Tactical Transactions

Image: UBERMORGEN, Superenhanced Generator (Logo), 2009

If you're not already familiar with UBERMORGEN.COM, now would be a good time to get acquainted. The duo formed by Hans Bernhard and Lizvlx came onto the tactical media scene in the days of Toywar. When the Bernhard-founded group etoy was taken-on by e-commerce retailer etoys.com, the artists successfully brought the company down, thus providing a keystone moment in the perpetual headbutt between artists and corporations and launching the press release as the tactical media artist's weapon par excellence. In the spirit of many a corporate breakup, the participants in Toywar went on to funnel their win into the launch of new brands and creative identities. Notable among them are the Yes Men and UBERMORGEN. Taking as their name a German word that refers to the perpetual hope of a better tomorrow, the focus of UBERMORGEN's projects has been centered largely around legal issues related to copyright and surveillance. These works include [V]ote-Auction (2000), in which they attempted to auction-off a US Presidential vote to the highest bidder, and the Rhizome-commissioned project Google Will Eat Itself (GWEI) (2006), and "autocannibalistic model" in which revenue from auto-placed Google ads was used to buy Google stock, with a business plan to turn ownership of Google over to its users. In collaboration with Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico, Lizvlx and Bernhard recently took on Amazon.com in a duel that pitted their "robot-perversion technology" against the company's proprietary book preview software. According to the artists, their copyright-busting book-downloading tool was eventually sold to Amazon for an "undisclosed sum," but the story of the face-off (entitled Amazon Noir, 2006) floats among the ranks of other tactical media mythologies--not unlike some of the projects by their frequent collaborators 0100101110101101.org--demonstrating that allegory is often a more powerful tool than execution in media-based activist works. Still, UBERMORGEN's work embodies the true spirit of the hacker, sniffing out potential back doors into situations or networks and exploiting them in the name of creative social commentary. Their newest project, the Superenhanced Generator (2009) is "an interrogation software that automatizes, dehumanizes, familiarizes and therefore optimizes examination." Relying on extant interrogation protocols, and pulling in public information about users based on their digital trails, the tool not only questions users but stalks them via email and Facebook, simulating an albeit chosen form of digital oppression that encourages users to become aware of and take a stance against these protocols. The project was the focus of a solo show at Fabio Paris Art Gallery, which coincided with the launch of two recent catalogues on their work. In February, FPEditions published the monograph UBERMORGEN.COM, which was edited by Domenico Quaranta and featured contributions by Inke Arns and JODI. This month, publisher Christoph Merian Verlag released UBERMORGEN.COM, Media Hacking vs. Conceptual Art, with essays from a rock star list of writers, including editor Alessandro Ludovico, Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied, Florian Cramer, Yukiko Shikata, Cornelia Sollfrank, Inke Arns, Peter Weibel, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Marina Grzinic, and others. You might consider adding them to your Amazon wishlist. - Marisa Olson