BOMB a manifesto of art terrorism
Raymond Salvatore Harmon
Art is an evolutionary act. The shape of art and its role in society is constantly changing. At no point is art static. There are no rules.
The power of art lies not in its interpretation but in the form of its experience. To perceive art, to become aware of art, is to know art.
Art terrorism is an act of cultural insurgency designed to bring attention to the ‘third world’ status of art in contemporary society.
The objectification of art is dead. Art is experience, not ownership.
Art is a language by which mankind expresses itself, a universal language that is not dictated by critics, journalists or academics.
The art terrorist seeks the secession of art from the financial/academic infrastructure of the supposed ‘art world.’
Art terrorism is intrinsically related to contemporary media and its manipulation.
Supposed art educational institutions are merely focused on financial gain and should be condemned and destroyed.
â€œThere is always a point at which the terrorist ceases to manipulate the media gestalt. A point at which the violence may well escalate, but beyond which the terrorist has become symptomatic of the media gestalt itself. Terrorism as we ordinarily understand it is innately media-related.â€? â€” William Gibson
ContentsIntroduction Graffiti as Insurgency Urban Design Dreamlife of Sleeping Buildings Social Engineering Everything is Under Control A Map of the City Objectification and Education Counter Intrusion Disconnect Manipulating the Media: Hollow Earth A World Without Facts Copyright is for LosersÂŠ Programming Reality DoYouEverUnderstand? Here Today, Gone Tomorrow Mythologies Identity Theft Can be Your Friend Cloud of Unknowing Exposure The Problem With Information Democracy Closure
Introduction When I was 12 years old the kid my mom hired to watch my brother and I while she was at work, taught me and my neighbor how to shoplift. He was a teenager and constantly being watched as a suspect in stores. As a pre-adolescent I stood a much higher chance of being ignored by security. He took me to a K Mart, gave me a branded plastic bag and receipt and told me where to look for the pile of things I was supposed to steal for him. (It took ages for me to start taking things for myself - a bit of Dickens never hurt anyone.) After collecting the things and putting them into the bag, I was supposed to head out of the store. I knew that he and his friend were watching to see how I did. As I approached the door I could feel the security guyâ€™s eyes on me. I took one look at him and headed straight up to him. When I got to him I asked if he knew the time, explaining that I was supposed to meet my brother. He told me, I thanked him and left the store. Later the Dickensian baby-sitter admitted that he had thought I was approaching the security guy to confess but that my ploy to get past security made me â€˜a natural.â€™ I had realized at that young age that the most direct route to what you want is the obvious one in front of you. No thief will go straight up to a cop and ask directions; or will they? Reality is what you make of it as much as you are what it makes of you. This push and pull drives everyone, yet few realize what is happening and push back with calculation and forethought. The oncoming century will see art forms like graffiti appropriated into the current art world model in the same
way that Dada was assimilated 100 years ago. When the dadaists started they were violently opposed to the then structure of the art world model. Their aggressive tactics were meant to vilify the bland social acceptance of impressionism from a generation before them. They felt that the social norm took art for granted as something pretty; decoration. As communities come to accept the idea of graffiti as a valuable contribution to the urban landscape, a process of assimilation will absorb the graffiti subculture into the commodity-based art world market. Cities and councils will create ‘graffiti zones’, functionally neutering any insurgence against the stream of acceptable forms of expression. Graffiti is currently hip again, and as its popularity rises it will be accepted and acquired by these financially driven cultural institutions. Yet by accepting the discourse presented in graffiti culture, the potency
A neutered dog, it masturbates itself, creating nothing, adding nothing to the dialog, simply serving the function it once spoke out against. of that culture is gutted.
Art institutions will bend to the popular demand for graffiti culture as a viable model for financial advancement. These institutions are fundamentally commercial endeavors whose function is to pay the high wages of its administrators and curators. (Both supposed “non profit” institutions and commercial corporate institutions serve the function of generating capital through the exhibition of art.)
The reality of this appropriation of graffiti culture is unstoppable. But like all forms of creative expression once it has been utilized to the fullest extent it will be cast aside by the next generation of artists and something new will be created. It is this constant flow that is the true form art takes. Art evolves and like all ideas it steals from its past in order to feed its future. The current model of the art world, one in which we glorify a select few individuals and their work in order to create exaggerated financial value for their work (thus reducing it to a â€˜commodityâ€™) is pointless. It detracts from and inhibits the very reason for which art exists. Art is meant as more than individual expression. How we interact with and experience art is the very soul of world culture. The sad state of art in the world today is a telling reminder that the world itself is depressed and hungry. Art is the broken heart of society and its reduction to a saleable commodity is the reason it has such a low standard in the world today.
Only when we can wrestle the control of the art world away from curators, their rich friends and the journalists they keep as lapdogs will art begin again to grow and blossom into something incredible and new.
Graffiti as Insurgency Urban Design Dreamlife of Sleeping Buildings
When you pick up a can of paint and go out into the world and make marks with it you are performing an act of defiance, an act of insurgency. You are pushing against the reality being created by most of the people around you. In reality most people do not like graffiti. But most graffiti is crap, so itâ€™s understandable.
Graffiti is visual expression, employed by those who would not normally have any impact on their environment. These artists do not have legitimate access to the media, to the corporate infrastructures that dictate the whims and fancies of the contemporary art world. Instead, by taking a can in your hand you can say whatever you want to anyone with eyes. Place your paint in the right location and a million people might walk by and have a look; more viewers in a single day than any Picasso.
Graffiti is a form of cultural terrorism, an act of defiance, an individual insurrection of creative expression. The seemingly open arms of
the contemporary art world are just a commercial speculation of graffitiâ€™s long term value. Many visual artists who have been embraced by the contemporary fine art establishment started as graffiti artists. Jean Michel Basquiat, Max Schreck, and Keith Haring, all started as graffiti artists but were slowly eaten by the art world. This next bunch is no different. The truth is, it is the galleries/museums or the streets. Once you cross that line you can never really go back. There is still, and will always be, this form of terroristic artistic expression. Graffiti is not new, not something that is current. It is as old as the written word. Men have made marks on the geographical and architectural landscape for countless millennia. As the Vikings raided and plundered in the 7th century they marked the churches and carvings with runes as signs of their presence. As the Greeks invaded the north of Africa under Alexander the Great they left carvings of
words imprinted over the buildings, often erasing entire surfaces that were once carvings in native languages. In most of these cases the carvings and markings found in the ancient world are not some symbolic gesture of a king marking his conquered territory but the base remarks of the commoner; the soldierâ€™s brusque and crude commentary on his passage though that space and time. Regardless of talent there is a passion that exists among those that paint under street lights and occasional stars. A passion to reshape the world around them, often in the face of repression and social abuse occasionally these artists come from limited economic backgrounds but just as often they come from a middle class upbringing. Yet somehow always from a situation best described as a â€œfucked upâ€?. The world has gotten a lot more sophisticated since the glory days of 70s NYC train tagging. Technologies have gotten involved on both sides of the fence, custom can tips and internet forums on the one side - CCTV cameras and infrared helicopter spotlights on the other. It has become a game of tag in which only the most clever and forward thinking artists are capable of any real contribution to the language. Those who work from outside the paradigm and approach the actual act with intelligence, those whose creative drive strives to do something visually that no one has done in places/ surfaces no one else is working, will succeed in changing not just the environment but its inhabitants.
The nature of the modern world is such that everything around you is designed. Even the parks of most urban environments have their detailing done by mankind. They exist even in their most wild or ruinous as part of someoneâ€™s idea of what space and time ought to look like. The cars we drive, the houses we live in, our clothes and toys and everything we own was made to look a certain way. Mankind lives by design. In the context of the urban environment central governments make a cursory attempt at planning and design for our landscape. Traffic control plays a big part in the development and infrastructure of the cityscapes we live in; cars dominate the landscape. The places we go are dictated by the asphalt pattern that is the roads and streets. Ultimately corporations and their needs play the biggest part in designing our modern world. Corporations sell goods, make cars, pump oil and make medicines. They design city planning and develop urban neighborhoods in order to make profit. They create ghettos to house those people that they pay so little they are unable to afford to live anywhere else. Making them exist at the most nominal part of financial need, particularly outside of the white picket fences of the 1st world nations.
