Artist Profile: Femke Herregraven

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The latest in a series of interviews with artists who have a significant body of work that makes use of or responds to network culture and digital technologies.

Screen capture from Femke Herregraven, Taxodus (video game, 2013).

LC: The most publicized of your works is Taxodus, a online game for tax evasion. At the time, you made the game as a way to materialize and map out what you call "a geography of avoidance"—a study of the obfuscatory strategies used by the finance industry that emphasizes their reshaping of space, place and nationhood. Is the game a realistic simulation? Is it important that it is realistic? Might it also be a valuable tool for people who work in finance?

FH: In Taxodus players are "acting" on behalf of multinationals and have to dodge paying as much tax as they can. By setting up intermediate holdings globally, players reveal potential routes through which multinationals in reality can "neutralize" their tax burdens. Players that escape the most tax rank high in the high scores.

The data in the game—national corporate tax rates, withholding taxes and treaties from countries worldwide—is realistic but the mechanisms to set up companies and calculate income and tax are simplified. In reality there are many more parameters involved on a corporate, national and international level; it would be impossible to incorporate them all in a game. I know some big accountancy firms have tried to develop software that basically cough up a fiscal advice, but it failed because it was too complex and expensive. In reality, fiscal structures are highly customized per company and it seems impossible to make a 1:1 simulation of this tax planning industry.

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TEDxVaduz: Towards a new future through a moribund format

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Femke Herregraven speaks at TEDxVaduz, Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Dec 2013. Via DIS.

TEDxVaduz was held at Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein in December of 2013. Designed and organized by artists Simon Denny and Daniel Keller, the event seemed, at first glance, like a well-organized parody. But the list of speakers included an array of legitimately exciting artists and thinkers—Peter Fend, Andi Götz, Femke Herregraven, Michaela Hogenboom Kindle, Michael Littger, Michel André Maréchal, Katja Novitskova, Emily Segal, and Regula Stämpfli—convened under a relevant theme, "Radically Open."

From the outset, it was clear that TEDxVaduz aimed to work both within and against the context provided by the TED brand. Denny opened the event by giving a brief history of TED and the TEDx conferences. Keller provided the current context of TED, its format and the recent criticism due to presentations that relied on pseudo-science. Denny highlighted the elements of the TED brand that match his and Keller's interests, such as Silicon Valley and tech entrepreneurialism. Denny also noted that the backdrop, a tag cloud comprised of most used words in TED talks and the floor graphic of an island shaped like Vaduz, was a collaborative design by the two.

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