On post-alt-ernative

The alternative use of the historical alternatives

Alt-2017

If the word of the year 2016 was “post-truth”, did the candidate for 2017 already arrive­­ in January? After all, in the era that had to, willingly or not, acknowledge the post-truth state of affairs, the establishment of “alternative facts” arrives as the natural element of such world building, as another corresponding “alt” product and building block of what wants to be called “alt-right”. This is the expected – normal – continuation of the process trough which the very concept of alternative seems to be appropriated, mangled and twisted beyond recognition, to outline today precisely that one worldview that does not allow for any alternative than itself.

The contemporary “alt-” sentiment advances in a rapid and all-encompassing manner, without discriminating East or West, wealthy or poor. Even the “alt” button on the keyboard these days looks menacing and we hesitate to use it. The debate on how this phenomena occurred seems to be mostly concerned with transformation of the two most important elements that seem to determine the present situation: the rising power, sophistication and “uncontrollability” of the media (the problem of technology), and the sense of diminishing ability of formal democracies to address this, or any other problem (the problem of populism). But the process of deconstructing the “alternative” could be observed before, as that was the destiny – not the one that inherently had to be – of many other words that were the building blocks of so-called “grand narratives” of (mainly) the previous century.

Alternative 1980s

It is not hard to locate the arrival of the Alternative to the global stage at the very beginning of 1980s (NGram). The changes brought by the decade perhaps came as unexpected, but heralded by media spectacle of actors becoming politicians and lifestyle becoming politics, it can be hardly said that it all came as inconspicuous.

No doubt that the “alternative” is a prominent word in many contemporary theoretical and critical examinations, but there seems to be no theory of alternative per se (besides the ingenious “Theory of Alternative Facts”[1]), and “Alternative art” is yet to receive it’s Wikipedia entry, to join the existing but rather austere page on “Alternative culture”. Despite since 1980s being frequently connected with the fields of art and culture, especially in developed urban centers, there still seems to be a very few detailed examinations of Alternative artistic development under the name[2]; the other field of operation of Alternatives, the one of politics, seems to be examined in somewhat greater detail.

From the perspective of the media experience of today, there seems to be a unique (artistic) difficulty in trying to observe 1980s. After looking at the shiny and colorful but rather opaque objet d’art that 1980s were, it becomes almost impossible from the perspective of 2017 to see further down the road of history – everything from 1970s backwards appears as dull, drab, grey, or explicitly in black and white,[3] as the washed-out image disconnected and distant from any meaning it can re-acquire today. Whatever the 1980s decided to hide, it took a good care that it will not be easily revealed by simply looking at it.

It is hardly possible to start discussing the “alternative turn” without noting the first of the paradoxes that came as the integral part of its, frequently hailed as “pragmatic”, ability to operate as “non-ideological ideology”. The Alternative as presented by the “great communicators”, Reagan and Thatcher, was construed as the vessel to introduce a certain “impossible” blend of religion and opportunism – a neoconservative ideology carried by the neoliberal market (de)regulation.[4] The term already came with sharp internal contradictions built-in; but the communicators themselves added the additional layer of opaqueness (deregulating the very sense of meaning), by communicating “alternative” in negative or paralogical terms (e.g. as Thatcher’s “no alternative”, or Reagan’s “the only alternative”).

This, in retrospect, had an unusual effect; while in the West, that is, in the already developed capitalism, this meant the outright atomizing of the society to reflect the swarm of individuals competing in their “pursuit of happiness” (so there the alternatives expressed their neoliberal character), in the East capitalism had to be established trough the various “happenings of the people” first (using the other, complementary and neoconservative nature of such “alternative turn”); and towards the external, in international relations, it looked quite the opposite, with US slipping into the neoconservative politics of eternal interventionism while newly created national states in the East insisting on neoliberal economical practices in order to establish the rule of the dynamics of market.

It points to the connection of the term – or of the specific form of its introduction by the structures of the West – with the phenomena of post-modernism,[5] as one of the keys to understand the origin and the function of “alternative turn”. We can also speak of a distinct technological character of Alternative, or of any such profound social change, in all senses of the word. As Vilém Flusser noted observing the arrival of 1980s media technology: “Every revolution, be it political, economic, social or aesthetic, is in the last analysis a technical revolution. (…) So is the present one. But there is one difference: so far techniques have always simulated the body. For the first time our new techniques simulate the nervous system. So that this is for the first time a really immaterial, and to use an old term, spiritual revolution.”[6]

1980: Births and deaths

“The death of Ian Curtis, the death of Joseph Broz Tito, and the death of Yugoslavia.”- Laibach on what triggered their artistic activities in 1980s[7]

1980s begun: in the West, Reagan and Thatcher were born; in Yugoslavia, Tito died. Clearly, the sentiments had to be different. But, what was shared between the two events is their motion towards the search for alternatives.

The “alternative turn” of 1980s was palpable in Yugoslavia from the very start of the decade, but specific political, economic and historical circumstances will produce autonomous and “alternative” alternatives, characteristic by their meta-position of being alternatives both towards the own social constellation and towards their own global inspirations. By intercepting the path of avant-garde, the Alternative, eventually, will succeed in merging art and life, but in an unexpected way. The tranquil “End of history” soon to be enthusiastically announced in the West in Yugoslavia (and elsewhere) will result with another painful and devastating “birth of history” (that, seemingly, “had no alternative”). This trajectory would indeed be outlined by media, especially television, and by various different “happenings of the people”, an early reminiscent of the “alt-” sentiment of today.

