Report on EVA
This European Visual Arts (EVA) Conference was the sixth annual Moscow conference (www.evarussia.ru ) and marked the 60th of these conferences, that began in London in 1990.
With some 600 participants over a five-day period this could rightly claim to be the largest, longest and richest of the EVA conferences. With the exception of a few plenary sessions, the conference proceeded with two parallel tracks. There was, for instance, a special session devoted to IST and education, which proceeded in parallel with the main track. Instead of trying to summarize everything in this enormous event, the present writer has focussed on highlights of sessions attended in person plus a few found in the English proceedings. In the interests of clarity, comments are arranged with respect to different geographical scopes.
Unlike many conferences on new media elsewhere where references to American solutions abound and often dominate discussions, EVA Moscow had no speakers representing specifically American solutions. There is a general feeling that the software solutions produced by the United States are simply too expensive to be used in Russia. Over the past five years Russia has produced a series of its own authoring tools for museum management (e.g. Altsoft), multimedia production, electronic commerce and more recently, e-learning (e.g. Hypermethod) and an information searching system (Vladimir Ageev, Moscow State University of Printed Media). These products have evolved rapidly at a very high professional level. Their products are often indistinguishable from market equivalents elsewhere. 1
This creation of its own technological solutions extends far beyond authoring software. For instance, the Moscow Academy of Sciences has been working on Digital Watermarking for 15 years. The Moscow division of the British, Snell and Willcox company (K. Petoukhova; A. Medvedev), have been producing novel technologies for the restoration of film and television that now play a significant role in the EU PRESTO project.
UNESCO was strongly represented at the conference. In a keynote, Philippe Queau (formerly Paris now UNESCO Representative in Moscow) noted that the etymology of the word knowledge is linked with power in English; with tasting in French and with giving birth in Russian and Sanskrit. He stressed the importance of seeing knowledge as a public good, rather than as yet another commodity. He noted that this was essential if the potential value of the new technologies is to extend to all persons and not just the rich nations. He cited an UNDP report concluding that market forces cannot regulate questions of global access especially in a world where the concept of common good is not clear. Evgeny Kuzmin, (Head of the Library Department of the Russian Ministry of Culture and also a representative of UNESCO's Information for All project) pointed to many activities to link Russia with the international scene. Victor Montviloff (formerly UNESCO) emphasized the need for multilingualism and cultural diversity, noting that France alone has some 150 languages. He drew attention to the new UNESCO Charter for Preservation of Digital Heritage.
The Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Effim Kudashev) is working on digital libraries of space data with satellite integration for a European Information System (INFEO) with respect to real-time earth observation data, remote sensing, geo-ecological monitoring and hydro-meteorological information on a global scale. This is an interesting example how technologies being developed in the direction of e-science could have useful applications for e-culture.
At the high level, Russia works closely with leading international bodies such as the International Committee on Museums (ICOM), the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) and the Consortium for the Interchange of Museum Information (CIMI). A section of the conference was co-organised with Russian branch of ICOMOS. There are also contacts with the International Association of Sound Archives (IASA). The Russian Ministry of Culture is working with OCLC. The Z.39.50 protocol is increasingly used also in connection with the CIMI profile, which has been translated in Russian (cf. Nikolay Mazov, Novosibirsk). The State Kremlin Museums (Alexander Dremaylov) are working with the CIMI profile to link heterogeneous databases.
A project initially between the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) and the Tretyakov Gallery, and then included other 6 Russian museums, building on the principles of the Virtual Museum of Canada (VMC ) is preparing an exhibition that compares Russian and Canadian landscapes (http://www.virtualmuseum.ca and http://horizons.shm.ru). This open ended approach is very important because it offers a model that could a) lead to Virtual Museum of Russia and b) lead to subsequent virtual museums from different countries which compare their collections in terms of specific genres such as portraits, landscapes, townscapes, mythology, literature and religion.
A very stimulating paper by Tatyana Bogomazova (Peter the Great Museum of Anthroplogy and Ethnology, Saint Petersburg) noted the importance of reflecting world-views (cosmogony and cosmology) as context filters in museum exhibitions. A paper from India (Shivarama Rao, University of Jammu) raised social questions about rural knowledge vis a vis a Knowledge Society. A paper from Iran (Saied R, Ameli, Tehran) raised philosophical issues concerning the real and the virtual. In the section on new media, Yuri Plastinin noted that the complete works of Marshall McLuhan have appeared in Russian this past year.
