kostya miTenev on Fri, 25 Feb 2000 21:33:59 +0300 (MSK)

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Re: Syndicate: runet - interview with olia lialina/add of st-petersburg's n

> Actually, quite a lot is heard and written about the virtual and real
> borders of the Internet. Such mapping is limited to what is already
> known or should be known. Starting point of this interview was the fact,
> that at least for the most of the english and german speaking net
> community the cyrillic encoded aereas of the net are more than ever
> "terra incognita". The following text has been developed from some very
> concrete questions to the moscow net artist olia lialina (currently
> professor for networks and online environments at merz academy,
> Stuttgart) about what's going on in ru-net. Questioners and respondents
> were sending the questions and answers by email, forwarded them to
> friends, who might be able to add some comments, discussed these
> contributions, removed and rewrote some parts, asked again. The text
> started to proliferate into different directions, around itself and
> around the world. In the current version James Allan and Florian
> Schneider asked the questions, Olia Lialina answered. Forwardings you
> find in brackets: >>Fwd to $name>> . Some important links are listed as
> footnootes with their complete adress in the end of the text, as well as
> a briefly annoted collection of  some russian homepages.
> The english version of the text is published on telepolis at:
> http://www.telepolis.de/tp/english/inhalt/on/5819/1.html
> A german translation you find at:
> http://www.telepolis.de/tp/deutsch/inhalt/on/5818/1.html
> Q: Olia most conversations with you have focused on selling net.art. I'd
> like to change the subject and talk about east/west differences and the
> Russian Internet. The 1997 Nettime conference in Lubljana brought
> together a
> lot of artists and critics from the east and west. What was the
> atmosphere during the "Beauty and the East" sessions?
> A: I remember the exotic aura that surrounded Eastern European Internet
> and media artists in the middle of the 90's. Nettime's mailing list
> conference was one of the sessions that year that demystified some
> western assumptions and finished the era of pure curiosity.
> Q: But I'm wondering what's happened since...aside from your work and
> that of Alexei Shulgin there isn't much information around about the
> Russian Internet.
> A: Not much is heard about the Italian, German, Japanese, or Hungarian
> Internet's either. It's said that the Internet has no borders, but one
> is obvious. The border of language. Languages trace new maps across the
> Internet...I'm not sure how it can be visualised at this moment...I
> can't really talk about the other communities, but the Russian Internet
> isn't just servers, providers, authors and artists situated in Russia.
> It's a community of people speaking, writing and thinking in Russian.
> They live in America, Israel, Germany, Russia, Australia, the former
> Soviet Republics... So, in this case you can really talk about new
> territory; without old, but with new borders. I can give you a very
> recent example of it. On New Year's eve three alpinists tragically died
> in the Mexican mountains. They lived in America, but they were Russian
> speaking. They were involved in different Russian online magazines and
> their death - which was not really covered in the offline media - was a
> tragedy for the one online.
> Another example: the famous etoy-etoys conflict and the animated
> discussions that surrounded it in the English language Internet
> community, hasn't crossed the borders of the Russian Internet.
> Q: Is language itself an issue for the Russian Internet?
> A: Yes, you have to realise that for the Russian Internet language is
> very important. In the beginning writers, philologists and semioticians
> were very influential in Internet culture. Online literature servers,
> events and contests are still very important and are always in the
> center of the web observer's attention.
> Q: Can you explain this?
> A: There are at least three reasons. The first (very general): all
> Russian culture is based on the word, and literature is dominant. The
> second (technological): in it's early years the WWW was fit only for
> texts. It wasn't attractive for visual artists, photographers,
> filmmakers, etc, but it was really a paradise for writers. They were the
> first users. The third (subjective): Roman Leibov, Eugene Gorny and
> Dmitriy Itskovich founders of the first Russian Online Culture magazine
> Zhurnal.Ru (http://www.zhurnal.ru) come from the world renowned
> Literature Department of Tarty University (Estonia), where one of the
> most important semioticians, Yurij Lotman, was their teacher.
> >>Fwd to roman@admin.ut.ee Roman Leibov: "I would add that, first of all, the Early Russian Web was made by people who had grown up with Usenet; a plain text environment. And more >>importantly most of them were emigrants; people lacking ordinary communication in their mother tongue. These people were targeting their self identification especially in the field of language and literary culture. Usenet was a substitute for talks in the kitchen, radio and TV, street and party meetings (partsobrania). The w
> eb
>  became, for them, a place to build their own "Small Russias". >>
> Q: How popular is the Internet in Russia? How many people are on the
> net?
