It couldn't be more apt that the jackasses who executed this stunt and their controllers are charged with perpetrating a hoax. In the proliferation of category errors flying around this case, it'd be a shame to forget the deliberate deception implicit in any guerilla campaign diguised as street art. This is a hoax, but it's not a fake bomb, it's fake art. News stories about these two have consistently called them 'video artists', and while they may have been that at one time, they don't rate that high on the food chain anymore. They gave up that status when they accepted money to deliver someone else's message disguised as their own. They traded their authenticity and street cred for cash, and they thought they were getting over. There's a term for the kind of person who does that, but it sure ain't 'video artist'.
It's not street art either, their attempts to link this project to more legit, politically active, better executed work by the Graffiti Research Lab notwithstanding. What Berdovsky and Stevens have actually done here is to take a new space cleared by other, better artists, and colonize that space with a marketing message. Now this is where it gets interesting: because that space, the public space of the urban street, was originally reclaimed from advertisers by using their own tactics against them. Bold, clear graphics and a short, consistent message were the qualities that early burner artists nicked from the billboards and posters all around them. The value of high visibility and repetition was also exploited, but the key difference between graffiti and advertising is obvious but important: graffiti isn't selling anything.
The question is: who do you represent? The most abstract, intricate, content-free artwork in the world exists as spraypaint on brick walls. Once the complexity and self reference have been decoded and untangled, all that's left is a name, and a pseudonym at that. In linguistic terms this is it, the Holy Grail, the Signifier with no Signified but the Inscrutable Me, expressed to the public as an incomprehensible advertisement: self promotion at it's finest.
And it's this aspect of incomprehensibility that's almost as important as the lack of content or product. It cuts to the core of our reaction to things that we do not understand: if there's enough complexity there then we can read many things into it, and our perceptions are thereby expanded, if there isn't enough there to reward our attention, then we ignore it and forget it, if there's an obvious reference to something recognizable outside itself, something that we can pay money for, it's an ad, if we're conditioned to act like paranoid assholes, it's a threat. This continuity between art/stunt/ad/threat is where the category errors seem to go down here, everything falling into the wrong slot like plinko. It's not a stunt masquerading as a threat, it's an ad pretending to be art.
So by taking advantage of the reappropriation of public advertising Berdovsky and Stevens are re-reappropriating modes of expression, generated by their betters, back into the commercial sphere. It's really too bad they got arrested doing it, and yes, the authorities overreacted, but doesn't this constitute some kind of crime against humanity? Sticks and stones and all that, but as this Metroplis magazine article explains, quoting Stuart Ewen (whose books I haven't read, but they seem highly relevant here):
“The main thing these appropriations ‘add’ to our lives is an intensified sense of distrust of and alienation from others. This grows out of the suspicion that any human interaction, any product used or opinion expressed, may be a commercially staged event designed to get us to buy, think, or behave in certain ways.”
As the article points out, Stuart Ewen's son Sam is the founder and CEO of Interference Inc., who, along with Turner, will help pay the $2 million fine. Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens, the two fake-ass video artists who did the legwork, and placed these devices throughout Boston and Cambridge are charged with criminal behavior. They have a court date today, March 30. Keeping this case out of the courts will keep these two jokers from becoming martyrs for a cause they have no allegiance to. Here is some contact information:
Attorney General Martha Coakley (617) 727-2200 ext. 1700
Mayor Menino (617) 635-4500
(Somerville) Mayor Joseph Curtatone (617) 625-6600 ext. 2100
Govenor Patrick (617) 725-4005