Curating TV: “radical (con)temporality” of TV Galerija

“(…) We no longer experience the art object as a painting or sculpture with no contact to the artist. In the TV object the artist can reduce his object to the attitude, to the mere gesture, as a reference to his conception.” – Gerry Schum, 1970[8]

One of the distinct phenomena in Yugoslavia to mark the 1970s transitioning towards 1980s, and (neo)avant-garde giving way to alternative could be found in specific use of mass-media. The formation and the subsequent popularity of the 1980s alternative scene that gravitated around the emergence of the New Wave, a complex cultural phenomena heralded by the Yugoslav music scene involving design, photography, theater, magazines and the ultimate form of video, on its rapid way to become today the “one expression to rule them all”. As the computer expert and writer Bruno Jakić underlines, Yugoslav local subcultures were much more than the emulation of their Western analogies. He defines New Wave scene as the blend of “social critique, music, and arts with the occasional use of home computers”, establishing the analogies between the alternative and subcultures (“distinct subculture of meetings, radio shows, music, and parties”).[9]

Alternatives were using the same infrastructure as neo-avantgardes before them; most of the bands, artists, writers and other participants of the New Wave emerged trough the cultural centers, festivals, youth and students clubs and journals that were developed over the 1970s (or after 1968) under the principles of “democratization of art”, “artistic/academic autonomy”, “new art practices” and “(workers) self-management”. What is important to underline is that such infrastructure was funded and maintained by the State. Trough the specific form of social ownership of pretty much everything, the artistic economy, the production of art and public activities presenting art were mainly catered for by the facilities and basic budgets of the entire specter of cultural institutions. This was not a sort of partnership or investment in the contemporary sense, where the State would become a shareholder in the certain “capital” or the “value” of art thus created; the State is seen as the extension of society, which would share the infrastructure between all of it’s members based on their needs, in that respect creating supportive rather then competitive environment.

One of the paradigmatic figures to bring the principles of “democratization of art” to the mass media was Dunja Blažević, whose work in the context of Yugoslavia and more specifically in the context of Belgrade was already symbolic for her experiments in the field that we today recognize as curating (at the time, the field its very actors named as “applied critique” – and which even today can be seen as an viable term for a different approach towards curatorial practice).

Blažević arrived at the scene in early 1970s, by becoming in charge of the visual arts program of Belgrade’s Students Cultural Center (SKC) – the institution established as the consequence of 1968 as an institution-movement, according to her conception most clearly outlined trough the project “Oktobar 75, Art and Self-Management”[10]. She defined her work to be in the field that was globally understood as neo-avantgarde, as exemplified by her engagement with the tradition of Soviet avant-garde, the work of Lutz Beker and with expanded media as the place to re-perform “the end of art”[11].

1970s were also the last period in which the notion of avant-garde was being prominently used; the notion that carries a certain frontality, collectivity and tendency. As avant-garde is something that arrives before what is yet-to-come, there is a tendency, the aim or the goal that will have to be (ideally) realized, with this tendency clearly understood, that is, articulated (in Stuart Halls understanding of the word)[12]; but the avant-garde in its contemporaneity of late XX century operates with pure contradictions as its social circumstances of existence, its conditions of acting, as the society was setting its course away from the clarity – and repetition – of modernity. Blažević would also be interested in the permanent debate between the avant-garde scene and the audiences, and in the antagonistic dialogue with the State institution of art. This by itself would be an early sign that such conceived avant-garde is a new – perhaps, alternative – interpretation of the (historically disruptive) role of the avant-garde in society. Her arrival in 1981 at the Television Belgrade, a part of Yugoslav Radio Television network, as the editor of the Other Art TV show[13] could be also understood as the immense expansion of potential audience for the attitudes and ideas of artistic – and political – avant-gardes.

In 1984, she continued with TV Galerija, the unique television format, and the one that could hardly exist outside the specific constellation of Yugoslavia at the time. Blažević was able to present the monthly show on art (and around art) in a rather autonomous manner: the topics and the guests were to be chosen by her and her collaborators and not vetted by other editorial instances, and were frequently unannounced until the very broadcast; the TV Gallery was able also not to announce the length of the shows to be aired, and the duration of the broadcast could depend on if the guests or the host decided to enter into longer or shorter discussions, or if there was a decision to broadcast longer reportage, films or video works. (This was also the consequence of Blažević asking for a slot at the very end of the already late-night “Friday at 22” umbrella program, strategically removing the possibility of “technical” limitation to broadcasts.) This degree of “artistic autonomy” in using the mass media, and especially a national TV network, remains as the rare exception from the rule that such thing was then, as it is now, indeed, “impossible”.

Broadcast television in the West during the early 1980s was just past its recent peak (the turn of the decade recorded the most watched terrestrial broadcasts of TV shows ever and already started to give way to various different and more competitive and personalized offerings from cable TV providers, thus shifting the power and the control over programming towards marketing departments). Television in Yugoslavia was still viewed and operated as public asset controlled by policies and editors. The policies still reflected the official politics of “promoting minorities” and the principles of (workers) self-management as established in 1970s, which provided Blažević with the opportunity to negotiate her own position. The TV Gallery will last until 1991, producing around 90 monthly shows (but only 20 or so were preserved in archives).[14]

In creating the alternative TV show after the avant-gardist institutional work, this is also where Blažević’s “curatorial” rhetoric changes; she now choses a new media to express the matters of art, and by the very act steps out of the domain of “high art” she firmly held with during 1970s. Reflecting her attitude and inclination towards the experiment and the art of the break, but now in the framework of television, content-wise Blažević remains faithful to the topics of avant-gardes and radical modernisms (alongside the excursions to the industrial design of the epoch of avant-garde modernism), but her work is not in doing “artistic” intervention in the media itself, as in “medium is the message”. She would rather use the television as the kind of a transmitter of exposition, of speech and debate, of artworks and movies and especially of the emerging expression of video, being in that respect different from Gerry Schum and his TV Gallery, who is always to be referenced by Blažević as the inspiration and the pioneer in the terms of “curating TV” – but she will not repeat his McLuhanist gesture of conceptual using of the very media in the field of art.[15] This is why in this particular instance Dunja Blažević does not appear as “conceptual curator”.

