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Amazon Noir – The Big Book (C)rime

Franz Thalmair

About one year after the release of Google Will Eat Itself the artists PAOLO CIRIO (PC), ALESSANDRO LUDOVICO (AL), Hans Bernhard and Lizvlx (both UBERMORGEN.COM (UC)) out foxed, the second global Internet player. The results of the Media/Art-event Amazon Noir – The Big Book Crime were presented to the public on the 15th of November 2006. In the following interview the Amazon Noir Crew talks about the framework of the project, its coding and art historical background, the official feedback and copyright issues.

Crime, thievery, betrayal, the bad and the good guys and a final showdown with the blistering sun: Amazon Noir refers in its title, narration and visualisation to the 1940/50ies Film Noir and crime fiction. Why did you settle your newest project in this genre and who are the good guys, honestly?

UBERMORGEN.COM (UC): Dating back to “the digital hijack” with etoy — using movie scripting and film plots are very usefull aesthetically and technically for digital actionism (media hacking). Noir is symptomatic for labeling art forms in retrospect. We were also dealing with German Expressionism at the time and from there it is not far to Film Noir. The combination of the two is best described in the dialogue of Amazon Noir.

ALESSANDRO LUDOVICO (AL): A supposed “crime” related to books could refer recursively to Noir (that is a tale about crime in a certain style), so it was the perfect genre to involve in such a project. The good guys won in the end. But this is not happening in any Noir, as you probably know, and the twists are always possible.

PAOLO CIRIO (PC): The hype of the spin against piracy that come from media propaganda is ever focused on the criminalization of downloading and share content under copyright. The main controversial consequence of increment of sharing of content is the lucrative exploiting by the corporations, like actually Napster or the big business of the devices for playing MP3 and DviX. So we are the worst guys of the scene: we have done a big crime and in the end we have betrayed our action, with a deal with the enemy. It’s a representation of the actual ambiguity about copyright issue, where in any case it seems that anything has a right moral or ethic roots.

Despite all storytelling, Amazon Noir is a socio-technical piece/process of art. What is the coding background of the “sophisticated robot-perversion-technology” ab/using’s Search-Inside-the-Book-feature? Did you select the books acccording to certain criteria?

UC: No, the books were auto-selected by keywords — we entered a list of 23 keywords to the machine, from then on it was tripping by itself. The books were then selected, downloaded, stored and redestributed by the machine.

AL: And some of the selection was surprisingly fitting into the core project spirit. For example “Steal this book” by Abbie Hoffman turned out as one of the first results.

PC: The background of our robot-perversion-technology was a system of four servers around the globe, everyone with a specific function: one in USA for a faster sucking of books, one in Russia for injecting books in p-2-p-networks and two in Europe for schedule the action with intelligent robots. The main goal was to steal all 150,000 books of the’s Search-Inside-the-Book-feature, and then use the same technology of us for stealing books from the Google Print Service. It was just relative of the number of clusters of robots we could use. After the deal with Amazon we can invest money in order to improve our project.

According to a press release from Edith Russ Haus, Amazon Noir is based upon the tradition of happenings and seen as a performative media event, which includes the reaction of conventional media in its concept. Already any reactions from or any other part of the show: media, press, lawyers, … ? What kind of responses do/did you expect?

UC: We do not expect anything. The setting is experimental and our research carries us into unknown territories, socially, economically, politically and in terms of media (mass media, Internet, mobile communication). It was striking that the project was fully running on a technical level (underground) and hyped on a mass media level (overground) but there was a vacuum in the middle. We have not released the project until Nov 15 2006 — but by then the project was over. This release strategy was totally new to us.

AL: We’re not interested in generating a media hype, but in researching and then sharing innovation on both conceptual and technical level. Amazon Noir was an experiment in many senses. Among them the secret exploit of one of Amazon mostly used technology was done via a special software and then the incoming files where framed as results before any public mention. When people have known about that everything was already done.

