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<nettime> Interview Alla Mitrofanova & Olga Suslova
Josephine Bosma on Sun, 15 Jun 1997 13:52:17 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Interview Alla Mitrofanova & Olga Suslova

This interview was made at V2 Rotterdam, April 19th 1997. Alla
Mitrofanova is an art critic, media-philosopher, media art
curator at Gallery 21, St. Petersburg. Olga Suslova is a philosopher
and media theoretician, also she is editor of the Virtual Anatomy
journal. We discuss this journal and its recent theme, the body. From
this we also talk about cyberfeminism. Both Alla Mitrofanova and Olga
Suslova consider themselves cyberfeminists.


JB: You said you see yourselves as filosofers?

OS: That is because our work is a theoretical one. Of course, our
activity doesn't describe itself as a classical process of
philosophizing which is opposite to practice, because, and that's
evident for us, creation of meta-theory or meta-narrative that is
far from vital experience, is a non-productive position today. We
can't strictly distinguish or limit where art-practice stops and
philosophy begins and we don't pose this question, but if our form
of representation is connected with texts and language we speak
about philosophy.

JB: Is working with media a logical choice for a filosofer?

OS: Yes, because working in the internet is actual for the modern
situation. Also its necesary to say that while we have these
internet experiences as we try to make our internet magazine,
we can analyse what happens in it, what problems there are.
Internet - is a qualitatively new information space that changes
the mode of thinking, it changes process of orientation in the
world. Generally speaking the internet is a new type of human
reality, a new field of experience, which is invested by libidinal
coloured interest as any other reality (social or economic field).
That is why reflection upon which of the "libidinal" demands of
modern people can be fulfilled or realized in this new reality of
the psyche has some provocative moments for us. When we see
multisemantic instead of monosemantic, reactivity and mobility
instead of stability, instrumentality instead of substantiality
in the field of new media, it doesn't mean that they produce this
type of activity but it means that these characteristics of modern
being are the most visible there. At the same time the Internet is
the place for explanation and the instrument of explanation.

AM: The internet is a specific functional expression of contemporary
culture. Analytical ability, new theoretical tools made for internet
research suppose to be useful for current processes in different
fields of culture.  Internet research has to have an appropriate
analytical discourse: not descriptive, not hierarchical, but
operative, which is for me schizoanalyses based.
This is a half-marginal, half-mass popular hugh filosofical domain
which was developed by two french filosofers, Deleuze and Guattari.
It is probably the most radical critique of structuralist thinking
with bipolar oppositions, a hierarchy of meanings and an illusion of
complexity. Schizo analyses counted a multitude of not necessarely
connected significations, giving equal rules to each signifier, to
each expression. Key word here is that every possible segment should
work for own cost, not for the cost of signifier order or of any other
structure. The same counts for subjectivity, the body. There are a lot
of identities, but you responsible only for what you choose. We always
create a conceptual remix of subjectivity and body.

It is not a compulsory process, but free choice, an open creative act.
So you don't need to worry about somebody's problem and you don't
need to worry about narrative describtions of reality. You just have
to live in the most strong existential mode.
If you are strong existentially you could follow very quickly diffrent
activities around, you could participate without having very straight
ideas about the way you are and whats going on.
So the position is not to describe a world how it should be or how it
is, but the position is to act productively, to be a productive
functional body or person. I don't try to repeat the filosofy of
Deleuze and Guattari here. I don't want to be responsible for the
interpretation of their ideas. My ideas are based on my personal
experiences which include a destruction of the soviet imperial
signifier order by a reshaped economical and territorial state.

JB: Is the fact that you work with the experience of others,
that you look for the experience of others, and the fact that you
say you do communication thinking, is also linked to this?

AM: You mean I said that we cannot have our personal practice in
many fields? And that we have to take a point above all to learn
from somebody else experience? I think it is kind of a democratic
position because you cannot be productive in a different sense.
You should believe in your social, cultural neighborhood. So you
vocalize/focus on peoples creative desires. Its a kind of social
politeness to work with the creative ambitions of people, to
appreciate that other side (opposite) of everybody's realization.
There is no integration of somebody's experience into my personal
experience, but there is a communication where some things could
be correlative with intimate acts but remain other -  detached.

JB: What neighborhood are you talking about now, do you mean your
working neighborhood, so that means the whole internet or some people
on it anyway, or you mean locally around you in St Petersburg?

AM: I mean the whole neighborhood which I could reach through
different media or through my fysical presence. My ability to
reach is very limited, because as a person I could keep for
example only a few emotional situations, not more. To have more
I would have to develop my personal energy.

JB: Why did you choose to have the body as a central point in
your work?

OS: All through history we can see different types of "body images"
that have existed. We can see the variety of body practices that
were connected with problems of normativity, esthetic and ethic
acceptibility. The "harmonized" greek body, the "spiritual"  body
of christians, the "exaltative" body of romanthics and many more,
but also the body image of the structuralists that was determinated
through the figure of the Other was deconstructed by schizoanalysis
with the concept of the "process" body-without-organs. The main
question for us is: does the body image really change now? Can it
really exist as a pure accidental crossing of intensivities? How
can we escape the machine of representation, that writes upon our
bodies? In the field of these questions the problem of computer
experience is the crucial one.
We see that in the internet the body image constituates itself as
surface, an interface which allows you to move and choose a point of
bodygathering for reaction, for communication elsewhere. It doesn't
work with space but with a "time" of the body where the body has no
strict limits or concepts and is a process.

