Twin Towers at Window of the World theme park in Shenzen China. Photo by Constant Dullaart
Breathless ache history. The strange comment Constant Dullaart left on my wall sounded like him, but I knew that it wasn't. He was at that very moment doing a performance at the New Museum called "Terms of Service." The Berlin-based Dutch artist's master stroke was to give away his Facebook password to the audience. This sort of thing— letting others hack his Facebook account—is the kind of stuff he does all the time.
I know that Dullaart is a normal person, too, the kind of person that uses Facebook the way most people do. There are shots of him on Instagram standing with business owners in India and cute pictures of his dog. But Dullaart has also built some fifty websites designed to fuck with you. He has made a bumpy roadsick replica of Berlin’s most important art museum. Another website has the Wiki page of the German artist Georg Baselitz, upside down (a parody of Baselitz's own style). Recently, he registered a 38-character domain name as a way of mourning the death of the URL. All of Dullaart’s websites are for sale through his gallery. Which makes perfect sense now, he says. “I think there are more people looking at a screen rather than out the window or at a painting.”
Dullaart (this is actually, truly, his real name) showed in thirty galleries last year, has had sixteen shows since January and is currently exhibiting at Seventeen London, Carroll Fletcher Gallery and soon at Dublin's Glitch festival, as part of RunComputerRun. He has exhibitions upcoming at Future Gallery and Import Projects this September. He just returned from an artist residency in China, where he began developing a for-real company called DullTech that will factory-produce a limited-edition series of uni-codec media players for art galleries – an “always work ” option for multi-screen video installations in need of a seamless repeat.
When I spoke to Dullaart at his studio in the Berlin neighborhood of Kreuzberg, he was in the midst of planning a new campaign: to get a scale model of the Twin Towers removed from a miniature world amusement park in Shenzhen, China, with a ceremony to commemorate September 11.
Motherboard: Your "Terms of Service" website turns the Google search box into a mouth that reads Google's TOS. Where did this begin?
Constant Dullaart: I was looking at how services like Google or Facebook want to be transparent, but how they show this information is secret. These terms of service agreements and how they communicate this to you, either through marketing or explaining how it works, they are saying you are agreeing with it by using it. I thought it was interesting because a lot of the Internet is viewed as public space but it's not. The Internet is basically private spaces linked together. And Google’s private space is made to make a profit. The Internet Archive, meanwhile, is non-profit so it has a different ideal and standards. It’s the subtle extra-legal layer of reality that people are just clicking through.
Terms of Service, 2012 (http://constantdullaart.com/TOS/)
Tell me about how you launched "Terms of Service"?
I rewrote a standard terms of service text that made the audience realize they had an agreement with me as a performer and with the New Museum and the City of New York as a performance. It was read aloud by a girl who was doing PR for Google, Mallory Blair from Small Girls PR. In the meantime I was playing with the materiality of the web. I gave away my Facebook password. I wanted to get rid of my Facebook account because I didn’t like it anymore, I didn’t like the way it was shaping my life and how I looked at my friends. I made the passwords available. I asked that someone in the audience would change the password. It was hacked with my permission. Since I started the account and I have the agreement, I would be responsible for the identity. I don’t want to be responsible, and I feel as though I should have the poetic liberty to give that identity away to someone who wants to have it.
Your most well-known website is the Revolving Internet , which literally spins Google.com like a pinwheel. How did Google respond?
Since the beginning, I was always interested in dogmas or clichés shaping the way we view the world. Google became a really big part of that. I wanted to animate that, to change that. It’s not objective, it’s subjective. I started animating the Google page. I thought of making the disagreeinginternet.com, thedoubtinginternet.com, all of these things. I made therevolvinginternet.com, where the page is shown in a revolving sequence, just as the world spins. In 2011 Google blocked the i-frame and all the comments were wiped. Google blocked it probably to increase security. If you want to write to Google you have to write a support@ google address, not a person. Google also did their own rotating page--when you type in "do a barrel roll" the page spins just like mine. I got comments everywhere. Weeks before they had disabled my site. My site had three million hits. Maybe someone from Google saw it.
A domain name is a standard a poetic gesture from the past. The Internet has been out there for a long time; it’s already nostalgic. It just became a large corporate backyard and that’s what we’re all frolicking in.
Death of the URL, and HTML source. 2013. (http://xxxxxxxxxx.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.xxx/xxxxx_xxxxx-xx/xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx-xxxxxxx/)
You recently made a website called Death of the URL. How did the URL die?
I think it’s really funny because nobody types in the domain name anymore. In my first online experiences, I would type in a domain name from a magazine. By now, you just go to Google or Facebook and you type in the keywords. Now if you share pictures, you’re not going to put it on a website, you’ll put it on Facebook. You’re not taking control of your own data anymore.
When I went to China, that’s what I saw—people not taking the initiative to protect their own private space anymore. It's public space controlled by the state. In America it isn’t controlled by the state, but Google and Facebook. There’s this weird discrepancy between public and private space going on right now and I think Occupy Wall Street was a great example of that, a protest in a private space. The web started with a lot of ideals around it, making a world with open communication. The idealist infrastructure of the web is changing. That’s important.
Meanwhile, the value of a domain name system isn’t as valuable as it was because you can buy your own top-level domain name, or you just type the keyword into Google. Now many people use their Facebook page as their homepage. Their data is being aggregated through these services. A domain name is a standard a poetic gesture from the past. The Internet has been out there for a long time; it’s already nostalgic. It just became a large corporate backyard and that’s what we’re all frolicking in. The nostalgia of the internet is broken and that’s why I wanted to do the "Death of the URL." So I bought a name, 38 x’s, dot xxx. It’s a triple X domain, which represents porn. You have to get a token to get it agreed upon so all the name servers recognize it as a legal domain name. It’s accepted as if it had porn. The whole title bar becomes a row of X’s. All it says is "The Death of the URL 2013" and my name.
