Matthias Fritsch is an independent artist from Berlin, most well known for his work Kneecam No 1—the live video that brought Technoviking to the internet. Over a decade after he uploaded the clip that went viral, Fritsch now is enduring a long legal battle with Technoviking himself, who sued for the reproduction, proliferation, and unwarranted use of his likeness. In response to the process, Fritsch is making The Story of Technoviking, a crowd-funded documentary that aims to shed light on the legal issues surrounding viral images. Below, Fritsch talks about what it’s like do battle in court with a viking, the ownership of images in the internet age, and hopes for his current project.
My Life Without Technoviking—since the trial began, Fritsch is no longer allowed to use images of the plaintiff's face.
DQ: Matthias, I'm of course curious about the video that originated it all. What was, for you, Kneecam No 1 (2000) before it became an internet meme? Why did you upload it to YouTube? Were you expecting such a viral reaction? What did you think when it happened?
This text has been written for the proceedings of the international conference "New Perspectives, New Technologies", organized by the Doctoral School Ca' Foscari - IUAV in Arts History and held in Venice and Pordenone, Italy in October 2011
The "portal" designed by Antenna Design to show net based art in the exhibition "Art Entertainment Network", Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2000. Courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
In the late nineties and during the first decade of this century the term “new media art” became the established label for that broad range of artistic practices that includes works that are created, or in some way deal with, new media technologies. Providing a more detailed definition here would inevitably mean addressing topics beyond the scope of this paper, that I discussed extensively in my book Media, New Media, Postmedia (Quaranta 2010). By way of introduction to the issues discussed in this paper, we can summarize the main argument put forward in the book: that this label, and the practices it applies to, developed mostly in an enclosed social context, sometimes called the “new media art niche”, but that would be better described as an art world in its own right, with its own institutions, professionals, discussion platforms, audience, and economic model, and its own idea of what art is and should be; and that only in recent years has the practice managed to break out of this world, and get presented on the wider platform of contemporary art.
It was at this point in time, and mainly thanks to curators who were actively involved in the presentation of new media art in the contemporary art arena, that the debate about “curating new media (art)” took shape. This debate was triggered by the pioneering work of curators – from Steve Dietz to Jon Ippolito, Benjamin Weil and Christiane Paul – who at the turn of the millennium curated seminal new media art exhibitions for contemporary art museums; and it was – and still is –nurtured by CRUMB - “Curatorial Resource for Upstart Media Bliss” - a platform and mailing list founded by Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook in 2000 within the School of Arts, Design, Media and Culture at the University of Sunderland, UK. As early as 2001, CRUMB organized the first ever meeting of new media curators in the UK as part of BALTIC's pre-opening program – a seminar on Curating New Media held in May 2001.
In the context of this paper, our main reference texts will be CRUMB-related publications, from the proceedings of “Curating New Media” (2001) to Rethinking Curating. Art After New Media (2010), a recent book by Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook; and New Media in the White Cube and Beyond, a book edited by Christiane Paul in 2008. Instead of addressing the specific issues and curatorial models discussed in these publications, we will try to focus on the very foundations of “curating new media”, exploring questions like: does new media art require a specific curatorial model? Does this curatorial model follow the way artists working with new media currently present themselves on the contemporary art platform? How much could “new media art” benefit from a non-specialized approach? Are we curating “new media” or curating “art”? ...
The following excerpt comes from the final chapter of my book Media, New Media, Postmedia, recently published in Italian by Postmediabooks, who kindly gave Rhizome permission to republish it in English. The book is an attempt to analyze the current positioning of so-called “New Media Art” in the wider field of contemporary arts, and to explore the historical, sociological and conceptual reasons for its marginal position and under-recognition in recent art history.
Interview by Marcia Caines
In Cluster, March 10 2009, http://www.cluster.eu/2009/03/10/\%E2\%80\%98outside-in\%E2\%80\%99-interview-with-john-f-simon-jr/
On Saturday 7th March the Collezione Maramotti of Reggio Emilia opened the first Italian exhibition of the American software artist John F. Simon Jr. ‘Outside In’ displays 5 of the artist’s artworks from 1999 to 2009, exploring ten years of research in software art. John F. Simon Jr., born in Louisiana, lives and works in New York, during his artistic career his works have been exhibited in China, France, Israel, Korea, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Spain, Taiwan, Yugoslavia and in 13 states of America, his works are in several museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, The Guggenheim Museum, and Los Angeles County Museum. In 2000 he was awarded the Trustees Award for an Emerging Artist by The Aldrich Museum for Contemporary Art.
