International Biennial of Contemporary Art Ljubljana,
23 June - 24 September 2000
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Micro Talks
Cankarjev Dom
M1 & M2

Vision and utopia

An Interview with Marko Peljhan

Eda Čufer: So what is really happening with futuristic and utopian concepts today? Are they regaining value?
Marko Peljhan: They are both regaining and losing value. They are gaining credibility through mediation and on account of the fact that people have such fast access to information and may - if they wish - sink into a media reality, create their own futuristic and utopian pictures or analyses of reality. This is a possibility that did not exist before. However, this picture will, again, necessarily be only a derivative of reality. At the same time, for the first time in history it is possible for individuals, thanks to existing methods and possibilities of mediation, to become chroniclers of the entire global system. But it is this global view that enables a higher form of reflection. I believe we should distinguish between utopia and vision; for me these are not one and the same matter. I believe that today we miss having a vision - we talk only of contingencies, plans, projections, assumptions, complex systems of capital flow. Economic principles have penetrated all our systems of thinking; economics and capital flow have become the two forces that make the world turn. If one attempts to take a utopian approach today, one will be left without an interlocutor. My declarative position in creative work, the "isolation of isolation" strategy, or two-fold isolation, is a very utopian position, and every time I present it I find it has no interlocutors. However, I can always find a suitable justification for this position in Buckminster Fuller's statement: "The world is now too dangerous for anything less than utopia!" I believe his statement is still relevant today.
The presentation of your central project, Macrolab, at the Kassel Documenta two years ago, and presentations of many other projects, such as UCOG-144, System 7, TRUST-SYSTEM 15, the Wardenclyffe series, the Solar performance, etc., made you an artist whose art seems to offer answers to challenges brought about by globalisation. On the other hand, though, your work, with its extensive experimentation with all kinds of technologies, is causing problems for many people because they simply cannot grasp it. Do you think that technological revolutions lead to a new division of the population into literate and illiterate: those taking into account the dimension that can be seen with the aid of technology, and those who are perfectly happy with the world in the safe haven of three-dimensionality? What would be a realistic response for people to have to your art?
Art is nowadays defined in this heterogeneity. It seems to me that it is really quite irrelevant what the response is, or who is interested in this or not. What I'm doing is a system involving a very deliberate reflection of reality. I believe it is possible that someone will be interested in this, irrespective of the fact that we are always in various relationships and in constant interaction at many levels. It is true, however, that most people are simply not interested in reflection; if they had been, the world would undoubtedly be different. Because they are not, social processes take place by way of inertia. In the last few years technology has enabled a relatively small elite to take control of over 90% of the world's capital and, through this, to gain political power.
In the 1990s we are witnessing the restoration of a past situation, or at least a fictitious restoration. There is no Cold War between the eastern and western blocs, but they could still be geographically defined in this way. It is almost ridiculous to talk about this, since the Cold War as we knew it then - the accumulation of giant technological systems for the mutual destruction of both political poles - ended in the 1980s. In the 1990s, which began with the Gulf War, i.e. with the new principle of war and "world order", and continued in this region with the chaos in the Balkans, two concepts or relationships emerged in relation to industrial production and development. The first were the exclusively new weapons systems: in the west these were actually defence systems or precision weapons systems, and are defence weapons only in theory. On the other hand, in countries such as India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and China, weapons systems of mass destruction were being accumulated. This was a real surprise.
The 1990s began with the slogan "The Cold War is over, the reign of capital shall begin". Then the Gulf War for oil erupted (started by Iraq for this very oil), followed later by Asia's great capital crisis, when all the countries of Asia, which had driven the economy at the beginning of the 1990s, nearly went bankrupt. This resulted in a total breach of thought patterns. All of a sudden the new world order no longer existed, or was at least not so easily definable. At the same time, America's economy prospered. The latter is really no wonder, as America was directly involved in the Asian crisis through the policies of the International Monetary Fund. In short: America is prospering, there is work for everyone and it has a budget surplus, while the other end of the world, feared by everyone else at the beginning of the 90s (their greatest fear being the domination of the 'tiger economies'), began to collapse. And then we also have a very specific situation in Russia that requires inspection and analysis. Why did all these economies find themselves in the middle of crisis? Because of the progress that was made in that period, which policies did not follow, unfortunately. Not all is as fluid as it may seem. Control mechanisms still exist, and technology only facilitates or even improves this control.
For this reason I believe it is important to look at it from this perspective, from above - from what I call the 'satellite perspective'. It enables one to get a wider, more global picture while simultaneously being able to focus on every single detail. My work attempts to reflect these systems, while I also employ distinctly local systems, such as System 7, and projects which concentrate on a specific area, such as SUNDOWN in Luxembourg, or Macrolab, which covers a very wide spectrum and is determined by the place where it is located. Finally, there is also a series of performances constructed in such a way that they materialise the very flow I have been talking about. It seems to me that we live in a time when reflection is not only desirable but necessary; however, what is happening at the same time is that the interlocutor, the recipient, no longer exists. The entire theoretical apparatus is practically shut down, frozen - in Slovenia and elsewhere. We need only think of the 1980s, when theories and reflections were avant-garde. Every high-school student read and studied current theories. Today they no longer do this - or at least they appear to have lost all interest in it. Why did this happen? Because economic reality simply overflowed into social territory, pressing us all against the wall of capitalism's merciless logic. This was, of course, responsible for all these utterly bizarre situations where the entire system of art, the entire system of representation, begins to collapse. We could include here what is going on at the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana: this idling in neutral, where things cannot go forward any more.
The 90s have therefore brought a few very insightful visions - by establishing a very good programme, some individuals have set a very promising course. Unfortunately, the general artistic direction is not particularly encouraging. Take Kapelica Gallery, for instance, which was brought about by the 1990s. Communications made the Kapelica Gallery a world-class gallery - this is a fact. However, although there is a great lack of reflection in Kapelica Gallery, people from all over the world still want their projects to be exhibited there - and these are artists from a very powerful artistic structure, the structure Kapelica covers with its programmes. Kapelica is a very prestigious exhibition space for one of the current artistic divergences. On the other hand, we are again witnessing a total collision of local systems, where relationships and possibilities are completely falling apart and are also very unpromising for the future. These relationships are, of course, very problematic and allow various forms of manifest or latent violence, which we should go to war with if we want to continue working creatively in what we call "the present-day artistic sphere of Ljubljana".

