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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Craig Pessolano: Activist New Media Art- RT Mark

RT Mark is an artist activist collective that organizes public performance pieces based on the idea of corporate sabotage. RT Mark began in the early nineties and soon after began their website ( which connects people to carry out projects. The website allows you to suggest ideas, donate money for projects and volunteer to carry out a plan (often this role is filled by workers inside targeted corporations). RT Mark’s main role is to provide a “Corporate Shield”, which protects those involved. RT Mark is a registered corporation and proves the point that in America corporations have more power than people do.

RT Mark not only attacks major corporations with various projects they also do this by mocking and imitating these corporations in many ways. One example is their title and logo or the videos they produce to show what they’ve been working on.

Two of RT Mark’s most famous projects are the Barbie Liberaton Organization and the SimCopter hack. Both of the projects questioned gender and sex roles in our society and received coverage by the media appearing on the news and in papers.

The Barbie Liberation Organization was formed in 1989 when members became fed up with Matel’s Barbie. Barbie dolls have affected little girls for almost forty years now with their extremely thin figure and obsession with material objects (for example cars and clothes). These dolls seem to set impossible standards that many young girls believe they should strive for. When Barbie’s were made with voice boxes to say things like “Math is hard!” or “I Love Shopping” the organization knew it was time to take action.

In 1993 the Barbie Liberation Organization switched several hundred Teen Talk Barbie voice boxes with the voice boxes of Talking Duke G.I .Joes. The G.I. Joe’s now said things like “Let’s plan our dream wedding” while the Barbie’s said things like, “Vengeance is mine!” Switching the voice boxes was relatively complicated for each doll circuit board had to be trimmed, a capacitor moved and a switch re-engineered. After the switch the dolls were returned to the toy store shelves where they were re-bought for many children. Each doll had a sticker stuck to it that said “call your local TV news”.

Like other RT Mark projects to come probably the most important part of the project is the media’s covering of it. This is how RT Mark gets its message out there. The story was covered on many news stations and appeared in many papers and magazines. Though the children mostly just seemed to find the dolls funny and though there were only several hundred dolls out there with the media’s coverage the BLO seemed to have made their point.

In 1996 RT Mark was in the news again with the SimCopter Hack. RT Mark had channeled 5,000 dollars to a programmer to switch some graphics in the computer game SimCopter. “Buxom babes, tuba players and other video game staples” were replaced with hundreds of half naked boys kissing each other. This of course was a comment on how most video and computer games contained strong chauvinist sexual and violent content. This project like the BLO though very sarcastic and humorous still seemed effectively state RT Mark’s message.

RT Mark’s website contains several videos that show some of what they have accomplished and also discuss many of their ideas about corporations, politics, the media, activism and art. One of their videos, Bringing it to YOU! is a ten minute promotional video that briefly describes what exactly RT Mark is.

Bringing it to YOU! is done in a style similar to most corporate instructional or promotional videos. It contains three different types imagery which all portray important elements of RT Mark. These are computer-animated imagery, miscellaneous documentary-style imagery and the final interview shots (satisfied costumers).

The video begins with several shots of low quality computer-animated imagery, first showing several logos into their trademarked name. The imagery then switches what appears to be a large machine in a factory. This sequence also contains 3D animation of business charts, symbols (for example $) and logos. These shots quickly change from one to another creating a fast pace feel. This sequence is accompanied by music, which can only be described as “corny and corporate”. This style of animation and music very accurately mocks the style of a real corporations promotional video. These elements of the video show how RT Marks objective is to not only attack other corporations but also to mock and imitate them until the point that they become one. The middle section of the video mostly contains documentary style imagery but also continues to show the animated imagery as well. This documentary style imagery contains clips from the news, close-up shots of documents, historical drawings and of course interviews. The final section of this video contains three shots of people who have donated money to RT Mark. This section is very similar to the satisfied costumer scene you may see in an infomercial. During this section the music from the beginning of the video is playing in the background. After every statement made it cuts to a blue background with a revolving RT Mark logo followed by the title of the video, Bringing it to YOU!. This section similar to the beginning section accurately mocks the corporate video style. It is also humorous how the “satisfied customers” appear as bad actors reading from a script, just like in a real infomercial.

Bringing it to YOU! is the perfect video to describe RT Mark. This video is one of the most important parts of the website because it accurately portrays what RT Mark is while if cleverly mocks major corporations just like their major projects do.

Other projects done by RT Mark include a fake campaign website made for George Bush and a satirical website called Voteauction. The Voteauction website was created by RT Mark during the 2000 election and offered US citizens the ability to sell their vote to the highest bidder. The website was sued by several states for alleged illegal vote trading.

The members of RT Mark like many new media artists are not your typical artists. They do not create physical pieces of art to be displayed in galleries or museums and some people may have a hard time understanding what exactly makes them artists. To understand the collective you have to understand the collective’s main motive to show how corporations have become too powerful. The art is the performance of the collective, which perfectly imitates and mocks corporations by using similar tactics to organize and protect itself with the “cooperate shield”. The art is also the happenings the collective creates which all convey the messages they find important. Similar to artists from the 60’s like Ant Farm, TVTV or even activists like Abbie Hoffman these works of art (happenings, protests, videos) are not for sale for rich collectors, galleries and museums. These works exists purely for the point of stating their messages for whomever to hear or experience. Though these differences may make it hard for some to understand why it is art, I believe these are the differences that make the work great.

Members and contributors of RT Mark seem to share some these ideas with me. In one of their projects they began selling bootleg copies of other artists videos through a website online. Works that were being sold to rich collectors and museums for five to ten thousand dollars were now being sold to the public at $29.99. Seemingly so offended by artists pricing videos so high, perhaps because much of video art began in the 60’s with activists trying to make accessible art, RT Mark shows us with this project and others how art is worth more than money.

Though a good percentage of art today and over the past few hundred years has made social and political comments on society, little of this work actively stated their messages. That is what makes work like this activist art. Work by artists using subject matter like politics and social issues often angers me because the works have no point and make no difference on the issue. All they do is involve the subject matter and themselves in some sort of attempt to promote themselves and their art. Though I do believe it is okay to make art for the sake of making art and nothing else I am much more interested in art that has a true purpose.

Though the works activist nature is not the only aspect that makes the work great. For example simply having a protest would not be creating great art but the way artists like RT mark use extremely creative, sometimes sarcastic or absurd tactics to show their message is what makes it affective and interesting.

RT Mark’s work is extremely important because of their activist approach on new media art. With their several websites, the main RT Mark website that is used to put together most their projects or their mock websites (the GWB campaign website or Voteauction) show artists and activists some of the ways they can use developing technology to get their voice out there. This seems to be one of RT Marks main objectives, to get the peoples voice heard at a time when corporations seem to have most of the say.


“Barbie Liberation”.

“The SimCopter hack”. Past projects

“Promotional Material”. Material

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