Interview: Lvis Mejía

Lvis Mejía is an artist based in Berlin, Germany. He works in time-based media, and is a founding member of oqko, an artist collective and label that works at the intersection of various music and visual practices. He is our featured artist this week on the HAYP/IN SITU “Virtual Viewing Room” platform, a space for online artworks from June 1 – August 8, 2020. In this interview, we learn a little more about his meditative film essay “I don’t know where to start, though I know where this is going to end”, and what inspires him. Scroll down to the very bottom for a complete bio.


HAYP/ IN SITU: Tell us about your Virtual Viewing Room Project, “I don’t know where to start, though I know where this is going to end”.

Lvis Mejía: In all honesty, I envision this work being an exercise rather than a project. I would love this to be – in a way – a pilot of an essay film, but I don’t know if I can pay tribute to that. The story is about a non-human entity that finds “something” (like a log book/writings and graphics) and tries to make sense out of it while it finds itself stuck in its spaceship waiting for the end to come. It is in the form of a visual diary that it starts “exercising the thoughts” and tries to decipher the essence and meaning of the object that it found. To find out how it ends, just follow the story.

I don’t know where to start, though I know where this is going to end is in a way just a humble analogy to our lives. At the beginning we are unarmed, but during the process we start getting conscious about our surroundings and who we are. Nevertheless something is – at least until now  – inevitable, death (the end). This final chapter, or better said, how we cope with the cosmovision of death, determines most of our behavior in life, and therefore completely the way we live. In strength we remain fragile

The idea is to approach through an “experimental visual diary” I am forcing myself to use exclusively material from my own archive. An archive of my own. I am recycling and reinterpreting my work, and therefore a part of me. Material left in the virtual, material that never got exposed (became real) to the public eye. Like a crestomatia somehow. I decided to exclusively use found footage [of my own work], and tried to guide and interpret it in a specific direction.

HI: How does this relate to your artistic practice?

LM: Well, I have been working for a few years on the topic of “speculative futures” [of humankind] – yes I know the combination might sound redundant – but this issue both fascinates and concerns me, and sincerely, this should be a thing of global character. Leaving aside the unnecessary, almost pathetic question, “Where are we going?”. My tendency shows a rather objective-pessimism based on historical observation, critical perspective and a personal analysis of today’s standards. With this humble toolkit of understanding, I dare to conclude that the direction we are going in might not find its end soon, but all the way will be ferociously painful. 

As I mentioned above, the question of “Where are we going?”, seems unnecessary and almost pathetic to me, because it appears to be almost irrelevant for both the small “communities” capable of changing the paradigm on the paper and for the vast billions having potentially the chance to do it through action.         

In a way, this project is a family member of a pivotal writing I finished earlier this year about the shortcomings of our species, and the main argument is where the two projects merge. The writing will probably serve as part of the script to this experimental visual diary in order to reinforce the visual language.

Lvis Mejía performing at MUTEK in Montreal, 2015
“Anthropology of Amnesia” Lvis’ album (oqko label) exploring oral cultures from around the world, and their role in passing on and preserving memory.

HI: Who/what inspires you?

LM: Some rare chemistry processes in my body, getting confronted to new thoughts and experiences, fresh love and some extraordinary works of art.

HI: What does confinement mean to you? Have you (re)discovered something during this time?

LM: As a matter of fact, it made me reaffirm more things rather than (re)discover new ones. We are quite fragile organisms driven mostly by many irrelevant and abusing meanings. When a pause is taken, imposed or seized, there is a chance to reflect, rethink, repurpose and adjust. In my personal opinion, things after confinement are just going to go on (unfortunately) back to the desired pathological consensus of “normality”. The current situation merely undressed society, exposing elemental components to ourselves. These times are just reflecting who and how we are in a more precise way. The collective does not really differ that much from the individual. There is yet so much to learn…. and paradoxically, all of that wisdom is already out there. We are just adamantly still wearing the veil. We are doomed, actually.

Pictured above, some works from Lvis’ yet unpublished photographic series, “Irrelevant Studies on Dichroic Foil” (see more works @Hayp.insitu on Instagram)

HI: When you’re not making art, what do you enjoy the most?

LM: Watching tons of films, trying to finish reading different books, meeting random people at bars and playing football.

HI: What’s your connection to Armenia?

