Post-Trolling: A Conversation with Art404

Motorola Droid XL, 2011

Art404 is comprised of Manuel Palou and Moises Sanabria.

This interview was conducted over multiple online chat sessions beginning in March 2012 through April 2012.


louisdoulas: Let’s start with Art Not Found or Art404. Could you tell me a little more about its connotations?

artnotfound: Art404 is a pun for artnotfound, a motto that gives us a certain level of transparency. We don't want to get hung up on making art and exclude anybody from our work.

louisdoulas: So the absence implies a kind of non-context for framing production?

artnotfound: Well the internet functions in a non-context anyway. We want to create content and value more than we want to create art.

louisdoulas: Right, without the prerequisite motivations of making an artwork per se, just ‘pure’ creative production.

artnotfound: It's relentless creative production and discussion. That’s the future of content.

louisdoulas: So then there’s this awareness of the potential insularities or exclusiveness of the art world, or at least a hesitation to participate within this context? Perhaps which is why you're attracted to the internet in the first place, as it levels out all content.

artnotfound: Yes definitely. By opening up the discussion to everyone it democratizes content. And if successful, any further discussion of that content gives it social value.

louisdoulas: Cultural Capital

artnotfound: Art404 likes this.

louisdoulas: I'm interested in these notions of 'opening up discussion', surrounding content, in this case specifically your work; what does this mean for you?

artnotfound: It means our mothers can engage with our work as much as a gallerist can. The internet is allowing people to take part in things they never would have before, opening up the possibilities for a much larger discussion. When both ends of the spectrum: high and low culture, exist on the same field, exciting things happen.  The outcome of this discussion creates a higher, or "purer" value.

A gallerist once talked to us about "the kitty cat realm", a world where artists are reduced to a sort of novelty, enjoyable by a wide audience, much the way a cute kitten is.  The art world seems to try to stray away from this phenomenon, where we find value and possibility in it.

louisdoulas: And our relationship with the internet only seems to get more confrontational with sites like Mega Upload forced offline, Pirate Bay switching to their Swedish domain to avoid domain seizure, the increased exploitation of users within Facebook and issues with self-proclaimed 'democratic' art practices and ideology itself.  Your poem, BE reflects on some of these conflicts, specifically on corporatization and lifestyle commodification.

artnotfound: In BE, we weren't trying highlight the negative in advertising, but rather make a sort of mock manifesto for what advertising proposes.  Lifestyle marketing is changing rapidly with the internet and while people complain about ads and search engines becoming more targeted, it's actually making the ad industry more transparent. Technology is getting better at revealing our desires and making us aware of them, and this tension should empower people, not scare them.  Now that the technology is here, people can be content aware.

It's going to back to the idea of high and low co-existing. On one hand it's opening these brands to critique, and at the same time linking to them so you can explore and form your own thoughts. In this way, we can accept and negate advertising at the same time.

louisdoulas: There is quite a divide on these issues of privacy and advertising.  I think this simultaneity is interesting: this acceptance and rejection of advertising, of commodified desires that seem to be especially apparent in interface design and marketing campaigns for most digital ephemera.  Seeing brands like Nike or Carhartt feature user product reviews directly on their websites as a kind of crowdsourced testimony to their product illustrate this type of transparency you mentioned.

What you seem to be alluding to though, is this empowering of the user, of the consumer, in an ultimate transparent society that eventually leads corporations and consumers to exist in a perpetual public sphere causing both to act within less deceptive, falsifying modes?

artnotfound: That's the idea and ultimately what we hope will happen. People have always consumed products and content intuitively, but now we live in an age of information where people have the means to inform themselves and others. This "informed intuition" is an important principle to us in all aspects of life, from making artwork to getting the right product.

If you have the internet, there really is no excuse to be ignorant anymore.

BE, 2011

louisdoulas: Then the decision to work with Verizon Wireless to make a supersized version of the Motorola Droid was obviously an important one?

artnotfound: For us, it's important to diversify the people we collaborate with, especially to go beyond the art scene. We see big brands like Verizon or Google as an opportunity to reach more people. We plan on bringing the phone out in public to call attention both to the absurdity of the phone and to highlight the future of this technology by showing you the complete opposite. Phones are trying to get physically smaller while their function and importance in our culture is exploding. By using the Droid XL as a "practical" object instead of an artwork we can make fun of the technology while glorifying it as something that's so important it needs to be mocked.

louisdoulas: The mockery of phone size to this reality of reliance produces a certain ambivalence for a future increasingly automated. Is this accurate? Perhaps some of the ideas and reactions in Droid XL can be found in Simages?

artnotfound: We're obsessed with automation, both as something scary and beautiful. Simages starts to point at that. We created this lovely, "ideal" living situation and then let it run automatically, only to watch the Sims lives crumble as they run on autopilot. Dirty dishes begin to pile up, the family stops talking to each other and they lose the things that make them a "perfect" family. 