Yet in the darkness of the city night there are those that go out and change the urban landscape without planning permission or a performance license. These people vary in intent and talent but they collectively do what they do against society and the law.
Dreamlife of Sleeping Buildings
In February 2001 I was invited to the Cement Media Festival in Eindhoven NL. I had been to Eindhoven previously for an art exhibition and was fascinated by the skeleton of a ten story high building. It had been stripped of everything but its floors and vertical support beams in order to build it anew. When I was asked to propose a piece for the festival I instantly thought of the building and felt that it should be collaborative. I asked 8 artists whose work I respected to present a piece for the context of the installation. The idea that intrigued me was the almost subliminal sight of a random office light shining late at night. Either a solitary worker putting in overtime or a simple oversight, the rectangle of light in a dark building is a common feature in any urban environment. I started thinking that this random late night light made it seem that the building was dreaming; some projected nocturnal activity on the part of the architecture itself .
Ultimately Dreamlife became my first experiment in video graffiti. Being able to show up and project light before an unsuspecting public, hiding the work under the guise of an illuminated office block in an otherwise dark building, delivering the video pieces as one would paint - in the darkness of the night. The piece was an examination of viewers familiarity with their environment and questioned the role that architecture and visual image play in our everyday existence. What happens when a building ceases to function as a protective structure and becomes a medium of visual expression? How does the viewer connect the seemingly random content with the environment in which it is placed? Though the viewer may be familiar with the environment, their perceptions and awareness are forced to change focus contemplating the institutional perspective being questioned. Approaching the building as a screen through which expression and visualization are occurring, the work magnifies the illusory presumption that there are defined and immutable identities within a physical space.
Much in the way that traditional graffiti places artistic expression in the urban landscape as a context beyond the gallery, Dreamlife provided a context for the moving image that was outside the perceived norm for the average individual. By bringing the moving image out into the world the viewer was forced to question the environment in which they exist. Without anticipation or previous arrangement the viewer was exposed to the visual content; without having paid admission or having gone to a predetermined theater to watch â€œfilmâ€?. Without expectation or announcement Dreamlife exposed large audiences to spontaneous moving images by creating events outside of the structured walls of the movie house and into the streets of a crowded urban district. By allowing the motions within the piece to take place over days and weeks instead of minutes and hours, Dreamlife traced the organic nature of daily life in the urbanized sector of human existence by changing the static nature of film presentation into something akin to video street art.
The content becomes a seemingly subtle, almost ambient pattern within the structure of the installation environment. To the viewer, this sudden presentation of animated life within the skeleton of a vacant building emerges as a catalyst of unanswered questions that can only be resolved through meditative observation of the overall movement presented within the piece. Operating from a curatorial platform Dreamlife represented a framework through which multiple visual artists were able to express concepts outside of the limitations of their medium. Individual visual realizations had become unified into a structure whose independent images were modeled within a visual language intent on reaching beyond raw expression. Attempting the development of a dialog between viewer and creator, between occupant and habitat.
The buildingâ€™s dreams had leaked out into the world. Without warning the building had been transformed into something other, into a vehicle for expression, its architecture the retina through which those changes would be perceived.
Social Engineering Everything is Under Control A Map of the City
Getting people to do what they are told is one thing, getting them to do exactly the opposite of what they are told is another. Talking a cop out of arresting you for defacing private property is an art form all on its own. If you just painted over 50 square meters of street including a car its likely, but not totally said and done, that you will being seeing a judge if you are caught. That’s not to say a silver tongue won’t help you. If you appear to be a “harmless artist” you can certainly talk to the cop with reason. You don’t have a gun, you shouldn’t have any drugs on you and hopefully this time whatever you painted on wasn’t worth much and doesn’t really belong to anyone who cares. You would mean a shitload of paper work and its 4 am and he just wants a coffee. Hopefully.
Everything is Under Control On the Thursday before the Hackney Wicked arts festival in the fall of 2010, in the neighborhood of Hackney Wick, London, I set out to paint a piece under the Hackney Wick Station bridge. The expanse of the space was just wider than two car lanes; big enough for a lorry to drive under. With a friend ’s 20-year-old son (who was in town visiting) in tow I went out at about 3:30 in the morning. The air was nice, not to warm or cold. I had about 10 cans of paint in a bag for a quick run. After painting about 10 minutes a car drove by. I stepped out of the road to let it pass but remained calm. After the car had gone around the block it came back 10 minutes later, driving in the opposite direction . It slowed and stopped just past the space I was working in (I had a basic outline of the piece but no fills by this point). It was the car of a hired security rental agency from the nearby Olympic village construction site. I walked up to the window and claimed I would be finished in about 30 minutes in a tone that suggestion I was supposed to be there. The guy said something like “oh yeah?” and smiled and drove off. I went back to work for a few more minutes before the car returned with some guys on foot and a guard dog. They told us to stop and said we were being arrested. I explained I had permission to be in the location (I did not) and that I would be through in just a few minutes. They said I had to wait for the police. When the first round of police (blue suited City of London police) arrived they spoke to us. I laughed and said this was all ridiculous and that it had been sorted out through the council. To his credit, my friend’s son stood quietly at the side and said almost nothing, though he was being “held” as well.
I explained that this was “all arranged as part of the arts festival the next day.” I pointed out that there were posters for the festival all over the neighborhood. After about 20 minutes of standing under the bridge another group of cops showed up. In all there were now 5 security guys standing across the street just watching to see if we got into trouble, 4 city of London bobbies, and now 4 London Rail police. The whole time I was talking and laughing and being friendly with the real cops (fuck those rent-a-cops). One rail guy asked me how much I was getting paid after I complained that I would have to refund the deposit they gave me to do the piece and lose the job. Maybe get sued. Eventually it came down to whose problem it was. The cops were debating who had to deal with the paper work. City cop turned to the security guys and says “you can go now”, they look disappointed to not get to watch us get taken away. Rail cop: Looks like it’s on your side. City cop: What about the part on the wall, that’s the bridge right? Rail cop: (pointing up) No that’s the bridge up there; this is the street, mostly. At this point I pointed out that if I was going to do an illegal piece why wouldn’t I choose the street opposite that had no lights instead of the block with the camera pointed right at it under a brightly lit bridge.
The cops laughed at that. Eventually City cop tells Rail cop he will handle it. I talk to City cop a bit more and he asks if I can prove it’s legit in an email or something (I had told them straight up that I lived in the neighborhood). He and the other guy (now everyone had gone but the two main cops, it was about 5:20am) take us back to my place and I pretend my wireless router is fucking up. He eventually says, “You know what, I believe you. I am going to call this into my Sergeant and let you guys go back and work.” My friend’s son and the other cop are outside, we go back and join them and he talks to his Sergeant and then they take us back to the Wick Bridge and head off. I spend about 2 hours laying down all the cans and watching the sun come up.
The thing is the whole time I was shitting myself. I was scared as fuck and didn’t want to go to jail. But by keeping everything under control and not playing the victim I walked through the situation and even got to finish painting. Unfortunately the kid with me had the camera the whole time so I never got pics of the cops or the disappointed security guys. But around 7:30 am, as I was wrapping up, a couple of those security guys drove by and saw us working and had the most astonished looks on their faces. By Monday morning the piece had been buffed away by Hackney Council.