JB: Do you say that because there simply is no real fysical body
on the internet? Of course the idea that you are completely free
of your body and your gender is a bit of an illusion.

OS: Yes, but we don't talk about fysical limits of the body, because
some knowledge constructions, some psychic constructions, discoursive
and non-discoursive practices regulate our fysical activity and
that's why there is a correlation between our presence in the internet
and our real behavior outside of the computer screen. While we have
no center in the internet space and can choose different possibilities,
we can see in real life that our behavior shows signs that there is no
center, no male or female position in the field of motivations, and
that we are relatively free in the choice of esthetic.

AM: I like the question, because it moves you into the center of
our problems: Why the body? The body is the last concept that could
be renovated among those which we have as a heritage from the big
filosofical discourse. The body is a concept. We cannot talk of pure
materiality, because pure materiality does not exist without
conceptual, visual, functional structures and so on. So there is no
pure materiality but there is a concept of the body which includes
images, medicine, language, which rules our existential acts, etc.
Only in such models can we function as bodies. It means that if
different models of the presentation of the body are taken , the
whole concept and also fysical materiality would be changed. It
means that in different cultures you will have a different body.
For example in India a person has a completely different body then
we have because it functions differently.
They perceive, they act differently. They have different organs for
example. They have chakra's, we have something else: liver, heart.
They work through chakra's, through energy. A chinese person for
example thinks from his navel, not from his head. The navel is a
center of empathy and comprehension. Their concept of thinking is not
based on a cognitive (in Europe) but on a perceptive interface.
The European concept is that thinking is based on reason, on logos.

JB: Can you explain the role of the game you created inside your

OS: Its a kind of example of how we can move in our body image, how
we can use various fragments of historical and cultural discourse
for our needs. It shows how our body image now can be composed of
these fragments. We can freely operate from a great number of cultural

JB: Do you have a goal with your magazine? Are you trying to give
certain ideas a kind of push? Or are you simply experimenting and

AM: We are simply reflecting. Of course we have our own experiences,
but as reflectors we have to use the collective experience. We are
searching for the experience of different people to try and analyze
emerging representative and existential practices.
Of course we avoid generalized conceptions and strategies, thats a
professional tactic.
We have to make a conception on the base of the experience of people
which we consider an effective and joyful one.

JB: But if your work is a reflection that means you have a question
in mind, usually. What was the initial question or problem that made
you take the body as a theme for the magazine? Maybe you have already
answered this.

OS: The main question for me is how and where can the modern body
work as a pure possibility. How can we create new body practices?
Are we free in a choosing of them or not? How can we escape
oppressive systems of representation? Are we really caught by
culture, hierarchy and the system of dispositives that operate the
body practices or can we create experiments, a freedom of body

JB: This is always a bit of a sensitive question, but is there a
relation between you being female and the fact that you got these
questions in mind?

AM: In many ways yes, but not only. As a woman I successfully avoid a
lot of social and political paranoias (usual traps for men). The most
radical theoretical and practical  thing I did was two years ago:
I got babies. Now I could say that it was a way to extend body, to
finish with existentialist axiom that we are isolated in the body and
produce inside/outside conflicts. It was the end of my subjectivity
based reflective paranoia. Now I have the experience to switch my
subjective mode from one to many different directions, which is not
paranoia anymore, but probably schizofrenia.
But being schizofrenic in this way I found that I produce new problems,
kind of body based survival problems. When you direct your subjectivity
and body in many different directions, you should leave something
inside your body that could renovate your existential ability. You
cannot learn it from the European tradition.

The European tradition prescribed us to have a body which is totally
agonized through language, through medicine, through politics etcetera.
So you have to go somewhere else and for example steal something from
eastern tradition and you should build a kind of uncultural or
unconceptual, but also culturally open space to set up your personal
existence, to keep your body. I cannot say subjectivity because
subjectivity is a concept that is very much based on social and
cognitive representations in the European tradition. Body as a
concept is a more productive mixture.
If your body as an operative system is too heavy, it does not work. So
you have to build an alternative model to centralized your body without
being conceptually organized, you should learn to live in an
(conceptually) empty stream. Your personal existence should be your
energetic motor.

Thats why we started the magazine, to develop the strategy how to keep
pure existence without cultural prescribtions how it should be. We try to
grasp a body not as an image, an object or signifier order, but as a multi
functional operative ability.

JB: Its funny that you don't make a distinction between identity and
the body. At least, thats what it sound like...

