by Petunia Exacoustou
Network integration of isolated communities and other fascinating paradoxes in the work of communication theorist and architect Mit Mitropoulos
What fascinates me most about Mit Mitropoulos is the paradox that although he has dedicated himself – with an almost obsessive devotion (as every respectable artist and scientist should do) – to the broader domain of communication, the myth that surrounds him makes him rather difficult to approach. A contemporary master of technology and its media, he looks for the parameters that coordinate the unobstructed flow of information, or the possible entanglements and given obstacles of networks that play a decisive role in the broader field of communication. Selectively distant, he creates the impression that he applies to a certain extent the ancient story of Persephone to his everyday life. For the six-month period every year that he is based in Brussels, he can be reached mainly by mail (he calls it “an offline period”), whereas when he returns to his homeland he becomes more integrated, as he can be additionally contacted via email, telephone or even in person. His own self is becoming a crucial part of his investigations as he provokes us to find him, and to invent possible ways to approach him. Involved in fast paced activities of research and creation, he meticulously controls the accessibility of his private networks by intentionally filtering useless and time-consuming information and letting through only essential transactions between recipients that share a common language with him.
I feel pleasantly entrapped by his overwhelming childhood stories about sailing on a boat with his family, which possibly led him to appreciate the nature of networks and created his growing interest in the various characteristics of informational flow, that is, the transfer of various types of messages from one kind of place to another. Experiencing literally and in excess, the true limits of life in solitude and the quest for any kind of data, he was confronted by the bold antithesis between overbearing informational excessiveness (met in noisy harbours) and the peaceful serenity of the empty horizon (while at sea).
His multilayered, complex mode of thought is at times esoteric and apocryphal, and prompts the reader to return several times to the given text, in order to seek further meanings. Frequently, additional knowledge on a specific subject is required to satisfactorily follow his undoubtedly deep reflections. And here lies another paradox: his essays are deliciously intoxicating even when you cannot fully comprehend them. You simply let yourself indulge in his spatial research, seeking to unite reflections that probe your understanding, following almost mystical geographical coordinates, and collecting traces of scattered notions and ideas, like fragments of his beloved obsidian stones, which show signs of communication in prehistoric times.
In his research, there is an explicit differentiation between the quality and the quantity of given information, and the constituents that synthesize and establish symbolic, spatial, visual, kinaesthetic and other parameters embodied or even entrapped in the act of communication. As architect and artist, he finds plausible ways of expressing this informational database in a systematically studied body of spatial (or other) occurrences. Carefully scattering fragmented messages in possibly deserted landscapes, Mitropoulos presents us with a potentially architectural poetry. These intentionally made non-finito structures are related to some vernacular typologies of semi-private-public spaces, revealing, among other things, a profound connection between his scientific thought and his artistic expressiveness.
In his project “Constructions for Deserted Coastal Areas” Mitropoulos clearly differentiates between the potential recipients of his work, namely the two types of visitors to the Greek islands: tourists and travellers. He is not involved with the first group. Tourists are people that have already experienced their journey without travelling. They are prepared for any setting that they will encounter. They have already read about it, fantasised about it. They think they know it. Their movement, their goal, is of a destinational and directional nature. Their intention is to go from one location to the next. The intermediate is of little interest and will be barely perceived. And lots of pictures will be taken to provide evidence of acclaimed visits; the ones you find in all the tourist guidebooks. Hence, the tourists act as indifferent, forceful intruders, entrapped in their mania to record and carefully list all the information of their almost superficial experience. They certify their presence in any topos (place) and then safely retire and leave the set, contented but ignorant. In that way they are naturally excluded from the possibility of any adventure, as the spatial elements of the islands, the geographical distance, the insufficient maritime and road networks and, most of all, their inherent personal indifference to any kind of exploration create barriers obstructing their sight.
Quite unlike the tourist, the traveller fully experiences a journey by letting every step reveal its hidden meaning. For the traveller, the trip is full of images and feelings, a storm of impressions bombarding the senses. Potential human encounters are considered to be very important, They are not involved in any formal or typical act of sightseeing, nor in defining a space as the highlight of the trip; the traveller explores any given site equally and treats the continuous flow of information as a serious part of the overall travelling agenda. Such a visitor discovers in Mitropoulos’s deserted coastal sites signs of previous human presence, together with his sculptural messages, lookouts, steps leading nowhere and open-air shrines. Through them travellers will be invited to look for the unregistered space-to-time variables and will search for more by letting their senses take charge, challenging themselves to withdraw from the continuous set of everyday life experiences and processes. An environmental artist, Mitropoulos encourages and provokes us to explore hills and slopes, distant human settlements and remote coastlines, searching for their hidden and long forgotten symbolism, their quiet, sensitive and discreet magic, lying there almost unnoticed. Most importantly, he also challenges us to function interactively and interpretatively, permitting ourselves the luxury of peaceful meditation.
Dr Mitropoulos is an expert on communication, with or without the use of technology, and on space networks, specifically the concept of space as a network rather than as a 3-dimensional place. Apart from his scientific and artistic research, he has also served as a consultant on matters of technology, policy and legislation, for national and international organisations and institutions, such as UNESCO, EVR of MIT, USA, the Greek Ministry of Culture, and the Council of Europe. An environmental artist and one of the first media artists, his work combines behavioural sciences with visual arts and focuses on relationships between art, science and technology. His projects include 2-way face-to-face interactive video-communicational installations, comparing physical to electronic space not as continuative extensions of one another, but as parallel entities. Furthermore, electronic space is seen as a field open to discovery and collective behaviour, and certainly not as an invented space. Mitropoulos is a member and a former vice president of the World Society for Ekistics, and as a student he participated in the 1969 WSE Doxiadis Delos Symposium on Networks. During the symposium he was introduced to the scattered obsidian stones in the Cyclades islands of the Aegean sea and to their inherent prehistoric information, which opened up a wide field for his future investigations. The issue of physical distance in isolated communities of the Greek islands and their network integration possibilities recur in his body of work, along with the quest for the social context of innovations, and the spatial, or other, network arrangements that activate and support them.