Institutional ecology

Krёlex Zentre

As employees of an imaginary institution, we pay much attention to both institutions and imagination. Hence, institutional ecology is one of the essential interdisciplines. Ecology has always been an inter-scientific project designed to unite heterogeneous things into some kind of assemblages, to build a bridge between natural science and humanities. Eugene P. Odum, the founder of the modern ecology, wrote in the Introduction to the second issue of his “Ecology”:
“In a very real sense ecology has become a major integrative discipline that links together the physical, biological, and social sciences; hence, the subtitle of this edition: The Link Between the Natural and the Social Sciences.” ».1 It is quite reasonable that the name for ecology, a discipline which merges animate and inanimate, natural and cultural, was invented by the artist and scientist Ernest Haeckel, whose interdisciplinary intentions are already evident from the title of his most famous book, "Art Forms in Nature" (German: Kunstformen der Natur). He also coined a number of other terms — for instance, he invented “tektology”, a science of principles of organization which preceded cybernetics and systems theory. Just as ecology, tektology can be considered one of the interlinks between the approaches of science and humanities. Tektology gained recognition as a "general organizational science" owing to research efforts of Alexander Bogdanov, an outstanding scientist, revolutionary, science fiction writer who had anticipated feminist, ecological and many other ideas. His figure has been attracting more and more interest in recent years.2   

Finally, another way to view heterogeneous aggregates as decentralized systems of acting entities, or networks of interacting agents, is material semiotics, better known as the Actor-Network Theory (ANT). This approach brings together actors of very different natures in social networks. ANT is widely used in Science and Technology Studies and owes its popularity to the works of Bruno Latour, Michel Callon and John Law.

Inspired by the approaches listed above, we try to imagine and, as far as possible, to visualize ecosystems in which the organisms of interest to us live: supra-individual — and in this sense, superhuman — entities called institutions.


This is the name for:
a) creolized art collective from Central Asia;
b) art project in the genre of institutional modelling;
c) thinking experiment (in German, Denkendversuch) in the field of paranormal institutions (parastitutions).
Under the term ‘parastitution’ we understand an abnormal institution: not registered with official record devices, not rooted in any location / cultural field, and generally failing to meet the criteria of validity that usually apply to physical or social realities. The name "Krёlex (a derivative of "creole") indicates conceptual affiliation of our centre with mixed, translocal nature-cultural diasporas whose art practices redefine the basic oppositions of Modernity (inside-outside, light-dark, empire-colony, nature-culture, imaginary-real etc.). Since the relationship of the Krёlex zentre with space is vague and perplexing, we sometimes use the term artist-run time instead of the commonly used artist-run space.
On the one hand, the emergence of this imaginary institute was a response to the local (Kazakhstani) institutional vacuum, exacerbated by the inertness of state (renamed into national) cultural institutions in Central Asia. On the other hand, it is a response to the demand for cultural identity within the global Artworld and its ideology of multiculturalism. In our opinion, these two factors — the growth of nationalist and self-exotisizing tendencies in the general East and the mandatory requirement to have a cultural identity in the general West — condition each other, representing a modern form of Eurocentric cultural hegemony. The metaphors of creolization and queer (queering?) have become for us a theoretical and practical basis for rethinking the genre of institutional critique, or rather, transforming it from critique into constructionism.
Since about 2012, the Krёlex zentre has been pulsating (that is, existing not completely, but flickeringly) at the edges of large social fields, creating artistic and curatorial imitations, installations, fluctuations, texts, small events and various other things. Maria Vilkovisky and Ruthia Jenrbekova are permanently employed as regular workers. Since 2018 they have also been joined by artist Maria Neff and poet Ramil Niyazov. Working under the guise of contemporary art, our organization investigates the twilight forms of nature-cultural life to be found on the periphery — where the social field of art is weak and subjected to interference. We pay special attention to queer creatures situated outside of official registers and classifications, living unstable and ghostly lives in biotopes with acute institutional deficiency. Krёlex zentre has become a model suitable for experimentation in the realm of post-national, post-capitalist, translocal, non-androcentric cultural production. It is a borderline institution, hybrid and baseless.
As a phantom, it maintains the distance from reality needed for critical examination of the existing national and gender modes in which the creatures-subjects are produced and normalized. This distant external position is complemented by an insider perspective, since, while remaining a part of the phantom, we are at the same time acting Central Asian artists, and therefore our view is inevitably a view from within the process. The same ambivalence of the position manifests itself in our attitude to the Artworld: on the one hand, we remain outside of any artistic institutions; on the other hand, we are connected with some of them on an ad hoc basis and, moreover, we represent our own one, the reality of which is always questionable. Belonging to the genre of fake institutions, Krёlex zentre manifests itself in the form of self-descriptions — for example, schemes. Another way of self-presentation, also traditional for cultural institutions, is posters and postcards produced as a part of necessary public relations.