LM: I have had the chance to work and collaborate in the last 3-4 years both with the community and great individuals from the cultural spectrum in the country, and each time has been a particular – yet interesting – challenge. 

It all started with a project that now resides in limbo: an audio installation at the Herouni Radio-Optic Telescope in Orgov. Ever since I have been going back consequently every year.
In my personal opinion I think Armenia has a special and prosperous panorama for the development of the art scene and market, but there is still a long way to go. Therefore, the actual moment of paving the process should maintain an experimental idiosyncratic approach without lacking professionalism.
It is crucial to potentialize the sense of unity throughout the community in order to have a common ground and not many individual players on stage. As an external person – yet a recurrent visitor – I see there is plenty of potential to sow and educate the younger generations with a global vision based on exchange and preservation of the cultural heritage avoiding endemic self-glorification. I am always happy to come back and contribute in whatever way is possible.

Lvis Mejía’s site-specific installation in Orgov, Armenia for HAYP Pop Up Gallery’s CETI Lab, 2017 exhibit exploring communications with extraterrestrial life.
Lvis and the collective at the Iron Fountain in Gyumri. A project by Sound Lab, an initiative lead by Vardan Harutyunyan and the Armenia Art Foundation, 2019.

HI: If you had a magic wand, and could change one thing about the art scene in Armenia, what would it be?

LM: Lethargy and the negative-driven unfounded self-destructive criticism within the scene I have perceived.

HI: What is your dream project that you haven’t had a chance to work on yet?

LM:
– A couple of large format installation
– Shooting experimental featured films.
– Develop educational artistic programs with true social impact.
– Develop a decentralized web environment.
– Found an independent multidisciplinary research institute.
– Get a lot of land to create an independent sustainable “country”, hehe.

the list gets long…..


About Lvis Mejía:

Visit Lvis’ Virtual Viewing Room project, “I don’t know where to start, though I know where this is going to end” here.
Follow him on Instagram at @lvis.mejia
See more of his work at: www.lvismejia.com
Follow oqko artists and releases at: www.oqko.org

Lvis Mejía is an interdisciplinary artist, educator and musician born in Mexico City, based in Berlin since 2007. He is a member of the artist collective and label, oqko. Lvis’ work has shown at major museums and galleries including DOCUMENTA 13, the ICA London, the Centre Pompidou, MUTEK Montréal and the Transmediale Berlin. His academic background is in philosophy, fine arts and time based media from Christian Albrechts Universität zu Kiel, MIT Media Lab and HfbK Hamburg. His work has brought him to Armenia several times, in 2017 he designed a site-specific installation “UNO” at the Herouni Radio Optic Telescope (Orgov) in the framework of HAYP Pop Up Gallery’s CETI Lab exhibit. In 2018, Lvís participated in a collaborative installation for HAYP’s Retrospective “12-12-12”, and in 2019 he worked as a consultant for the Armenia Art Foundation’s Sound Lab in Gyumri. Lvis believes in the capacity of artistic practice to transcend medium, while being deeply intertwined in a sense of place and community. Since 2020, he has joined the IN SITU team as a cultural consultant, with the aim of catalyzing cross-cultural exchange and proposing new perspectives and contexts for art and idea making.

CETI Lab: ARTiculating frameworks for communication

by Anna K. Gargarian, Curator “CETI Lab”

September 2017 is an important marker in the history of space exploration: exactly forty years since the Voyager 1 was sent into space, forty-six years since a group of nobel prize winning scientists gathered at Byurakan to discuss communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence (CETI), and seventy years since Victor Ambartsumian discovered stellar associations.

Ambartsumian’s breakthrough transformed our understanding of the life of stars, and marked the beginning of the intellectual community that is the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory (BAO). It was Ambartsumian’s reputation, in combination with the unique environment of BAO, that lead scientists Carl Sagan and I.E. Shklovskii to propose Byurakan as the location for the 1971 CETI conference (1). During the peak of the cold war, scientists from the USSR and the US came together for four days to discuss the challenges of communicating with intelligent life beyond our planet. The conference addressed questions of language, knowledge representation, transmission, reception, as well as philosophical concerns of free will, perception, and the consequences of successful communication. The information gathered during this conference was part of Sagan and Shklovksii’s decade-long collaborative research that informed the content of space missions like the Pioneer 10 in 1972, and Voyagers 1 and 2 in 1977 (2).

