Re: [-empyre-] modernity antiquity

I am very interested in the state of new media in France. I lived in France for several years and studied some there, and I dated a computer scientist from France for four years, so I have some experience with using computers in France, but not specifically with new media. art. Many things about the educational system and the culture could explain the problems with French new media that Isabelle Arvers described. On the other hand, I have some contact with French new media people (Patrick Burgaud has helped me with some French applications, and we plan to do some work together, and I also did a little translation for the Paris Connection project that Jim Andrews organized which was a multilingual project that presented some French new media artists along with critical essays on their work.. So I know that there IS some interesting new media work done in France, but I am sure that Isabelle is telling the truth and I can imagine the attitude that many French people might have about new media.

I lived in France when I was learning to talk and went back almost every summer and my father taught me to read and write in French. When I was 16 and had finished high school in America, I went to France and attended lycee (Terminale C) and received my baccalaureat C (in 1990). (The bac is the exam at the end of French high school and it is quite grueling and hard compared to American school. When I came back to the US and went to Columbia University, I was awarded 12 credits for having gotten my physics, math, and chemistry -- and none in French. By comparison, Columbia only gave students who had taken advanced placement classes 2-3 credits and only if they had the highest score... The bac C was the version of the exam that emphasized math and physics. Now, in an attempt to reform the educational system, they have renamed all the bac versions and combined them etc. but plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose...)

At the time I was studying for my bac in France, everyone wanted a bac C because "ca ouvre tout les filieres" and it was widely thought to be much better to be "scientifique" than "litteraraire." The dichotomy between scientifique and litteraire people was a big topic and everyone seemed to think that people were one or the other and could not be both. In France, to become a CEO or a politician, one usually has to go to a Grand Ecole, which most of the time means an engineering school, and you get into these schools by competitive examinations that are quite difficult. This is very different than America where politicians are usually not intelligent in the academic sense (I do not claim that French politicians are better than US ones, but many of them are educated to a high level). Also, here engineers do not become rich bosses at companies-- business people do, and technical people are less powerful. The result of the emphasis on engineering and science in France is that if you aren't scientifique you have more trouble getting ahead and literary studies are looked down on. So many literary and artistic people resent the scientifiques and their influence on society, so they become anti-scientifique and hate technology.

The result is that fields which require both artistic and technical interests and abilities are not well-developed. I did not do new media yet when I lived in France most recently (89-90), but as a student in Terminale C I was actively discouraged from literary & cultural pursuits. The literary people also saw me as a member of the enemy camp and were jealous that I was in the advantaged group and that they, the literary people, would not be able to get good jobs unless they were among the very best, most elite litteraire students who were preparing for the entrance exams to the few Grandes Ecoles that didn't involve math, such at Normale Sup in letters. I knew some of these elite literature people and they had multiple interests and weren't against technology, but these people were not average and the people I knew who actually went to Normale Sup had parents who went to similar elite schools and had been groomed since childhood for the exams and success...

I would be curious to know from French people if the conflict between scientifiques and litteraraires is still happening and if the scientifiques are still winning...



I enjoyed studying in French lycee, but at the same time I was aware that the system was elitist and that many students were forced into vocational or technical education and never got the kind of course I was taking, and even within academic courses, there was competition to get in the good courses and there were many special tricks that educated parents used to make sure their children were in good classes while poor children got a worse education. For example, I was in C which was the hardest track academically, but my school had three Terminale C classes and I was in the worst one, with all the immigrants and "redoublants" -- students who had failed and were repeating the yeart. This was because the school was certain that an American would be less good academically than French students. There were many students in my clas swho were 20 years old because of redoublement whereas I was only 16. I later found out that if I had been clever I could have been in the best class -- by taking German as my first foreign language. I had signed up for English because of course I speak fluent English and did not know that much German. But parents who understand the system well get their children to always take German as a first language because that puts you in a better class. I could have been in that class and still taken English as my first language on the exam...

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Sent: Thursday, March 09, 2006 5:15 AM
Subject: [-empyre-] modernity antiquity


Is Modernity our Antiquity? History is a cultural concept, it is not natural,
but it is a very strong concept of the Modernity.

It reminds me the movie « Disneyland, my native village » by Arnaud des
Pallières that makes a parallel between Paris and a new Disneyworld. The Eiffel
Tour or Parisian monuments are becoming the Mickey's of the new millenary.
France is spending so much money to preserve its patrimony that there is very
few money left for the creation. Patrimony is the first department of the
French cultural budget.

We are far away from putting the same amount of budget in the field of research.
It seems to me that in France, our "post-modernity" consists in preserving our

And it is not surprising too that France is one of the first voice to say that
new media art is ghettoized from the whole contemporary art world because it
focuses too much on the techne. It seems even like "old fashioned" to say
nowadays that you work in the new media art field.

Perhaps it is because digital art sounds so bad in French?

What we can say for sure, is that this discourse has political and economical
consequences, by denying a specificity to new media, in France we have:

- less and less budgets for this "art that doesn't exist" or this "art that we
won't give a name to"
- in the last main contemporary exhibitions in Paris, only 2% of this kind of
art practices were shown
- No production center for new media
- No press
- Few art critics
- Very few initiatives to rely research and art

If there is such a need for new media to reconnect with the art history to give
a value to emerging creations, I guess that it is because the modern concept of
art is still going on.

Isabelle Arvers
empyre forum

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