Matthew Fuller on Sun, 14 Feb 1999 18:51:09 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> interview with Mongrel

The Mouths of the Thames
an interview with Mongrel and some of the people working with them

for an intro to Mongrel's work, check:

Matthew Fuller: The Natural Selection project at
is an internet search engine that works in exactly the same way as any
other one of these vast pieces of software that find data on the web, but
that adds its own twists. It is clear that search engines have acquired
immense positional importance in the network, acting as a gateway (both in
the sense of allowing and blocking access) to material on the web.  As a
technical and media context it is one that is riven with the most
inexplicable density of political and cultural machination. Can you tell
us something about the project? 

Harwood: Well basically, it's the same as any other search engine.  The
user types in a series of characters that they wish to have searched for.
The engine goes off and does this and then returns the results.  If you're
looking for sites on monocycles, that's what you get.  If you're looking
for sites on elephants, that's what you get. As soon as you start typing
in words like 'nigger' or 'paki' or 'white' you start getting dropped into
a network of content that we have produced in collaboration with a vast
network of demented maniacs strung out at the end of telephone wires all
over the place.  The idea is to pull the rug from underneath racist
material on the net, and also to start eroding the perceived neutrality of
information science type systems.  If people can start to imagining that a
good proportion of the net is faked then we might start getting somewhere.
And as a search engine, from Europe it runs faster than most US based
search engines. Enlightenment and a cheaper phone bill - you can't loose. 

Richard Pierre Davis: Natural Selection started off as part of the project
National Heritage and was conceived as a response to all the hype
surrounding the internet and in particular far right activity on the net.
It snowballed into it's own identity with input from various artists
collaborating on the project with Mongrel steering the ship into a one
finger salute to the PC clones and all them fronting fakers worldwide. 

Mervin Jarman: Natural Selection offers an added value to critical work
on the internet which is unequivocal in that it allows practitioners to
plug their work into arenas that would otherwise be inaccessible. This is
particularly because of its constructural texture and its ability to
redefine and redirect search strings to specified locations, commonly
termed aiding and abating - luring the unaware into a spate of awareness
that they may not have voluntarily wanted to realise. 

H: One of the hidden things about the project is that it's based on a
harmless hack on one of the mainstream internet's most popular sites.  We
corroborate our searches with other search engines.  They don't
necessarily like us doing this.  So we are engaged in a running battle
with the site managers of various engines who keep trying to lock us out,
trying to stop us reverse engineering their workings and using it to our
advantage. Presumably they think we're some kind of commercial
competitors.  If only... 

MF:  That's an example of a technical conflict going on in the work, which
is obviously a very live one since it messes so heavily with control of
proprietary culture masquerading as social resource.  (Something extended
in the cracked software projects in Natural Selection such as HeritageGold:
	Echoing this, like most of Mongrel's work, Natural Selection
doesn't shrink away from difficulty.  If people are going to check it out,
they need to be looking for more than a punchline, or a nice neat
'anti-racist' or 'multicultural' solution.  The nineties has seen a near
complete homogenisation of language around race.  A  fait accompli which
trivialises the deep texture of language, culture and racialisation.
 	We seem to have entered an era of a miserablised 'politics of
semantics' represented by arguments over phrases such as Bill Clinton's,
"It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is" and London's Metropolitan
Police Commissioner Paul Condon's nervous wordplay in trying to avoid the
acknowledgement of the institutionalised racism of the police.
	At the same time, Natural Selection very much delves into this
politics of semantics as it is constructed through software conventions and
the protocols built into the World Wide Web.  Perhaps we can develop this -
Matsuko, you worked very much in the image construction and design of the
paper edition - Colour Separation.  Could you say what the shifting masks
and racial stereotypes relate to in the paper?  What relationship might the
ultra-gridded structure of the edition have to a database?  It almost
reminds me of a cellular structure in a spread-sheet...

