MULTIMEDIA INSTITUTE [mi2]
Zeljko Blace, Marcell Mars & Tomi Medak interviewed by Joanne Richardson
Multimedia Institute, or [mi2] for short is an NGO established in 1999 in Zagreb, as a spin-off of the Soros internet program (similar to Ljudmila in Slovenia, but a few years later in the process). In 2000 [mi2] opened its public space, net.culture center "mama"(mama.mi2.hr), which instantly became a meeting spot in Zagreb, attracting people with its cheap internet access, lounge space with DJs constantly performing, presentation and screening space and media-book library. Serving no liquor, having no corporate beverage policies, open from 12h to 24h and often much later through the night, it has created a unique environment for meeting with hackers, philosophers, artists, DJs and activists who have time to spare for chilling out in "mama."
Speakers in this interview are (in order of appearance):
< Tomislav Medak (alt+0153 for short), member of the theory group "past forward", only MA enabled, but possessing a vocabulary that would make Shakespeare's face red >
< Zeljko Blace (201cm for short ;), ex-sportsman, non-exhibiting artist turned arts manager, enthusiastic over obscure technologies (including abandonware like BeOS) >
< Marcell Mars (short for Nenad Romic), co-founder of [mi2], freefloating researcher and innovator, focused on producing self-sustainable systems, for good reason >
The conversation was conducted at very late hours and Teodor Celakoski (the brain behind the financial and organizational structure of mi2) had to leave before it reached a more-less comprehensible form of articulation, so his name is absent from the mix.
> Before I came in you were having a disagreement in Croatian about the word "institution" - what was this about?
Tomi: I said that [mi2] is an institution and Teo reacted badly to that because he thinks of institutions as big systems that tend to be bureaucratic and ossify at some point in time - which is not the case with [mi2], at least for the time being. By contrast, I think institutions are, simply, something instituted. An instituted organization has certain codified rules for cooperation and action.
Zeljko: … in our case this means working in the non-profit sector, a non-established field with little or no understanding of the issues we deal with. This situation makes us work together in a system that looks more like a commune when seen from the outside.
Marcell: I think of institutions as also having to do with establishing a field that maybe wasn't there before, so in that sense they have a kind of groundbreaking role. Like V2_ or Backspace, which created something that didn't exist before. So in that sense they don't just institute themselves as organizations, but they institute a field, a form of activity. They bring something into existence which later is recognized as a field. They then become known in that field as a first association, as playing a kind of leading role. In this sense institution could be a word without negative connotations.
Tomi: As far as the constitution of a field is concerned, "mama" is in an ambiguous position - in an international context the field of new technologies is already established, so we are more important in forming a local field of action here which didn't exist before.
Marcell: We wanted to connect the scene - I mean the media culture scene around organizations like V2 or events like N5M - with the scene that exists in Croatia which is activist, but in a different sense, on the level of 'autonomous culture' but not really having anything to do with media culture or the context of new technologies
> So what kind of institution is [mi2]?
Zeljko: There are such different people involved with mama and we all perceive it differently, so it is impossible to have a single definition of what [mi2] is. Some people see it as more of a production space, some see it as more of a service, some see it in a more artistic light, some more technical, some may see it as a good space for public programs, others may see it as more of a family affair (when describing our openness, the metaphor of nudist family comes to mind … we would gladly host you for a lunch or dinner party, but will make you feel awkward about any hidden agenda). In the context of these differences, it is sometimes amazing that we function at all since we have such different backgrounds and goals. The main thing that makes us work closely is a common context, which looking at it from the outside, is the lack of any other similar initiative in Croatia. When we present our activities to the outside world (friends and colleagues, media and funders), it is usually perceived as extremely wide. To us it is mostly about articulating existing cultural potential, opening critical perspectives, and managing hardware/software/wetware resources.
We use the space of net.culture club "mama" as a public platform for presenting contemporary artistic, social, political, organizational, and technological experiments which are still miles away from established mainstream culture. This might be anything from GNU evangelism and obscure electronic music, to net streaming events and making a summer camp in the ex-military base on Adriatic island of Vis. Annually we organize a computer arts exhibition, and this year we initiated a new public event called "New Media Culture Week."
