An Interview with Franco and Eva Mattes aka
Nitewalkz: Can you please introduce yourself and your work?

Franco Mattes: We're a duo known as What we do is called Media Hacking, NetArt, Culture Jamming or whatever, but none of this is a perfect description of our work.

Nitewalkz: What is "Culture Jamming"?

Franco Mattes: The word "Culture Jamming" has been made up by Negativland in the beginning of the 90ies. After it was quoted by Naomi Klein in her book “No Logo!” and the Adbusters it became famous.

Eva Mattes: "Culture Jamming" is the natural instinct of people to take things and manipulate things that are already there and put them together to make something different out of them: To mix symbols of everydays life and make some creative work out of it.

Franco Mattes: It's somehow like a collage using contemporary materials from different directions. Not only visual material, but radiowaves, sounds etc. Without asking for permission.. That is very important for “Culture Jamming”! Things are there and you should be able to use them without asking for permission, because they are Public Domain: Symbols, Ideas, Music, Slogans, Logos and so on…

Nitewalkz: Your biggest project so far was Nikeground. Can you exlain the idea of “Nikeground”?

Franco Mattes: “Nikeground” was a performance which we started in September 2003 in Vienna in collaboration with Public Netbase. The basic idea was to claim that Nike was pulling out a new Guerilla-Marketing-Super-Large-Skilled-Media-Campaign named “Nikeground”. The campaign consists of buying and renaming famous places in all major cities of the world. So you would have Piazza Nike as well as Plaza Nike, Nike Beach, Nikestreet, Nikestraße and so on. The first of the places to be renamed was the historical Karlsplatz in Vienna. We claimed that in January 2004 the Karlsplatz will be renamed to Nikeplatz.

We initiated a big marketing and media campaign. We had a massive flyer distribution in the public transports and a “NikeStyle”-Website: But the main attraction was the Nike-Infobox, an eight-ton high-tech highly-designed container with a floor elevator.

Eva Mattes: It had to be very fancy to make it more believable that Nike started the campaign.

Franco Mattes: The container was installed in the middle of Karlsplatz and three fake Nike representatives worked in it and we’ve had a telephone line for feedback. Then we started spreading the news of the renaming and the installation of a big monument in the middle of the Karlsplatz: The Nike “Swoosh”. 36 meters long and 18 meters tall.

This really pissed of the citizens of vienna because they didn’t want that huge plastic monument shit in the middle of their main square. The city council quickly denied their involvement in the campaign, claiming the reason, that since World War II it is impossible to rename streets and places in Austria unless the names look similar to other names. To avoid messing up the mailing system. The citizens became angry for different reasons: Some argued about Nike exploiting people in sweatshops all around the globe, others wanted a public referendum for such a big decision. But the main reaction was surprisingly: “If the city can make a lot of money out of it… let them do it!”, or: “They own everything anyway, so why don`t we let them pay for it? Maybe we can exchange the renaming of the square with less advertisement in the streets.”.

Eva Mattes: And then there was Nike’s reaction. The first day we opened this big container they came to check who’s behind the action. They issued a press release which was stating that they’ve nothing to do with that action. We tried to explain them, that we were doing a cultural project and that we liked the idea of using the Nike-Logo, because it is omnipresent. We see it everyday since we are born, so why can’t we use it for a cultural project? Everyday landscape is full of logos and many artists are using landscapes for their work.

Nike didn’t agree with this arguments. We received a legal injunction that said that we have to withdraw or erase any reference to Nike’s name and logo within 72 hours otherwise we they’ll start a legal battle about 78.000 Euro against us. We decided to erase nothing until the end of the month. At the end there was a trial and their request was refused, because our attorney could explain that we did a cultural project and we’re not another company fighting against Nike. So they had to accept the possibilty for people to use their symbols in art and cultural works.

Nitewalkz: What reaction did you want to provoke? What was the purpose of the action?

