Inbetweenies: New models of collective practice
It looks like there is a veritable United Nations of 'virtual countries' coming into existence.
Virtual states started to constitute themselves in earnest soon after the creation of many real countries following the breakdown of the old Eastern Block. Elgaland - Vargaland is a fictitious territory which was set up in 1992 by two Swedish artists Carl von Hausswolf and Leif Elggren. Elgarland-Vargaland has striking similarities to the Irwin/NSK's 'trajective state' which it post-dates by a year. The fact that so many of them sprung up around the same time seems to indicate that something was in the air at that time and there is no reason to suspect plagiarism. The notional territory of Elgaland - Vargaland comprises two metres of space on either side of the borders of all the nations on earth (a sort of corridor of passage around all the territories) and all space outside national territorial waters (the undisputed, uncontested sea.) The joke is that their territory is expanding as there are more nations being made after the fall of communism (there is more 'no man's land' today than there was ten years ago). It has thirteen consulates all over the world and 380 citizens. They also have a king - a virtual figurehead. Gregory Green's Caroline is based in an actual location; the pirate radio station that braved the north sea in the 60s and 70s - which might be inviting a territorial dispute with Elgaland - Vargaland. Green, like Hausswolf and Elggren invited people to become citizens. There is also the invisible Embassy of Seborga, Marko Peljhan's Territory Mir, the Nomad Territorie,US-based artist Nina Katchadourian is creating new continents based on printed maps, and our own dear Cramley, The World in a Borough.
All this stuff deals with notions of real territory, invented territory and non-territory and has a precedent in the work of artists such as Lothar Baumgarten. In the 70s Baumgarten created imaginary projections on South America which juxtaposed the western idea of taking territory with the nomadic idea of being in territory.
Today's virtual countries, all with a differing inflection, also refer to the ancient notion of Utopia. Utopia was a bit of an embarrassing (also read untenable) subject during a period where borders stayed resolutely put, but these days it seems to be up for grabs again. Utopia is traditionally conceived as an island with no specific location. Swift mischievously conceived of an island that floated in the sky and was powered by Lodestones (a series of magnets on the islandŐs base which repelled it from the earthŐs magnetic field). For Swift the idea of Utopia was double-edged (the people who lived in the shadow of the island got no sunshine). It can be argued, we donŐt think too fancifully, that the invention of the virtual space within cyber space renewed the possibility of islands that float across territories; coherent bubbles that can be called into existence and carry models of other ways of conceiving our command of territory. Also when borders become mobile and contested through conflict we have a pressing need to imagine other kinds of borders and other kinds of passage across them. It is also the case that initiatives such as this have something in common with the artists in GALA/Melrose Place: they are all 'inbetweenies' operating in between previously established territories, be they ideological, territorial or systematic.
Oh, by the way, Utopia literally translates as : 'The No Place'......
Thanks to Inke Arns and Daniel McLean for help on this bit.
© Steve Rushton1998