Spamming: from Aesthetics to Politics

Re: the VALtgUM
just for guys Bret
Re: the AMBtlEN
forwards scatterbrained
SEXUALLY EXPLICIT : Busty blonde babe gets naked
Any med for your girl to be happy!

These email subjects are everything but unfamiliar. Everyday our email boxes are packed with offers of mood elevators or sex drive enhancers, insane lottery prizes, great business offers and opportunities, just to name a few. The word coming to our mind is spamming, defined by wikipedia as the sending of unsolicited bulk email - that is, email that was not asked for (unsolicited) and received by multiple recipients (bulk). It has been restricted to unsolicited commercial e-mail, not considering non-commercial solicitations such as political or religious pitches, even if unsolicited, as spam. But the fact is spam refers to form rather than content. Commercial or not, it is spam and it's hell!

What drives people to spam? Easy money is the first answer that comes to mind, but besides that, what other motivations lie behind non-commercial spamming? Art, of course. Spam art, one of the endless subdivisions of the ever elusive discipline once coined as net art, is probably the less identifiable as such. Disguised as warnings, cries for help, subversive money promises and the like, these projects flood the world's inboxes, exploring bulk emailing as a primary source of creativity, in what can be thought of as a spamming aesthetics.

Recently, Sheet, a project by Portuguese artist Susana Mendes Silva has been circulating rather insistently through the new media art world. Being such an interested observer, Silva has been developing for some time now a body of work that revolves around the Internet user and how can he or she be an aware, perhaps critical, user of the medium. Either through emailing, chatting, or internet phoning, she asks questions that force us to think about what does "being online" actually imply.

In Sheet, an email attachment sent by a fictional character (Ada Evollace from Hidden Agenda contemporary art editions), everything is ambiguous. If the project draws strength from the spam art paradigm, it is so only in a utilitarian way. Sheet preys on spam in order to achieve its own goals, a secret agenda (the name of the editions company is everything but a coincidence) dating back to 2001 and to the Publico (Centerfold) project (a two-page newspaper insert that mimics a gigantic information plaque one can regularly find next to a work of art, containing information about it, but in this case the plaque contained information about itself), and easily connected to the questioning of art not only as an object, but as a product, a commodified art, that is nothing more than a deluxe merchandise accessible only to a few enlightened connoisseurs. Sheet thus is spam in which it was sent through an unsolicited bulk email. It uses that spam aesthetics mentioned above to arrive to a spam politics, through which it aims to undermine, once again, the institutionalized art world and its logics. But once again ambiguity reins.

The project, a pdf file acting as an authenticity certificate of itself, assumes the role of an original work of art, but where is that original? Where lies the difference between the first document the artist created and all the ones she sent to the endless email accounts? None, and it is not possible to think of them as multiples either. They are the same, they are ubiquous. Yet Silva claims that each file is a unique (authentic) and signed (the file has a scanned signature of the artist) work of an unlimited edition. The nature of the work also adds to the ambiguity: it is a computer file, and more specifically, a pdf document, but is it meant to be printed? Or to exist solely as an open window on your computer screen? When you print it, what happens to it? Does it become a copy of the file you have on your machine or is it the original? But what was the original in the first place? Confusion arises and Silva actually wants it to happen. It is what drives this project, the thin line where it stands.

From aesthetics to politics, spamming is used to shed light into the ideologies running around unnoticed. "In case of public exhibition of the work the owner should contact the artist". This is the last information the certificate bears. Even more ambiguity, irony even. How can she be taken seriously when she wants to be informed of the fate of a spam mail? She is criticizing the art world, through spamming an authenticity certificate, but at the same time she is claiming intellectual property over something that she sent (carelessly) to the world, her art work, acknowledging its right to be featured in a public art show. The questions once again arise. What is the difference between the "public" in spamming and the "public" in an art show? What property can she claim when she willingly gave away all control she had over the project? Is it still hers? If people resent it to others did they modified it and destroyed its essence? What if someone managed to alter the file? Is this modification the same kind as the previous one? What right does the artist have to ask to be informed about Sheet's whereabouts? And is a spammed file subject to being shown in an art exhibition or does it loose its specific features, what made it "art", when not being spammed?

All these questions are what drives the project. Silva is completely aware of that. She wants us to dwell on the intangible nature of Sheet. To think about its inconsistencies and realise they are the inconsistencies of information (and art) at the dawn of a new century. The paradigm is slowly shifting and not only is she aware of that, she wants us to be aware of it as well.

Luis Silva