A Cheap Grab For Exposure: The Occupy The Internet Exhibition

by Paddy Johnson on November 1, 2011 · 30 comments Opinion

Screengrab AFC

Why is Occupy The Internet now an “exhibition of leading net artists“? Launched two weeks ago at fffff.at, the original project was a simple call: embed a script that runs an army of animated gif protesters on your website to show your support for the Occupation movement. The post asked for animated GIF submissions that would then be “called up for duty”, and has since been installed on over 875 websites.

Now, all those submissions are being replaced with GIFs by artists curator Evan Roth deems worthy of special consideration: Aram BarthollBrad DowneyConstant DullaartOlia LialinaDragan EspenschiedMark JenkinsLa Quadrature Du NetJonah Peretti & Chelsea PerettiRyder RippsRafael RozendaalTelecomixCharlie Todd, and UBERMORGEN.

This is beyond insulting. Perhaps some enterprising curator can go down to Wall Street and redo all the protest signs there too? Sure, the show’s only temporary — from November 1st to November 4th — but those who placed Occupy Internet on their sites didn’t ask for a self-proclaimed elite crew of gifs on their site. GIF makers also didn’t submit work only to have it removed for a few days when a few misguided artists decided to make a grab for exposure. The exhibition drips of opportunism and self-aggrandization.

I think this sucks and I’m not the only one. As a response, AFC Editor-In-Chief Will Brand has prepared a script for those who find this show repugnant: Occupy Nothing. Drag this to your tool bar, and it will hide Occupy Internet scripts on a page. I recommend it to anyone who finds this show as offensive as we do.

Edit: The designers of Occupy Internet apparently do not take kindly to users controlling what they see; they’ve changed their script to protect it from ours. We’ve updated our script, and will continue to do so; if you added it before about 2:30 today, you’ll need to add it again, but anytime after that you should be good forever. I’m sure there’ll be some kind of stupid cat-and-mouse arms race here.

On a broader note, this is equivalent to someone telling you you cannot close a pop-up; that their rights as site administrators are greater or more important than your rights as users. That’s bullshit. We’ll do our best to make sure you can avoid this. [Will Brand]


Erik Peterson November 1, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Who gives a shit? Occupy the Internet was an obviously sarcastic jab at the protests to begin with.

Paddy Johnson November 1, 2011 at 12:36 pm

The artists participating in this show should be ashamed. Olia and Dragan are activists for the amateur web. I don’t see how this sits right with them.

Erik Peterson November 3, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Probably because they’re not dumb and understand that a) Occupy the Internet doesn’t matter b) the idea of “occupying” the internet is inherently farcical and should be taken as jest and c) that co-opting this “democratic” platform as an artistic gesture reveals part of the nature of social movements in the postmodern world (that is to say, that they are all subject to opportunistic appropriation). 

Erik Peterson November 3, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Also, even if the project had started as a sincere statement in support of OWS, it would be a pretty poor one in terms of effect and affect. Webmasters, who own the only kind of real estate that most people in the 99% could afford, opt to occupy their own pages with other people’s gifs. The equivalency drawn between the sprite-protestors and the real protestors can only really be seen as derisive towards the latter, and the self selection of sites for occupation is far more akin to the opportunistic use of OWS’s popularity for personal profit than it is to the actual occupation of the financial industry’s property.

Will Brand November 1, 2011 at 12:30 pm

The worst thing about this is the bait and switch. The original Occupy Internet material encouraged site owners and administrators to embed the Occupy script out of sympathy and altruism; abusing that spirit for personal gain is morally wrong.

Will Brand November 1, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Actually, fuck that; the worst thing about this is that somehow Evan Roth has managed to turn a horizontally-organized art offshoot of a horizontally-organized movement into a serviceable list of the present net art hierarchy. 

