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untitled self-portrait #47 (2001) by Bruce Eves Giclee print on archival paper 24" X 30" ©
://selfportrait - a show for Bethlehem media art exhibition was initially organized in celebration of a 10th anniversary of the twin city partnership of business cooperation, including a student exchange program, between the municipalities of Cologne and Bethlehem. While Cologne is a thriving industrial city in the heart of Germany, Bethlehem continues to find itself surviving on contested soil, holy though it may be. Relying almost entirely on tourism for income, Bethlehem's future survival as a viable community has been placed in doubt by the presence of a huge security wall, erected and still being constructed by the Israeli government which dissects the town and historical communities.
In the face of the town of Bethlehem's increasing isolation, independent curator Wilfried Agricola de Cologne invited artists from the international stage to submit self-portraits. The art works would travel to Bethlehem and symbolically knock down the wall, which now separates the town from the rest of the world. About 350 artists participated in ://selfportrait - a show for Bethlehem, with digital prints, digital video projections/installations, multi-media and sonic art. By showing their faces through their self-portraits, the participating artists became messengers of peace.
While my own self-portrait illustrated here, and a few other artists' submissions directly addressed the context (social and political) of the Middle East, what made this exhibition unique -- beyond the exotic locale, was that the Bethlehem venue was the first stop on an eight month international tour in which the work was cloned. Herein lies the innovation: the only thing travelling in time and space between venues was digital data. Artists routinely deliver their work as e-mail attachments, however conducting an international tour of this scale, from artist-supplied files was, to my knowledge, a first.
://selfportrait - a show for Bethlehem was cloned five times, printed anew at each stop on the tour between July, 2006 to February, 2007: appearing in Bethlehem, Palestine, at the International Center Al Kahf Art Gallery July 6 to July 30, 2006, followed by Offizyna Art Space in Szczecin, Poland, October 20 to November 20, 2006. Then at MAC - Museo de Arte Contemporåneo Universidad Nacional del Litoral in Santa Fe, Argentina, December 10, 2006 to January 28, 2007. And at Casoria Contemporary Art Museum in Naples, Italy, December 16, 2006 to January 16, 2007. And finally cloned for MACRO - Museo Arte Contemporaneo Rosario in Rosario, Argentina, February 2 to February 28, 2007. At the conclusion of each exhibition, the work was donated to the host venue’s permanent collection.
One was left wondering if the stops represented on the tour were orchestrated within the political and geographical contexts of oppression and occupation and if the gallery visitors at each show would have reflected on their own country's individual history of intolerance. This show not only affirmed a message of solidarity, but reinforced the importance of a free and independent culture without borders. Perhaps the use of New Media technology represents the beginning of a new era for solving conflicts via communication.