He also has a series of works that are accessible and downloadable on the Internet from his website, http://www.numeral.com. John F. Simon Jr., starts by drawing on paper. He then transfers his creations to code by writing his own software, this way bringing his pictures in motion creating patterns whose sequences are never repeated and endless, thus investigating the nature and structure of systems, and the possibilities and limitations of automation in image.
MC: The exhibition shows ten years 1999 - 2009 of your work as a visual artist and computer programmer how has the technological revolution influenced the nature of your work in this period? Has it assisted and developed your creative process or ran parallel to it?
JSFJr: The relationship between my visual art and technology is a positive feedback loop. Persistent ideas from my drawing practice get implemented in code. Improvisations with the infinite possibilities of code suggest new starting points for drawing. More computer power does not necessarily mean better art but the stunning improvements in graphics have allowed me to choose more ambitious drawings to start from. The adoption of openGL as a standard was probably the most noticeable boost that technology gave to my approach in programming.
MC: Despite the rule based system of computer programming there’s a constant element of ‘surprise’ in your artwork due to the unpredictable behaviour of the elements within them, the imagery itself creates ‘emergent patterns’. Do you believe these emergent patterns inherent to all systems, I mean even in the human experience?
JSFJr: Yes. Systems are even called systems because they exhibit some kind of regular behaviour - that is their emergent pattern - even if it is a simple pendular motion.
When I wrote CPU to investigate emergent behaviours - especially patterns - I didn’t know the trouble I was getting into. The concept of emergence is as dependent on the observer as it is on the system. Like the classic question, ‘Does a system form a pattern if there is no one there to recognize it?’
My software tries to set a context with certain static design elements so other elements may vary against them and one can recognize the evolution of that pattern.
MC: From earlier works like ‘CPU’ in 1999 to ‘Endless Bounty’ in 2005 there is a visible shift from abstract content such as colour, form and movement, to more specific social and political elements, was this a natural evolution or an intentional transition?
JSFJr: Again, the positive feedback moves things along together.
From 1994 when CPU’s processor was released computing power changed radically. Instead of having a limit of 32 moving elements in CPU, by the time I wrote Bounty nine years later I could have images and 3D models galore.
At the same time the new power gave me a ‘larger voice’ I could speak about things more specifically and in more detail. CPU is mostly about emergence in a minimal form - isolated - and Endless Bounty takes advantage of the bounty of imagery online - the bounty of power now possible - to speak about consumerist excess.
MC: ‘Complex City’ is obviously reminiscent of Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie, (1942/1943) but as a New York resident we can assume that this artwork is also derived from a strong personal relationship with the city in which you live. The constant motion of varied elements run by different systems in ‘Complex City’ causes spontaneous behaviours, for example, traffic jams form and cars crash. Considering that ‘emergent patterns’ change the flux and liveability of a city, do you not think this could be a useful problem-solving tool for designers, or city planners?
JSFJr: Actually my code was derived from professional papers on traffic engineering and from existing software of this kind that is used by traffic engineers to study flow. I love these simulations and from some very simple rules you get surprisingly complex and very realistic behaviour. My favourite is the spontaneous slowdown - a slowdown caused by no apparent reason- no accident or merge or traffic light - that happens on the highway - really due mostly to volume but also some momentary hesitation by one driver that propagates backward. I still get stuck in them but now I don’t feel so frustrated.
MC: In a certain sense your artworks last forever, inasmuch as it is impossible for viewers to see all the imagery/patterns in a single lifetime, but the lifespan of technological instruments is limited, how does this effect the durability of your artwork? For example if a machine breaks, or ceases to function, can the code be programmed into new technological models or not?
JSFJr: Yes - the work is based on the writing - on the code - and when the particular hardware wears out new parts are installed. And when there are no more parts, a new kind of computer is installed. I have ported several pieces this way with great success. There was a show at the Guggenheim Museum called “Seeing Double” that addressed this issue of obsolescence, not just in computer work, but also concerning plastic that cracks, felt that crumbles, and Dan Flavin fluorescent tubes that burn out and can’t be replaced. I contributed an old and a new version of my piece ‘Color Panel v1.0′ to show what ‘Color Panel v2.0′ might look like in the future. Because the core of the pieces is a programming language text the piece itself is firstly a kind of conceptual art and later made physical.
