At Hybrid Workspace, July 1997

Interview with Geert Lovink, for the French Pajol website Recorded in Kassel on the 4th of July, 1997

English Version: En Francais: Geert Lovink, born in 1959 in Amsterdam, is a media theorist. He studied political science and was a pionneer of Internet activism. He is active in the international “nettime” circle. His best-known publications are Empire of Images (1985),Cracking the Movement (1990), and the Datendandy (1994). At the invitation of Catherine David for the Documenta X, he has initiated the Hybrid Workspace with Eike Becker (architect) and Pit Schultz (media theorist). The Orangerie in Kassel has been transformed into an open media studio to collect, select, connect, record, and distribute information and content. It deals with current social, political and cultural issues. The Hybrid WorkSpace is operated by eleven international media groups over a period of ten days. It will be continued as part of the first Berlin biennale in autumn 1998. This interview was conducted in Kassel, during the period devoted to [cross the border], a group from Germany fighting for the migrants rights in Europe, by members of the ‘pajol’ Web team, the Web site of the sans-papiers movement in France, who came to Kassel at that time.

* Ok, could you explain in a few words what does it mean, “Hybrid WorkSpace”?

Geert Lovink: We are here at Documenta, which is a very large art exhibition, and it was the choice of Documenta, Catherine David, and the new Berlin Biennale to make a space together where not art is exhibited, but which is a “workspace”. I mean… the name says it all! I chose eleven groups to work here in a three month period, and they all work here on different themes like migration, racism, cyber-feminism, independant media. A group will come here to make radio. A group will come here to discuss the relation between art and science, looking at biotechnology and genetchnology. So a lot of things will happen here, and some of them will be more like research, other will be more like campaign, political campaign, other will do more like discussions, debates, but it’s not an art exhibit way you just show works of art. Yes, it’s different. It’s producing content. And it’s much related to the Internet, because the half of the project is about the debate between what is going on here and the Net.

* Ok, but why do you call this “hybrid”?

Because we have the situation between social space here, real space, and Internet, which is cyber-space. In our definition of media, we have a lot of different media we are using. Every week we make a radio program, we are using a lot of video, we are producing text pamphlets papers, and all of them in a hybrid way, linked together. So it’s like hybrid media. That’s where it actually comes from, the idea “hybrid media”.

* In what sense do you think hybrid media can help social struggles?

I think it’s very important to work with a hybrid definition of media, not to believe in the one media which will determine all others, like in the past intellectuals believed in the word, they believed in the written word, and the spoken word, they believed that a discourse was everything. And nowadays, people believe that image is everything. So if we, let say, conquer TV, then we will conquer the consciousness of the masses. We don’t believe this. We don’t believe in images. We don’t believe in texts. We believe in our own very specific hybrid use of the media situation, and not giving one medium so much power. Maybe also we want to criticize media power as such.

* Has it some relation with what you call “tactical media”, and could you explain in what sens?

Yes. Well, “tactical media” is a word which came up in early nineties. Maybe as a critic on alternative media idea, “aletrnative media” meaning we have good content, we have good propaganda, we are right. Because we have the good arguments, we have the good informations. So what’s wrong? What goes wrong, you know? Everything went wrong with that concept, because it created ghetto. It created an isolated information ghetto. Yes. The information did not actually spread. So there was a crisis in the concept of alternative media. You can see that in many different movements. With the idea of tactical media, we mean that you can switch platform. Sometimes you work with national TV, sometimes you make a pamphlet with only a hundred copies. We treate those things the same. It’s not that national TV is much more important that our own pamphlet. No, we switch for each situation, we try to see what is the best media mix. Maybe it’s only a conversation between you and me. Or maybe for a radio station, somewhere. Yes? That defines your tactic, where you are, against dogmatic use of media.

* If I remember well, in your text about tactical media, you spoke about a “world of migrants”. You said the world is becoming a world of migrants. Could you explain this, and explain the relation between this and tactical media?

Yes. Of course. It has to do a lot with that the information is becomming very fluid, and that we are also like in the Net. The information is travelling. It’s not so much anymore located to one specific place. So the information about sans-papiers is travelling all over the world. Like the people also. It’s a rumeur that is spreading. And I can tell you here that I saw the first video of sans-papiers in Tokyo. When I was in Tokyo, yes, of course I knew about the movement, but the video I saw for the first time in an activist conference there where people discussed the media tactics of sans-papiers movement, and your works also was discussed there in Tokyo, and the relation between the sans-papiers movement and the homeless people in the Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, which is also a movement that is more and more using hybrid media, a lot of different media, which is suiting their specific situations. So in this way, the information is travelling, migrating, with the people.

* And are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of such media, and the way they can change our lives?

I hope the media will become less and less important. I hope… Yes, very much. Because I am very much concerned about media power and the monopoly. So if we can try to disseminate media, and you know, lead to democratisation of media, media themselve will become less important. They will become more part of daily life. And we can maybe hack or maybe we can squat the importance of this. This is sounding maybe a little bit utopian, but this is, I think, our ultimate goal. Not maybe the abolition of media as such, I think we always want to communicate in one way, but the symbolic power now is growing so much, and this power is in so few hands, you know, like Time Warner, CNN, et caetera. We should break that power. Not only by critizing it, it’s economy, not only by making an alternative to it, but I also think by just spreading, opening all kind of channels, for everybody, and try not to speak any longer for the people, but let the people themselves speak. I think that’s a very important switch that we make, that we try to give power to people by learning them how to use media and technology. I think that’s the ultimate aim.

* And what do you think about the thesis we discussed yesterday, which says that the new technologies are related to xenophobia.

They are not developing communication between people, but they develop isolation of people, alone with their computer? The isolation is definitely taking place in the WorkSpace. So if we see the computer as part of a restructuring of the labor force, then it’s definitely sure that people not only loose their jobs, but loose income, so they will earn less money, they will work for more hours, and they will have more flexible hours, meaning working basicaly always, you know, always being available, through that… you know, the technology is actualy facilitating us with that, you know, the instant availability of the labour force. So you can never say “oh I’m not at home”, you know, because you are controled by small camera, you know, maybe you are… even your… the spead of your typing is controled. In that way there is a huge controle and yes, isolation, but I think social movements can definitely, use the same technology to break it. But then it should go with real life meetings. We don’t believe in just virtual cities, huge web sites… I don’t know what… We believe that it should be hybrid, that the real life meeting like between us now, here, in Kassel, yes, the link between Kassel and Paris we are making now, and Amsterdam, and many more places, that this… and we use that communication to establish those links between people.

* And what about the relation to xenophobia, Internet and xenophobia?

I don’t see that. Internet is much more fluid. Xenophobia is just one phenomena, or one response to that technological shift, technological revolution as some may call it, it’s a response, but… It can always… it can also be anti-european, it can anti-american. It’s not necessary against foreigners or Africans. This *exirety* can look for any kind of victims, yes? Maybe now… maybe it’s now focused on Africans, you know, but it can very easily, it can move… it can also move against the poor, or… next time, it… unemployed people, or… you know? And that’s just very much, I don’t know… the political climat… I think this depends very much on how politicians are dealing with this. And I must say now that in this political climat it’s very easy to make a relation between computer and xenophobia, because the politicians are encouraging this.