Inke Arns on Mon, 07 Aug 2000 19:03:07 +0200

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Syndicate: Technologies to the Peopl

Technologies to the People® - Our Sponsor, or: 
How we got the attention of both AppleTM and the left
German art critique 

by Inke Arns, Berlin, June 2000 <> 

written for Technologies to the People [d.i. Daniel Garcia Andujar], La
sociedad informacional, catalogue, to be published in August 2000 [English
/ Spanish] 

?I am not fond of manipulation, and I think you should not use it for
political aims." (1) (Left-wing squatter in Berlin, April 2000)

In 1996-1997 together with Ute Vorkoeper we organized and curated the
international exhibition project discord. sabotage of realities (2) which
took place in the Kunstverein and the Kunsthaus in Hamburg. The exhibition
was part of the Hamburg Week of Visual Arts 1996, partly funded by the
city's Cultural Office. Artists worldwide were invited to submit artistic
concepts dealing with today's more and more un-peaceful political and
social realities. The organizers received more than 500 concepts from 31
countries. The actual exibition discord was divided into six thematic zones
focussing on control (security/insecurity), news services (disinformation),
everyday (alienation), border politics (walking the tightrope), state
machineries (law, discipline, repression), science fiction & economy (the
administration of the future) and included an international selection of 34
artistic works most of which were premiered in the exhibition, and 26
additional artistic concepts from 18 countries. 

The Spanish non-profit organization Technologies to the People® (TP) was
one of the participants of the discord project. Unfortunately the large
scale photos which Technologies to the People® had prepared as its
contribution disappeared somewhere on their way between Spain and Germany.
Another solution had to be found quickly. It was finally agreed upon with
the organizers that Technologies to the People® would become one of the
main sponsors of the discord. sabotage of realities project. As our
sponsor, Technologies to the People® put its black large-scale logo (TP) on
an entire wall in the exhibition space and in the catalogue. In addition to
that TP distributed small boxes containing propaganda leaflets describing
its product range: the Street Access Machine®, the Recovery Card®, the
Personal Folkcomputer®, and the Internet Street Access Machine®. On the
back cover the leaflets contained a long list of TP?s sponsors, among them
such big corporations as Tokio Mitsubishi, Fuji, Sakura, Industrial Bank of
Japan, Norinchuking Bank of Japan, Long Term Bank of Japan, Deutsche Bank,
Crédit Agricole, Crédit Lyonnais, HSBC Holdings, Asahi Bank,
Industrial&Comercial, CS Holdings, ABN Amro, Chase Manhattan Chemical and
Societé Générale. 

According to the definition and the visuals given on the propaganda
leaflet, the whole range of TP?s products allow the underpriviledged to
actively participate in the upcoming information society. The Street Access
Machine® and the Recovery Card® enable beggars to transfer money from
credit cards. The Internet Street Access Machine® realizes the wide-spread
demand of ?access for all?. Perfectly appropriating the IT industries?
rhetoric of technoutopian ideology which goes like ?use these new
technologies and the future will be even brighter", or ?the use of new
communication technologies will allow everybody to participate in a better
and more equal future world", TP turns this rhetoric into its very opposite
by showing the underlying cynical ?hidden reverse? of the IT business?s
technoutopian lure: beggars will remain beggars, underpriviledged will
remain underpriviledged and poor will remain poor even if they are all
using new information and communication technologies. Technology alone does
not change society; it may even prevent society from changing because it
crystallizes existing social structures and widens the gap between the
information-haves and the have-nots. It makes a difference only for the IT
industry because they can make money out of selling their products. 

The striking - and so obvious - contradiction included in the leaflets was
overseen by a lot of people and thus the project caused a lot of
misunderstandings. These misunderstandings, however, can also be read as
hinting towards the conflicting understanding and the interpretation of the
role of technology within society. More precisely, the TP campaign was
taken dead seriously by representatives of various sides, a fact that sheds
light on the interests of both industry as well as on the political left. 

After the opening of the exhibition the organizers received an e-mail from
the German branch of the company Apple. Apple read about TP?s advertisement
somewhere in the media and was seriously interested in the (Internet)
Street Access Machine®. They asked if there were already some prototypes
which they could examine more closely. The discord organizers were amused.
Of course there were not prototypes yet, and they were not to come either.
Rather, the whole thing could be described as a meme intended to unveil the
hidden desires of industry which, despite its rhetorics (as described
above), is not exactly interested in an embetterment of society but is
interested purely in profit. TP laid the bait and industry took it. 

