Bringing Capitalism and Democracy Closer Together
HANS BERNHARD / Ubermorgen
Interviewed by Olga Goriunova and Alexei Shulgin
OG and AS: Software is used in many of your projects, but is usually hidden. Nevertheless it enables the creation of social spaces where the artistic action takes place ([V]ote-auction, etoy actions, IPNIC are especially noteable examples of this). In a way software can be regarded as your artistic instrument, albeit in a non-demonstrative manner. Software as back-end is also the usual technique of IT-solutions. In this respect, your projects exploit corporate rhetoric and aesthetics by injecting some bug in generally recognized patterns. What is the ideology behind such a strategy?
ubermorgen: there is no ideology. there is no political or social idealism, there is absolutely no concept, there are no goals! i donít even have ideas.
standard software is behind all my activities, it is the underlying layer of my work and my working process. it is the underlying layer of all our contemporary social spaces and our actions happening
within these spaces. i do not consider this software as my artistic instrument, it is just part of the infrastructure [like the streets or electricity]. the important question is, how specific software or
software ideas can be communicated and visualized.
with etoy, we exploited surfaces just as smoothly, cleanly and easygoing as global players like novartis, hp, coca-cola, boeing, eToys, oracle and elf/totalfina have been practicing it, some of them since the 1980s. we experimented with the depths of huge organisms [global corporations] by simulating and living several levels of reality.
most of the technical instruments were non-existent at that time. so we had to invent them and we did code some of them [special intranet solutions, databases, spam-tools, bots, etc.]. but mainly we used the concepts as mere thoughts and we talked about them, spreading the memes of a technical revolution [from the 1994 point of view!]. this was the right moment to leave reality behind.
take "the digital hijack" for example, a highly complex system of bots, timing and frequency engines collaborating in order to precisely insert results into major search-engines and therefore hack into the reality of web-surfers. 95% of the action, the communication [marketing] of the hijack, was about telling a story, about media hacking and social engineering. we even got accused and attacked by the self-proclaimed hacking community for skimming off the benefits of their underground-work with our public action.
the ubermorgen group has perfected the exploitation of corporate rhetoric and aesthetics in a extremely innovative way. by cutting out all the bullshit [i.e. corporate web-sites, large accounting
systems, etc.] and becoming a totally fluid enterprise with machine-men-network-nodes all over the world and hardcore experience in terms of legal, technical, economic, artistic and aesthetic
practice. all this has allowed us to use lo-tech and lo-budget and extremely limited human resources for huge media-hits with estimated target audiences of 500 million people and more:
the ubermorgen feature action 2000, [V]ote-auction, used very little hardware and software. with the smarts of the experienced execution-team, the story was designed to "look and feel" like a huge
technical and business project. the goal was to sell and then auction off votes during the U.S. presidential election 2000, g.w. bush vs. al gore. U.S. state and federal attorneys, technical task forces and secret services had not been able to determine whether [V]ote-auction actually did pose a real threat to the integrity of the U.S. elections or not [for paranoid and inexperienced staff it is
difficult to differentiate between a simple .php document and real 500k usd auctioning-software].
ipnic.org and etxtreme.ru are different. they use complex technology developed over years by our software company esof ltd., sofia / bulgaria [ubermorgen holds 20% of the shares]. such long term
projects are financially intense and very similar to normal corporate software productions. in february 2003, the ubermorgen group has decided† to cut down on complexity and to focus on quick & dirty solutions for the benefit of flexibility and cost-effectiveness.
my personal approach towards technology is more abstract. i do not code hardcore stuff. my understanding of programmers and the way they work, my abstract understanding of networks and their underlying technology is what i am really proud of.
to maintain personal integrity and independence, i do some server side stuff, straight html and ascii-texting and design [my style of publication].
for thrills and fat money, we are currently working on concepts for a global online lottery system. we use lo-tech instead of high-tech, old tech instead of new tech, brainw[e]ar[e] instead of hardware, legal experience instead of lawyers, distributed responsibility instead of consultants.
elegance is a matter of terror in these days.
