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Project 4: Digibap - Why I Leave?

Thursday 19 January 2012, by I-WEI LI

At the request of A.M.I. (Aide aux Musiques Innovatrices)], Marseille, I conceptualized the project Digibap to work on artistic activism and cultural innovation in crisis time with 12 interdisciplineary ‘VIP’s (artist, activist, and researcher) from Brazil, PACA Euro region, West and Central Africa.

After the first ‘VIP’ session in Rio de Janeiro in December 2011, noticing the incompetence and lack of preparation from the A.M.I. team, I decided to cease all my collaborations with this ‘institution’. For details, please continue to read ‘Why I leave?’

The great irony is to see that A.M.I. continued to appropriate my text and use the fundamental concepts that I designed for its own propaganda (both without giving any credits to my authorship).

A.M.I.’s approach to innovation is Canada Dry and its advertising slogan could be: "A.M.I. looks like innovation, it’s as exciting as innovation … but it is not the real innovation."

Dear VIPs and DigiBAP partners,

I was very touched when VIP Philippe Coudert wrote ‘Together we can make miracles!’ in his last email. What we experienced in Rio together was a very special experience and I want to thank all the VIPs again for coming and sharing this process with me. Unfortunately, it is no longer possible for me to continue working with DigiBAP producer, A.M.I. This has been a hugely difficult decision for me to make, but as I feel I no longer have any choice, I wanted to write to inform you as to why I have had to end my involvement in DigiBAP. Here is the letter I prepared last week following discussions I had with Ferdinand Richard, head of A.M.I. and DigiBAP chief project manager, since the end of the workshop in Rio.

The pivotal point was when VIP Nara Torres Vargas found Brazilian sponsorship to join the VIP session in Marseille and her proposal was rejected by Ferdinand. Not only did I feel this was the wrong decision, made for the wrong reasons, I also felt in making that decision independently and refusing to consult with myself as DigiBAP’s artistic director, his actions went against what I see as the central philosophy behind DigiBAP: to share our thinking and find innovative solutions together.

Sadly, this is not the only instance that demonstrated the fundamental gap between our understanding and approaches to DigiBAP. Since returning home from Rio, I have been in negotiation with A.M.I. for better DigiBAP working conditions and to resolve the issue of delayed payment for the DigiBAP online platform (as well as payment for my own work). When I gave feedback about A.M.I.’s production in Rio (see Appendix 1- DigiBAP Production Requirement) such as the need to ensure that the necessary arrangements for visas have been made (so that participants are not stuck in an airport for three days, as VIP Boris Nzedo was); improving technical equipment preparation (i.e. no missing cables or memory cards); and necessity for a full-time technician available on site, I was accused of being “childish” and inflexible.

In their response, A.M.I. also stressed that I was merely a workshop facilitator, rather than acknowledging my role as artistic director (which is defined in my contract with A.M.I.). This is despite the eight months of work I have put into DigiBAP, including the creative conceptualization of the project, the VIP open call development, my sole responsibility for the VIP selection process (which involved going through nearly 200 applications and 30 individual VIP interviews), and the sharing of my cultural network in Brazil (Joao Vargas Penna, Felippe Fonseca, etc.) whom I introduced personally to Elodie and each VIP at the Digital Culturia Festival in Rio.

My demotion to the role of workshop facilitator also ignores the huge amount of work I put in to have the DigiBAP online platform ready in less than 3 weeks before the start of VIP session in Rio. A.M.I. is now three months late with full payment for the hosting and development of this platform, putting me in an awkward situation with web developer Quentin Drouet, who has worked extremely hard on the project. When Quentin and I granted A.M.I. a grace period till mid February 2012, not only we were shown no appreciation: we have yet to receive confirmation that A.M.I. will meet the financial terms of the agreement.

On top of this, A.M.I. deny my authorship and intellectual ownership of the project. This is despite the fact that A.M.I. involvement in the conceptualization of the project did not extend beyond a “brainstorming” meeting at which I presented the fully-developed concept for VIP open call: an open lab involving practitioners of different disciplines and from different countries collaborating on equal terms. I presented this as an alternative to A.M.I’s original concept, which was to have “European masters” direct the work of a group of Brazilian and African artists. In short, I have been fully responsible for the conceptualization of DigiBAP as it is being executed, something which A.M.I. refuse to acknowledge.

The result of VIP session in Rio proves it is possible to build a way to think and work together among people of different cultures, experiences, artistic disciplines and languages. What we have accomplished in Rio is a live example of how art activism can and will make a difference in crisis time. However, I have come to the conclusion that A.M.I. do not value or understand DigiBAP and nor do they share the philosophy of open exchange and collaboration that I believe the project to be fundamentally grounded upon. I am no longer prepared to work under their diktats.

As a result, I am resigning from my role with DigiBAP. This is purely down to the actions and attitude of DigiBAP producer – A.M.I., which I have found to be characterized by a top-down, hierarchical, Euro-centric, narrow-minded and unimaginative approach.

Working with you all has been an exciting, challenging and exhilarating experience. Each participant in DigiBAP is an artist for whom I have great respect, and whom it has been a pleasure to learn from and share creative processes with. I would be thrilled to have the opportunity to work with any of you again.

Until such an opportunity might arise, I wish you all the best of luck, both in your individual creative practices and as a group which I am proud and honored to have brought together.


I-Wei Li
(Former) DigiBAP Artistic Director

Appendix 1: On–Site Production Requirements for Successful ‘VIP’ Sessions

1. Minimum 1 local technician available full time on site during the entire session. This technician will assist with video editing, sound system set up, audio recording/editing, and circuit bending when necessary.

2. A.M.I. on-site production manager is responsible to have all technical equipments ready for use at the beginning of the day, meaning, memory cards cleared, all video camera and audio recorder’s batteries (total 4) are fully charged, no missing cables.

3. A.M.I. on-site production mangers is responsible to resource and allocate the materials needed for artistic creation, including recycling materials, found objects, textiles and additional technical materials such as small engines, sound system. Such information will be given 1 week in advance to I-Wei with concrete details such as address, opening hours.

4. A.M.I. on-site production manger will inform me the local production budget for the presentation 1 week in advance before starting date.

5. A.M.I. on-site production manager or local assistant will document the process of daily activities and artistic creation.

6. A.M.I. on-site production manager or local assistant will take care of all the documentation materials and upload min 10 files on DigiBAP online platform daily during the session.

7. During the VIP session, A.M.I. on-site production manager will keep close contact with me, min 30 mins per day for private meeting in order to be in line with production needs.

8. A.M.I. will take care of the arrival and departure of all VIPs and Artistic Director, including visa and airport transport.

9. Lunch and dinner will be prepared daily via local resources during the entire session. ‘VIP’s will only dine out when special program is scheduled.

10. The lab venue is designated for ‘VIP’ session only, not interfered by other activities. Lab access is only given to ‘VIP’s, local partner, assistant, technician, and A.M.I. on-site producer. Any guest visits must inform DigiBAP Artistic Director in advance and ask for permission.

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