Kim H. Veltman

EVA Moscow 2005

 The EVA conferences initiated by James Hemsley (London) serve an important role in providing a survey of new technologies in the cultural domain. This was the 8th annual EVA conference in Moscow and marked the 75th of such conferences worldwide. The conference organized by Nadezdha Brakker and Leonid Kujbyshev (Centre PIC, Ministry of Culture) is particularly significant because it brings together the whole spectrum of memory institutions, academics and some pioneering artists who would not otherwise meet. This year’s conference was hosted mainly in the Foreign Languages and Literatures Library (thanks to Olga Sinitsyna), which also houses the British Council in Moscow. A welcome by the acting director of the British Council urged public-private partnerships.

 Russia is a country of many anomalies. As of September 2005, there were 2 billion mobile phones worldwide of which 59.04 million mobile phone users[1] are in Russia. As of November 2005, there were 22.3 million Internet users in Russia.[2] Hence, in quantitative terms, Russia is a relatively small player qua Internet. Yet it is of seminal importance for three reasons. First, Russia has historically been and remains one of the one of the great innovators in terms of new technologies. For instance, Russia introduced the term television at the Paris World fair of 1900, a full three decades before it was “invented” in the United States. Today, Russia is active in the latest compression technologies,[3] is pioneering in distance education especially qua satellites. A second reason for Russiá’s seminal importance is through their sheer land size and multiplicity of languages and cultures, which makes them one of the richest and most profound countries in the world qua cultural content. This richness goes far beyond the high culture of collections such as the Tretyakov and Hermitage, which are rightly famous internationally. It extends to shamanic and nomadic traditions, to rich ethnological and folk collections, with links via Northern and Southern silk routes to Persia (Iran), India, Tibet, China and other cradles of civilization in Asia. Linked with this is a third reason: In contrast to some highly developed countries that sometimes focus on technological dimensions in isolation, Russia is extremely aware and articulate about the humane, social, political and philosophical dimensions of technology. The five day EVA Moscow conference was important because it threw light on all three of these aspects.

 Day one is traditionally focussed on political dimensions at the national and international level. This year was particularly interesting because of Russia’s role in the second part in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis. When the Internet began seriously in the 1970s, day to day operation of Internet addresses was the responsibility of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and almost solely in the hands of Jon Postel. Within weeks of the premature death of Postel in October 1998, the U.S. established an Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Rhetorically, the US promised international representation to reflect the worldwide use of the Internet. Practically, it was claimed that because the US had invented the Internet --- quietly overlooking that the US experiments in 1969 were a response to earlier work in England in 1968—they “owned” it and effectively needed no “external” representation.

 This attitude was one of the reasons that inspired Europe, Russia and Asia to conceive a World Summit for the Information Society (WSIS). A first meeting occurred in Geneva (2002) and included some 12,000 persons. The second meeting in Tunis (November 2005) had over 200 satellite conferences, which may help to explain why statistics of how many attended vary from 18,000 to 30,000. On the surface, the official result of the meeting was that the US remains in control for the moment. Dr. Montviloff, who was active in the background work over the past five years, gave his account of some of the initiatives spearheaded by UNESCO. Meanwhile, as the Russian delegate to the conference, Dr. Kuzmin, made clear, the rules of the game are changing.

 A decade ago, some 80% of Internet users were in North America and c. 90% of the Internet was in English. Today, English remains the largest single language (at c. 35%), but within five years, Chinese is predicted by some to become the dominant language. (Indeed more persons have Spanish as a first language than English). In terms of sheer numbers, the US now represents only about 20% of Internet users globally. The surge of the Simple Computer (Simputer for under $200); Nicholas Negroponte’s plans for One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) for $100 announced at WSIS (to be produced by Qanta, Taiwan) and new accords between China and India means that this US percentage will continue to decrease. 