PC: Yeah, in the evolution of the net-art projects of historic groups like RtMark, CriticalArtEnsemble (CAE), ElectronicDisturbanceTeather, we are the synthesis of the best of their core style. We play in different stages: on the net, on the old mass media and in the streets. We engage in our show different actors: the audience, media, art and legal system. Every layer of our complex society is in the scenography, because now happenings should be in the anthropological space of our contemporary culture. So I like this quote of “Digital resistance”, of the CAE: “The aim of The Living Theater to break the boundaries of its traditional architecture was successful. It collapsed the art and life distinction, which has been of tremendous help by establishing one of the first recombinant stages.”, in both senses, deals with books, one of the exemplary non-material good of our time. In the late 1960ies Conceptual Art was controversially charcterised by the term dematerialization. Regarding works like Google Will Eat Itself and Amazon Noir from this point of view, the term dematerialization gets an ambiguous kind of meaning: Are you — asked provocatively — dematerialising economics by art or even rematerialsing art? Do you see yourself as Conceptual Artists?

UC: Yes. We see part our work in the tradition of Conceptual Art. For the dematerialising part of your question, click-economy and global finance already work on extremely abstract levels. We love to short-circuit and to lay out very basic instructional text (code) as the core of our projects. The Computer and The Network create our art and combine every aspect of it. UBERMORGEN.COM is metaphysically influenced by Lawrence Weiner and practically enhanced by ever reinventing Madonna, Jean Tinguely, the Nouveaux Realistes and by the hardcore Viennese Actionists.

AL: The material/immaterial dilemma is at the base of digital, but after so many dematerialisation analisys, now it seems that to re-materialize stuff is an art trend. What we do is to re-materialize digital paradoxes and de-stabilizing potential markets in a “conceptual” economy.

Copyright/left, GNU, Creative Commons, All Rites Reversed — The discussions about the actual restictions of the copyright are multifaceted and emanate from many different points of view. Where do you — as artists, writers, producers of intellectual, non-material goods — see the most striking clash between intellectual property and commodities in their original meaning as industrial property?

PC: The second step of the materialization of the books in printed copy is with Print on Demand technology and the distribution of these in public space of poor countries will be a concrete example of commodities. When a common good has been given to people for free or for a cheap price, the society have to earning. Every day we see the rampant privatization of commons, as soon as people become more poor and ignorant. The latest movements of CC, Wikipedia, P2P free networks, etc. are a needed resistance in a world where the use of cultural content is ever less a right but ever more a business.

UC: One of UBERMORGEN.COMs ongoing projects is called “Chinese Gold”. It mixes up the “virtual” (the game) with the “real” (money). In China there are many Online-Gaming Workshops that hire people to play online games such as World of Warcraft (WoW) day and night. The gaming workers produce in-game currency, equipments, and whole characters that are sold to American and European Gamers via Ebay. These people are called ÑChinese Gold Farmers”. The future is now! See the image series.

One final question to all of you: What was the last book you ordered on And was it your last?

UC: Anne McCaffrey, “All The Weyrs of Pern”. Yes, we stopped downloading books the moment the contract (sale of the software) was signed with Amazon USA. Thanks for your Qs. Amazon Noir is a project by UBERMORGEN.COM, PAOLO CIRIO, ALESSANDRO LUDOVICO, 2006

AL: Mine was “ Get Big Fast” by Robert Spector.

Thank you very much/grazie mille for the interview!

About the Amazon Noir crew:

Paolo Cirio
is a Turin/Italy based Media activist, born in 1979. He studied Multimedia, Art, Music and Performing Arts at the University of Torino/Italy and completed his degree with the topic “Net-Art as model of new performance”. He is part of the software-art collective [epidemiC] and organises art happenings with an activist background. He works as a webdesigner and developer as well as art director.

Alessandro Ludovico
is a Bari/Italy based writer, critic and publisher, born in 1969. He is one of the founders of Nettime and the European Peripheral Magazine as well as editor in chief of the magazine Neural from 1993 up to now. He edited the Virtual Reality Handbook (1992) and the Internet.Underground Guide (1995). In 2006 he co-edited “The reader. Experiences in Electronic Cultural Publishing”.

is a Vienna/Austria and St. Moritz/Switzerland based artist, born in 1973. She studied Commercial Sciences and Market Research at the University of Economics Vienna/Austria and is the founder of as well as the co-founder of UBERMORGEN.COM. Lisvlx lectures at conferences and universities around the globe. Her media-portfolio includes publications from CNN to Bulgarian Newspapers.

Hans Bernhard
is a Vienna/Austria and St. Moritz/Switzerland based artist, born in 1971. He studied Visual Communications, digit Art, Art History and Aesthetics at the University of applied Art Vienna/Austria as well as in San Diego/USA, Pasadena/USA and Wuppertal/Germany. He is founding member of the etoy.CORPORATION and UBERMORGEN.COM. He works as a professional artist and media researcher.