|Love without Mercy
Ana Vujanovic interviews with Igor Stromajer
Igor Stromajer (intimate mobile communicator) researches tactical emotional states and traumatic low-tech strategies. He has shown his work at more than a hundred exhibitions in forty-two countries and received a number of awards (Moscow, Hamburg, Dresden, Belfort, Madrid, and Maribor). As artist-in-residence he lectures at universities and contemporary art institutes. His works are included in the permanent collections of the Centre national d'art et de Culture Georges Pompidou - Musée national d'art moderne, Paris, France; the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain; Moderna galerija - the Slovene Museum of Contemporary Arts, Ljubljana, Slovenia; Computerfinearts Gallery - net and media art collection, New York, USA; and exhibited on-line at the Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany.
|Ana Vujanovic: First of all, here's an introductory, easy, and non-theoretical question: Can you please introduce yourself to the readers of TkH journal, i.e. if you can shortly explain your working biography, and if you could add a couple of lateral details that you consider appropriate/interesting…
Igor Stromajer: Those introductory, easy, and non-theoretical questions are the most difficult. Recently, when I’m in a situation where I'm supposed to introduce myself, I say that I'm an intimate mobile communicator. Because what I’ve been doing for the last seven years on the net and before that, about four years in the theatre, is intimate communication. An intensive intimate communication of me as an artist with the recipients. The word “Mobile” I added four years ago, especially because of the beginning of research on mobile digital technology (GSM, WAP, GPS) for artistic purposes. I began my theatre practise in 1989, and for the next four years I've been working with Bojana Kunst on theatrical experiments, which we called theatrical installations. Through them we studied relations between the body of the actor, dancer and spectator, physical energy, intimate plot, and the private examination of the actor in public (theatre) space. Since 1996 I've been working on the Internet. I started with so-called classical virtual net art, then I passed to multimedia emotional mobile and communicational projects, and at this moment I'm mostly working on inter-media guerrilla and political aspects of mobile intimate digital communication, which in other word means – net performance. I have my own production house: Intima Virtual Base. There I’m working on simple technological solutions for tactical art and emotional strategies. The main focus of my work on the Internet is research on fluid communicational channels and structures, inside dangerous zones of intimate communications.
Ana Vujanovic: Because we agreed that this is going to be a theoretical conversation, more exactly a conversation in which we will try to theoretically conceptualize and contextualize your work in the digital field, i.e. Net-performances, the theoretical part of my second question cannot fall behind your first answer. Therefore, I'm passing on to the most difficult theoretical question about your work: the concept of intimacy, the intimacy that is performed in the context of such a mass and open media as the Internet. I would like to start with how you auto-poetically place these two concepts and practices: intimate and public. In the beginning it would be useful if you could place themes and problems of your performances and their main media in a broader setting, and not just relate them specifically to your own work.
Igor Stromajer: There is no greater intimacy then the public and vice verse. When intimacy and the public are understood in their most radical, total form, they are only two performatives of the same fact, the same pleasure. That's why I think that the Internet is the most intimate media that ever existed. Exactly because of that quasi-total openness that reduced the public to complete intimacy and launched it to the public orbit. An example for the reduction that I mentioned I can easily find here, at home. I'm sitting in front of the computer by myself, in my intimacy, watching a porn movie that thousands of others are more or less watching at the same time. But exactly that 'more or less same moment' is very important, because it gives each and every one of us a fantastic feeling of individuality. It's not television so that you have to be at the exact same time in front of the screen like 'all the others'. So we're not at the football stadium. No, we're in our room, in our intimacy, so that the 'more or less same moment' is individualizing utopia, reducing the public, we can say that it's individualizing the public and creating exquisite pleasures. And the example for launching or opening the intimate/intimacy to the broadest public doesn't need further explanation. Everybody is familiar with the mass usage of cheap web cameras that people install in their apartments opening the doors of their bizarre intimacy to the broadest public. Except that, in that media the relation between intimate and public depends on another important element: and that is the question of identity. The Internet enables fantastic changing and switching identities, so different identities get a temporal dimension that can appear and accomplish in very short temporal units, exactly like time that is going faster and faster in the analogue world. That in the context of ‘switching’ identities is important for understanding the relationship between intimate and public. And even more, that is exactly what constitutes the fluid relation of intimate and public on the Internet, e.g. if at this moment I’m the seductive Croatian singer Severina (and if I take her identity on the Internet,on the Internet, than I'm really her), a second later I'm a completely different person, maybe not even a person, but a code, bite, information. It's just a matter of pressing a key. Just because of that temporal connective element (identity) that so strongly unrecognizably connects intimate and public, life becomes so easy, simple, unproblematic, ideal… isn’t that an ideal situation for the emergence of terrorist tactics, guerrilla strategies and other radical politics?