In order to achieve certain tasks in the making of any art work that is an act of defiance one must be able to impose their will upon the situation and all of the variables that occur. One must expect backlash and unpopularity. It comes with the territory. But knowing about those variables, paying attention to them, will help you achieve your goal of creative expression. “Remember crime against property is not real crime. People look at an oil painting and admire the use of brush strokes to convey meaning. People look at a graffiti painting and admire the use of a drainpipe to gain access.” - Banksy But in the eyes of most of the cops who are going to stop you it is a “real crime.” Unless you can outrun them, the only escape is to out-think them. You have about 45 seconds before they tell you to shut up. What you say, how you act, the physical expression you have in your body about what you are doing, all will dictate what happens from the moment you hear the words “you, there!” Every person is different, no less so for cops. Some old guys could give a shit, others think they are a general in the army. Some young guys spend all day stealing dime bags and hitting on hot chicks outside donut and coffee shops - they could give a fuck about you. If they happen on you the last thing you want to do is play the victim. Don’t look like what you are doing is wrong. Be confident (remember not to be an asshole though). Make them feel generous, make them feel like you are not a bad guy, and you might get to skip being in jail.
A Map of the City In the summer of 2001 I worked out a plan for a group of my friends to be accessories in a little bit of art crime. Each summer in Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art holds a summer solstice party that goes from sunset to sunrise. Thousands of people come to the museum, party all night, wander in the gardens, and enjoy the summer night air. The piece was very simple: take two 16mm projectors into the museum via the rear entrance, set them up on the rear wall of the exterior garden and project a bit of experimental film for the elucidation of the guests. Easy enough, as long as we could get past the security and not get stopped by the mountains of staff working the event. My choice is always to go right to the heart of the matter. With projectors and crew in hand I walked right up to the head security guard at the garden entrance and said â€œHi, I am here with the projectors, do you know where I am supposed to set up?â€? Of course he had no idea. Just as he
was about to suggest something I said not to worry, I would sort it out - thus we all entered the museum without struggle. From there we ran power cables into the building and setup our installation outside. By the time the light was shining a 10 meter wide image on the back of the building we had an audience of about 1000 people watching. No one questioned that we were there; of course we were supposed to be there, how else could all of this be happening? By the end around 2500 people saw the 40 minute program, none of them guessing we had no permission to be there (though at one point the program director, who I knew from a film festival, came up and asked me what was happening. I told him and he just looked slack-jawed that I was there and no one was saying a word about it.)
The best way in is to go straight through the door. Always look like what you are doing is supposed to be happening. Confidence is the key.
Objectification and Education Counter Intrusion Disconnect
I once described the entire art world to a friend as â€œa bunch of rich kids who own/run galleries and museums who make money by introducing you to their rich friends and convincing said friends you are cool enough to buy art from and give grants to.â€? I stand by this as the most accurate description for the horrible situation that we currently call the art world. In looking at what is wrong with this model there are two obvious factors involved: Academia and Commerce.
Academic The role of art schools in the art world at large has grown to become a vastly important function of art and artists in the current art world model. But this has not always been so. As late as the 1970s the role of the art school in deciding which artists would be acclaimed and thought of was nominal. Very few of the ‘masters’ of the art world had made much success in any formal education. Most, having attempted to be involved in some art school or another, had quit or were thrown out due to their behavior and ideas. These radical minds would go on to be considered masters through their explosive ideas and rethinking of the role and function of art. Yet as the power of the art school grew from the late 1970s onward, the number of artists who would be perceived by the public as “masters” would dwindle. As the isolationist view of art as some exclusive language of the intellectual grew in prominence and the marketing strategies of the art schools developed, the public increasingly came to consider art as something alien and not understood - and for good reason. Art was being taught in a way that told each artist that a language must be learned, that certain philosophical ideas must be understood in order for any appreciation of art to occur. Without this knowledge, one was taught (and still is), no one can understand art. How then can the public be considered in the shape of art and its appreciation? The answer is that public opinion has little to do with art today, who becomes famous and why.
The developing infrastructure of the art school has permeated the art world to its fullest. Professors teach students to believe certain variables about what art is, then those students go on to be curators and administrators within the art world. After several generations the art school system has come to dominate the art world. What anyone really learns in art school is how to navigate the system of “who knows who” in order to achieve financial success. Your professors recommend you to their former students who are now gallery owners, who in turn give you a show and sell your work to their rich friends. This ‘education’ has almost nothing to do with creativity and everything to do with social engineering. Not that there is anything wrong with an artist becoming financially successful through their art. Yet what is evident in the bigger picture of this art school model is that since the advent of art schools as a powerful force in the art world there have been no artists who are considered “masters” by the public. Of course there have been “famous artists” who come and go with each season’s fashion like the accessory to a couture outfit. The ‘currently collectible’ exists but no one has been able to rise above the tide of changing fashion in order to capture the imagination of the public beyond the confines of the art world itself.
Commerce The second model that is involved in the dilemma of art in the world today is the financial infrastructure that supports the art world. Since the dawn of creative individualism in the realm of art there have been certain people who supported the arts. Formerly these patrons were kings and other aristocratic individuals who sought to broaden their own fame/popularity by supporting artists as a means of public outreach. As time has passed the patrons of art have become the private collectors and government institutions who support the fashionable without thought to the evolution of art as a whole. Support is given to those who have played the game of “who knows who” in order to become collectable among the rich and elitist cliques within the insular art world. Turning in on itself the art world has become an inbred mutation of creativity. A nepotistic game of tag where each of the artists takes a turn at being ‘famous’ among their benefactors – usually the rich friends of their family and gallery owners. When one has sold pieces for enough money then they ‘graduate’ to being shown in museums instead of galleries. Nowhere in this ‘pay to play’ model is it more evident than in the “Art Fair”. In the dominant art fair model a gallery or individual artist must pay rental space and exorbitant fees in order for their art to be shown. Many art fairs charge a submission fee that is extremely high, yet do not guarantee inclusion in the fair and no refund is given if the art is rejected. What this model does is amplify the fact that in order to be successful as an artist in today’s art world one needs to have the money to buy their way into popularity. Without the financial support of a gallery an artist must already have money in order to make money., thus excluding all but those artists born to wealthy families. Art has become in every sense a commodity. Regardless of its financial value any creation has an intrinsic value placed on it by
its creator and those who experience it. Yet the commodification of art as a financial tool has reached the point where the art world is incapable of truly innovate practices. These games of ‘pay to play’ and ‘who knows who’ only intensify the already diseased state of the art world in the early 21st century. As these two infrastructures commingle, with the art school model constantly influencing the art world commodity model, an increasingly bland spectacle is being churned up that shouts louder and louder “I am important” in its garish way, but in reality it has become so disenfranchised from the public that it no longer holds any meaning for the average person. Art, without meaning to the individual, has no value. If the experience of art can not be understood by simply interacting with the art itself, then it has become a gibberish nonsense that holds no value in the world. If only those who come from pampered and wealthy backgrounds can afford to be artists then where is the range of human experience necessary to drive art forward in its evolution? Suffering for one’s art has become the de rigor way in which the rich punish their parents for giving them everything they want. Being an “artist” has become simply an act of rebellion against the lifestyles of the upper middle class.
A revolution must occur, the walls of the art world must be taken down. We must reject all that it is in order to become the future of art. There is no crime in selling your artwork,
in being appreciated for what you do, but if the artists of the world continue to allow the current model of the art world to exist we face the death of art and the destruction of creativity in contemporary culture.
In the spring of 2007 I conceived a performance piece titled ‘Counter Intrusion’ as part of an exhibition at Inspire Fine art that was happening at the same time as the Art in Chicago “art fair”. Art in Chicago is one of many contemporary art “festivals” that act as conventions for fine art. Galleries pay a rental price to have a section of physical space in a large convention hall. They divide up the space and show their wares much in the way a toy or film collector’s convention occurs; though the spaces in which the displays occur might be a little more fancy, the format is identical. These art fairs are becoming a proving ground for the commercial art world. By setting up these conventions corporate entities like the Art Basel are able not only to make a huge impact on the ‘salability’ of an artist but to now influence the art media about the importance of specific artists in the evolution of art history (through their PR programs and advertising budgets.)
