What do you think audiences will make of How much of this is fiction.? What can audiences expect to take away from the exhibition?
I think that audiences will find the exhibition stimulating, pleasurable and above all will give them plenty of “food for thought”. There is lot of chatter going on these days around terms such as Fake News and the word of the year Post-Truth. I think the exhibition helps us think about some of these issues in a fresh way and I hope people come away with new perspectives on these urgent questions.
What attracted you to the 'Tactical Media' movement?
The original Tactical Media Movement was first identified and named as such in Amsterdam in the mid 1990s. Those of us in the “first wave” were often media pirates, radical media theorists and artists, who were fed up with the way video, whether in galleries or on MTV, had become all about spectacle and production values. We wanted to recapture the “quick and dirty” ethos of live media intervention and to this mix we added an experimental approach to the new digital media and the burgeoning internet. We felt that these technologies would enable the principles of this movement to spread far and wide.
How do you think the movement and its practices are relevant to today's media landscape?
Today, media interventions have become normal everyday practice and captured in the business models of YouTube and other social media platforms. But in my view, today’s radical Tactical Media innovations are being led by the extreme right who won the meme-wars that helped to bring Trump to power. And the battles are being fought on the unregulated message board sites and the far-right websites. Steve Bannon who is Trump’s media guru has been quite open about learning from the radical left’s use of media. Those on the liberal and radical left need to learn the lessons of the meme war. The talks accompanying the exhibition will be doing just that.
Do you think that artists will find it more difficult or easier to challenge dominant media narratives in the current climate? Why?
So called ‘dominant media narratives’ are no longer dominant. They are routinely ignored by voters who are looking for their truths elsewhere. Increasing numbers of people are getting their news from social media, and as Facebook tweaks their algorithms to prioritise ‘friends and engagement’ over established news sources, incendiary mid-night Tweets go straight to the public and bypass the traditional gate-keeping role of the mainstream. All of this has fundamentally undermined the mainstream media’s traditional ability to ‘manufacture consent’. The battle for the social mind has moved to the social media platforms. And in principle it should be easy for progressive artists to hack and fight back. But so far they are not so much losing this battle as not even fighting it. All the resistance is on the streets or on dead media like ‘blogs’. That is not enough.
Now that the ideas of 'post-truth' and 'fake news' are so widely discussed and evidently being used, what unique contribution to the debate around these ideas do you think How much of this is fiction. has to offer?
As the mainstream media have lost their roles as gatekeepers, the term post-truth can seem like the status quo, complaining about its loss of power to adjudicate on and to dominate the agenda. The artists in this exhibition also use fiction but it is ‘fiction as a method’ to unmask the role of the workings of power and imagine alternative futures. So although there are overlaps between our artists and the methods of the alt-right they are by no means an equivalent. What I hope the exhibition has to offer is a more sceptical appraisal of the post-truth discourse and new insights into what we must do to recapture the key media sites, rather than endlessly hankering after a world of fixed reference points that no longer exists.
In what ways do you see the legacies of 'Tactical Media' being used by artists to continue to reveal the hidden workings of power structures and the possibility of alternative futures?
We are particularly interested in the relationship between news media and politics since the fate of democracy has become indissolubly linked to the internet, particularly since the rise of social media as a primary news source. A classic example of how our artists use fiction is the Yes Men’s hoax which features in the exhibition; launched on the 20th Anniversary of the Bhopal Catastrophe in which thousands of Indian workers died. BBC World News invited a representative from Dow Chemicals to appear live on their program. But the man who actually appeared was a prankster from the Yes Men who offered to mark the shameful anniversary with a full apology and proper compensation to the surviving victims and their families: Dow’s stock dropped by 5% as a result of the appearance, and the BBC’s reputation for accuracy took a knock. As well as a means of keeping this scandal in the public eye it also demonstrated the contradictions between the drive for profit at all costs and a basic humane understanding of corporate responsibility.
The basic principle of using fiction to act 'as if' change has already occurred is being used in the way we are shaping the exhibition, as half of the show is presented in the context of The Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History, in which (with Ian Alan Paul the artist who developed the idea) we are acting ‘as if’ the notorious detention centre had been shut down and replaced by a museum of art and history (something like Robben Island where Mandela was incarcerated). The work directly addresses the so called War on Terror, its aftermath and consequences. In fact, if you were to go to Google maps and type in Guantanamo Bay Museum, you will actually find that the Museum appears to exists on the site of the current internment camp.
How much of this is fiction. opens 2 March 2017 and runs until 21 May 2017. Find out more about the exhibition and our opening day events programme here.