Lilly controls my Foriginals

Domenico Quaranta

 

In the projects series called Psych|OS, the Austrian artist duo UBERMORGEN.COM (lizvlx/Hans Bernhard) is working on the subtle membrane that connects the digital and the biological: a mix that UBERMORGEN.COM, an identity that lives and works on the Net, experienced on their own bodies. One of the best-known exponents of the net.art scene, UBERMORGEN.COM are the theorists of digital actionism, a radical practice of artistic action which experiments on the market of attention and takes place in mass media. The most astonishing result of this kind of practice so far has been Vote-Auction (2000), a web site that, during the American presidential elections 2000, helped people sell their vote in an auction. The legal prosecution against UBERMORGEN.COM, and the media hysteria it produced, are an integral part of the whole project. During this mass-media-performance, UBERMORGEN.COM were interviewed up to 30 times per day. CNN produced a 30 minutes show on the project in their legal format Burden of Proof. In this feature, UBERMORGEN.COM never comment on whether the project was a real threat to the integrity of the U.S. election or wheter it was a political satire.

 

In the mass media storm, the digital actionist works with her whole body, as well as part and victim of the network around her. “We are children of the 1980s, We are the first internet-pop-generation... Hans Bernhard is loaded with 10 years of internet & tech [digital cocaine], mass media hacking, underground techno, hardcore [illegal] drugs, rock&roll lifestyle and net.art jet set...”. Hans Bernhard`s neuronal networks are connected to the global network, and his mental illness – the bipolar affective disorder that in March 2002 sent him to a mental hospital – is the network's illness. The video called Psych|OS (2005) sums up that experience, in which those two levels – digital and real, bio & tech, nervous system and operative system – merge.

 

This nervous system, infected by the hi-tech, needs a treatment, and the hi-tech society prescribes its remedies, “bio-chemical 'agents' which control the internal information flow”. Olanzapine, an antipsychotic drug produced by the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly as Zyprexa®, is one of these agents. In the digital prints Zyprexa “Lilly 1112” and Zyprexa “Lilly 4117” (2006), UBERMORGEN.COM paints the drug molecular structure, but during this translation process the molecule discovers to be made by bits. “Just pixels on a screen, just ink on paper”, like Foriginals (forged originals), the conceptual device UBERMORGEN.COM uses to change legal documents into legal art. The statement “Lilly controls my Foriginals” – a declaration of poetics that seems to be a declaration of love, used as title for the recent personal show UBERMORGEN.COM had in Brescia, Italy - comes from here. “Lilly controls my Foriginals” means “Lilly controls my artistic work”, where Lilly just seems to be a woman’s name, is in fact the name of a pharmaceutical company. Lilly “controls”, inspires as well as oversees, supervises the contact between my brain and my hard drive.

 

The Psych|OS Generator (2006) is the literal application of this kind of control: a piece of software that asks the user about the symptoms of her disease and provides her with a remedy, in the form of a "forged original“ medical prescription. On the one hand, UBERMORGEN.COM seems to underline the irresistible analogy between the implications that have led to illness and the prescriptions provided to again recover one’s health – once again, technology is at the same time the disease and the remedy for a body living in the networks. On the other hand, we have to take into account the elements of dadaist randomness, of irony, of irrationality expressed through a mathematical algorithm implied in the very form of the “generator”. The situation appears to be something like a forced heir of the hat out of which Tristan Tzara picked his poems, a tradition that UBERMORGEN.COM, who have performed in the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich, know very well. The digital environment we live in makes us fall ill and prescribes us its remedies; but in the same time technology, as a medium of expression, is a real remedy. This concept can be extended to the blog recently launched by UBERMORGEN.COM, the hansbernhardblog (2006): a masterpiece of “digital intimism”, in which Hans Bernhard subverts the form of blog, confronting the baroque sentimentalism of the confession with the cold minimalism of the remedy: that is, talking about himself through the simple itemizing of the substances he gets every day to keep under control his widespread mind.

 

UBERMORGEN.COM’s focus on “the pixel as the molecule” and technology as a hidden demon relates also to the technology industries newest gadgets -- RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips are one of the leading technologies of the future: an identification system that can collect diverse information about the products it is attached to as well as the person that has made purchase of the product. We can read in Wikipedia: "an RFID tag is a small object that can be attached to or incorporated into a product, animal, or person. RFID tags contain silicon chips and antennas to enable them to receive and respond to radio-frequency queries from an RFID transceiver“. It is, in short, a kind of digital DNA, usually used as an evolved substitute of the bar code, but able to be used for a long list of applications. It can be implanted under the skin, and from a formal point of view, it reveals an organic structure, surprisingly similar to a cellular structure.

 

The ART FID (2005) series features some digital prints on canvas which portray, magnified on a monochrome background, the structure of some round RFID chips. We feel like to be in front of some kind of monocellular being (a virus?), or a molecule seen through a microscope. First step: from chip to molecule. But its photographic picture, enlarged as to reach the scale of a pop icon (are the RFID chips the Campbell's Soup Can of the XXI century?), unveils another nature, neither silicon nor molecular, but digital. Second step: from molecule to pixel.

 

But there's something more. The ART FID series have been shown for the first time during ART 36 Basel, announced by a press release – a media hack in pure UBERMORGEN.COM's style – talking about an experimental initiative by the same Art Basel: the introduction of the RFID technologies into the art system, providing visitors immediate access to information about all artistic works being presented, as well as access fot gallerists into the financial situation and the purchasing power of potential buyers. Third step: from pixel to individual and social body.

 

In other words, with the ART FID (2005) series UBERMORGEN.COM tells us – using the visual impact of a suprematist painting - about this mix between biotechnologies and digital technologies, and between hardware, software and wetware: a neverending overlapping of contiguous levels that is shaping our identity, and that, by now, already shaped UBERMORGEN.COM's one.