On Totalitarian Interactivity

Posted by Rhizome | Sun Oct 20th 1996 1 a.m.

ON TOTALITARIAN INTERACTIVITY (notes from the enemy of the people)

Alexei Shulgin is right in analyzing the phenomenon of interactive art and
media as a shift from representation to manipulation. [see Alexei Shulgin,
"<a href="/cgi/to.cgi?t=239">Art, Power, and Communication</a>" in RHIZOME CONTENTBASE, 10.11.96.] Yes, interactive
computer installations indeed represent an advanced form of audience
manipulation, where the subject is put within a structure very similar to an
experimental setup of a psychological laboratory or a high-tech torture
chamber of the CIA or KGB, the kind we saw frequently in spy films of the
Cold War era.

[...]

The experiences of East and West structure how new media is seen in both
places. For the West, interactivity is a perfect vehicle for the ideas
of democracy and equality. For the East, it is another form of
manipulation, in which the artist uses advanced technology to impose
his/her totalitarian will on the people. (On the modern artist as a
totalitarian ruler see the works of Boris Groys.) Western media artists
usually take technology absolutely seriously and despair when it does
not work. Post-communist artists, on the other hand, recognize that the
nature of technology is that it does not work, will always breakdown,
will never work as it is supposed to... [...]

A Western artist sees Internet as a perfect tool to break down all
hierarchies and bring the art to the people. In contrast, as a
post-communist subject, I cannot but see Internet as a communal
apartment of the Stalin era: no privacy, everybody spies on everybody
else, always present are lines for common areas such as the toilet or
the kitchen. Or I can think of it as a giant garbage site for the
information
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