Talk about suicide has has hardly ever been a simple thing, and that is especially nowadays. It is a dodgy, slippery ground. it might be tolerated wether it is tackled pivoting the speech on a medical-psychoanalitical attitude, since it allows to remain in a detached, scientific standpoint. Yet it becomes extremely likely to upset many people’s sensitivity, if one tries to relate the subject to contemporary thought and politics. Think for instance of german composer Karlheinz Stockhausen statement about the twin Towers attack (“September the 11th is the greatest artwork that has ever been realized”) that cost him the cancellation of several concerts and that non only in the USA.
Nevertheless, it is now essential to take account of the fact that suicide has lately become an act of undoubtable political valiance. What Franco Berardi Bifo defines “the suicidal decade” has just ended/come to its conclusion/concluded.
The Twin Towers attack is likely to be the most vivid image in our memories regarding such actions; a sucide-massacre that became the onset of the collective awareness of an unavoidable political and economical twisting at global level, in despite of all the global movements that originated during Seattle demonstrations. Albeit this surely was the most simple and clear example, many similar ones occurred which as well roused public attention. Like the many suicide-slaughters committed by students and common people, in the US as worldwide. It would be a mistake though to think of their importance being uniquely about involving public spaces and unaware victims.
In February 2005 four youths between 19 and 30 were found lifeless on Hokkaido Island in Japan. Last of a long series of suicides on the internet and that already counted 16 victims during the month of February only. Besides, this was only a small-scale episode compared to the appalling number of youngsters deciding to commit suicide every year. The problem stirred up Japanese government concern, seeing the alarming rate of growth of the phenomenon.
Notwithstanding the interventions aimed to forbid access to forums and websites where these collective suicides are organized and where detailed information on ways and methods to voluntarily killing oneself are given, it has not been possible to stop the increasing of this tendency, which has lately become a “live” action online. There have been some appalling episodes in Italy as well.
“On the 11th of July 2005 Ciro Eugenio Milani, 26, kills himself in a city in Northern Italy jumping off a bridge in the Adda river. During the previous one hundred days, he had begun to write on a blog, the introduction to which stated: “This is the public diary of a suicidal. I have made my mind clear, I know what I’m going to do and when […] Feel free to comment what I write”.
One of the possible interpretations is suggested by Franco Berardi Bifo: “In our times, the new adults part of the generation that grew up learning from global media to watch and want and wish that life media lead to expect, and those needs that advertisement imposes as essential […] in the very moment while all the promises of growth capitalism had made are flopping down across the whole occidental world, a generation is growing up, being destined to always obtain from life less than what their parents have.
Less stable jobs opportunities, less occasions to get rich, less consumings; but on the top of all, less pleasure, less communities, less support, less affection. Media Narcissus soon discovers he must pay his competitive run.” (Franco Berardi Bifo, Narciso Terrorista) desperate Suicide becomes the last astounding, showed off act of a generation whose passions are sad and that is incapable of changing, a deed much resembling one of the last talks on Ciro Eugenio Milani’s blog: “What is it that is so bad in your life?” someone asks him . “I don’t like it” he answers “I believe it’s useless and I’m too lazy to try to change it.”
Seeing this range of desperate actions examples, it is easy to comprehend irritation and denial in reactions, when a speech about an esthetic of suicide is attempted, perhaps also because such a viewpoint underlines human determination towards self-destruction and distraction in such times in which productivity is considered a staple value. And yet Art world began to approach these matters since a while, for instance in the (cancelled) exhibition in September 2009 entitled A Lady, A Mother, A Murderer: Exhibition on Ferror (Female Terror) by two Israeli artists, Galina Bleikh and Lilia Chak, or in the exhibition showing photographs of a suicidal-slaughter in Finland.
Already in 2005 Cory Arcangel had sent to his Friendster contacts a message announcing his suicide, namely he was abandoning that social network. During the launch of the magazine “The Believer” he also read a text quoting the last letter Kurt Cobain wrote, deactivating his account. The following year French online community Myownspace was inviting Myspace users to utilize Anti-Myspace Banner Wizard to insert a banner in their account appealing for people to get the life back committing a Myspace suicide. The proposal was to then choose independent hosts, as Myownspace itself, for instance, which do not use the content users upload to make profit.
Equally interesting are the works that started at the end of 2009. One is Seppuko by Les Liens Invisibles, that has been presented in November during Turin Share festival, and that has also seen the contribution of designers group ParcoDiYellowstone. The other one is Web 2.0 Suicidemachine by Moddr Lab, presented in December at the Worm in Rotterdam.
