life on mars

detail -- It's always six o'clock. Eva and Franco Mattes aka (2008)

— OR — on putting things where they don’t belong.

I think I’m a clone now (a clone now)

There’s always two of me just a-hangin’ around

I think I’m a clone now (a clone now)

‘Cause every chromosome is a hand-me-down

Weird Al Yankovic, I Think I’m a Clone Now

Yes, popOp — the home of spectacular agency and your source for wordy columns concerning the possibility of political action in our time. We’re just falling all over ourselves this week. Why?

Two words for you, Dude: American.Ninja.

I know that a few thousand words have passed since I last discussed the commodification of memory and appropriation-based activism; but, believe me, Gary Brooks Faulkner somehow illustrates my point.

Or maybe when you’re a 50 year-old construction worker caught in the mountains of Pakistan hunting Osama bin Laden with a 40-inch sword, a Chinese pistol***, a knife, and night vision goggles you illustrate everyone’s point: the world is AWESOME!

***the only other acceptable pistol would have been a Luger or Han Solo’s blaster***

As Andrew Carebear pointed out this week, our task today (like it or not) is to be creative (as in the admonition to enjoy! Coke). We have to be creative in our solutions to infrastructural problems, we have to be creative in finding an honest dollar, and we have to be creative in our understanding of the problems. That’s why we have to reject any comparison between the old style vigilantes that we’ve lionized over the last century, like Superman or Batman. Vigilante stories like Charles Bronson’s Death Wish or Batman… these are the fantasies of those living in democratic representative governments. Yes they want to choose their leader and they want a political situation that promises that they will not be assaulted for being in the minority. But the old-style vigilantes are the mascots for a generalized ressentiment within modern society. What good is it electing these representatives, what good is the law, if we can’t exact retribution? We need someone that “gets it” and will do the right thing. Kill Them.

Today we want ninjas. Batman had to be reborn as a ninja, for example. Look for a web design gig on Craigslist, what do the ads say? “We’re looking for a web guru/ninja…” Apparently ninjas are taking over LinkedIn.

Banksy sneaking his painting into the Brooklyn Museum. (2005)

And of course, where would the Urban Outhipsters set be without their favorite ninja, Banksy?

And, yeah, Banksy’s great, sure. His 2005 New York museum “crime spree” was the apex of his appropriation technique, though. His newer work in animatronics, say, are much more exciting. Yes, the murals and little rats with bazookas were cute and funny. But without a sustained opening of the viewer to wonder about the humdrum, Banksy’s technique of surreptitiously implanting his work into shared space starts to smack of something…flat, adolescent maybe.

If you’re in New York in the next couple of days, you gotta go to Postmasters Gallery and see “Reality Is Overrated” the new showing from Eva and Franco Mattes aka (May 15 – June 19). Some of the show you can see right here on the internetz. You might have heard that Eva and Franco Mattes’ new performance piece No Fun was banned from YouTube. For the work the artists stage a suicide by hanging while on that irascible It-technology Chatroulette, which couples people form around the globe that have web cameras. Ostensibly Chatroulette would enable people to chat with one another and watch each other; in practice, however, the site is also known for being the place to go transgress some social norms. No Fun seems to encapsulate nicely precisely our moment. The piece harkens to the terrible suicide committed by Kevin Whitrock in 2007 (he was egged-on by members of a chat room) or the infamous suicide of Adam K. Biggs. As in those two suicides, the viewers of No Fun largely laugh at the lifeless corpse slowly swinging back and forth; of the thousands of viewers on Chatroulette, only one person bothered to inform the police.

Kind of a downer, right? But when juxtaposed with their Stolen Pieces, however, we begin to see a common thread with Gary Brooks and, if I may suggest, spectacular agency.

Stolen Pieces is a two year performance wherein the two visited famous works of art on exhibit at famous museums and stole minutiae from the pieces: from Duchamp, or Jeff Koons, for example. They committed these during the 1990s and now are coming forward since the statute of limitations has run out. While we might expect this sort of behavior from Banksy (can we speak of how the Matteses anticipated Banksy?), it seems at first out of place for these net artists to be so… corpuscular. The two are perhaps more famous for hijacking the first, and consequently only, Korea Web Art Festival wherein they swapped all the artists’ works with others. The situation got out of hand, the Minister of Culture had the curator fired. As the Matteses state in their retelling, “Full catastrophy [sic] on all sides: the Ministry of Culture and Tourism furious, the curator fired, the artists unhappy.”

Today the difficulty seems to be how to engage our history (increasingly coming under draconian interpretations and egregious extensions of copyright) and not simultaneously be implicated in crime. And this is what makes Stolen Pieces so spot-on: the physical appropriation of relevant works, the irrationality of the rationalized legal structure (waiting for the statute of limitations to fall away). The removal of these items form the physical art objects also points out the absurdity of the Visual Artists Rights Act (as Rachel Wolff points out) and simultaneously points to the commodification of memory as a potential game-ending exercise. Like capitalism itself, the commodification of memory seeks an impossible limit, and, the closer to that limit the activity brings us, the more precariously and wildly these processes that make the transactions possible become, threatening the very existence of these processes.

The commonwealth includes a vast ocean of knowledge from which we must draw if we are to develop solutions to the problems coming down the line. And this fundamental human necessity is increasingly being partitioned from us. And that’s the frustration, I suppose, that might drive one to simply plug into the Xbox and go blow some shit up. It don’t hurt no body to do that, right? Is there a connection between the pursuit of virtual victimless crimes, a la Grand Theft Auto/Vice City and the rise of “libertarianism” in the U.S.?

It's always six o'clock. Eva and Franco Mattes aka (2008)

Images, democratic underground, wooster collective.



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5 responses to “life on mars

  1. Pingback: popop//block rockin’ beats | the avant guardian

  2. Thanks for presenting I really like their works! Where did you find them?

  3. Thanks for reading, Megan!

    Yeah, I really like their work, a lot.

    I think that I first read about them in ART PAPERS, the contemporary art magazine.

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