Nika Grabar
No. 1137
"Interview: Marko Peljhan/Projekt Atol on video The Park kulture"
Artist: Nika Grabar
Title: Interview: Marko Peljhan/Projekt Atol on video The Park kulture
Year: 2011
Genre: Interview
Production: SCCA-Ljubljana


Interview with Marko Peljhan on TV situation Parc of Culture realised in frame of Media in Media exhibition project (SCCA-Ljubljana) in 1997.

[Iz: From Consideration to Commitment: Art in Critical Confrontation to Society, on-line publication, Belgrade, Ljubljana, Skopje, Zagreb: 1990-2010; Publishers: in cooperation with ForumSkopje; Kurziv - Platform for Matters of Culture, Media and Society; SCCA, Center for Contemporary Arts - Ljubljana / Artservis; The Association of NGOs Clubture]

Interview: Marko Peljhan/Projekt Atol on video The Park kulture

The video Park of Culture, created in 1996, had the subtitle TV situation. Its use of generic text is reminiscent of the so-called tickers, which began to emerge globally on 24-hour satellite news channels at the end of 1980s, and were also in use in Slovenia by that time. In the top upper left corner of the video, there was a Media in Media icon. How did you feel about the new media territory at the time and how did this affect the video?

The Park of Culture video was made within the Media in Media project organised by the SCCA-Ljubljana and curated by Vanesa Cvahte. It was created quite spontaneously, as a direct response to the overwhelming presence of the media, which largely defined how we read and understood what was happening in our immediate vicinity. At the same time, my work on the video was connected to my personal experience. In 1994, I began working with Brian Springer, a satellite hacker and the author of the film Spin and with whom we prepared a performance in Cankarjev dom a year later. One part of the performance was dedicated to the reception of the so-called open information channels, or ‘feeds’. After the Dayton Agreement, Western - particularly American - journalists sent reports from Bosnia to all the major US television networks. With the help of friends from the US, we received them before they were edited, before they became a medium. The archive that was created was very large. This often appears in performances of Signal-Sever!, Spektr! and Scatter!. For me, open information channels were very important experiences: to look into a technology system, a communication satellite and reveal what is really invisible; to get to know the material we can see on television. On television, it was shown as a two-minute edit – the material, which otherwise included twenty minutes of waiting, jokes, tests, rehearsals, repetitions of the same sentence or phrase… This material is usually much more interesting than the final message and charged with symbolism which cannot be separated from the medium itself.

The places in the video include footage of space, the ocean, whales, glaciers, research centres, mountains and submarines, a mixture of landscape, technology and science. The text discusses the combat strategy in the following order: territory–measurements–findings–calculations–comparisons–gains. In your opinion, what is the relationship between territory and space, and what territory should the fighters who are mentioned in the video fight for?

At that time, the war in Bosnia was in its final stages. The Americans arrived and with them, naturally, the media. One of the crews was at the airport in Tuzla. In that period, the winter of 1995, the idea for the Media in the media project emerged. At that, time I myself was involved with the media and was working on Makrolab and satellites. The video’s context is defined by three sources: the philosophy of Sun Tzu, the propaganda of the North Korean press agency KCNA (Korean Central News Agency), and news content from the world of telecommunication satellites, aimed mostly at enthusiasts, hackers and also the industry. Thus, we can speak of three layers, three different spaces of content in the video. I combined all of this into a single framework, which was followed by a simple calculation. Man–nature–technology–weapons–poles (the Arctic–Antarctica): a visual manifestation of the projection of space, which is very important to me in terms of concept, and ends with a military radar image of Slovenian air space, shot from Ljubljanski vrh, where we see the console of the radar AN/TPS-70, which was sold to Slovenia after independence by the US. The video shows this reality. That is why the final sentence is: “They are observing you! Turn your transmitters on [not receivers; this is about active disturbance] and observe them.”

The image in the video is slowed down and focuses on the text being read in ten parts. The text at the beginning is: “Knowing the place and the time of the coming battle, we may concentrate from the greatest distances in order to fight. […] Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple where the battle is fought.” The video is experienced very much at an intellectual level, rationally. Do you believe that art is in danger and the possibility of its existence must first be established rationally?

