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  • by Ana Buigues, Valencia, Spain
  • Published in: Maska Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2004, www.maska.si
  • Ana Buigues is a doctoral student at the department of art history at the University of Toronto. Her dissertation, "Igor Stromajer: e-motional net.scapes," investigates emotions, intimacy, and subjectivity in relation to technology and net art. She is currently living in Valencia, Spain, and can be reached at abuigues [at] wanadoo.es

Problemarket.com - The Problem Stock Exchange, 2001, partly located on the Internet #2 , is a collaboration of performance and video artist Davide Grassi and net.artist Igor Stromajer. The artists outline their positions: "Problemarket.com's primary objective is to ensure the development of the markets we manage, maximising their liquidity, transparency and competitiveness, while at the same time pursuing high levels of efficiency and profitability." #3 This project -- a stock market whose commercial activity is based on the trade of problems -- is a mélange of interventions within social networks; what we know as Situationism, urban action, political protest, performance, and net.art, with an emphasis on the economies of [emotional] loss and [economic] profit. In this brief essay I intend to thoroughly contextualize this project within activist performance, since its hybrid nature touches upon many different media and channel ubications, performance strategies, and rebellious claims for several art and life spaces. As Bojana Kunst remarks in her revision of contemporary performance:

(if we aid ourselves with Deleuze's terms), fairly accidental - constant elusive neighbouring. [. . .] always results from migration, [. . .] as a process of establishing artistic tactics and strategies; as a process of developing the awareness of the place of statement/performing; as a way of playing with situations and modes of production [. . .] #4

At Problemarket.com anyone can open a company, sell, buy, and lease problems, and operate transactions with company shares, using the monetary unit of Problemarket.com - the "PRO" a satirized symbol of the euro. Some agencies and institutions necessary for Problemarket.com's successful functioning are ProState, ProTect, ProDuct, ProFile, Profit, ProNews, ProPolis, ProPaganda, ProRos, and ProtoCall. #5 The companies' specialties range from the political (ProPresident), to fast food franchises (McPro), to problematic sexuality (ProPussyCat).

Davide Grassi, President of the Management Board, and Igor Stromajer, Chairman of the Supervisory Council, did not at first conceive this project for the Internet: #6

Yes, at the very beginning, at the end of 2000, we wanted to make a real store in ljubljana, where we would sell/buy/rent/lease problems. The name of the store was PROzaPRO (means PROforPRO in Slovenian). But then we decided on the net, not only for financial reasons, but also because of international access. Still, the main reason was: if it were just a store, there would be no stock exchange. #7

This fictitious stock exchange has substituted the contents of the shares we encounter in Nasdaq, TSE, or the Dow Jones, with problems. This connects, on the one hand, with Stromajer's recurrent emotional performance signature as found in the rest of his oeuvre: " . . . fictional? Ana, it is more real than anything else. Don't you agree with me that problems are more real, personal, intimate, cruel, or serious than money?" #8 On the other hand, it also derives from the previous tactical use of new media and performance which are common to the practice of both artists presenting reverberations from the premises of Situationism. As is known, the Situationist International (SI), formed in 1957 and led by Guy Debord and Asger Jorn, were a group of artists and political theorists, with a Marxist and anarchist ideology, who rebelled against bourgeois society's values. They were strongly opposed to the growing consumer society and their artistic statements commented on concepts of art production and trade. Some of their actions also included attacks on established art circles and academies.