> A: I don't know. And probably nobody knows, because statistics only
> describe the number of machines and users in the territory of the
> Russian Federation.
> If you're interested in this I can quote the information from a
> www.cmi.ru review*[1]: that the most optimistic estimate of the number
> of users is 5 million, and more realistically 1.2 million. The most
> popular resources in the top-level domain ".ru" get no more than 10-12
> thousand hits a day.
> Of course most of the facilities and connected people are in Moscow and
> St. Petersburg. Outside the capitals the geography of Runet has a
> curious shape which bears the trace of OSI computerisation programmes
> (Open Society Institute; funded by the philanthropist George Soros).
> Some small cities are completely computerised but they're surrounded by
> desert.
> Q: When did OSI start this program and who was affected by it?
> A: The programme called "Internet"*[2] started in 1992 with a budget of
> 100 million dollars. The aim was to support non-commercial organisations
> in St. Petersburg, Moscow and 33 Universities in the Regions. By 1999 30
> universities were connected to the Internet.
> Btw: at this moment in Russia a lot of universities are computerised and
> students have free access to the Internet, but I never get a message
> from somebody whose address is a university address. Ordinary students
> don't have mailboxes at universities and professors as well.
> Q: Do you mean there are universities without computers? Universities
> without Internet access?
> A: Yes, sure. And those students that have access use free web
> mailboxes, they're not hosted by the university.
> Q: What was your first contact with the Internet?
> A: Actually I'm a child of the Soros foundation's policy to provide
> computers instead of money. In 1995 our film club, CINE FANTOM,*[3]
> asked for money to invite people from abroad, but we got a computer and
> a modem instead.
> Q: And then?
> A: This time, in January 1996 a filmmaker from our film club came back
> from a scholarship in New York and told us about a new wonder: the
> Internet. (At this time it sounded, for me, like a huge database where
> you could easily get information about every filmmaker and spread
> information about yourself). So, in February 1996 we found a provider
> and were wondering how to start.
> At this time I was giving lectures on experimental film at the Joint
> Artist's Workshop in Moscow. Alexei Shulgin was also there, talking
> about the Internet. He gave me a place on the server for the first CINE
> FANTOM pages.
> The more I was working on the CINE FANTOM site the more involved I got.
> At a certain moment I realised that it wasn't enough for me only to
> transfer information about films to html. I wanted to combine both
> experiences: being online and being with film. So that is how I started
> with net films and net stories.
> Q: I understand that you create net.art in English. Do you publish
> articles in Russian? What's the relation between Russian and English?
> A: I don't have any projects in Russian. In my works I use English,
> because English words are only signs for me. This gives me a chance to
> feel different. I can concentrate on the language of the net; it's
> structure and logic. But I write articles and communicate in Russian; or
> rather in transliteration (Russian typed with a latin keyboard). It's
> easier because you don't need to worry about encodings.
> This is an interesting detail. Due to the lack of co-ordination in the
> beginning it seemed that every platform had its own encoding for
> cyrillic. This caused confusion for several years and a lot of
> inconvenience, supplementary software and eventually jokes. Now the
> problem is almost solved. But I guess this deep confusion with font
> encodings has become a part of Russian Internet culture. You could say
> the abundance of them and the varieties in which any given page is
> offered stresses the power of language and its special role.
> >>fwd nl@df.ru Nikolaj Danilov (net writer): "The funny thing is that because of all this mess with encodings the Russian language got at least several new words. For example 'bnopnja' is a misencoded version of the word 'vopros' (question). It became very popular because it was in the subject of beginner's messages to different conferences or providers. Of course their 'bnopnja' was mostly concerning encodings." >>
> Q: Can you describe the net community? What's happening beside literary
> contests?
> A: Well, it's interesting to describe the situation now. Power games are
> starting to blossom. For the last 3 years runet was a pyramid: 2-3 idols
> on top, 10-20 famous names, about 50 almost famous and a huge number of
> "users" in the basement. I might be mistaken about numbers. The ambition
> was, and is, to move closer to the top. The Russian Internet model is
> another example of the common thought that in the Internet there is no
> difference between main stream and underground. But from another
> perspective: there is no division and no chance to divide. Everything is
> mainstream, establishment. The only difference between sites is: famous,
> known and unknown. There are servers who call themselves "underground."
