Interview with Marko Peljhan

This interview was never published because it took a long time before I got to transscribing it. Marko Peljhan thought it was outdated by the time I got to it. It might be interesting nevertheless. Note that the interview was made before the first appearance of Makrolab (at Documenta X) and before Ljudmila Media Lab in Ljubljana got problems that led to its closure.


Marko Peljhan is an artist, though originally a radio and theatre director (from '88 till '92 at the academy in Ljubljana).


JB: You started Ljudmila?


Marko Peljhan: I was one of the people who founded Ljudmila. Ljudmila happened actually in '94: there was a meeting of artists at some kind of computerfair. At that time the official people realized there were some artists and creators using technologies for their works, so they set up a round table for art and technology at this fair. There we met. The result of the meeting was we wanted to pull our resources together and set up something. That was the first conception, in April'94, of what later became known as Ljudmila.


Mitja from the Open Society Institute, who was in charge of the computerprogramme and the DTP lab here, invited these people to a meeting, the first Ljudmila meeting. Then the whole structure was very fluid untill basically June 1996, when Ljudmila was officially established. The three people who are the core working group of Ljudmila are Luka Frelih, Vuk Cosic and me. We have our titles (laughs): programme coordinator, Webmaster and whatever. We found a space where Ljudmila is now.


One of my most important points was that Ljudmila should not be only internet based. It should promote all kinds of digital media. The name says it: Ljubljana Digital Media Lab. This means audio, video and also hardware. I really fought to have a hardware lab in Ljudmila and we do now.


JB: The Internet is not a virtual phenomenon, it consists of hardware it runs on. Do you mean Ljudmila should have something that reaches out, like having a place where other people can work as well?


Marko Peljhan: When I say 'not only internet based' I say this because some people inside Ljudmila understood Ljudmila as a strictly Internet based lab, for work on the Internet, on the worldwideweb basically. Of course the field is much wider, and that was my stress. Also to pull resources to really develop hardware. When I say hardware lab I mean development, research. More a scientific kind of operation, more then just vrml creative.


The problem we face now is that part of the city does not have telephone lines, no isdn. We have a very bad internetconnection at Ljudmila itself because of this (May '97) allthough we have a highbandwidthline at Kud. Kud is kind of the headquarters, the servers reside here. We are building a wireless system now, our own development. A 1.2 gig, 56 kilo line. It is not packetradio. We use a packetradiostation, a wideband radiostation that was developed here in Slovenia for packet. It's going to be modified for Ljudmila's wireless access. We have to put up one repeater in between. It's pirate, it is going to be illegal. At the moment the new telecommunications law has not passed, but as soon as it does, we will aply. We will get it, no problem, but at the moment the spectrum is allocated in very socialist kind of ways. We have cover, because all the people who are working on this are HAM operators. We have our licenses. We call this experimental work, which gives you a little bit of room.


JB: Now you say you also have a HAM radio license. What kind of activities is Ljudmila engaged in?


Marko Peljhan: The HAM radio is mine, personal. I did my HAM license in '82. I worked a lot with HAM radio actually since then. In the frame of Ljudmila we will also have satelite work, which I kind of my field. I cover it. That is more Project Atol the Ljudmila. Ljudmila is a social thing. It is meant to be an open access place, where people can come to work and have the resources to do so. Project Atol is my own artistic project. In that frame I delegate my work. I will also have satelite hacking workshops for Ljudmila. We put also a dish up in the same space. The space Ljudmila is in used to be my space, but it was too big. It was a simple decision to share the space.


JB: Can you explain what Project Atol is?


Marko Peljhan: I founded Project Atol in '92. It is a very loose, artistic non profit organisation. It enables me to work on different kinds of projects, to find funding and so on. The name of the project says it all in a way. I use it as a frame for anything I do. In the beginning I did mainly performance work. I did six performances in these years, theatre, only the last one used satelite footage. The use of satelite technology is very recent.


One of the current projects I am doing for Documenta is called Makrolab. It is a project that will research isolation strategies: how to isolate oneself from society to reflect and see this society better. It is an opposite of the usual going into the society and trying to change or make things. My thesis is that a small amount of people in an isolated and insulated environment with completely open possibilities of communication and monitoring of social events, but physically isolated, can provide a much faster, further and more efficient 'call' (?) for social evolution. It is my thesis, not just an idea, and I am going to proof it. It is important at some point to isolate oneself from society. It is not a new concept. It is very old actually. The thinkers, hermits, in the past moved themselves away from society to think for society, however that society was structured. The result were some very interesting reflections upon the current time.