Needing Money to Be an Artist

I Need Money to Be an Artist (Ljubljana), 1996, and (Venice), 1997 #10 by Davide Grassi, consisted of the installation of boxes in specific locations of the cities of Ljubljana and Venice with the statement "I Need Money to Be an Artist" written on them. This is a commentary on the paradox that while art constitutes another type of production to be commercialized, the financial situation in which most artists find themselves is due to a sub-paradox that responds to the irrelevant socio-economic value generally associated with art; and to the elitist channels of art commercialization. However, what artists might rather need is a certain protection from the state, since there are some activities which cannot be measured solely by the economic benefit they generate. Jurij V. Krpan says about the Slovenian version that the project was "the continuation of a positive experience gained in the city of Ljubljana through the project 'Urbanarija' (1995) in the redaction of the Soros Institute for Contemporary Art [ . . . ]" #11 Rajko Bizjak has analyzed the Grassi project realized in Venice from a vantage point that I initially shared; that "the commercialization and manipulation of art brings more profits than a creative approach to it", also sketching the issue of "who and how in this society has a duty to support art and artists." #12 However, when in order to clarify this statement Bizjak proceeds to review the concepts of "art" and "artist", he defines these two terms based on a romantic approach to the artist as a genius, referring to the uniqueness of the work and the art worker, to the innovation of new formulae and artistic languages that the general public does not or cannot understand, while blaming the art market for obliterating avant-garde positions and favoring established artistic clichés. #13 I, nevertheless, differ from Bizjak. As is well-known, in 1968, Barthes #14 theorized the elimination of the author as the ultimate creator, assigning a new, protagonistic role to the spectator, who interprets and conceptualizes a specific artwork. Also, Walter Benjamin's famous elaboration of the aura surrounding the sacred object and the artwork saw a positive sign in its disintegration. #15 And, Michel Foucault, revising the operations of power in society, conceived of the author and artist-genius as a Romantic myth imbued with patriarchy and elitism. #16 Moreover, art buyers' interest in new artistic enterprises is high, and exorbitant prices are paid for what can be considered avant-garde and innovative art, since this has become a natural element of bourgeois society.

Intimate Loss versus Economic Profit

During Grassi's I Need Money to Be an Artist, Ljubljana, the true objets trouvés in the box located at the Ljubljana Bus Station were:

Bank notes: 1310 SIT, 5HRK
Coins: 102.5 SIT, 4.20 HRK
3 messages (1 in English, 2 in Slovene)
1 letter with a stamp and an address
1 blue ball pen
1 postage order form
1 package of 4 handkerchiefs
1 filled-in bonus ticket with an address
1 cigarette
2 cigarette ends
1 empty cigarette box
2 tickets (train, disco), used
1 used chewing gum, wrapped
1 empty chestnut shell
1 chestnut
1 telephone card folder #17

Within the politics of intimacy, privacy, and the emotional, the aesthetic of the objet trouvé that we find in Grassi's I Need Money to be an Artist, in many of Stromajer's projects, and certainly in Problemarket.com, brings to mind the Bataillean 'surplus effect.' In his critique of the ideology of traditional and proper bourgeois social structures, the French writer used this term for commenting on social waste and the non-consumption of goods. #18 Some of the things that were left in the boxes of Grassi's project, as well as the problems and painful situations found for commercial transactions at Problemarket.com share a conceptual basis with the Bataillean 'surplus,' since they point to objects no longer needed, to garbage, or to aspects of life that society considers unworthy, while others signify monetary value; intentionally and/or fortuitously commenting on consumerism and over-production.

In this Internet emotional dumper the real or imagined problems that are the catalyst of all the transactions of this stock market range from the absurd to the melancholic, from the socio-politically conscious to serious and/or banal sexual or emotional situations, and the psychological preoccupations available for commercial operations range from sibling rivalry to gender confusion.

Some of the problemes trouvés at Problemarket are:

September 11th
Who is really responsible for the attacks?
[Created by problex]
[Bought by ProPresident from problex]

Plastic Jewelery
A problem these days for rave society is that plastic jewelery is easily broken, lost when people are dancing very energetically.
[Created by delfincek for PostModern Tekkno Generation]

I fell in love with this girl on the Internet. She was sweet, charming, and intelligent. She told me she was Jewish and that she lived in NYC. As time went by I discovered that the fingers caressing the board typing the e-mails addressed to me were those of a black man from California, who slept with an inflatable Arnold.
[Created by Guerrera del Interfaz for ProCrastination]

