Urtica, art and media research group (c) 1999 and Beyond
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Social Engine—The Hybrid Source Book

Violeta Vojvodić and Eduard Balaž (Ed.)

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  • Excerpt from conversation between Andrei Siclodi and Urtica
  • Art and Science

    Knowledge production releated to art and science

  • Keywords / Tags

    • Database art,
    • Symbolic communication,
    • Knowledge generator,
    • Identity,
    • Emergence,
    • Hybrid invention,
    • Machines in art,
    • Transdisciplinarity,
  • Art-Bio:

    Book Premiere
    “Social Engine – The Hybrid Source Book,” presentation at Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen, Innsbruck, Austria

Excerpt from the text “But first you have to trust” published at the book Social Engine.
Starting point of conversation piece between Andrei Siclodi and Urtica.

But first you have to trust

AS: Let’s start with a simple, basic question. I would like to go back to the very beginning, to the origins of the Social Engine. The project, the preparatory research for which took place at Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen in 2004, was initially designed as an investigation into the dissemination of cultural information. In 2003 when I read your proposal for the first time (at that time you were talking about a “vehicle for the mind”), one of the main reasons I was particularly interested in it was the background context of the project. I was interested in the abstract layer of this confrontation and negotiation between entities, and I was thinking that this might be traced back, although not in a direct way, to the political situation in Serbia at that time and to the experience you had in the nineties during the Yugoslav Wars and after the political shift in Serbia in 2000 when Milosevic's regime collapsed. There are two issues which appear to me to be of preeminent importance in regard to the representation of the socio-political reality in the Social Engine: first, the decision to define the basic layer of action as a stage. The stage is a closed space which cannot be extended or reduced. The entities share a pre-defined, limited virtual space, while on the stage they have to “negotiate” and “live” with each other in a closed habitat. And second, the strong interest in developing and defining flags as representations of the acting entities on the stage. A flag is not only a representative sign, but also an ideological medium.

Urtica: The transition of the political system in Serbia from autocracy to democracy started in 2001 and brought ideas related to social and cultural change. This process has been suppressed since 2003, when the leader of the reformatory movement, the Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić,*1 was assassinated. Those events triggered us to think about how dominant socio-cultural patterns that are interwoven in society direct society towards democracy or autocracy, and on an operational level, produce functional or dysfunctional decision-making. As Kurt Lewin has indicated, the change from autocracy to democracy is a slow process because “autocracy is imposed on a person, but democracy has to be learned.”*2 The implementation of a pattern like democracy has to be the driving force of the culture in how we live, communicate, and organize society, and not just a rhetorical tool limited to political processes.

We started the Social Engine in order to create awareness about how information circulates within society, how it is accepted and transmitted further on, and in which way those messages can shape the social landscape. There is also a question of personal responsibility, of what type of message you want to send to the world, because something which is said is not said in vain. Once it is propagated, it has consequences, it creates a cultural pool that will reflect on the future.

Thus, the first version of the Social Engine was created as a repository of well-known socio-cultural patterns embodied in textual and visual symbols. We surfed the Internet for the most quoted sayings, the main selection criterion being that they had been circulating for a long period of time. For example, the ancient Roman maxim “If you want peace, prepare for war”*3 continues to be the essential pattern of military doctrine, and on the level of the governance of the social system (during times of peace), it justifies very high budget expenditures for the military or police compared to rather small budgets for culture and education.*4

The structure of the Social Engine correlates with an experiment that takes place in a controlled environment. The database, used as a recording system for an ongoing project, has been filled in by Urtica’s input as well as the input of different authors through workshops. The patterns (textual and corresponding visual entities) within the database can be selected by the user and then sent to the stage. The group activity on the stage, the cognitive interconnections between entities, acts as the frame of reference (reality) for individual entities. Therefore, within this mind-mapping process, individual entities are used as “vehicles for the mind.” The first amount of symbols in the database were flag-like. At that time, we chose the symbolism of the flag because of its highly intersubjective value. It’s used to represent yourself/your group as distinguished from other groups, and through this process of differentiation, identity is established. Like in the case of national flags as representations of national identity, which are burdened on the visual level with stereotypes and resemble each other. Ironically, in some cases they seem to be identical. Visual qualities such as colour, composition (e.g. horizontal or vertical stripes), or symbols (e.g. stars, two-headed eagles, suns) are part of the collective memory and provide a ground for common meaning.

The starting point for Urtica’s designing process is the relation between the entropic and the redundant part of a symbol (the support between a new perception and an existing memory trace), like making something original out of an already known thing. That’s the basic principle that we use when symbols for the Social Engine are (de)signed.

… … …

*1Just a few weeks before his assassination, Zoran Đinđić, the Serbian prime minister and a philosopher by profession, declared, “If someone believes they can stop the implementation of the law by eliminating me, they are seriously deluding themselves because I am not the system. The system will continue to function, and no one will receive amnesty for their crimes by eliminating one or two government officials.” Zoran Đinđić quoted in the Serbian newspapers Politika, on 21 February 2003, and Glas Javnosti, on 24 February 2003, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoran Đinđić (Accessed on 6 May 2008).
*2Victor Daniels, Lecture on Kurt Lewin, Website in The Psychology Department at Sonoma State University, accessed at http://www.sonoma.edu/users/d/daniels/lewinnotes.html (Accessed on 26 March 2008).
*3The maxim from “Epitoma rei militaris,” the ancient manual of Roman military principles, is attributed to Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, a writer of the late Roman Empire. It is also known as “Let him who desires peace prepare for war.” The core of this maxim appears in different forms throughout history, e.g., “We are living as though there will be peace for the next one hundred years, but we have to be prepared, because the war will happen tomorrow,” a widely spread quotation of Josip Broz Tito, President of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1945 until his death in 1980 and the founding leader of the Non-Aligned Movement
*4During the budget ratification debate which took place in the parliament of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (the first Yugoslavia) in 1922, a member of parliament, Mr. Kristijan, argued: “You have retrenched to a few hundred dinars for the field of education, but caused several thousand dinar expansions for purposes that should be unnecessary and which do damage to the whole society.” At that time, even though it was peacetime, twenty-two percent of the budget went to the military and police, and only two to five percent went to education and culture.
As quoted in Vesna Đukić Dojčilović, Tranzicione kulturne politike konfuzije i dileme, Zadužbina Andrejević, (Belgrade, 2003), p. 17.

Andrei Siclodi, curator, author, and cultural worker based in Innsbruck, Austria. He is the director of Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen in Innsbruck, and the founding director of the International Fellowship Program for Art and Theory at Künstlerhaus Büchsenhausen.

Related texts of Andrei Siclodi:
+ Aesthetic-emancipatory dispositives