The European Commission was formally represented (Jean-Louis Lavroff, Counsellor for Science and Technology of the Delegation of the European Commission in Russia, on behalf of Bernard Smith) at the conference. Russia has now become a full member of the EC's policy efforts via the MINERVA project (Centre PIC, Ministry of Culture). Russia is also participating in the CALIMERA (Kiril Nazdhkhin, Russian Cultural Heritage Net) project for smaller, often local cultural institutions. It has a representative in the new FP6 BRICKS project on which Benedetto Benedetti (Pisa) reported. Russia is also participating in the regional, ADMIRE-P project (Anna Rekshinskaya, Nizhny Novgorod State University). A paper by Segey Molchanov (Ekaterinburg) explored developments in European Cultural Law.
There are a number of non-EC sponsored projects. Alinari (A. de Polo) submitted a paper on a Global Art on Demand initiative. Russian companies such as Direct Media are working directly with a German company to co-produce a range of cultural CDs. In conjunction with the British Council, a Russian Information Library Consortium in an IBPP Key institutions project (Barbara Morganti), is working with LIBNET (Russia) and TELService (UK) to work towards a "Pan-European Virtual Library." In conjunction with Professor Koob (TU Darmstadt), the Kremlin Museum is producing a virtual reality diachronic reconstruction of the Kremlin and is interested in the long term in producing comparative models of Russia's Kremlins.
The Fraunhofer Institut für Medien und Kommunikation (IMK, Sankt Augustin) is working with Moscow State University (Sergey Matveyev et al.) on virtual reality. This group is also working on an international project on Digital Artistic and Ecological Heritage Exchange (DHX) that includes Korea. Professor Richard Beacham (Warwick) is working with Dmitry Trabotchkin, (head of department of the Russian Academy of Theatrical Art) on virtual reconstructions of theatrical spaces. His paper reviewed a number of projects, e.g. Theatron and Theatre of Pompey, which brought to light important new interplay between archaeology, theatre history and perspective. Russians working at Newcastle upon Tyne (Anvar M. Shukurov; Sergei Morozov) are working with the State Hermitage (Andrei N. Mazurkevich) on modelling prehistoric processes.
A paper from Resource (Marcus Weisen, London) pointed to the need for web accessibility by persons without sight and hearing. Not mentioned were the WWW's work in this field; the Italian NEXT project (cf. Benedetto Benedetti, Pisa) or the work of the Russian Library for the Blind (L. Vasilieva) which confirms that Russia is finding significant solutions of its own in this domain. Kim Veltman noted that especially through the Northern branch of the Silk Roads, Russia plays a key intermediary role in linking East and West and accordingly urged Russia, via E-Culture Net to join in UNESCO’s Silk roads initiatives. There were further papers at the conference from Austria, Italy, Poland, Serbia and the United Kingdom.
The Russian Cultural Heritage Net (Maria Sapozhnikova) reported on network initiatives. There were many detailed reports of digital conversion projects including retrospective conversion of old hand written cards at the Russian National Library (T.A. Parshina). While European projects have frequently scanned the original handwritten cards as part of the process, the Russian company does not see this need. Very impressive to an outsider were extensive reports of bibliographical reference works, which are being scanned: e.g. a 58 volume encyclopaedia on family education. Other projects cover bibliographical databases of Soviet Russian writers at the National Library of Russia (T.V. Kotova); an electronic guide to Bibliographic Resources at the Russian National Library including dictionaries and encyclopaedias (Svetlana Manguntova); a network of periodicals, digital Gogol Heritage (Vera Vikulova) and rare serials at the State Social Political Library (Elmira V. Tissenko). An interesting project on virtual copies of book culture (Kazakov, Novosibirsk University) has its own approach to what the text Entering Initiative (TEI) has set out to do.
In the past decade the Soros Foundation has tended to provide more funding for special projects than the Ministry of Culture. This funding has now practically stopped and some papers noted the effect on their progress. Striking, however, is how most initiatives continue to develop even under very difficult conditions.
