SALWA’s Internet Café
Internet Cafés became widely popular in the early 90s and they became a meeting point to connect both online and offline. A community was being built through a communal physical space in areas where internet access was not common. This offline/online community was centralized within neighborhoods and played part in the socio-economic position of its locality. It became a hub for teenagers to meet and explore the web through gaming, illegal pirating, social media communication, and web search. The infrastructure of using the web in a community harvested a common semiotic pop language (visual and sonic) that is familiar to anyone from that generation. The internet café as a phenomenon started forming physical connections and created a duality between the physical and digital. The model of the café started dying out in big cities, an example of that is the regulation of Rotterdam’s municipality to shut them down as they were seen as dangerous due to illegal activities and the loudness that these places created. However, they maintained their popularity in rural areas and became repurposed by migrants who had no access to the internet.
Salwa’s Internet Café explores the infrastructure of the internet on the migrant experience. Through an Open call, four creatives were selected to investigate the intersection of Community, Migration and the Internet.
During a three months residency, SALWA hosted its first residency program, where we looked into the experience of using the internet in communal and physical spaces, and how this has influenced the visual language of creatives with a migrant background. Our residents Chen-Yu Wang, Geo Barcan, Hala Alsadi, and Sixin Zeng took the internet café as a starting point for their thematic exploration.
Behind The Square Space
Chen-Yu Wang (2023)
What is the definition of an internet café? What kind of nostalgic feeling do you have by reflecting on both the internet and the internet café? For me, the internet café is a space that welcomes imagination for people who want to take a break from structural society or heavy school work in Taiwan.
During the residency, I imagined Salwa as an internet café that embraced imagination, by taking inspiration from how the internet and internet cafés were formed by my childhood memory. The attempt allows me to reflect on the multiple conditions of being a migrant artist in the Netherlands. Adapting to these memories, also means adapting to an internet infrastructure that circulates around personal stories that include an oral, visual, ritualistic and bodily practice. In the exhibition, I want to provide an alternative imagination for audiences to re-encounter with both the internet and the internet café in physical and tactile approaches.
Hala Alsadi (2023)
Multimedia, digital, projection
The Desktop is an archival exploration and reflection of early internet discourse, aesthetics and perception in the context of Yemen. It focuses on a generation of digital immigrants who were born into an analog world, but adapted to digital living. Such experience had them rely on digital formats of communication, memory-accessing, and establishing personal connections, even when they are physically away from home.
The Desktop is a work in progress, which aims to become more communal and collect reflection from other people who are thinking and dwelling on the same subject. The Desktop is one of those attempts that will go as far as we can pour into it, and then it will have its own digital life on Web 2.0. Perhaps someone will find it in the near or far future, and give it another thought.
Surge of transference
Geo Barcan (2023)
Video, 15 minutes
Tracing the expansion of the internet in a small town in Romania, the video essay travels through the place’s past, present and utopian future. Influenced by the rapid transformation of the internet, from the early days of peer-to-peer software to the upload of online late capitalism, the dynamics within the town’s community changed.
Surge of transference imagines a hyperlocal future where a de-platformisation of the internet could enhance community building. Structured in three parts, the video shifts through documentary, speculative fiction and surrealism. All parts were shot in Buhusi, Romania.
Sixin Zeng (2023)
Window film, mixed materials, video
“This place may be heaven, or it may be hell.”
“I want to build a psychological clinic or a church, because countless times I’ve longed for such solace.”
— SanHe God, Sister Hong
From SanHe Gods spending nights at internet cafés to Sister Hong live streaming in the lobby using the fast internet connection. Gentrification continues to shrink the recreational spaces for migrant workers, leaving only a few internet cafés as sanctuaries for them to escape from reality. In this digital realm, online gaming emerges as the gateway for players to transcend mundane cycles of physical toil, liberating them in the ethereal expanse of virtual adventures. Yet, for the female migrant workers, their weary hearts find scant refuge beyond the confines of rented dwellings and crowded dormitories, leaving scarce spaces to cradle and embrace the emotional fatigue that ensues after a day’s laborious work.