And masturbating on a porn on my cell phone somewhere in the middle of Unter den Linden boulevard in Berlin would be a totally different story about intimate and public. So we're not living in one – we're living in two worlds.
Ana Vujanovic: Don't you think that there's only a trace of intimacy left in this hyper-mass-media society? Or: was there ever a different kind of intimacy? And a different individuality?
Igor Stromajer: I will take this question very seriously because it's one of the most important parameters of positioning myself in contemporary society.
There was a time when we had an illusion of intimacy, free love and directed utopia. I'm not saying that it was better than today’s open commercialisation and direct capital that is not ashamed of anything and doesn't have any moral dilemmas about intimacy or individuality. But the fact is that exactly that is why we're living in current war conditions that are surrounding our everyday lives 'till the last second, and back then we smoked joints on the beaches and had unlimited amount of free time. In the hippie seventies and in the activist late eighties (which include the beginning of mass usage of the Internet) intimacy and individuality were for free. Today they cost us a fortune. Multinational companies offer us individuality and freedom for a very high price and just for a definite short time – until another product comes on the market. Use our hygienic pads and “be free”! Buy our mobile phone and “be different”! Buy our worn-out jeans and “be yourself”! So, if I want to be independent, different and free, I have to pay. A couple of years ago slogans on individualism, radicalism, differences etc. were reserved for art. Today, they are the main slogans of capital. The second important point is that when we buy that freedom and individuality in the shopping malls, we are buying something that we already have and that we're somehow not supposed to buy again. That tells us about a high degree of ‘distopicality’, resignation, and even catastrophicality of our society.
I adore shopping and it sometimes gives me orgasmic satisfaction. But still, because I'm a romantic cyber-communist a bit, in my intimacy I grieve for that costless freedom and in some circumstances I'm maybe willing to go to a forest to fight for some dead ideals. I would like to point that nowadays intimacy has a very specific – for me the most important and essential – role in the hyper-mass-media society.. That is political resistance. The most intimate act is the one that we do without a cause. One thing is to put bombs and detonators on your body and go to the centre of Tel Aviv, activate them and kill twenty people. That's a boring political act that's not interesting even for the media. A totally different situation would be to attach those same bombs to your body and go far away to deep Lapland forests and perform that same act: blow yourself up.. But, in those circumstances, that act loses its media component and becomes completely intimate, private and a serious political resistance. As for myself I’m intensively working on concepts without a cause that can be seen in some of my recent projects (Ballettikka Internettikka, S.HTML security, We Finns, we don't use chains!, MomEnt.16: Orgasmus im Berlin, etc.). In those circumstances maybe the best answer to your question would be: no, intimacy never boils down to a trace; hyper-mass-media society cannot destroy it, it can only transform it.
“Intimacy without a cause”, today is the most radical resistance to capital; like in communist Prague – as Milan Kundera reminds us – group orgies of intellectuals in private apartments were the culmination of opposition political unification. So, orgasm is the top manifestation of political participation. Nothing has changed.
Ana Vujanovic: Although, the world is immeasurably different… You mentioned a very important aspect of your work and I suggest that we try to develop and position your net-performances in the actual macro- social economical political context. Digital technology, especially the Internet, with its very-weakly-limited flow of information, is suitable for the global, which means very weakly limited, Capital. When I'm talking about weak limit, I literally mean Marx's sense of anonymous structural logic of trans-nationality, -individuality, etc. of the capital that gets a huge boost in the digital age. For the Internet, as for the capital, “all is the same” in a way. It’s as though it has it's own logic that doesn't have a lot to do with it's participants. In a way both of them are de-politicized today: it doesn't matter if you're Chinese or Indian or American, male or female, white or black, hetero- or homo- or bi-sexual…
If I bring it down to net-theatre and your work I'm interested in one thing: Do you think that you can re-politicize the Internet (global capital) with that art practice? If you can, how? By 'guerrilla actions'? Or by intimacy interventions in the indifferent public space of the Internet? … And how can it avoid being trapped by reconfirming the structure of the web in which it works? Do you think that in a case of intimacy intervention we can talk about some kind of 'malfunction', some spot where the weak-limited spreading of the Internet starts to squeak, to show itself as very-limited? And that means: economical and political? (I'm not suggesting an answer, I'm just asking myself, too).
