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  • Makrolab: A Heterotopia
  • Johannes Birringer (bio)

Little attention was given last year to a performance prototype, Project ATOL’s Makrolab, which assumed a unique position in the spectrum of displays at Documenta X in Kassel, Germany (June–September, 1997) by remaining virtually invisible. It thus enacted a more poignant subversion of the material strategies of exhibition than most of the other didactic examples of critical and political art practices assembled by Documenta director Catherine David. Rather than parodying global networks or creating an aesthetic critique of them, Makrolab’s scientific investigation of globalization took on a concrete political dimension that most of the visual and new media artworks lacked entirely. In the following, I will try to sketch this dimension.

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Figure 1.

Makrolab on location, Lutterberg near Kassel, Germany, summer 1997. Photo: Courtesy Johannes Birringer.

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Figure 2.

Makrolab on location, Lutterberg near Kassel, Germany, summer 1997. Photo: Courtesy Johannes Birringer.

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Figure 3.

Marko Peljhan at work in Makrolab, 1997. Photo: Courtesy Johannes Birringer.

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Figure 4.

Makrolab information console, Documenta-Halle, 1997. Photo: Courtesy Johannes Birringer.

The physical structure of the prototype is a futuristic-looking research lab designed by Slovene artist Marko Peljhan and his team Project Atol. It was installed for the first time at Documenta X. From afar Makrolab looked like a UFO that had landed on the edge of the Lutterberg forest, 15 miles outside of the city. Once I was able to locate its geographical position and the dirt roads leading to it, I recognized the functionalist design I had seen in the computer sketches on Peljhan’s website. Erected on metallic stilts, the tent-like body of the ship housed two parts, one for sleeping, living, and personal hygiene, the other for technological and scientific research. A connection to the theatre or a stage set was not evident, although Peljhan, emerging from the local context of the collective avant-garde movement NSK (Neue Slowenische Kunst) in Ljubljana, had found his own voice in a series of unusual theatre projects he staged with his group in Slovenia and Eastern and Northern Europe since 1992. When I first saw the ATOL performances, they were accompanied by manifestos defining the work as long-term research into “evolutionary utopian conditions.” The 28-year-old artist, who had developed an early passion for short-wave radio and techno-scientific scenographies, harbors a vivid interest in the futurist visions of the Russian poet Velimir Khlebnikov (1885–1922). His own performances, installations, films, lectures, and constructions are neither fantastical nor limited to familiar conceptions of “theatre.” Rather, Makrolab’s theatre of operations is research-oriented and site-specific while neither modifying the site nor requiring an audience. [End Page 66]

The team consists of nine persons, including the technical designers. During my first visit to Lutterberg after the completion of the lab construction, three were still present (Peljhan, Luka Frelih, and Brian Springer, a collaborator from the U.S.). Makrolab constitutes the fourth phase in a work cycle named Ladomir Faktura in reference to Khlebnikov’s futurist poem “Ladomir” written at the beginning of the century. In the poem Khlebnikov describes a universal landscape of the future rising through wars and the destruction of the old world and the synthesis of the new. Imagined as a kind of synaesthesia of abstract scientific and tactile sensorial processes, the Khlebnikovian “science of the individual” is a training stage for sensory connections to the environment. According to the poet, wireless transmissions and communications play an important role in the exploration of new concepts of time and space on our planet. The individual needs to study the experience in new time-space and reflect scientifically on changing constellations of harmony (“lad”) and peace (“mir”).

Khlebnikov’s projection of the future, at the end of a century of failed utopias and dismantled revolutions, may appear pathetic, yet Peljhan assures me that he finds the poetry of the projection inspiring, and above all he is concerned with creating a method and technique (“faktura”) for individual, autonomous human beings. The performance...

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