Date sent:Tue, 29 Apr 1997
From: Irina "Ira" Aktuganova

Post-Information Utopia

The participants in this discussion were: Irina "Ira" Aktuganova (IA), gallery director; Alla Mitrofanova (AM), ideologist, media critic and curator; and Dmitry "Dima" Pilikin (DP), artist and gallery curator.

DP: The St. Petersburg-based organisation "Gallery 21" is currently developing a concept you call "Post-informational Utopia." How did this notion come into being?

AM: Irina came back from her trip to DEAF-ISEA '96 in Rotterdam with this idea. In terms of undercurrents it was a pretty logical move, because our entire theoretical and philosophical orientation towards the nonreflectivity of experience, corporeality, nondiscursivity - all the philosophy we tried to tack onto post-computer art - all of this was, in terms of intentions, precisely post-informational. We were never concerned with the theory of informational glut, with the theory of hidden information - all of those cyberpunk trips from the Eighties. Right now we're part of a wholly different situation, a situation in which our personal experience is one of living through and constructing a new semiotic space; this poses the problem not of a collective informational space, but rather one of open, personal, psycho-corporeal experience.

DP: To what extent was this idea a reaction to intellectual conferences taking place in the West? Keeping in mind that we Russians reflect on tendencies and perspectives even without having the technical realia linked to those things.

IA: This wasn't linked to my trip per se, but the conference undoubtedly served as the catalyst. I had the feeling that the "electronic" scene had changed a great deal. The intellectual freedom had vanished; hierarchies and, consequently, careerists had emerged. The pragmatists and businessmen had arrived. The establishment had caught up with us. Besides, when I saw what Western cultural organizations do with the powerful support of various foundations, I became miserable. It's senseless for us to compete with them in terms of technical potentials - yeah, in general there's no reason to do so. I came back from my trip and began discussing my doubts with the intellectuals who are associated with our gallery and it turned out that the rhythm of life set by this game caused many of them to suffer from a deficit of real experiences, a certain flavor of life. Well, what can there be after an informationally saturated space? Only a post-informational one. And "utopia" because our desires are utopian all the same.

AM: Ira had a reaction to the alternative politics of non-commercial arts organizations. Like us, they're seriously engaged in surviving and, in connection with this, the working-out of democratic political procedures, procedures with which they could harmonize; therefore they're forced to engage in political semiotics and so forth. For many of them the problem of survival has turned from a practical problem into a philosophical one. That is, they drown the creative and philosophical pathos in the problems of survival. When all of this started to get under Ira's skin, she resolved to think up such a form of ideological delivery that there wouldn't be a glint of combinatory democracy in it.

DP: How does the gallery's ongoing work shape up?

IA: The previous, event-based policy, in which something had to happen in the gallery every week, has exhausted itself. The way we see it now, the gallery should become a fairly "quiet" place in which there will be a few more or less permanent expositions. That after moving we divided the gallery into six spaces with different functions, spaces concentrated in one site, is optimal. In the present situation your idea for a six meter square microgallery is right on for Petersburg exhibitions. One can demonstrate an idea without enclosing it in decorations. Since after a number of big projects we ran up against the fact there is no cultural infrastructure, it became clear that in order to exist in a civilized manner and turn out, at very least, some kind of artefacts, one needs money. But there isn't any money, and the elementary problem of survival arises. And so it's already not the organization of exhibitions that you're busy with, but the search for funds, foundations; you engage in politics, public relations, you "get chummy" with somebody. The fact of the matter is that we live quite richly. Nobody in Russia gets their paychecks, there's no money in city, but we continue to plan, to write projects and cherish the bright hope of having a constant budget.

AM: We judge the present situation not by visible representation, but by hidden, secret ambitions. And that, basically, is normal during a certain cultural-historical period, but this period is coming to an end. Most likely, starting next year one won't have to talk about "kings in exile," since the next wave will overtake us and force us to move to a daily level of realization. We're losing the abstract grandeur of our ambitions. But on the other hand we will have to construct a new internal mechanism of realization. Maybe none of us will remain; or, having lost our personal ambitions, we'll meld into a common organism. And here it's also to the point that our entire cultural and political life has passed through a period of chaotic searching, a search which for the most part was based on the destruction of the previous political and cultural formation. But now the very delicate creative task arises of getting energy not from destruction, but from positivity.

DP: Do you have any kind of hope for the future of Pushkinskaya 10? IA: If some sort of monstrous cataclysm doesn't happen, then most likely we'll end up with an ordinary, civil cultural center of the Western type, and we'll be offered jobs there as hired workers. But this will no longer have any relationship to the actualities of the present.

AM: I'm not so pessimistic. I think that "pushkinskaya" cultural life differs from the life of, say, the Rotterdam organization V2 in that Western cultural centers are directed towards fairly quality cultural production. You see, between the idea and its realization there has to be genuine, responsible work. And I see the next period as a period of deep creative unfolding and development, taking into account how our consciousness unfolded thanks to that very same Internet. There is no longer any feeling of spatial boundaries, but the pleasure kicks in only when you've got the apparatus of action in hand and you know how to use it well. A big, realizational high - that's what's in store for us.

Translated by Thomas Campbell remixed by Andreas Broeckmann