Democratic Door (2009) – the door that is open to democracy. A custom-made electronic door operator, networked with a special online poll, was used for reading the current value of the so-called “democracy index” and positioning the door accordingly.

Portrait of Democratic Door, Vilnius City Municipality, Vilnius, 2009, Julijonas Urbonas. Photography: Aistė Valiūtė and Daumantas Plechavičius.

The degree to which the door of the Vilnius City Municipality's building was open was controlled by a custom-made electronic door-closer reading the current value of the so-called “democracy index”. The latter was being formed in real time by processing the data obtained through the special online poll that asked web surfers to rate the level of Lithuania’s democratic development on a ten-point scale. The higher the respondents’ average evaluation, the more open the municipality’s door was. The door’s position visualised the poll results and thus became a peculiar indicator of democratic development itself. Let’s imagine what would happen if such customised door-closers were installed in the doors of all state institutions. Quite possibly, politicians would be simply physically pressed to respect democratic values and pursue democratic ideals, since otherwise they would be unable to enter or leave their workplaces.

 

One of the fundamental principles of the democratic system states that every citizen should have equal access to political power. Therefore, democracy means open access to both the legal structures, which ground and protect democratic freedoms, and the very things that symbolise that power – documents, offices, communication channels, etc. Things can empower politics in reality and embody the values promoted by it. For instance, the door is by far the most effective instrument of access control. The right to enter (the key) can stand for the power to govern or control the space behind the door, as well as reject or discriminate those who don’t have this right. The CEO’s and other top-level employees of some business and academic institutions deliberately embrace the so-called  “open door policy” by keeping their office door open unless they are out of the office or have very important work to do, thus symbolically inviting other employees of any rank to stop by and share their concerns freely without prior appointment. Culture critic Jurij Dobriakov argues that active implementation of this practice can be viewed as an indicator of the institution’s democratic culture as such.

 

Democratic Door sought to shift the public attention from governmental bodies and institutions (for instance, the Parliament), where policy is formulated and validated, to material objects and their capacity to represent political interests. This part of the project also demonstrated that not only the symbolic “sources of democracy”, but also the things we touch or use everyday mediate democratic values.

Democratic_Door_[door_operator]
Door operator of Democratic Door, 2009
Door operator electromechanics of Democratic Door, 2009

The installation was created in 2009 in Vilnius, Lithuania, as a part of the larger project, Talking Doors, which was supported by the national program “Vilnius European Cultural Capital 2009.” The project won a number of awards, one of which was Distinction in the Interactive Art category of Prix Ars Electronica 2010.

 

Concept and design: Julijonas Urbonas
Electronics: Dmitrij Snegin
Programming: Dmitrij Snegin, Julijonas Urbonas
Photography: Aistė Valiūtė and Daumantas Plechavičius
Technical assistance: Paulius Vitkauskas