Synopsis by Christopher Frederick
Igor Vamos began his lecture by giving out Internet addresses for a couple of recent web projects he's been interested in, one at http://www.rtmark.com and the other at www.gwbush.com. Rather than describe the websites, he went on to discuss a few of his past endeavors. One project, Malcolm X Street, consisted of temporarily renaming a street in Portland, Oregon after the aforementioned cultural leader. Vamos and a crew of artists printed Malcolm X Street on a series of stickers fashioned to look like the green and white street signs of the city. During the late evening/early morning, the crew placed these stickers over the existing street signs and highway direction signs, creating the illusion that the street name had been officially changed. This project was a response to an existing controversy in Portland over the changing of a street name to Martin Luther King. Some citizens wanted the street returned to its original name. Vamos commented on the elaborate bureaucratic process and complexity of public opinion revolving around the political decision of changing a street name. The guerilla nature of the Malcolm X action was intended to create a moment of cognitive dissonance in the unsuspecting public, and in so doing comment on the current situation in Portland.
Vamos showed a video documentary of the Malcolm X Street project that displayed public and bureaucratic reaction to the anonymous gesture before moving on to describe another collaborative project. As part of the Low Tide Group, Vamos participated in creating a series of sand drawings on the beaches of San Sebastian, Spain during low tide. Using rakes, the group members carved out words written at a large scale, allowing the writing to be read from a distance. The words, written in Spanish, translated to we are watching, a reference to surveillance in the city; closed a reference to the temporary closing of a beach for the construction of a casino; and occupied which was intended to have overtones of political occupation but instead was interpreted as marking a section of the beach as reserved. Vamos showed video documentation of the writing process, the final graphic in sand and public reaction to the work.
Vamos concluded his presentation with the video documentation/spoof news broadcast of another collaborative group, the Barbie Liberation Organization, (BLO). The video depicted Vamos' method of switching the voice boxes between talking Barbie and GI Joe dolls, as well as public reaction to the dolls. After switching the voice boxes, the BLO placed the dolls back on the shelves of toy stores right in time for Christmas purchases. Local news coverage depicted the reactions of surprised parents and children intrigued by the gender distinctions made prominent by the reversal. Vamos stated that not a single one of the 300 altered dolls was returned to the stores. Vamos acknowledged the influence of the Hydropath artists of the 1880s who maintained a trickster spirit in their work. He also pondered the political implications and effect of his work during a question and answer period after the talk.
Analysis by Are Flagan
Igor Vamos presented a false ID. The identity document implied by this anagram functions as a conjunction of text and image to secure an original expression from any attempts at replication or alteration. ID in colloquial use of language is a document capturing the idea of identity for all practical purposes, and in this economy of valued features, those of an ideal match, Igor Vamos functionally questions the validity of our ID.
The descriptive text of an ID often inscribes a physical measure for the image in the dimensions of height and weight it is unable to retain. It effectively compliments the allocated square of photographic portrayal to frame this arrangement within the confines of the identical. Stamped by a watermark, or labeled by a hologram, and adorned with a flowing signature, it speaks with authority of authenticity and the impossibility of forgery. A true ID is a genuine document grounding a determining idea of personal identity within a general expression. A false ID, on the contrary, is difficult to obtain without access to the specific machinery of production offering the definitive construction of documented ideas on identity. To replicate every aspect of the protected original is the ideal of falsehood, and as such it aspires to seamlessly make itself whole in the approved and licensed territory controlled by the original. Forgery poses the question of legality and propriety within such a value system, while a fake emerges as the fraudulent form of expression entering this economy with a desire to control the means of production governing the ID. False ideas on identity in a document consequently operate around originality in place of the original --a creative betrayal of a portrayal, which corrupts established ideals dealing in the identical.
When Igor Vamos offers to liberate Barbie by a surgical switch of voice boxes with GI Joe, he intervenes in origin at the pubescent stage of a production line. There is no return to the initial mold of theocratic norms, only a broken echo of identity that recognizes the voice of change. Barbie calls for an all out attack while GI Joe favors the comfort of shopping, and together these two parrots of parody engage in a dialogue on unity which suffers from post-operational trauma. Ideas on identity, voiced through the wired circuitry of synthetic bodies, suddenly speak a language confusing hormones and values, gender and roles, to explicate the limited electronic vocabulary of mass-produced individuality. A false ID indeed, but only microscopic scars from plastic surgery reveal the cosmetic difference between the real thing and its altered copy, between a true voice and manufactured ventriloquism.
The fertile break of vocal chords in the above project, and other works from Portland, Oregon, which replaced the proper street name with a removable sticker, sought to use the mainstream media as its expression. News releases and press packages spread the revised word over the prime-time airwaves, and through this act of deliberate appropriation, the medium itself advertised the methods and possibilities of forgery along with the fake. The false ID of Igor Vamos was thus distributed as an authentic product of the original press. Ideas instantly gained entry to the values of identity with this documentation, and what amounts to defining facts within this circulating economy was to some extent disrupted, if not devalued. These events were undoubtedly the sophisticated efforts of an accomplished con-artist, but there is, perhaps no need to feel deceived by what was conceived. Is not fraud a feature of any idea on identity, when the authoritarian ID functions as an accessory to the authorship of what and who we are?