Untitled design (12)

The 1971 CETI conference participants standing in front of the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory’s conference hall.

 

It is within this context that HAYP Pop Up Gallery exhibits “CETI Lab: HAYP at BAO”, a multi-location collective exhibit that invites artists and scientists to imagine communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence. From September 16-27, 2017, the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory (BAO) and the Herouni Radio-Optic Telescope in Orgov, Armenia will be transformed with site-specific installations by a diverse group of artists. 

Like the scientists before them, the artists are concerned with frameworks for representing, expressing, and accessing information. Contextualizing a question is at the heart of all problem-solving, whether from an epistemological (3), scientific, or curatorial perspective. It is for this reason that the 1971 CETI conference organizers shaped their discussion around the Drake Equation, a proposed formula for estimating the likelihood of communicating civilizations beyond our planet. While the equation was criticized for being more conjectural than scientific, its concern was not with accuracy but rather offered a framework for structuring the conversation (4). Similarly, the exhibition does not present one unified perspective, but rather proposes a structured set of contexts for approaching the question of communication. Through this diverse net of projects by writers, musicians, sculptors, photographers, and architects, we intend to portray a feeling for the paradigm of communication through an expressive language that uses metaphor as a formalism for understanding (5).

This brings us to our second concern, which is the question of language. Among the 1971 conference participants were linguists, anthropologists, and artificial intelligence experts who shared a common interest in finding the appropriate expressive language for representing cognitive theory. They discussed the possibilities of using binary, computer, or image-based languages, and struggled with the fact that language evokes ideas that extend beyond the subject at hand and refers to cultural perceptions that are not universal(6). Through metaphor, we hope to explore the conditions that frame communication and “help us understand references, reasons, motivation, and purpose not explicitly stated”(7). These conditions include self-consciousness, as seen in the installation by Sona Manukyan and the poetry of Arto Vaun. They include our awareness of our limitations in time and space as in the sculptural works of Manan Torosian and Samvel Saghatelian. In Vardan VHSound’s “Communication Machine”, the artist is concerned with representing not only knowledge, but also sensorial experience through an acoustic map of our environment. Artist Karen Mirzoyan explores the potentially dangerous consequences of successful communication through an apocalyptic “intergalactic war” series.

The exhibition is aware of the dangers of metaphor, which although a useful tool for understanding, is often scientifically inaccurate(8). But these inaccuracies, or rather absurdities of logic, are also at the core of this exhibition. Gaps in commonsense reasoning like trying to conceive of communicating with an “other” whose existence is still unknown, or like building a radio-optic telescope that was never actually used (9). Even sending devices into space as “time-capsules” of planet earth that may only reach another life-form long after human extinction on planet Earth. Science, like art, has been revolutionized by “absurd” ideas. While many of the exhibited works incorporate an element of humor, Lvis Mejía’s installation piece in Orgov subtly comments on the irony of a radio-optic telescope made to record sounds from space, by manipulating its shape in order to provide the observer with audio feedback defined by the observer him/herself.

Communication, like humor and the creative process, is ultimately born from a social context. Although there are great differences in the ways that artists and scientists approach universal concerns of existence, self-consciousness, and life beyond our planet, we hope to draw parallels on our collective interest for understanding and creatively manipulating our human limitations (10).

While the Voyagers serve as interstellar time-capsules of human knowledge and culture, “CETI Lab: HAYP at BAO” has explored a much closer time-capsule which is the unique environment of the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory. Like the scientists of the ’71 CETI conference, our ’17 CETI Lab artists have immersed themselves in the unique environment of the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory in order to explore its culture, history, and the multi-layered dynamics of a still vibrant community of thinkers in order to address the underlying question:

“Before we ask how aliens communicate, we ought to ask how humans can.”
-Marvin Minsky (11)

The Artworks of “CETI Lab: HAYP at BAO”:

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Footnotes:

