Lion & Unicorn, one of contributors of the Russian Federation’s pavilion at the is a multidisciplinary collective that has initiated the development of a digital platform to investigate the public meaning of institutions. The collective consists of Pekka Airaxin, Liza Dorrer, Karina Golubenko, Mariia Kachalova, Anton Kalgaev, Maria Kosareva and Ivan Kuryachiy in collaboration with Daria Nasonova and Dima Vesnin.
I’d say that it became easier to make the whole gang be on. At the same time, for those who have families and kids, it has become harder to properly reach out to them. I really have no clue how they manage. I’m personally sick of sitting alone with a bunch of virtual people from one zoom to another filling up my room eerily.
For me things didn’t really change that much. Quarantine disclosed the fact that many offline meetings could have been an email or a short zoom call. What has changed for me is the perception of time. For the last two weeks it was hard to draw a line between working and non-working time. Your colleagues assume that you are always available as you sit at home and can send you telegram messages at 11 pm expecting the answer back.
I feel that digital reality only emphasizes how different our routine actually is. The physical reality makes us equal. When we meet in one space (cafe or studio), it is easier to be on the same page. Despite the fact that technology turns any place “into an office” due to quarantine, we are all stuck in our own conditions, interiors, with our own relatives or feelings of loneliness — which greatly affects the process.
As for me the Virtual Russian Pavilion itself was a consistent response to the routine. To act freely, independently and openly is habitus, which is radically different from life in a routine. Both at the personal level and at the level of transpersonal constructions — decency, rules and laws.
And this answer was paradoxical, since we decided not to design one single gesture, but an institution — the rules by which the future will take place. There is something paschal in this idea: trampling down death by death — the absence of rules with a universe of rules. And it seems that we won, because at first an open-call was held, to which we seemed to respond, and then the whole world fell into the abyss of virtuality, which we seem to have taken advantage of. But have we become more free, independent, or at least open? I can’t say so. Therefore, the only thing worth thinking about and what should be prepared for is the life “after”. And since this question is of a theological nature — because it is based on the belief that there will be a certain “after” — then the answer to it should also be theological. So, life “after” will be the way we create it “today”, or, if you like, the one we deserve. That was the point of the game we started to develop before the pandemic. And if yesterday we had to look for a special answer, where such a need came from, today it is clear to everyone.
But the fact is that the Virtual Russian pavilion, and we as a group, always thought of the virtual — institution, pavilion or just an image in VR glasses — not as something valuable in itself, but as an occasion to meet physically. Digital platforms are nothing without related physical counterparts. We have new sophisticated instruments to deal with buildings, spaces and artefacts that have been there unchanged for years.
Any technology — writing, telegraph, Zoom, virtual space or contactless food delivery — is not about technology, but about a human being. Do we believe in it? What potential do we see in people exhausted by a three-dimensional routine? Will the new technologies find something more humane in a human being? Will they help humans be more creative? Will they make a new world of free, independent and open people, living organisms, machines possible? Maybe. Everyone who has something to say will be heard, but in order for the voices not to be blurred into one digital glitch, we will have to speak one after another, patiently, in order.
I wanted to add a comment about the potential of digital platforms. And as an illustration of that l want to take recent strikes on Yandex.maps, that happened a few days ago and involved thousands of citizens/users across over-million Russian cities. It’s interesting to think of the potential of the platforms, but not necessarily about pre-designed potential - but the potential to allow for un-designed activities. Should platforms be flexible enough to leave the space for something unpredicted and deeply social? We used this parasite approach in our super studio project when we added a speculative layer on top of google maps that wasn’t supposed to exist in the first place. We basically did the same with the physical platform of the biennale — we found a backdoor in the platform. So it’s not only about digital, I would say it’s about platform design in general, or maybe even institutional design.
I wouldn’t be so optimistic. The strikes were amazing but it happened under compulsion. I’m fed up with all these digital platforms. I literally push myself to do some things with it and I’m not sure I will be to able once quarantine is over. I spent the entire week intentionally without Instagram at all and let me tell you it was wonderful. I unsubscribed from dozens of Telegram channels and muted loads of people in all threads. And a small wonder — no FOMO! Or FOMOSO [Fear Of Missing Out Something Online], which is more relevant lately. I seriously feel a lack of hugs, or having dinner together in a busy restaurant, or sipping a fresh cup of coffee-to-go to drink it really on the go, getting sweaty in the gym and smelling the chlorinated water in the pool. I could go on listing things like these. The aura of sitting in front of masterpieces in Louvre (which I did right before the pandemic) I can’t substitute with having a virtual tour. I really can’t talk to pixels on my Mac anymore — I want to get back to our normal ‘before-digital’ life.
I didn’t even have time to regret events being cancelled as the gap was immediately filled with a massive amount of content that was produced in response to the pandemic crisis. Instead of having FOMO in real life, I constantly have anxiety of missing something online — free courses, streaming, readings, etc. This acceleration pretty much reveals the symptoms of late capitalism in cultural production. Instead of stopping for a moment and reflecting on what just happened we are pushed towards new deadlines and try to be more productive as ever before.
If the exhibition in Venice was an occasion to meet each other and share thoughts, do we really need such a type of exhibition, virtual or real, today? Can’t we just meet? Or is the act of meeting not enough anymore?
I noticed that many institutions use the word “platform” for anything that goes online. The fact that we are using high-end digital tools doesn’t necessarily mean that something has changed. We mostly hear the same voices for the sake of getting more views and broader online distribution. There is a quote from Cedric Price that I find relevant in this context: “Technology is the answer but what was the question?”.