Re:Interview #016:
Stories Without Boundaries But Full of Lies | Les Liens Invisibles

Repetitionr.com (2010), by Les Liens Invisibles

Les Liens Invisibles is an imaginary, Italy-based artists’ duo comprising Clemente Pestelli and Gionatan Quintini. Their work is an eclectic recombination of pop net culture, reverse-engineering techniques, social media subvertising and any other kind of media re-appropriation. Since 2007 Les Liens Invisibles have been infiltrating the global communication networks in order to join and expand the invisible connections between art and real life. Most of their artworks and interventions—which include a virtual suicide web service, the subvertising of many popular social networking platforms and a paradoxical tool to reclaim the truth through the fake—have achieved global media visibility and have been shown internationally. In activist manner, Les Liens Invisibles initiated the social petition platform Repetitionr.com in early 2010, a platform that “grants the success of every campaign proposed, offering the most advanced internet technologies to make participatory democracy a truly user-centered experience. Just a click and Repetitionr.com will fill your petitions with millions of self-generated fake signatures indistinguishable from the real ones.” A fake or not a fake?

Could you please name the three most influential pieces of art with regard to your own artistic practice?

It’s too difficult for us to reduce all into ‘pieces’ but we can have a try. Synthesizing, we can say that we are—1.— children/victims of the Duchampian century (as we said, we’ve been Too Close to Duchamp’s Bicycle); we’ve been largely influenced by—2.—the global entertainment industry; and we are big fans of—3.—the subversive projects of Luther Blissett and its epigons.

In an essay Inke Arns claims that “the secret act of making the world disappear through software not only leads to a withdrawal from visibility and perceptibility but also implies an immaterialization of structures.” (1) Is this the focus of Les Liens Invisibles, too?

We think that this issue of structures is an interesting point to reflect upon and that most of the Web 2.0. phenomena have to be looked from this point of view. What we try to do with our “anti-social not-working” (2) pieces, a term coined by Geoff Cox, is not just to create a parody of global collective symbols like Facebook, Google etc. What we are mainly interested in is the manipulation of the inner structure to which the Internet user-experience depends on. More than the look and feel of a logo it is important how people/users interact with this invisible structures (search engines, blog platforms, social networks etc.) and what are the implications of these kind of interactions.

The Internet is not just a collection of ‘pages’. The Internet is an environment, a landscape, through which people/users move and in which they ‘live’. The psycho-geographic approach starts the analysis of the organization of urban space and proposes new joyful ‘routes’ (dérive) to go through the cities as ways to temporarily reject and implicitly subvert capitalist order. In a similar manner, with works such as Seppukoo.com, Repetitionr.com or Subvertr.com, we are interested in subverting the ordinary way people move through digital landscapes and interact with information as a temporary rejection of the “prosumer” (3) condition.

Détournement, reverse engineering, subvertising… you connect a political and sometimes activist attitude with irony and humor: how do you prevent yourself from producing so-called lifestyle-subversion and oneliner-art?

More than a prevention it is a question of intent. Irony and humor are one of the easiest ways to capture people’s attention and, at the same time, to criticize aspects of our everyday reality, but we don’t want to reduce our interventions to some witticisms. Just like in Maieutics, (4) where irony has a strong educational purpose, for us this kind of approach represents a way to get people to understand our point of view and the meaning of our works. This practice is even more evident in our Web 2.0 détournements, where we act like the most famous social platforms in order to drive people into a comfortable place where they can replicate some of their well-known online habits as far as we face them with our subverted message.

In the context of your project Repetitionr.com you use the following quotation from Oscar Wilde: “A lie is the beginning of a new story. That’s why we love art.” A quick research on Wikiquote says that many misquotations are attributed to the author and categorizes the quotation as “unsourced”. Can you verify its provenance and tell us why you love art?

Lies are superior forms of art: they are art in everyday life, art without art framework. Like a story without boundaries or a picture without borders, a well-told lie gives the illusion and/or the hope of changing reality. That’s why people love drugs, politics, religion, utopia etc. And that’s also why we love art.

The design and layout of your projects is kind of trappy: no pixel aesthetics, no eight-bit sounds, no obvious code manipulation as known from early Internet-based Art. Instead of this there are a lot of rounded corners, pre-designed widgets, wordpress templates and social media accounts. What is the most significant difference between early Internet-based Art and current practices?

It is the context that has changed. Even though sponsored by the dot-com corporations, the early Internet was mostly an unexplored space, populated by pioneers of all kinds. Nowadays the Internet has become a mature mass-medium and it is quite normal that about 16 years later Internet-based Art also looks very different. As regards our work, we often use Web 2.0 aesthetics in order to create a contrast between the paradoxical content of the work (a fake-publishing service, a ritual suicide Web service etc.) and the appealing pop way this content is presented. On the one hand, the fancy and glossy aesthetics is functional in making the work accessible and believable to everyone while, on the other hand, we want to ironize the easy repossession of counter-cultural elements by mainstream media (for example with our projects Subvertr.com and Seppukoo.com). Let’s think for example how the do-it-yourself approach has been absorbed and emptied by the so-called Web 2.0 phenomena.