according to Krёlex zentre

When discussing the ecology of institutions, one should imagine the environments, which these entities inhabit. In life sciences visual representation has always been important — since the time of Haeckel, drawings and diagrams have played an important role in ecology. The depiction of the institutional ecosystem should provide insight into what institutions produce and what in turn produces them. In our case, the question of what is primary is answered in accordance with relational ontology: entities are mutually created through their relationships, and no level of reality is more fundamental than others. The idea of the material-semiotic entanglement of the world allows us to construct our own version of the so called ‘bootstrap model’ where symbolic fields of sociology and material fields of physics induce each other.
When working on the scheme, we were concerned with the relationship between labour and nature in the post-labour and post-nature era. What can be said about marxian base and superstructure after Federici, Haraway and Barad? How to fit discursive constructs into the material perspective on the world? What might the lines of force in physical fields look like for an observer who recognizes the construction of scientific facts within the force fields of society and uses such words as ‘power’, ‘relations’ and ‘production’ to describe different and heterogeneous systems? What shall the forces of production (Produktivkräfte) and relations of production (Produktionsverhältnisse) look like if the the network and the assemblage ontologies of material semiotics are taken into account? If, as Latour and Woolgar have shown, realities are produced by scientific institutions, then what about broader production of ‘what-exists-for-real’, including the institutional processes of creating objectivity and corresponding subjectivities, the accumulation of different types of capital and procedures for separating the real from the imaginary. One of our working
hypotheses is that realities (facts in each specific case) are not to be seen as “given for free” , their production is conditioned by material / power resources. Thus, the reality of art is conditioned by the police (Groys), the reality of nature is provided by scientific production (Latour), and reality as such is a product of contingently established practices (Law).
Below are two excerpts from John Law's work “After Method”, which may be helpful when looking at the Scheme. Relying on the ethnographic study of science by Latour and Woolgar, John Law questions the main presumptions of Modernity regarding objective reality, namely, the attribution to it of such properties as definiteness and singularity, independence from the observation point, anteriority to observation.
“Reality is neither independent nor anterior to its apparatus of production. Neither is it definite and singular until that apparatus of production is in place. Realities are made. They are effects of the apparatuses of inscription. At the same time, since there are such apparatuses already in place, we also live in and experience a real world filled with real and more or less stable objects.”3

The world existing out-there is “better understood as an accomplishment rather than something given in the order of things. In short it is that the embedded hinterland of scientific method, the practices that it carries, work to produce a reality that is independent, anterior, definite and singular.” 3

In the Scheme we did not attempt to give an exact illustration of Law's ideas — rather, we were interested in combining physical and social fields in one image using the concepts of production, induction, and interference. Labour is understood here both as one of the forms of matter-energy conversion, and, in Bogdanov’s sense, as something that directly meets nature. In this regard, social fields arise from physical ones like inductive current in a coil: in the process of social production, physical fields induce the field structure of social theory. In this scheme, the relationship between the infrastructure (basis) and superstructure is not only dialectical, but also reciprocal: institutions produce nature to the same extent as they are created from / on the basis of matter-energy. In its simplified version, the "Scheme" can look naive, especially considering the similarity of the multi-colored lines of force with festive garlands. Yet the idea of the world as a material-discursive entanglement does not contradict contemporary materialistic views. According to Karen Barad, it is the act of such entanglement between (not separately existing) matter and meaning that produces the world as we know it: “The thing and the statement correspond for the simple reason that they come from the same source. Their separation is only the final stage in the process of their construction.” 4