What impact is there on an art world model that is being controlled by a bank, hotel chain or alcohol vendor? How is the ‘evolution’ of art to continue if the importance of a work (or artist as a whole) is decided on its value as a commodity? What forms of internal censorship are being decided by those that nominate artists for grants and exhibitions? As corporate control over art expands, one has to ask whether this is art that is occurring or simply media advertising in disguise?
So the ‘Art in Chicago’ art fair was to come to Chicago again and I thought that since I was having a show I should consider this art fair and its role in the art world. So I wrote, directed and performed in a new piece, Counter Intrusion, but I did not get what I thought I would get out of my performance. The basic plot of the piece was to dress in dark suits, looking as ‘straight’ as we could (I say we as I was accompanied by co actor Jacob Myers and followed by Kait who documented the piece in stills) and act as some kind of ‘agents.’ We spent the better part of a day walking around with a video camera in hand, creating a sense of mild tension wherever we went. Everyone figured we were cops or FBI or something but no one did anything more than mild muttering under their breath. We pointed our camera at anything and anyone and yet no one said a word to us. I got a lot of looks that said to me “who do you think you are?!” but not a word to stop us. We questioned various gallery workers about the artists themselves but did not receive a single demand for us to stop or to present identification.
As we strode through the spaces my companion agent and I (followed at a distance by our photographer) specifically filmed people, recording both the viewers interest in a piece and documenting the piece in a way that was intended to make the gallery owners and artists feel threatened. What we got for our intrusion were sidelong glances and guilty looks – the timid stares of those who would rather you didn’t do what you were doing, but who were too lazy or afraid to stop us. By late afternoon and having pushed my way into whatever place I wanted to go I had grown distraught and tired. “What the hell is happening?” I thought to myself in disgust. No one had said a word. Are they all so complacent, so beaten down that they never uttered a word of resistance? I thought.
We were questioned by only one person about who we were, a women who actually asked if we were the CIA, to which I replied no. Not a single artist stopped us, though many starred at me, yet when I turned to face them they quickly looked away. What I saw that day made me realize something about the idea of art. I finally realized that there are two distinct groups of people who describe themselves as ‘artists.’ One group is constantly evolving, pushing at the boundaries of the language of art in order to make something never made before. The other group is constantly rehashing the ideas created by the first group. The second group merely recreates the first group’s works over and over – subtlety changing the variables of the content but never adding to the original idea. I wonder why there are so few words to describe the most important facet of human evolution (creativity)? How is it that in the English language (the one to which my thoughts are currently confined) there is so wide a range of ideal placed in that one word (art)? When will society begin to see the difference between the content and the container? In the end I realized why no one at Art in Chicago stopped us - they don’t care, neither the galleries nor the ‘artists’. In the end they act like they are capable of dealing with being violated by a government body without the ability to resist. Like
a sheep being shorn, they stood and did not like it but did nothing to stop it. Because the hands that shear them are the same hands that feed them.
Disconnect The difference between the world we live in and the world the media/governments present as reality.
We live in a complex world. One that has many layers of constantly changing form. Technology, economics and spirituality shape the way in which people interact as individuals, as cultures and as nations.
As we find ourselves facing an endless stream of 24hour-a-day news, total global communication, social networking that is eating away at entertainment, our time is constrained and the information overload pummels us even as we sleep. In this miasma of data the average citizen of the 21st century finds it increasingly difficult to sort out the validity of the incoming data reality around them. Verification and fact checking, at one time a cornerstone of publishing and broadcast news, is a thing of the past. In the 24-hour news cycle there is no longer time for spell checking, let along fact finding. Just as corporations have come to control the media from the top down, so crackpot religious fanatics have been given access to the Internet as a broadcast media. Between the bottom up zealots and the top down corporations the way in which data is shared and news consumed has become dominantly a commercial effort. (Everyone wants to make money, from cult leaders to CEOs).
In the 21st century the governments of the western world are single handedly controlled by the economic might of banks and corporations.
These commercial entities are given personhood and thus freedom of speech by our governments. These governments are run solely by politicians who have made a career out of taking â€œpolitical donationsâ€? to support the causes of the corporations that dominate the global economy. This financial revolving door between corporate culture and government regulation denies average citizens their functional democratic voice. Your vote means nothing if the options you are given all lead to the same financially backed political executives.
Capitalism is not an economic model; it is a form of government, one that is wholly counter to the philosophical concept of democracy. Governments,
corporations and their media outlets would have you believe that you live in a democratic culture and that your freedoms are inherent. In fact what you believe are your freedoms are privileges bestowed upon you by the capitalist infrastructure that you buy into everyday of your life. While this may seem like a bad thing the reality is that it’s a functioning infrastructure in which many people are given the paid-for freedom to do the things they want. The issue is ultimately one of disconnect from the ideas and understandings we are told exist and the ones that actually do exist. The world is not so different from how it appears to be, its just that you are being told that it functions one way and in fact it is the opposite. As the corporate domination of information has become a threat to any sense of true freedom so technology has provided the bottom feeders of our society with an outlet for their ravings. Racists, religious zealots, and evangelists - the whole spectrum of fanatical and often violent fringe groups and individuals are allowed to spew forth their rabid extremes, shouting fiction as fact, warning of conspiracies and invisible foes (sometimes even on network TV). What both the bottom and the top want to achieve is simply power/economic gain. But the catch is that both sides point to anyone who disagrees and accuse them of being either “conspiracy nuts” or “Bilderberg banker illuminati.” By efficiently marginalizing anyone who comes along with the truth, anyone who spreads real information (see for example Wikileaks) both the top and the bottom are able to control how we perceive what is actually happening
in the world. By using these polarizations of identity they who are in control of the global economy distract the masses from what is happening behind the curtains. Robert Anton Wilson said that, “reality is that which, when you ignore it, doesn’t go away.” It cannot be ignored that what is happening in the world today is not as it appears; that the backroom dealings between governments (both elected and totalitarian) and banks/corporations are hidden from view as well as they can afford to be. That with each “leak” of the internal workings we find out more often than not that secrets are the lubrication in the gears of the socioeconomic infrastructure of the world of the 21st century. Such polarizations are the core of the political stage. The theater of democratic elections gives us a “right vs. left” paradigm which we root for based on the cultural upbringing we receive. Politicians and their scriptwriters utilize the divisive characteristics of moral and ethical issues to polarize society as a whole. “For or against” is the bottom line of contemporary politics. When I was a kid they told us to fear the communists, our grandfathers were told to fear the fascists, and our children are being taught to fear the Islamists. Each of these political/national/economic groups contains extreme elements that are exploited by our governments as an “indoctrination by fear” to sway the general masses toward consent for the actions that western governments utilize to keep us under control. By amplifying our moral indignation for these “alien cultures” through indoctrination the world governments are able to create a sustained culture of fear. Such fear, ingrained into us from birth, provides those who have sought and found power with an extended arm to keep us moving like cattle toward the slaughter of their financial gain.
Manipulating the Media Hollow Earth A World Without Facts Copyright is for Losers©
The idea of creating a music video for someone without permission had been floating around in my head for a couple of years. I knew that in order to be successful , certain variables would have to come into play in exactly the right order. Those variables occurred on the night of September 19th 2009 at about 11pm. I was reading a blog about graffiti in Japan and discovered a link to the leaked files of the new Thom Yorke single (which I had not heard about). Curious, I downloaded them and right away was visualizing a video for the b-side track “The Hollow Earth.” Listening to the track I began sketching out my idea, collecting the variables - which included a large number of Banksy’s pieces - and editing and rendering the video. By 3am on September 20th I had finished the version I would put up on YouTube. In the ‘about’ section I wrote that the video was ‘official’. I also specifically wrote the kind of details I had found on official videos for Radiohead and other bands. After waiting for the video to upload I went to bed, after all it was 4am.
