INSTITUTIO MEDIA

Kestutis Andrasiunas interviewed by Joanne Richardson


>> Institutio Media, www.o-o.lt, was founded as a project in 1998. You define "institutio media," according to its Latin etymology as a mediating institution. How do you understand "institution"? For many people (and depending on the context) institution has a negative connotation - an institution is a bureaucracy, and bureaucracy multiplies intermediaries. Trotsky called this substitutionism, when he accused the Communist Party for substituting itself (and its leader) for the proletariat. On the other hand Cornelius Castoriadis defined an institution as the act of founding or instituting - which could also be a self-instituting, contrary to any bureaucracy. What connotations does the word institution have for you?

The Institutio Media (o-o) meaning of "institution" has quite a strong relation with the word "institute" in the Latin sense - to found, establish - "instituere". So it would be closer to Castoriadis' interpretation. To identify the institution with bureaucracy would be too easy, too straightforward, thus understandable. Both theorists you mention focus more on the political sense of the word. In politics substitution is strictly negative, but in arts and sciences it is not the same thing, though it can also be very unpleasant. The possibility of substitution always exists. And it usually overshadows the primary aims of the structure created. In order to operate effectively, big institutions usually need bureaucracy as some kind of legalization mechanism of the structure created. Bureaucracy is a formalizing force: it formalizes your wishes and behavior according to the laws and then decides whether it is it legal or not, executable or postponable. In this way, bureaucracy acts as a translator. A subjective translator. The negative attitude towards bureaucracy appears because this layer of translators has no clear instructions of people's behavior (which is, in fact, impossible) - and no objective guidelines for how to create this formalization. Bureaucracies often misuse their power because they are more skillful at using and interpreting the laws. Attempts to formalize the formalizers of behavior are hard, if not metaphysical.

>> Institutio Media - how do you understand "media," mediation? What are institutions mediating? Social relations, connections between people? Is mediation the result of a loss of directness? Or is mediation something inevitable?

Yes, media is a word. It is used like a exclamation mark or like a self-explanatory epithet. Search results from google for word "media" [2001.12.06]: Results 1 - 10 of about 38,600,000. Search took 0.17 seconds

Means of remote communication have always fascinated people. Even more than the content being transmitted. Probably this has inspired the slogan "media is the message", although in fact the only message that media itself is producing is noise. But adoration of media exists because it's quite hard to understand/analyze such rapidly changing and appearing and disappearing means of communication. The lack of understanding casts a mythological shadow over "media." The changes are so quick that media theorists began to follow the facts created by software developers and corporations and to quote them as prophets. Software developing/writing has becomes a conceptual challenge much as writing[in the traditional sense] was before.

One of the first tools for direct communication is logic. As an attempt to reveal the laws for non-ambiguous writing and speaking. Now it is acting via code and processors. Each way of communication is distorting your message, and this distortion [noise] has often been of interest not only for media/net artists, but for ordinary users. So if your new way of communication is lacking speed/bandwidth, it could make possible new interesting forms of distortion. Just think about the difference between SMS and e-mails.

The institution of the internet can be considered as a tool for the concentration and spreading of information, knowledge. There is not much difference in its structure from a database, except maybe for semantical data sorting and compilation. o-o is an institute for forms of net action, having its diagram or scheme on the title page. In this case "institutio media" is acting more as a hub and database for information, information that can be used in different ways, even as a basis for pranks.

Mediation on the internet means sorting - i.e. interpreting. Sorting is one of the main problems, because humans are not able to correlate or to select relevantly such vast amounts of data. Information spreads exponentially but the sorting of data and search engines are still quite primitive. Boolean logic plus methods of formal information description - its time, size - that's not much of a medium for effective manipulation of data. It is probable that semantic machines or semantic databases could solve this deficiency.

Semantic web, a project started by Tim Berners Lee and w3 consortium, requires a fixed identity with an electronic sign. It's a way of storing and revealing data according to its semantic meaning, and so the trust bestowed on the originator or sorter is crucial here, since faked data somewhere could disrupt the whole chain of relations. For this reason an electronic signature is needed as a guarantee of data authenticity The data bits being stored are related in one or more aspects, depending on the context: if I'm describing a garden, I can sort data according to the type of trees, landscape, plants etc. And browsing would be just changing these contexts from the most common to the most detailed and refining my search. Maybe it's logical that if we want to work with the semantic web, we must distinguish-identify selectors and originators of the content.

