Amsterdam-based strategic design agency Metahavenwill launch their new book, Black Transparency with an event hosted at Amsterdam’s San Serriffe on November 5.
The theme of the book continues the agency’s interest in the conflation of aesthetics and politics in a hyper-connected world. Their previous books, Can Jokes Bring Down Goverments? (2013) and Uncorporate Identity (2010), consider the changing nature of visual practice within internet cultures. This book is based on their exhibition, held under the same name, Black Transparencyheld at Berlin’s Future Gallery in 2014.
Explored in both the book and exhibition is the concern of the way in which information openness is not a uninlinear or undifferentiated proposition. Such ideas will be expanded on in conversation withAmsterdam-based graphic designer and design researcher, David Bennewith,on the night.
From “transparent camouflage” to Black Transparency, Metahaven take their 2010 Wikileaksre-brand to the next level of “involuntary transparency invoked on organisations and nation-states by whistleblowers and hackers”. As the confidential file-sharing site’s official designers responsible for producing the self-censored scarves sold to raise funds –while dodging direct-donation embargoes courtesy of Visa, Paypal and MasterCard– the Amsterdam-based duo of Vinca Kruk and Daniel van der Velden dig deeper into this geopolitical phenomenon of visibility-via-evasion.
In two-parts and across two locations – with works in Future Gallery’s new location at Keithstraße as well as their old Mansteinstraße space – the exhibition plays forerunner to its published namesake Black Transparency: The Right To Know in the Age of Mass Surveillance (out throughSternberg Pressin April 2014) and explores the mercurial nature of modern activism.
Opening a week apart and first held at the Keithstraße 10 space, usually occupied by Import Projects, Black Transparency presents Metahaven’s ongoing collaboration with Conny Groenwegen, a fashion designer situating herself “where inventions in production technology define themselves into new artifacts”. In ‘Data Stitch (Prequel)’ as they call it, a flowing abstract work constructed from cotton scarves, paint and wax visually demonstrates the connection between information and fashion. Similar connections are made in the the Wikileaks series; grey t-shirts with an undulating Wikileaks logo and vibrant silk scarves, both see-through and concealing, line a wall of the gallery space. Somewhere between artwork and advertisement, the products reveal elements of the organisation’s identity while keeping others a mystery.
Having worked with posters as geopolitical board games in the past, in the Berlin gallery space Metahaven present a similar activity in the form of a horizontal map of the ocean; the international water where the Anonymous cargo ship sails with its data, in search of new host: Sealand. A self-proclaimed micronation that became a free port for the internet and occupies a full chapter in Metahaven’s 2010 publication Uncorporate Identity, Metahaven were charged with designing a whole new identity for this anarchist state, in a similar way to what they did with Wikileaks. On the walls above the map, several silk flags hang announcing, “Ask me about transparency” and “Captives of the cloud”, through talking balloons and cartoon-like faces through a cryptic narrative. It asks, “Is the future of the world the future of the Internet?” without offering any concrete answers.
A video manifesto, sharing the Black Transparency title, projects images of current events across the Athens riots and contemporary popular culture. As Metahaven mentions in the press release, “black transparency is not only transparent, but also black”. It sounds like a dark forecast. But Black Transparency on the whole is not so bleak. It’s more a visually striking challenge, or a reminder that all is not what it reveals. **