What is cultural mediation for ZEMOS98?

“Navigating a communal geography differs from reading a text, purchasing a commodity, or from the self-consciousness of social media. You navigate a material place in the time of your body, rather than emitting dispatches into a dematerialized zone of no context. You are public, but not displayed, surveilled, and archived. You relate to others spontaneously, without any obligation to perform or expose yourself. Your self can stretch to its full social mobility, rather than indexing itself into the narrow confines of text. Ideology, politics, taste, and social media – these fixities can be a Procrustean bed that crams your whole self into a shrunken modality of positions and transactional messages, but most interesting interactions we have in life are not when we are ‘on’. Life happens when you are not making declarations. Life happens when you are with other people.”

Ken Chen

This quote is from the book As radical, as mother, as salad, as shelter: What should art institutions do now?, published by Paper Monument. 

One of the things that we have done most at ZEMOS98 is to organise gatherings of people who have never met before. Beyond just creating “networking spaces” or enabling strangers to meet and work on projects together, we can also proudly say that we’ve helped create many new friendships. 

What happens is that when we talk about “care” and build “spaces of co-creation” using methodologies that confront and recognise power dynamics but, at the same time, try to encourage imaginative ways of working together, everything seems to be wrapped in a shroud of mystery where it’s easy to confuse this “love is in the air” kind of feeling with the structured and planned out work at hand.  

Obviously nobody can predict whether or not two strangers will be able to connect. There are times when even the most on-point facilitations or most fine-tuned algorithms cannot create a connection between two individuals. Sometimes, even among those who seem to be like-minded, it’s not so easy to attain the kind of coveted connection that, in turn, creates new social spaces itself. There are ways to try, though. This attempt is what we call “cultural mediation” at ZEMOS98. 

Sometimes it means a 3-day meeting where we gather 40 people together (any more detracts from the intimacy) and get to work with post-its, poster boards and markers.  Other times it involves long conversations with moments of connection that last for weeks but aim at getting people from different professions to work together. And other times it’s about negotiating between peers who form a community of shared practices or interests but who have not been able to identify a shared path.

For ZEMOS98, cultural mediation is an amalgam of practices, tools and methodologies that involve facilitation, support and recoding. But mediation is also the search for a common language. A language that may be new and invented and that seeks to inspire. A language that sometimes attempts to revive lost words or rituals. A language that sometimes resembles a patchwork quilt. A language that is made from knowledge that travels across tunnels dug by the mediators and other people participation in the process. It’s an experimental process in which we usually place ourselves in between of different actors, usually among creative practicioners/artists and other civil society agents such as activists, educators, researchers, etc.

To expand on this we have published an Open Paper that you can consult now: “Cultural mediation for Social Change in Pandemic Times“.

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