When I got up on the morning of the 20th the video had received about 1500 hits. I was impressed and after making coffee and thinking about the shape of the video and its content I decided this was the video that I had been thinking about making for some time. I immediately began promoting the video to the world. I posted it on Facebook and Myspace, sent links to some Radiohead forums and Facebook fan pages and then finally at about 3pm in the afternoon I decided to write a press release for the video. The short 300 word press release was sent to all the major media outlets I had contacts for. At this point the YouTube video had less than 2000 hits. Throughout the day the YouTube count stayed the same but the ratings went up and so did the comments. The majority of the comments I received were very positive. The next morning (Sept 21st) I woke to find that the video had 26,500 hits. Thatâ€™s about 24k in 24 hours. I discovered that the music magazine NME had run a piece on the video online and that their feed was spreading across the web like wildfire. By noon on the 21st it was being featured on sites including Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, BBC, the Guardian, Reuters, as well as hundreds of blogs and Radiohead fan sites.
Then, at about 3pm that afternoon, I received an email from Holly Cushing - Banksy’s agent. After some negotiations (neither of us wanted to give out a number) we eventually had a telephone conversation. She explained that Banksy owns the ‘intellectual property rights’ to all of his images and that he was upset about the video. I apologized and said I did not want to upset Banksy but that the video was done without permission from him or Yorke. I described it to her as a “prank.” Once she realized this (that I was not paid by Yorke to make the video and did not have permission) she was much easier about the whole thing but asked that I retract anything that might suggest Banksy’s intentional involvement. I said I would do what I could. I then changed the word “courtesy” to “appropriated from” in the YouTube credits. By this point things were pretty out of hand. The various sites that had picked it up had spread it everywhere. Some sites, starting with Pitchfork, had tried to get a quote from Yorke and Banksy about the video and upon finding out they had nothing to do with it amended their articles to say the video was unofficial. Many other sites followed suit over the next few hours, often just putting the letters “un” before official in their existing articles. None of them removed their articles or the embedded video link to my work. The
virus had already spread. Thousands of sites had picked up the video, the culmination being a TV spot made by ITN for the EU newsfeed. I awoke on the morning of Sept 23rd with the video still on YouTube. It had 48,000 hits and 200 ratings (4.5 stars out of 5). It had been reviewed on hundreds of websites and was being talked about by thousands of people; not bad for three days work. But, I wondered, when would Yorke chime in on all of this? Yorke’s input came that afternoon at about 1pm. I went to YouTube to check the progress and got the pink slip that said: “This is to notify you that we have removed or disabled access to the following material as a result of a third-party notification by Thom Yorke claiming that this material is infringing: Thom Yorke - The Hollow Earth - by Raymond Salvatore Harmon: http://www.YouTube.com/ watch?v=z2DQ50-4qXY” Ironically at that time there were many other videos that used the same Yorke track. Most of them with just a still image as the visual content but several of them actually my video just uploaded by other people. Creating a viral video piece and exploiting the mass media’s weakness for iconic celebrities like Banksy and Yorke reveals the soft underbelly of the corporate media beast. My 300 word ‘press release’ caused a lot of conversation over just a few days.
how many press releases come from corporations that dictate what the media tells us? How can we know the truth? When something is But I am no pro -
labeled “official” or “safe” how can we be sure it is? The reality is that we have no idea and never will. The media controls what you know, but who controls the media?
“The old journalism had aimed at the objectivity by ‘giving both sides at once.’ The new journalism seeks, rather, to immerse the reader in the total situation, using the resources of imaginative fiction to provide a multi-leveled experience. The new journalism is quite prepared to urge that ‘news’ is necessarily a form of fiction or making.” - Marshall McLuhan
A World Without Facts
Learning to write your own press release is like learning to fuck. You do the same basic things each time with a new hook now and then for variety. You start out shitty at it but the more you do it the more you understand what to do and how to say the right words in the right way.
The reality is that no one got famous without a PR person. No one is ‘discovered.’ Someone writes a press release and sends it to a media outlet and the ones that will sell issues are the things they write about. Often the major media magazines just rewrite the press release sent to them. The lazy ones quote it verbatim, sometimes without even crediting the source. This is true for artists, musicians, bands, actors; anyone who is looking for attention in any field. The kids who get all the attention are the ones who act up. Most people who self describe as journalists do nothing more than read from a script on a TelePrompTer. Press releases are spoon fed from the PR copy writer straight to the viewer through the convenient mouth of the journalist. If you are lucky an editor will spell correct your press release before it goes to print. The best publicists are like hypnotists on the
soft minds of the media. They tell the journos what to say, but make them feel like they are saying it for themselves. The journo is manipulated into believing that they always felt that way about whatever it is they want you to talk about. 70% of the news on TV, the web and in print relates specifically to the entertainment industry. Most people want to read about whatever is happening with famous people they like (or loathe). If you feed the press some controversy about people whose names they already know (and think other people will want to hear ) they gobble it up without thinking about it first. Andy Warhol created a language by which an artist can discuss ideas with the limited alphabet of corporate icons. The continual mass appropriation of what has come before is part of the evolutionary trend in the history of art. We take from the past that which helps us deal with the ‘now’ and our present becomes fodder for the future. The vast majority of that which self identifies as art is merely the regurgitation of past ideas. There is no such thing as bad publicity to an artist. Loved or hated, as long as people are interacting with your work (i.e. talking about you) you are affecting change. That doesn’t mean you are not an asshole (most likely you are) but being an asshole is one of many variables that play into the creative process. The art terrorist takes this into account. They see the wiring and the architecture as the means of manipulating the way that people think, how they perceive reality. In being aware of this schematic they can begin to understand the language and the control variables inherent in a given culture or subculture’s idea of what is or is not. When approaching the manipulation of an individual or group one must consider that they may be, and in fact often are, smarter than you. Whenever you think you can outwit them in your ability to preconceive their actions and get the reaction a particular piece requires, they will invariably surprise you by seeing right through your illusions and trickery. The best defense to this situation is to not try to trick them at all. Let them trick themselves.
Copyright is for Losers
After I did the Banksy/Yorke video piece I got a call from Banksy’s people. Though she was nice about it his representative spoke about things like Banksy’s “intellectual property rights” and “the context he has developed for his work.” What a load of shit.
Copyright is over. As fast as you can come up with a law to protect “intellectual property rights” and a means of enforcing that law or preventing it being violated, there is an army of kids out there working on new ways to work around everything you know about data. File sharing will never die, printing is becoming so cheap anyone can make an “archival print”, and black market scum will always be able to make a buck on pressing whatever they call CD/ LP/DVD/MP3s in the future. Its not that artists shouldn’t be able to protect themselves, its not that an artist doesn’t own the rights to their work, its that no matter what you or
a military budget of lawyers do to stop people they will always steal whatever they can. People suck, that’s just the way the world works.
More and more I hear musicians and other artists trying to approach the file sharing situation with an open mind. They think that if companies create an “affordable infrastructure” that people will pay a “reasonable amount” for access to music, films, what have you. That’s all bullshit. Unless you give it away people will take it from you. Even if you give it away they may go around your back just to avoid the advertising you might inflict upon them while they take your free content. There is no way to win (unless everyone decides to live in a police state, which is always a possibility). As technological advances expand the way we share our experiences, humanity must adapt and reconsider everything we know about ownership. Data is not physical, reproduction of data is seamless - there is no difference between a copy and an original in the digital realm. The past 30 years of digital reproduction in music and film have shown that there will always be a certain
subset of humanity that will spread data without thought for ownership. An entire generation has been born since Napster and the birth of P2P file-sharing and these kids don’t give a shit about laws and old fashioned notions of copyrights and wrongs. This is doubly so for those who use all that free data as fodder for their creative aspirations. Sampling, photoshopping, video remixing, mash-up, all of these formats of creative expression rely on the immutable ability to reach out and take whatever you need. Bits of data have become brush strokes and color, pigments and tones. 100 or more years ago we needed to learn how to draw, how to play an instrument, how to use a camera. None of this matters anymore. The skills of today’s artist must reach far beyond the basic skills of a century ago. If you can draw or play guitar that’s great, but how good are you are installing pirated versions of Photoshop and Final Cut Pro? Something has changed yet the world of art has remained stagnant with the past. We have become liberated by our technologies but corporations and many ‘artists’ continue to believe that the past is relevant, that the model of creative expression that fed Picasso and Warhol continues.