 The US Internet in isolation continues to be under the control of the military (ARPA) via the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which is housed in the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI, Reston Virginia). A tactic of the first World Summit (WSIS) was to move Internet discussions into the larger arena of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), hence the motive for Geneva as a location. (Very dramatic developments in the domain of NBIC (Nano-Bio-Info-Communication) convergence in the past three years have shifted this field also). A second  tactic, or rather philosophical approach, was to insist that the Internet is much more than a collection of technical gadgets and standards. Here UNESCO (Paris) played a seminal role. Philippe Quéau spoke and wrote of access to information and knowledge as a global right and of knowledge as a public good; extended the scope of discussions of digital divide to a global arena, including disparities within so-called developed countries. When Quéau was moved from the Paris to the Moscow office of UNESCO, Russia became a particular champion of these themes. In the course of 2005, Russia organized two significant conferences on policy dimensions preparatory to the Tunis summit. EVA participants were fortunate in receiving two related publications.     

 A less publicized consequence of the World Summit reported by both Montviloff and Kuzmin is that there are now some 11 committees exploring implications of the Internet, especially social, educational and political. UNESCO is directly involved with approximately half of these committees and sub-committees. What was once largely the domain of military technocrats increasingly involves persons in all disciplines. Russia has played a significant part in extending these boundaries.

 A second item in the first plenary session of EVA was a lecture by Madelena Grossmann, a policy head of the Council of Europe (Strasbourg), who spoke on democratic cultural exchange and discussed the idea of cultural capital in terms of new networks. In the past decade, the Council of Europe has been interested in both economic dimensions of culture especially via tourism and in cultural networks. The emphasis on cultural capital at a policy level is potentially significant, although no details were provided of how this will be achieved. It is noteworthy that this topic was also explored within the European Commission through the Museums over States and Virtual Culture (MOSAIC)[4] and in the Cultural Heritage in Regional Networks (Regnet) Project[5], where a Silke Grossmann played a significant role.

 The second plenary session began with three lectures on the Italian portal of culture which is one of the projects related to the MINERVA project. Benedetto Benedetti represented both the Scuola Normale Superiore and the Italian Ministry of Culture. E. Masci from the FORMA Consortium at the Scuola Normale provided details. It was interesting to note that although Dublin Core remains the rhetoric of the day, extended versions of the headings are being developed to reflect the realities of more complex realities of European heritage. Kate Fernie (Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, London) reported on how the MICHAEL project, linked with MINERVA, is addressing multilingual challenges of the European Union in the cultural domain. Dr. Anton Pärn and I. Eensaar (Ministry of Culture, Estonia) gave a lucid account of how Estonia is developing projects in libraries, museums, audiovisual archives and other domains of digital culture. K.Veltman reported how Alexander and Vasily Churanov (Smolensk) are linking the E-Culture site with sites on new media and new models of culture. P. Dobrila (KIBLA, Maribor, Slovenia) gave interesting examples from the E-Agora project, which combines new artistic and educational experiments in a networked environment. A. Eisenstein outlined how his OPHRYS company was providing portable museum guides in many countries. T. Harviainen (University of Helsinki) showed how his project was making available Tatar scripts written in Arabic script with special marks not used in classical Arabic.

 The morning of the second day was devoted to BRICKS (Building Resources for Integrated Cultural Knowledge Services), one of the European Union’s two Integrated Projects in the cultural sector, along with PRESTO Space. Since the first IST projects in the cultural field such as Remote Access to Museum Archives (RAMA) over 15 years ago there has been a vision of networked access to materials from memory institutions. Many of those projects produced less than was promised. BRICKS is very consciously an attempt to produce something that promises less and delivers more. Viewed globally the project is significant because it brings Italian and German technology partners together, although it notably ignores France, Spain and smaller countries.