My purpose was to create a work which could be watched over and over again, and each time you would see different things. This is what makes it multi-layered. And no, I do not consider art to be in danger, quite the opposite. This work proves that through artistic media the possibility of a complex reading of seemingly disparate phenomena can emerge. I made a few programmes for a television network then and had access to the archives. Back then, one would browse for material through a card catalogue under various subjects, for example Russian submarines, Soviet submarines, etc. I had a list of key words, a plan showing some sort of semantic landscape and everything that I wanted to include in it. I opted for the previously mentioned ‘tickers’: Sun Tzu, satellites and the Korean agency (I discovered it on the Internet in 1995. Their server is in Japan, where they publish their propaganda at

The video is composed of a square of images against a black background, underneath which two lines of text are streamed, one on a red and the other on a green band. Shots of space become part of the composition, caught in the square, which pushes the space into the background. You graduated in theatre direction and then focused on video. Today, you are mostly known for projects that combine technology, art and science. The field which is established with this project, technology, some sort of nature on a territory which is defined in this or that way, and an intersection of people who create something. Could this be directing?

Definitely. The Park of Culture is a directed TV situation. A rhythmic composition – and I believe that directing for the radio, in the theatre, a video, situation, film, performance or even architecture is not unconnected, but that the material we are faced with when we tackle direction is analogous. Let me first briefly explain how I decided to study direction. After secondary school, I really didn’t know what to study, because I was interested in too many things. So I decided to study something which combines everything, from architecture, music, film and also technology. At that time, the theatre built very strong poetics of parallel reality, which featured the likes of Jan Fabre and Robert Wilson, who built completely new universes on stage – and I was intrigued by that: hence, the study of direction. Today, I still work in performance. For me, the relationship between the visitor and real-time action is the key to understanding the system I create.

When did theatre become too small for your line of thinking, and you began to expand your projects?

Immediately. After graduating from the academy, I went to the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana and in collaboration with others, I prepared a series of performances called Egoritmi. Even then, they were conceived on many levels - during the day, an installation, a landscape, which comes to life with an event in the evening. The concept of landscape became very important to me; and, visually, I still think of my works as structured landscapes - which don’t exist, which we are losing. In a way, this is a very traditional approach, apart from my not painting.

At your web site, your answer to the question ‘Why is Makrolab art?’ was, “Art is the field of human activity where the notion of freedom in its widest sense still has a primary position. Makrolab is a machine to retain this position in the domain of art also in the future.” Video is a constructed generic space, which depends on the signal. Can we understand Makrolab as its diametric opposite, as a physical object which follows what is supposed to build the video image? Is it technology in art, for searching for an opportunity for artistic technology, or both?

I wouldn’t say it was a matter of opposites. From the very beginning, Makrolab sought to understand what global territory means, very concretely, from researching global systems of telecommunications and migrations to the weather and climate. It is a concrete machine, a physical object with soft content. With the final focus on the Arctic, which opens up new key issues within the project to an even greater extent than Antarctica; the project experienced its conceptual ending and marked a new period of engagement and work. There are living cultures in the Arctic, so completely new spaces of communication, relationships can emerge there. Along the way, you are always trying to push the limit that defines you, so the feeling of a border in the Arctic is very different to anywhere else. The visual perception of the landscape with its monochrome surfaces is completely different to what we are used to. The prevailing colours are white, blue and grey; contrasts are important; perception of people in the landscape is completely different. Contrasts and horizons are characteristic of all deserts. The video system as created in the Park of Culture can be understood as a door through which - via three different levels - we can enter the semantic world which is very much connected to Makrolab. Therefore, and also because of the image content, which is explicitly linked to Makrolab (the Arctic, Antarctica, submarines, ‘Armageddon’, sea mammals, telecommunications, radar, satellites...), there is really no opposition.

In the Park of Culture the monotony of landscape continues in the video, whose rhythm is define by the image, the streaming of two lines of text and sounds in the background. The speed increases vertically from top to bottom. The static composition is ‘undermined’ by the generic text, and it seems as if the sounds are originating somewhere from the depths and are then filtered through the technological system. The text stream in the bottom line is impossible to follow. What kind of experience did you want to create?

I created the rhythm of the video from the silence of the images. Perhaps it is the experience of alienation and at the same time the feeling of euphoria over the fusion of nature and technology that the Park of Culture seeks to extend into permanence. Srečko Bajda created the music after the video was finished. Conceptually, it is built on counterpoint and in tension with the visual material, which is very important for the final structure and viewing experience.