So in this case, institutio media still exists as subjective collection of data of *some* o-o's (people involved in the o-o activity), a collection that is not compulsory and easy changeable. I think instant Peer to Peer sessions are already changing/replacing slightly these type of experiments based on static collection of data. Static, hypertextual subnets will disappear or will be forced to obtain the spontaneity and turbulence of peer to peer exchanges.

>> In the description on the o-o website, you define Institutio Media as "an attempt to transfer an institution to the Internet and study its functioning." What does it mean to "transfer" an institution to the internet? How do physical institutions differ from institutions that are founded in virtual space? Are net institutions less mediated?

Institutions emerged in real space because there were no alternatives for keeping contacts and coordinating behavior. If you want to design a project and communicate with collaborators it is more convenient to have them next door to you - the real physical space is a factor of communication. Various buildings and interiors of parliaments are quite spectacular examples of arranging space for communication. Especially the positions of seats. The building, which serves as a communication medium for the traditional type institution, historically became a symbol of the institution. And it becomes more and more symbolic - and symbolic means less functionality.

Now such structures may be replaced or reconstructed through the net, phone etc. - anything that enables the transfer of message through a distance. The shift from physical to virtual is becoming more and more common, even corporations with a physical location are starting to use virtual offices as well.

>> "In a real space and time the functioning of an institution is restricted by its premises and the regularity of activity, which is necessary for the interactivity and existence of that institution. In a virtual space it is restricted by technology and the quality of connection. The Web makes it possible to avoid the expropriation of the physical location - it is replaced by a "site" in a server - the quantity of magnetic memory." In this definition on your website, it seems you are cataloguing the restrictions or limitations of institutions that exist in physical space. Do you think you are avoiding these restrictions by choosing to operate in virtual space?

Virtual space is limited by the imagination and capability of projecting. And usually it is a set of conventional instructions. I could define a room as a desert and the aquarium in the room as an oasis and tell others to follow those rules and behave like tribes of desert travelers called bedouins. But the virtual space with these specific rules won't work if we have no imagination and ability to project. And in order to play this game you must have in mind that you are in the real room with the aquarium and that you are not a bedouin - you must not be totally immersed. I think total immersion (if it is possible) could make virtual space impossible.

The virtual is a conscious experience, since it includes being aware of some rules. It is not a hallucination. The virtual is a conventional simulation. The machinic environment allows you more freedom to construct or model possible worlds - worlds which don't have the necessity of physical worlds. Nuclear bomb simulations which imitating real world laws are possible, but so are simulations that donít follow real laws - for instance, 3d gardens which lack the law of gravity. The virtual is not something completely different than the "real" - it is just a model, a projection that adheres to its own rules. And since you are constructing your own models for action in machinic environment, these models have more freedom and less prescribed necessity than already existing reality models. Less of someone's "dura necesitas" :-)

>> In an earlier conversation I asked you why Institutio Media has no physical space (why it doesnít operate as the common form of the media center). You mentioned two things: the expense of administering a physical space and that there is not much context in Vilnius for the presence of a media center. To what extend have these constraints determined the desire to found the institution as a virtual one?

From the beginning, the aim of o-o was to be an internet project and we had no desire for such an ambitious structure as a media center. (How many media centers, contemporary art centers and other centers exist in the world? There are already so many :-) And there is a very recent strange obsession with the word "center.") I have some doubts about the commonness of the media center as the form of activity for those using digital tools. If there is a reason to establish a media center or lab, then it is because operating with new, sophisticated and expensive hardware and software is not usually accessible for home users. And probably, since technologies are developing so fast, you hardly will be able to keep it up to date, even getting support from foundations. But setting up 3 or 4 personal computers in a room and calling it a "media center" - as is usually the case among net or media activists - is exaggerating the state of things a bit. This is the structure I am skeptical about. As far as the context in Vilnius - so, it is possible to create it, but we managed to create it through Institutio Media as web place for projects. The content developing was more important than the form of an organization. And what we are doing at o-o is usually using default tech (inexpensive and widespread hardware and software), so we are not conforming to the pressure to keep up to date.