MC: In ‘Visions’ 2009, your most recent work, commissioned by Collezione Maramotti, most forms are hidden inside the cabinets with mirrors reflecting the source of imagery, so what about the future? Can technology and the virtual world continue to satisfy your creative appetite? Have you witnessed scientific or technological advancement, or experienced any limitations, capable of affecting your creative process?
JSFJr: My work has always started with my regular drawing practice and I still sit with pencil and paper everyday and improvise. There are more ideas in my 10 years of accumulated drawing cards than I can hope to implement in code and sometimes it is enough just to have the idea without struggling to realize it in code. My interest lately is to explore how the screen can be understood in ways other than seeing it as a picture window or a TV for animations. The new cabinets re-contextualize the screen and place it next to other physical materials or take advantage of it’s light emitting qualities to speak about visual art issues.
As screens get thinner, lighter, more flexible and of course higher resolution there will be many more things possible to do with them. I very much look forward to that. I feel like we are just at the doorstep of what technology and art can do together.
MC: Do you prefer drawing or programming?
JSFJr: I enjoy visualization in any form it chooses to manifest.
MC: How does the software of your pieces affect their own hardware, i.e the frame that you design to display them in ‘real’ venues?
JSFJr: One clear example of the software influencing the hardware is when I watch one of my programs running and it makes an interesting shape on the screen. I will capture this shape and turn it into a vector drawing in Adobe Illustrator. Then I take it to my laser and cut the shape in Formica or Plexiglas. The cabinets often have these elements attached to the surface or built in as part of the structure. This element resonates well with the software that created it running inside. As within, so without.
Yesterday i met with the other members of the jury for the fifth edition of the ARCO Beep Award. The aim of this Award is to promote the research, production, and exhibition of art linked to new technologies, or new media art. The art pieces are submitted by commercial galleries participating to the Madrid Contemporary Art Fair ARCO.
It was a real pleasure to discuss with the other members of the jury: curator and art critic Domenico Quaranta, Fernando Castro from the Reina Sofía National Museum, the mythical art critic Arnau Puig and the charming artist Marie-France Veyrat. It was the fastest jury deliberation i had ever attended in my life. Although most entries were of remarkable quality, the work that stood out was a triptych part of the EKMRZ-Trilogy, by UBERMORGEN.COM.
Presented for the first time as a single installation on view until the end of the art fair at the booth of Fabio Paris Gallery, this "e-commerce trilogy" is the outcome of almost four years of work which i'm sure most of you are quite familiar with. Its episodes are called:
- GWEI - Google Will Eat Itself, an operation aiming at buying Google with Google's own money (in collaboration with Alessandro Ludovico and Paolo Cirio)
- Amazon Noir - The Big Book Crime steals books from Amazon and distribute them free on the web (in collaboration with Alessandro Ludovico and Paolo Cirio)
- and The Sound of eBay which generates music using eBay user data.
Fabio Paris Gallery had made a rather audacious challenge in choosing to present the EKMRZ-Trilogy and i'm delighted to see that audacity pays once in a while. The ARCO installation presents the iconography and mythology of the trilogy by means of prints, a google cheque, projections, music, animations, etc. You can visit it at the Pavilion 6 of ARCO, it is part of Expanded Box, the section dedicated to the intertwining of technologies and art.
On occasion of the event, FPEditions is publishing the book UBERMORGEN.COM.
And if you live in the area of Milan, you might want to check out the Fabio Paris Art Gallery itself which is showing the world preview of the Austrian duo's latest project Superenhanced, which is dedicated to the issue of torture.
[MORE INFOS AT: http://www.domenicoquaranta.net/ARCO2009.html]
In the vast, variegated panorama of contemporary artistic experimentation there are various practices germinating that find it difficult to carve a niche for themselves in the official discourse and channels, despite the undeniable appeal they possess. The thing that makes them so precious, and as delicate as a flower growing under the snow, is not the fact that they use the “new media”, because everyone uses the media - and now they are anything but new. What makes them so special is the fact that like the aforementioned flower, they contain a new strength, and a new promise. The strength is that of those who go about their lives without a thought for the rules that govern the world they live in, and who create the conditions that enable them to live, successfully, in a radically altered context; the promise regards this radical transformation.