Matsuko Yokokoji:  Colour Separation is an element of the National heritage
'Campaign'.  It functions as a poster and also as a free distribution
paper.  We made eight stereotypes and four masks.  That's the system.  It
makes a chart of the nonsense of racial categorisation.
	We could see the myth of racial classifications.  In Japan when I
was growing up in the 60's and 70's, we knew about it through the media.
We knew that black people look like Stevie Wonder, we knew that white
people look like Marilyn Monroe.  So we actually tried to build these
stereotypes out of the photographs of faces of real people.  And what we
found, in trying to make these stereotypes of the four colours, but mixing
in the ideas of the stereotypes from other people in Mongrel too - a real
mix - was that these stereotypes were completely unattainable.  What we
ended up with then was completely untypical stereotypes.  Anti-stereotypes.
No glamour at all!  The kind of people you'd see walking the streets in
	The masks perform operations on the faces.  They stitch them up.
They are roles that move across the entire spectrum of classification that
we represent, across all the untypical-stereotypes.  You have White Masks
on Black Skin, but you also have Black Masks on Black Skin, Yellow, Brown,
whatever...  It produces a more complex tangle of interrelationships and

MF: Mervin, your site for Natural Selection,
( seems to be an extraordinarily sprawling
mess that almost matches the complexity of the web itself in its wrecking
havoc on the stupidity and cruelty of the British immigration system.  It
jumps in and out of different types of English, different styles of web
design, stolen data, data originated by you and by the Migrant Media video
collective and others.  It generates confusion, but never lets up on the
political pressure.  What do you think people who end up on the site from
the Natural Selection front end are going to think? 

MJ:  An immediate response to your observation would be 'that's the yard in
me' you see growing up in Jamaica it is endemic that you learn to
improvise, in other words 'tun yuh hand an mek fashion' seen.
	Now the BAA thing goes out to a primary group of yardies
mentionable those who are thinking that the grass is greener on the other
side, and the overall analogy of that is not necessarily. the language
thing is or has become a form of cultural identity so no longer am I just a
English speaking person but to express one self in this kind of broken
English dubbed patois (patwa) contemporary it adds flava and undermine
	I believe though that it is important for you to understand the
fundamentals of my implications and method of construction; to answer the
question on the style and chaotic method that seem to be the underline
composition you have to imagine things from behind my mask where
unstructured and chaotic deranged behaviour is the most intelligent and
effective means of communication without being detected specially when
dealing with various authority and institutional organisations. this is how
the lie becomes the truth vice versa. BAA is consequently absolve from the
fact that this policy of abuse and brutality has been perpetrated at
against me and others whose only crime is to want to travel the world like
Columbus, Marco and the great Admiral Penn and General Venables, with the
only difference being their is no 'design' to it as was with The Lord
Protector, Oliver Cromwell.
	And the opposite is true if you were to visit Jamaica.

RPD: The BAA site shines a spotlight on the blatant injustice of anyone
attempting to enter Britain with the misfortune to be born with a suntan
and no British passport but coming from an ex-British colony it actually
works against you it gives a insight into how problematic it is to gain
entry once you make contact with the immigration system if your status
don't fit the bill and you just happen to fall into the category of a
yardie [Jamaican gangster]. How convenient it is that the so called
authorities can make a decision based on their stereotyped media hype when
just a little while ago the British government used to recruit West Indian
labour to help build and service Britain.

MF: Richard, BlackLash ( is one of the
most sickest, violent anti-police games available on the planet, but the
four black stereotypes that players have to choose from are also taking the
piss out of 'the community'.  What's going on? - and who's the game aimed
at - Blonde kids from Surrey who want to play Tottenham roughnecks for a

RPD: BlackLash is based on a combination of stereotypical half truths and
hardcore reality coming from the point of view of a young black male trying
to survive inner city life in the nineties hence the name BlackLash. You
choose one of the stereohyped characters after which you then proceed to
battle the forces of evil that plot to convict or eliminate you from the
streets. It also aims to encourage the black community through game culture
that it is possible to break into different areas apart from music, and
create games that have got some thing to say. Yah heard