They are fucking a dead horse whose corpse reeks of the formaldehyde it has been pickled in, a preservative of a time long gone.
Over the past decade or more I have been directly involved in the music industry. Not the big media conglomerates who push their money around to control governments and change laws, but the independent labels who try to add value to the world by putting out artists whose work matters. During my time producing records and designing for various labels, the world of information exchange has changed drastically. Bandwidth, when I started working for record labels, was related to modems and band rates, now it has become fiber optics. The rate of information exchange has gone up by 1000 times. The model for which labels have existed for the past 100 years had remained a basically constant form. Independent labels may have changed the nature of their relationship with the artists, but the way in which the customer got the music remained the same. The variable that dictated this exchange was the distributor. A record distributor buys records from the label and sells them to stores. Due to the constantly changing nature of record stores the distributor focused on the stores themselves, leaving the labels to deal with the making of records. This distribution model was constant from about 1920 on to the late 1990s. In the late 1990s however the music industry saw a huge change. Something was affecting record sales and due to the change that was happening, the biggest of the independent record distributors went out of business in under 2 years. Some people blamed CD burners and internet downloads, others blamed the greed of major labels and the constantly rising cost of a retail CD despite the fact that the cost of manufacturing had come down considerably. Regardless of what caused this change it occurred and without distributors, the independent labels began to fail.
During the course of this period I began putting more and more of my experimental films online. As sites like YouTube came into being the ability to distribute film, like music before, became a reality. I make the kind of film that has a very low commercial value. Abstract, non narrative and often challenging. So the idea of commercial DVDs is a bit hard to grasp. I figured it was a better way to get these films out into the public. Eventually I made myself a feature film - a bit too long for YouTube. I found the best way to get a big video file online was the bit torrent peer to peer protocol. I reached out to a few sites and asked for them to help distribute my film (the Philosopher’s Stone) and with the help of sites like Greylodge and the Pirate Bay I was able to have my experimental feature film seen by tens of thousands of people from all around the world. During the launch of the Philosopher’s Stone I came into contact with Peter Sunde - one of the founders of the Pirate Bay. Regardless of your opinion of file sharing and its effects on the creative world, you have to give it to Peter and the gang at the Pirate Bay for having balls the size of a Russian warship. They have fought a very long fight against everyone from Big Media to their own government (Sweden) to continue to do what they believe in. Even if you think they are criminals who help to support illegal downloading you have to give them credit for standing up against an overwhelming tide of political and corporate power hell bent on stopping them. Even when the Motion Picture Industry got a Swedish judge to illegally threaten their internet service provider and had them taken offline, they just changed providers and were back online in 3 hours - with an image on their homepage of a t-shirt that said “I spent months of time and millions of dollars to close down The Pirate Bay and all I’ll get is this beautiful t-shirt!”
The idea of copyright is something that has not been around all that long. It dates back to the Statute of Anne (1710) in Britain giving authors the right to copy their work exclusively for a fixed period of time. This concept became international law in 1886 with the Berne Convention establishing recognition of copyrights among sovereign nations. The duration of this fixed period has grown from 14 years under the Statue of Anne to 75 years after the authors death (or 95 years for corporate copyright holders) in the US (known as the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, but commonly known as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, due to it being Disney who forced the legislation though to protect Mickey Mouse from ever falling into the public domain). The idea alone that corporate copyright is longer than personal copyright ownership should give you some idea of where this is going. While I certainly believe that the creator of any work (music, film, imagery, etc) should be the owner of said work and control the commercial application of that work, in the world I feel that the idea of copyright is quickly becoming a losing battle. Corporations are currently spending considerable sums to force governments to protect their interests, yet even as they change this or that law, technology is evolving at a rate so rapid that we can do nothing to stop copyright violations. In fact it is possible that the amount of money these corporations are spending in legal fees to stop copyright violation far exceeds the amount of potential loss due to those violations.
Programming Reality DoYouEverUnderstand? Here Today, Gone Tomorrow Mythologies
The fact is that most people go through their day with little or no excitement. You wake up, eat, go to work/ school, deal with people, eat more, shit occasionally, go home and go to bed. Variations on this include passive entertainment, drug and alcohol consumption and fucking. When an obstacle pushes itself into most peoples lives it is ignored or begrudgingly dealt with.
People live like zombies, but the TV and the rest of the media constantly tells them that their lives are full - and they eat up these lies like a bowl of cherries. The reason most people watch the TV is that they project themselves into the fictional lives of the characters on the shows. They laugh and cry with them, suffer and feel exaltation through them. The range of emotions expressed via empathy toward fictional characters often outweighs the emotional content of an average personâ€™s real life. Humans crave experiences, we desire interaction with the possibilities of fiction, we long for dream and fantasy. If our lives are not full we turn to other sources to feed our need for experience. But in the 21st century all of this fiction in which we find ourselves is the product of commercial means.
The programs we watch, the music we listen to, the movies we absorb, all are telling us how to live, what to buy, and above and beyond everything that we should consume.
Advertising does not stop at pop up windows and the 60 second commercial, it bleeds into every part of the media from the news and weather to cartoons
and programs. Every pixel of data programs us to live in the capitalist/ consumer paradigm. As artists we possess an ability, an awareness that reveals the infrastructure of this subtle deception. We can see the tools that are used and we ourselves can use those same tools to speak to the world. A can of paint can radically alter the message of a billboard, a well chosen piece of email can lodge in the mind of the passive reader like a popcorn shell under a tooth. We may tongue and tongue but it refuses to budge. In the end every bit of data we come into contact with shapes who we are as humans. Every word we read, every sight we see, makes us who we are. When an artist imposes their view of the world, their idea of how things should be, they take a bit of control away from the corporations that maintain our consensual capitalist reality. Maybe if enough of us force the world to see what is really happening people will begin to wake up from the TV induced dream of a better tomorrow? But I doubt it.
DoYouEverUnderstand? In the early 00s I did a series of pieces where I went onto subways systems in San Francisco and Chicago with stenciled text statements meant to look like hip adverts. They were placed on the bit of the train above people’s heads where ads go. I just slipped them into the slots. Each stencil was a web domain on which I had placed some piece of interactive art. There were three or four sets of 200 made and distributed. One was “doyoueverunderstand.com” another was “Ihavealwayslivedhere.org.” All that was on them was the domain in big letters and some abstract stenciled shapes. The other side of the piece was that I used spam/email software to email specific cultural organizations (like museums, etc). In the email I used software to mask myself as the director of the specific organization so that all the employees from the organization thought they were getting an email from their boss. Each email’s subject was “Have you seen this?” With just a link and the signature of the director. I used tracking software to document how many of the people I sent the emails to actually looked at the site. You’d be surprised at the accuracy. Usually at least half looked, with 60 of the 70 people I emailed at the Whitney checking it out within two days.
The idea was that graffiti is a lot more than a tag or a stylish picture. It can be a command, a bit of code placed into the urban environment that changes the way those who see it act. What seems like poetry on the subway turns out to be a map to some other, more abstract thing.