> You can find a lot of "nonnormative lexic," good jokes about the Top 10,
> complete political uncorrectness. But these sites ( http://www.fuck.ru ,
> http://www.idiot.ru ) are participants of the banner exchange and rating
> systems established by the people to whom they want to be in opposition.
> So it's not that serious.
> Q: Is anything threatening the status quo?
> A: The situation changed around two months ago when almost
> simultaneously two Internet academies appeared. One is the Russian
> Internet Academy*[4] the other is the Allrussian Internet Academy*5.
> Both give press conferences about the importance of supporting and
> developing runet. Both ignore each other and have announced a prize in
> the manner of the webbyawards.
> The first one consists of media artists; people who don't know anything
> about the Internet, but they're famous in general; real specialists,
> important net observers. They are sponsored by Intel.
> Another academy is concentrated around the http://www.ezhe.ru server
> (the community of Russian Online Periodicals). It unites people, who
> were already united. This academy didn't establish a prize but the ezhe
> list is continuing with its old professional award: POTOP. There's no
> money associated, though it's supposed to be very prestigious. But it's
> predictable.
> So suddenly there are two giants, and there's not enough room at the
> top. They act as though it's necessary to fight for the right to be the
> Real and the Only One. This process is funny and spectacular in itself.
> It even provoked a new wave of interest in the Internet in offline
> media. It's produced a lot of ironic jokes, parodies*[6] and numerous
> articles on and off line. But this is a very healthy process as well.
> The top of the pyramid is destroying itself. It opens a space for
> battles, polarisation and development.
> Q: Are there struggles between commercial or government forces and
> independent producers? Anything like the e-toy conflict?
> A: That kind of problem is everywhere. Monopolies want to dominate.
> State wants to control. They become more and more serious and motivated.
> But Etoy's failure -like the Russian governments' attempt at net
> censorship- is that they underestimate the force of the Internet
> community. Those who have money and power don't understand the logic of
> the environment. They need to invest more money and involve more
> competent people if they plan to win.
> Every day there's a new confrontation between offline-online logic and
> value systems (copyright, censorship). But until now all these big and
> small cases are still only manoeuvres for both sides.
> Q: Can you give an example?
> A: Last year a very popular Russian author, Vladimir Sorokin, failed to
> stop distribution of illegal copies of his last book "Goluboe salo" over
> the web.
> The intention of the writer and the publishing house were absolutely
> right and true. Public sympathy was on their side because the novel is
> admired by all participants of the conflict. But in trying to defend
> their copyright they started to target and offend people who put links
> on their site to "pirate" pages. I mean they acted without any
> understanding of how WWW is and they lost. In the end they had only one
> chance: to thank linkmakers for "participation in promotion compaign of
> the book". You can find all the discussion at
> http://nagual.pp.ru/~ache/texts/razborka.html
> Q: What about the war in Chechenia? Is there anything going on online?
> Anything you might compare to the infowar during the Kosovo war?
> A: Actually, this war (or anti-terrorist operation as it is called by
> Russian authorities) is a Niagara of disinformation from both sides and
> in all medias. I don't see that in this case the Internet plays any
> special role for inside or outside Russia. Although, on the web you can
> easily access information (also in English) of the prochechenian Kavkaz
> Center News Agency. The information it contains and the vocabulary it
> uses are the exact
> opposite of the Russian perception or even that of the rest of the
> world: government troops (not Chechenian) are called terrorists and
> bandits. The address of this site is http://www.kavkaz.org. Btw Kavkaz
> means the Caucasus
> in Russian. If you go to http://www.kavkaz.ru you'll find a tourist
> guide about nice mountains, hotels and sightseeing in the area. Nothing
> about war.
> Q: Do you read online Russian news?
> A: Yes, and not only when I'm abroad. I prefer online news to tv, radio
> and newspapers. The significant thing is that in runet there are sources
> like http://www.polit.ru, http://www.lenta.ru, http://www.cmi.ru,
> http://www.vesti.ru, and others, which from the very beginning were not
> just web versions of the original, but real new online sources. They are
> oriented to connected people. And made by connected people! I'm glad
> that they really dominate over offline newspapers that have bigger names
> but loose positions since they use the net only as a promotion for paper
> versions.
