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<nettime> Irational's Finest (The Hartware Guide to irational, Nov 2006)
Inke Arns on Thu, 26 Oct 2006 10:13:52 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Irational's Finest (The Hartware Guide to irational, Nov 2006)


The text below will be published in "The Hartware 
Guide to irational", edited by Susanne Ackers, 
Inke Arns, Francis Hunger, Jacob Lillemose 
(Frankfurt am Main: Revolver - Archiv fuer 
aktuelle Kunst 2006, ISBN: 3-86588-299-4 
[German/English]).

The publication is forthcoming in November 2006 
and contains contributions and articles by 
Matthew Fuller, Jacob Lillemose, Inke Arns, 
Francis Hunger, Susanne Ackers and Darija 
Simunovic.

It can be ordered via www.hmkv.de and www.revolver-books.de

The exhibition "The Wonderful World of 
irational.org. Tools, Techniques and Events 
1996-2006" is running until Sunday, October 29, 
2006. Drop by if you can!

Many greetings, IA


* * *


Irational's Finest, or The Art of Movement Through Space
Inke Arns

Hardly a day goes by without some news item about 
the discovery of a carefully concealed crop of 
genetically modified maize, about liquid 
explosives in airplanes and bombs inside 
suitcases on trains, about calls for blanket 
video surveillance, about the global spread of 
avian 'flu. We wonder when the virus will reach 
our own part of the world, have long begun to 
feel the pinch of economic cutbacks in Germany, 
to notice the effects of climate change, and 
cannot help but think: Life's harder than it used 
to be.

That was something which irational, founded in 
the post-Thatcher Britain of 1996, knew ten years 
ago already. Unerringly ever since, the group has 
formulated themes and proposed idiosyncratic 
solutions. These are now presented, for the first 
time comprehensively, in the exhibition The 
Wonderful World of irational.org. The irational 
platform includes companies pressing for access 
to new technologies to be defined as a human 
right (Technologies To The People) or pleading 
for a "better life" with a "human interface" 
(Mejor Vida Corporation). Alongside mailing lists 
such as American Express and 7-11, irational 
houses the Cultural Terrorist Agency, which 
infiltrates contemporary forms of performative 
ideology and rhetoric by creating a new London 
borough and declaring a by-election there, or by 
marketing a "genetically modified anti-Capitalist 
superweed" whose built-in resistance to the 
broad-spectrum herbicides of Monsanto represents 
a threat to the profitable deployment of GM grain 
types. As well as criticizing the irresponsible 
dissemination of genetically manipulated 
organisms, irational also considers specific 
action to be taken in the case of a global 
influenza pandemic. Increasingly precarious 
conditions of employment were countered with 
slogans like "Temps of the World Unite - Turning 
Shit into Gold" (even if, seven years back, the 
word "precariat" had not yet been coined), or 
with proposals for the free usage of public 
transport or universal access to student ID 
cards. Altogether, movement - irationalists 
overcome fences and walls with the simplest of 
means (home-made nets, for instance) and scaling 
techniques, cross borders without going through 
the official channels. It is invariably a matter 
of experiencing space differently: for instance, 
while engaged in communal tree climbing during 
the annual International Tree Climbing Day held 
under the motto "Liberate the Horizontal", or in 
the three-contestant World Downhill Skate 
Championships staged in Bristol, UK.

It was not least in this capacity of travel 
enterprise of a different kind that irational 
adopted the logo of the International Air 
Transport Association IATA (1) (founded in Havana 
in 1945): a stylized winged globe symbolizing 
global communication and global traffic. The 
appendage "irational" turns the logo into a seal 
of quality for a special art of movement through 
space.

Six international net and media artists are 
loosely grouped around the irational.org server 
founded by the British net artist Heath Bunting 
in 1996. Many of the participants importantly 
influenced the early net art of the mid-1990s: 
Daniel Garcia Andújar/Technologies To The People 
(Valencia/E), Rachel Baker (London/GB), Kayle 
Brandon (Bristol/GB), Heath Bunting (Bristol/GB), 
Minerva Cuevas/Mejor Vidas Corporation (Mexico 
City/MEX), and Marcus Valentine (Bristol/GB).

With dry humour and minimalist aesthetics, 
irational commentated the internet hype emergent 
as of the mid-1990s, and launched its own pseudo 
start-ups to match the burgeoning New Market 
euphoria that set in around 1996/97. Art on the 
net was direct, without the need for - or safety 
of - a mediating space or instance. This 
immediacy was reflected during that period by 
frequent skirmishes with unsmiling patent 
attorneys threatening irational with legal action 
for using company names like 7-ELEVEN, American 
Express, Sainsburys and Tesco. Documented in 
detail in the exhibition, these disputes were 
only a prelude to the present-day litigation 
surrounding copyright, intellectual property, and 
trademarks (most recently, FIFA's jealous 
protection of the World Cup? trademark in 2006). 
The world's first net artist to announce his 
"retirement", Heath Bunting stopped working 
exclusively with the net in 1997. His activities 
increasingly returned to public space (of which 
the internet, of course, is now a vital 
component). If in the "net phase" irational 
activities were devoted to questioning virtual 
borders, today the members experiment with 
questioning and overcoming the borders - 
economic, political, social - defined in real 
space, which they make more porous in often 
highly entertaining fashion.

