked a worldwide discussion and made the Zapatistas visible on the world arena of alternative movements and initiatives. Another example of the importance of the Internet is a Freenet project by Ian Clark, making the control of information and communication impossible. This is one of the numerous attempts to make the Internet the field of a struggle, the place of the confrontation. Freenet is free software designed to ensure true freedom of communication over the Internet. As its creators ensure:

"Freenet is an open, democratic system which cannot be controlled by any one person, not even its creators. It was originally designed by Ian Clarke and is being implemented on the open-source model by a number of volunteers. "

It is designed to let any user have access to any kind of information that can be published and viewed. It is, to make it simple, a large-scale, peer-to-peer network, out of any control and uncensored. Although this project may seem utopian, the Freenet is existing successfully and yet it’s too early to establish its full impact on the World Wide Web.


"-What is your heritage? -It’s a mongrel." - This was the answer given by Graham Harwood of Mongrel and it could be referred to the issue of translocality.

The difference between globality and translocality is very important. If the globalization means a transnational flow of global capital, translocality means rather putting the local issues in the global context and making it widely accessible.

The awareness of the translocality within the Internet was present among the net artists from the very beginning of the realm. The translocal thinking, as well as decentralization, were among the most advantageous features of the cyberculture, noticed in the early days. One of the net art pioneers, Jodi said in 1998:

"It makes the work stronger that people don’t know who’s behind it. Many people try to dissect our site and look into the code. Because of the anonymity of our site they can’t judge us according to our national culture or anything like this. In fact, Jodi is not part of a culture in a national, geographical sense. I know it sounds romantic, but there is a cyberspace citizenship. More and more URLs contain a country code. If there is ".de" for Germany in an address, you place the site in this national context. We don’t like this. Our work comes from inside the computer, not from a country. "

Indicating that the cyberspace citizenship really exists, Joan Hemskeerk and Dirk Paesmans of Jodi, made an important suggestion. After a few years from their statement we can undoubtedly admit that this cyber citizenship really exists and we are all its citizens. At least we can choose to be its citizens. One can choose a domain with or without a country code, as well as e-mail address. Therefore one can cover up one’s tracks completely and dissolve in the cyber community. The Internet, with all its new channels of communication is enforcing a new concept of citizenship linked to subjective belongings rather that a state. This is a chance for those artists who want to forget about their nationally-oriented problems and free themselves from the unwanted burden of locality. The citizenship is no longer relevant, also because the citizenship as such used to be linked to national and local background. Nowadays, as the problems are translocal, the issue of citizenship is slowly dissolving.

The topic of citizenship and its irrelevancy has been significant from the heroic era of net art. Alexei Shulgin, another net art pioneer, asked in 1998 about his status in the cyber society, said:

"I feel much more included that before [the internet – TB] When I was just an artist living in Moscow, whatever I did has always been labeled as "Eastern", "Russian", whatever. All my work was placed in this context. That was really bad to me, because I never felt that I did something specifically Russian. "

This is a remark of a definite significance. The Internet might bring the long-awaited freedom from being labeled. The unwanted context of locality might be eventually forgotten and left behind. Disposed of the burden of locality, net art created its own language, in its early phase, mostly based on technology and its advantages, as well as the issues developed by the appearance of the world wide network. All the well-known features of the net art, like interactivity and the wide access, have changed the reception of art and opened new possibilities.

Therefore, a juxtaposition of some kind takes place. Those, who want it – step up, build the open access networks and speak about their local matters. Another – neglect their national heritage and choose to be mongrels in the global network. One can choose between those attitudes, depending on one’s vantage point. Everybody is present there – from Zapatistas to the defenders of illegal refugees and immigrants in Europe, from anti-corporate activists to guerilla art collectives, and the projects vary from complete utopia to the useful know-how recipes. However, there is an entrance fee to this world. And it consists of: knowledge of English, Internet access, having the hardware, software and plug-ins needed. Therefore, mentioning the global access we must always remember that it refers to some isolated parts of the world while the others won’t have the chance to participate for a long time.