Everyone in the contemporary art field knows perfectly well that the context in which artists operate today was by and large established during the 20th century by Marcel Duchamp, and given structure and supported by a renewed museum and market system. According to this model, art no longer consists in the masterful implementation of a technique (painting, sculpture, music or writing) to present a world (the so-called “real” world, the unconscious world of the Surrealists, etc.). Anything can be art, if given a specific discourse and a specific conception, and if conveyed by means of a specific context. The aura of a work of art, which may be lost and found time and again, is now attributed by means of a precise process of consecration, which takes place on the market and in the museums. Without venturing into value judgements, it will suffice to consider the duration of this model to understand that what comes into being within it now is pure academicism. Murakami is to Duchamp and Warhol as Bouguerau is to Poussin and David. The gradual, unstoppable transition to the information society has radically challenged this model, nurtured in the bosom of the industrial society, but has not succeeded in destroying it altogether. It lives on as an act of faith, a consensual hallucination, a superstition boosted by the fear of what is to come. It survives, and continues to produce masterpieces, basking in the splendour which characterizes all periods of decadence.
The new world is there, just round the corner - or, to return to the cutesy flower metaphor - under the snow. It is in the art that exists outside the confines of the art world, rejecting the “contextual definition” of Duchampian origin which seems to persist, as Joline Blais and Jon Ippolito wrote in their book At the Edge of Art, purely by inertia; it is in the art that seeks out public space, media space, biotechnology labs and the world of information, communications and e-commerce as its operative environment; it is in the art that draws on other practices and other specific fields of knowledge, to a point where at times it has problems seeing itself (and being seen) as art; it is in the art that enthusiastically embraces technological reproducibility, the variability of data and the fluidity of information, abandoning - and radically challenging - the status of precious fetish, and it is in the art that is open to interaction with the spectator, that forges and develops relationships, that breaks down the wall which interrupts and conditions our mental and physical dialogue with a work.
This art exists, and it is at once strong and delicate, timid and aggressive, marginal and supreme. It is entrenched in the contradictions of all revolutions: it rebels against a world, but needs the cares of that world to resist. It has tried to escape, to open up new channels, but in the end it will succeed in changing our idea of art, defeating the academicism and opening the way to the future by means of dialogue and mediation. A future, which as the novelist William Gibson said, is already here, just badly distributed.
The historic function of Expanded Box, the last embodiment of an enduring attention Arco devoted to new media and languages, is precisely that of cultivating and redistributing the future, and supporting an ?expanded? definition of art. In the last ten years, and through different programs, Arco has done exactly that, hosting and offering market opportunities to a growing number of galleries that take up this challenge, at their own risk. When you see this compact block of eight galleries that offer their space to monographic projects - often decidedly ambitious - you could be forgiven for thinking that Expanded Box is one of those typical cultural initiatives increasingly staged on occasion of contemporary art fairs, with the idea of accompanying the dialogue and exchanges between galleries and collectors, but without attempting to compete with them. This is not the case.
Expanded Box, today, is the place where Leo Castelli would go to sell and Alfred H. Barr would go to buy. I am aware that this might sound rhetorical, and possibly a little ingenuous, but I cannot find a non-rhetorical way to say that there, more than anywhere else, the seeds of an evolution are germinating. They rest, well protected, in the machines of Lawrence Malstaf and the interactive environmental installations by Pors & Rao; in the sound installations by Manas and Moori and Thomson & Craighead; in the exploration of the dividing line between matter and the dematerialization of the media undertaken by the Korean Kim Jongku, and in John Gerrard’s 3D animations. They reproduce at the speed of a virus in the works of Joan Leandre, who upends the hyperreal interfaces that filter our rapport with reality, while they lurk in UBERMORGEN.COM’s media hacking activities, which uses low-tech tools to bring the giants of e-commerce to their knees.
For ten years Expanded Box has invested in this new current, the novelty of which, we should reiterate, lies not so much in the media that these works use, but in the culture they reflect and in the idea of art that they open the way for.
curated by: DOMENICO QUARANTA (stands), CAROLINA GRAU (cinema)
Galleries and artists (STANDS): Arc Projects, Sofia / THOMSON & CRAIGHEAD; Ernst Hilger, Vienna / JOHN GERRARD; Fabio Paris Art Gallery, Brescia / UBERMORGEN.COM; Fortlaan 17, Gent / LAWRENCE MALSTAF; MS Galeria, Madrid / ESTHER MANAS & ARASH MOORI; One and J Gallery, Seoul / KIM JONGKU; Project Gentili, Prato / JOAN LEANDRE; Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi / PORS AND RAO.