While technological hurdles and challenges often dominate such conferences, psychological, sociological and political challenges are frequently more profound. This point was made by James Hemsley (London) with respect to how the field of art history had been much slower in adopting new technologies as part of their activities,
There were several examples of this psychological dimension in the Russian Eva conference. While there is tremendous activity in digitising images of paintings, sculptures, monuments and local landscapes, the reasons for so doing deserve closer reflection. A young exhibitor from Saint Petersburg showed a series of CDs he had created for teaching at the university. When asked whether one could buy one of these the answer was no.
At a more general level there is an impression that Russia is more assiduously learning about techniques from elsewhere for their own use, than concerned with sharing with the world as a whole. At first this might appear a subtle xenophobia. On closer inspection a more complex picture emerges. One discovers that the tremendous political upheavals of the past century have very often led persons to forget the historical roots of their own culture. In Smolensk at the Teramok House, with an excellent collection of Russian traditional folk art, the guide was not aware of the full richness of the traditions.
At the conference, it was striking that the artist-philosopher, Andrei Velikanov (Moscow), cited Spengler's Untergang des Abendlandes (1918) as a text very much relevant today, comparing the Russian situation as a world tree (arbor mundi) covered with epiphytes, (non-parasitic growths such as orchids) which were threatening to have a fatal effect. Velikanev lamented the decline of religion with more passion than Nietzsche announced the death of God a century and a half ago. Vladimir Opara (Creative Union of Experimental Technologies Artists) and Yuri Plastinin provided fascinating glimpses into the contemporary scene which were more optimistic.
Although the outside world perceived Russia as denying the existence of religion throughout the 20th century one senses that even among those who would call themselves atheists there is a deeper, primordial religious sense in Russia than in most parts of the West; an almost unconscious religion that is often wrapped in a pessimism that is more courageous and at the same time includes a deeper, silent optimism, than in the West. This complex, seemingly contradictory combination of emotions helps us to understand new multimedia productions the life long efforts of Shilov to create audio discs of great Russian playwrights and poets. Whereas the Western multimedia, especially in the United States increasing emphasizes public, extroverted superficial dimensions, Russian efforts include private, introverted and highly personal dimensions of communication. An important paper by Dmitry Bulatow (National Centre for Contemporary Arts, Kaliningrad Branch) reviewed experiments in "lingua-acoustic space" including sound poetry, which reveals the profound and complex contributions of Russian artists in this domain.
Moscow and Leningrad
The 300th anniversary of Saint Petersburg has led to much physical restoration of its museums and monuments and also to a considerable number of multimedia products commemorating historical dimensions of the city. Among the many historical maps and plans in the Russian National Library ( I. Kildushevskaya), there are even views which show levels of vodka, wine and beer consumption by city section. A virtual world project at the State Russian Museum (Alexander Nikolenko) combines virtual reality to integrate museum materials in new ways. The State Russian Museum (Elena Kalnitskaya; Olga Kissel) is also using the Michaelovsky castle as a case study for virtual reality and new media. At the same museum there is theoretical work on how virtual museums relate to the space of democratic culture (Alexander Drikker). Work on interactive, virtual immersive environments is evolving at the State Centre of Computer Interactive Simulation at Saint Petersburg (Alexander Nikitin) and also in Kazan (Ramil Valitov). At the State Hermitage Museum (Eleonora Byzova et al.), an illustrated digital history project combines databases re: buildings, events, personalia, bibliography and illustrations with the regular collections databases.
Similarly, in Moscow, the State Kremlin Museum (Natalia Afanasieva, cf. Evgenia Yakimova) has embarked on a new level of multimedia integration whereby the virtual reconstructions mentioned earlier are part of an integrated approach that includes images of collections, literature and information about the collections, as well as information about previous restorations. There is interest in using dictionaries and reference works in the manner of a virtual reference room; in collaboration with other museums and information services on the Internet. Such initiatives herald a new generation of multimedia, which integrate all aspects of museum collections in an ever increasing contextualisation.