I think I move too fast.
[Created by tomzl for Olga Exchange] #19

As another side of the same coin of this aesthetic of the object trouvé is that of an objet perdu. We also encounter this concept in Alan Sondheim and Simon Mills' Internet piece The Lost Project #20 , where "[. . .] users are asked to give a name, e-mail address, and description of a lost object or person. [. . .] Things tend to disappear into one or another file, just as nodes, objects, people, languages, protocols, and media disappear in the real world [. . .]" #21

Net.art: hacktivism, emulations, and emotions

Firstly, while the media has contributed to the spread of cultural stereotypes, standards of acculturation, consumerist bombardment, and power centralization, Internet activity continues this legacy - when the Net acts as a mass media tool, but tries to break from it - when activist networks enter the game. The Internet contribution to this situationist aspect is a higher bandwidth, a complimentary effect to off-line activism, omni-directionality, and participation. Secondly, the Internet offers a whole new scope and scale to strategies such as critiques of capitalism and consumer art culture, since it constitutes the virtual reality version of social and economic reality, and also facilitates role-playing performances. On the Internet, web sites of corporations and governments, e-commerce, advertisement and media, can easily be simulated and/or hacked - as Jon Thomson & Alison Craighead, Yes Men, RTmark, or etoy have done. #22 Thirdly, there is the intimate and personal atmosphere that visiting a project on the Internet creates in the spectator's psyche, since Internet projects are generally accessed by an individual who usually sits alone at a computer, and this creates an introspective frame of mind that might invite the internaut to reflect on the 'ownership' of subjective and intimate spaces.

Internet Emotional Performance

Igor Stromajer's Internet oeuvre is characterized by the substitution of the traditional theatre space by the use of the Internet for his intimate performance, related to his theory of 'self-communication.' After having seen how net.art is situationist by nature, either when reclaiming the political or the intimate, one can say that in principle, Stromajer's oeuvre in general connects with those aspects of Problemarket.com that also emphasize the personal, the private, and the self that we have seen. Nevertheless, I believe that all of Stromajer's works, Oppera Teorettikka Internettikka, 1999, Ballettikka Internettikka - Part One | net.ballet, 2001, and Ballettikka Internettikka - Part Two | ballet.net, 2002, present activist strategies similar to those seen in Problemarket.com. My inclusion of the three pieces responds to my perception of the previous as a germinal and progressive stage toward the next. The ballets were realized with composer Brane Zorman. Differently from other net.art works by Stromajer, which are confined to fixed spaces on the Net, accessible from infinite co-ordinate combinations of time, place, and space, these three aforementioned pieces combine the Internet based ubication with the artist's placement in an offline scenario (corporeally speaking) - as in Problemarket.com, where the intervention takes place both online and offline, conceived as a complimentary effect. The resonances here relate equally to intervention on commercial and media networks on the Net as much as to the invasion of off-line scenarios of special significance, chosen by Stromajer and Grassi for their individual works as well as for their joint Problemarket.com performances, as we will see below.

Oppera Teorettikka Internettikka, 1999 #23 , performed at the Slovenian National Opera and Ballet Theatre of Ljubljana and broadcast live on the Net. It technically consisted of the singing of the HTML code #24 , and was a truly intimate perfomance, since it served Stromajer as a cathartic experience related to his father's recent death, represented by body movements, noises, and voices, and standing naked in front of the audience at the end of the Oppera #25 as a metaphor for human vulnerability. This intimate and personal experience was shared in a public space, in front of an audience - somehow similarly to some of the video performances that Vito Acconci did in the early 1970s, strongly charged with emotional overtones, such as Theme Song, 1973 and The Red Tapes, 1976, that embodied a psychodramatic force, an intensive dialogue between the artist and viewer, the body and the self, public and private, subject and object, absence and presence.