As we move to a more automated culture, we're making our lives easier while changing the perceived value of time management. We're working on an app that will automatically text your mother every night. Both as a practical way of automating love, and as a comment on how technology is changing time management.  By exploring the limits of automation, we can have a better understanding of what it means to us and what the best path to take is. We can make an "informed" choice, so to speak.

louisdoulas: Time, seems to have become more combative, or least its passing more 'apparent' today.  Have you ever used Steve Lambert's Self-Control app?

I think productivity and what it challenges and defines seems to be more and more of a preoccupation for this generation of cultural producers. These notions of leisure: recreation in contrast to 'productivity' and the strive for this supposed balance is something we think automation would hope to make easier, such as the app you're working on. But of course we can see this becoming problematic, this gesture of an automated text to one's mother.

artnotfound: It's post-trolling, an ironic and almost sinister gesture that reveals something really telling. It definitely makes texting your mother manually more meaningful if you have the option to do it automatically.

Simages, 2011

louisdoulas: Going back to the potential threats the internet faces, your work 5 millions dollars 1 TB consists of a myriad of torrented software files ranging from Adobe Suite to the Rosetta Stone Language Pack. You've even made these files available to download online. You've made your politics quite clear here and so I wanted to ask what your role is as artists with a work like this?

artnotfound: Well we're just playing devils advocate to the larger issue at hand, rather than trying to instill too much of our own politics. In 5m1t, the issue is obviously the amount of freely available content on the web and the translation of that value into the physical space. Our role as artists is merely to reveal the elephant in the room; these files already existed on the web and were easily searchable. It wasn't until we started archiving them on the hard drive that we realized the magnitude of the situation.

louisdoulas: The presentation of this piece in the gallery: the external hard drive as this slick humming black monolith where upon realizing its hidden worth and actual 'value' becomes a sort of spectacle.  Its physical manifestation creates this weight of worth and it becomes a banal and brazen presentation of the fixivity of 'illegal' data. 

artnotfound: We like that description. Ultimately we think the piece succeeds in offering a point of reference to the rampant amount of piracy going on the internet. The grotesque value of the files being contrasted by the small, sleek hard drive is a nice metaphor for the ease of file sharing versus their perceived damage.

5 Million Dollars 1 Terabyte, 2011

louisdoulas: We're used to being weightless in a way when it comes to dispersing and acquiring content online. We often forget the actual materiality and reality of our communicative devices, their storage and maintenance, electricity, etc. and also the actual repercussions of online activity. On one level that's why SOPA seemed so profound (the success of the protests against it and experiencing this 'win' as an online collective).

artnotfound: All online activity has real life consequences. Our piece and SOPA are just physical incarnations of that. The digital coming into the real, and the real going digital, it's a beautiful thing.

louisdoulas: Conrad I think is worth mentioning here—Conrad's internet presence as a way of dealing with the loss of his wife. This work, along with Man's Google Search for Meaning and even Simages all kind of depict an absence; there's a hint of depression, or a self-devouring nihilism in these three.

artnotfound: If we can harness this nihilism in a way that has poetic resonance, we'll have something of value. If we can get you to see it, understand it, and experience it, we can get you to reflect on it. Once people start reflecting they can form their own ideas and empower themselves through that. You can be nihilistic while still suggesting a resolution.

Conrad, 2011

louisdoulas: And how did you stumble upon Conrad? What made you want to highlight him?

artnotfound: We stumbled on Conrad on a small, private message board and were immediately captivated. He's such a perfect example of humans giving technology a higher significance. To record yourself is to quantify ones self, and he's devoted quite a bit of time doing that. The motivation for him is simply to communicate, and the sheer number his videos really tells you how urgent it is. Because all his videos are essentially the same, it really makes it a digital ritual.

louisdoulas: Art404 seems to be very optimistic about the future, especially technology and the internet's role in it, but what are some of your concerns at the moment?

artnotfound: We are digital natives, any concerns we do have about technology we feel comfortable confronting them. The more informed you are, the less vulnerable you are. Any problems with technology can be tackled with technology. As long as we're responsible when using technology to replace and augment our lives, we think we'll be OK.

