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Deep_Europe Visa Department

A report by Kit Blake (1997) about the Deep_Europe workshop at Documenta X.

The Syndicate convened again at Documenta X in Kassel. Its members form a distributed community, initiated two years ago as a network of people who stay in touch through an Internet mailing list. They share a common interest in cultural media developments in Eastern Europe, and the loose goal of the Syndicate is to further cross pollination and synergy/support between East and West.

It's interesting when you meet somebody whose words you know but whose face you've never seen. In 'normal' encounters, you see someone, sense their personality, and perhaps probe their thinking. In a distributed community, you already know their thoughts, so when finally face to face you explore the person. It makes for a social scene.

The first Syndicate meeting took place during the Next 5 Minutes conference at V2 in Rotterdam in January 1996, with the inception of the supporting V2_East web site. Since then, the Syndicate has evolved its role from a parasitic function - meeting during other events and festivals - to an invited player in one of the satellite projects of the Documenta X. With the support of the Berlin Biennale, IfA Stuttgart, and APEXchanges, Hybrid WorkSpace is hosting the Syndicate's Deep Europe workshop. Documenta X provided a large space in the Orangerie, one of the Documenta buildings.

The dX lasts all summer. Hybrid WorkSpace, steered by Thorsten and Geert (at least while I was there, there are many others involved), brings a continuous flow of people together in ten consecutive working groups for an ongoing dialog. There's a reasonable Internet link, never enough computers, and a flexible space with smart movable walls and stage platforms. The audience at dX is a bit of a load. They come into the space expecting to see art, and there isn't any. One sign read 'No art beyond this point'. There were so many questions that we finally selected one person to be the host each day and deal with the public. 'No, there won't be any art in here.' 'No, you can't go into the workshop.' 'Here's a schedule of today's activities, there's Romanian video at 15:00, a performance by Dimitry at 16:00,' and so on.

Work

Hybrid WorkSpace is a media machine. Participants engage whatever form they prefer, even if they're not there (it's still distributed). Certainly the MediaMaster 97 award goes to Thomax, who superbly executed the Java/web site, with its publishing backend, a realtime information distribution system (http://www.documenta.de/workspace). Documents and images which don't fit its focused format can be found at V2_East - http://www.v2.nl/east/archive/deep_europe/hybrid.html
 
Visa Department

On Saturday we produced an event, the deep europe Visa Department. The name, deep europe, was invented for this workshop in the Hybrid WorkSpace at dX, and must be taken with a grain of salt. But most of the participants are from the East, and that is another Europe. It's across the BORDER, and residents on the other side are not EU citizens. They must apply for a visa to visit. For Germany, for instance, the application costs 50 DM, for England DM 100. And you may not get it. You have to wait. You have to answer questions. 'Do you have any transmittable diseases?' 'How much money are you bringing?' 'What is this organization that's inviting you?'

It's a different world. When you're sitting at your dining table, and you hear the bra-a-a-t of a Kalashnikov on the other side of the wall, well, you 'sort of' get used to it. As Edi said, like you 'sort of' get used to a roller coaster ride. Obviously, living in an environment like that means your media addresses certain issues, and those projects are the focus of the Syndicate.

Preparation for the deep europe Visa Department integrated with the other activities. Flyers were made and spread around Documenta. They invited everybody to a performance and party on Saturday night, and to come apply for a visa to deep europe between 2 and 6. A deep europe logo was created, taking a cue from the dX 'd', integrating it with an 'e', and adding an accent, an eastern inverted caret character. This was used in documents, stamps, signs and badges.
 
Forms were created. They were written in Albanian only, with no translation, and asked the usual questions. Erasers and potatoes were carved into stamps, and various colored ticket books were found. From the dX participant nametags, badges for officials were made by overlaying a laser print with a window cut out so the photo would show thru. Of course the deep europe logo was on the badge, and in a techno-fascist typeface was the word 'Apsardze'. This is Latvian, and it's a new, thus obscure word, which means guard, or control. Throughout the event, hardly anybody, even from the deep europe group, knew what it meant. Which means it was perfect.

A soundtrack was put together. Rasa (http://ozone.parks.lv/Xchange) pulled a bunch of audio off the Net, including some military song from Edi Muka's video-performance project, a sort of Donnau anthem, and this became the basis for the mix. Analog noise was filtered in, to mimic a bad sound system. This manic march was played - loud - during the proceedings. At various intervals an announcement was woven in. This was usually in some unintelligible East European language. A series of barked commands in Albanian, or Serbian instructions that may or may not apply to you. Once in a while some English, 'Please be patient,' and eventually a longer one, 'May we have your attention please. If your visa permits entrance for more than one day, you may be required to take a blood test.' This one bit of understandable information then faded away, 'Blood tests are conduc....' The manic march paraded on. Throughout Saturday afternoon it looped continuously (and will be available on the Net in a day or two - watch the Space).

At the entrance to the event, Alexandar and Michiel set up a video surveillance camera. One of those CU-SeeMe eyeballs, it stared down the crowd. Also present was a microphone, to pick up the crowd's mutterings. The signal was displayed on a monitor near the door, with a distracted Apsardze sitting there not watching it. Other material was shot with a HandyCam, and this will be combined with, naturally, the manic march for a soundtrack, into an event compilation. Again, watch the Space.

The walls surrounding the entrance made a kind of banked curve the visitors had to follow, lined with tables, forms, and officials. One Apsardze in super shades managed the door, letting people in two by two. The process applicants had to follow was typical mind-mushing bureaucracy. Little translation was provided, and forms had to be filled out correctly. Iliyana: 'Oh, you have a yellow ticket? You have to go to that table over there and get a green one.' And fill out a form. Marjan: 'Green ticket? Here's the form.' In a language few people can read. One Apsardze was sitting at his desk looking bored, reading a magazine, a Closed sign in front of him. At another point Lisa brought in these giant bratwursts, and the Apsardzes stood around munching, ignoring the crowd. Forms were stamped and double stamped, sometimes with a coffee break in between. The march looped on.

The amazing thing was the queue that formed. It started growing just before opening, and in a short time went all the way down the block. Some people were in line for over half an hour. It started to rain, and they stood there under umbrellas. All this to get a worthless piece of paper with a potato stamp on it.

For the most part, the audience liked it. They got it. They followed the procedures, and left with a visa to deep europe. Even distant foreigners, like Japanese with little English and nothing else, took it seriously and seriously enjoyed it. You may not know the language, but you recognize the bureaucracy.

There were some negatives. One older German man, certainly around since the war, listened to chain smoking Branka's explanation, and when he realized it was a visa application, threw it in her face.

At five before six Apsardze Andreas went out and announced to the crowd that the Visa Department would close in five minutes. At six the doors slammed shut, and twenty minutes later there were still a dozen people in a queue to nowhere.

Entering deep europe

That evening, Hybrid WorkSpace hosted a performance/party. Heading the bill were the Instituut voor Betaalbare Waanzin (Institute for Affordable Lunacy). Their performance merged into a visceral mastermix, blending Latino dance tracks into Rotterdam GabberHouse. 'This is the music our children listen to!' Thump, thump, thump, thump.... Ongoing video flickered on the walls, and the bar was fully stocked. It was a good party.

Visitors streamed in, clutching their visas. There were a few Apsardze badges floating around, but no guards, no border, no control. Welcome to deep europe.

People folded their visas, and put them in a pocket.
 
Kassel/Rotterdam, 5 August 1997

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