 "SCHEME OF REALITY PRODUCTION, KRЁLEX ZENTRE VERSION" is an illustration of the thesis that reality is produced in the process of operation of institutions from unknown potentialities — hinterland. This is particularly the way social fields are produced (including the field of art), on the boundaries of which one can spot quasi-real institutions, akin to the Krёlex zentre.
"SCHEME OF REALITY PRODUCTION, KRЁLEX ZENTRE VERSION" is an illustration of the thesis that reality is produced in the process of operation of institutions from unknown potentialities — hinterland. This is particularly the way social fields are produced (including the field of art), on the boundaries of which one can spot quasi-real institutions, akin to the Krёlex zentre.

In correspondence with the classical scheme, the lower part represents what can be called the basis. The magenta-coloured dotted lines represent material force fields — in other words, natural resources (the diagram makes  no distinction between matter and energy).

This raw matter is transformed by industrial infrastructure, whose elements are depicted in the form of coils.

Similar to coils, this infrastructure (Basis) produces a form of social energy (amber dotted line) that is accumulated by the institutions of the superstructure (Überbau).

Here, the main elements are the institutions of power, depicted as triumphal arches with crowns. As loci of symbolic capital accumulation, they also transform energy, generating social fields around them (blue dotted line). These fields are unprotected from interference, open to the influence of different actors, and their lines of force are distorted here and there due to  manifold interferences.

This interferences are produced, among other things, by those strange ghostly organizations we call ‘paranormal’ — they can be seen in the diagram as translucent purple antennae or organisms resembling plankton. The category of the paranormal includes all sorts of grass-roots cultural and activist self-organizations that pointwise destabilize the broadcasting of official institutions. These parastitutions have limited access to resources, are poorly visible in the spectra of society, and have the ability to resist the normalizing impact of "solid" institutions, dressed in the shell of infrastructure. The internal structure of parastitutions can functionally resemble bodily organs: input and output devices, filtration, processing, production of their own micro-fields, narrowcasting. The organs responsible for receiving pleasure in animals (mouth, anus, genitals) in this case are associated with gaining access to the fields of power-knowledge.

By connecting to them in a parasitic (pirate) fashion, parastitutions receive energy for self-organization (self-institutionalization) in the conditions of the ontological deficit which we also call ‘spectrality’, or ‘underexistence’.

The upper part of the institutional pyramid consists of the academic, scientific and archival infostructure which accumulates and distributes knowledge resources (power-knowledge): texts, codes, algorithms, artifacts, etc. Depicted in the form of figurative space stations (IMG I 'INFOSTRUCTURES'), the elements of infostructure induce their own force lines (purple dotted line). These interfere with social fields, contributing to the production of that material-discursive "cake", which is considered to be an objective reality (greenish rectangle in the center).

As for the term hinterland borrowed from John Law, its meaning is extremely generalized for the needs of the scheme: it is a ‘black box’, interaction with which can produce certain realities or facts. In words of John Law, "… the hinterland also defines an overall geography, a topography of reality-possibilities."

Krёlex zentre appeared around 2012 as an imaginary art-institution with two staff members: Maria Vilkovisky and Ruthia Jenrbekova. Since then it has served as a conceptual framework for various activities of this artistic duo including performances, exhibitions, lectures, DJ parties, etc. On theoretical level Krёlex zentre can be seen as an indefinite institution-design experiment (r)evolving around the question of what a queer postcultural centre might look like.

[1] Odum, Eugene Pleasants. 1985. Ecology: The Link Between the Natural and the Social Sciences // London: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

[2]  See, for example the works of McKenzie Wark, Giulia Risoli, Arran Gare

[3] Law, John. 2004. After Method Mess in social science research // London, New York: Routledge.

[4] Barad, Karen. Intra-actions. Interview by Adam Kleinman // Mousse Magazine № 34. Summer 2012. 76-81