And we thought out beforehand that too much effort and expense would go into establishing a physical structure, and that we would never be very sure about its future. But Institutio Media should also be understood as an attempt to minimize the tedious organizational work connected to running a physical space. The web form of data storing is much more mobile and gives you more freedom from the donors, who are usually politicians and culture managers and attach conditions to their donations. In this context, it comes as no surprise that many supported media projects are adopting the slogans and strategies from their financial providers.

>> You have said that Institutio Media was "started by writing a manifesto and drawing a scheme of the institute." You call the manifesto a "tautological manifesto." Are the propositions supposed to be self-evident? Some of the propositions remind me of Wittgenstein's Tractatus. And your manifesto doesnít have the exaggerated claims and gestures of a typical (political) manifesto- which relies on rhetorical effects upon the audience. Yours is a kind of logico-philosophico manifesto, a categorical listing of propositions. So in what sense is this a "manifesto," and secondly, why did you consider the form of the manifesto necessary? You seem to imply that a manifesto is a necessary part of the founding of an institution. Is an institution that is founded without principles, without statements of concepts and declarations of agendas not an institution?

The manifesto is a form of literature, and more generally, of expression. It is not just the prerogative of politicians or artists. The manifesto form was used by Debian developers, gopher and GNU among many others. It is characteristic that the manifesto form contains mostly declarative propositions. Propositions which don't need proofs. It is commonly expected that a manifesto declares something new. But manifestoes quickly become outdated. As an aside on obsolete manifestoes, Fontana's television manifesto quickly became outdated and television was revealed to be to be a difficult phenomenon for artists to work with. And Nam Jun Pike's TV robots, constructed of tv boxes just demonstrate this superficiality and impossibility to get in, to capture the problem of the television phenomenon and use it in artistic way. The medium was too constricting at this point.

The o-o manifesto was written quite carefully (as a diagnosis of the current (which are now already past) state of things. But it appeared to us that many of the propositions sounded too obvious and brought nothing radically new (as it is commonly expected from the manifesto form), so we called it "tautological". The "tautological manifesto" emphasizes the aspect of using propositions in this form of writing. (There is, by the way, only one direct link to Wittgenstein's phraseology in this manifesto.)

I think the more advanced we become in constructing virtual = possible worlds, the more important the knowledge of our depicting or modeling mechanism becomes. It is a very interesting phenomenon that artificial languages are merging with electronic devices and machines. Each sentence becomes an imperative in this environment.

As far as the connection between the manifesto form and institutions, the implication was that instituting is something you should define, in order to avoid ambiguity. And a better word for phenomena that is being founded without principles, without statements of concepts and declarations of agendas is a constellation. Examples would be p2p sessions or SMS or other chat phenomena. But it would be difficult to talk about the founding of a constellation - the word "appearance" would fit much better.

>> From these descriptions, Institutio Media seems to be a kind of conceptual project, an "artform" (if I may be permitted to use the word) that takes itself as its own object. Insofar as institutions exist as means to a goal - as mediators - this institution appears to be an anomolous form, existing for the purpose of founding itself. The "clear and less ambiguous scheme" of the institute includes a mailing list, the webmagazine, the internet radio, and "direct social action." Can you say something about all the components that make up Institutio Media? And why are some components part of the institute body and others outside?

The mailing list is a common form for direct discussions. People from Vilnius (related to the contemporary art scene, but also others) are subscribed to the list, but in actuality the mailing list has more contacts/subscribers outside Vilnius. The webmagazine is a collection of texts and provides the opportunity to comment or post responses about them. The internet radio & TV is used for broadcasting projects. So we thought that each form - word, sound and image should have their place at o-o. Direct social action means action in a real space. At the beginning we supposed that this would happen in connection with the institute, but as it turns out, most of the work has been done on the net. The necessary parts of Institution Media body are those that make up the web institution - mailing list and webzine. The Net radio and social actions were considered not vitally necessary, so they were placed outside the body but remain connected to it. So in short, it would be possible to say:

"o-o has no real space, but was founded in Vilnius"


November 2001

 

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