I think for artists such as myself, I deal with it to some degree too in the sense that I give away everything digitally that I possibly can. Mostly because I can. I wouldn’t feel comfortable living in a world if that wasn’t the case. I feel digital content is like water flowing down a mountain, You can put a dam up if you want, but the water definitely wants to go downhill. But I make a living with the art—I try to pay rent through art and it’s an old institution that doesn’t know what to do with open source either. The arts reward the opposite of openness. The arts reward limited editions, unique editions. It rewards very specific things that are devalued when they are shared and so it’s a hard question to answer ‘cause I’m sure I’ve lost financially on a lot of things by opening them up. Laser Tag is a big example of that. If I was just trying to make money, I could have made a lot more money by doing different things with Laser Tag, by making it proprietary and using it with advertising. But at the same time, I wouldn’t have been able to work with the people I was working with, both in the graffiti and hacker communities. And so for me, it’s just a decision of determining which one’s more valuable.
Dimensions 26: So when you’re working on a new project, is there a moment in the process where you pause and reflect on the potential application of that work towards spectacles of gentrification, or how it could get co-opted by an advertising company? Is there a moment where you ask yourself if you release this into the wild or not?
Dimensions 26: That reminds me of the Laser Tag projection on the Verizon Building in Lower Manhattan with “NSA” inscribed in green. What are some potential institutions, technologies or practices you would to see other young designers take on today? Evan Roth: The kinds of things technologies I’m interested in are typically ones that have an empowering aspect to them, and are typically ones that are easy to reproduce—
Evan Roth: Hmm. I’m sure the answer to that is yes. The open source community is going through a big debate internally with the Makerbot. I don’t know if you’ve been following that, but there’s a really interesting conversation going on surrounding just that. What happens when you’re developing something with that community that then all of a sudden gets locked down? I think part of the answer to that question will be whatever happens with Makerbot. There are some people that are of the opinion that the community supporting that open source hardware movement was the reason that they were selling units. So it’s a big gamble for them to turn their backs on that community of developers. But they did it. I think that their answer to that question would be yes. It can be harmful. I think the reason they made the decision is that they started to see competitive models being released to the market based on their research. Which is really not “they” as an individual company, but “they” as this community that was competing with those models financially and that had all this backing. It’s one of these hard questions to answer though because you never know the answer until you go all the way through it. It’s still a very new phenomenon, especially for companies that are making money. The open hardware movement is relatively young.
Evan Roth: I don’t go through that as much anymore. But when I first started working on Graffiti Research Lab with James Powderly, we went through this together, and there were “Oh Shit!” moments left and right. It was because part of our mission statement was that we were trying to make tools that were leveling the playing field between the visual culture of advertising and the visual culture of city inhabitants. The first project was immediately used in MTV campaigns, Coke campaigns, everywhere. And then there was that whole debacle that happened in Boston. Do you remember the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie? There was a whole shit storm where they took Throwies and turned it into a marketing campaign for this pretty crappy movie, but everybody in Boston thought they were bombs and the whole city shut down and the FBI was calling us. It was a really crazy story, but it was at a time when that viral phenomenon was new to me. Making this work I thought had a political message through the way we were releasing it and then seeing it being co-opted was really a hard pill to swallow. It hurt the first time. It hurt the second time. It hurt the third time and then slowly—the reason it doesn’t bother me quite as much anymore is that I’ve become more comfortable with the fact that when these pieces get coopted, especially by the advertising industry, they lose so much of the punch because it’s their second time around. We’ve already released something that they’re usually just copying. There’s not a lot of innovation happening. The second thing is that, whether as artists or ordinary people, people who make things because they want to make them with no ulterior motives—that honesty plays really well on the internet. I think most people online have developed really honed radars for finding honest content because they’re saturated with so much bullshit, especially growing up through TV culture. It’s that you’re taught to sit through all these advertisements and this consumer message. Now we have trained ourselves to notice those Reese’s Pieces as product placement. I get that now. You’ve tricked us once, but it’s not gonna happen anymore. So I think the reason I don’t worry about it quite as much anymore is because I see it failing when they rip off these pieces. I see it reflected in the view counts. From when we released Laser Tag, there are now videos on Youtube with several millions or at least a couple million, if not one anyway. You see the corporate rip-offs getting two or three hundred, and I think that’s happening because nobody wants to sit down and seek out content that’s selling them stuff or lying to them. You don’t want to watch bullshit in your free time. Even though Lucky Strike Cigarettes did a Laser Tag campaign in Vienna—which was a horrible, horrible mistreatment of a technology that had a political slant towards activism and against advertising—I see it failing for them in so many cases that it’s easier to sleep at night.
Dimensions 26: That leads me to my next question. Your installation for D-lectricity was the digital projection counting down until the catalogue of J-Dilla’s work is public domain. Can you speak a bit on intellectual property and if there are any instances in which open source solutions can be harmful?