Eda Čufer: Some of your projects examine the problem of the highly blurred and politically concealed issue of a legislative basis for inspection of the world and of the workings of the electromagnetic spectrum, within which the prevailing part of human communication takes place. The current technological expansion is certainly opening a path to new areas of conflict which are today still completely unknown and which have not yet been regulated by law. What will, in your opinion, be the main areas of conflict in the next 20 years? This problem was tackled in SUNDOWN, a project you presented at Manifesta in Luxembourg.
Marko Peljhan: The greatest battle fought over the next few years in the legislative arena will be the battle for the protection of privacy, for the electronic protection of privacy and individuality, and the battle for cryptography at the highest level to be owned by the citizenry. Today every person has a digital body constituting a database, and therefore a key will have to be invented with a tested, sufficient, legislative and practical reliability that this data will not be available to just anyone. Today the Internet provides us with data on most people occupying certain social positions. We are already completely dispersed across digital networks. This means the loss of our privacy, of course. There is data available about you that is absolutely beyond your control, that has its own life on a network. Legislative protection of privacy is, of course, a complex issue, since every country treats individuals as potential criminals and will therefore probably resist protection of privacy because, if a criminal offence is committed, the state would not be able to use the perpetrator's body of data as quickly as before. This is a conflict between the state system and a sort of civil structure that is becoming aware of the gigantic potentials for abuse that our "digital bodies" allow. We are completely unaware of the body of data available about us in different databases and which already influences decisions taken in our environment. The present course of development is leading to the fusion of these bases, such as systems of uniform numbers, registration and tax reference numbers - the typical examples. The goal is to have one number for every citizen, with everything connected to this person being controlled and influenced through this number. Take credit cards, for instance, which are used by large corporations to analyse our shopping patterns and the like. This is why my work speaks of the art of war - that is, of the appropriation of certain systems of power and control, and their redefinition and use for civil purposes. TRUST-SYSTEM 15 is an example of this. It takes a guided missile, a weapon of destruction, and turns it into a radio station for a territory in which the existence of a free radio station is not yet possible. SUNDOWN, presented at Manifesta, is a sort of fiction that speaks of the incredible vulnerability of all systems of power, and in particular of the transfer of capital, in the event of a physical attack. There was a fabricated attack on Luxembourg, which in a way is a clearing house for the entire European banking economy, from an unforeseeable direction. At the same time this project is a detailed analysis of the weapons that would be required for this, where one might get them, how much they would cost, the logistics of such an operation …

Eda Čufer: Could such an attack realistically be organised?
Marko Peljhan: Only with great difficulty - and it would be a great disaster if this indeed could happen. However, an attack of this kind could be organised by a rogue state of the type now prospering in the east.

Eda Čufer: What does it mean to be a Slovenian artist at the end of the millennium?
Marko Peljhan: This millennium is ending for only part of the world, and from a global perspective it really is nothing special. The fact is that in the past 15 years time has been passing increasingly quickly; we could make calculations about this.
The changes, and the speed at which operational systems and processors operate, has indeed speeded up time itself. And in this rapid pace there is simply very little time for reflection. This creates a very interesting situation: things happen and there is simply too little time for them to leave any more profound traces that could enable a qualitative shift. There is a quantitative accumulation of energy in one direction only. For this reason it is difficult to mobilise society, since in this quickened pace people can only look after their own survival, or think about how to preserve forms of power in existing relationships.
New relationships are incredibly difficult to establish; and to be a Slovenian artist in this situation can, of course, mean nothing good. It means being dependent, on the one hand, on a completely unstructured capital market that has not yet reached a level where it might be able to support art in any of its forms. It has a strictly market-oriented approach in terms of trade. On the other hand, it means being directly dependent on power structures which may be, to a lesser or greater extent, in favour of art. And finally, in the international sense it means being completely left to one's own resources and survival systems without any serious institutional support at home.

First published in: Geopolitics and Art (The World of Art Anthology). Edited by Saąa Glavan. SCCA, Ljubljana,1999.

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