Another change in articulation presented by Blažević perhaps most clearly reflected the change of sentiment of the times – from the avant-gardist topics of engaged art, of radical democratization and frontality, characteristic for the art of 1970s, to the problematic of minorities, more characteristic for the alternative speech of 1980s. Having a possible “minority audience” and thus too low of a rating for the national TV coverage was formally removed as the obstacle in advance, as the evaluation of the late-night TV Gallery shows in the terms of the number of people watching could not determine it’s operation; Blažević claimed the neo-avantgarde art community to be a “cultural minority” which was, as all other recognized minorities were at the time, guaranteed it’s right to public expression and communication. This was necessary for “strategic” operation of the show itself, but it marks a change from Blažević’s activities during 1970s (post-1968) when her own language was structured around the notion of avant-garde and social engagement (the historical and cultural-political line of realist and avant-gardist social practice, the so-called socially engaged art).

This was necessary for “strategic” operation of the show itself, but it also marks a change from Blažević’s activities during 1970s (post-1968) when her own language was structured around the notions of avant-garde and socially engaged art. Now she structures her speech around the language of proto-civil society, the emergence of which in Yugoslavia can be precisely located in the 1980s, where the very carrier of the struggle became expressed trough the term of “minority”. This is the early phase of the society of alternatives and alternative politics, which in Yugoslavia in the full sense of the term emerged only with post-socialism, with the rise and professionalization of the civil society.[16] Another thing to note is the introduction of the concept of “rights-based” social relations, which was different and later proved indeed as subversive towards the socialist State, by inherently leading to the position of the necessity to “formalize democracy”.

1984: The alt-Coexistence of alternatives – TV Gallery vs Dinasty

“Future is not a natural dimension of the mind, rather it is a modality of perception and imagination, a feature of expectation and attention, and its modalities and features change with the changing of cultures.”[17]Franco Berardi Bifo

Important for the development of the sense of confidence of the alternative (or post-avantgarde) scene in (at least this part of)[18] Yugoslavia was the feeling of “total” publicity and the possibility of engagement with the widest possible audiences, as the consequence of TV Belgrade being at the time, though with nation-wide coverage, the only TV station in Serbia. This also opened the possibility for video production on the scale and with technology of a national television – a crucial opportunity in the era of scarce and expensive technology. Blažević spoke of using every opportunity to also make her position within State-run television a vehicle for production of new video art. But, perhaps most importantly, TV Gallery operated without intervening into artistic activities or appropriating it under “the seal of the State”.[19] The condition of such production did reflect the “minority status” of the avant-garde art; while the “normal” television production was being done during daytime, the artists could use the facilities during the off-hours, often late at night, working with leftover or already used tapes from previous “really important” projects, relying on personal connections and enthusiasm of friendly technical personnel.

The rapidly changing environment of television being essentially different then the one of gallery, it’s very framework inevitably created the situation in which avant-garde/alternative art had to accept the “minority status. By the very nature of things, the artists and artworks presented by the TV Gallery were exposed flat and frontal as the another offering amongst many to be presented to the populations. The same year the TV Gallery launched, after the considerable (public) discussion on the values of such Western TV programs displaying the opulence and banality of the rich, involving both the warnings it will “corrupt socialism” and enthusiastic letters by the audience to the editors asking for the show, in mid-1984 Radio Television Belgrade started broadcasting the famous American soap-opera Dynasty (while the previous popular series Dallas was already broadcasted since the late 1970s). Even the theatre houses had to adjust their programs so not to overlap with broadcasts, as Dynasty grew to be so popular that it was “emptying the streets”. The imagery of “capitalism that never was” in America will get to shape the “capitalism to be” in many post-Socialist countries, including Yugoslavia. Soon, the TV offering is about to expand to broadcasting the real-world rendition of NSK’s artistic vision[20] – spectacular populist speeches by various nationalists will be complemented by the endless production of national and historical mythology, opening the space towards 1990s for the equally endless row of TV prophets, “teleshops”, the explosion of lifestyle and celebrities, leading to the neverending era of soap operas and reality shows of 2000s. This is probably common for many other cultural alternatives of 1980s: in the era of “new mysticism” to come, (following the own avant-gardist tendency) the art was being demystified. But still, the Alternative was cunningly promising the world in which both the TV Gallery and Dynasty can and will exist, side by side. As the TV Gallery itself, so the 1980s in Belgrade seemed to, paradoxically, still be about the possibilities, about the real and not aborted alternative, about the future.

There’s the Alternative: No Patents, No Copyright

“Alternate History” aficionados (who usually spend their time pondering questions like “what would have happened if the Aztecs had resisted Spanish colonization?”) have devoted significant time to speculating about an alternate reality in which the Galaksija exceeded Western models in popularity during the 1980s, saved Yugoslavia from dissolution and made inexpensive microcomputer kits available to the Third World. On the technical side of things, hackers, engineers and artificial intelligence experts continue to write dissertations and emulators in homage to the Galaksija.”