> >>fwd to fishman@observer.ru Misha Fishmann (Polit.ru editor): "The weight of online journalism in media life is growing. And now every online-resource has it's own character, it's own reputation, it's own public, thus, more or less repeating the whole story of Russian print-media. This effect depends also on news agencies - the main news gatherers in the country, which opened (or not) their resource channels in the Internet, thus defeating the psychological problem of believing "Internet-news." Still o
> ne
>  has to say, the popularity and readability of online news resources is not huge. And the influence, which some of them have on the media-politics life, exists more likely because of the public: the media-newsmakers-politics/business world, those more used to the Internet, than the common public. ">>
> Andrej Levkin, one of the first Russian online journalists and analysts,
> made an interesting note on Internet periodicals recently*[7]: Political
> crisis of 1991 caused a lot of new independent radio stations. Economic
> crisis of fall 1998 brought to life numerous online resources, they were
> a very convenient way to publish economic manifestos (would not work
> with radio, and would mean the show of position for newspaper). Another
> reason is that after the crisis a lot of paper magazines and newspapers
> were closed and journalists had to turn to the Internet.
> >>fwd slava@russ.ru Slava Kuritsin (writer, culture observer): "It is easier and more fun to be an on-line writer. You can see how your article is published immediately, and you can get immediate response from the people. And you feel more free and relaxed when you write, because you can change your text next day or in one year. In one word, you work with plasticine, not with marble.">>
> Q: What's new in Moscow?
> A: In relation to the Internet people are afraid that very soon there
> will be a new regulation for phone payment. At this moment it's almost
> free; just $2.00 per month. Internet communication instantly becomes
> less attractive if
> you have to pay for each minute of the local call.
> Q: Are there any archetypes that have withstood the digital flood?
> A: In spite of all "new" logic and "new" geographies and all the other
> "news" one can still see the eternal competition between Moscow and St.
> Peterburg; the two Russian capitals. It's not affected by time or media.
> It is still actual, and still a mystery. (You can find more at
> Russ.ru*[8]) Another peculiarity isn't peculiar at all. When people say
> Russian Internet they mean the web in Russia. This misunderstanding is
> global, and national.
> Mostly in Russian:
> *1 http://www.cmi.ru/net/1999-12-25-1.html
> *2 http://internet.osi.ru
> *3 http://www.cinefantom.org
> *4 http://www.academia.ru
> *5 http://www.InternetAcademy.ru
> *6 http://www.litera.ru/akademia
> *7 http://www.cmi.ru/net/1999-12-27-1.html
> *8 http://www.russ.ru/netcult/20000112_goryunova.html
> Also:
> http://www.cs.ut.ee/~roman_l/hyperfiction/
> [first russian hyperfiction]
> http://www.lib.ru
> [Maksim Moshkov's library]
> http://www.teneta.ru/
> [Russian Online Literature Contest]
> http://www.anekdot.ru
> [most popular Russian site]
> http://www.cityline.ru/paravozov-news/
> http://www.zhurnal.ru/muxi/
> [first russian web observers]
> http://www.echonet.ru
> http://www.radar.ru
> [runet news]
> http://www.theatre.ru
> [huge and alive server about theatre history and events]
> http://www.lenin.ru
> [virtual mausoleum]
> http://www.dantes.ru
> [Pushkins death chronics]
> http://www.here.ru
> [wwwhere ru]
> http://redsun.cs.msu.su/wwwart/
> [first russian net art pages]
> http://www.guelman.ru
> [culture magazine]
> http://www.da-da-net.ru/
> [online resourses festival]
> http://www.tema.ru
> [web designer #1]
> http://www.metro.ru
> [all about moscow metro]
> http://koala.mu.ru/
> [russian superbad.com]
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thanx Olia Lialina for your great description of the russian net-works.
here r some words about spb's netmovement:

In 1994 St. Petersburg was visited by " Stubnitz" technoart ship.
That was the first mission of western cyberpunk in the city ready to commit technorevolution. By that time progressive youth of  St. Petersburg was actually bathing in technosounds of raves sporadically contaminating with "pestilence of dance" the stadiums of Moscow, its swimming pools, interiors of major theaters, the palaces and the Planetarium of St. Petersburg. At the same time interest towards the computer was on increase. It was too inaccessible, too far-fetched, cosmic.
It was secretly admired, frankly shunned. Computer, this UFO of the future humanity, brought message to St. Petersburg by such movies as "Terminator" and "Jurassic Park" in bad copies made by piratical studios, and also by short headpieces used by TV. There was a rumor about some secret, almost underground "Internet" unifying all computers of the world. Russian mass media did inestimable favor for the development of Cyberculture in St. Petersburg. They used to frighten their readers by hearsay abоut total
 shadowing through the net, about some terrible computer hackers inflicting the quietude of authorities as well as about outrageous pornography brewing in the realm of this shameless and orgiastic net. Of course, by all this they attracted sympathy of St. Petersburg's youth to the side of this unknown monster of informational disarray. At that time computer was neither Mac, nor PC, rather it was a sort of Supermachine, challenged by world chess champion Gary Casparov. A sort of a SiliconGraphics. Stubnitz
 not just served as a stage, upon which it was possible to perform relaxed technogesticulation, it led us to think , that computer is as simple as a spanner, that there are scores of computers around and every passerby can use it.
