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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Incognito Mode for the 21st-Century Flâneur

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 Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877).

If it's just a matter of avoiding "that guy" or helping its co-creator avoid his ex, then the new "anti-social" app Cloak—which sources your contacts' locations based on their check-ins on Foursquare and Instagram, so that you can avoid them—is just another coddling mechanism that allows us to construct miniature worlds from our "likes," excluding anything that causes us discomfort. This ends, of course, in a boring, predictable, and ultimately doomed utopia, when suddenly everyone is too "Nearby" on Cloak's green-on-black world map, and no one can be "Far enough."

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