Artist Profile: James Howard

data-encrypt-127.5x103, (2011)

Images in online scams and phishing schemes can seem as artificially generated as the text — like botnet generated folk art. But there is a human hand at work. What do you think is the human element that draws people into these schemes?

People are like machines - their brains react to temptation like a computer does. Most people are able to recognise a scam, but if someone pulls the right string, sooner or later all that subconscious stuff inside you is going to lead you down the wrong path. Scams  get people by playing on insecurities, desires, fears, greed, whatever - it's uncontrollable and causes one in a thousand people to make a snap decision and pay up.

What do you consider the visual clues of this kind of kitsch of deception? Any interesting patterns or trends you've spotted over the years of collecting examples?

Squashed grinning businessmen looking into fisheye lenses, sunsets over serene oceans, happy families, sexy nurses- it's an endless and totally recognisable global visual language. There's a gruesome image of someone hooked up to a life support machine that keeps landing in my junk-mail folder these days -it always comes from a new person, with a different story every time.

Your installation "Black Money" is based a well known email scam — displaying what is said to be millions of dollars dyed black to go through customs, alongside call cards offering chemicals for sale which could clean the cash. When I look at the sort of unboxing video that was posted to DailyMotion, the site suggests I might also like videos with titles like "Make $100,000 Now" and "How to Win the Lotto." Did anyone email looking to clean some dirty dollars with "SSD solution"?

Loads of people contacted me, through that video and through my website (it was temporarily a black money cleaning laboratory)- most had been victims of the scam, but i am also convinced some were posing as victims. There was definately a criminal element involved.  I researched that scam very deeply, and collected samples of people's black money via P.O box. It always turned out to be just paper, but I have all the samples and emails building up. My google analytics for the fake chemist site was taking hundreds of hits a day from all over the world

Have you ever corresponded with any Nigerian scammers or Russian Brides? How did it go?

Right now its a string of love letters, death threats and a foreign police investigation. Theres also a lawsuit -after some guy saw himself naked in a piece of my work. It just goes on. some of that stuff is scary, but when I was a kid I used to hack into all sorts of places here and abroad via dialup and used to get so paranoid that there would be a knock at the door from the police. There's only so much worrying you can do, - after that you just get on with it anyway.#






How long have you been working creatively with technology?  How did you start?

I used to design Doom levels, and when I got my first modem I started hacking on day 1.

Describe your experience with the tools you use.  How did you start using them?

I saw some posters in a Chinese massage parlour and got hooked - I used to go back again and again and even borrowed some of the videos off of the girl who ran it. That was back when people didn't know what photoshop was, and they were really using the software in great ways to make adverts. 

Where did you go to school? What did you study?

Royal Academy of Arts, London and previously at the University of Reading. Fine Art.

What traditional media do you use, if any?  Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology?

I used to make abstract paintings, but I stopped because the things I wanted to do had to be done on computers.

Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)?

I have trained up two Robins to eat seeds from my hand in the local park. Its a way of having a break from computers and getting fresh air and meeting living things face to face.

What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? 

Right now its all about

Do you think this work relates to your art practice in a significant way?

go and have a look at it

Who are your key artistic influences?

so many people have changed my life in a lot of different ways. i stream the Bro Jake Show on every day.

Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project?  With whom, and on what?

No I haven't yet.

Do you actively study art history?

I seek out things all the time, history is a part of everything thats going on today.

Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory?  If so, which authors inspire you?

i cant work out whether to answer this honestly or not.

Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about?