Eva and Franco Mattes
Abuse Standards Violations at Carroll/Fletcher, Eastcastle Street, London
10 June to 27 August 2016
by Tiffany Robinson
The exhibition comprises a series of installations across three rooms interconnected by wire cables suspended above head height in a wire mesh. Focusing on the first room my initial impression of Dark Content was an innocuous and familiar set up of white walls, white objects, screens and headphones. The speakers play audio from a text to speech programme of an interview with a web content moderator, on the wall is a list of the rules, a guide content moderators refer to when deciding what to remove and what to permit on Facebook posts. They are sometimes asked to remove politically sensitive content.
I went to one of the assembled pieces, a desk on it’s side with a monitor and headphones, and put on one of two sets of headphones to find that the same audio was playing on the headset as in the room, which gave a sense of being tricked, manipulated, an experiential clue to the work. An avatar on the screen talks but the lips don’t seem to quite synch, they seem odd, and ‘he’ talks about his experiences moderating content. The avatar changes to characters of different ages, sex, suggesting it’s a different person, but after a while I question this, and while I do I realise I’m listening to the story of someone who has suffered through what they have seen on the internet, of rape, suicide, who describe the unbearableness of their experience in viewing disturbing content in order to moderate it, decide ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and of how their work protects others. They also talk of the conditions in which they work.
I have a sense of being co-opted into something I wasn’t expecting, a voyeur to the pain of another person, mirroring the experience presented of the workers. The artists bring to light the content that we are prohibited and ‘protected’ from seeing through the interviews with the workers. You begin to question what is real, Mattes employ con and deception in much of their work as a way to do this. But I also question my own response, by doubting authenticity there is a position of removal from responsibility. A disassociation.
What was interesting was a comment by one visitor who said that they found it too much to bear to listen to content moderators talk of the abuse of cats, but could listen to other recordings in which they talked of rape, murder and suicide. The artists refer to the anaesthesia of people to atrocities happening in the real world, and in the sanitised space of the white walled gallery you are asked to question your own complicity as well as that of the artists. It’s not a new experience. I find news media unbearable, stories of human suffering, migrant camps, domestic violence, climate change. How do we bear witness to suffering?
In the ceiling above the video of the content moderator talking about cats, the head of a cat looks down, a taxidermy gazing at you looking at an avatar describing what someone else has seen. Mattes mimic and mock, they rock the boundaries imposed by governments and companies and at people in their complicity. They make dark subjects bearable so that they can be witnessed.
The dark web is brought into the gallery and presented in such a way that you have to move to get to see the monitors which stand facing the corners, walls and floors of the room, and then it’s only partially visible. The audience is controlled and the monitors stand like shameful objects hiding their faces.
The artists bring to the gallery the experiences of workers as well as the content subject removed from public space and place it in gallery space. The work is for sale, the gallery assistant confirmed that these are stand alone, that once it’s sold it’s in the hands of the new owner. Mattes question power, ownership and authenticity alongside censorship, they take control and then give it away. The moral question that they address is in their process and I wonder what boundaries they set themselves when working with such material and themes. The artists show the ‘elephant in the room’, they also give the digital link to the dark web to access the work online, an invitation to see more.