MORE INFOS, CATALOGUE TEXT AND DOWNLOADABLE IMAGES:
NEW MEDIA ART BETWEEN ISOLATION AND INTEGRATION, INTER-DISCIPLINARITY AND MEDIA SPECIFICITY
February, Sunday 15, 2009
Forum Auditorium 1, Hall 6 Sunday 15, from 12.30 to 2.30 p.m. and from 4 to 9 p.m.
Director: Domenico Quaranta
Speakers: Jon Ippolito & Joline Blais, Roberta Bosco, Geert Lovink, Inke Arns, Régine Debatty, Zhang Ga, Joasia Krysa.
Young artists showcasing trends in new media art, with a special focus on video and installation
ARCOmadrid Press Office, 08/01/2009
Curated by: Domenico Quaranta, Carolina Grau
Dialogue and an exploration of media art languages is, once again, the main focus at EXPANDED BOX. From a renewed perspective, this programme, specialised in art and new technologies, takes a step further in its mission to reflect a process of unstoppable expansion of art practices towards new formats and contexts. This year, the programme has been divided into two: STANDS, a space set aside for large format installations, curated by the art critic and independent curator Domenico Quaranta; and CINEMA, a monographic section dedicated to video art, selected by the independent curator Carolina Grau.
A total of 15 art projects are on view in the EXPANDED BOX programme, 8 at STANDS, and 7 in CINEMA. For the Italian curator Domenico Quaranta, “more than reflecting the creative exploitation of the medium, these proposals contain a critical examination of the cultural consequences of today’s media and technologies.” The tendencies come from a number of international artists, in turn represented by galleries taking on the challenge involved in fostering a new conception of art.
EXPANDED BOX is a market platform at ARCOmadrid for the exploration of art languages and dynamic discourses proposing new concepts. From the perspective of the notion of expansion, the selected programme “showcases a type of art that looks outside the parameters of contemporary art to art developed on the Net, the art produced in research centres and labs and that has all the potential to change our present-day notion of art. A change of perspective that should not scare collectors or art lovers, because these works are representative of the information society and of the globalised world we all live in,” says Quaranta.
STANDS, multiple format installations
Quaranta’s selection includes eight projects represented by both veteran and young international galleries. Eight pieces that, “in the wide open field of art experimentation, dictate their own rules regardless of prevailing canons, and give rise to a radically altered context that allows them to successfully progress.”
These tendencies are well represented in the selection made by Quaranta, defined by the variety of the projects on display. The exhibition covers a lot of ground, ranging from works using a combination of new technologies and traditional media, to pieces employing new media but with conventional purposes, or works that rediscover the potential of technologies that have virtually fallen into disuse.
The two ends of that diversity are embodied, on one hand by Arrow Wall, an interactive installation by the two-artist collective Pors & Rao, presented at the Indian gallery VADEHRA ART GALLERY. The project responds to the position and movements of the spectators moving throughout the space. For the artists, “it is a naïve abstraction of the complex dynamics of the relations surrounding us and of which we are an integral part. When users stand at a certain distance from Arrow Wall, the movements are subtler though nonetheless active. However, when the spectators comes closer, the feeling is that of a fracture of the balance, with the walls starting to move at a greater pace, as if the user acted as a magnet whose magnetic field has an effect on behaviour.
At the other extreme, we find the critical examination of the cultural consequences of present-day media and technologies through the work of the Austrian duo Ubermorgen.com, represented by FABIO PARIS ART GALLERY from Brescia, Italy. Their piece The EKMRZ Trilogy is a complex proposal developed over the last two years, integrating three projects based on a subversion of the interfaces of three giant digital corporations: Google, Amazon and Ebay. Resorting to code, software and to social hacking, they created a network of websites through which they obtained money by hosting ads in Google. The funds were subsequently invested in the acquisition of Google shares as a means to gradually erode the rigid power of the world’s most popular browser. Thus, they managed to steal, page by page, whole books from the Amazon database than were then redistributed without copy license, or to translate for Ebay users music databases from a directory based on a soft porn page. Using two projectors, the booth of the gallery reproduces the impressions and texts gathered in that space.
In these contrasting points, what matters is not how the medium is used, but the way in which the works explain to the public how human beings experience the world, how images, narratives, aesthetics and habits spread by the media have an effect on our environment.