The State Tretyakov Gallery has produced a CD ROM of its collections and is also working on the history of the gallery (Makhulov). The Pushkin Museum (Lev Noll) has developed an impressive and ambitious expansion programme in the course of the next decade. This will include a centre for the Aesthetic Education of Children and a Telecommunication and Computer Centre. Alexey Lebedev (Russian Institute for Cultural Research, Moscow) reviewed different levels of documentation and noted trends towards using sites as Public relations instruments.
Conservation, Preservation, and Restoration
Long-term storage techniques are being developed in Kiev (Valentin and Andrei Ponomarenko). At the State Polytechnical Museum there is growing interest in computer technology history (Marina Smolevitskaya). The Moscow Department for Preservation of Cultural Heritage (Julia Likhter), building on the French approach of J.-C. Gardin, is using orientation of objects for their functional description.
New laws concerning historical monuments in the Moscow region are being introduced. These are serving as a stimulus for new databases at a higher level of detail. There is work on a single register of non-moveable objects (Lukiyamenko), which will help decision making at the Federal, Regional and joint levels. There is also work on document supply for a united state register (Timur Valeev); important work on terminological information (Konchakova); work on automated documents (Finushin) and on monument history (Oliferenko). This considerable body of work confirms that the computer revolution in Russia is linked with profound changes in the ways of documenting culture generally and cultural monuments in particular.
These new laws are also leading to unexpected spinoffs. One speaker (A.A. Emalyonov) had developed a mathematical formula providing a numerical spectrum of quality in buildings that ranged from 0.0001 for a modern commercial building to 28,723 for a UNESCO monument. The confidence with which this supposedly objective method was treated was admirable though not proven.
Within the framework of the EVA conference there were almost two full days devoted to the ECHOLOT conference devoted to preservation of audio-visual materials.
This sub-conference opened with a keynote by Dr. Katarzyna Janczowska-Solomko (National Library, Warsaw) on preservation and restoration of early phonographs and piano rolls. Professor Petrov (Kiev) also reported on important a) creation of new equipment for re-recordings and digitisation; b) creation of long-term media and c) re-recording and preservation of audio heritage. The President of the National Audio-Visual Archives (Professor Vladimir Magidov) reviewed the state of the field in Russia and claimed that is was still a process but nearly a profession in the strict sense. The Central Musical Library, Mariinsky Theatre (Maria Sherbakhova, Saint Petersburg) reported on electronic libraries of musical manuscript collections. Elena Lubomirova (Saint Petersburg) reported on a website for cinema and photo documents. Lev Shilov reported on a series of important audio discs including those with the voices of Tolstoy and Pasternak.
A special morning session related to ARCH-IT (James Hemsley, London) reviewed developments in the shift from flat art to three-dimensional representations, particularly in the field of archaeology. This session led to a useful exchange of ideas about current practice especially in Russia: e.g. work on an e-catalogue of ancient monuments in Siberia (Natalia Blednova).
Outside of the Moscow and Saint Petersburg areas, one of the real problems remains infrastructure. Basic telephony and costs are still too high relative to regular wages and higher connectivity, e.g. ADSL is for the most part still prohibitive. It is worth remembering that in France this acceptable threshold was only reached in the past twelve months. It is also important to explore the ways in which satellite and mobile communications could contribute to these challenges of connectivity. Meanwhile, there is much evidence of interesting work.
The Saratov region (I. Proletkin; I. Kalinina; Maria Shpak) has combined materials from at least six collections in three cities to produce a local network. A CD produced from these collections has won a prize this past year. Several presentations were given on both the process and the results. Striking, in this case and throughout the conference was how the concepts of partnership and community building are emerging as central aspects of multimedia production (cf. Victor Stepanov, Moscow Kremlin).
The Smolensk city and region website includes many images of surrounding collections and monuments. Special places such as Katin and Teremok have their own sites. More detailed information about collections, monuments and sites is being developed. Two students, Alexander and Vasily Churanov reported on local websites and noted the need for interactive sites in order to increase their value.
Almost a whole morning was devoted to a series of reports concerning the Pskov region (Galina Boyarkova; Elvira V. Koroleva et al.). There are now individual websites for culture, for the city, the museum, library, for the State Culture Committee of the Region; for the Regional Information Resource Centre and for the Cultural Managers Association of the Northwest. In passing we learned of work on an Encyclopaedia of Russian villages. While further co-ordination and integration is clearly desirable, the tremendous efforts in the direction of a comprehensive approach are much to commended.
