RS/LA: International audiences know you mostly as the creator of your main project, Makrolab, which was first presented at documenta X. After Makrolab you made series of projects (178 degrees East Another Ocean Region, Sundown, the Trust-System series, Solar, EMM and others) which explore the political and audio-visual aspect of the electromagnetic spectrum. Can you briefly explain your artistic strategies, and the tools and aims of these explorations?
Marko Peljhan: Makrolab's main aims are to explore and reflect upon three complex and dynamic fields of global activity: telecommunications, weather systems and migrations. The machine was built to receive, observe, process and reflect information that is generated within these fields. But the earlier work that led to Makrolab, especially the collaborative work I did with Brian Springer, opened up a new chapter in the process of creating the performance Ladomir-faktura: Fourth Surface-the Surface of Contact! We used a lot of satellite telecommunications generated material, and this prompted me to investigate further in the field. The 178 degrees East work was realised in 1997 in Australia, and was an actual investigation of the current Australian Telecommunications Interception Act: its legal framework. The response from the public during the Code Red event was fantastic, and the law firm that we had hired to work on the project confirmed our legal interpretations. We even had a strategic studies expert come and open up the event which brought the two very distant worlds together. It was probably the first friendly face-to-face between the tactical media community and the tactical and strategic community ...Echelon was discussed a lot in that work and also at Makrolab long before the hype. The other major work that uses the developing Makrolab communications suite is the EMM-electronic media monitoring console and lecture series, which is part of the World-Information.Org infrastructure. I am also developing a smaller unit for tactical work on a more limited and mobile basis ...the reflection of the ever changing EMspectrum must be constant. That is my aim. The tools are, of course, amateur-radio gear, processing electronics, and lots of patience.
RS/LA: You have just returned from Latvia where you were working on your latest collaborative project with medialab RIXC from Riga. The project was centred around an enormous radio telescope (d=32m), a former Soviet military object which only recently has been made accessible for public use. Can you provide us with some impressions of working with this extravagant tool, as well as what role this kind of exclusiveopportunity plays in your artistic practice?
MP: The Irbene antenna array was built in the early 80's by the Soviet military and was supposedly used for intercepting microwave telecommunications from Western satellites, both military and civilian. In information warfare, this was an incredible tool and possibly a response to the interception systems the Western powers were setting up at the same time, like the now famous Echelon. In any case, with the demise of the Soviet Union, the Soviet army left Irbene and the two arrays that they built there (32m and 16m). The same morning, Latvian scientists moved in as they wanted to keep and preserve this costly infrastructure for radio-astronomical use, and so the Ventspils radio-astronomy centre was established. Our Latvian hosts invited a group of international artists and media activists to a workshop in Irbene in August, and among other things, we wired up the array for tactical media use and investigation. As a radio amateur, it was quite an experience to be able to work with such equipment. The team I invited from my side (Borja Jeli and Aljo a Abrahamsberg), did what we could in those two days, with some help from the radio astronomers themselves. We have gathered audio and data material that we will use for our performance Signal-Sever! which will take place in Riga in early September. This performance is the continuation of the work that I have started with the event Solar at Ars Electronica in '98, and basically it deals with the soundscapes that the electromagnetic spectrum is creating. It tries to materialise them in many ways; it is a durational performance that follows the status of the EM spectrum from sundown to sunrise, with lots of sound, rhythms and grooves of course.
RS/LA: One of the most challenging projects you did last year, in collaboration with Carsten Nicolai, is Polar, produced by Canon ArtLab in Tokyo. As I understand it, Polar is a simulation the experience of a person finding him/herself inside the virtual spaces of the electronic networks. It is hard to imagine... Can you give us some explanation how Polar functions as an aesthetic project/object? And is it true that you are winning one of the prizes in the Ars Electronica this year for it?
MP: Polar is not a simulation of the experience of the network, but rather, it's a tool to experience it in real-time... It's a machine that not only translates and materialises the flows of information, but also the meaning of the data which inhabits the networks. The system could be described in two ways, through the visitors point of view and the data package point of view. These are two very different perspectives, but for a quick "capsule" review, I could quote the description we did of the work for the Prix Ars Electronica this year. We envisioned the 7m X 7m X 4m totally connected, and tactile space as a complex tactile-matrix interface. This enables the visitor to experience the flow of data in the global and local networks in a completely immersive, yet cognitive way. The work was inspired by the notion of the cognitive OCEAN as described in Stanislaw Lem's and Andrey Tarkovsky's SOLARIS. The initial conceptual equation was: OCEAN = MATRIX. The main outline of the work was based on the creation of two software and hardware "engines", the so-called POLAR ENGINE (with adjacent POLS, POLAR DICTIONARY and KNOWLEDGE BASE) and the CHANGE ENGINE (with adjacent TRACEROUTE VISUALISER, which consisted of two separate displays). The first was envisioned as an INPUT-ANALYSIS and CONSTRUCTION zone, and the second as an OUTPUT- SYNTHESIS-EXPERIENCE zone. These zones were defined both in conceptual sense, software and hardware senses, and also in the environmental sense. We have defined a "ZONE" in which the biological and physical was directly interacting with the abstract-immaterial. One main question was posed in this process: How do we construct a cognitive and tactile experience of the seamless and near-abstract Matrix with it's analysis/construction/trasnsformation included in the process? Basically, we wanted to create an interface between the human body and senses and the matrix, which would, by its sheer presence, (let alone the activities of the humans), already transform the structure of the matrix that is being observed/experienced, and the structure of the physical space that is being inhabited during this process. And indeed, we were nominated for the highest prize in the field for this work, the Golden Nica. Either this or the second prize will be ours, and the whole team is very proud of this.
RS/LA: Do you believe in a future constructive relationship between art and science in solving ... let's say ... major civilization problems that could occur as a consequence of the latest technological and economic developments? What is your vision in this regard?
MP: I think that there is an urgent need to reflect upon these developments and develop strategies for sustainable growth and development that are not unilateral. As the development is centred now, I would say I am a pessimist and that the global future will be a very troubled one. The constructive creative art/science relationship is, of course, one of the possible tools of this reflection/construction, and I do not see any problems in this area except the cultural differences between these fields. But the global dynamics of change are very powerful and the knowledge distribution is uneven, in both economic and geographic terms. This needs to change, and communication technology is one of the possible vehicles for this change, but only if we will be able to liberate it from the grasp of the blind, solely capital-based use. The electromagnetic spectrum is an immaterial field with very material consequences, and unfortunately it has become a serious commodity. We have to liberate at least part of it, with all the democratic and technological means possible.
RS/LA: As an artist from Slovenia dealing with extremely global technologies and points of view, how do you see the political relation between the margin and centre? What is your impression of the possible new world order?
MA: Wow, what a question. I think that there is no fixed new world order, but rather a changing flux of power from state and nation-based economies to corporate-based power... I believe that in macroeconomical terms this process was too quick, there was a lack of reflection involved in it and this gap also produced serious tensions between the many margins and the few centres of power. The social element is very much lacking in this process...in all societal territories, and in micro and macro environments. This will have to change. The economy itself, at least the most immaterial and spectral part of it, the flux and transfer value of it, started re-adjusting by itself last year.But the reflection on the political front is far from happening, and that is why I am a pessimist ... preparing for Makrolab in the Antarctic.