On Totalitarian Interactivity

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