JB: This isolation you are investigating now, how is that connected to the media overload that you have around you?


Marko Peljhan: The idea was just to give oneself the possibility to really overload with all kinds of data, but completely to decide what the input is. You turn on the tv, you scan the spectrum, you move your satelite dish around to see what is on or you don't. You have all possibility not to communicate if you don't want to. Society, as it is structured now, overloads you automatically. It is all autopilot. You go into the city and you are overloaded with information. It is inherent to the structure of urban space. If you go outside into nature the overload is much more subtle and metaphysical, maybe you are overloaded by the size of the sky.


JB: You mean to take somebody to an isolated spot and give them all the media connections possible and let them live there and not move, but only have the media to follow the world with.


Marko Peljhan: This strategy is temporary. It's a come and go strategy. It is not something that you do once and then you are isolated. That has no effect. Then it becomes just a personal experience and nothing else. You must have the means and the possibility to transfer the result of this reflection back into society, whatever that result is. Maybe it is quite a bleak picture, maybe the project will go into the wrong direction. I think it is very important to try it because you cannot simulate such circumstances.


JB: What do you use your satelite experiments for?


Marko Peljhan: We use it for monitoring communications. This means fax, data, telex, voice. Telecommunications gives you the ability to actually follow what is going on in the world in a very thorough way. The picture you get from the telecommunications of the state of the world is very different from the one the media produce. You tap into direct sources. You don't go through any filters. This is the same with satelite feeds, satelite feed footage or business telephone conversations, transactions that are going on. It is kind of following the strategy, if I quote now, of Critical Art Ensemble, of the Electronic Civil Disobedience. It is basically forming monitoring capabilities for civil society, which don't exist and are not in place. There is knowledge there, there are people who are willing to change the state of things, but like with all these projects there are many many many deeply personal problems involved with it. Careers that can be ruined; lives that can be ruined. As you know telecommunication laws all over the world are the ones that really can cut your head off, if somebody goes after you. The exertion of control over information is one of the strongest media that modern states use to control society.


JB: Is your satelite work illegal?


Marko Peljhan: Yes, it is.


JB: You hack into satelites then. Do you have to break codes for that?


Marko Peljhan: Sometimes yes. Hacking a satelite is not like hacking computers. You hack satelite communications with hardware basically. Of course in this hardware there is software. It is not the same thing though. You have a passive signal that is coming to you and you must do something with that signal: to make it readable, to receive a fax and so on. We are not interested into selling this information. We do nothing contrary to the very strict ethical and humanistic principles. The point is that there is a lot going on that the society is not aware of and that is what we are interested in. That is what we are interested to discover, and putting into light.


JB: Can you broadcast a radiosignal illegally via a satelite?


Marko Peljhan: For broadcasting you need a very strong uplink, a unit. That is completely out of reach. I am not interested in broadcasting at the moment. My interest is to map the spectrum; to see, really put into light what is up there. The focus of this research is narrower and narrower from day to day because all communications are going digital and a lot of them are crypted. For example hacking into FleetSatCom, which is the American military communication satelite system, is virtually impossible. There is no way to decrypt that information if you do not have the original codes. I am not the one who is going to fight to get them; it is impossible. It is a job for Russians (laughs) to do it, and the opposite. That is their game, they play it all the time. But definitely it would be interesting. Of course there are other strategies. I don't know if you are familiar with the book about White House email. That is basically a fight that a person in the United States fought to get access to White House email, by the way of the Freedom of Information Act. As you know America is the only country in the world that at least in writing gives the possibility to its citizens to actually really look into the documents of the state. He managed to save White House email from the Bush and Reagan administrations that was meant to be destroyed because of a courtruling (right word?). He gathered this material, got access to it and published it in a book. There are strategies that people can use to do something like this.


JB: What do you do with the information you find? What will you do besides mapping the spectrum?


Marko Peljhan: It will be published in one way or another, definitely. What is going to be interesting for others is going to be published.


JB: You will be writing some analyses of what you see?


Marko Peljhan: Yes, me and my collegues.