0-Day on Why Art Theft Is Good

Last night at Eyebeam in Chelsea, Jeremiah Johnson and Don Miller met up to give a lecture on the ethics

0-Day at Eyebeam (Courtesy The Observer)

Last night at Eyebeam in Chelsea, Jeremiah Johnson and Don Miller met up to give a lecture on the ethics of stealing art. The two co-founded 0-Day Art, an online gallery that deals in net art, or artwork that uses the Internet as its medium. But unlike other galleries, they don’t sell the work. These self-styled Robin Hoods of Internet trade in net art in an effort to keep it free and available to the public, even if that means taking it by illicit means from the artist. Their lecture was the first in a series organized in conjunction with an online-only exhibition called “C.R.E.A.M.,” which is accessible during the month of April. As the purpose of “C.R.E.A.M.” (an acronym for “cash rules everything around me”) is to present work by artists who are engaged in open-source art while exploring the issue of establishing value for Internet-based artwork, 0-Day Art was a perfect fit.

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“Is it okay to take digital art ‘offline’ to give it value,” asked Mr. Johnson rhetorically. “No. It’s not okay. That’s a ridiculous way to monetize net art.”

Mr. Johnson and Mr. Miller were referring to a video that first piqued their interest in exploring the valuation of net-based work. They saw the video “How Do You Sell an Animated GIF,” which showed Rhizome executive director Lauren Cornell talking about selling the quirky computer animations that could be taken “offline” and enjoyed “locally” by collectors. While the conversation about limiting access to digital artwork or imposing restrictions on their display and transfer was not new, it forced people to have an opinion about the issue one way or another, including Mr. Johnson and Mr. Miller.

“We’re resistant to attempts to create value or applying a paradigm that exists for physical objects,” said Mr. Johnson who was seated next to Mr. Miller behind a table and partially hidden by an open laptop. Behind them was a large screen which displayed bright green vintage-like computer graphics. “In treating digital works as a physical work, you’re neutering the power of those works.”

There were about eight people in the audience. A young woman in heels was recording the whole thing with a large VHS camera. Another camera was set up on a tripod as the talk was being streamed online.

“0-Day Art (‘zero day’ art), is a ‘warez’ group,’” said Mr. Johnson, explaining that that is a group of people who distribute copyrighted work, mostly software, without fees.

As an introduction, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Miller did a run-through of all the vocabulary we would need to know for this discussion. “‘Warez’,” he said, “are copyrighted works, mostly software, that is distributed without fees.”

A “warez scene” is the competition between warez groups, which bred a lot of creativity and changes in digital artwork; “0-day” is a version of “cracked” software that has been modified to remove unwanted features like copy protection and released on the same day as the original. Then they gave us a “cracktro” an introduction to “cracking.”

The digital art gurus distinguished between the “demoscene” (computer art scene of individuals who produce real-time non-interactive audio-visual computer graphics) and the “net art” scene, which is less technical but more conceptual and artistic than the Demoscene.

Then they showed a video of a young man listening to a hip-hop song and gesticulating a whole series of “gang signs” to the rhythm of the song. This was a video that was part of one of their exhibitions that you could access online. They also passed around a flash drive and encouraged anyone with a computer to download all of the work that 0-Day has ever released.

“This might seem disrespectful,” said Mr. Johnson. “We have ultimate respect for the artists’ intentions.”

“I can’t reconcile your saying you’re trying to be respectful,” said a young man in the audience later, “when what you’re doing is not respectful.”

“If you’re anyone and you’re putting anything online,” said Mr. Johnson in response, “and you expect to control it, you’re delusional. I don’t see how holding a mirror up to someone’s delusions is disrespectful.”

An online audience member asked about their piracy of S[edition], a site which offers limited-edition digital artworks for sale.

“We ripped a high-resolution version of a Damien Hirst video,” said Mr. Johnson.

“But we just sat on it,” added Mr. Miller. They never ended up distributing it. Perhaps they were worried about litigation.

“Are you afraid of being prosecuted by S[edition]?” someone asked.

“That didn’t play into our decision,” Mr. Johnson said. “It didn’t fit with our trajectory of what we had so far. And it just wasn’t very good.”

After the talk, Gallerist brought up Cory Arcangel. Mr. Johnson said while they had not shown Mr. Arcangel’s work, it does fit within their aesthetic and was similar enough to what they do. He didn’t elaborate on why they didn’t show Mr. Arcangel’s work but perhaps it wasn’t challenging enough for them and anyway, he already operates in a similar fashion to 0-Day Art. “You can get his work on his website. He even gives away the code for Super Mario Clouds.”

We asked if they had been approached by collectors.

“No,” Mr. Johnson said. “That would be funny. I guess if we were approached by one, we’d have to figure out how to troll them really hard.”

0-Day on Why Art Theft Is Good