He takes some dissent, and then he adds some internet, and then he adds a little bit of altruism, and he puts it in the oven and somehow – and I have no idea how – what comes out is the same shit we’ve been eating for years. What similarities exist between this and Occupy Wall Street? How could this possibly benefit the movement?

Lorna Mills November 1, 2011 at 12:49 pm

 I’m less inclined to blame the artists for anything other than not being as interesting as the original crowd sourced works and I probably would have liked the current incarnation if it had been the original scope of the project, but in this context, it was a major dick move on Evan Roth’s part.

Zachary McCune November 1, 2011 at 2:00 pm

I had been skeptical about the “Occupy the Internet” art movement’s political implications before I read this. Now, I fear its moving even further away from practicality and politics. Why, after all, had artists elected to use pop culture symbols like Frodo Baggins brandishing political slogans rather than directly self-identify with the movement? If the 99% is to become a real political entity, inserting pop culture objects into the discourse borders on satire not support. The success of the Occupy movement has come through its humanity. People telling their own stories and adding their lives to a wider cultural narrative. I feel the Occupy GIF artists are more interested in developing a net-based pop art than advancing a political agenda. And that has merits, but it shouldn’t undermine a political movement already in search of firm purpose. 

Sterlingcrispin November 2, 2011 at 3:11 am

Yes I think it is infact satire, duh ! You should be skeptical about Occupy the Internets political motivations it was never really practical, didn’t the pop icons give it away, it was always art. Its telling of our times that people are so confused. It was directly addressing the lack of firm purpose surrounding the occupy movement and making fun of that.

Infact the occupy movement wouldn’t be what it is if there were a firm purpose in place to be undermined, its by definition amorphous and a product of the internet age. Its been a giant social-unrest meme globbing around in our collective mind waiting to surface and no collection of gifs is going to stop it.

Zack M. November 2, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Quite right Sterling, but this is precisely what we need to be explicit about: Occupy the Internet is not a necessary political object much as it poses in that set of skins. Your affirmation of the Occupy movement as a rhizome is also on target. But that’s exactly where it diverges with the Arab Spring movements, which had real policy objectives. Meme or not, change is the end goal imagined by citizens in the Occupy movement. They will not settle for GIF entertainments and neither should the the cultural inquiry that Occupy the Internet all-too-briefly entertains.

Zack M. November 2, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Especially when we contrast this with the Occupy Writers movement (http://occupywriters.com/) where novelists, essayists, journalists, etc. have actually lent their craft to the cause unironically, in the interest of practical support. Writers have lent voice, but net artists are contributing snides?

ryder ripps November 3, 2011 at 9:56 pm

personally, i gave up on politics and believe the political choices i am able to make amount to very little – i thought this “project” was stupid so i tried to make a sign complaining about it.. maybe i should have been more overt in the sign.. perhaps “GRAFFITI CULTURE IS RETARDED”

Aaron Gemmill November 1, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Hey Paddy and Will,
You can save users the trouble of re-installing the bookmarklet by having it call the script remotely. Like so:

javascript:(function() {var s=document.createElement(‘script’);s.setAttribute(‘src’,’YOURSCRIPTGOESHERE.js’);document.getElementsByTagName(‘head’)[0].appendChild(s);})();

Will Brand November 1, 2011 at 2:37 pm

That’s a good idea, I just didn’t think it would be necessary. Done, thanks.

Maybe now in a week I’ll alter the script to show my favorite net artists instead.

Jordan L. November 1, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Talk about opportunism: he is using my GIF on the flyer (the cybergoth holding the “We are not leaving” sign) and my name is not listed anywhere.  


Matt Hoffman November 1, 2011 at 7:27 pm

I first thought, oh, super cute – maybe a little sarcastic – but fun clever awesome and I like the people behind it. Harmless. But curating the submissions? There’s a missed opportunity to ally just a little bit, given that you’re trading on people’s interest. Of course you can say things about OWS without being in it/of it.. I think it’d be kinda cooler to have dozens of different characters rotating through anyways. A little lame but I’m not all that bothered. + some of these people code better than me!

