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Virtual Political and Cultural Activism
James Morgan on May 15 2001 issue 16

This work looks at the nature of electronic civil disobedience as both an art practice and a political tool.

Virtual Political Activism is objective based, action driven and community oriented. Its objective is to achieve political change through attention gained in the press and through direct intervention in cyberspace aimed at a corporate or government network entity.

Virtual Cultural Activism is dialogue based, ego driven and unconcerned about measurable results. The dialogue created or exposed through the use or abuse of the medium is the only point of relevance.

An ad hoc DoS attack or an otherwise monkey wrenching of the machinations of the corporate network is however only a PART of a larger action, meat must act as well as cyber. Participants educate themselves and contribute to the greater action through direct bodily participation in conjunction with cyber activity. This physical component includes the risk of arrest or a beating at the hands of a friendly police officer.

The processes of selection of subject, function of action, and distribution are ego driven like much art. It is entirely in the hands of the artist what issues are brought forth if any, how they are examined, and finally what the resulting presentation and audience will be. All other objectives are subsumed by the goals of the artist.

As community it is accurately represented by the virtual sit in, where hundreds or even thousands of activists repeatedly blast the websites of offending corporations or government offices. The objective is to draw attention to the injustice, to gain attention through a press that is overexcited about cyber terrorism and less than interested in the political issues of the demonstrators, and to develop attention that comes about through the education of the individual netizen participants. These participants can then become proponents in the social and physical realm.

Results, when they can be acknowledged, are frequently limited to publicity. This often amounts to advertising for the artist or perhaps the artist and the adopted cause. Art as an act of electronic civil disobedience only results in a few thousand additional website hits (which is insignificant to a site receiving thousands of hits a day) and a short article in Wired. Is the target of the action affected in any measurable way? This concept has no relevance unless the underlying dialogue of the work addresses this question.

This activity is mirrored on an individual level by hactivism. A single activist can deface a website and achieve a similar press response, but this truly frightens the target as it requires actual penetration of the target computers security system. Hactivism also lacks the potential educational benefits for the activist.

Group cultural activism in the electronic realm becomes theater, or a collaborative dialogue. The goal remains ego driven but the method changes to include the wishes of the collective or team. The work takes on the character of performance.

Virtual Political action is motivated by a group and targets another group or an individual for its activities. It is part of a greater struggle to right an injustice. Content is most important, content and results.

Virtual cultural activism is singly motivated by an individual, the intent need not be understood nor the goals achievable for the action to be valid or successful.

Political action is demanded, truths need to be revealed, wrongs need to be righted, and peoples need to be enfranchised. Human rights, ethics and perception of truth drive these actions on their purest levels.

Cultural activism is inspired; sources are both profound and self-referential. Idea and ego drive these actions on their purest levels.

When does politics become art?

When does art become politics?

There is a certain point when the intentional acts and objectives of the do-gooder become theater for the masses. Essentially politics becomes art when it loses its original focus and the spectacle takes precedence over the original intent, it then becomes entertainment and possibly art. Serious political demonstration can then be transmogrified into art emasculating it as protest and shifting the focus from political to cultural activism.

The dialogue can be bound in political action, or political cause this is what makes virtual cultural activism successful, the connection to the social realm. Art critics have cried out for socially relevant art, and this certainly fills the bill. From this standpoint, Electronic Civil Disobedience has the potential to drive change, but is it then politics? Better yet is the distinction between ECD and political activism valid at the point ECD sheds itself of art and becomes political? Art becomes less than art only when it discards the driving dialogue or has new meaning thrust upon it from outside the work.

A linear epilogue: In researching this piece I
spent time reading the inspired source of ECD, Critical Art Ensemble.
In its works I found an eloquent foundation for what the Electronic Disturbance
Theater has enacted. In talking with Brett Stallbaum I found a dedicated conceptual
artist whose genuine desire seems to be to make art and perhaps to make a difference.
Ricardo Dominguez is involved in various causes that utilize ECD in practice.
He provides an example of an individual for whom the dialogue deals with political
action. Perhaps the fact that all of my instances walk the non-existent line
between the Virtual Political Activism and Virtual Cultural Activism devalues
any discussion of a difference, or perhaps politics and art have knit themselves
handily in this realm of activity, I cannot say for sure. In concluding I would
like to reference the struggle of the Zapitistas and the peoples of Chiapas which
have been an inspiration for the actions of Electronic Disturbance Theater. Their
struggle is entirely political against an overwhelming opponent, the Mexican government.
They will prevail, however because of the artists in their midst, and the nonviolent acts
of civil disobedience that they have adopted. When does art win war?

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last 5 articles posted by Morgan

:: Gnomads, Apple Trees, and The Affairs of Men - Feb 10 2002

:: Virtual Political and Cultural Activism - May 15 2001


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