So there is some sort of glide between sound and image which creates monotony.

Precisely. Music became an additional layer in the video, which co-created the rhythm of the whole experience. In the formal sense, the whole video is built as a rhythmic structure.

The video image is green, the footage monotonous, so we have a feeling that we are observing the ‘action’ with a military night-vision device. Sounds come from somewhere deep, words that we can’t follow, seeming motionlessness. All this makes one feel like an outside observer; it creates distance, an experience of alienation. Why do you say that invincibility is a concept related to defence, while vulnerability is related to attack? And which position would you like the viewers of the video to take?

The video was screened on television, and therefore the subtitle is ‘TV Situation’. I wanted to create a surprise, an intervention into a television programme. I knew that the viewer would see it only once, and be left with only a feeling of something and some images. Therefore, I decided to include a message which was supposed to cause a reaction from the viewers - that they had seen something, but were probably wondering if this was really it. The video calls for action. The equation was very simple: technology, observing the Earth from space, space, nuclear weapons under the sea, nature, satellites – all elements that had appeared in my work, but were never present as images. For example, the submarine idea was extremely important for the design and my thinking about Makrolab. This was never expressed, but its image did appear in the video. A landscape of images, views, a Park of Culture at the end of millennium. This was the motif which should urge the viewer to think about these phenomena.

In 1994, you created the project Mikrolab, and in 1997, first established Makrolab. The video was created between both projects. It seems that it is trying to maintain the tension of space, which is additionally fed by the examination of the media, territories, and strategies. In the video, a flag with Communist symbols and the year 1989 appear.  What can you say about the relationship between micro-contexts and media territory after the end of Cold War?

The video was actually created at the same time as Makrolab. All questions posed in the Park of Culture still persist, and the ‘ticker’ of symbolic continuity is North Korea. Has the Cold War really ended? No, it hasn’t; nothing has ended: we have only to observe it differently. That is why I chose Sun Tzu. The video features key sentences from his book. They are connected to the activation of a passive subject, the one to whom I turn at the end. Also, because of the war in Bosnia. It is interesting that no-one spoke about this very much back then – silent denial is still very much present in Slovenian society. Probably because most people have not experienced war first hand. To me, this was the key point in the disintegration of society, and that moment calls for constant reflection. Everything disintegrates, nothing else remains. Everything has to be understood anew. That is why the work Culture is included in the title. With regard to local circles who were targeted by the video, I don’t think anything good about the media after the end of Cold War In this respect, we are also experiencing intellectual disintegration and divergence – naturally, there are exceptions – but the process of, ‘deculturalisation’, as it were, is constant.

Your projects follow different trends from those of economic strategists and political analysts. What kinds of territories are being drawn by new technology? How can we establish the field of art and research in them? How can we think the freedom of human activity within their scope?

There are only two possibilities. We can either withdraw to complete individuality, enclosure, and survival, or established a well-reflected position which constantly questions itself and its attitude to local and global systems. The Arctic interests me because there, survival is inscribed in the social code. Therefore, I believe that there lies a potential for the future of the planet. Because they had to adapt to the environment, the local inhabitants developed certain patterns of behaviour which enabled them to survive. In the twentieth century, they experienced colonialism, the Cold War, all very quickly. What took centuries to develop in Europe, happened practically overnight in the Arctic - in about thirty years. This speed was essential, because we have been experiencing such social acceleration since mid-1990s because of the evolution of communication technologies and it is imperative that we reflect on it.

Your work has been greatly influenced by the European avant-garde; however, through contemplation, you are searching for a strategy of rebellion. Makrolab reminds me of the Walking City project which was proposed within the English group Archigram. The project saw the human habitat as being part of consumer culture, so Plug-in City and Walking City were ideas on how to escape the sterile system. The utopian ideas remained only on paper. In the nineties, Slovenia began to face the problems of consumer culture. Did you think that the field of art was in danger then, and how do you see it today?

No - art can survive all systems, and it is the same today. It is simply about creating the conditions for resilience. And with its architecture, operation and project, Makrolab show that such a position is difficult, but possible.

Interviewer Nika Grabar


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