Crucial Network

When one organizes a conference the question about who will participate is of great importance. For a public debate to be a contribution to thought one cannot just throw some opinions together. After having identified what the areas of the questions to be addressed should be and the awareness of where and how vital information is produced is important in this process one has to locate and invite the people who the generated insights may make a difference to. In talking to them, finding out whether they are interested at all and if so, what they are interested in, is key to success. Where do their hopes and fears lie, their anger and their compassion, what insights are necessary; these are all questions that have to be addressed when starting to think about a future conference.

In every field of expertise a status quo in the balance of power evolves over time. This status quo defines what everybody is able to do and when and how they will disagree, etc. In the AIDS world, even in 1990, the status quo was already quite refined. The same people met to consider the questions of research, finance, care and so on. Certain habits evolved; certain things were taken for granted. Being new to a scene, one is of course distrusted at first. By talking to people and asking many questions, I located people who wished to participate. They stemmed from different organizations, some performing formal roles in society, some part of the medical establishment, and others were organizations in their own right, political activists and individual artists. Paradiso has a tradition of presenting the stars, the establishment, as well as presenting the underground, people who rebel and fight against the establishment. When discussing an issue, and when this discussion is supposed to impact on the way the issue is formulated and can be acted upon, all stakeholders Ñ the stars and the rebels, the establishment and the underground Ñ have to participate; the crucial network has to be there.200 Where in the 'polder model' diversity is levelled out as much as is possible, in gathering the crucial network diversity is expressed and elaborated upon as much as possible.

I was inspired in the notion of the crucial network by Aristotle's concept of 'Complete Action", which should be represented in every scene of a tragedy (Aristotle 384 BC, van der Ben & Bremer 1986). Aristotle formulates this requirement because he wants the audience to understand what happens. To present 'the complete action' all elements that can change the course of events and all elements that have contributed to the course of events have to be staged. This notion is very interesting to apply to the crucial network. Change is a dramatic moment in a process, when looked upon from a theatrical perspective. What existed previously will be different from what exists later. All people, organizations and businesses that can change the course of events and that have contributed to the current state of affairs, have to be present at such a moment. When significant change is about to occur, the entire crucial network has to be present for the change to have an impact on what occurs next.

Because we wanted to raise the issue of 'How AIDS changes our world', because we wanted to break the silence, I felt it was very necessary to involve all actors and stake holders possible. Even though ACT UP Amsterdam felt it had become too much of a ministry gathering, I did invite the minister of Public Health, Hedy d'Ancona, to open the conference. Not her alone though, the orchestration of the opening had to reflect to intentions of the 0+Ball. The minister opened it together with Peter Zuydervliet, representing the self organizations dealing with AIDS, and the dialogue between them raised the issue of AIDS in Africa, and the issue of discrimination against people with HIV or AIDS in the USA, the Netherlands and around the world. I also invited the USA State Department to give a formal statement to the shadow conferences about their travel restrictions. I found this contribution by the State Department to be of crucial value as well. They were a reference point, a driving force, in creating the event. The presence of this 'enemy' made the space in-between 'real'. It shows there is more at stake than just having a good time. It also creates awareness that change is possible because the party, that we were all protesting against, had the courage to be present. It also feeds my conviction that as long as there is communication, change is possible. The fact that the 'enemy' is there makes the communication more serious. The stakes are high. The notion of having the 'enemy' in attendance, really presenting the crucial network, presenting the 'complete action', made the meeting real and made it possible to have a real impact as well.note 201

Orchestration determines what will be possible, how far you can go. As a producer I had the responsibility for organizing the network in a transparent and direct way. I had to make sure all of the people were safe and at the same time make sure that everything could be said. I have to conclude with hindsight that not all stakeholders were present at the 0+Ball. The pharmaceutical industry was clearly absent, and the State Department only participated via a phone connection. As with Radio Paradiso's contributions, the effect of the phone call from the State Department, fed through the PA system via the 'fork', did not add to the dramatic line in Paradiso. The idea sounded 'nice', providing another McLuhanian connection, but it had no impact. I want to argue that for the crucial network to function, to have an impact on what will happen next, it has to gather all strands together in 'natural presence'. The assembling of a crucial network is a dramatic moment in its history, because through conversation and dialogues the next steps to the future are formulated. To be able to formulate these next steps the conversation must address what is good and what is bad; both ethical and pragmatic elements are part of the conversation. It is the interaction between what is good and what is possible that determines next actions to be taken. I will elaborate further on this in chapter 5. Here, I want to establish the fact that crucial networks can gather and that this gathering has to take place in 'natural presence'. Mediated presence can be an element, but cannot be 'the carrier' of such a gathering. The way mediated presence influences the course of events is dependent upon the receivers of the mediated presence. To be able to trigger actions, it is dependent on the previously formulated 'You' dimension that characterizes any time-space configuration.

The experience of having to gather in natural presence with a certain crucial network is part of the orchestration of many professional communities that also work online a lot.note 202 It is supposed to be good for motivation, it is supposed to be good for smooth-running collaboration. People look each other in the eye and they make a judgement on how they will relate to each other.note 203 In the physical gathering matters of ethics can be addressed, be it in formal settings or in informal moments. Having been present and having been witnessed, changes social interaction. Natural presence facilitates changes in attitude, where mediated presence facilitates an exchange of opinions in the public/professional setting. I would argue that the survival value of natural presence is much greater than mediated presence and this influences the quality of conversation. In personal communication, because of processes of attribution in which people divest qualities and circumstantial elements in the mediated presence, this can feel very different, which is why such communication can be very rewarding as well as misleading. In natural presence all three levels of consciousness can be mobilized in one action, in one conversation. The more that these three levels are mobilized, the more powerful the presence experience will be. The more powerful the presence experience is, the more 'survival' resonates in what happens, the stronger the outcomes of a gathering of the crucial network will be. 'Powerful outcomes' reflect the (changed) power structures in the network, as well as the way every node in the crucial network moves on from there.