WYSIWYG is an acronym taken from computer jargon that in the 1990s became widely known – at least among disciples of Steve-Jobs – when computer manufacturer Apple used it as a marketing slogan. It stands for “What You See Is What You Get”. What it means is that a document is displayed on a computer screen exactly as it would appear later when printed – something that was anything but commonplace in the 1990s.
During the events in Ukraine in early 2014 (see also: Die Ukraine-Krise – Eine Zusammenfassung; The Ukraine Crisis – a Summary) and the ensuing struggle for the Crimea, news and media reports of all kinds were by no means in short supply. “Peace” was a term hardly mentioned in this context and certainly not in discussions of relevant options for “realpolitik”. Talk became limited to “sanctions”, “manoeuvres”, “embargoes” and similar terms with a hostile connotation. On both sides of course; neither was better than the other.
I live in Austria, in a country that still considers itself “neutral”, even though it is now a member of the EU and thus indirectly belongs to the NATO alliance. In this country, the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 was commemorated with fierce dedication; the event was in fact the focus of educational radio programmes by public broadcaster ORF. Yet, in the general public perception and in media discussions, “peace” or the struggle for it were not the main concerns. Rather, the impression conveyed centred on threats and determent, fully in line with the Cold War tradition.
This media setting motivated me to respond with an artistic intervention, to shift awareness back to something all but forgotten: the option of peaceful dialogue. Foremost within the media and not among diplomats. I have no idea what happens behind closed doors.
At this time in history, justly deserving the predicate “the Media Age”, it appears to me appropriate to choose media art action as the preferred mode of expression, not only out of artistic considerations but also in view of potential effectiveness.
The centrepiece of the art action was a graphically designed digital postcard entitled WYSIWYG: the two-page PDF document was embedded in an email appeal sent out to selected publishing houses in Austria and Germany on 12 March 2014, on the occasion of the Leipzig Book Fair. The reason the 2014 Leipzig Book Fair was chosen for the occasion was that year’s main theme, literature from Ukraine, with Crimea emerging as a ubiquitous topic in discussions.
The intention behind the art action was entirely unrelated to any activation mail of the sort common at the time. The idea was not to register for or forward anything (even though recipients were asked to share the email, that was not the goal); instead, the only activity called for was to think about the term “peace” and to at least consider it as an option in one’s own actions.
That said, the success of the action is to be gauged more based on qualitative than quantitative measures. What matters in the end is not the outcome of an empirical analysis or a statistical evaluation – much less how much money was collected for a charity – but on people accepting a logical statement: “Believing in peace is the most important condition for living in peace.”