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Blame It on Gorbachev: The Sources of Inspiration and Crucial Turning Points of Inke Arns

Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez: You have become an almost regular guest in Ljubljana, and have a long history of working with art and cultural production coming from Eastern Europe, especially Slovenia. This resulted in several books, lectures, guest editorials of magazines, long-term collaboration with the groups Irwin and NSK, Marko Peljhan, and other artists and intellectuals. Looking back, what were the decisive points in the development of this very special interest?

Inke Arns: Being in Ljubljana again this time I asked myself how my involvement with South/Eastern Europe, and more precisely with Slovenia, first came about. I have to give you a cryptic answer: it came about through Gorbachev, Laibach, and my 1987 trip to Portugal. No joke. The order is not quite accurate though. While still being at school in Berlin (which was West Berlin back then) I did InterRail, and went to Britain and France where I absolutely did not have any problem with the language (I had lived in France from 1982 to 1986). But in Portugal I could not understand a single word—it drove me nuts! On the train back to Berlin, I decided to learn yet another language. At that time Russian was very popular because of Gorbachev (the first telegenic Soviet leader), and I learned my first words of Russian at the Volkshochschule I was attending in parallel to doing my Matura exam. Then in 1988 I saw my first Laibach concert. I had heard some very fascinating Laibach tracks at a friend's place in East Berlin, and despite warnings of potential Neo-Nazi attendance went to see their show in the West. It was an amazing experience. Since that time the Laibach virus lay dormant! That same year I started my university studies at the Free University, Slawistik, in political science and art history, most of the time dealing with Russian cultural history (Eastern Europe then meant Russia). In 1993, together with my colleague Stephen Kovats, I initiated and organized the first Ostranenie video festival at the Bauhaus in Dessau. That's where I came across two videos about Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK), and it suddenly occurred to me that there was a much bigger collective behind Laibach. This is when I really got into it. I started travelling to Ljubljana quite a lot and when it came to thinking about a topic for my MA thesis in 1995, I decided to write about NSK's artistic strategies in the context of the 1980s in Yugoslavia. All my Ljubljana activities you mentioned are connected to people I met over the twelve years: Irwin, Bojana Kunst and Emil Hrvatin (now known as Janez Janša) from Maska, Marko Peljhan, and many more (these are just the people connected to the activities you asked about).

IA: The trans-local Syndicate network was established in 1996 at the end of the Next 5 Minutes meeting in the Netherlands, and it existed until 2001. However, the fact that it ceased to exist in 2001 has nothing to do with 9/11. The termination of the Syndicate mailing list (mind you, the mailing list, not the network of people!) was very symptomatic of an overall change in the climate on the Net. Rules of netiquette that existed from the beginning of the Internet and helped smooth online communication were consciously breached by the behavior of individuals for reasons of self-promotion and ego-enhancement. You can read about this in detail in "The End of an Imagined Community" a text I cowrote with Andreas Broeckmann back in 2001.1

For me, networks are not ends in themselves but tools for reaching certain goals. In this case the goals were the establishing, fostering, and intensifying of contacts between individuals mainly from the media cultural field in Eastern and Western Europe. The Syndicate network was a very successful tool for reaching these goals. I think that it is perfectly okay if networks cease to exist after a certain period, when they have served their ends. Looking back, I am not nostalgic at all—I think the Syndicate was a very successful (and at times very effective) network of people. I am grateful that I had the chance to be part of that community.

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