Lily Lynch, “Galaksija, cult Yugoslav DIY computer from the 1980s lives on”[21]

Broadcast television as the “new fireplace”, as “one screen for all”, a new collective experience as symbolically implemented by Jan Dibbets, will soon become history; in 1980s, the rise of cable and satellite (personalized) television and 24 hours TV cycle brought profound changes that will shape the reality of generations to come. This will itself be only a transitional phase towards the entirely different society emerging trough the principle of ubiquitous mobile, individual and personalized screens operating in the environment of perpetual flow of digital data.

At the very end of 1983 and the beginning of 1984, by the famous Apple “Big Brother” ad, several great transformations were being announced, about to overtake and change the world in a very “radical” manner. This, as a difference from most of the other alternative motions of the decade, was a campaign primarily against the Old Corporations and only insinuating the State. In what appears as a rather cynical anecdote from the perspective of today, Apple, then still an “alternative” in computing, made the move in behalf of the people against the massive corporate force of IBM, because of “intrusion of privacy”.[22] As seen in the spectacular commercial directed by Ridley Scott, the famous smashing of the central screen by the young hammer-wielding heroine unleashed the flood of light over the existing Orwellian, grey and silent world, manifesting the arrival of “us”.

Also inherent in the add is the criticism of a certain uniformity and dullness, seen as the characteristic of products (and of thinking) of Big Old corporations of the times. Essentially, it was all about the (consumer) choice, presented as liberty, creativity, independence, self-realization; what was rather obvious and on the very surface of things was the arrival of a particular way of individualism that will be expressed by everyone’s inherent creativity once the interface towards at the time complex and cumbersome computing machinery is resolved and the technology liberated and put at the disposal of the people.

Less obvious was that the creativity to be expressed is about to foster the emergence of the unprecedented industry that in less then two decades will globalize and monopolize the world, determining almost all the aspects of life and work and giving new corporations more control and power with less accountability then IBM could dare to even dream of back in 1984. This was probably also not obvious at the time to the very actors of the computer scene themselves, who have seen their rise from the “garage”[23] – a place soon to become a mythical source of alternative, DIY, “self-propelled” and “independent” artistic propositions and technical innovation, and most probably the burial ground of American Dream[24] – as a sort of a genuine bottom-up, emancipatory and horizontal motion that will finally “liberate the technology in behalf of the people”. “Garage” would come to symbolize the “guerrilla tactics” that brought to the fore the entire field of alternative music and media, the entire specter of emerging technology, the sense of time spent together in alternative communities; later, by the introduction of the figures of “entrepreneur” (evolving to become today “the philosopher of our times”) and “hacker”, it will produce the entire paradigm of contemporaneity.

In an interesting development, it was precisely the very end of 1983 and the beginning of 1984 when in Yugoslavia people were presented with “people’s computer”, a machine they not only had the full control of but the one each user had built [for] themselves, and further, which arrived carrying the principles of public, free and open sharing (and improvement) of both the hardware and the software.

Those alternative and progressive principles built into the development of what will become a famous Galaksija microcomputer seems not to be the reflection of some explicit ideological determination, but in the true “pragmatic spirit” of 1980s were rather the outcome of the practical solution to the specificity of the problem, in technological and social sense.[25]

It is now a stuff of urban legends how Voja Antonić came up with a complete and feasible solution for self-building a microcomputer using only the affordable components available on the Yugoslav market; not to enter into too much of a technical detail, a young and mainly self-thought engineer realized how to overcome the limitations.[26] As elsewhere, the new technology was introduced by the old, and computers arrived carried by the magazines and radio. In the success of the unique proposition of “people’s computer”, a gateway to the world of high technology for anybody with enough determination and some pocket money to invest in a DIY project, the potential of Antonić’s invention was entangled with the enthusiasm of magazine editor Dejan Ristanović and radio host Zoran Modli – and the spirit of New Wave.

After the hectic preparations, the microcomputer was named and presented as a DIY project in the first special issue of the popular science magazine Galaksija (Galaxy), dedicated entirely to home computing and edited by the writer and computer publicist Ristanović. [27] The first issue of “Computers in your home” magazine at the very end of 1983 published the project, with companies from Yugoslavia and Austria offering the help in administering the orders for components;[28] it was estimated that “up to maybe 500 units” will be built. To their great surprise, at least 8000 people confirmed back that they started building their own computer, while Ristanović seen the print run of the magazine jump from 30 000 to 100 000 copies. The estimations are that approximately 11000 units were assembled. Galaksija became the “minor mass phenomena.” The DIY approach also meant that no two units looked the same, expressing further the skill and aesthetics of their makers-owners. [29] Then Galaksija project went further; after achieving the critical mass of machines, next in line to solve was the problem of the distribution and exchange of software.

After experimenting with broadcasts from various different locations like cultural and youth clubs, concert venues, bookshops and streets, being a licensed commercial pilot, in 1981 Zoran Modli, the already famous radio host of Ventilator 202 show, was allowed to run the very first radio broadcast while flying the small Cesna airplane over Belgrade and the surroundings, while speaking with musicians and other guests over the phone, commenting on the traffic and the cityscape and announcing the songs and charts. He stated that this was his “attempt to demystify the ideas of radio and airplane”. [30] But as a part of his mission to “give the power of technology to the ‘ordinary guy on the street’” possibly the greatest “media hack” Modli will achieve by broadcasting what seemed the most exciting thing at the time – computer programs. The software for Galaksija, alongside with software for the other then-popular platforms like Commodore or Sinclair and very early versions of digital “zines”, will be shared in what is to become since 1984 a regular slot of the show – by being broadcasted in the form of “noize” over the radio waves to be recorded on compact cassettes and then loaded to the computers of the listeners.

