Eva and Franco Mattes, also known as 0100101110101101.org, have done some street art and public art, but they’re probably best known for their internet art. Given their dabbling with street art, it should come as little surprise that their work online also often involves engaging with people outside of the art world. Except that, unlike the typical stencil on a wall, the viewers of the Mattes’ work are often unaware that what they’re witnessing is art.
Freedom is, in certain contexts, a fantastic and thought-provoking work. But the beauty of the video is that it shows performances done in the entirely “wrong” context. In the video, which is made up of video screen captures documenting games of Counter-Strike, the artists invade the video game to do a performance. Their avatar asks not to be killed, declaring that he is really an artist doing a performance mid-game. Well, over and over again, it appears that he is in the wrong place at the wrong time, as he gets killed again and again and again without mercy. Watching the video raises a host of questions about our violence-obsessed culture and the way that people act during simulations of violence, but it also shows how art is not valued if it’s in the wrong setting. The live performance, which is hated by those observing it, is a case of invasive viral art, while the video documentation, which has been celebrated in the art world, is an example of organic viral art. Other artists (most notably Joseph DeLappe, Anne-Marie Schleiner, Joan Leandre and Brody Condon) have done interventions in Counter-Strike and other online games as well, but Freedom has to be my personal favorite.
Another of the Mattes’ greatest online performances culminated in the video No Fun. Like Freedom, the video No Fun is organic viral art, but it shows the documentation of an invasive viral art performance. In No Fun, the Mattes staged a suicide for people on the video-chatting site Chatroulette. On Chatroulette, users are paired up and can video chat with one another until either of the participants decides to leave the chat and move on to another random pairing. A lot of the men go on Chatroulette to masterbate on camera, but that’s not particularly relevant to understanding the video except to say that those men didn’t love masterbating while looking at a guy who had supposedly hung himself. No Fun is a series of excerpts of people on Chatroulette reacting to the supposed suicide in front of them. Some people laugh or say mean things or assume it’s a prank. Others get genuinely concerned. Either way, they are unwittingly witnessing a performance.
Freedom and No Fun have a sort of double-life. One as a live performance and the other as a video documenting that performance in order to show the audience reactions to a new audience that did not witness the performance firsthand. The way the Mattes’ force themselves upon the unsuspecting audiences of Counter-Strike and Chatroulette resembles graffiti or street art, and certainly there’s value in such work even when the majority of the people who have to look at it don’t like it. No Fun might more accurately be compared to a subtle ad-disruption because it’s a subversion where it isn’t clear to the audience on Chatroulette what is real and what is not. And of course, there is also a long history of public performance art, some with permission and some without, that Freedom and No Fun could be compared to. With both performances, duo succeeded in having an unmediated interaction between themselves and an unsuspecting public through the internet. Maybe the performances were more about tracking the audience response than the actual performances, but both works are still good examples of one form that invasive viral art can take.