Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Shit, Violence, Love, and Art: Interviewing Ubermorgen

Ubermorgen are nothing if not a little contrarian. Operating mainly as a digital and net art project since forming in 1995, their work cuts stridently against two quite prominent trends (clich├ęs) in the way digital media and art is discussed: first, the celebration of the utopian potentials of digital media and technology; secondly, how participatory dynamics in artistic practice are argued to form the basis of political engagement, whether in relational aesthetics, social practice, or some other framework. And these two ideas often converge, where the alleged democratizing potentials of digital technology and participatory artistic converge are supposed to converge into wonderful net that will liberate us all. Perhaps the best example of this is the NSA’s current work of social sculpture “Every Breath You Take We’re Watching You, Sersly.”

Ubermorgen however have focused their work much more on exploring the dark sides of tech technology and the net. While this may have seemed a bit strange in the various cycles of new economy fuelled tech fetishizing, today is makes all too much sense. The approach has varied across their many projects, but tends to focus on exploring the formal properties of technologies and systems, as well as the more antagonistic elements found within them. This can be seen clearly in their projects like Vote Auction and Super Enhanced.

Today their first solo show in the UK opens at Carroll / Fletcher in central London. I went and interviewed them during last weekend as the exhibition was being set up. This interview is scheduled to appear soon in Mute Magazine. It should be quite good, as the topics we discussed were quite far ranging, from the changing nature of anti-terror laws and their effect on artistic practice to difficulties with collective artistic practice and working with their kids. Given that the exhibition opens today I thought it would be a good idea to produce a quick excerpt from the interview for posting.

Here it is. Read it, and then go check out the exhibition. Cheers, stevphen

Stevphen: One thing that I wanted to ask you about is previously Ubermorgen has been described as a kind of digital Viennese Actionism. Could you talk a bit a about that and how Actionism influences your work?

Ubermorgen: In the first time we made this connection was around the time after the Vote-Auction project, basically because we suddenly felt that it’s all about the body. It’s just the body is the medium in the end, even if it’s a completely mass media digital project. Because in the end all the energy, all the informational data, all the pressure, all the fear, the aggression, everything is going through your body and you’re like a membrane. So all the things we do, as we see it, there is a consistency there, even if it doesn’t look that way. It’s socialisation and artistic socialization. This aspect is always part of the work.

Stevphen: That’s quite interesting in the sense of highlighting how digital, rather then being dematerialised, is actually very about material effects on the body: how media affects you, how everything comes back to, yes, back to the body ultimately, right?

Ubermorgen: Yes, it’s physical. It’s a very physical role. Even if the networks have become part of our reality, the networks are very physical. We’ve always been majorly fascinated by cables. Complete cable fetishism, deep-sea cable fetishism. That first infected us by Neil Stephenson’s 1996 article in Wired Magazine. It’s like a thirty or forty page essay where he travelled for two or three months along cable building sites and with ships laying cable in the oceans. And if you understand this and then if you’re close to the hardware – that’s why we like to work here also with hardware and we want to show the routers and we want to show the iPhone sized servers and shit like that. It is physical, it is about hardware. That’s also where there is this link, because in the end the Actionists were also kind of stating that in the end it’s all about excrement and sex and body and violence and love and shit like that: that it comes down to the basics. And you can go anywhere you want; you can go to space, you can go into the cable, into what we did with e-toy in the 90s, complete digital emigration. You use drugs along with it and you lose your body, but your body fucks up. You end up in a psychiatric hospital to get better, you end up as a chemical cyborg.

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