An archaeologist from Samara expressed a dream to have a virtual reality reconstruction of the Giguly mountains in her region, only to be told by another member of the audience that another department, namely, of Building Construction in Samara, had created precisely this in the past few years. This anecdotal experience points to one of the reasons why the EVA conference is so important, It brings together practitioners with a very wide range of knowledge which they are willing to share with colleagues.
There were also reports from the Murom, Vladimir region (Sergey Volostnov; E. K. Tyurina). From this area also D.A. Matveev reported on new technologies being developed and used by the Information Department. There are clearly trends towards what is emerging as a new field of metrology in Europe. The Belorussian State University (Natalia Khoziayeva) has been working on a site for Women's Business and Art Co-operation. Kazan is active.
A stimulating closing keynote was given by Dr Irina Danilova (State Pushkin Fine Arts Museum and the Russian State University for the Humanities) on information technologies for art history. She demonstrated how new technologies can literally be used to deconstruct and to manipulate elements of well known paintings as a means of learning to develop ways of slow watching and slow reading whereby one considers the syntaxes of each phrase in both monologue and dialogue paintings.
With respect to the Internet and new media Russia occupies a paradoxical place. From a strictly quantitative view, with only 18.5 million Internet users (according to Global Internet Statistics; cf. President Putin who recently announced that there were 10 million users), it is a small player. Such statistics and problems and challenges of infrastructure should not distract us, however, from recognizing other dimensions. The complexity and depth of the projects cited above confirm that Russia is making fundamental contributions on almost all fronts.2
No conference can represent all the activities of a country. Even so, looking at the presentations from a global viewpoint it is possible to recognize at least four levels of activities. A small number of institutions such as the National Museums and Libraries including the Moscow Kremlin, and the Hermitage are developing high-level integrated solutions, which are fully consonant with the latest developments internationally. This group already finds both government support and Western partners and money (e.g. the Hermitage’s links with IBM). In terms of their conceptual coherence they are often ahead of most efforts in Europe or the United States. Given adequate high-speed connectivity these could effectively become part of the most advanced European and global networks immediately. In some cases this small group offers solutions which are conceptually even more advanced than those found in Europe and the United States.
A second level, includes a group of advanced institutions which typically are working with Europe, Japan or other countries with respect to specific dimensions of the multimedial spectrum (e.g. virtual reality) but may not be aware of international standards across the board. These first and second groups are dominated by members in the Moscow and Saint Petersburg areas, but includes unexpected players in places such as Novo-Sibirsk (especially for telecommunications and distance education).
A third level, particularly evident in regional centres such as Smolensk, Saratov, and Pskov frequently lacks technological resources and detailed awareness of international standards, but is making important contributions with respect to making available diverse and unfamiliar content intent. Related to this there is a fourth level of further regional efforts which were not represented at this conference but which are nonetheless also making available their wide ranging, diverse content.
While networks with respect to specialised areas such as museums, galleries, libraries, or archives continue to mature, the need for a network that brings together the whole spectrum of new media developments is still as much needed in Russia as it is in Europe. For this reason the idea of E-Culture Net is being pursued. The Eva Moscow Conference is a fundamental effort in that direction and deserves worldwide attention.
Moscow, Amsterdam and Tokyo 7-9 December 2003.
I am deeply grateful to Nadezhda Brakker for reading the draft and offering a number of helpful comments and improvements. I am grateful to Alexander and Vasily Churanov for introducing me to Smolensk for a weekend. This provided a first hand view of multimedia developments outside Moscow and Leningrad.
Nadezdha Brakker notes that there are also more serious reasons than purely financial ones. US and other foreign systems require not only translation into Russian but also face serious localisation efforts due to original Russian systems of registration, documentation, document flow, classification etc. So it is reasonable to design Russian systems functionally equivalent to widely spread US systems. Just one example: USMARK library format was localised and adopted as RUSMARK. The localisation took several years.
Nadezhda Brakker notes: “These are again Russian contradictions: IT developments do not depend on the number of users (on the market?). I am doing something not because I can sell it but because I just like it and find it good.