 Russia is a partner in BRICKS via its Russian Cultural Heritage Network (Kirill Nasedkin, Darwin Museum). Technical aspects presented by both Engineering Ingegneria Informatica (Rome) and by Fraunhofer (Thomas Risse, Darmstadt) dominated the discussion. A. De Polo (Florence) described the role of the Alinari photographic collection as a partner in the BRICKS project. In terms of content, this will make 1000 images of their collection of 3 million photographs publicly available. E. Masci described how images of Pompeii from the Soprintendenza and the Scuola Normale, are being made available in the BRICKS project. One claim to novelty in BRICKS lies in the creation of a system for Digital Rights Management (DRM) for small and medium museums, an elusive goal which began with the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) for Multimedia Access to Europe’s Cultural Heritage (1996). How BRICK’s approach, which is being applied to a small number of museums, will be scaled up to the international level (e.g. ICOM) was not made clear.

 A parallel session at the legal centre addressed a range of questions pertaining to European Cultural law, political, legal and personal rights in the context of digital libraries and online networks. These discussions confirmed that the Russian Ministry of Justice and memory institutions are tracking developments in Europe and internationally. This was followed by a section on new technologies and contemporary art. V. Opara (Moscow) reviewed new software for film production, while M. Bogdanov et al. (Moscow) reviewed new technologies for creative design. A Grischenko (Novosibirsk) described process with open code.

 In the afternoon, members of the BRICKS delegation went on a tour of the city. The main conference continued with a section on new technologies in the area of non-movable heritage preservation. J. Zaitseva (Moscow) described an interface for history cultural map of Moscow. S. Matveev (Moscow) reported on continuing co-operation between his institute and Fraunhofer (Sankt Augustin) qua virtual reality. Striking was the wide range of applications from reconstruction of the basilica of Saint Pudenziana (Rome), the KIZHI state open-air museum of history, architecture and ethnography (Petrozavodsk, Karelia); the Sverdlovsk region and Russian country estates. A parallel section revealed an equally rich range of activities in the domain of technologies applied to museums, with a progress report on the Museums of Russia portal; examples from Saratov, Tomsk, Kazan, and from multimedia companies such as EnterNetica (UK) Ltd. and Directmedia Publishing.

 The theme of information technologies applied to museums continued on Wednesday morning. This offered a survey of developments in major collections in both Moscow: e.g.  the Kremlin, the library for Foreign Literature, the Tretyakov, State Historical Museum –linked with C2RMF (Paris) and in Saint Petersburg: e.g. the Peter the Great Museum and the State Russian Museum as well as a report from the Chuvashia State Art Museum. Again there were progress reports from multimedia firms notably Activision (Moscow) and KAMIS (Saint Petersburg). In addition, there were seven papers without a presentation which provided further insight into regional developments in Ilmen, Ryazan, Kazan, Syktyvkar and Omsk.

 A parallel session featured a round table on the Museums, Libraries and Digital Archives Corporation. Another parallel section, chaired by Professor A. Drikker (State Russian Museum) addressed Cultural Information Space: Theory and Practice. This explored a wide range of topics including typology as a criterion for quality; the ideas of Alvin Toffler; a knowledge based information society; culture and civilization and virtual ethno-cultural worlds.

 In the afternoon, a session on information technologies in archives ranged from scientific publications, cinema-, photo-, and phono-archives; photo restoration and included a report from the Alt Soft Company (Saint Petersburg). A parallel session was devoted to the annual ECHOLOT conference, while another parallel session focussed on KAMIS and ADIT.

 Each year the conference highlights developments in a given region. This year it was the Smolensk region heralded by A. Abramenkov on Monday and the focus of the Thursday sessions in the main hall with some 14 presentations. Of considerable interest was to see the range of activities that includes local libraries, museums, and an audio collection. There are attempts to create a survey of available resources in the form of a Red Book and there is a plan which foresees bringing a preliminary version of almost all the memory institutions online by 2010. Vasily Churanov gave an interesting  account of youth activities in the region, which included sending a representative to WSIS (Tunis).