People will do what they are told if you can address them in the way they are used to being addressed. Almost no one questions when a boss says, â€œgo do this.â€? If they think they are being told something by a superior they will do as they are instructed.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow. Street art is by nature a transient thing. As soon as it is spotted it is removed by city council workers. Constant turf wars are occurring over much of the global urban landscape between the creative/destructive actions of the inhabitants and the cities they inhabit. Rubbing, buffing, washing, removal. Anyplace that is easy to hit is easy to clean. The most successful pieces are those that are placed in the “heavens” up high enough or awkwardly placed in a way that city workers can not easily access the space to remove the markings. Often these places are very dangerous to access - they don’t call it the ‘heavens’ for nothing. But as the cities clean so the artists continue to create. Spending hours on a piece in some secluded spot only to have it removed a day later is a sacrifice to the art
The doing of it, the action, is the essence of the work. A pressure to create in a time frame, to work without being stopped with the knowledge that arrest is probable and that you may return to take pics the next day only to find the whole thing buffed is inevitable. itself.
Yet the impact of a well placed piece is remarkable. Whether a high profile place in a busy urban district or a hidden mural revealed only by the happenstance wanderings of a select few, the ability to speak to the world so directly is unparalleled. Even if it only lasts a day.
Mythologies Everyone has embellished a story during the telling. The “I caught a fish this big” need to exaggerate and make interesting the details of any account permeates world culture. In adding or subtracting the variables of a fiction we give it shape. An artist is in this sense an actor, creating a persona, deciding more vividly than most of society who and what they are in relation to the world they inhabit. In showing the world their art, in deciding a ‘context’ for that work, they reveal whatever part of the plot they wish. They say “this is me”; yet they may, and often do, lie. Banksy’s non identity is as much an identity as it is a self created mythology. All artists create a personal myth with their lives. But many myths are forgotten. Those that last, that make an impression on the world, are the ones that leave the public wanting more. By subtracting the icon of the self Banksy has been able to create an identity in that void. Fans and detractors are able to project their impressions about who the artist IS much in the same way that one projects meaning into a given piece of artwork. Banksy’s single greatest accomplishment is the creation of Banksy. Warhol, as self aware as he was, was not the first artist to give shape to their identity through constant and meticulous manipulation and control. Dali, Picasso, Beuys, Rodin, many, if not all, artists make conscious choices about how much of their personal lives they reveal. Many fabricate a sense of cohesion between their work and their persona; surrealists living a surrealist lifestyle. Such choices are engendered by a personal self mythologizing; the creation of the artist as a brand, as a focal point through which specific kinds of ideas develop and occur. The artist in this fashion ideally becomes an icon representing the entire scope of work that is created.
Identity Theft Can be Your Friend Cloud of Unknowing Exposure The Problem With Information Democracy
Social utilities like Facebook and Twitter have created an insanity in duplication of identity. How many thousands of pages exist that claim to be someone they are not? Fans, stalkers, crazies, all hiding behind profiles of artists, actors, musicians and anyone else. Some are harmless fans who just want to spread the word about something they love. Others are sociopaths who love all the attention they get for being someone they are not.
On a more subtle level, a great number of the people you think you know online are not real, or are presenting themselves in a way that is far from the reality of the person who types on a keyboard. Fat old men who pretend to be young teenaged girls (or police doing the same to catch those fat old men), perverts and stalkers who seem so nice but then get your mobile number and call you 100 times a day without saying anything. Personalities that may be many people are often just a single person.
To the art terrorist the idea of identity is mutable. You can be anyone, anywhere in the world at any time. You can do an
interview with the press as someone you are not (say a famous artist) and mention your own work. You can email a journalist and pose as their editor or a curator or the director of the institution they work for. You may not get far. But it depends on your needs.
The Cloud of Unknowing In 2003 I had spent about 2 months preparing for my first live film performance in NYC. 2 16mm projectors, 4 8mm projectors and an array of live audio bits and pieces all cobbled together. Hand tinting the film, chemical baths, all sorts of nonsense. In the flurry of activity I had forgotten to do anything to promote my actual performance. The problem was that this was happening during the New York Underground Film Fest, but not part of the fest itself. The crowd would be in town, but I hadnâ€™t told anyone about it. As I sat down the day before I left Chicago for New York to write a little announcement to an experimental film mailing list I was on, I was struck with an idea. I had registered my subscription to the mailing list with an alternate identity. I hated spam and back then I didnâ€™t like the idea of people knowing I was on any mailing list at all. So I had made a fake email account and that was where all my subscriptions went. (This was also at a time when my hotmail storage limit was 2 megs).
Staring into the computer screen I realized that if I wrote a polite invite to my screening I might get a handful of spillover attendees from the NYUFF. On the other hand I could approach the whole thing from a totally different angle. Instead of telling people to come out to my show, I wrote a letter as a woman calling for the boycott of my performance due to my use of pornographic imagery. It was about 500 words, a complaint from someone who had supposedly attended a previous performance in San Francisco who thought of my work as distasteful. I used some words like feminism and pornography, and then hit send and went back to packing. The list was dominated by film critics, directors and professors - an often opinionated but ‘mature’ group. Because this was sent from an email account I didn’t regularly check I didn’t get a chance to check again until I had settled into my friends flat in NYC. When I did I realized I had caused a shit storm. In the 3 days since I had logged in people had taken sides and were fighting over the whole thing. I sent another email, getting into the groove of what was happening. This was my first real look at the power of media manipulation. A few words and I had caused a huge circus. People were defending the idea, arguing about censorship, and eventually questioning who the poster of the email was. After a week some had guessed that the person writing the email may not have been for real. Regardless the show I did was packed with only standing room.
Date: Fri, 28 Feb 2003 23:21:17 From: xxxxxxx To: xxxxxxx Subject: boycott Greetings fellow frameworkers I just wanted to post a call for boycotting a screening that is taking place in New York at the Robert Beck Memorial Cinema on March 11th (the last day of the New York Underground Film Fest). As a feminist film programmer and filmmaker I find Harmon’s work to be not only offensive but boring. He uses old porno footage and educational films and creates these long, often disgusting, live compositions that reference organized religion and pseudo mystical philosophy. I am not one to condone censorship in any way but I feel that these films are being presented as “experimental” or “avant garde” art when they are in fact shock-value exploitation hiding under the guise of real art. That he has shown his work at respectable film festivals and cultural institutions is a shame. I can not believe that anyone who has actually seen his work could think that it has any merit or value. If you are in New York during the New York Underground Film Festival I implore you not to attend this screening. We will only be able to stamp out this kind of exploitative farce by not supporting it in any way. Sincerely A concerned Frameworker
Sometimes bad is better than good.
One of the biggest obstacles in getting yourself out beyond the world you exist in is creating the illusion that someone believes in what you do. I had a friend who was a musician in Chicago, he had made a couple of good records that he and the band self released. He had a solid email list of press contacts but when he wrote to the journalists to try and get CD reviews and write-ups for shows, he wouldn’t get a single response. He called me up and said “what am I doing wrong?” I discussed his situation with him for a few minutes before I released he was writing to journos in the first person - “I am in this band, we have made a record, please listen to it, blah blah blah” I told him what he needed was a PR person, someone to talk to the writers and make them realize how great the records were. As he could not afford a PR person I instructed him to create a fictional one.
It took him about ten minutes to make a yahoo email account. He then started sending out the same style of press release but seemingly from a PR person whose job it was to pimp this band. He got several responses from his first attempt, from the same batch of writers who had ignored him before.
Nobody cares when you tell them how great you are. People only care when
someone else says how great they think you are. We live in a society of self promotion and only those who can afford (or appear to afford) to employ the army of people that journalists are used to getting their stories from get any attention.
The Banksy/Yorke video spread to the world through a 300 word press release. After it was pulled from YouTube I sent out another press release to rub their noses in the mistake. Very few covered it after that, most just fixed the wording on their sites so they didnâ€™t look like assholes, but the damage had already been done. Fact checking is a thing of the past. Information is moving at a rate so fast that there is no longer time to make sure something is a fact. If it is already some words, then that will do and almost nobody ever notices.
The Problem With Information
The problem with information is that it has actually become a commodity itself. As a commodity information becomes something that power hoards. The collection of data has become as important as the collection of money. Those that â€œshareâ€? information (media outlets, etc) are really there to sell you that information. Only you are not paying for it upfront, but by a mechanism based on marketing and advertising. Each second of broadcast, either TV or internet based, can be utilized to manipulate those who interact with that information in order to create both financial gain and to collect information about your interaction with the information itself.
