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..............................................................s u m m e r
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Unidee in residence 2001
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...............................................j u l y  -  o c t o b e r

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Stefan Münker -
editor of cultural TV programs and expert in media
and contemporary philosophy, Berlin


Stefan Münker lives in Berlin where he works as editor for a cultural tv program and author of texts about media theory and contemporary philosophy. He studied philosophy, art history and German literature in Hamburg, Köln, Paris and Berlin. After his PhD in 1992 he was a co-founder of the agency philosophische praxis berlin. Münker worked as journalist for the e-zine Telepolis and as guest professor at the Free University of Berlin.
Books: (together with Alexander Roesler): Mythos Internet (1997), Televisionen (1999) Telefonbuch (2000, all published at Suhrkamp: Frankurt) Poststrukturalismus (Metzler: Stuttgart 2000).

The real, the virtual and art
- Looking back at a week at Unidee2001

“Either something is - or it is not”: This thesis, trivial only at first sight, was proposed by the ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides, whose poem about “The essence of being” is one of the oldest documents belonging to occidental philosophy. From its beginning the philosophy of the western world followed a dualistic perspective - and shaped our culture and thinking the same way. There is a persistent tradition that goes from Parmenides difference between the being and the not-being to contemporary discussions about the real and the virtual- an opposition that is only one example of our dualistic thinking. Other examples could be: appearance vs. essence; the self and the other; the personal and the social …

One of the results of the discussions about virtual reality we had during the week in cittadellarte was to say that each discussion about virtual reality is also a discussion about reality; more precisely: about the way in which we understand and describe the concept of reality. Another result was to see that the so-called “virtual” environments and our “natural” reality are not necessarily to be understood as opposites, as contradictory spheres. Rather the virtual and the real are to be seen as intertwining concepts: In each (individual or social) construction of reality something “virtual” stands at the beginning - and remains as a frozen moment of the resulting effect. Nevertheless, the result of any construction of reality has to follow the distinction between the possible and the impossible; i.e.: at least the “natural” reality follows Parmenides trivial thesis that there can exist nothing that can not be. Virtual reality in contrast represents a sphere of something that is real in principle - even though it may be impossible in reality; p.e. flying as a bird, changing your sex spontaneously, having six arms or the eyes of an insect …

Now if we say that in the “real” virtual reality moments are virulent, we must admit at the same time that differences between the concepts of the real and the virtual remain. Virtual reality opens up a space for experiences of objects, situations, perceptions which are not bound to the logics of physical and biological laws. In this, virtual reality remains unique (at least up until now). But the “positive” effect that could result from creating and using virtual reality environments is not unique at all: this effect, we said, is to make visible the mere constructive character of reality; the fact, that what we call “real” is and has always been an effect of a process - and that it is stable only temporarily, only according to certain contexts, conceptual schemes, scientific and social beliefs etc.

At that point art stepped into our discussion. All the examples - most of them from the residents own works - we discussed during the week had in common at least this: that they made us aware of the conventional character of certain deep-grounded beliefs, well-trained behaviours and conceptions, etc.. Now as the experience of virtual reality environments probably can make us aware of the constructive character of reality so can art show us that the real we are dealing with in everyday life is only a frozen process - and so remind us of the illusionary (or fictional) character of reality we, as Friedrich Nietzsche says, all too often tend to forget.

Man lives - and has always lived - in a world which he perceives and understands according to social, cultural, political and economic frameworks. To escape these frameworks is simply impossible. But you can make them visible as frameworks - and thereby open up the possibility to interact with them. (Take the example of language: as the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said “The borders of my language are the borders of my world”.
You can not cross the border - but you can try to run against; which is what many writers and thinkers do.)

Another example is (digital) media. Which is not to say that you can’t go without media in your own life or work, But one can no longer deny that the media functions as a framework for the way we see and understand the world. Today we - as Niklas Luhmann puts it - know almost everything we know about the world through the media. Again this is where art can step in: as a means to comment on the ongoing developments. Artworks can make us aware of the way we perceive and sense the world in our media-society - which (think of Agustins “multi-media-performance!) does not necessarily include the use of media …