CTM.13 – Marcell Mars, The Golden Age Interview

We met the Croatian internet activist and researcher Marcell Mars for a prolonged chat about the future of internet, The One Million Books project and the upcoming collapse and uprising of everything

Marcell Mars at HAU2, Berlin CTM.13

Marcell Mars at HAU2, Berlin CTM.13

Marcell Mars (CRO) is an internet activist and researcher, self-proclaimed cyber-communist currently working at the Jan Van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. At this year’s CTM.13 in Berlin Mars gave a presentation of his research, Ruling Class Studies at Art Center Kunstquartier Bethanien and we popped in for a chat about the digital world, past, present and future.

Theme of this year’s CTM festival was The Golden Age, set up more as a question than a statement. Given your experience of almost two decades of dealing with the Internet (correct me if I’m wrong) is why I’m interested in your opinion on the Golden Age of the Internet, what makes it (or not) golden today, and finally, do you think that the Golden Age is yet to come?

The idea of the Golden age is, by rule, usually placed into romanticised past or enthusiastic future. But it is rarely placed as a Golden age of the present. The beginning of the Internet was predicting the future enthusiastically. It seemed as if disappearance of middlemen, parasites, and intruders from the immediate communication between artists and recipients would cause massive creative expression, emancipation, democracy, and equality blossom. Hippies from California were waiting for that moment since Stewart Brand started the Whole Earth Catalog, but the highlight certainly lives on in the modern incarnation of the WEC in the WIRED magazine.

Internet art pioneers, most of them being leery intellectuals of the Warsaw pact and the Balkans, fell easily for the prospect of Golden future of the Internet, despite their skepticism and cynicism. Thus, Alexei Shlugin and Natalie Bookchin wrote on 0% compromise, ultimate modernity, practical death of the author, artists’ total independence from bureaucracy and institutions, triumph of collaboration over competition, and fading of the fear of appropriation.


Anyhow intermediaries on the web did not disappeared. Just a number of those holding a monopoly over the internet is smaller. Google, Amazon and Apple.

A long tail or the millions of book titles which doesn’t sell more than hundreds of copies are waste of the market, but they bring most of the profit to Amazon than titles claimed to be bestsellers. Someone enthusiastically invested their literary talent in writing books, someone has edited a book proofread it, designed it, invested in and then printed it , and finally book was added to Amazon catalog and sold in so little number of copies that no one is paid off. Except Amazon. Because millions of these failed attempts were completed on their platform.

The millions of invisible failed attempts feed those on the top of the food chain. Thousands of invisible, failed startups for choosing vintage photo effects enable lottery in which only Instagram raised one billion on Facebook. The winner on one another lottery of fail of thousands failed attempts to enable web page in which collage of information of someone’s friends together with their momentary inspirations and fascinations of everything interesting in the Internet should appear.

The millions of blogs are also in same type of lottery where just a little percent of them all is discovered, and even smaller percent of them manage to gain continuous followers, and minimal number of them manage to earn for themselves and Google serving some AdSense followed by a blog post.

Even music industry for decades already organises same type of lotteries, because it is enough for one of the hundred bands to make it big to to repay the invested more than once.
The Golden Age is the most beautiful in its literal return of all irritating from the past to bring the best entertainment to the present. For example: like glitter animated gifs that Olia Lialina writes about in the Vernacular Web 2.

My favourite Golden age has remained buried deep in the video: Web 2.0 … The Machine is Using Us.

Is „The One Million Books book project „ now a secret or not? Should it be published at least as a past event that was silenced by threats or…?

The One Million Books sounds more attractive then The Public Library and your question nicely shows a symptom of the problem I address with The Public Library. It started in Ljubljana at HAIP festival where I was invited as a curator by Luka Prinčić from Kiberpipa.

It’s a simple idea: public library is one of those almost invisible infrastructures that we start to notice only once they go extinct. A place where all people can get access to all knowledge that can be collected. In the past it relied on the limited resources of rich patrons or unstable budgets of (welfare) states. With internet, as in many other instances, the dream about universal access got much more imaginable. It seemed just an issue of interpreting when the trajectory curves of global personal computer distribution and internet access penetration would finally make universal access to knowledge a reality. However, the actual trajectory of development of public libraries in the age of internet are pointing in the opposite direction – that the phenomena we people are most proud of are being undercut and can easily go extinct.

Public libraries now cannot receive, and sometimes not even buy, the books of some of the largest publishers. The books that they already hold they must destroy after lending them 26 (?!?) times. And they are loosing the battle to the market dominated by new players such as Amazon, Google and Apple. Economic crisis and the recent austerity measures brought another threat to the libraries and that’s the total extinction through (public) financial support cuts.

As said before, my proposal is simple: let’s make catalog of all of the books we already downloaded and let’s share them.

The public library is:
* free access to books for every member of society
* library catalog
* librarian

With books ready to be shared, meticulously cataloged, everyone is a librarian.When everyone is librarian, library is everywhere. Dead simple.