The bright, upbeat, frequently humorous daytime show on popular culture felt as distant as possible from the late-night examinations of complex artistic and intellectual matters of TV Gallery; but both were a part of the new sentiment of possibilities, of open-ended experimentation and the belief in the inevitability of progression. Both were propelled by the spirit of New Wave; and Galaksija and Ventilator 202 could not have existed in the world that would not also support the existence of TV Gallery.

The instant acceptance and appeal of the project Galaksija was a consequence of both its innovative design and the unexpected way of distribution of the machine and the software; it appeared in the form of the complete solution to introduce personal computers to the general public by using the existing public infrastructure and almost without any costs. It offered the alternative conception on many levels, and towards various different constellations – it presented the alternative in regard to the policy of the Yugoslav State that at the time restricted the import of foreign computers; it presented the alternative proposition in regard to the history of the very computing, by the early introduction of the technological solutions for integrated video card, using more than 100% of program memory and the early “wireless transfer” of data: and by insisting on the principles of DIY and sharing, by giving the blueprint to the public (and not the patent office) and even making copy protection difficult on the level of hardware, it presented the alternative to the Western concept of developing personal computing relying on the regime of patents and copyright.[31]

Later, Antonić will go on to produce dozens, if not more than a hundred different projects that will be offered as a public domain (“I never patented anything”[32]), the attitude shared with both Ristanović and Modli. The debate between the State and the early computer scene (described as “elitist, a part of culture of alternative music and art, but not driven by political motives”[33]) will remain unresolved,[34] as Yugoslavia will soon disappear “without alternative”.

Adventures of The Alternative – the worse with economy, the better with human rights

“One of the decisive consequences of the 1970s and the 1980s, in this sense, was that the entire theoretical field – or, rather, a battlefield, a Kampflatz in the Kantian sense, as one philosopher noted – which included the dichotomous and indeed antagonistic figures of class struggle, of capitalism, socialism and communism, of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, of reform and revolution, was to be replaced by a rather more pacifying doublet: the dialectics of democracy and socialism.”

Ozren Pupovac, Springtime for Hegemony: Laclau and Mouffe with Janez Janša[35]

Instead of making the challenges more demanding and politics more concrete in the growingly complex circumstances of life, counterintuitively, “alternatives” of 1980s, as evolved over time, seemed to have simplified things in a manner that makes the understanding of the choices less, and not more informed. It created the image of politics as pointless, and as a surplus to the truth of human existence, which is to become individual, internal, relative.

As most of the contemporary debate points out, it has to do with the two-fold effect of media technologies appropriated to lead away from the future, and with para-democratic “happenings of the people”, engineered so to entrap populations in “there is no alternative” consensus that further consensus will not be necessary. The recent turmoil caused by the “alt-” phenomena itself points to the phase in which the two elements of the “impossible” ideological premise of blending religious fervor of conservativism with the liberal totalitarianism as presented in 1980s will not be able to sustain this intrinsic controversy – and the clash of interests – and are now close to the final clash with each other. After removing all the alternatives except for itself, the grand proposition of 1980s against all the “grand narratives” is perhaps about to dissolve itself, leaving the Kampflatz of politics entirely open, but also entirely empty and deserted.

But if the workings of and the tensions within contemporary global capitalism are the apparent and visible problems for analysis, speculations and concerns, it is not that obvious how to understand the lack of a “third”, or any other element in the equation of contemporaneity. Perhaps the absence of avant-gardes and of left politics en masse, the source of much of the present-day sense of loss and disorientation, can be explained by the disappearance of it’s material substrate of the future. Future is a non-category in the contemporary capitalist machinery. Its info-consumerist side endlessly reproduces the supernow[36] in which the future is seen exactly as the present, only with numbers adjusted to meet the (predominantly economic) expectations. For conservative forces the future is a mere resource for rearranging of what is formerly known as history, serving for the eternal re-writing and re-visioning of the past; here, the future is seen as the “better past”, as in contemporary slogans of Brexit™ and Trump™ campaigns of “taking back control” over something or making it “great again”, as the past re-enacted only with “facts adjusted” to meet the certain ideological premise. The technologies used against the populations are perhaps all too powerful and omnipervasive. “What, in the end, makes advertisements so superior to criticism? Not what the moving red neon sign says – but the fiery pool reflecting it in the asphalt,” as Walter Benjamin already wrote in 1928.[37]

The alternatives were entrapped in the vain hope that this power, once unleashed, will not undo the achievements of the past, and by the same stroke capture the future in the perpetual present. The sentiment probably best explained by one of the actors of 1980s himself, Rastko Močnik:[38]

“The structures such are welfare state, public education and similar are being preserved trough the permanent class struggle, and are not the achievements that could be considered as ‘this is what we made so far, and we can only progress further’. That was my attitude towards the socialism in 1980s, and it was very wrong, I would say. My colleagues and myself were thinking within the horizon of socialism, and we thought if all this was already achieved, there can be no step back, it can not be lost. So we were thinking further, about what should come next, about the freedom of expression, freedom of association, how to prevent the bureaucratization of self-management, about personal and cultural issues, and so on. That was how 1980s went – the worse it was getting with economy, the better it was with human rights.”

As nothing is being lost forever, the effect of the “alt-” turn so far managed to reduce the maneuvering space for the future to appear, but not to cancel it all together. From 1980s “another world is possible” to 2017 “another world is still possible”, this possibility is not reduced by the addition of a tiny word, as long as the two previous words remain connected, as long as nothing is being taken for granted. As long as the tendency not only to think the world differently, but to live it differently[39], continues.

