DW: Many artists work on projects that are closely related to issues and also reflect the conflicts we face as journalists, such as growing hostility. How do you think we can better protect freedom of expression?
Defining exactly what role art should play in society, and vilifying or censoring art that “deviates” from this prescribed role is a hallmark of totalitarian states. Of course, we know of this kind of persecution of artists in German history.
As an artist, positioning his work in relation to current issues can result in hostility, criticism or fascination. Whether you take human rights violations or environmental disasters as an example, it depends on the sensitivity of the people you “offend” and how effective your work is in the eyes of the public. Depending on this, you may indeed find yourself very at risk.
The internet and digital media help us to defend freedom of art and freedom of expression, and to protect those who hold these values through the media and the pluralistic characteristic of the net. This is why projects that take place in both worlds – analog and digital – are often so effective.
This public nature of the Internet can also protect individual artists and journalists. Here I am supporting the basic ideas of the founder of the web, Timothy John Berners-Lee.
Johanna Reich uses video performance among other art forms to discuss freedom in the world
You put fundamental rights at the center of your artistic work, and you work at the interface between the analog and digital worlds. What does this mean exactly?
I use forms of artistic expression from both analog and digital worlds to address our freedom in the digital space. Of course, I also bring into the table the threat to human rights in the digital space, such as the potential for surveillance. But I am also focusing on areas where the net offers opportunities for our fundamental rights – opportunities that did not exist in the analog world and which must be used.
In my art, I also refer to things that can move us, shake us up and, in these cases, make us more aware of our rights.
Reich says internet is designed not to tolerate prejudice and prejudice
To what extent can the Internet promote liberal societies and equality?
The Internet offers us enormous opportunities, especially in a pluralistic sense. By way of example: One of my works – entitled “Resurface II” – deals with historiography. The history of art during the purely analog period was primarily written by white men. The fact that many excellent female artists were never mentioned there reflected, so to speak, the social code of the past. Women have slipped through the cracks in the history of art.
With my project, I allow them to be part of the history of art. I would say correcting history is the keyword here. At the same time, I am showing that the world of the Internet is designed in such a way that one-sidedness cannot remain unchallenged in any context – provided that we know and use all of our rights.
The digital world challenges us to get more involved, whether it’s with images, a Wikipedia entry or an online petition. On the web, we need to be heard.
Reich tries to fight propaganda and fake news – through art and education
Populists use the internet for hatred, agitation and to manipulate speech, using means such as robotic armies. What remains today of this ideal of freedom of expression on the internet?
Granted, the net is inundated with propaganda, social robots and fake news. We know that elections have been manipulated in this way before, but we also know that there have always been populists throughout history, and they have generally found ways to manipulate art and media in order to shape the development of values in societies. Today they use digital media.
Then as today, education helps to counter this. There should be a stronger call for better media literacy, in my opinion – so that it quells complaints against the robot armies of these populists. In addition, quality media must be firmly entrenched in our consciousness beyond the time of the coronavirus. Art can enrich the public discourse around this topic, but art cannot replace media education.
Media artist Johanna Reich, born 1977, lives and works in Cologne, Germany. She studied at the Academies of Fine Arts in Münster and Hamburg, where she was a pupil of German director Wim Wenders. She holds various awards, grants and residencies, and is a member of several artist groups. She currently holds an academic mandate at the Munich Academy (AdBK). His works have been exhibited in Hong Kong, New York, Moscow, Dubai, Santiago de Chile and in most European countries.
This interview was carried out by Martina Bertram.
As was the case in previous years with the physical Global Media Forum held annually at the World Conference Center in Bonn, the digital edition of the Global Media Forum 2020 also receives support from the Federal Foreign Office, the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Stiftung Internationale Begegnung der Sparkasse in Bonn.