The output of irational in the period 1996-2006 
covers a broad spectrum of pertinent 
sociopolitical issues. From an early date, the 
group negotiated themes like the growing sense of 
in/security in an increasingly technology-based 
world, questions of surveillance and data 
collection (via "irational" questionnaires, for 
instance, or re-purposed customer cards), 
branding and trademark protection, workplace 
insecurity, as well as DIY cultures, media, and 
economies. With the shift of focus from the net 
to physical space, moreover, the work of 
irational immediately, singularly and 
paradigmatically displayed something that is now 
increasingly evident in contemporary media art: 
an interest not so much in the actual media and 
technologies as in current spaces complexly 
interconnected by these technologies and shot 
through with media-based networks.

But the magic figure of ten was not the only 
reason to link this exhibition with the jubilee 
celebrations of Hartware MedienKunstVerein, since 
the budding association also played a part (and 
fun it was) in bringing together two irational 
protagonists. In 1996, Daniel G. Andújar spent 
six months as a grant-holder in Künstlerhaus 
Dortmund, during which time he met Iris Dressler 
and Hans Christ. The result was intensive 
cooperation with Hartware on a number of 
subsequent occasions. 1996 was also the year in 
which Daniel G. Andújar took part in a Hamburg 
exhibition - discord. sabotage of realities (2) - 
during which he met the fellow exhibitor Heath 
Bunting. (3) Both irational and the Hartware 
Projekte association were founded later that year.

The four participants in the The Wonderful World 
of irational.org project - the initiators Susanne 
Ackers, Francis Hunger and myself, together with 
Jacob Lillemose, who was soon enlisted as 
co-curator - were quick to realize that the 
diverse activities of irational required a varied 
range of presentation formats. We addressed this 
diversity by supplementing the exhibition, 
co-curated by Jacob Lillemose and myself, with 
the irational Action Weekend staged by Francis 
Hunger in mid-September, as well as the 
publication The Hartware Guide to irational.org.

And now to the exhibition, the medium with which 
we consciously chose to work - a statement that 
would be superfluous if the subject of the 
exhibition were not net art. Over the past ten 
years there has been much discussion (if no 
agreement, so far) as to whether net art can be 
exhibited at all, and, if so, how. One need only 
recall the hapless office situations set up in 
exhibitions like the documenta X (1997) or the 
staged internet café ambience of shows like 
net_condition at ZKM (2000-01). Sarah Cook and 
Steve Dietz recently put irational itself on show 
as a huge chalked mural plus an online computer 
in Banff, Canada. We chose the opposite strategy, 
and decided to "take offline" the 54 chosen 
works, instead developing in dialogue with the 
artists individual concepts appropriate to the 
exhibition space of the PHOENIX Halle. It was a 
matter of establishing immediacy in the 
exhibition context, sometimes without regard to 
originals medium such as the internet. And the 
show might be reproached for doing precisely 
that: for putting back inside an "institutional" 
mediating space the net art which always took 
pride in its direct reference to the recipient, 
and for robbing the works - by declaring them to 
be "art", something never explicit on the net - 
of part of their ambivalence. The view we take is 
that even - and perhaps especially - net art 
needs a clear-cut space of mediation (wholly 
regardless of the fact that the idea of art 
without mediation is a utopian vision). Via its 
medium - the internet - net art could have 
reached a potentially global, potentially vast, 
audience. Only it has not done so. Net art has 
reached a small, specialized audience and 
sometimes baffled unsuspecting surfers. Because 
we think it would be a pity simply to leave these 
inventive projects to the net, we opted for this 
form of implementation.

In this sense, the exhibition is not about net 
art, either. One might go one step further, and 
assert that irational itself was never net art. 
The themes addressed by the group extend far 
beyond the borders of their medium. All of the 
projects take a very shrewd approach to topical 
themes. Whether these themes are handled and 
implemented on the net or offline is of secondary 
importance. To this degree, the exhibition 
attempts to bundle the conceptual red threads of 
irational into roughly half a dozen thematic 
areas: language as property, alternative forms of 
economies, overcoming borders, questioning 
security technologies and biotechnology and 
genetic engineering, the transmission of 
knowledge in participative projects, as well as 
the enabling of new spatial experiences. Indeed, 
more: the art of movement through (augmented) 
space is a theme of almost all the projects. And 
it has always been a question of expanding the 
subject's possibilities of action - in the sense 
of a tactic of individual empowerment. Irational 
formulates a politics and a poetics of spatial 
disobedience. So use the services offered by your 
favourite travel agency, and fly irational!


Notes

1 The International Air Transport Association, http://www.iata.de/
2 un-frieden. sabotage von wirklichkeiten - 
discord.sabotage of realities, Kunstverein and 
Kunsthaus Hamburg, 1996, curated by Inke Arns and 
Ute Vorkoeper, see 
http://www.projects.v2.nl/~arns/Archiv/Discord/. 
In regard to the participation of Technologies To 
The People, see also Inke Arns: Technologies to 
the People® - Our Sponsor, or: How we got the 
attention of both Apple (TM) and the left German 
art critique. In: Technologies to the People®. 
Annual Report 2000 [i.e. Daniel Garcia Andujar], 
Alicante 2001, 
http://www.projects.v2.nl/~arns/Texts/tp.html
3 Heath Bunting was featured with the 
Vunerability project, which is also presented in 
The Wonderful World of irational.org.


--

Dr. Inke Arns
Künstlerische Leiterin / Artistic Director
Hartware MedienKunstVerein
Güntherstrasse 65 * D-44143 Dortmund
T ++49 (0) 231 - 823 106
F ++49 (0) 231 - 882 02 40
inke.arns {AT} hmkv.de
www.inkearns.de

THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF IRATIONAL.ORG
PHOENIX Halle Dortmund, Aug 30 - Oct 29, 2006
www.hmkv.de

WHAT IS MODERN ART? (GROUP SHOW)
Kuenstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin,  Sep 29 - Oct 29, 2006
www.whatismodernart.de


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