I agree with your point when you talk about Czech intellectuals from the age of real-socialism, but the macro context has changed, and today, that kind of political act would be an appropriate 'way of life' even in the Czech Republic.
Igor Stromajer: My answer is meaningless. I'm not a net-activist; I never was. In the mid nineties when net-activist initiatives, that politicized the Internet and connected with the artistic net-initiatives (Nettime, Syndicate, etc.) appeared I laughed at them (even though I was their active member) and kept on masturbating my closed, claustrophobic, senseless intimacy. I admit (and I never denied it) that Internet is completely commercial, and it never was as much as it is today. It totally goes hand in hand with the capital and consumption.. That's why your question depresses me totally and disarms me and makes me very sad and helpless.
In my opinion everything is useless, nothing helps, neither do guerrilla actions, or political propaganda, or philosophy. And when philosophy doesn't help, then the situation is really hopeless. Even if I believed in anything at all, the main things that I'm living for are: trauma, impossible, fantasies, silence, utopia and philosophy. But if I can laugh (although positively) and read Zizek's analysis of the contemporary western politics, then everything is really doomed. All we're left with its irony. But the problem is that irony makes us even more bitter. Everything around us is just “interesting” and not “changeable”. We can distance ourselves from anything. There are just tactics and strategies; nothing is real and tangible. Every act of ours – however dangerous and illegal it is – is just an 'appropriate way of life' that has no value because it functions only at a specific time. In the next moment, rules and the way of living also change. Intervention of intimacy however radical and direct it is, is senseless in that context; It's not even a plain 'malfunction', it becomes a game without values, just my personal engagement that doesn't have any values, doesn't mean anything, and is totally auto religious. The 'how to survive' game, commercial, propaganda, provocation, romantic 'public relations'. That also pertains to those Czechs in the orgies: maybe they are enjoying themselves, but today they look stupid if they're doing it for free or even worse – without a reason.
From that perspective Internet is just one of the active elements of the functioning of capital, it's just a part of the society and it's not in any way different from it. It’s totally limited, defined, controlled. The fascism of the Internet that even viruses can't break is an excellent picture of not just the modern hegemony of capital, but also of contemporary art, the systems of curators and of the art market. If in the mid nineties Mladen Stilinovic said that “an artist who can not speak English, is not an artist”, today it particularly means that “an artist who can not send a press-release (in English), is not an artist”. Nothing can be ‘re-politicized’ any more, because everything is already ‘capitalized’. Even democracy is depoliticized. It’s not any longer a philosophical concept, it has become a totally economical concept. Being different (Chinese, xy-sexual, political oppositionist, invalid, terrorist, etc.) is just a new marketing niche or a new market for selling products. In that way The Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach today sounds like a stupid commercial for a toothpaste: “Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert; es kommt aber darauf an, sie zu verändern” (“Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it”). The only meaning of that thesis is: Buy a new toothpaste, use our brand, not theirs, because ours is the best, until in the afternoon we send a new one to the market.
That's why I'm not angry that you asked me this question, because by asking it you broke the illusion of our discussion about art. Aren't we in fact talking about anger without passion, relation between nonexistent and unregistered non-consumers from the metropolis corners and ‘favelas’ toward the international capital? And about the relationship (which is really a nonexistent relationship) of that capital with them… Ok, for me that’s even better, because we don't have to hide behind some old fashioned ideas any more. According to the automated statistics 10.000 people a month on the average visit my projects on the net. What are they looking for? Employment? A roof above their heads? Refugee status or citizenship? Sex? Democracy? Toothpaste? Love without mercy?
Ana Vujanovic: Or – Theatre?… And I'm interested in one other aspect of this contextualization, in a narrower concept/context of art and theatre. Therefore, how would you position net-performance (especially your work) in the context of tradition and history of the western theatre? (First of all I'm thinking of your projects /as/ Ballettikka Internettikka and Oppera Teorettikka Internettikka.) Do you consider it a point of discontinuity, 'breaking' of that history? Or as a step in evolution? Especially having in mind the fact that this is the first (known) theatre practise that is not based on live performance and presence and thus redefining the concept of 'live performance'? If we say that net-theatre also realizes itself through live performance – and it's often understood that way – then we need some other criterion, because the old ones are not valid… And also, Lev Manovic calls digital media meta-medias because they're based on the usage and redefining of elements of former media. Would you call your theatre a meta-theatre (meta-opera, meta-ballet, meta-performance) in that sense?