Also, the left German art magazine Texte zur Kunst did not get a clue. In
an article entitled ?Politics as Style? (3) the student of philosophy
Antonia Ulrich foamed with rage about the exhibition in general, and,
amongst others, about TP?s project in particular. discord, of course, must
have felt like poaching on the left?s very political terrain. Ulrich
criticized the two curators and the participating artists for
?aestheticizing? political issues, for the missing applicability in real
politics and for not leaving the art space and demonstrating in the streets
of Hamburg. Well. Writing about art is perhaps not always the best thing to
do if you want to be politically correct. Unsurprisingly, Ulrich misread
most of the artistic projects. She took TP?s project for granted as if she
had never heard about subversion strategies and the art of campaigning
before. For her, TP was really about providing the ?marginalized? with
access to the electronic media: According to Ulrich TP seriously ?presented
technology as a means to abolish social injustice, blindly believing in the
progressive function of these technologies. Instead of laying bare the
power mechanisms inscribed into these technologies, [TP] aestheticized
technology." (4) This obviously comes to no surprise at all for her,
knowing that the TP project was ?sponsored by Mitsubishi, Fuji, Deutsche
Bank, and Crédit Lyonnais" (5). 

What could have provoked this deliberate misreading of Technologies to the
People®? Technology, obviously, is still a red rag to the left. But it was
provoked as well by the fact that for the left the only possible way of
confronting its enemies is criticizing them straightforwardly.
Manipulation, communication guerilla (6) tactics and artistic strategies
like the strategy of over-identification (7) have been neglected for a long
time by the left. It was, and still is, just impossible to think about
using ?enemy strategies" for the ?good? cause. 

Even if you are not fond of manipulation, like the naive left-wing squatter
I quoted in the beginning, today, manipulation is everywhere. There is no
such thing as whether to call it good or bad. It is there, and it is a
fact. It won?t go away. In many cases, rather, it remains the only
effective language left. Good intentions alone do not win fights. Rhetorics
is not about having the right opinion, it is about using the right words.
If the situation requires it, become a pop singer! or a stock broker!
infiltrate corporate structures by appropriating corporate strategies and
rhetoric! The majority of people in the squatted house who participated in
the discussion about whether to use the Internet for political aims or not
were of the opinion that because they had ?good" political intentions they
would not need ?bad" manipulation. And, besides that, the computer was an
instrument of power which you should not let your children use. I just felt
bad, sitting there and being confronted with so much politically correct
stubbornness. We soon left the place, sobered, and drove out into the night
in a fat old black Mercedes, listening to the sound of Plaid. 


1  Left-wing squatter in one of the last squatted houses in Berlin
(?Bandito Rosso"), during a discussion in April 2000 about whether to use
the Internet for political aims or not. I participated in the discussion
with some people from the Chaos Computer Club (CCC; the German hacker?s
club), them of course also being a red rag to the left-wing squatters
movement. The squatter turned openly ?against manipulation" after somebody
mentioned the fake website that was installed after the right-wing
Austrian FPÃ? party got into the coalition with the Ã?VP. The fake
website contained links to militant right wing organisations and thus
intended to reveal the ?hidden reverse?, i.e. that which remains unspoken
in the rhetorics of the FPÃ?. A common left criticism was that the fake website could provide FPÃ? fans with links to ?appropriate?
organisations, i.e. could push them in an even more radical direction. 
2  <> 
3  Antonia Ulrich, ?Politik als Stil?, in: Texte zur Kunst, März 1997, 7.
Jg. Nr. 25, S. 123-126 
4  Ibid., p. 124 (my translation) 
5  Ibid., p. 126, footnote 9 (my translation) 
6  C.f. autonome a.f.r.i.k.a.-gruppe / Luther Blissett / Sonja Brünzels,
Handbook of the Communication Guerilla [German original Handbuch der
Hamburg/Berlin 1997]. Here, RTMark?s <> and etoy?s
<> anti-corporate strategies come to one?s mind. C.f.
Inke Arns ?Recent Net Campaigns (esp. Toywar) and the Importance of Small
Media or Wide-Spread Non-Hierarchical Systems?, lecture given at the
conference Pro@Contra, Moscow 11-14 May 2000 [to be published in the
documentation in the course of 2000] <>. The
SuperWeed Kit 1.0 project sponsored by the Cultural Terrorist Agency (i.e.
Rachel Baker and Heath Bunting) <> fits into
this category as well: SuperWeed Kit 1.0 ?is a lowtech DIY kit capable of
producing a genetically mutant superweed designed to attack corporate
monoculture" <>. 
7  C.f. Inke Arns, ?Mobile States / Shifting Borders / Moving Entities. The
Slovenian Artists? Collective Neue Slowenische Kunst?, in: Irwin, Three
projects: Transnacionala, Irwin Live, Icons, Centre for Contemporary Art
Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw 1998, pp. 59 - 76. See also
<> [50 KB]. 

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