AM: Identity is a lost concept for me, because identity should be an
open operative system akin subjectivity, body. Identity is a temporal
assemblage of concepts, it should be diffrent in any event.  With
flexible this identity we have a lot of freedom now, for example in the
internet identity is a game. Identity is not given, but a freely chosen
representation mode. Identity could be seen as a data base of possible
representations, which you could easily remix as you like. I don't see
problems anymore here. The problem goes deeper: how to make your
existential operative system more independent and more useful. How to
survive being an individual body in a multitude of identities.

JB: Do you think the internet is the tool 'par excellence' to explore
this way of thinking? Do you think that because of the new visions
that the new media communications gave, you were able to think the way
you are thinking now?

AM: I would not say that the internet is for thinking, if we use
thinking as a analytical and descriptive mode. If thinking is an
operative system, we have no difference between thinking and practicing.
The Internet came not through thinking, not through concepts or images,
it came through practice, through functioning.
The internet works in the contemporary existential model in the same way
as politics for example. Being Russian I have had a wonderful personal
experience of the total destruction of the whole political narratives,
which were very strong before. Now I see that all narratives, all
describtive models as models are not useful in our society. I am lucky
to have an experience of self-liberalisation from narrative, images,
concepts. Still they exist but there is a distance between the
existential stream (pre-conceptial level) and formal representations.
It is good to live in a period of radical changes.

JB: Do you think that there should be things like v2 east?  Do
you think it is wise to keep in presentations the difference of
background and gender, to make choices for certain artists to be
in an exhibition purely based on their background?

AM: You could have the most interesting answer from our curator,
not from us. We are kind of seperated, segmented. We are not able
to keep an idea of East/West, background and figure. Doesn't matter
for me where to work, it is cleaner here.  Irina Aktagonova rules a
politic of group/east/west/high/low/thick/thin representation in the
gallery 21 in St Petersburg. I am a part of their network.

JB: Are you sympathetic to feminism?

OS: In the mode of cyberfeminism.

AM: I call myself a cyberfeminist. I think cyberfeminism is a step
from feminism, keeping some important terms. I mean gender-sex
devision and other operative terms, but we are not associated with
political and social descriptions of political feminism of 60th and
structuralist feminism concern mostly with defining gender in
structura of social and psychic presentations. Our gender could be
simply multiplied like any narrative. If necesary I function as man,
or as a woman. Playfull gender, pre-conceptual body studies, developing
a discourse of the sexual body which is shadowed in our traditional
philosophy - that is, what we included being cyberfeminist.
Gender is no longer a political repressive concept or social
prescription and restriction, it is a data base of images and functions
to use freely from, because the whole narrative of classical European
filosofy and imaginery and of the social legislative system now is
broken into many pieces. Those pieces mean freedom of representation.

JB: Fragmentation of classical filosofy means freedom?

AM: When classical filosofy was contained in one long narrative, it was
dangerous for indiviuality. The big narrative of classical filosofy, of
European imaginary, told you: You have to be like this, because the
world is described in that manner. But now with the situation of the
broken line we have a lot of fragments of models of representation.
It means that we could be free in our political and gender choice in
images. If you know that, you can act freely. If you don't know you will
still be trapped in that long oppression of cultural tradition.

JB: What are specific cyberfeminist issues then?

AM: Generally speaking the internet reality is a specific cyberfeminist
issue. I think that net communication could easily show this freedom
of presentation mode: freedom of images, of roles, of subject-concepts.
Cyberlife is our new reality. I enjoy to hear from different places of
computerbased life about initiatives to express "net feminism",
"post-feminism", "schizo-feminism". I think an idea of multiple
formalization is placed in the cyber creative and reflective tactic.
Of course I constantly hear that there are a lot of problems, with human
rights and so on, but I see them as a fight between narratives. If you
want to be associated with one of them you automatically should fight
with the opposite one. That could keep you busy and falsify your

In Russia we have a hugetradition of feminism. One of the most radical
things was in the times of the October revolution of 1917. They
legalised abortions, provided good medical governmental payed service
for it, there were holidays for pregnancy, payment for baby delivery
and other laws that gave legal freedom to a single mother, to give
her time for social and political activities. Gender stricture was
totally destroyed in a few years. A painful experience was when people
in the thirties tried to restore gender, they tried to return to the
social practices of the bilinear family, but governmental law still
avoided social gender stricture. This revolutionary law created a
political possibility for free love, so that people did get married
until the middle of the 1930's . They thought about free expressions of
sexuality in the early twenties especially. Having this experience of
feminist radicalism in our past, we don't need to fight for our future.
We already have our future in our past.

JB: Are you saying now that cyberfeminism is to act from the freedom
you have as a woman? To realize you have this freedom and to act from

AM: Mostly I have a freedom or unfreedom as a social and political
person, but social and political roles and identities are peanuts
compared to my whole existential task. As a woman I have not enough
formal expressions, in discourses there is no cultural expression of
the body and the sexualised body. Motherhood and pregnancy are totally
hidden under medical and pedagogical discourses. We have silence in
the most productive existential experiences. Having freedom we have
kind of strong creative obligations to produce more formal expressions
in a poetic way. That is what cyberfeminism and other extravagant self
articulations are about.

"Virtual Anatomy" - http://www.dux.ru/virtual/


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