Franco Mattes: We didn’t do it to provoke any reaction. We never do things to obtain a direct reaction. We wanted to trick an entire city and any reaction was welcome. Probably we expected to have more protests and not: “Nothing is ever happen in Vienna. At least it is better than nothing…”

Nitewalkz: Let us talk about Darko Maver? Who was he?

Franco Mattes: Darko Maver was a project we started in 1998 and which went on to the year 2000. It was about creating a non-existing artist and meaking him popular. We created the character of Darko Maver, who was born in former jugoslavia with a very stereotypical biography. The perfect artist: He lived a totally bohemian live, no parents, no art schools, problems with drugs and with authority in general and so on. So we could be shure that such a character would attract the attention of the media world immediately and they would jump on him as the new “mode artist” from eastern-europe.

The fictional Darko Maver was building very realistic murder scences with mannequin puppets – in a kind of splatter-movie style – which he leaves in public spaces (train stations, public toilets, hotel rooms etc.). He sets up this very violent and crazy and realistic situations waiting for unaware people to discover them and to provoke a media reaction. No mannequin ever existed and no Serbian newspaper ever reported Darko Maver’s performances. The images, that have been believed as "lifesize mannequin" are actually photos of real crimes, horrifying images of corpses freely available on the Internet.

The interesting and sick aspect of the story was the matryoshka-like structure. What Darko Maver was doing in the fiction - creating realistic scenes to provoke media reaction - was the same thing that we – - were doing in the reality. We were showing Darko Maver’s work in exhibitions and galleries, we faked press coverage and curriculums … what ever you need to do to push the career of an artist. When we finally thought that we had enough of him – the media attention was on the top – we killed him, because that would raise his attraction even higher. As you know a dead artist is better than a living one. When we were invited to the biennale in venice in 1999 we told the public that Darko Maver never existed. It was of course a big scandal in the media and art world. But I really want to make clear that Darko Maver was not a prank against art institutions, galleries or magazines at all. Most of this people knew that it was fake an they collaborated with us. The project was more to prove that art can be created and planned and even be succesful if you're doing the right things with the right people in the right way.

We wanted to dismantle the way an artist is promoted and created by turning these mechanisms upside down...

Nitewalkz: Your latest project is United We Stand. What is it about?

Franco Mattes: “United We Stand” is a promotional campaign for a non-existent movie. The “movie” is called "United We Stand" and the subtitle is: “Europe Has A Mission!”. The campaign started with the production of a poster, which features five actors. Two of them are Ewan McGregor and Penelope Cruz. On the center of the poster is a big european flag and under the flag you can see to armies fighting each other: The Chinese and the US-Army. This is a situation that seems predictable in the near future for many analysts. They state that in about ten years the United States will have to declare War on China. Due to economical reasons. The screenplay of the movie is about the european president – a very handsome and charming guy – who immediately calls for a task force: five high-trained specialist known as the german, the italian, the english, the spanish and the french guy. This task force has the mission to avoid the global war between China and the USA without brutal force. European Style!

We've already promoted the movie with a huge poster campaign in Berlin, Brussel, Barcelona, New York City, Bangalore (India), Vienna and Bologna.

Eva Mattes: It is supposed to be a european propaganda movie - produced by Europe - to upgrade its dusty iconography. A big budget movie to make people feel the "European Spirit”.

Nitewalkz: Which Is?

Franco Mattes: I`ve no idea. And nobody knows

Eva Mattes: That’s the question of the movie. We want people to think about what Europe should be. Should it be as patriotic and strong as the USA? Or should it show the cultural variety and diversity of Europe?

Franco Mattes: When you start asking people to “Act as a European!” or “Be European!” they don’t know how to act. There is no european stereotype. You’ve got german stereotypes - blonde hair and drinking beer -, italian guys – good looking and always trying to cheat anybody – and english – red head and always drunken – and so on. But there is no unifying european stereotype and maybe it'll never be. But why? Think of Peter Fonda in “Easy Rider”, think of his leather jacket with the european flag instead of the US-flag on it. It’s amazingly stupid. Or: Jasper Jones. Imagine his work with the european flag. This makes people laughing. But again, why?

