Benjamin Bratton on Wed, 10 Apr 2002 15:18:12 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> The U-Haul Trucks Are In Your Mind

The U-Haul Trucks Are In  Your Mind......

As reported by the New York Times, Newsweek, Le Monde, The Guardian, Salon
and others, Electronic Orphanage=B9s own Fagin, Miltos Manetas, armed but with
a web site in drag and exactly 23 invisible U-Haul trucks, hi-jacked last
month's Whitney Biennial.

While the facts are simple, nobody is really quite sure what happened.

Miltos noticed that for some reason was not taken,
registered it himself, and there staged an alternate exhibition of nice
Flash work. Fine and well, except that many of the contributors were under
the impression (one neither encouraged nor discouraged by Manetas) that this
was the "real" web site, which by definition, it of
course was.

Manetas also explained that in addition to the web site, this exhibition
would take place in 23 U-Haul trucks circling the Biennial's opening
party.This unlikely specter appealed to those new media artists who (rightly) 
feelthemselves to be still rather misunderstood and underappreciated by the
"real" art scene, even a technology-forward one like the Whitney. The
circling U-Haul trucks would be an undeniable presence. They would by sheer
scale form an ominous obstacle between party and partygoers; out with the
old, in with the new! These Flash U-Hauls would be the new gatekeepers, the
new machines that decide who gets in and out!

The Whitney Biennial is, for the convenience of argument, the =B3Las Vegas of
cultural capital,=B2 and in this casino of cool, Manetas was handing out
counterfeit currency. But as with any good counterfeiting scheme, the
currency passed for real long enough that enough people used it, traded it
as real that it became, in practice, as real as real money.

Many participants from new media art circles were less than pleased with
their payment in simulated cultural capital. Perhaps because many of them
are still stinging from the evaporation of stock option wealth, the whole
counterfeit currency thing isn=B9t so amusing.

Miltos is always is happy to talk at length about the power of simulation,
and it is in molesting the Reality Principle that his work takes the
greatest pleasure. Manetas=B9 projects range from traditional oil paintings of
Sony PS2 gear to the hiring of Lexicon Branding (coiners of post-English
terms like Powerbook, Pentium, Zima, etc.) to name his new art movement --
that name is Neen. His Electronic Orphanage un-gallery on Chung King Road in
Chinatown, Los Angeles is an opaque black box where Neen is allowed but
confused passers-by from nearby openings often are not. As another incident
at the Deitch gallery last Fall showed, he is also willing to provoke the
plagiarism police to hand-to-hand combat.

The current sleight and diversion reaches the highest levels of the reality
industry. The New York Times reported on March 4 that Miltos=B9 U-Haul's would
in fact be driving his trucks around the museum =B3tomorrow=B2. In fact the
Paper of Record gave Manetas=B9 =B3work=B2 as much coverage as the "real" event
itself. Another story on the Biennial reported after the day the trucks
didn't come only mentions the forged web site.

Interestingly, it was not the old school art crowd who raised the biggest
stink when (surprise, surprise) a battalion of U-Haul trucks doubling as
Flash theaters didn=B9t descend on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Nor were
they really the butt of the joke anyway. "I love the Whitney. They are
like family," gushes Miltos.  The truly upset were many (most definitely
not all) of the apparently more literal-minded new media participants and
co-sponsors. (name names here?) Maxwell L. Anderson, director of the
Whitney, was unperturbed and was quoted in the Times linking Manetas=B9 action
to the venerable tradition of guerrilla action-art. However, a discussion
forum on Archinect, a design community site that co-sponsored took far more offense. "He lied to us!" one post
shouted. "We went to see the trucks and they weren't there!" But were

This panic is complex, and more than a bit worrisome. One might hope that if
anyone appreciates the digital logic of the whole effort -- now even museums
can have an infinite number of perfect copies =AD it would be new media
artists. And of course, many including myself do. But the general level of
outrage was so pitched that this anger at the there-that-wasn't-there may
prove the most intriguing outcome of all this.

David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear and then reappear.
Miltos made the Whitney Museum of Contemporary Art appear and then
disappear. Of course it was not true, it was better than true. But it wasn't
false either, and this is the complicated mess that simulation makes of
representation and the various capitals that rely upon it.

As Krzysztof Wodizcko=B9s projections are and are not graffiti, that do and do
not de-face architecture, Manetas did and did not Identity Hack the
If he had truly broken in and stole something, then things would be a bit
less disturbing because more black and white. We would at least know what we
know. As it stands, undecidable because the only thing broken was a promise
never actually made, itself only imagined, we are left holding the invisible

At the gala, this destabilizing ambiguity caused a ripple of curiosity but
was soon cheerfully absorbed by the "real" Whitney crowds, always jonesing
for an ironic jostle. The re-absorption is made easier because Manetas sees
this whole operation not so much a meta-commentary on the ultimate  
arbitrariness of cultural gatekeeping, but as a kind of Urpiece, a giant red
ribbon placed around the entire event on which he can place his (virtual)
signature. In cyberspace, is Earth Art, a big
topological gesture referencing the site-ness of its location and

But as Anderson suggested, all this is not new, and Miltos doesn't claim it
to be. The brothel in which Jean Genet stages his 1956 play, The Balcony, is
a repository of illusion, a liminal zone within a contemporary European city
aflame with revolution. After the city's royal palace and rulers are
destroyed, the bordello's costumed patrons impersonate the leaders of the
city. As the masqueraders warm to their roles, they convince even the
revolutionaries that the illusion created in the bordello is preferable to
reality, in fact is reality.

In the everyday life of global simulation, everyone is played by many roles,
and the architectures of cultural venture capitalism =ADin/out, me/you,
genius/idiot- have an animation of their own, one that conjugates the artist
more than the other way around.

In Genet's play, as the revolution burns itself out, the patrons emerge in
the uniforms of the deposed leaders, and to a city now hungry for order,
their presence fills the vacuum of the real and they are elevated to the
positions they drag.

The U-Haul trucks are in your mind.

Have some more hors d'oeuvres.

--Benjamin Bratton.

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: