Live and let lies

Site Gallery artists and their fairground ride
Site Gallery artists and their fairground ride

THERE is one immediate problem when you interview artists described as “tricksters, pranksters and media hackers” who have called their exhibition, Lies Inc.

THERE is one immediate problem when you interview artists described as “tricksters, pranksters and media hackers” who have called their exhibition, Lies Inc.

Are they telling the truth or are their answers a complete wind-up?

Eva and Franco Mattes, whose first UK solo show is at the Site Gallery, insist that there is a always a purpose to their subterfuges, they don’t lie for the sake of it. And when they attempt to take in the public, it’s not to get at them, it’s to expose their real targets, multinational corporations, politicians, religious leaders and the art establishment.

These are people who are always telling lies themselves. “I always end up admitting it, they never do,” says Franco.

For Eva, the significant thing is not duping people but when the penny drops and they realise that something is not what they thought it was. “For me, that’s the moment,” she says. “The perception of the audience is important. They make the artwork, they are unwilling participants.”

In the same way the audience is the biggest asset of any organisation, especially in the age of digital re-production, which some of the artists’ endeavours have been designed to point up.

The Brooklyn-based Italian artists once created a spoof advertising campaign, Nike Ground, which purportedly changed the name of the historic Karslplatz in Vienna to Nike Platz and provoked a debate about selling public assets – also prompting a law suit against them. They are also notorious for hijacking the Vatican website and stealing fragments of artworks from major museums around the world.

Visitors to the Site Gallery can see a stuffed cat in a birdcage with a budgerigar atop, a sculpture with which they fooled the art world.

“It began with an argument we had with a friend about art,” explains Franco. “We said every day there’s so much art produced on the internet, more than an artist could produce in a lifetime. He didn’t accept that. So we said the first image that pops up we will turn into a work of art. And when we saw the picture of the cage we immediately thought of Cattelan because it seemed ironic and slightly subversive.”

They commissioned a three-dimensional version and persuaded an American gallery owner to pass it off as the work of Italian sculptor Maurizio Cattelan. “An art critic said it would fetch £2m if it was authentic and we had three offers. The temptation was there,” laughs Franco but they soon owned up.

Also on view is a video entitled No Fun in which they went on Chatroullette, the online two-way video chat-room where people connect with strangers for a short amount of time, and showed Franco as having seemingly hanged himself. The responses of the participants are documented – horror, indifference, amusement (“Only one of them called the police,” reports Eva) – says a lot about today’s society that is immune to much and involves often long-distance interaction. Similar responses are evoked in Freedom where the artists enter a multi-user online war game and beg not to be shot – in vain, for the most part.

Lies Inc. opened with a re-staging of Plan C in which a merry-go-round was set up in a Sheffield street constructed from parts brought back from an abandoned funfair in Chernobyl. There is a film record running at Site of the artists’ undercover research trip to the area which is still has low-level radioactive traces. “It’s the saddest thing you can imagine,” says Eva.

Lies Inc continues at the Site Gallery until July 30.