What is the most significant similarity?

Well, if it is true that many things have changed, we have the impression that many artists who are now working with digital media have internalized and normalized the radical assumptions of early Internet-based Art. Let’s think for example to the battles against the copyright—which many Internet artists have referred to—and let’s look how common it is now for an artist to release a work on the Internet under a Creative Commons license. Let’s then think about the early contraposition between ‘traditional’ art contexts (galleries, museums etc.) and the Internet as a new space for art. Now everyone—even all those net.art pioneers from the early 1990s—presents their own work both on the Internet and in traditional contexts. Also use of the term “Net” itself has become useless for an artist. Today it is quite normal for everyone who has something to do with art to work with video, audio, multimedia into online and offline digital environments.

The (post-)modern subject has to negotiate and define itself perpetually by combining and re-combining the various cultural codes and contexts it is settled within—it has become a patchworked subject. As described by you, the project Seppukoo.com is about “the liberation of the digital body from any identity constriction in order to help people discover what happens after their virtual life and to rediscover the importance of being anyone, instead of pretending to be someone.” What is the difference between “anyone” and “someone” in terms of virtual suicide?

Many people have interpreted Seppukoo.com as a service to kill their own virtual life, and of course we played a lot on this opposition between ‘real’ life and ‘virtual’ life. But virtual suicide, as we intended with Seppukoo.com, was more like a way (back) to anonymity. It’s not just a matter of privacy. The Internet and other forms of virtual life are an occasion to expand our identities, so why do we have to be reductive, having the same real-life identity constrictions when we are online? In the end ‘anyone’ is to ‘someone’ what multiplicity is to singularity.

You clearly identify your works as works of art—is it important for you to be represented in an exhibition space?

I don’t know why, but I think that Internet Art (and artists) are suffering of a kind of inferiority complex toward ‘traditional’ forms of art. This would explain this necessity—felt by many artists—to exhibit a digital work in a physical space. It’s as if it is the context to make the difference between a work and a work of art. Most of our works have been created and now exist on the Internet. And that’s their natural habitat. This is also particularly true because there’s no clear separation between the work, the users interacting with it and the reactions created by these interactions.

We personally love the Internet because of its very popular nature, which allows us to reach a more transversal dimension than the usual public frequenting art venues. Then, when we are called or we need to exhibit our work in physical space, if possible we prefer to translate the project with other media (large-format reproduction, video etc.) in order to better communicate the idea behind it. But in the end we’re saying nothing new, as this has happened so many times before Les Liens Invisibles’ projects.

Among other things, interactivity and participation are important features of your work: how do you exhibit your artworks in traditional exhibition space where the Internet user is often reduced to a spectator?

Well, it usually depends on the exhibition and on the curator’s choices, but, as we said before, we’re more interested in preserving the concept behind the project instead of its digital representations, interactivity included. We also have to say that we use interactivity in order to reproduce the commodified look and feel of most of contemporary Web-based products. Taking the project out of the Internet means that this interaction loses its function.

In an interview at Networked Performance you call yourself “human interfaces between the users/spectators and the invisible.” (5) Do you think that it is possible to escape from the system or does one rather have to act from the inside nowadays?

We used this expression in replying to questions from Luis Silva, who was asking us who we really are if we often define ourselves an imaginary art-group. In regard to your specific question, probably we do not have a rational answer, we can just say that in our opinion the better way is to keep one foot outside the system, in order to have an overall view from a certain distance, and one foot inside the system trying to change it. Simply escaping is almost a way to lose contact with the whole world without any concrete advantage for ourselves or for our society.

Why do you use a French name?

There isn’t any particular reason. At that time it sounded nice to us, so we used it. That’s all.

Thank you very much for the interview!

References:
(1) Inke Arns, The Twists of the Snake: Minority Tactics in the Age of Transparency, in: Jens Kastner and Bettina Spörr (eds.), Not Doing Everything: Civil and Social Disobedience at the Interfaces of Art, Radical Politics and Technology, Münster: Unrast-Verlag, 2008, p. 120
(2) Geoff Cox, Antisocial Applications: Notes in Support of Antisocial Notworking, in: CONT3XT.NET (ed.), Curediting, Vague Terrain #11, 2008, http://vagueterrain.net/journal11/geoff-cox/01, (December 05, 2010)
(3) Pit Schulz, The Producer as Power User, in: Geoff Cox and Joasis Krysa (eds.), Engineering Culture: On ‘The Author as (Digital) Producer’, DATA Browser vol. 2, Autonomedia, Brooklyn/New York, 2005
(2) From Wikipedia: Maieutics is a pedagogical method based on the idea that due to the reason innate within each of us the truth is latent in the mind of every human being, but has to be “given birth” by answering questions (or problems) intelligently proposed., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maieutics (December 05, 2010)
(3) Networked Performance, Getting too close to art: An email conversation between Les Liens Invisibles and Luis Silva, http://turbulence.org/blog/2009/05/14/les-liens-invisibles-interviewed-by-luis-silva (December 05, 2010)