 


NOTES

[1] Donald J. Trump, “Proof of the Riemann Hypothesis utilizing the theory of Alternative Facts”, January 24, 2017 (http://www.mathematik.uni-marburg.de/~agricola/Trump-Riemann-Hypothesis.pdf)

[2] “Until the publication in 2004 of Alternative art New York 1965-1985: a “cultural politics” book for the social text collective, edited by Julie Ault, there was no comprehensive, critical survey of the alternative or artist-run space in New York.” (Jacqueline Cooke, Art ephemera, aka Ephemeral traces of ‘alternative space’: the documentation of art events in London 1995-2005, in an art library”, Chapter 2: “The alternative, the avant garde and the artist-run space”, doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London, 2007, http://eprints.gold.ac.uk/3475)

[3] “Try to retrieve the 70’s and memories crumble in one’s hands, nothing keeps its shape,” Irving Howe wrote in his autobiography, “Margin of Hope”. (…) Anyone attempting a historical explanation is confronted with this paradox: the 1970’s carried the revolutions and experiments of the 60’s to their reductio ad absurdum, from the Symbionese Liberation Army and EST to the Ramones and Jonestown – and somehow it all culminated in 1980 with the election of the most conservative president in over half a century. Did Ronald Reagan represent a reaction against the decade, or its fulfillment? In “The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics,” Bruce J. Schulman essentially answers: both. The “great shift” is away from the public-spirited universalism that gave America the New Deal and the civil rights movement, and toward the sovereignty of the free market and private life. In other words, the 1980’s began in the 1970’s.” (George Packer, “The Decade Nobody Knows”, The New York Times, June 10, 2001, http://www.nytimes.com/books/01/06/10/reviews/010610.10packert.html)

[4] The neoliberal shock doctrine was hiding the neoconservative agenda, the specific blend that became known as “Thatcherism”: “Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.” (Interview, Sunday Times, January 5, 1981), “I am in politics because of the conflict between good and evil, and I believe that in the end good will triumph.”, “And what a prize we have to fight for: no less than the chance to banish from our land the dark divisive clouds of Marxist socialism.” (Thatcher, Speech to Scottish Tories, May 13, 1983), “I think, historically, the term ‘Thatcherism’ will be seen to be a compliment.” – (Interview for Vogue, October 1985)

[5] “It is the crucible of modernism, which we can very loosely describe as the process of making only those things that fit and speak of our ever more complex times, creating new things for a new world. Postmodernism, which has probably lasted longer than modernism, is the process of interrogating the aesthetic discourse, disrupting the narrative. Modernism says that things can be right. Postmodernism says that nothing can be right. So if you ever wonder why nothing new ever seems to happen anymore, find a postmodernist and beat the shit out of them.” (Warren Ellis: “Some Bleak Circus”, FutureEverything 2015, https://youtu.be/9cfAmvdeZD4?t=245, 04:04)

[6] Vilém Flusser – “1988 interview about technical revolution”, Osnabrück, 1988, https://youtu.be/lyfOcAAcoH8?t=558, 09’20”

[7] Laibach: Mi smo SS masovne, popularne kulture (“Laibach: We are the SS troopers of mass, popular culture”), (Novi List, August 15, 2011, http://www.novilist.hr/Scena/Glazba/Laibach-Mi-smo-SS-masovne-popularne-kulture)

[8] Gerry Schum giving introduction to his TV special “Identifications” during the preview screening in the Hanover Kunstverein, November 20, 1970, http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/identifications

[9] Bruno Jakić: “Galaxy and the New Wave: Yugoslav computer culture in the 1980s”, in Hacking Europe: From Computer Cultures to Demoscenes, edited by Gerard Alberts, Ruth Oldenziel, Springer, 2014, p. 107

[10] More detailed analysis of SKC institution-movement form, its self-production from within through “alternative Octobers” and especially through Oktobar 75 counter-exhibition in Jelena Vesić, “SKC as a Site of Performative (Self-)Production: October 75 – Institution, Self-Organization, First-Person Speech, Collectivization”, Život umjetnosti 92, Zagreb, 2012 p. 30-53.

[11] See: Prelom kolektiv, The Case of Student Cultural Centre in 1970s, Interview with Dunja Blažević, “SKC and New Cultural Practices”, p. 81–84, http://www.prelomkolektiv.org/pdf/catalogue.pdf

[12] “Hall attests to the significance of the articulation of individual signs when he writes that the “associative field of meanings of a single term – its connotative field of reference – was, par excellence, the domain through which ideology invaded the language system. It did so by exploiting the associative, the variable, connotative, ‘social value’ of language (“Rediscovery,” p. 79).” (Anne Makus: “Stuart Hall’s Theory of Ideology: A Frame for Rhetorical Criticism”, Western Journal of Speech Communication, 54, Fall 1990, p. 504)

[13] Perhaps the very name of the show referenced Blažević’s colleague and one of the most prominent Yugoslav art critics, Ješa Denegri (who later will be one of the collaborators and authors in her “TV Gallery” serial) and his influential theory/conception of the Other Line of Yugoslav art. It can be said that the Other Line presents an alternative artistic position in regard to both the axis of State-supported art and especially towards the national narratives of mythical art and “grand authers”; the hypothesis on the Other line in Yugoslav art recognizes the art that represents the continuum of breaks from some of the ever dominant ”bourgeois” artistic tendencies. Or, in the key of this text, it can be perhaps said that the Other Line presented the alternative valorization of what was a (neo)avant-garde art.