In between these two points, we find proposals also providing a critical insight into the social consequences of the use of technology. That is the case of the work by the Spaniard Joan Leandre, one of the pioneers of software art. PROJECT GENTILI, a gallery from Prato, Italy, will exhibit a piece by this artist in which he filters our connection with reality through hyper-real interfaces. In turn, the British collaborative Thomson & Craighead, will show their work at the booth of the ARC PROJECTS gallery from Sofia, Bulgaria, with a project revealing the semantics of every devices and mechanisms.
Another sound installation shown at EXPANDED BOX comes from Esther Mañas & Arash Moori, represented by GALERIA MS from Madrid. The installation by the Korean artist Kim Jongku, on display at the booth of ONE AND J. GALLERY from Seoul, Korea, explores the fine line dividing matter and the dematerialisation brought about by the media.
FORTLAAN 17, a gallery from Ghent, Belgium, will present an installation entitled Compass, by the Belgian artist Lawrence Malstaf, a proposal researching into the interactive interface and the human-machine. Finally, the list of projects is completed with a 3D animation piece by the Irish artist John Gerrard, on view at ERNST HILGER CONTEMPORARY from Vienna.
CINEMA, an overview of video art
EXPANDED BOX has an area with screens projecting unique works by young artists from various origins. Represented by galleries with a long track record at the fair, the selection of this space set aide for video art includes “projects by artists influenced and inspired by the language of cinema and its visual codes as well as by the popular culture of television and the music world. Their videos feature daily stories and exceptional, extraordinary events captured by the artist’s camera,” as the curator of this section, Carolina Grau, states.
A regular of the ARCOmadrid’s curatorial team, Grau has chosen seven works. Pieces addressing the global society and a committed engagement with the world’s most pressing issues will be presented by galleries including the Austrian GEORG KARGL, representing the artist Andreas Fogarasi who is bring a new work Public Brands - La France. This video piece shows images of France’s 26 regions, depicting a variety of landscapes and local identities, underscoring the fact that public sector and tourism are following the path of private corporations by attempting to position locations as if they were brands.
Next up, RUTH BENZACAR GALERIA DE ARTE from Argentina is also taking part this year in this section with a piece by Judi Werthein, an artist living between New York and Buenos Aires. From the Big Apple comes MARIAN GOODMAN GALLERY, presenting the most recent video by the Indian artist Amar Kanwar.
This CINEMA selection is completed with work brought by four veteran galleries at the ARCOmadrid. From the Netherlands comes MIRTA DEMARE, with a piece by the highly promising Russian artist Katarina Zdjelar. Next, the gallery from Pamplona, MOISÉS PÉREZ DE ALBÉNIZ shows a work by the Basque artist Iñaki Garmendia that will certainly encourage the members of the audience to let themselves go and experience rather than think.
This space devoted to video art will also include a proposal by Nuno Cera, brought by the Portuguese gallery PEDRO CERA. Last but not least, the screens of CINEMA will also project a work by Stefanos Tsivopoulos represented by the Italian PROMETEO GALLERY.
The new vision of art proposed by EXPANDED BOX does not consist of exotica, but rather of thought-provoking artworks heralding an interesting dialogue with other creations, languages and supports shown at the fair, with the clear intention of expanding the boundaries of art.
Re:akt! 7 - Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG Reenactment of Marina Abramovic and Ulay's Imponderabilia
“Eva and me, we hate performance art, we never quite got the point. So, we wanted to understand what made it so uninteresting to us, and reenacting these performances was the best way to figure it out.” 
The advent of re-enactment, of both historical events and artistic performances of the past, has gone hand in hand with the renewed success of performance art as of the 90s, to the point where it is now interpreted as one of the signs of this success.
Events like A Little Bit of History Repeated (Berlin, Kunst-Werke 2001), A Short History of Performance (London, Whitechapel Art Gallery 2003), and the stir created by 7 Easy Pieces by Marina Abramović (New York, Guggenheim Museum) and works like The Third Memory (1999) by Pierre Huyghe or The Battle of Orgrave (2002) by Jeremy Deller, would appear to support this theory. Yet a moment’s consideration of the characteristics of performance art in the 60s and 70s is enough to understand that re-enactment, rather than a sign of victory, is actually the most evident indicator of its defeat, its capitulation to the rules of the art world (which demands products) and the entertainment business (which demands repetition).