Together with people who were invited to Ljubljana + few more hackers I work on improving the software tools which will make the whole set up even more user friendly. But nothing would be possible if Sean Dockray didn’t start Aaaaarg.org, Dušan Barok Monoskop, Sebastian Luetgert and Jan Gerber Pirate Cinema & pad.ma, Kenneth Goldsmith Ubu.com, Henry Warwick Alexandria project, Piratbyrån The Pirate Bay and more than anyone else if Library Genesis didn’t let us download their whole catalog of near million of books. These people are my heros and seems that working on this brings us together as a nice friendly crew. We all miss Aaron so much.


What will be your framework during your residentship in Solitude, Stuttgart?

I’ll focus on Public Library and at the moment I’m preparing embedded Linux network access server for University library in Uganda. I hope I’ll be able to set it up so that the system will update itself automatically and the only thing the owner of that NAS should do is to find the librarian to help the users.

There are few more follow ups I would like to do for my research Ruling Class Studies started at Jan van Eyck two years ago but the most interesting one is the recent collaboration I started with Robin Hood Asset Management Cooperative where we would like to explore the tactical potential of financial tools. As they say on their website: “Robin Hood is a counter-investment bank: a cooperatively owned tactical investment fund for the precarious workers which addresses the asymmetrical division between those who are able to create money by transforming it into financial capital (to earn money as separate income without work) and those whose only access to money is to work (possibly at any cost) – or first take debt, and then work. Robin Hood is developed as a strategic means to challenge this debt mechanism of control and the limited options the precariat has for financing its living (debt, work and destructive competition of it, wishful thinking, marginal communities “outside money”, revolution and taking over government, hoping that the state will take care of you…). It is very concrete reopening of the field of possible. ”

Are you enjoying the Internet more in the form of independent staying in space or as an active online / offline silent socialisation in a shared space?

Whenever I’m one click away from Internet I’m relaxed. Many people around me find that particular mood quite annoying. I like places where people scuba dive into Internet and hold their breath with coffee. That’s just the new wave of good old consumerism. I don’t know when I’ll get fed up with that. For many things I enjoyed in similar way in the past I decided not to do any more. I like those kind of mind/behaviour games.

Did you have your CTM lecture held somewhere else and where? What was the reaction of the audience and what kind of questions were asked?

I did Ruling Class Studies presentation/lecture on many different places: JVE in Maastricht, MediaLab Prado in Madrid, CZKD Belgrade, at my course Wonder of technology at FMK in Belgrade, PostMediaLab at Leuphana University in Luneburg, Berlin Music Week, in Mama in Zagreb, at Nothing will happen in Split, CTM…. The reactions were always much much better than I expected. I got four residences in last two and a half years, invitation for paid phd position, for writing a book…. Because of all of those I feel I did *less* for the actual research then I would do if the reception was not that enthusiastic.

It seems that people *are* interested in understanding the megastructures like Google, Amazon, Facebook, eBay. I think that’s also because I don’t do usual complaints about collapse of privacy and raise of governmental and corporate control but get more in the direction of how these businesses extract value in the network economy, build their infrastructures and replace the functions governments were supposed to do.


Why do you think it is that CTM festival which is international by it’s nature, has so little participants from Balkan countries? What does that say about the state of the art, culture and science in our environment?

I think that complaints about how our countries/cultures are not up to the level of the developed West are (most of the time) utter bullshit. Especially when it tries to explain development and then complain in aesthetic categories (genres of music, new media art etc.). That’s the joy of ‘autoracism’ which many likes to play.

The main reason why there are not that many people from Balkan at Transmediale is that we didn’t establish institutions which would become equal nodes/members of the European institutional networks. My research Ruling Class Studies got recognised mostly because I got research positions at Jan van Eyck, PostMediaLab and now Akademie Schloss Solitude. I had to apply and start something outside of Balkan in other to get recognized later on. But everything I learned and achieved was much more result of being member of Multimedia Institute/Mama and exYu hacker’s community which hangs out in Hacklab in Mama, Kika in Skopje, HKLBGD in Belgrade and for last six years regularly every year on Nothing will happen events in Moravice, Split, Belgrade, Ohrid and Osijek.

Why don’t we have these institutions? It’s complicated. But it is much more about the politics and economy than about the culture, art and science. After our political elites led us into fragmentation from Yugoslavia into ridiculous ethnic provinces it moved every particular context even further from the dominating capitalist center to, what Immanuel Wallerstein calls, peripheral and semi peripheral world areas. In that context it is almost impossible to develop our institutions (most of the time NGO’s) to the level of Transmediale, Ars Electronica, Jan van Eyck, Akademie Schloss Solitude, Goldsmiths, Piet Zwart or what recently Leuphana University managed to do with PostMediaLab, Hybrid Publishing and Moving Images Lab.

There are number of super interesting things happening in last couple of years on Balkan: Right to the City in Zagreb (Pravo na grad), student’s blockades in Zagreb and Belgrade, direct democracy initiatives, recent uprising in Slovenia, discussions with workers in CZKD, Pogon in Zagreb, Clubture etc. When the same things happens closer to the center (in UK, USA or Germany) these initiatives will become much more visible and recognised. The visibility and recognition comes through institutions: festivals, universities, publishers, research institutes etc. Trying to count individuals from different countries is just plainly wrong. The flow of money and affiliations to institutions. These are the good instruments of who’s who in the world.

If, in the words of the CTM festival organisers we now live in The Golden Age, what’s next? What comes after this era of hyper-production?

Collapse and uprising :)