Let’s say you’re a government that wants to collect information about dissidents of a certain political system. First, you gather the information these individuals naturally want to collect, then you offer that information to the public and then track their access to your information sharing. You know where and when they read that pdf, which podcasts they downloaded, what search terms they put into the field. These dissidents may even have a profile on your site, giving them total access to how much you tell them about yourself, though it shows itself to you as “how much you tell the world about yourself”. Social interaction is data. The collection of this data allows analysis, math can be done to determine what you might buy; profit is always there to be made. Like those predictive plugins on Amazon and iTunes that suggest new music and movies to you. They have gathered the crux of your tastes and feed those back to you to make money. This is not a good thing. Ancient Diogenes is often quoted as having been looking for an honest man, but his search was that of the cynic. Diogenes sought a hero like Hercules instead of looking to his fellow man for strength. There are very few heroes in the world. Not many people are able or willing to go beyond all risk to make sure that something needs to be done to insure the future of humanity. I am not talking about soldiers who get a paycheck for useless wars. I am talking about those who give you the truth you need, even if you do not want it. And it scares you, this truth, so much that you attack the person who is providing you with it. But they go on, putting themselves in danger in order to do what is right. That is a hero.
Wikileaks is a website front for an organization that provides the truth. It is a truth that is often so enormous that we can not personally relate to its numbers. It is also a truth that sometimes is shown to us in such stark and matter of fact terms that we are fully revulsed, abhorrent that we have ever known such truth. It provides a truth that is seen as dangerous by the governments of the world. Julian Assange may well turn out to be merely a human, but that doesnâ€™t make him any less of a hero. He certainly takes a great deal of risks as the public face for Wikileaks. But the fact is that he is only the public face of an organization comprised of many minds. All of whom believe that truth is more important than all else, sometimes even individual life. So far Wikileaks has only really embarrassed the US government. Nothing has come to light to really, truly, shock the people of the world; nothing revolutionary - yet. Nor has its ability to unlock vast amounts of information for the public been utilized by citizens of other governments like China, Iran or Israel. Governments that do not care if the media howls, governments whose assassins are more about killing and less about drug trafficking. The day Wikileaks exposes Israel or Chinaâ€™s soft underbelly - that intricate web of organized crime that infiltrates every part of those governments - is the day that Julian had better stop being public. We live in a time of information. Those who have it rule. Those who do not, especially those who THINK they do because they are told something by a corporate media source, live in slavery. The people need to have impartial access to information. People need to know. Those who are out in the world, exposing the idiocies of mankindâ€™s greed, of corporate misbehavior and government conspiracy, those people are the heroes.
Democracy In most countries of the world today governments extend a fictional personhood to the corporations that feed the economic currents. This fiction of personhood grants the corporations the same rights that an individual has. Freedom of speech, to bear arms, freedom from “discrimination.” Yet these corporations are not similarly held accountable for their actions in the way they would be if they were persons. When a person kills someone they have committed murder and go to jail. When actual people within a corporation do things that end up causing the deaths of sometimes thousands of people no one goes to jail. At most they pay a fine that represents a small percentage of the economic gain that was the goal of the actions causing the deaths in the first place. Death is reduced in the corporate model to an overhead expense, the price of doing business.
Democracy is a philosophical concept that really doesn’t exist in the early 21st century. While there are better and worse countries in
terms of “rights” they all play into the same global economic infrastructure. By engaging in economic trade they play into the reality of the world today.
This reality of living in the 21st century is one in which we consume. We consume data and energy at every step of our lives. We work and make money and spend that money on the things that we own. We continue to engage in that system that robs us of our freedoms, that controls our governments, that fabricates the illusion of “democracy” (or in China’s case “communism”) when in fact the republics of our capitalist societies are one continuous economic infrastructure. The only reason that nationalities, religions, currencies or ideologies truly exist is to feed this illusion of societal duality. Yet there does exist a power that we, the public, give to these corporations and politicians. That power comes not from our political vote but from the way in which we choose to spend the money that we have. Because while each of us possess very little money in relation to corporations, together we represent 70% of the economic throughput of the world. This must stop; we must cease to engage or wisely spend each dollar/pound/yen/juan we have in order to push the corporations whose actions we believe in, to donate to politicians who realize how dangerous this entire infrastructure is to the long-term well being of both mankind and the earth itself. To lobby on behalf of the human race. We must vote with our money. The political vote is an illusion; the economic vote is the truth.
The real danger of graffiti is that it robs the commercial nature of the urban environment of its financial value. It detracts from the advertising that corporations have paid for; it devalues the property in relation to perception about graffiti as a form of art. What graffiti artists possess is an ability to reach out, to interact for better or for worse, with the common public in a way that exists outside the economic model (and then of course outside the law). Can art exist that has no commercial value and yet fully engages with the public? Graffiti has the potential to become a form of completely transient, nonobject oriented art. It has the potential to exist outside of the commercial gallery/museum/collector establishment and to be something beyond control, beyond economic gain. But that potential rests within each of those artists who approach graffiti without thought for commercial gain.
Graffiti is a form of cultural insurgency. A re-emergence of art as a form of powerful commentary on our environment and the world we exist in, both fictional and real.
It robs the traditional media of its control over your perceptual environment by demanding that you look at it. It is something that is meant only for commentary itself, not to sell you anything. Not even to sell you itself. Municipalities (cities and towns) are merely extensions of the governmentâ€™s political theater at the local level. They serve the same corporate interests that their entire party does. Tory, Republican, Labour, Democrat and a thousand others. They forbid you to mark on a space without their permission. Both so that they can charge you to have a say in how the world looks and so that they can filter things that may offend their corporate backers wishes. Graffiti is the blatant denial of control over the urban landscape, the taking back of the streets as a form of social engagement. Regardless of talent, it is a direct conduit of creative intent. Only when an artist is willing to give up financial gain as the goal of creation are they able to create without hindrance. To make a piece of art that makes no attempt to be part of that system of mirrors that feeds back through the economic algorithm of political theater. To be free of the gallery, art school, museum, commodities market and to change the way that people live in and see the world.
Closure We are approaching the 100 year anniversary of the birth of the Dadaist movement. From its inception Dada attempted to deconstruct the established art world and to force an evolutionary model on that art world. It gave birth to 20th century art in all of it forms and informs the entire process of creating art today because Dada itself was appropriated as the language of the art world. We live with an art world model that is based simply on the glorification, if not deification, of objects and their creators for commercial reasons. By making someone famous we make their objects worth more and thus they become collectable commercially, an investment to those who ‘collect’ art - be they institutions like the Tate and MOMA or collectors like Saatchi. This model is a dead end. The experience of art is what is important, not the art itself. Being able to interact with, see/touch/feel a piece of art is far more important than ownership of the object. But those that own the object control access to art, charge admission, etc. It has gone too far. Art is not a financial commodity. What they sell and trade is not art; it is status-seeking monetary masturbation among the rich. It is cultural objectification and the galleries and institutions that support this kind of idiotic “art market” should be stopped. Burn
down the museums, shoot the collectors. Put an end to this art world and with its ashes make something brilliant and powerful, something new.
We must demand the creation of a new art world model, something that deconstructs the established commercialism of art in exchange for the ability for anyone to experience the art itself first hand. As the world has evolved around the exchange of information, so must art evolve to become a cross platform experience not just object deification. Artists must stop making things and start making experiences. Only then will art truly become free.
“Yes dear, I know how the world really works. The rich tell you that you have a choice and you don’t and there is nothing you can do about it.” - My mom.
Art is only a crime if you do it right.
Published on Jul 12, 2011
BOMB is part personal reflection, part social critique. A pointed and opinionated observation about graffiti culture, media terrorism, art "...