Eva and Franco Mattes have been wreaking havoc all over the art world since the ‘90s. Even if you haven’t heard of the stealth Italian net art pioneers, you probably have heard of their alias 0100101110101101.ORG. Or you were duped into thinking the invented persona they created called Darko Maver was real (like the folks at the Venice Biennale did when they exhibited his photos of murder victims in 1999). From 1995 to 1997 the duo claims to have embarked on a two-year crime spree in museums all over the globe, extracting tiny bits from major works of art. They arranged their loot (a piece of shoelace from a Claes Oldenburg sculpture, a few threads from a Warhol, a glob of lead from a Joseph Beuys installation, a chip of porcelain from Duchamp’s urinal, and more) into a glass vitrine and showcased it publicly in 2010 in a work called Stolen Pieces.
Hoax or not, the team put their mastery of deception to good use. They’ve disrupted the secure conventions of the art gallery, and now the Carroll/Fletcher gallery in London presents their finest stunts in a retrospective titled Anonymous, untitled, dimensions variable. To underline the ever-changing participatory nature of their work, the title of the show changes every day and is revealed on their blog. The exhibition consists of the couple’s web-based media interventions, which unveil the nasty consequences of these contemporary platforms and challenge notions of privacy, authenticity, and ownership that have long plagued art history.
The artists confront viewers with multimedia performances executed through online platforms like Facebook, video games and Chat Roulette. There’s No Fun, a video recording that shows Franco faking his suicide in a webcam chat room and follows user reactions ranging from cynicism to crazed laughter. Some people snap photos with their iPhone, one person dedicates a song, and no one calls the cops. For The Others, the artists stole ten thousand personal photos from strangers’ hard drives after finding a file sharing program on the fritz. The treasures range from girls posing like Playboy models to bros with their shirts off flexing in front of a mirror, displaying both a bout of voyeurism and the stark familiarity of Facebook profile pictures. My Generation is a reel of video game players who were unsuspectingly filmed by relatives, capturing them in moments of intense anger whilst playing the game. There are also fake sculptures attributed to Dieter Roth and Maurizio Cattelan and an arcade game that spews carbon monoxide into users’ faces as it is played.
Every work is repulsive, insulting, and totally hypnotizing. While the duo call their work a celebration of daily life, curator Barbara Rodriguez Munoz says their outlandish pranks merely make room for discussion.