[14] Probably the only occasion in which Blažević’s work from 1970s could be compared with 1980s (and in regard to the trajectory from avant-garde to alternatives) was the exhibition Political Practices of (Post-) Yugoslav Art, presenting the research of Student Cultural Center in 1970s (by Prelom Kolektiv) alongside the research on TV Gallery (by kuda.org). (Political Practices of (Post-) Yugoslav Art: RETROSPECTIVE 01, Museum of Yugoslav History – Museum 25th of May in Belgrade, 2009.)

[15] “The TV gallery only exists in a series of TV transmissions, that means TV Gallery is more or less a mental institution, which comes only into real existence in the moment of transmission by TV.” Gerry Schum in a letter to Gene Youngblood, 1969, http://www.eai.org/supporting-documents/837

[16] For further analysis of the causal connections between the minority politics, new social movements and Alternatives overarched by the concept of “radical democracy” (Laclau, Mouffe) and gradual rejection of socialist politics and class-based political struggle, see: Ozren Pupovac, “Springtime for Hegemony: Laclau and Mouffe with Janez Jansa”, Prelom 8, p.115-136. In this study Pupovac also underlines (using the Yugoslav, or more precisely Slovenian example) how heterogeneous political subjectivity of “civil society”/radical democracy of 1980s that led to the end of socialism and establishing of capitalist democracies in former Eastern Europe and former Yugoslavia has been resolved in reaching the homogenous nationalist consciousness ever since the 1990s.

[17] Franco Berardi Bifo, After the Future, AK Press, 2011

[18] A year before, a rather different avant-garde take on television by Laibach in Slovenia, as powerfully outlined by Eda Čufer (“Art as Mousetrap: The Case of Laibach”, in L’Internationale. Post-War Avant-Gardes Between 1957 and 1986, ed. Christian Höller, L’Internationale Online, 2012), will remain a singular event – the band was banned in Yugoslavia to appear in media or to advertise under the name of “Laibach” until 1987.

[19] The above was important to underline, as some recent – quite “alternative” – readings of the history of Yugoslav (neo) avant-gardes would offer a revisionist key of official vs alternative art as the historical context. Such strict division of cultural space into official art and alternative art is an ideologized partition line that has often been used as the principal epistemological tool in the more recent cultural histories of (all) the countries of real-socialism. This division is reflected in juxtaposition of official art (which evolves in accordance with the dictates of an authoritarian state) as opposed to the concept of alternative art (which is in formal opposition to the state, “hiding” on the margins of the public, in “dark” spaces of the alternative scene, artists’ apartments, or wilderness of nature). It also may appear in broader context as the ideologically non-differentiated binomial of totalitarian art vs. free art that connects the paradigm of freedom to Western context and more precisely to the ideology of freedom distributed through the (likes of) the Congress of Cultural Freedom.

[20] In a surreal turn of events, what was media intervention using the principle of over-identification as articulated by Žižek (consisting of “black and grey uniforms, ferocious noise assaults, a backdrop of totalitarian regalia and wartime slides and political speeches from Tito, Jaruzelski, Mussolini, and others” as described in official Laibach biography – http://www.laibach.org/bio), became a mainstream media discourse, or rather a twisted image of it. Instead of over-identification, we got the crude reality, the pragmatic truth of such images. As noted by Zdenka Badovinac in “An Exhibition about the NSK Commons” (NSK from Kapital to Capital – Neue Slowenische Kunst – An Event of the Final Decade of Yugoslavia, ed. Zdenka Badovinac, Eda Čufer and Anthony Gardner, Moderna galerija/MIT Press, 2015): “The supremacy of capital over ideology in Yugoslavia was evident already in the early 1980s, when capital began “saving”, via the IMF, the country’s failed socialist economy, in the process further contributing to the debilitation of the state. The more the real power of global capital grew, the more individual states turned to national symbols – and that was what NSK seized on and highlighted.”

[21] Bturn magazine, December 4, 2011, http://bturn.com/4614/galaksija-do-it-yourself-computer

[22] David Burnham, “The computer, the consumer and privacy”, New York Times, March 4, 1984, http://www.nytimes.com/1984/03/04/weekinreview/the-computer-the-consumer-and-privacy.html

[23] This myth will obfuscate both the origin of the “garage”, that could only emerge as the consequence of the vast previous investments into military, academic and corporate research in developing the technology to the point that most of the population could take part, and it’s destination, as it was set to build the greatest global mechanism of corporate (and State) power, and precisely not the society of equal opportunities. This is also probably one of the clearest examples of the faculty of alternatives to arrive in the shape of myriad of choices just to in the very next step erase all choices but itself.

[24] What still remains “unspeakable” in the ideology – that the myth of garage tech entrepreneur was not the latest but probably the last incarnation of the principle of American Dream, now abandoned with no hope of return – is being very obvious in practice (e.g. the story about the Gang of Five oligopoly, and brings the additional layer of cynicism in the very Silicon heart of the matter. As Walt Mossberg noted (“Tech’s ruling class casts a big shadow”, The Verge, March 8, 2017, https://www.theverge.com/walt-mossberg-verge), “In fact, what we have now in consumer tech, in 2017, is an oligopoly, at least superficially similar to the old industrial-era American corporate groups that once dominated key industries.”

[25] Although in 1960 being one of the only six countries in the world that successfully developed the own mainframe computer (CER-10) and used computers in military, academy and industry ever since, 1980s seen Yugoslavia lagging behind the wave of advancing personal computing. There were the two main obstacles: local electronics industry was “protected” by the administrative measure preventing the citizens of importing any significant amount of technology, which reflected the overall concern of the state to halt the outflow of the foreign currency – Yugoslavia felt ever deeper the economical problems unfolding since the late 1970s. A much more prominent obstacle than any administrative limitation (the ban on import was anyway in practice being circumpassed in various different ways, and was lifted entirely in 1984) was the problem of the prices of Western products and components – the standard of living in Yugoslavia started to crumble under the pressure of various internal and external circumstances. Galaksija sucessfully addressed both problems.