While radical stances like Marina Abramović’s (“no rehearsal, no repetition, no predicted end”)  were relatively isolated at the time, there was broad consensus over the need for authenticity (opposing the fictional nature of theatre, the eternal adversary of performance art), together with that of creating unique, unrepeatable, unpredictable events (with the immediacy of the ‘here and now’) which could not be reduced to the status of object or product. If this is performance art, re-enactment is its consummate nemesis. Re-enactment takes up (repeats, reconstructs and responds to) an original event. It is based on a script, and is therefore entirely predictable, and it has a defined ending. Lastly, its dialogue with the source event, and exploration of analogies and differences respect to the original, require preparation, rehearsals and the construction of a set. Its quest for authenticity is based on a reconstruction, which brings it dangerously close to theatre, and, due to the fact that, like the performance art of the 90s, it comes into being in a completely media-dominated world, derivative products are almost inevitable; indeed in some cases re-enactment exists only in mediated form.
Few have acknowledged the fundamentally Oedipal nature of re-enactment with the lucidity demonstrated by Eva and Franco Mattes. Their Synthetic Performances (2007 - 2008) are a series of six re-enactments of historic performances of the 60s and 70s, staged by the artists’ virtual alter-egos in the synthetic world of Second Life. As they have stated, the series arose out of their polemical stance with regard to the concept of performance art and the very works that they “pay tribute” to. This leads them on the one hand to breach the classic rules of performance art, and on the other to present these works - the efficacy of which was based on the radical way they explored the issues of the body, violence (Chris Burden), sexuality (Valie Export, Vito Acconci, Marina Abramović), identity (Gilbert & George), and the environment and public space (Joseph Beuys) - in a context where these issues acquire a completely different meaning, and as a consequence the original energy of the performance, and its power to provoke, dissipates, or turns into something completely different.
In the words of the Mattes: “We chose actions that were particularly paradoxical if performed in a virtual world.” And: “everything is mediated, nothing is spontaneous. More or less the opposite of what performance art is supposed to be.” 
But if the Synthetic Performances were merely a statement against performance art, they could be seen at the most as proving a point: simple, direct instant-works without any subtle nuances and probably not destined to last much longer than the debate that generated them. In actual fact the interesting thing about these works lies less in the mortal blow they deliver to performance art and more in the subtle way they bring it to life in a new context and lend it - if you will pardon the pun - a second life.
A virtual world is a 3D synthetic environment which the user operates in by means of a virtual alter ego, or avatar. The problems that virtual worlds pose to those not familiar with them can be summed up as follows: in a virtual world, representation and existence are one and the same thing. We no longer distinguish between the medium and life, because life is entirely mediated. I am my avatar, and the fact that my avatar is an artefact, a puppet made of polygons and textures, certainly doesn’t stop me from identifying with it. When I say “I”, it is my avatar talking. Obviously I can say “I” because there are millions of other “I”s with whom I can speak, dance, work, have a drink, have sex, fly around, fight, and engage in a host of other activities. If we wish, a virtual world is a consensual hallucination . When we download the Second Life client and make our first access we can still cling to the belief that it is merely a piece of software, but after a few days we cannot but acknowledge the fact that it really is a world, with its own complex society, rules to obey, and rapidly evolving lifestyles. Entering a virtual world means facing up to a new possible form of existence, and the Synthetic Performances are first and foremost an attempt to explore this new horizon using a form of art which intrinsically focuses on life. In other words, Eva and Franco Mattes use performance art to explore “life on screen”.
Let’s take Imponderabilia, for example. In 1977, on occasion of their participation in a group show at the Galleria Civica in Bologna, Marina Abramović and her partner Ulay stood, completely naked, facing each other, in the narrow entrance to the exhibition, leaving only a restricted passageway which could be used by one person at a time, moving sideways and pressing against both of the artists’ bodies. The artists themselves, immobile, appeared to be immersed in an interplay of intimacy excluding all else, while the members of the public wishing to enter or leave the exhibition area were obliged to squeeze between their naked bodies: a moment of forced physical intimacy set against a gaping emotional divide.
Re-enacting Imponderabilia literally implies transforming it into a script, and necessarily taking the media accounts of the event on board. Restaging it in a virtual world basically means planning everything: building the set, writing code to prevent the two actors from moving when they come into contact with another body, and writing other code to allow the spectators to squeeze easily through the narrow gap. On occasion of the New York festival Performa07, when Eva and Franco Mattes staged a live re-enactment of Imponderabilia, the other avatars present had two “scripted objects” at their disposal, positioned at the edges of the set: clicking on the left hand one meant you crossed the threshold facing Franco Mattes’ naked body, while clicking on the right hand one meant you came up against Eva’s synthetic physique.