Are we laughing because we don’t need a stupid brand like the USA? Or are we laughing out of frustration, because we don’t have this kind of imaginery and we’re not able to build it? Or are we laughing because we know that one day we’ll have such kind of imaginery: A large superpowerful nation instead of small independent countries?

Eva Mattes: The project is a piracy of hollywood propaganda movies like “Saving Private Ryan” or “Black Hawk Down”. Those movies are badly camouflaged as action movies which shows their intellectual poverty. Our movie is more ambigiuous: Somehow it is making fun of these movies and on the other hand it asks the question: What do you want to be? What does Europe want?

Nitewalkz: Is your work meant to be Communication Guerilla?

Franco Mattes: You can call it what you want: Communication Guerilla, InfoWar, Hacking Art, Media Activism, Media Hoaxing or simply pure art.

Nitewalkz: Are you both artists or some kind of left-wing political activists?

Franco Mattes: (laughing) None of that, but rather artists.

Nitewalkz: So how would you describe yourselves??

Franco Mattes: Usually we say we are spectators because we are staging paradoxical situations and then we’re sitting in the armchair and watch what happens.

Nitewalkz: Situations! Do you know the book Society Of The Spectacle by Guy Debord? Are you influenced by the Situationist International?

Franco Mattes: I’ve never read that book and none of their publications and i’m really surprised that in europe our work is always beeing compared to the Situationist International. We just don’t know them and we’re too young for beeing part of that movement.

Eva Mattes: We’re much more influenced by pop culture and…

Franco Mattes: …american drugs…, people, pranksters like Joey Skaggs or the KLF of the mid-90ies, Dada, Futurism

Nitewalkz: KLF considered themselves as Situationists…

Eva Mattes: The KLF are wrong!

Nitewalkz: Would you agree with the opinion that billboards and advertisements are a pollution of public space?

Eva Mattes: In a way… since it is there and you can do nothing against it. The only way to survive that pollution is to use it in a creative way.

Franco Birkut: I’m used to them. I was born in this society and it did not come from the moon or another planet. It’s like TV, playstation, techno music etc. It doesn’t bother me. This is my world. I’ve never been in world without billboards and i also can’t imagine a world without trees. Maybe I would like it, maybe not.

Nitewalkz: Do you think the way information is distributed is affecting the content of that information?

Franco Mattes: No. I think that McLuhan was basically wrong. The medium is NOT the message, but the message is the message. Tools are overvaluated. There is too much discussion on tools and the way information is distributed and perceived. Let’s concentrate all energy on the content and not on the container or the tools.

Eva Mattes: The more information from different sources and directions you can get, the more precise is your idea of what’s going on. I would put them all on the same level.

Nitewalkz: What is your opinion on contemporary copyrights?

Franco Mattes: Totally outdated. Todays copyrights are not a protection for the artists but for the distributors. Labels, big art institutions, publishers and multinational film distributors.

Eva Mattes: The distribution of culture should be more important than the law that protects single works.

Franco Mattes: The free distribution and the fair use of culture is not in contradiction with the fact that an artist is getting paid for his work.

E.g.: The Free Software Movement. Linux showed that you can survive and even win against super-giant multinational software companies. Or Negativland: They do music since 1981 without copyrights and they survived. Or Wu-Ming: Five italian novelists whom are offering their books for free download.

We sell limited copies of the same content signed and numbered which we’re offering to download from our website for free. And we’re investing the money we earned to preserve the free distribution of content. The author rights were basically super-democratic when they were invented hundred of years ago. They allowed single people to be independent of religious or political institutions. Today copyright is doing the opposite: Restricting the possibilities for an artist… and slowing down the cutural development instead of improving it.