 A parallel session explored developments in digital libraries. This entailed a dozen papers including reports from a not-for-profit partnership for electronic libraries (Moscow) and the non-commercial partnership, Centroconcept (Arkhangelsk); the Uzbekhistan National Library, the Arkhangelsk Regional Scientific Library, Pereslavl University; Kemerovo and Kazan State Universities; as well as commercial firms: Computer Studio Mart (Saint Petersburg); Slovo Publishers and Info Supply Technology Ltd. (Moscow). Other parallel sessions explored Palm computers in museums and linguistic issues. This entailed an impressive range of topics from manuscripts and science magazines to classifications for civil aircraft. Meanwhile, an early evening session in the main hall explored ICT in regional development with a further eight papers of which six were presented. It was striking how these discussions entail academics, professional organizations (e.g. ADIT and Culture Managers Association);  as well as commercial companies (e.g. Alt-Soft). 

 On Friday, the main conference explored a number of technological issues. Once again the gamut was wide ranging from a pre-historic observatory to bibles, libraries and cinema. E. Sorokina and her students (Moscow State Institute of Electronics and Mathematics) reported on virtual scenography. The Russian Scientific Centre on Applied Chemistry (Saint Petersburg) and the Russian State Library (Moscow) reported on significant work in the preservation of paper and CD ROMs against bacteria. The highlight of the session was a brilliant lecture by E. Kudashev from the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow), which revealed how Russia is tracking and contributing to the latest developments in grid computing at the global scale.    

 A parallel session led by Olga Shylkova (Moscow State University of Culture) featured a further eleven presentations and 6 papers without presentation on links between culture and education. Again there was an enormous range with papers on computer projects for pre-school children and computer art by children`; use of GPS (Global Positioning Systems) and training of librarians. Lev Noll (State Pushkin Museum, Moscow) reported on a new specialization on IT in Museum Activity at the RSHU (Russian State University for the Humanities). T. Selivanova (not for profit Studio of Art Designing, Moscow) discussed use of multimedia in interpretation of cultural heritage. The final plenary session saw the results of the contest of library web sites and a keynote by the author on The World Tree in order to go beyond Euro- or Asian – centric approaches and as a starting point for new models of culture.  

 Standing back, EVA Moscow 2005 very successfully reflected the enormous richness and complexity and of the Russian scene with respect to digital projects in the cultural realm. It also brought to light some distinctly Russian trends. First, although the Ministry of Culture via the Centre PIC is rightly represented in the MINERVA+ project, the Ministry of Culture per se is less visibly active than in Europe or countries such as Canada (cf. CHIN). Second, there was an increased profile this year of not-for-profit and non-commercial organizations, which offered an interesting contrast to the rhetoric of public-private partnerships and the quest for business plans for everything that increasingly dominate the European scene. Third, there is a continued emphasis in Russia on philosophical and social implications of the new media.

 When Tolstoy wrote War and Peace he spoke of two Russias: one looking West and one looking East. A decade ago, many Russians were over enthusiastic by the purely capitalist model of the United States. This year that enthusiasm is more tempered. Russia is keeping its windows to the West, the East and the South open. Russia rightly tracks European developments in the cultural field, but increasingly Europeans have reasons to learn from Russia’s immense content and need also to learn from Russia’s approaches. Though Kipling worried that with East and West the twain would never meet, Russia offers a unique bridge, which is increasingly crucial culturally, as well as politically and economically.   

 


Notes

[1] http://www.w2forum.com/item/russia_gains_341_mln_mobile_phone_users_

[2] http://www.internetworldstats.com/list2.htm

[3] E.g. http://www.slac.stanford.edu/econf/C0303241/proc/papers/THLT002.PDF

[4] http://www.ten-telecom.org/en/project.asp?LNK=MOSAIC

[5] http://www.cultivate-int.org/issue6/regnet/