People / Places / Russia

The Critical Engineer: An Interview with Danja Vasiliev

Not so long ago, the Polytechnic Museum in Moscow announced the launch of the ‘Polytech.Science.Art’ program, which is dedicated to one of the most significant phenomena of contemporary culture – interdisciplinary collaborations between artists, scientists, and technology specialists. The program starts in 2014 with a series of workshops and lectures by international and Russian experts, artists, and researchers, who are acknowledged by international community and granted with numerous awards and prizes, as well as young professionals. Many of them will present their projects in Russia for the first time.
The workshop OTHERNET by Danja Vasiliev will open the program. It runs from March 19 till March 21 at the ARTPLAY Design Center.


Photo: Danja Vasiliev

Danja Vasiliev is a Russian digital artist based in Berlin. Danja was awarded Europe’s most distinguished new technologies art award Prix Ars Electronica in the category Cyberart (Newstweek project). His new workshop debuted in January, 2014 in Berlin during Transmediale, one of the largest festivals for innovations in digital art and technology. OTHERNET is dedicated to information technology in arts, tactics, and the technical realization of independent, hidden networks, avant-garde media and hacktivism within the framework of “Post-Internet now” concept. Shortly before his travel to Russia, Danja answered some of my questions.

Natalia Fuchs: You are one of The Critical Engineering project creators. How did it start and what is the present situation?
Danja Vasiliev: It’s hard to call “a project”. Critical Engineering is a genre. Julian Oliver, Gordan Savičić, and I, we all wanted to find a new wording for “media art”. It was important to choose the right one for the intervention and provocation practice within popular technologies that we use every day, for the practice helps to dispel the myths, eradicate the ignorance and misunderstanding of the fundamental principles of the technologies that surround every person in the modern age. Soon after we finished the Critical Engineering Manifesto we found out that it had been translated into 15 other languages. So we realized this new wording was necessary and not only for us. Currently, The Critical Engineering Manifesto is included in the curriculum of such institutions as Cambridge and MIT.

NF: This is not the first success in your professional life. A few years ago you received Golden Nica in the category Cyberart at the oldest and most representative digital arts competition in Europe – Ars Electronica – for the Newstweek project.
DV: Golden Nica opened some new horizons, sure, but the most important thing is that prizes and nominations of that scale help to draw the attention of a larger audience to contemporary techno-political issues.

Ars Electronica 2011: FR, 02.09.: Ars Electronica Gala. Im Bild Golden Nica Gewinner Julian Oliver (NZ/li) und Danja Vasiliev (RU).

Ars Electronica 2011. Golden Nica winners Julian Oliver und Danja Vasiliev. Photo: Ars Electronica Archive

NF: Now you live and work in Germany. What are the positive aspects of this experience? And is there anything negative?
DV: I am fortunate to work with very talented people, I love my job. But I feel a lack of Russian-speaking professional practice: Sometimes it’s not that easy with terminology, so I hope that the workshop at the Polytechnic Museum will help me fix it somehow. I relocated to Berlin three years ago after living in other places in Europe. Berlin is a city with incredible energy and reminds me of my home, Saint Petersburg, where I was born. That’s another reason why I moved to Berlin.

NF: What are your impressions of Transmediale this year?
DV: Dismantling of our artwork “Prism The Beacon Frame” (which I did with Julian Oliver), caused quite a wide resonance. It triggered an important discussion about the “transparent” technologies, which we are using. An article about the project appeared in Der Spiegel too, so it was a success. In general, I have a good impression, but it would be great to see a better positioning of the subject matter, especially when it comes to concepts like “Post-Digital”, “Art as Evidence”, “Critical Infrastructures”.


Photo: Art Hack Day

NV: OTHERNET was in the festival program. How was it?
DV: There were eight participants in the group, and everyone reached the desired result: OwnCloud on the laptop, online photo-album on Android-phone, personal mobile file server accessible via Tor-network. We’ve got very interesting results, and participants, in their words, “had the opportunity to understand and even rethink how the Internet functions”.

NF: What are your expectations regarding your workshop in Moscow?
DV: It will be one of my first workshops in Russia! I’m very curious to learn the interests and the backgrounds of the participants. And I hope that there will be no problems with the terminology and my vocabulary 🙂

NF: What projects are you busy with right now? What are your plans for 2014?
DV: Many plans, two major exhibitions, I can’t talk in detail right now. Many workshops, even in Mexico. And I continue to work toward Critical Engineering by developing Prism project.

NF: Danya, lastly can you tell me about contemporary authors who inspire you, whose work has recently surprised you?
DV: Yes, I would love to share some names – Martin Howse, Nicolas Maigret, Timo Toots, Dennis de Bel. But there is no one among widely known artists… Oh wait, maybe Anish Kapoor with his meditative mechanical sculptures.


Dirty Corner di Anish Kapoor – photo Andrea Melzi

(c) Natalia Fuchs

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