Ballettikka Internettikka - Part One | net.ballet, 2001 #26 by Stromajer and Zorman, took place - not as a public event - at the Kapelica Gallery in Ljubljana and was also broadcast live on the Internet. Stromajer set himself up "to use the body, to transfer it to HTML and JavaScript codes, like the dancer's body was used at the beginning of the ballet to perform different alphabetical characters...to investigate and research the special net.dramaturgy [...]" #27 . As Stromajer danced, he had a flirtatious relationship with the computer, by looking at it, looking inside it, dancing with it, moving his body, and holding newspapers, which he would also do in Ballettikka - Part Two a year later. In an e-mail interview I had with Stromajer about Ballettikka - Part One, he acknowledged that he might have been looking inside the Internet in search of an imaginary land, as well as looking off-line through dreadful newspaper headlines about ethnic cleansing and corporate economic rules." #28

Ballettikka Internettikka - Part Two | ballet.net, 2002, #29 by Stromajer and Zorman, was originally meant to be danced at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, under 'legal' circumstances. #30 Stromajer contacted the director of the Bolshoi over a period of almost a year, but the director ignored his propositions. #31 The artists did, however, enter the Bolshoi and perform the ballet, which was broadcast live on the Internet. Since the artists knew that they were not legally allowed to be performing there, they came up with three strategies - all illegal. 'Option N.1: JamesBond' consisted in entering the Bolshoi through the main entrance and dancing in the Bolshoi toilet. 'Option N.2 ARTinvasion': should Option N.1 have failed because the security guards might have discovered the artists' electronic equipment, they would have entered the Theatre via a small window to perform in the abandoned part of the cellar. 'Option N.3: US Dollars' consisted in bribing the doorkeepers. #32 After option number one, 'JamesBond,' failed, Stromajer and Zorman resorted to option number two, 'ARTInvasion.' This latter was successful: the artists entered from a small window on the left wing of the building and performed the ballet.net action in the cellar. As Rossitza Daskalova has put it, "One can hardly say that Stromajer is a military man, or a stripper for that matter, yet his expression is at times shocking, bordering on the flamboyant as it abounds in subversive methods and references to military strategies for intimacy on the Net." #33

Corporate Parody

The tradition of corporate parody in conceptual art and literature, goes back to the works of General Idea, Yves Klein, and Robert Morris, with pieces about monetary value of art, or Hans Haacke's interventions in the social economy, such as the series of Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, 1971 - as well as his collaboration with Bourdieu, in the dialogue Libre-échange, 1994, to mention only a few.

The advertising campaign for Problemarket.com bears consideration, as it is an effective part of the project:

In 2001 and 2002, The Problem Stock Exchange performed an extensive advertising campaign whose aim was to acquaint individuals and companies with the possibility of trading on the Problem Stock Exchange. [It] included promotion in 42 of the most important large distribution publications and electronic media, including newspapers, magazines, radio, television, public spaces and the Internet. The key slogan of the advertising campaign was "Do you have a problem?" #34

The imagery displayed in their advertisement points to political commentary on the one hand (images of George W. Bush, Slobodan Milosevic, the G8 Police, Silvio Berlusconi, etc), and on the other hand, signifies a critique of consumerism, advertisement, propaganda, and the distortion of news by the media. This relates to the Baudrillardian hyper-real and simulacrum, which refers to that type of simulation which mocks -intentionally or unintentionally - the value given to certain signs and images, which "represent" something "real." #35 Moreover, the situationist method of détournement (diversion) resonates here, since it consisted of "the re-use of pre-existing artistic elements in a new ensemble" #36 , which we can refer to as 'plagiarism,' but perhaps instead of having the meaning of 'theft', here it functions as a post-modern ironic quotation, being a tactic of 'devaluation', or of disengagement from the value assigned to that image.