The first one is based on Facebook, it purposes suicide on such platform as a cutting-edge experience to be spread among one’s friends. Making reference to Luther Blisset the Les Liens Invisibles are, through Seppuko, recalling the ancient samurai image, who had no other choice when trapped, than honorably committing suicide. The ones committing Seppuko had to log-in on Facebook, send a leave taking message to their friends, inviting them to enact the same ritual, and in the moment of the proper “Facebook suicide” a memorial page of the person was created.
The action was not definitive. It was in fact possible to resuscitate one’s own identity just logging in again. Although, the actual goal was to make this action being as widespread as possible.
This initiative did stir up a number of critics on web 2.0: going from the concept of identity that social networks impose, to the value given to each aspect of individuality that becomes a product for consuming. Seppuko does not suggest that escaping radically from new production methods is possible, but that through an ironical use of suicide the target is put, of an “involuntary strike”, a sudden massive fall in the production of information through viral diffusion of practice.
Web 2.0 Suicidemachine, instead, is presented as a profile-deactivation service for many different platforms, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and LinkedIn. Through inserting your own username and password the system connects to the several social networks you have an account on and it modifies the informations thus forbidding further logins, and deactivates the account. On the website you can find a video telling the story of an average internet user, tapped up at home depending only on his virtual life on social networks. This kind of behavior is the one young Japanese adopt, so-called hikikomori lock themselves in their rooms and refuse to exit them for no matter what reason.
The incapability to relate oneself with the external world compensates in the “perfect flow of information, universal valorizing fluid” (Franco Berardi, “Hikikomori of the world unite”). They live in an obstacleless world with no boundaries. For this reason Web 2.0 suicidemachine, subtracting individual users from this flow through an exodus, allows to give an enhanced, more aware significance to oneself presence on the internet, for the individuals as for the economic system. Both works have quickly aroused Facebook attention, which did not put time in waiting to send to the two groups legal warning letters. This has caused the interruption of their functions on social networks for the two groups.
It is surely ironical the fact that trough the metaphor of suicide can somehow unsettle a web articulation of postfordist capitalism, which is the very main cause of these (non metaphorical) suicides growth. In this interview Gordan Savicic, member of Moddr lab and Guy McMusker, spokesman of Les Liens Invisibles, expressed their opinions regarding these issues.
Loretta Borrelli: On your website you proposed “to kill your fake virtual friends, and completely do away with your Web2.0 alterego”. In a video you said “online experience is absolutely not sostitute to the real time experience, take your life back”. Do you think there could be an alternative way to use these technologies, or do you think that the only possible way out is exodus?
Gordan Savicic (Suicidemachine):The suicide machine is, of course, a radical solution for the by now popular term “unfriending,” which became Oxford word of the year 2009. However, I am not blaming social networks for disconnecting people. There are for sure good aspects in staying connecting with friends and family living abroad using Facebook & Co., but (most of the) people are not fully aware of the privacy-tradeoffs.
Those services will hold your collected information forever on their servers and use the acquired data for targeted marketing analysis. Seamless connectivity and rich social experience offered by web2.0 companies are the very antithesis of human freedom. Users are entrapped in a high resolution panoptic prison without walls, accessible from anywhere in the world.
Loretta Borrelli:In a Seppukoo operation it is evident to anyone having some familiarity with media-activation experiences the reference to Luther Blisset, who staged his own Seppukoo in 1999. Besides, you made use of testimonials whose citations were between ironic and radical. The simultaneous use of fake identities on Facebook and of the metaphor of suicide as last gesture of honour that a Samurai can accomplish, is it a proposal for escaping an invisible enemy or one already disappeared?
Guy McMusker (Seppukoo): The prevailing influence is surely that of Luther Blisset. Anyway we gave several readings to the project, maybe not always fully coherent among them.
The reference to Luther Blisset is an invitation to a return into anonymity abandoning that identity that Facebook obliges on you. We proposed again this experience in a different context, such that could be shared more easily, a democratization of the practice. Not so much Luther Blisset as an identity, but as an approach to an identity.
Disabling an account is a function accessible to anybody. We needed something more than this.
We needed a way capable of conveying it to everybody, an incentive to start this practice. Maybe this operation could be defined more marketing-oriented when compared to our previous work. Surely it has been better reasoned from the diffusion point of view. Aimed at inducing the users to play with their identity. Initially it might have seemed that the use of actual names was not that relevant, but one had soon to realise that this is the only modality for existing on Facebook.
When making use of the testimonials during the operation, we played ourselves as actually being the characters we created. We wrote parts of songs and texts retrieved from those who had been famous or popular. We were them under a certain point of view. We found ourselves among absurd friends whose names were in part fantasy names due to the fear of being cancelled under betrayal from other users induced to it by the Company. It looked as a sort of secret society, a group of imaginary fake-friends.
