Jon Ippolito on Sat, 6 Dec 2008 21:10:06 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Call for support: Pirates of the Amazon, taken down by Amaz

'Well, you may get an angry letter from your adopted organization, but
you can just say you were playing a funny surrealist game.' -- The
manual for Reamweaver, a software package for creating bogus versions
of existing Web sites.

When people use generic terms like 'hacking' or 'hacktivism' to refer
to all online subversion, they blur an important distinction between
political design and executable art. Sure, artists have disrupted
World Trade Organization conferences and uploaded biotech blueprints
for home-grown tissue cultures. But while political designers and
hacktivist artists may use similar tools and techniques, they have
different long-term social functions.

Politics tries to change the world directly and with force; art seeks
to question it, often with humor or irreverence. If politics seeks to
destroy its enemies, art seeks to ridicule them. When Patrick Ball,
an open-source programmer / human-rights activist, presented evidence
at Milosevic's war-crimes trial, his data had to be sound rather than
surreal. On the other hand, when the Yes Men abused GATT invitations
to proclaim that democracy was obsolete, their masquerade had to be
extreme enough to make their listeners think twice.

That doesn't mean the targets of hactivist art are always happy about
the attention they get. If Reamweaver's tactics are only part of a
funny surrealist game, then why would the WTO try to shut it down?
Joline Blais says the reason is that artistic power in the Internet
age is executable; for its part, Pirates of the Amazon executes both
computer and legal codes.

But was the effect of that execution to create and exploit a weakness
of Amazon's, or just to reveal one? Back when artist collectives
like RTMark and the Yes Men scuttled the market value of eToys and
Dow Chemical, some felt sorry for these company's stockholders. I
feel more sorry for stockholders now: after the subprime meltdown,
the unsustainability of corporate practices is self evident, and we
don't need RTMark or the Yes Men to point it out to us. If those
stockholders had thought a little more about easy it was to exploit
weaknesses inherent in global finance--"Even artists can do it!"--we
might not be in this mess.

To the extent that a work operates in the field of power, trying to
destroy its enemy, it veers toward political design; to the extent
that a work operates in the field of play, pointing at the emperor's
nakedness rather than plotting his assassination, it veers toward
executable art. I think Pirates of the Amazon qualify as the latter;
for more to bolster this claim, see the chapter "Designing Politics"
in the book At the Edge of Art.


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