In Transient Nexus, gentrification weaves a network of diverse internet speeds across regions. Migrant workers seek respite in the sole nearby internet cafe, where a secluded room awaits. Behind an un-openable window and a solitary chair, lies a portal for those craving high-speed connectivity beyond gaming. Here, they find solace, their souls intertwined with an ethereal realm. Transient Nexus unveils a tapestry of longing and
resilience, inviting contemplation on the interplay between transience and connectivity. Through the installation, we celebrate the beauty of fleeting connections and the profound solace found within the confines of this otherworldly chamber.
Salwa's Gathering Here, there but they don’t want us anywhere
After the residency, W139 hosted our Gathering: Here, there but they don’t want us anywhere over several days, featuring a series of screenings, performances, discussions, and site-specific installations by our residents.
Researchers, artists and creatives such as Sofia Boschat-Thorez, Julia Bande and Cristina Cochior members of Varia Zone, Inkeri Virtanen, Senakirfa, Zhana Assaad and Radu-Mihai Tănasă were invited to converse inside The Void to contextualize the exhibition further.
THE VOID PopUp Studio x Salwa' Internet Café 07-08-21 July 2023 @W139
The public program of SALWA’s Internet Café was developed in collaboration with The Institute of Network Cultures, which, by using The Void PopUp TV Studio setup, opened up a social space for hybrid togetherness. During three live casts, we spent time around webcams and extended access to the on-site exhibition to online audiences.
Live Streaming Program:
- 7 July, Salwa’s Gathering: Opening: Live opening and conversation with Varia Zone
- 8 July, Salwa’s Gathering: Extremely Late Brunch: Exhibition tour and live conversation with artists Chen-Yu Wang and Hala Alsadi
- 21 July, Salwa’s Gathering: Closing: Exhibition tour and live conversation with artists Geo Barcan, Sixin Zeng, Inkeri Virtanen, Senakirfa, Zhana Assaad and Radu-Mihai Tănasă
Salwa’s Gathering: Opening
The themes that were developed include the experience of using the internet as a community and the knowledge that has emerged from it. We also examined nostalgia and memories, local internet infrastructures in Romania, digital migration, online gender roles, and pop-visual and sonic languages that emerged from the late 1990s and early 2000s. Salwa’s internet Café was designed to encourage informal cross-pollination between practices by sharing meals together and having conversations between the presentations.
Conversation with Varia Zone (19:00-20:00)
After the introductory speech, Riad Salameh, from Salwa Foundation, engaged in a conversation with Sofia Boschat-Thorez, Julia Bande and Cristina Cochior members of Varia Zone. They shared their non-exhaustive mapping of Belhuizens History in Rotterdam, showing the intersection of timelines that have shaped the current situation of Internet Cafes in a diasporic Dutch context.
Salwa’s Gathering: Extremely Late Brunch
Conversation with Chen-Yu Wang and Hala Alsadi (18:00-19:00)
The brunch started with a virtual tour of the exhibition by Sepp Eckenhaussen, researcher of The Insitute of Network Cultures and member of The Void project. He continued with a camera tasting as a conversation started with the artist in residence Chen-Yu Wang and Hala Alsadi. The brunch inappropriately ended with a drag performance by Créme de L’Amer @cremedeamer 🗯️
Salwa’s Gathering: Closing
Conversation with Inkeri Virtanen, Senakirfa, Zhana Assaad and Radu-Mihai Tănasă (18:00-19:00)
The final event started with a conversation between Riad Salameh and artists Inkeri Virtanen, Senakirfa, Zhana Assaad and Radu-Mihai Tănasă. We discussed the anxiety that comes from living in a digital age. The artists explore the transformative nature of an internet that was exhilarating into an internet that raises concern. We look back into natural and healing practices that help us to deal with the current infrastructure of the web
Conversation with Chen-Yu Wang and Hala Alsadi (19:00-20:00)
The event continued with a new live virtual tour of the exhibition by Sepp Eckenhaussen, and a conversation with the other two artists in residence Geo Barcan, Sixin Zeng.
We are grateful to the Creative Industries Fund NL, Amsterdam Fonds voor de Kunts and Mondrian Fonds for supporting and making this event possible. Our partners include The Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux, Varia Zone, W139 and The Institute of Network Cultures (INC).