The passage we cited serves us in order to propose a different imaginary reality. In particular when the text talks about “Escaping the visibility. Turn anonymity into an offensive position” If the enemy disappears, anonymity remains a way for re-equilibrating the parties being confronted. By the way the anonymity we refer to is that of the early period of the web, when being anonymous was ordinary practice, not a terrorist practice. The refusal of anonymity inside social networks clearly separates the early networks from today’s ones.
We followed it with a citation from Jim Morrison in order to put that citation inside our work. We deemed it as a legitimate opposition, useful in order to create a sense suggestion, passing between a radical and a pop position. The element allowing us to link the two positions is the proximity to a cultural terrorist like Luther Blissett, who is proposing a position similar to that of the Invisible Committee but played in another context.
Loretta Borrelli:In your opinion what’s the meaning of the term “social”? Do you think the rigid definition of social relationships, such as “friend” or “follower”, was a decisive factor for the success of social networks?
Gordan Savicic (Suicidemachine): The success lies in their intrinsic structure creating rather nodes than > individuals. They are so-called network user interfaces providing a > simplistic graphical user interface to a huge social vector graph which can be accessed from any network-enabled device. Terms like “friend” or “follower” are literal translations of “ties” and “nodes” taken from social network theory. First, the elementary thing about them is the > potential use of network nodes. Each user is a dynamic buoy shifting within a melting social sea which makes them so attractive to use.
They can specify their own content or share photos and movies with their friends, show off with their entourage and even work collaboratively on texts, while all accumulated data can be easily made accessible to a considerable wide range of people. Andres Manniste brings in a good comparison when he bridges the incorporated function of social network sites to cell phones5. In his view cell phones became multi-purpose tools, game console, still and video camera and mail client, mobile network nodes while its GUI is being kept rather practical. In > proliferating social platforms like Hyves, Facebook, Myspace etc. the GUI acts like a cellphone.
Guy McMusker (Seppukoo):”Friend” is a word which per se doesn’t have much sense, as it is difficult to succeed in defining who can be identified as such in a network like Facebook. For this reason we prefer to rather define them as connections, since we deal from a long time with what we call invisible connections. Using the term “friend” in this context was decisive as a mean for putting significance on something that is nothing else than a computer connection, that is two profiles linked together. In the same way we put significance on the term disablement, which per se is rather aseptic. We are not dealing with a misleading use of the terms per se, but it is surely relevant.
This implies that the viral aspect is fundamental as the users are finding themselves enrolled in those social networks which actually provide most connections. Even if better instruments could exist, it is because of these connections that one goes to Facebook rather than to another network. These platforms are fed through different modalities, but the viral aspect is important as activation energy. In this work we played a lot. The users did their Seppukoo, as there was somebody else they trusted, who did it before them. The element of the connection was somehow sponsoring the game, it was its bearing element.
The idea was that of using marketing strategies similar to those of Facebook or Twitter, capsizing them. The metaphor of a suicide has been a mean for reaching people, but it was of fundamental importance that it had not to be the final mean for inducing users to it, joining all their connection in a viral way, so reaching the network.
Loretta Borrelli:Usually, when analysing the new ways of production, one tends to put the work and free time on the same level, it seems that the so called “prosumer is now a basic element for capitalism. One doesn’t speak no more of “reproduction of capital”, but rather of “valorisation of subjectivities in a constant creative process”. Over time there was a lot of political debates about possible answers to this situation, that influenced in a more or less direct way even arts.
Do you think that your work follows this direction? In other words, did you think about a possible option, or an alternative way? Do you think you suggested such a direction with Suicide Machine, or do you think that the approach to the artistic work has to be different?
Gordan Savicic (Suicidemachine):We consider the web2.0 suicidemachine as a socio-political net-art piece. Most web2.0 users are not fully aware that by interacting with those platforms they are delivering data which is used for targeted advertisment and market analysis. A positive outcome of the media stir about Facebook and the web2.0 suicidemachine are the reactions and discussions people are starting about issues related to privacy, intellectual property and abusive use of social networks. There has been a growth in the technology for information sharing but not a commensurate education in what information we should share.
Guy McMusker (Seppukoo): Being present on a social network can be considered as political act from several viewpoints. Users are aware that these platforms are a source of profit for some, in fact they actually get paradoxically surprised when they find services that are completely free. This being about an unspoken acceptance causing a tendency to underestimate quite a number of things. It clearly is a a totally naive attitude, considering that it is utterly unlikely that such forgoing would not be detrimental for some aspect of our lives.
All individuals are almost truly persuaded to be have the ability to improve their identities, hence they are driven to show off the best image possible of themselves. This leads to the illusion of having under control substantial identity as well. The margin of manipulation available is wider than the one you have in real life. Therefore you tacitly accept to be manipulated by the platform.