one of my dreams for many years [1999, etxtreme.ru] has been to bring the hidden code to the frontpage. i consider programming-languages as "normal" languages, i see programmers talk with each other and with machines in these languages. this is why use binary, dna-sequences
and math-functions for my very abstract and stupid poetry, although i don't understand them and myself. 2002 sample:
OG and AS: Software and Internet technologies took political activism to a new level. Projects such as [V]oteauction.com [http://www.vote-auction.net] could be realized and covered widely in mass media only due to the new technologies that were introduced and made accessible for a wider audience. Do you see any further directions for the development of political activism through and with software?
ubermorgen: yes and no. [V]ote-auction was primarily communicated through conventional mass media channels [TV, radio, newspapers, magazines]. new technology enabled channels such as email, mailing lists, online publications were clearly less important. from the production viewpoint, to execute and push such a MEDIA HACK to the top would have been impossible without the new digital tools and experiences [email, web-sites, global thinking, irresponsible journalists, high-speed publications, user-feedback, etc.].
to the second part of your question: yes, mobile devices and applications, peer to peer tech, etc. are strong futures in the global market of attention. but first, our generation has to actually work on the technology and the ideas that have now been available for over 20 years. only 0.1% of the potential is really in use. new generations are already crawling up our backs with totally new angles
on hard, soft and mixed tech, so let them speed by and watch 'em crash into the next apple-tree.
and, to not be mizundastood, ubermorgen and HANS BERNHARD have never been and will never be political. [V]ote-auction was a business stunt, an attack on democrazy, a pervert media hack, shock marketing sequences and a fearless series of questions posed to the mass. an experiment carried out on CNN and in the world press, designed by a highly intelligent student [james baumgartner] and braindeveloped and sharply executed by media hacking pros ubermorgen [lizvlx and hans_extrem, technically supported by tilman singer and aaron kaplan / lo-res.org]. there is no ideology, no political task, we simply followed the slogan:
††††††††††††††† "bringing capitalism and democracy closer together"
††††††††††††††† and later on we developed our own ubermorgen truth:
†††††††††††††† "it's different because it's fundamentally different"
OG and AS: Your background seems to be in business administration. Were you also educated in programming? How did you arrive at programming and why did you start using software?
ubermorgen: lizvlx's [maria haas] background is business [market research and advertisment, mba from the univ. of economics in vienna], she wrote her diploma work in perl [price-optimization-software] and has continued to work conceptually and practically on code.
my alma mater is the university of applied arts in vienna [prof. peter weibel], additionally i studied at the UCSD [prof. lev manovich], the art center college of design in pasadena [peter lunenfeld] and two years at the bergische universitaet of wuppertal [phd studies, prof. bazon brock]. my background is non-computer, yes-tech: both of my parents were genetics-scientists during the
1970s / 80s. as a dirty popper-teenager i played a lot of video-games, drank a lot of beer and smoked a lot of dope in the various shady game-halls in basle / switzerland.
my first labtop was an apple notebook 140, for about 3000 usd, a financial disaster. i used it mainly to write my WORDWAR stuff at night [pseudonym luzius europa brainhard], drinking a bottle of
whiskey. writing until i fell asleep on the keyboard, getting up at 7 am to go to work in a logistics company... after a year i was fatburned out and almost kaputt, but that was when hans_extrem and
etoy started cooking in my brain or i started to cook with HANS X ingredients:
so word was the only software i used until i came to vienna. together with my partner michel zai i started to work with dpaint on amiga 4000 [as "worldwide elastic"].
for me, computers were a simple tool, not very exciting...
but then, THE ULTIMATE MOMENT of my poor and boring life happened right in the heart of the morbid city of vienna, at the technical university [tu-wien]. it all came together during a sunny day. i went to a sun-workstation computer lab with my teacher and engineer franz penz. he opened a series of telnet session and connected me to various machines around the globe. additionally, he opened up a web-browser [mosaic 0.9] and some gopher application. it took me some time, then it hit me hard, FULL BLAST! i had stars sparkling before my eyes, my body became fluid like on lsd, my emotions were extreme, my ratio started calculating the money and famous moments, my body went from fever to shaking cold, i would never need mind-altering drugs anymore... i was immediately part of this global organic men-machine network. something i never experienced before and never after.
since then i use shell, mail, text-editor, browser on a regular basis and most importantly, i started to think in terms of integrated global media networks as organisms. our planet is a technical planet:
all things are connected, all things are natural, computers as well as news-content, cotton, plastic, water and genetically modified meat with heavy metal.