Just a tip November 1, 2011 at 10:28 pm

How is what they are doing any less shameful than what you, Hyperallergic and a bunch of other art blogs writing about OWS stuff over and over again do? Even when there is not much new to talk about a new story is spinned from last weeks info. We all know you are doing it for Google ranking. All while pushing those 1% backers. How are your buddies at the DeVos Foundation doing? There is a tip for you. Investigate yourself

Will Brand November 1, 2011 at 11:27 pm

Really, dude? You think a moderately well-attended art blog has any chance of ranking well  for Occupy Wall Street? Are you high?

Not that this comment merits this, but here’s a screenshot I just took of our analytics. It shows the total number of visitors we’ve gotten from Google for keywords including “Occupy Wall Street”. This is for the past month. http://i.imgur.com/nLU2u.jpg

I’m not sure why we’d do any investigating – that’s, like, not what we do here – but if we did, I’m sure we wouldn’t find any links to your nefarious DeVos Foundation. Frankly, this whole idea makes me think you know about as much about arts funding as you do about SEO – if somebody gave us money, we’d be shouting about it all the damn time. We already do, for the actual companies that actually pay us money for ads in real life, and for people to contribute to us to help keep the blog going at our fundraisers. We let people know. This, for just about everyone thinking about giving money to nonprofits, is the entire point. 

And yes, we’re going to write about the huge protests taking place where we live, because we’re writers and that’s what we do. We have opinions, and we write about them, for people to read. I’m not really sure what you want us to do, otherwise, but I think Paddy might have some retail experience and I’m an okay web developer.

In any case, we put our names by our words and we expect our commenters to do the same. Further comments without a name or verifiable email won’t be approved. 

sally November 1, 2011 at 10:32 pm

wow. That’s an incredibly stupid move (or cynical to the point of being dysfunctional).

Jennifer Chan November 2, 2011 at 1:24 am

holy hell I must have been reading too much about the irl Occupy Museums/Wall street and actually thought this redundant net art movement was sincere all along until I read this thread. #no troll.

Jennifer Chan November 2, 2011 at 1:26 am

Ironic or not seeing those banners on anyone’s portfolio site has actually detracted me from looking at their work…

Sterlingcrispin November 2, 2011 at 2:54 am

your premise for critique:
the original project was a simple call: embed a script that runs an army of animated gif protesters on your website to show your support for the Occupation movement. …..Now, all those submissions are being replaced with GIFs by artists


Are you a “webmaster”, admin, blog owner or someone with access to index.html files? Are you interested in taking part in the recent global wave of revolution ___from the comfort of your home computer___? Occupy the Internet!

Reread that, do you see anything?
I thought it was a bit funny at first, but it is a shallow fart-joke. It wasn’t ever a real call for political activism and thats where your critique is totally off base. It was clearly always tongue & cheek about rampant slacktivism “Are you interested in taking part in the recent global wave of revolution from the comfort of your home computer?”. If you look at the original images there were signs like “weed not greed” being held by a stormtrooper, it was never very serious. 

Even with a tongue & cheek attitude its true it was opportunistic to ride the wave of current culture and perhaps manipulate peoples expectations but thats what artists do. The occupy movement is a cultural rupture and as artists they are mitigating that.why u mad tho??

You should be more disheartened that people have trademarked occupy verbage and are profiting from the sales of related merch. People who are literally being opportunistic in the dirtiest way and seizing personal monetary gain from something that no one should own.

Paddy Johnson November 2, 2011 at 3:25 am

Agreed, it was a farce occupation. This was actually discussed in the office as this post was written — Will Brand offered a comparison of glitterfying the dead bodies of those who died in Libya was offered as being equally depraved — but I stayed away from that, since I thought there was probably a fair number of people for whom the internet was the best way of protesting. That might have been a mistake. 