There needs to be a humanist approach to the ethics of technology. Innovation and advancement without compromising the human, those are the types of things we are a part of.

louisdoulas: With these changes the role of the artist changes as well. Besides incorporating various digital ephemera/aesthetic into works of art, how do you see the position of the artist changing in all of this? The artist's role in production and distribution?

artnotfound: We're biased, but we see it as the most exciting time ever. Artists can do everything now, they can be their own photographer, gallerist, curator, critic, market team, audience, everything. Producing and distributing is no longer an industry thing, but an everybody thing. Anybody can post a picture and someone else can immediately remix it into something new and this is happening exponentially so. Even if most of the internet is creating content just to LOL, the energy that comes with that is inspiring.

The old "everyone is an artist" adage has never been more true in today's there's-an-app-for-that world. It's no coincidence that this internet generation has seen a rise in artsy, creative people that are obsessed with sharing their ideas. Whether the content they're producing has artistic merit or not is irrelevant, the enthusiasm to do so is what matters.

Now that everybody is a content creator, it's going to push the artist wishing to rise above the clutter to work harder, do more, and innovate constantly. In a world where everyone's fighting for attention, people are going to get more creative. A new breed of work and art making will lead the relentless content creating culture and we’re excited about it.

Man's Google Search For Meaning, 2011

louisdoulas: There is obviously a danger in complete democratization, or in everyone becoming an artist.  Boris Groys talks a little about this in his essay, ‘The Weak Universalism’. But, I want to know where critique comes in for you? What is being done in the name of all this mass creative progress?

artnotfound: Critique is a very complex subject now that so many people are involved. Practically everything we say is public now and this really affects the way we communicate. When not covered by the veil of anonymity, our critique is subject to its own critique. We hope that this won't become a norm, and that people will always speak their mind, otherwise the internet will devolve into a giant circle jerk.

louisdoulas: These ideas of public transparency, anonymity and collectivity are all pertinent strategies or alternative ways of 'movement' and governance. This dynamic between individualism and the group is interesting and I'm curious to hear your positions on these things. Maybe a good place to start would be on a tangent, with the Anonymous vs. Gagosian incident?

artnotfound: Anonymous vs. Gagosian was a sort of chance art happening, the kind that only happens on the internet. A hacker identifying with the internet "group" Anonymous thought it would be funny to take down our website, screenshot it, and email it to us. It was funny, and we immediately wanted more. After a few emails, he admitted he had been trying to get into the art scene for years. We convinced him/her that they would be better suited taking down more important art websites as institutional critique. The next day, he had taken down the front pages of Gagosian, David Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth, and Tate.

If one person can censor an entire power structure with the press of a few keystrokes, what does that say about the politics of digital culture? People aren't afraid to take action behind a computer screen. The net allows everyday people can become leaders, tastemakers, and icons. By documenting these happenings we hope it will motivate people to talk, troll, spam and flame their thoughts to the world. We always look forward to collaborating with the internet.

The great thing is that you can be an individual and a group, you don't have to pick a side. You can be a boy or a girl, old or young, whatever you want. There's tons of up and downs to this new ability, and a whole new set of rules. Understanding the dynamics between real and digital culture will prepare us for the future.

Anonymous Vs. Gagosian, 2011

louisdoulas:  The Pirate Bay's Aerial Server Drones are also a good example of some of these emerging techniques and strategies.

artnotfound:  Those are really next level. Props to The Pirate Bay.

Anonymous Vs. Gagosian, 2011

louisdoulas:  I think as you said, 'understanding the dynamics between the real and the digital', will prepare us for the future.  Often times social networking, emerging technology and the internet is treated, at least by the media, as a kind of new 'revolution celebrity' and so a lot of emphasis and faith is placed on these various kinds of cybernetic theories.  And through all this it seems that there isn't a declared political form, but rather that a form supposedly emerges in and out from reactions to various events. It’s an abandonment of political action by pure force that’s in favor more so of an accumulative power. I even want to draw a parallel to the practice of Relational Aesthetics and the type of technique used: the creation of 'alternatives' and 'comprises' rather than a complete redesigning and reconfiguring of society and the world.

artnotfound:  Alternative sounds like it's outside of something. We're not splitting off from reality, just augmenting it. Now, the collective actions of a lot of individual people and small groups can snowball into something much faster. It's the same strategy that's always been around, just on steroids.