Igor Stromajer: However, we can talk about continuity – I don't see history of arts as a discontinued fact or territory (every break attaches to the past condition and draws concepts or anti concepts from it) – even if instantly I “grab a revolver when I hear the word 'theatre'” because I have big problems understanding that idea, and intimately with connecting it to my work. I feel much more relaxed and free when we talk about the communicational art then theatre. It's true that, in a twisted way, theatre's an 'all-inclusive' art (that's why it was always so violent/aggressive towards other medias and art itself) so in that way, even in its most classical form, we can perversely call it 'multimedia', we can even call it an 'intermedial' event. But when we talk about net performance we're not talking that much about theatre and theatrical elements as about communicational protocols, that include contemporary visual art practises and post-dramatic performances, but communication is still in the foreground. Because those communicational protocols use different technological (mobile, reduced, satellite, dislocated), temporal (individualized differences in nanoseconds or even time zones) and other specialized levels, it would be very difficult to bring them down to theatre. Moreover: it's impossible to explain them with the theory of theatre however post-dramatic and contemporary it may be. That's why Manovic's theory of meta-medias is so similar to mine and I can easily identify my work with meta-opera and meta-ballet. Especially because Manovic connects his thesis with theory on the basis of the data that represents unlimited possibilities of combining and dangerous liaisons – that Bojana Kunst talks about – which are prerequisite to functioning of meta-media, and also one of the most important structural points of my political strategies and intimate tactics.
Ana Vujanovic: How do you see and set yourself in the net- theatre practise? Let's say that the outline of that author is your 'subjectivity' and your 'physicality'. In other words, I'm interested in two common and I think major relations. The first one is: between the big Author-Subject of the western modernism, post-modernistic and post-structuralist decentralized, defragmentized, dispersive subject-author after Barthes and Foucault (i.e. the death of the Author), and virtual author-simulacrum of net-art and net-theatre that operates at the same time with the signifiers’ networks that are already set in motion (and in that way revokes its 'hard nucleus') but in one way is giving back 'the creation' ex nihilo because with digital technology s/he generates the same reality every time, and doesn't express, doesn't show, doesn't performatizes it… The second relation that I'm interested in is: between my unique, experienced, fragile, and resistant body of the reality and its (social, institutional) regulations that’s getting into art practise, and mine (again unique and experienced; am I wright? or-maybe not?) arbitrary and factual body of the virtual reality and its self-regulations, that is entering a digital or net-art work.
Igor Stromajer: I’ll start with myself. My body is pretending that it's strong, hard. I’m not a model, far from that – I often have problems with what to wear so I would look even sexier – but it's O.K.; my body can endure a lot. It rode a bicycle from Ljubljana to the seaside, it slept in the Sahara Desert, walked in winter far across the frozen sea in Finland, enjoyed the winds of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, survived the tropical heat of equatorial Singapore. But it has hardly survived last year’s serious viral infection from the subway in Paris and my bloody pinched hands from screwing my new bed last week. Women's breasts and the computer mouse have spoilt my body. Its main condition is quick constant changes of loneliness and pleasure. And it's only authorial state is – in Bataille's words – a moment of silence after the orgasm, deep intimate experience as an author, fragile mess of the insecure, love which is, in spite of the superficial look and the simplicity of the moment, fascinating in its glance in the kingdom of anxiety. I don't despise the post-modern dispersive author, because I've physically experienced him in Robb-Grillets novels. But I'm auto-religious enough that in key moments I can exceed my own defragmentation, slam my fist on the table and make an autonomous and not a political decision. Eroticism is silence, in which I – as a contemporary dispersive subject-author, urban quick-moving guerrilla without a goal, aware of his weakness – draw epochal, strong, colossal, pathetic, spectacular, napoleon-style moves. That duality is constantly destroying, fascinating and making me weak. And finally about you. I don't know anything about your body, your fragility. In my head you're an intelligent and independent woman that totally controls and self-regulates herself, when getting into artwork, going to the parliamentary elections, and choosing sexual pleasures. Your experience with digital- or net-artwork is not virtual; it's always physical even when it has to do with contacting information, code or machine. Machines enjoy themselves and are very beautiful. In contact with them you can also – as the one that's getting into communication with them; let’s call it: art work – become beautiful. That's why I endlessly love you.
Belgrade - Ljubljana, June - July 2004
Perfomance Research Journal, Totnes, Devon, UK, Autumn 2005
translated from Serbian by Maja Pelevic