Recent Mark Zuckerberg statements clearly show which is the actual aim of such a kind of framework. Everything must be visible. Everyone has to show everything he has or does, otherwise means that he has some suspicious reason to not to.
Thinking about suicide as a ‘viral’, we conceived it as a sort of involuntary form of strike. A massive accounts deactivation might potentially represent a denial of this supervalorization of oneself’s virtual body, hence put into action what the Tiqqun group calls a human strike. Each person missing implied the lack of all the person’s contacts as well. Seppuko project was created to shift an individual action onto a a collective stage through the mechanism of viral invitations. The more people were disconnecting from Facebook, the more they were somehow creating a group of subject denying their individuality with all the consequences this implied in economic terms. All this obviously consists in a symbolic hint, which has also been the first one being blocked.
The fact that we do not consider shaking off this production system an impossible task, brought us to play on the ritual of committing suicide as a last deed of honor, when there is no escape. It is difficult to actually completely disconnect from Facebook, since in someway data about you remain frozen there. This one is another aspect we wanted to point out. In the very moment I allow an account to be deactivated and underline the option register again, I make the persistence of our data being on servers, out of our control, noticeable.
In this overlook, the invitation to rediscover anonymity on the web was supposed to be hint rather than a direction on what to do. We have received emails from users apologizing for not still having committed seppuko, almost as if the fact of not having committed suicide on Facebook yet, was actually a problem.
Loretta Borrelli:The increasing attention on these platforms to identity and to the developement of user interfaces that allows deceptive expression of individuals raised some doubts about the idea of network as a form of “non-hierarchical and horizontal democracy”. Do you think the idea of network still preserves undamaged potentials? What were the reasons for these doubts, in your opinion? They can be, for instance, the user interface settings? Or the structuring of relationships? Or the idea of “individual built in such ways?
Gordan Savicic (Suicidemachine): The idea of a “non-hierarchical and horizontal democracy” is nothing new and has been dreamed off in the beginning of the Internet already. Even the technology they use haven’t changed that drastically. What did change is what Lazzarato defines as the production of subjectivity which becomes directly productive and is no longer stored on the user’s harddisk.
Guy McMusker (Seppukoo): The concept of network does without any doubt keep bearing potential. In Facebook specific case though, the network is bounded to profit. It has been sometimes said that this kind of platforms give unexpected possibilities of counterinformation. Still, they are led by companies holding the power to delete accounts whenever it is needed. We most of all reacted to the rhetoric associated to the web. Twitter, for instance, is being alleged of being a tool that facilitated Iranian activists’ actions. In our case, it was clear that when a media is being questioned, this one having been deviously disguising as a model of society, well at that point many obstructions actions occur.
They acquired incredible power, being in some cases considered as only one means of counterinformation, although in this case they clearly proved they have the possibility to forbid you to speak. The idea that there always has to be a criticism, a non total acceptance of the tools, goes beyond the matter of network. The network does have potentials, it depends on who manages it, that is what makes the difference.
Loretta Borrelli: Facebook’s reaction to your work was very aggressive indeed. Why, according to you, was a very popular social network so frightened by a small website such yours?
Gordan Savicic (Suicidemachine): I guess they just want to make sure that the walled garden they’ve created is not disturbed by artistic interventions. Sending a C&D letter is a quite usual reaction by big companies to threaten people and showcase their power. If 2.0 suicides are becoming chiq, Facebook will have a hard time to keep their (already fragile) business model alive within the social network soup of platforms. The success of the web 2.0 suicidemachine relies on its simplistic interface. The slick and catchy design promises an elegant way of opting out. By using the same user-interface techniques as web2.0 startup companies, it has been reviewed as some kind of company offering a deletion tool for virtual friendship and the new narcissm.
Guy McMusker (Seppukoo): Frankly, we were surprised of an action we have thought being deleterious for them, from a media point of view. Such a reaction was manifestly in contradiction with the rhetoric of freedom they bring on and we would have rather expected them to use other ways to put us in trouble. It is not actually suicide they are afraid of, but mostly all that orbits around the idea of privacy as property. In July we found out that a legal letter was sent to an online service (www.power.com) that basically worked in the same way as our system and asked for Facebook access credentials, in order to allow the managing of several social networks at the same time.
Whilst with some social networks it can be possible to be done, Facebook categorically forbids its users to use accounts access informations for services furnished by third parts. Doing this it shows the will of not to have any kind of intermediaries, since in case there would be any, economic profits would be lacking, hence this is the reason of their aggressiveness. Facebook action has become a fundamental part of the project, from the suicide stage we asked ourselves the question about whose are these simple informations as usernames and passwords? They are so sure users will not leave the platform whatsoever that they take license to do actions openly in contrast with what they promise.