The Big Packet Switch

By Pauline van Mourik Broekman, 10 March 1996

Conceptual terrorism for the 21st century. Violence, trust and the analogue - digital divide. Gregory Green and the New Free State of Caroline

Will there ever be the equivalent to the Scott enquiry in the art world? What if Gregory Green somehow triggered it, by accident of course, or became so well known that retrospective research had to be undertaken of all those art dealers that ever supplied him with little batches of fresh poppy seeds for his jugs of aesthetically pleasing LSD or nice, shiny basketballs for his latest nuclear device? His work at least begs the question. While conceptualising the border areas of legality, and doing so with the full interest of many in the art community, Green is probably also becoming known as a sure hit news story, a kind of ecologically sound, benign and conversational version of the Unabomber. The Cabinet Gallery have already provided what they thought were keen art lovers with enough information to post an article in the Sunday Express.

Though this can, and will be dismissed as another annoying example of sensationalist reporting about art, after the dead cow thing wore a bit thin, it does also touch upon very important aspects of Green's work and, in many ways, serves to highlight its seriousness. Green seems, in the end, not to be particularly interested in breaking the law, or in being incarcerated...., but is willing to fake it so far as to get there half-way. Though the success of this kind of work does often come tinged with accusations of being formulaic or more like institutionalised subversion, Green's work will have difficulties avoiding the fact that, to those not involved with the minituae of art-etiquette and the hairline degrees in definitions of subversion, he could be a dangerous man. Who are they to know what complex and fascinating international processes or laws he wants to examine, and who are they to care? And if Green does not maintain some semblance of authenticity to both sides, will anybody care?

Already the transition of his work from a space such as the Cabinet Gallery's to the large space at the Saatchi Gallery shows up these tensions. Selling an artwork means, in Green's case, selling a few months of his life whenever that work is shown again. The travelling zoo metaphor does somehow spring to mind, even though that obviously does not do his intentions justice. So, how is this man diversifying, are there any conspicuous new channels of distribution he should be thinking about? Probably. Just like any other terrorist worth anything, Mr. Green will have been investigating the internet and the prospects for a more resounding simulation of international terror; a Great Packet Switch that needs no suitcases, no bibles with bombs inside, just some good encryption software or lethal code. For that he would have to modify his fictional target into one whose (economic) life was based on information, and move into the sphere of digital or numerical terrorism. He will already be familiar with the look in the eyes of people who have imagined his computer viruses, "displayed" on floppies in cases on the wall, like so many stuffed killers, and the power of projection. As it is projection which makes most people believe any of Green's work comes even vaguely close to being what he says it is. They wouldn't be so intrigued if this wasn't the case or if they themselves had "done it all before." Would he be able to flirt with the law in quite the same way if he undertook anything like this on networks, perhaps even internal ones? Internet users, in most cases fiercely protective of their "cyber rights "might not look as kindly on someone attempting to test this particular envelope of the law, as they might in the process be underscoring the often abused association between the internet and global terrorism.

Of course, all of this ignores the fact that Gregory Green is still not perceived as a terrorist and that, though he makes "nuclear bombs", they actually do not contain an milligram of plutonium. He is, primarily, a conceptual artist. One that uses the space of the gallery to test and examine the workings of the state and the positions of its citizens. It is telling to note though, that through his art practice he is managing to unearth very similar problems in the, letÕs call it "analogue" world as people are discussing in relation to the realm of the virtual. Green just knows how to use the library, a free information service. Sound familiar? It seems strange that these issues do not seem equally hotly contested in both realms. As Jeffrey Deitch remarks in his essay for the Saatchi Young Americans catalogue, though the 1990's have become known for the return of political art, it is more likely to be sexual politics than those of nuclear war; "It is ironic that what is perhaps the world's most serious problem, the potential for nuclear terrorism, is something that Green is one of the few artists to have addressed." Green is looking into the logistics of founding a country on a deserted island just large enough to farm and live on. It is called "The New Free State of Caroline". From the citizenship offer:

[...] the New Free State of Caroline is presently based on the island of Caroline situated in he Line Islands of the South Pacific. Caroline, and its sister organisation the Williamsburg Response Team, are currently participating in a programme of aggressive recruitment and annexation in an attempt to expand the rights and territories of free individuals worldwide.

Strangely enough, bar civil liberties, federal law, viruses and electronics, one of the single most unforgettable and persistent floating categories and themes in Green's work is trust.

Pauline van Mourik Broekman <pauline AT>

Gregory Green, Cabinet Gallery 16/12/95 to 13/1/96 and Saatchi Gallery in "Young Americans" 25/1/96 to 3/3/96.