It’s an absolute statement. Theorists wrote me and said this is the celebration of the URL. The death of literature can be a book. I’m just saying there’s a necessity for viewing these types of work and artworks as nostalgia. It’s a poetic gesture. It’s not as important as it used to be.
Dullaart's "TOS" performance at the New Museum
You sell your websites as works of art. But your works are more expensive than buying a regular domain name, right?
A domain name costs $10 a year.
How much does it cost as an artwork?
That’s a little too public, talk to my gallerist. I’m not dealing with prices anymore.
Is it hard to sell websites as works of art, in comparison to, say, paintings?
I think there are more people looking at a screen, rather than out the window or at a painting. I think there’s a whole generation of artists working with this medium. There are young buyers interested in buying a piece of history. It’s a very volatile medium. It's ephemeral but it’s a piece of history, and you can document it. I compare it to performance art.
You've talked about 'fake neutrality' before. What do you mean by that?
It’s artificial neutrality. There’s this longing for net neutrality. It’s important and is not to be confused with this other kind of neutrality. The information is being filtered out—things which might be illegal, shocking, disturbing— but we’re not aware of how it’s being filtered. With Facebook—imagine hiring a person to stay in touch with your friends, and this person would give you a review of what your friends are up to and in the review, they are also telling you about what products to buy. This person doesn’t want to lose their job so they’re highlighting what your popular friends are doing. In essence, if you live in Finland, you’re still hiring an American to keep in touch with your friends for you. Now everyone is hiring the same person. Even if you’re the nerd at the back of the class, you’re still keeping in touch with your other weird friends through that person. That "person," Facebook, wants to keep this idea of objectiveness, but it's false. This is where the true power of manipulation lies now.
If you use the internet in Germany you must realize all the routers and servers used by Deutsche Telecom run on Huawei hardware. These routers, like iPhones and computers, are mostly assembled in China. There is no avoiding this. Why not go to the source and have a small company there make some more money?
Dullaart with his Dulltech team in Shenzhen
Can you tell me more about DullTech?
How does this factory of the world work? I decided to start my own company called DullTech (I was born with the name Dullaart, many English speakers think it’s a pseudonym). I’m making technology that addresses how videos are shown in art galleries and art institutions. Typically, the media players used for art shows are way too complex and difficult to use. I saw my work, which was shot in HD format, burned onto a DVD and displayed on an NTSC screen when it was a PAL DVD. We’ve designed a simple, highly functional media player for institutions that show video.
DullTech is being produced in a Chinese factory. How did that come about?
It was difficult working with translators to find the companies which make media players. Most of the time it’s someone assembling and someone else making parts. I found someone willing to develop a new product with me, making the product I designed. The Kickstarter will be up by the end of June.
Is it ethical to make these things in a factory in China?
Yes. I think everyone who asks that question should stop using their iPhone. Everything comes from there. This is how the system works. The best chips for this come from there. Even if I had it assembled in Germany, all the parts would come from China. Most big factories are moving inland, to factory grounds where people live and work. We're all dependent on China. If you use the internet in Germany you must realize all the routers and servers used by Deutsche Telecom, the main infrastructure provider, run on Huawei hardware. These routers, like iPhones and computers, are mostly assembled in China. There is no avoiding this. Why not go to the source and have a small company there make some more money?
While you were in China, you began working on a site called Revolving Friends, which does the pinwheel thing to Weibo's front page. What was that about?
I have an account on Weibo and I saw that if you posted a picture of flowers on the day that Tiananmen Square protests, it would be removed. It’s like what happened with the "Facebook and Twitter revolution" in Northern Africa and in Egypt. If you post it on Facebook or Twitter, it’s associated with an account and they want to associate that with a real person, and that’s what the Chinese do. They have your passport number. They know where you live, who you’re working with and what you’re saying. You may have the freedom to do what you want but someone is always listening. If you didn’t have a Weibo account, it’s suspicious. Same with Facebook, if you’re not publicly up there and sharing things, you must be holding stuff back. These things are incredibly tricky and it’s exciting to see how China will deal with that and try to control it.
You're now working on a project to have the Twin Towers removed from the "Windows on the World" theme park in Shenzhen. Why?
The principle of making miniature versions is a tradition in art, since Alberto Giacometti and Marcel Duchamp. At this miniature world park, I would like to commemorate this world changing event in miniature. It is nostalgic, but also painful to see this outdated version of the world in modern China. I think a miniature memorial would be fitting.
Given your concern with political things, what does net art look like these days, to you?
I see a lot of net art that was produced in the 1990s, and it was way more political than it is today. It was dealing with this divide, a comparison of liberal and socialist backgrounds meeting up on the web. Now it’s all referencing American pop culture and software. This is a place where to have any political involvement is rare. Everything is graphic references or gradients all the time. People are interested in aesthetics.
Meanwhile, Pirate Bay is one of the best artworks engaging with the politics of our time. It’s the Woodstock of our time. People who started Woodstock let it continue and let everyone in. Its radical statements are necessary to accomplish certain outdated systems of distributing copyrighted material. The way they deal with it is incredibly interesting. How they propose ideas and play the political system can also be seen as an artwork. For me, it’s really inspiring how they’re still dealing with acronyms like AFK or BBK or dealing with keeping data safe, maintaining a sense of privacy for black hat hackers, red hats, white hats, who all know each other and don’t always do what they’re told—that’s actually a good thing.
"Waving Ocean," 2010 (http://wavingocean.com). Courtesy of Pieter Sanders and Gabriella Sancisi Collection