MJ: I believe BlackLash speaks in volume to the black community, I believe
the innovation is a brilliant wake up call for young black people it may
look like a classic notorious shoot em up game but my interpretation of the
characteristic of black lash is that is a serious wake 'em up call. its all
about 'REPRESENT' who is representing whom:

9 question I ask? who are you bout yuh want test bad man crew, little punk
its best if yuh calm before mi <underline>machine</underline> (gun) tun
onn. <bold>Black Lash<bold> a ask who are you how yuh want test wicked man
crew, little punk its best if yuh calm before mi
<underline>machine</underline> (computer) tun onn 9.

My analysis of this is yesterday - BlackLash. And tomorrow? Seems ironic,
but the people will get the message - Peace

MF:  It seems clear that the variety of competing art systems in the UK are
largely designed to exclude work that is socially, technically and
aesthetically conflictual, whilst at the same time relying on the
retrospective absorption of many such currents in order to validate their
position as liberal/open/laboratories of subjectivity/ (delete as
applicable). Has Mongrel come up with any ways of dealing with this? Are
you ready to be dug up as a particularly noxious but sedated time capsule
in twenty years time?

H:  I think its time we decided to take on the media by mounting it from
the rear. I feel more and more that there is no place for us in the usual
art/education environment and that we have to make our own. I think we need
to design projects that carve out a place in the media and manipulate it <
a kind of popular independent media > somewhere between underground music
clubs and class war. No one else will realise we make good stuff unless we
tell the bastards in a way that takes the piss out of them. I feel
confident that if we take on the media now we have the skills to deal with
it without loosing touch with who we are. Bollocks to the "sedated time
capsule" take it while we are alive.

MJ:  If the question is as a mongrel am I waiting for something better (a
buy/sell out) offer so that we (I) will conveniently shut the fuck up and
live a quiet conservative life......Mr Jarman may be but mervin@mongrel no
fucking way not on their tiny little willie - the driving force behind my
motivation comes from far further than consumerism and giving credibility
to or validate any position as liberal/open or otherwise suggested - life
is one big road with a lot of signs on both side as a mongrel these signs
can either be objective, subjective and/or rejective and my endeavour is to
speak when I am not spoken to and that is to speak my truth.

MF:  In National Heritage and Colour Separation there is a repeated motif
of the mask - stereotyped racial features that it seems are literally sewn
onto people's heads...

MJ:  I believe the mask to be one of the most defining aspect of the whole
project in more ways than one; the mask represent the mask that I always
have to wear at the point of entry into Britain, it represent the mask that
I wear repeatedly as I go about my everyday activities in this lovely
multicultural state.
	...And then it also represent the mask that mongrel has to wear in
sourcing resources for the project. So you see the whole National Heritage
project is a constitution of the mask.

MF:  Another mask Mongrel uses is a reversioned copy of the government
Department of National Heritage crest on most of its projects.  Why?  A
recuperation of the state?

H: When we started the project the government department that handed out
the cash for the arts was called the department of national heritage. This
department gave 76% of it's money to class A and B as defined by another
government department. We decided we wanted to make this Government
department complicit with the making of the images. What's important about
this point is the relation between the British State's Cultural Elitism and
who is paying for it. The top two collections of art in the UK are bought
from slavery money, the Tate and the National Gallery. Not only this but
the site that the Tate gallery is on was a prison for transporting white
slaves or bondsman to Australia and the Southern states of America.  If we
have to articulate these images then the arts industry should acknowledge
their own complicity with them also.

MJ:  I believe the crest to be a celebration of the diverse British
ethnicity after all who are the Brits if not a group of fucking mongrels.
You need not go further than Byju's Aryan nation construction
( for what is 'truly' British, though much
undetected by most.

This interview was originally put together, mid-february 1999, for the
next five minutes reader. 

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