The off-line performance part of this project is quite sophisticated and structured, and among numerous other off-line activities #37 Grassi and Stromajer regularly assist new media and art festivals around the world, not in order to present their project as artists, but to perform their duties under the impostures of "President of the Management Board" and "Chairman of the Supervisory Council" respectively, founding new departments in different countries for their stock exchange. #38 Important personalities from among stock exchange professional circles, such as Drasko Veselinovic, Director of the Ljubljana Stock Exchange, have expressed their opinions about the positive development of Problemarket.com:

In the flood of various stock exchanges - a waste exchange, and information exchange, an exchange of goods and the Ljubljana Stock Exchange - The Problem Stock Exchange is very interesting and original, and I would be very pleased to give or sell a problem of my own and of the Ljubljana Stock Exchange. #39

All these characteristics set Problemarket.com firstly, as a different form of activism from that of other neo-situationist artists, who place their rebellious enterprises within more collectively conceived social causes, tending to leave the private and the individualized unmentioned - spaces sometimes silenced in favor of the politics of public life. And secondly, the strategies of Grassi and Stromajer's individual works that are reflected in their collaborative Problem Stock Exchange project constitute a total intervention in the established social, political, sexual, intimate, and cultural fiber of society, presenting very clearly the existing analogies among Internet networks, urban zones, and social structures that mediate our perception of the world, which sometimes relate to geography - maps, and the concept of a city - to the extensive radios and extra radios of power, to those nodes familiar from Michel Foucault's formulations - and how they can be challenged through certain actions and interventions.