  1. According to Shklovskii, the original conference location was to be in Czechoslovakia, but this decision was changed after the tensions of the Warsaw Pact Invasion in 1968. Shklovskii states in his memoir that Byurakan seemed an opportune choice because of his ties to Ambartsumian and the “blinding beauty” (Ослепительная красота) of the view of Mount Ararat. (Шкловский, 110)
  2. From 1961 to 1967 Sagan and Shklovskii co-authored the book Intelligent Life in the Universe. The collaboration started as a translation exchange, in which Sagan translated from Shklovskii’s original text, but evolved into co-authorship as Sagan amended significant sections of the book. The book was fully written long distance via paper mail. Sagan and Shklovskii didn’t meet until the 1971 CETI conference in Byurakan, as Shklovskii wasn’t allowed to leave the USSR. (See Spangenburg, 68).
  3. The idea of “frameworks” was first developed by Minsky in 1975 within the artificial intelligence context as a way of conceiving of knowledge in structured units. Papert and Goldstein elaborated on frame theory in 1977 within the epistemological context to discuss “knowledge frameworks” as a theory on contexts, their relationship to language, and consequently understanding (Goldstein, 93-96).
  4. The Drake Equation was a probabilistic argument on the number of intelligent communicative civilizations beyond our planet. According to Sagan, the Drake equation was chosen for the conference structure (vs other equations on the same subject) because it was the original and simplest one (Каплана, 12)
  5. In Goldstein and Papert (1977) the authors speak of metaphor as a tool for “debugging” and self-learning. In the context of humor, Minsky (1980) sees metaphor as a powerful thought tool to apply previous knowledge and experience to new problems. Metaphor is essentially one of our most effective ways for representing and understanding the world around us.
  6. Goldstein & Papert, 96
  7. Goldstein & Papert, 101
  8. Minsky (1980)
  9. I am making reference to the Herouni Radio-Optic Telescope in Orgov, Armenia (one of the locations of our exhibit). Although the telescope was used for observing stars and planets, it never fulfilled its primary intended function: to capture radio signals from space. It is important to note that there is little objective research published about this telescope whose history, purpose, and engineering remains an interesting point for further research and development.
  10. For Mayakovsky, poetry (like all art) should be born from a “social command” (Mayakovsky, 18). There are interesting parallels between the creative process of Mayakovsky (as described in “How are verses made?”), and man’s challenge of communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence as defined by Minsky in his 1985 essay. Both identify material, space, and time as man’s constraints to be manipulated for effective understanding of our social environment and thinking processes.
  11. Minsky, 1985. p 9. It’s interesting to note that Ambartsumian makes a similar reference in the 1971 conference catalogue recalling: “Professor Shklovsky was right when he told me, before we can solve the problem of communicating with extraterrestrial civilizations, it would be nice to establish contact regarding this question with other countries, and that’s exactly the aim of this conference.” Paraphrased from Russian original text in Каплана, p11.

WORKS CITED

Goldstein, I. and Papert, S. (1977), Artificial Intelligence, Language, and the Study of Knowledge*,†. Cognitive Science, 1: 84–123. doi:10.1207/s15516709cog0101_5

Mayakovsky, Vladimir. How are verses made?. Translation from original (1926). Cape ed., London, Grossman Publishers, 1970, reprinted 1974.


Minsky, Marvin “Communication with Alien Intelligence.” Regis, Edward, ed. Extraterrestrials: Science and Alien Intelligence. Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Minsky, Marvin, “Jokes and their Relation to the Cognitive Unconscious.” In Cognitive Constraints on Communication, Vaina and Hintikka (eds.) Reidel, 1981. A.I. memo NO: 603, November 1980. Accessed Aug 16 2017.

https://web.media.mit.edu/~minsky/papers/jokes.cognitive.txt

Minsky, Marvin “What to transmit, and what one might expect to receive” (notes, Byurakan, Armenia, Sept 7 1971), 1-11. Use courtesy of the Minsky Family.


“NASA’s Voyager Spacecraft Still Reaching for the Stars After 40 Years.” NASA, NASA, 1 Aug. 2017, http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-s-voyager-spacecraft-still-reaching-for-the-stars-after-40-years. Accessed 3 Sept. 2017.

Проблема CETI (связь с внеземными цивилизациями), ред. С.А. Каплана, – Издательство “Мир”, – Москва, 1975, 349 с.

Spangenburg, Ray, and Diane Moser. Carl Sagan: a biography. Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 2004.

Шкловский И. С. Эшелон. Невыдуманные рассказы. — М.: «Новости», 1991. — 222 с.