Asia Culture Forum 2017: Interview with Dr. Bernhard Serexhe

Written by E.J. Jones
Photos courtesy of Dr. Bernhard Serexhe

Have you ever heard of the 4th Industrial Revolution? It is a new term for many and happens to be a central subject of this year’s Asia Culture Forum (ACF) to be hosted in Gwangju from the 13th to 15th of this month. The forum’s official theme is “Culture, Technology, and Creativity: Culture Cities in the Age of the 4th Industrial Revolution.” With this focus, the forum will provide an important platform for discussion and promotion of international exchange within Asian culture. This year’s speaker line-up features an impressive host of native Korean and international speakers, and there will also be a connected youth camp occurring alongside this event, designed to cultivate leaders in young people interested in Asian culture and creativity. The forum’s theme of culture, technology, and creativity is a fitting one, as South Korea is well-known for its technological advancements, and Gwangju – hailed as one of the country’s significant cultural hubs – is recognized as an important creative city in Asia. We had the pleasure of speaking with one of the forum’s keynote speakers for this year, Dr. Franz-Bernhard Serexhe, to bring you an informed introduction to the three-day forum.

Gwangju News (GN): Dr. Serexhe, thank you so much for your willingness to chat with us about the upcoming Asia Culture Forum. As I’ve read from your online biographies, you are a man with a long list of credentials who has been a part of various types of projects related to art and culture. How would you like to introduce yourself to our readers? What do you feel is most important for us to know about you as a speaker at this year’s forum?

My name is Dr. Bernhard Serexhe; I am an art historian, international independent curator, and a publicly appointed expert for electronic and digital media art, and also Senior Lecturer for Media Art at the University of Berne, Switzerland. I started my career with studies in sociology, psychology, art history, philosophy, and educational science; after researching in the field of medieval archeology, I was engaged as curator at the ZKM’s Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe (Germany) in 1994, where in 2006 I was appointed chief curator of the ZKM’s Media Museum. Until 2016, I have curated manifold exhibitions on the impact of new media technologies on our societies.

My main interest as a curator and author is in the transition from analogue to digital culture. My most recent and ongoing exhibitions focus on global surveillance and censorship in the digital society.

GN: Have you visited Gwangju before? If so, what was the occasion and what did you think of Gwangju as a cultural hub and creative city?

Since 2010, I have visited Gwangju several times, mostly on the occasion of the Gwangju Culture Forum, and in 2015, I was invited to the grand opening of the Asia Culture Center (ACC). The city of Gwangju stands for its great resistance against dictatorship in the 1980s. With its Biennial and the ACC, this city has gained a great reputation as an Asian culture hub; for me, it is one of the most important and vibrant culture cities in East Asia.

GN: Have you been involved with any special projects in or related to South Korea in the past?

For eight years now, I have been involved in several cultural projects related to Korea – in Korea itself and in Europe. As a consultant in media art and culture, I have advised several important national cultural institutions, among them the National Museum for Modern and Contemporary Art, and the Busan Biennial. In 2013, with Move On Asia, I curated a large-scale video exhibition on Korean and Asian contemporary art at the ZKM’s Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Germany. And in 2016, one of my main projects was the exhibition New Gameplay at the Nam June Paik Art Center in Yongin in Gyeonggi-do. Besides this, I am closely connected to the Korean art scene. Many Korean artists are my friends; some of them have been represented in my exhibitions in Europe and Asia. And last but not least, I should mention my academic lectures in some Korean institutions and my involvement in the Asian Arts Space Network, which is organized by the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism.

GN: As I’m sure you are well aware, this forum will discuss its topics as they relate to the 4th Industrial Revolution. This is a new term for many and has been defined in various ways. So, what does the term “4th Industrial Revolution” mean to you? Also, how does this concept relate to your field and involvement with digital art?

It is sensible to question the meaning of the abundantly used and misused term “revolution.” The political and culture revolution in the 1980s, in which Gwangju people fought against military dictatorship, was coming from below. But the digital revolution is being decreed from the top downward by powerful, globally operating corporations, which – by controlling the extensions of man – have taken over influence in all realms of human life. The proposition that the 4th Industrial Revolution will bring more affluence, more democracy, more jobs, greater individual freedom, and even peace to the world has become the favorite promise of a large following of politicians who tell us that the new digital order will march forward irreversibly, being a given fact of technological progress whose consequences are in every respect as necessary as they are desirable. The ongoing, accelerating digital revolution penetrates all areas of our life and is thus fundamentally changing our civilization.

GN: What, specifically, will you be discussing at the Asia Culture Forum? Can you give us a sneak preview?

The concept of UNESCO Cultural Cities is, among others, to promote and to host the production of cultural content and to implement “culture” as a job-creating instrument in the domain of digital content. It is in these terms that the so-called 4th Industrial Revolution is closely related to art and culture. They have to question the manifold stimuli for cultural change and how these are related to social and political consequences. Culture does not stand against economy; on the contrary, it is the deepest source and the strongest catalyst of economy. Art as the creative process of research, analysis, and confrontation is not a product, nor a commercial commodity, that can be sold on the world market. As the conscience of society, it is the active process of being involved in gaining a higher awareness of things as they are, and as they should be, in a democratic society.

GN: What might you say to our readers that would encourage them to attend this year’s forum? Why is it important?

Very justly, and necessarily, the Gwangju Forum in September this year has already addressed the issues of democracy, human rights, and peace. The media and communications industries are consciousness industries with the largest impact on the further development of humanity. Given the rapid transition into a new, digitally dependent and controlled society, the Asia Culture Forum 2017 will also have to pose questions about democracy, human values, and sustainability in the ongoing 4th Industrial Revolution. The Asia Culture Forum 2017 offers a broad range of themes in which these questions will hopefully not be sidelined.

GN: What do you hope the forum will accomplish? In your opinion, what changes need to be made for the future?

It is for me not possible to predict the accomplishments of this important forum. I would sincerely hope that the discussion will not limit itself to purely technological or economistic questions.

GN: Do you have any closing thoughts?

Yes, in 2016, every day I closely followed the courageous protests against the abuse of political authority and power on Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul and in many other places in Korea. The glory of an impeccable democratic process does honor to the Korean people.

GN: Thank you very much for your time, Dr. Serexhe. We look forward to welcoming you back to Gwangju for the ACF and are grateful for your many important contributions within the realm of culture and the arts. It is our hope that the people of Gwangju and others around the world will come together as we discuss culture, technology, and creativity in the wake of the 4th Industrial Revolution at this year’s Asia Culture Forum 2017.

Eden has been living in Korea since 2014 and enjoys reading, writing, snowboarding, and enchanting the locals with her violin when she can manage to find a spare minute away from her editing responsibilities at the Gwangju News. Eden became managing editor in September 2017.

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