  1. _
  2. Davide Grassi and Igor Stromajer, Problemarket.com - The Problem Stock Exchange, 2001, 4 November 2003, www.problemarket.com
  3. Ibid.
  4. Bojana Kunst, "Strategic performing", Maska. Performing Arts Journal, Ljubljana, Slovenia, January 2003.
  5. "About Us," Problemarket.com, 4 November 2003, www.problemarket.net/aboutus.html
  6. Davide Grassi , Live interview, 15 January 2003, Valencia, Spain.
    Igor Stromajer, Live interview, 30 March 2003, Rauma, Finland.
  7. Igor Stromajer, Email interview, 15 September 2003.
  8. Igor Stromajer, Email Interview, 27 November 2001.
  9. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, "Art and Modern Life," in Art in Theory, 1900-1990, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1992), 693-700.
  10. Davide Grassi provides a documentation of both versions of I Need Money to be an Artist on his web site: 4 November 2003, www.aksioma.org/i_need_money
  11. Jurij V. Krpan, "I Need Money to Be an Artist," in Exhibition Catalogue to Davide Grassi "I Need Money to Be an Artist" (Ljubljana: Galerija Kapelica, 1996), 9. Also available at: 4 November 2003, www.aksioma.org/i_need_money/i_need-money_lj.htm
  12. Rajko Bizjak, "Trade," in Exhibition Catalogue to Davide Grassi "Ho bisogno di soldi per essere un artista". (Venice: Galleria Priuli agli Scalzi, 1997), 9. Also available at: 4 November 2003, www.aksioma.org/i_need_money/i_need-money_ve.htm
  13. Ibid.
  14. Roland Barthes, "The Death of the Author," (1968) in Image, Music, Text, Stephen Heath ed and trans., 1978.
  15. Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, "Freedom, Responsibility and Power," in Art in Theory, 1900-1990, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1992), 512-519; --- "The Author as Producer," Harrison and Wood, Op .cit., 483-488.
  16. Keith. Moxey, The Practice of Theory. Poststructuralism, Cultural Politics, and Art History. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), 56; Michel Foucault, "What is an author?," Language, Counter Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Donald Bouchard ed. Donald Bouchard and Sherry Simon trans, (1997), 130-131.
  17. Davide Grassi, "I Need Money to Be an Artist . Locations & contents," 4 November 2003, www.aksioma.org/i_need_money/i_need-money_lj_boxes.htm#
  18. George Bataille, (Alan Stoekel ed) Visions of Excess. Selected Writings, 1927-1939, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), ix-xxv, 31, 45-52, 116-129, 240-244; Ives-Alain Bois, "Formless. A User's Guide," October 78 (Fall 1996): 21-37.
  19. Problems found when browsing some problems catalogues of several firms at Problemarket.com, 4 November 2003, www.problemarket.com
  20. Alan Sondheim and Simon Mills, The Lost Project, 4 November 2003, trace.ntu.ac.uk/lost/index.htm
  21. Alan Sondheim, "Consideration of the trAce Projects" Nigel Krauth & Tess Brady eds. TEXT Vol 5 No 1 April 2001. Australian National University. 4 November 2003, www.gu.edu.au/school/art/text/april01/sondheim.htm
  22. See: Roberta Bosco y Stefano Caldana "La Crisis de las puntocom," Arte.Red. in El País.es, 4 November 2003, www.elpais.es/especiales/2003/netart/2002_6.html; Valentina Tanni ed., "Problemi Vendonsi" Random. Il notiziario della net.art, 12 February 2003, 4 November 2003, random.exibart.com/NotiziaStandard.asp?IDNotizia=27830&IDCategoria=7816
  23. Igor Stromajer, Oppera Teorettikka Internettikka, 1999, 4 November 2003, www.intima.org/oppera
  24. See: Marie Lechner, "Le Slovene Stromajer crée des opéras en code web," La Liberation, vendredi 2 février 2001. Also available at: 4 November 2003, http://www.intima.org/liberation_01.html ; Josephine Bosma, "Interview with Igor Stromajer," August 2000, nettime, 4 November 2003, www.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-0008/msg00015.html ; Peter Luining, "Are net artists avantgarde?" netartreview, September, 2003. 4 November 2003, www.netartreview.net/logs/2003_09_14_backlog.html
  25. Igor Stromajer, Email interview, 2 February 2001.
  26. Igor Stromajer and Brane Zorman, Ballettikka Internettikka - Part One | net.ballet, 2001, 4 November 2003, www.intima.org/bi
  27. Igor Stromajer, "Ballettikka Internettikka | Part One: net.ballet," Email announcement, March 26, 2001.
  28. Igor Stromajer, Email interview, 29 March 2001.
  29. Igor Stromajer and Brane Zorman, Ballettikka Internettikka - Part Two | ballet.net , 4 November 2003, www.intima.org/bi
  30. Josephine Bosma, "Claiming the Stage: Ballettikka Internettikka pt 2," Cream 9, July 2002, 4 November 2003, laudanum.net/cream/back_issues/cream9.html
  31. Marie Lechner, "Performance," La Liberation, 05.04.2002 Also available at: 4 November 2003, www.intima.org/bi/press.html
  32. Igor Stromajer, "Ballettikka Internettikka in Bolshoi," Email announcement, March 24, 2002.
  33. Rossitza Daskalova, "Ballettikka Internettikka," CIAC Electronic Art Magazine 15, August 2002, 4 November 2003, www.ciac.ca/magazine/archives/no_15/en/cadre.html
  34. "Advertising," Problemarket.com, 4 November 2003, www.problemarket.net/aboutus.html
  35. Jean Baudrillard, "The Precession of Simulacra" in Art and Text 11 (Sept. 1983): 3-47.
  36. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, Op. cit.
  37. See: "About Us," Problemarket.com, 4 November2003, www.problemarket.net/aboutus.html ; Sponsoring and Support," in Problemarket.com - the Problem Stock Exchange Annual Report 2001-2002, 34-36. For a review of the Annual Report see: Stefaan Van Ryssenpar, "Problemarket, Problem Stock Exchange, Annual Report 2001-2002" in Leonardo digital reviews, ISAST, MIT Press, San Francisco, CA, USA, 2000, Apr 2003. 4 November 2003, mitpress2.mit.edu/e-journals/Leonardo/reviews/apr2003/Proble_ryssen.html
  38. See: "International Activities," Problemarket.com, 4 November 2003, www.problemarket.net/aboutus.html
  39. Drasko Veselinovic, Problemarket.com - the Problem Stock Exchange (Documentary), in CD format; and Problemarket.com - the Problem Stock Exchange Documentary Video in VHS format.

© Ana Buigues, Maska, 2004, www.maska.si Igor Štromajer Intima Virtual Base Virtualna baza Intima Igor Stromajer www.intima.org Igor Štromajer

Ballettikka Internettikka

Problemarket.com - the Problem Stock Exchange

Intima Virtual Base - www.intima.org