In addition to these kind of activities we also try to bridge the gaps and fill the holes which are left out by state institutions - by presenting international new media art, providing net services to NGOs, publishing texts and invading other media with "tactical" issues. Programs therefore range (in random order) from screening of geekish Anime, to more alternative (camp, fine art movies, video-art), from HTML / Flash workshops to Lasttuesday meetings. DJs mixing groovy tunes in the lounge space and the theory group "Past Forward" also equally add to the spectrum of colors in "mama." We are now also starting a Queer culture/arts series. And we host, on a more or less regular basis, programs by other groups - Zagreb anarchists, dance/theatre programs of Frakcija, and occasionally - Croatian Linux User Group, Museum of Contemporary Arts, Croatian Visual Artists Association, Gallery Miroslav Kraljevic and many more. And we recently opened our media lab, so we will be focusing more on production and Research & Development.
Marcell: We offer some resources that were not available before. If people wanted to get a projector before, they had to go through long bureaucratic procedure with the Soros Center. "Mama" can offer space, internet connection, equipment - and I think we are also much better at collaborating with other groups and communicating their interests to funders (foundations, city and state governing bodies). For instance now we have a project called Clubture, which is about building an efficient program exchange mechanism between independent clubs and initiatives in Zagreb (city level), Croatia (national level) and ex-YU countries (regional).
Recently we established 11MB intranet for 4 different clubs and the media lab. This is the kind of infrastructure on which you can build a lot - TV production, radio … And I am one of those who is less interested in having programs at "mama" and more interested in getting people to use this kind of infrastructure for their own projects.
> Can you say something more about what Clubture is?
Marcell: Clubture is a kind of platform for connecting independent spaces, not just music clubs. We think more of associations, independent presentation/production centers which are non profit (like "mama", KSET, Mocvara, and Attack). Clubture is a platform for the articulation of our needs, and one of these needs is having a good infrastructure for production. The media lab was an important part of extending this infrastructure. Currently our GNU digital publishing label (mostly operating from www.egoboobits.net and with CDR publishing) is working there and other people are producing music and web projects. But it's important to extend the media lab beyond the local scene and also to invite people from the outside. We invite people involved in open source projects to be in residencies in our media lab, to work on developing their own projects but also to promote these projects and ideas among people here.
> How about the international dimension of the "mama" project? In the one year of existence, "mama" already has an international reputation. You have had a lot of guests from other countries, and you are also invited to make presentations abroad. How would you compare these international aspirations to the work of building a local network?
Zeljko: Maybe this is a question of perspective. For some people like Marcell the most important thing is working with other NGOs in Croatia to develop a local network, and for others the international context is more important. I am currently more interested in establishing international projects and activities because I think we have outgrown the capacity of little local audience that we have. In Zagreb there are many things happening (especially in art circles) all the time, so people are not as interested in getting to new information with this kind of overload. And the programs at mama are very specific and only sometimes cross the field of art lovers interests. So those people who are mostly interested in art events don't come that often to "mama."
> So what was the idea behind starting "mama" in Zagreb, who was it for, I mean besides yourselves - though I don't want to downplay the importance of creating this kind of activity for yourselves. I ask this because I've noticed that you often have very small audiences for your events, so I'm wondering if it's because of a lack of interest in the field of new media in Zagreb. Presentations that are more connected to art which are incidentally organized at "mama," like those by WHW, tend to have much bigger crowds.
Marcell: Those of us involved with mama are outsiders here as far as the art scene is concerned. The museum of contemporary art sends their invitation, and people just go whatever event it is just because of the name.
Zeljko: … because they are used to this situation. Inertia is a mighty power of consumer society.
Tomi: A different kind of audience is being addressed through our activities - not the kind of audience that goes to see a presentation about contemporary art like the one by Victor Misiano organized by WHW which you mention above. The form of production of EgoBoo.bits is what Zeljko often refers to as prosumer, a cross between producer and consumer. So the audience are those who are already involved in the production, rather than those who only consume.
Zeljko: In numbers these are over 10 live acts with 20+ resident DJs in "mama." Maybe this seems like an insular community, but it is more relevant each day.
Marcell: In this case, audience may not be the right word. We are more interested in building a social network around "mama" than we are in establishing a cultural program that can draw large audiences who come to listen passively to lectures.
April, 2002, Zagreb
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