[26] Antonić understood that he can do without the expensive (and hardly available) element of video interface by using the resources of the microprocessor itself (offering the early concept of integrated graphic card), managed to find the solution to use more than 100% of program memory, and to pack the project in the form of single layer printed circuit board, to make it “DIY friendly”. So far, this sounds like some “from-garage-to-riches” Californian story; but Antonić was not set to become anything like the Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. (More details: Voja Antonić: “Hacking the Digital and Social System”, Hackaday.com, August 3, 2015, http://hackaday.com/2015/08/03/hacking-the-digital-and-social-system/#more-164329, and “How to use more than 100% of program memory”, Hackaday.com, January 6, 2015, https://hackaday.io/project/6059-how-to-use-more-than-100-of-program-memory)

[27] This is not the very first time such things were done – for example, Dutch radio show Hobbyscoop broadcasted the software in the similar manner since 1977 (F.C.A. Veraart, page 30), while the DIY launch of the machine trough the press was inspired by how the Altair 8800 home computer was presented in the US trough the Popular Electronics magazine in the mid-1970s. What was probably unique was combining this, and more, into the social and media environment creating the “Galaksija ecosystem” that is public and self-sustainable.

[28] “Companies “Mipro” and “Electronics” from Buje (now in Croatia), in collaboration with the Institute of Electronics and Vacuum Technique (Slovenia), supplied printed circuit boards, keyboards and masks, while “Mikrotehnika” from Gratz supplied the chips by mail orders. Editorial board of “Galaksija” collected orders and organized EPROMs burning.”

(Jelica Protić and Dejan Ristanović, “Building Computers in Serbia: The First Half of the Digital Century”, in ComSIS Vol. 550 8, No. 3, June 2011, http://www.doiserbia.nb.rs/img/doi/1820-0214/2011/1820-02141100021P.pdf, p. 562)

[29] “The “Galaksija” computers, all identical by the design of their electronics, were delivered without a casing. As a result, most “Galaksija” computers looked different, some were without even a case. In the hands of the creative youth assembling them, many were fitted with quite creative and artistic cases, a feature that would not be repeated in the PC industry until a decade later.” (Jakić, ibid, p. 120)

[30] Modli decided not to treat the new local alternative music in “special slots” but to include it in the regular playlist that consisted of the mainstream local and international music hits (“I did not want to name those new bands as ‘beginners’ or as ‘those who are given the chance’ or as ‘those who may become great in the future’; I felt it would be disrespectful towards the people who from the very start presented themselves with the message of ‘we want everything, and we want it now!’.”)

(Source: Zoran Modli, “Ventilator 202”, http://modli.rs/radio/ventilator/ventilator.html)

[31] “Even the innards of the machine reflected a social commitment characteristic of the scene. (…) The user would have to type the “RUN” command in order to start a program. This was done on purpose, to prevent anyone from creating copy protection on their software. The design of the system encouraged the sharing of software, as the users, after the program was loaded, also could view and edit the program instead of just running it. The inner design of the machine extended the conviction that computing technology and software should be free and available to anyone, adhered to by the designer Antonić, publisher Ristanović, and also Zoran Modli who was to play his part in the development of the scene.” (Jakić, ibid, p.120-121)

[32] Source: http://bif.rs/2012/06/voja-antonic-pronalazac-novinar-i-publicista-postoji-nesto-jace-i-od-ljudske-gluposti

[33] “The development of independent Yugoslav software through the exchange of cassette tapes, radio broadcasts, and transcriptions was similar to that in the Netherlands. But in Yugoslavia, the autonomy was hard wired. The architecture of the locally produced kits and computers was such that the software protection, either backed from the US standards or locally produced, had to be removed before it could be installed. The thriving hacker scene in Yugoslavia was elitist, participated in a culture of alternative music and art, but was not driven by political motives.” (Hacking Europe: From Computer Cultures to Demoscenes, edited by Gerard Alberts, Ruth Oldenziel, Springer, 2014, Introduction, p. 17)

[34] “With the disintegration of Yugoslavia and subsequent wars, sanctions, emigrations, and open violent protests, the heritage of this scene remains only marginally visible in the new countries that used to form Yugoslavia. No special scenes exist today for computer technology enthusiasts that would be distinct from those in the USA or most other places in the world, and the skills which used to have a wider social meaning now find almost exclusively only professional appreciation.” Jakić, ibid, p. 126

[35] Ozren Pupovac, “Springtime for Hegemony: Laclau and Mouffe with Janez Janša”, Prelom 8 – Is it Possible to be a Marxist in Philosophy?, p. 117

[36] More about the supernow phenomena in Jelena Vesić & Vladimir Jerić, “Under the sycamore tree – curating as currency: actions that say something, words that do something”, in The Curatorial Conundrum: What to Study? What to Research? What to Practice?, ed. Paul O’Neill, Mick Wilson and Lucy Steeds, CCS Bard/MIT Press, 2016.

[37] Walter Benjamin, “One-Way Street” (1928), in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings Vol. 1, eds. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings, Harvard University Press, 1996. p. 476.

[38] Interview with Rastko Močnik by Jelena Vesić and Vladimir Jerić Vlidi, Red Thread Issue 4, TBA.

[39] Todd May, “The Politics of Difference” in Gilles Deleuze, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p.116