There are some net art projects referring to the issue of locality, using the global medium, like The DissemiNET by Sawad Brooks and Beth Stryker (1998) which made a collaborative project involving the testimonies of children, who have disappeared during the civil war in Salvador. Those reports were provided by a local group Pro Busqueda de los Niños from San Salvador. The project is regularly updated with remarks of people who have experienced the problems emerging from the global/local issue.

Another artwork related to the global/local issue is the new planned project by Prema Murty. It is about Asian women working in hardware factories in Bombay, piecing micro-electronics together. As the artists explains: "They are the ones creating this technology for the west to use.(…) A lot of these women do not even have running water in their homes, yet at night they piece together chips. Do they know what they are used for?"

Today’s net art is not only technology-oriented, as it was in its early stages. It has also a critical attitude, and one of the examples is the Make-world Festival by Olia Lialina, called BORDER="0" LOCATION="YES". The terms, coming from coding, are used here within a new context, referring to the issue of global politics. According to Lialina’s statement:

"Make-world is a first of it's kind project dealing with such different subjects as migration and freedom of circulation, open source and immaterial labor, tactical media and art in networking environments. (…) the festival aims to track new forms of subjectivity carried out by current modifications of the world; which until recently were characterized as "infotization", "digitization" and "globalization". The more these buzzwords loose their glamour, the more important it is to discuss the role borders play, and question what restricted and unrestricted locality, mobility and freedom of movement may mean. Global processes are running out of time and space. Facing the end of the end, everything - what might happen or has to be done - starts from scratch. And this new beginning embraces much more than ever before. It's time to scroll: to look ahead and behind, to step to the side, to think fast forward."

In the raise of a new global sovereignty, and in the decline of national-based citizenship, net art attempts to illuminate the problems, changes and challenges of the globalization. The critical endeavours are generated by artists who understand the possibilities offered by the global medium.

Translocal schizophrenia?

There are great expectations aroused by the developed globalizing trends in the art world, however that there are also some anxieties.

As Jess Loseby argues, speaking of identity and locality:

"In the beginning of net art there seemed to be this conscious determination that art should not have any connection with our 'real' lives. I feel this has produced what could be described as a translocal schizophrenia, a duality between the artists 'real' lives and their 'virtual' locality and artworks."

This attitude may lead to such a schizophrenic feeling indeed. However, this duality has made an impact on the artistic awareness, as it opened the gate to many new issues and gave a new perspective for the old ones. As the Internet continues to be an environment where the distances are shrinking and disappearing, the space is transformed and the art can be delocalized. As Paul Virilio says:

"The delocalization we're dealing with today is nowhere. Art can be nowhere, it only exists in the emission and reception of a signal, only in feedback. The art of the virtual age is an art of feedback."

This feedback can be differentiated – from emerging alternative communities to net art’s presence in the mediated environment of digital networks. Net art and its community are both global and local. As a result, there are benefits from both sources. It is global because of the medium. It’s local because of the diversity of participants’ voices , decentralized and highly individual. It is physically delocalized but its impact is translocal.

Despite the presence of the utopian visions which embodied the idealism of a new world order, its identity is globally available but locally-oriented. Whether we want it or not.



This article was written in 2002 and published in the magazine "Art Inquiry. Reherches sur les arts", Vol. IV (XIII) Globalization and Art," Lodzkie Towarzystwo Naukowe, Lodz, Poland


Ewa Wojtowicz is a lecturer in the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznan, Poland. She teaches various courses for full-time and part-time students, including: contemporary art, cultural approaches to Internet, new media theories, etc. She graduated from the Academy in 2000, obtaining a MA degree in artistic education (a thesis about mail art in relation to the emerging Inrernet) and printmaking (serigraphy). Currently awaiting to complete her PhD on net art as an interactive art. A receiver of Socrates-Erasmus scholarship, visiting lecturer in the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield, UK and in Academy of Fine Arts in Gdansk, Poland. A scholarship of the city of Poznan in 2004 for the theoretical activity. Numerous speeches at Polish conferences and participation in an international conference Mind the Map! in Leipzig, Germany in 2005. Publications in books and art-related magazines. Fields of interest: Internet art, new media art, mixed realities.











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