Interview for Frakcija, Croatia

“Media is the message”. When You speak of the extramedial (“The Media Archive”), the meaning of Mcluhan’s phrase is seemingly twofold: firstly, there is nothing extramedial beyond media, that is media do not get the message (their meaning) across in a reality that would not be a medial reality, because there is no reality that would not be mediated through media, and secondly, the message (form) of a particular medium remains ineffable within (the content of) that particular medium, thus it presents itself only in the moment of two media coming together. Thus media is the message only within media and media is the ineffable message of a medium. There is a certain coercive movement at work here: for a message of a medium to be mediated the step has to be taken beyond that medium. Now, it is clear that a medium mediates (as its contents the forms of) antecedent media, but can, and this is what I’m aiming at, the logic of that movement (from a form of one medium to the message of another) itself be mediated? In other words, can the media archive itself be archived?

GL: It should be archived, otherwise it would no longer exist, sooner than later. All archives need to be taken care of. During the entire 20th century the techno-modernist movements have been obsessed with revolutionizing the standards, the computing and storage capacities of the technical media. Engineers were not focussing ON how to conserve the cultural heritage which these media definetely represent. Media are self referential, specially in its stages of development. The fight over standards and ownership is a passionate one, quite different from regular industries. If you cannot stand its emptyness, stupidity, if you do not like gambling and debating, then you should not touch computers in the first place. One never knows if an idea or concept is serious or not. Or if tomorrow the stock quote will tumble. So do not even start looking for serious communication, that’s a rare example. This is all not made for eternity. Only in fifty years or so we will be able to evaulate all the premisses and promisses of the then called new media. The media are, as it were, on the move. Namely, while the media are all pervasive, they are not total, we do not speak of THE medium commending the entire media space, but rather of particular media. The media on the move bring forth other media and the aforementioned extramedial. So, how do You envision the relation between the media and the history, in the sense the media that make history and, more importantly, the media as the history in the making. (Aren’t we touching upon the question of system and temporality)? Media, these days, are all partial media, with a promise to reach an ultimate moment of synergy, the medium to end all media. That utopian moment, to invade, and connect all senses is a partical strong, irrational, mythical drive. WebTV is a current buzzword for this. Multi-media is a more general term, a universal device to see movies, watch TV, listen radio, read books and newspapers with, to make telephone calls, send e-mails. We are all familiar with this tendency. Will it reach us via the telephone cable, the TV cable, via the ether, via satellites? Will we indeed have seamless bandwidth, eternal conversations? This ‘medialer Gesamtkunstwerk’ is creating bizarre structures, hilarious failures, brilliant monsters, scary microbes that will watch over us. That’s all existing, and allready history.

Now, I would like to turn to the media theory. It is rather clear that the media theory qua theory is the theory in the media: it has no external point of view to resort to. This raises two questions: 1. what is the status of theory regarding the fact that for the media to mediate themselves they have to make a step beyond themselves, that is, whether theory goes, and how does it go, beyond the bringing forth of new media that is characteristic of the media mediating media; 2. in consequence, how does the theory proceed to differentiate (i.e. criticise) particular media?

GL: It is being said that self referentiality is sign of emancipation, the ability to transform from an applied set of ideas, taken from other disciplines, into a higher set of complex concepts and references. I wonder if there already exist a General Media Theory. I think there have been enough of those attempt being made. I am still in favour of detailed, critical historical studies, going back to the birth time of ‘new’ media, the period between the two world wars, modernism, the hay days of film, and then the period straight after WW II. There is, for example, still too little known about the early history of the Internet. For many of us this is like a mythological, pre-historical period, dominated by this one image of the behemoth of the pentagon and the kittlerian premisses of the military determinism and its cult of secrecy and paranoia. In this story, for example, we will never understand where today’s dominant drive towards synergy of text and images into one streaming medium is coming from. The dark world of the conspiracy thinkers, such as Thomas Pynchon as his followers, is fully text based and can only interprete the mystical world of imagery (of film, tv, etc.) as a distraction. I am sure, though. that we will free ourselves from these one dimensional, technical deterministic views. They will fade away and themselves become part of the origin of media. Origins and basic structures will no longer be dominant. Media can grow, and transform into something different. more playfull, open, modular architectures.

Where is it that art intervenes in the media space?

GL: I am not an art expert. I can only answer your question from the media perspective, the way in which the art system, as a set of skills and institutions, with its own discourse and practice, intervenes, and contributes to the ever expanding mediascapes. It is said that the visual arts are playing a role in the formation of the visual languages, once that they have been released by the high tech hardware laboratories. For decades now the paradigm of the interdisciplinairy approach, between engineers and artists, has been in place, yet been unfulfilled. This is the actual idealism of all media arts: it dreams of the synergy of all disciplines, all streaming into the fundamental reseach and devolpment of the technologies, shaping the future of mankind. Only a few works produced under the banner of media art openly questions all these parameters and can be labeled as critical works. With the rise of commercialism artists these days are no longer needed. Web design has been democratized. And human machine interface design too is stagnating. Prices are falling. Within these developments, artists do not have a special status (if they ever had one…). They can easily slip back into the role of decorators, with Richard Barbrooks Gestalt (ideal figure) of the “digital artisan” as a maximum option. So i think it is very important for both visual artists with a conceptual background and their hand-on, pragmatic counterpart of the programmer-designer, to make a realistic economic analyse of the media markets and its ever changing programs and standards.

You point out that the value we attribute to the concepts of local and global has changed through the heightened importance of mass media in our lives. Do we have to redefine politics? Or, isn’t there between the losing of control over the politics due to the focus of mass media on global issues and the desired immediacy of internet communities (including the desideratum of absolute legitimization through the e-democracy) the just another reflection of the modern politics (Rationalitaetsdefizit and Legitimationskrise)?

GL: In today’s popular belief systems, it is being said that media have replaced, or at least overruled, politics. On the opposite side we see the naive idea that politics can be renewed by the active use of (new) media. But if we just look a bit closer to the relation between specific policies of the nation states, or particular parties regarding to the development of cyberspace over the last ten years, we can see a remarkable influence of the state on the media sector. Good, its obvious that politicians need to pay a lot of attention towards their mediated image. Who doesn’t? Who is not constantly working on his or her image profile? We do not have to redefine politics for that reason. The activists and their concept of the ‘image pollution’ are just reacting on this tendency. It is more interesting to see how specific technology politicies generate different media (or net.) cultures. In some places there is a very direct media control, focussing on content and ownership, like in many East European countries. In Nordic countries we see a much more subtile, structural approach, whereby the state is influencing the parameters, not the actual channels. Deregulation alone won’t do the job. It is clear that companies, for example, will no longer be involved into fundamental research. The corporations would never have invented the Internet. Their drive to get an immediate return on investment might even slow down the digital revolution on the long term. Today’s innovation of Internet startups is fake. What is now needed are new spaces for reflection and critique, free zones where researchers of all kind can work without the pressure of sponsers and their managers who can no longer see the distinction between fancy demo design and real outcomes.