As we have said, the event was staged live, in front of two different sets of spectators: those of Second Life, who took part from the comfort of their own homes, by means of their avatars; and the audience at Performa07, who followed it “from a distance”, projected onto a wall in the presence of the artists, who were there in front of them in the flesh, albeit absorbed in their computer. The contradictions of this set-up are self-evident: the event was both live (with the unpredictable immediacy of performance art) and heavily mediated (in particular, the projection was not a fixed camera stream - there was directorial control over the way the real life spectators experienced the performance); and two levels of existence intertwined, meaning that the same event was experienced in very different ways. The real-life audience experienced the event as a show, but at the same time they were able to speak to the artists engaged in the performance. For them, the re-enactment worked on the same level as a citation: being fully conversant with the original event, they could recognize it and appreciate the differences, as the laughter and comments captured on the recording show.
The Second Life audience, on the other hand, were able to participate in the event, enrich it with new meanings, star in it and reintroduce the element of unpredictability that had been eliminated at the preparatory stage. Some avatars stripped naked before squeezing between Eva and Franco Mattes, while others, who didn’t understand the interaction mechanism, took up position in front of the door, and still others exploited the situation to give rise to new performances of their own.
As we can see, Reenactment of Marina Abramovic and Ulay's Imponderabilia lends itself very well to highlighting the specific contribution that the work of Eva and Franco Mattes makes to the issues involved in re-enactment. The fact that a performance that revolves entirely around the unsettling sensation of intimacy created by a naked body in a public area ends up looking “paradoxical” in a virtual world does not mean that it is entirely stripped of meaning. Avatars have sex, and even though this takes place by means of improbable sexual prostheses, and the activation of sound files and a movement script, this does not mean that there are no consequences on the emotional level. Many avatars are reluctant to strip off, and those who do so in a public place are viewed as irritating troublemakers, and risk expulsion.
The complete “mediatization” of the event introduces another question. While re-enactment always concerns “re-mediation”, namely an appropriation or translation of other media or media objects, in a virtual world this is par for the course. But Eva and Franco Mattes go one further, taking up the documentation of the original event with philological care. No concession is made to the “vernacular” aspects of Second Life: their avatars are realistic, and the settings are reconstructed with painstaking precision; even the angles chosen by the direction faithfully reflect the photographic and filmed records of the original event. We have mentioned the term “citation”, but the duo’s long-standing interest in plagiarism could point to the concept of copies and originals in this context. Their Synthetic Performances thus represent the destiny of performance art in an age where life itself, and no longer just works of art, can be technologically reproduced.
Lastly, it is important to note that in the re-enactments by Eva and Franco Mattes, the conceptual hub of the work is spatial rather than temporal. As Jennifer Allen writes, re-enactment is to do with time: “Reenactment depends upon a linear construction of time. Of course, the 're' denotes a return to an earlier time, the existence of an event that has expired and therefore can be safely enacted once again, without being confused with itself.”  And Inke Arns notes, “Events [...] are re-enacted that are viewed as very important for the present. Here the reference to the past is not history for history's sake; it is about the relevance of what happened in the past for the here and now.”  The Synthetic Performances also implement this kind of examination, but rather than effecting a temporal shift, they work in terms of space, transporting an event into another context, another medium. The aim remains the comprehension of the here and now, but it is the here rather than the now which is challenged.
 Eva and Franco Mattes, “Nothing is real, everything is possible. Excerpts from interviews with Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG”, 2007. l
 From a statement of 1976, presented in AAVV, Marina Abramović. 7 Easy Pieces, Charta, Milan 2007.
 Eva and Franco Mattes, “Nothing is real, everything is possible...”, quoted.
 William Gibson’s uber definition of cyberspace in the novel Neuromancer (1984): “Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts...”
 Jennifer Allen, “'Einmal ist keinmal'. Observations on Reenactment”, in Sven Lütticken (ed.), Life, Once More. Forms of Reenactment in Contemporary Art, exhibition catalogue, Witte de With, Rotterdam 2005, pp. 177 - 213.
 Inke Arns, “History Will Repeat Itself”, in Inke Arns, Gabriele Horn (eds), History Will Repeat Itself. Strategies of re-enactment in contemporary (media) art and performance, exhibition catalogue, Hartware MedienKunstVerein, Dortmund and KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin 2007.