Meanwhile, in the artistic environment of the city, customary encouraging actual experiences of the youth, an obvious disfavor of  "new technologies"could be traced. The main point was aesthetic coldness and omnivorousness of the computer, behind which hid costliness and lack of special knowledge. Stunning yet fact:  apologists of classical as well as vanguard  art-stage were sole in their opinion that computer is the "artificial limb" for an artist.
But the magic word "INTERACTION" had already sounded out It obsessed. It drew into the world of HYPERTEXT and CYBERSPACE. In comparison with the latter, appellative SEX, RAVE and DRUGS looked like cheap soap opera from a local TV channel.
>From 1995 through 1996 intensive theoretical research of INTERACTION-HYPERTEXT-CYBERSPACE was conducted. There were held seminars with public appearance of domestic and western media-theorists: Leo Manovich, Catty R. Hoffman, Alla Mitrofanova, Oleg Filuke, Anatol Prokhorov, Vladimir Mogilevskij, Tatjana Mogilevskij.
At 10 Pushkinskaya, affiliated by Free Culture Fund of SPb TechnoArtCenter was organized. It maintained, а first art-computer (PC 480). Thanks to this machine we held our first interactive communications with Helsinki (Andy Best), and then with Goeterbourg-London.
It became clear that INTERACTION is the young ideology. St. Petersburg media-artists were growing into VIRTUAL COMMUNITIES. Randomly appeared the Mitenev-Mitrofanova (Tenev-Twins) Group which, supported by MUU Gallery, Andy Best and Tapio Macela (Helsinki), organized The First Russian CyberExpedition NETMAN. On the MUU Gallery server we created and exhibited our first NET-PROJECTS: "UNDINA", "VIRTUAL ANATOMY" Alla Mitrofanova net-magazine and a site of the Rivers Group (Roma Gruzov, Timothei Abramov).
Soon we participated in the opening ceremony of the First Russian "Tetris" NET-CAFE on the server of Dux Company in St. Petersburg. This server, on its side, enabled us to make use of its technical possibilities for bringing forth our net-projects and international communications. In "Tetris" we held ON-LINE conferences with Amsterdam (NEXT 5 MINUTE), New York (cyberfeminists' videoconference "DIGITAL BODY"), took part in the First Technoparty through Internet "GREAT CLONE PARTY" (Linz-Berlin-Paris-Lozann
In the mid '96 I acquired my own PC Pentium-100.
Working on the net and with the net, I lost my interest in physical Art-spaces with their controversy between an artist and a supervisor, whereas the artist is compelled to keep in line with the supervisor's demand. Besides, bad-represented aesthetics of digital spaces was of no interest for the  art-stage of St. Petersburg.
It is clear that having access to a server , one no longer depends on any kind of gallery quarrels. In cyberspace it is possible to make one's own electronic digital art gallery.
In the beginning of '97 I presented on the server my first hypertext video "Beat Files". It is a cartoon on St. Petersburg of 20's-30's of the next millenium. This video came to have been navigating my work during the next two years. Properly speaking, it had actually driven myself to be both the organizer of "GREAT CLONE PARTY" in St. Petersburg and the creator of BIONETdigital gallery.
In the course of "digital revolutionizing" the existing culture we found ourselves in situation of creating our own discourse.
Firstly, we entered the cyberspace by means of new generation of browsers. We released our projects using Netscape Gold yet. Only by hearsay did we learn about Mosaic and other browsers that had been created by the first descent of "new media" artists.
Secondly, we were initially concerned in the problem of corporeal in cyberspace: UNDINA, VIRTUAL ANATOMY.
Thirdly, the research apotheosis of a laboratory influences our minds more significantly than any "political" discourses  that seem quite interesting to "new media".
Therefore, being aware of ourselves as part of the generation existing creatively in inextricable connection with cyberspace I have proposed my own manifesto , working today as navigation database of BIONET Gallery: NEXT MEDIA. As well as net project in 3D "POSITIVE MODELS OF SPb's".

next future now,
kostya mitenev

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