People look shocked in Eva and Franco Mattes latest work ‘Emily’s Video’. Some hang their heads in shame; others cover their eyes. It’s unclear they’re watching but the artists assure us it’s “the worst video ever”. The original clip these volunteers are watching is never actually shown. In fact, it’s said to have been destroyed, along with anonymous P2P network ‘darknet’, which the blurb for Carroll / Fletcher’s Brand Innovations for Ubiquitous Authorship -running Saturday, April 23 to Thursday, May 11 -claims is “the internet’s disturbing alter ego”. It must be something terrible.
Then again, some people are looking through the gaps of their fingers, others laugh off what they see. Very few ignore the footage completely. It must, then, be an ‘intolerable image’, close to the one philosopher Jacques Ranciere describes as unwatchable “without pain or indignation”. Yet, oddly, it also seems optimistic. We’re not shown anyone masturbating, for example, which by the way, did happen when Franco Mattes staged a suicide in ‘No Fun’ (2012) on random access, peer-to-peer web-cam site Chatroulette.
You might argue the volunteers knew what they were up for. “NOTE: Emily’s Video is extremely graphic and extremely violent. EXTREMELY. We don’t recommend it to anybody”, runs the artist disclaimer. The viewers are primed for what they’re about to watch, and, in a sense, made to feel they should be guilty before they record themselves. And that’s just it. Afterfall editor Melissa Grunland notes that their skill lies, not just in the fact they work online but that they know how to tell stories and manipulate emotions. Arguably one of their cheekiest works, ‘NikePlatz’, saw the two Mattes’ install a fake headquarters in Karlsplatz, Vienna, claiming that the company had bought and re-named the square, causing an uproar and provoking an unsuspecting audience.
‘Emily’s Video’ questions trust to an even greater degree and that includes our very own reactions. Artinfo’s Ben Davies argued that, essentially, the Mattes’ “hijack the ‘Two Girls One Cup’ reaction-video craze of a few years ago”, where two fetish stars eat each others excrement, and add a bit of mystery by deleting the original video. But their artwork is not a ready-made and the point is not so focused on our shock towards the darkest parts of the internet but that we rely on users’ expressions to make judgments on what they see, and how they behave.
Fact and fiction, reproduction and authenticity, this is how we, as voyeurs, come to understand a subject and how we gauge our opinions in relation to another audiences’ reaction. The idea of an original ‘Emily’s Video’ points to a deeper Internet and a deeper truth. ‘Darknet’ is a real area of cyberspace that only users with software such as Freenet currently have access to. Whether these software programmes have a potential to unlock a Web 2.0 version of Pandora’s Box is yet to be seen. **