In truth though, this kind of slacker attitude is pretty offensive when it comes to matters like this — there’s a real paralysis in government that is making poor people even poorer — and laughing at the movement spun from that dispare might as well be kicking those people in the face. 

As for the merch etc, yeah there’s a lot of exploitation there and I’ve seen a lot of it first hand. Somehow I find this project more offensive than all of that profiteering though. It’s one thing to try and exploit the movement for personal gain, it’s quite another to launch a project that not only exploits others, but actively works to derail the movement through apathy. And in this, I stand by my words: I find it repugnant.

Sterlingcrispin November 2, 2011 at 3:48 am

I’m not sure its actively working at derailing the movement through apathy, perhaps in some small way, it is having a laugh at their expense but I don’t think its that all that cynical it felt light hearted. Its certainly problematic and I agree with your criticism in part, of it all being a  grab for exposure, it is cheap. I had to slow down and re-examine the whole situation upon seeing this article.

I think many of us relate to the occupy movement and want to see some justice & equality brought to the world, its a sensitive topic and I totally understand your frustration. I think we all want to see real political and social change, F.A.T. included.

none of us are the 1% riding on the fat of the land and sweat of its workers we could all use some equality

Jordan L. November 2, 2011 at 5:56 am

Agreed, there was an obvious tongue-in-cheek sentiment to the call.  However, to me there is a clear parallel between the occupation of public space and that of ‘internet real estate;’ having the privilege of webmaster/admin/access to html files has always been analogous to being a proprietor/homeowner/landlord — this is why those who ‘got in the [domain-buying] game’ early lucked out and can sell items like “forclosures.com” (sic) at an auction for $150K.  

The ‘little people’ here, whose online real estate is most often their namesake or something as tongue-in-cheek as ‘artfagcity,’ and who understand that something like Javascript is meant to *perform actions* when contact is made with their site, were able to relate to the idea of an army of GIFs occupying a website as something slightly more significant than slacktivism.  When the project began, the content of the GIFs being submitted varied: some used actual signage from the protests, and others, as you mentioned, took their liberties as to their choice of occupier and message.  

It’s sort of beside the point though.  Those who submitted GIFs contributed labor and those who welcomed the JS code into their headers were allowing the content of their pages to be obstructed by a bunch of virtual occupiers that both moved around and made noise on their respective properties — and didn’t go away unless you closed the page.  Whatever you want to call it, it was initially a fairly democratic process.  Unfortunately, everyone woke up to find that there was an exhibition of handpicked items by noteworthy individuals being advertised on their lawns, the initial volunteers now kicked out and uncredited.  

I think the shittiest part of that bait and switch is that it bears a grimace-worthy resemblance to an issue perhaps unanimously understood as the root cause of the unrest…

ryder ripps November 3, 2011 at 9:50 pm

i was a part of this, cuz i was asked to.. so i made a sign that says “vapid concept” cuz i think the work is pubescent and without any substance..

Caio Fern November 2, 2011 at 7:46 am

Will Brand, nothing to add here, you are 100% right, thank you for posting this. 

Paddy Johnson November 2, 2011 at 9:44 am

Small correction here. I authored the post. Will Brand produced the Occupy Nothing button and added the update. 

Curt Cloninger November 2, 2011 at 8:50 am

I love it when AFC gets all ethical and righteously indignant! It seems telling that most folks here are more troubled by the subsequent art career opportunism than by the initial impotence/irrelevance of the original project in the first place (elsewhere, Annie Abrahams pegged it as neo-armchair socialism). If the gifs were “occupying” CNN.com, that would be relevant. Since they are merely “occupying” your own personal web site, that’s like doing a sit-in in your own kitchen, or sporting a “Free Tibet” bumper sticker (or putting a bunch of animated gifs on your own personal web site).

ryder ripps November 3, 2011 at 9:46 pm

my sign says “vapid concept”

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