Written by Domenico Quaranta
On the creative panorama of UBERMORGEN.COM, which ranges from the cold aesthetic of conceptual art, to the functional look of diagrams, the minimal semblance of pixels, the anonymity of reportage and the retro feel of noir and teletext, SUPERENHANCED stands out for its attractive, glossy, almost glamorous look. It is as if the torture team at Guantanamo had hired UBERMORGEN.COM to work on an image campaign to relaunch the popularity of practices getting a hard time in the media, such as Enhanced Interrogation and Extraordinary Rendition. UBERMORGEN.COM as the Oliviero Toscani of the CIA...
But while it is true that UBERMORGEN.COM, as in other projects, sacrifices a direct attack for the oblique and subtle strategy of overidentification, it is also true that it would be difficult to imagine a harsher condemnation of torture and its reappearance in a legalized, no less abhorrent, guise.
UBERMORGEN.COM adopts the language of marketing, because this is precisely what countries are now using to revamp and justify practices that, in name only, they eradicated decades ago. This ascetic, functional, hypocritical language, where “Cold Cell” means exposure to extreme cold before interrogation, “Waterboarding” is a controlled form of drowning, “Attention Slap” is a beating, “Extraordinary Rendition” means kidnapping, and “Enhanced Interrogation” is torture, from its mildest to most brutal forms (where the death of the prisoner is regarded as “collateral damage”) is the weak link in the phenomenon, and it is there that SUPERENHANCED strikes. It hits home with images that are both beautiful and terrible, featuring none other than the youngest members of UBERMORGEN.COM, Lola Mae and Billie Ada (aged 2 and 5 respectively). The techniques of Enhanced Interrogation are tested out on them – standing for all the children imprisoned, tortured and sometimes killed in maximum security prisons around the world – and the rest of the UBERMORGEN.COM family, with the stated aim of “acclimatizing and familiarizing ourselves with them”.
The project also features a video, in which various scenes from the studio session when the photographs were taken are accompanied with sitcom-laughter sampled from G.W. Bush speeches; and the Superenhanced Generator), the archive of which is the point of departure for a series of live performances: torture sessions where the actor has no input, but merely conforms to the indications supplied by the generator, based on the users’ opinions on the contemporary use of torture.
In this dumb show, UBERMORGEN.COM insidiously withdraws the spectator’s last, reassuring delusions: that the system is, at the end of the day, principled; that most “enhanced interrogation” is mild; that torture is a form of “collateral damage” in a “necessary” fight against terror, and that overkill is rare, and when it happens, unavoidable. Now we are the ones inflicting those wounds.
(Release Jan 17, 2009)
The fourth episode in the generator tetralogy represents the central nucleus of a complex project dedicated to the contemporary use of torture, featuring prints, videos and performances. Using the slick, efficient marketing-style terms currently used to describe torture, the Superenhanced Generator could be described as a tool of “advanced interrogation” – inspired by the questionnaires used for market research. But one look at the interface of the site, with its top secret document aesthetic, occasionally interrupted by lines blacking out supposedly confidential information, reveals that this is no ordinary questionnaire. The questions, indeed, aim to determine one’s personal preferences concerning the so-called modern techniques of interrogation carried out by security and intelligence agencies, such as “Enhanced interrogation” (basically a legal form of torture) and “Extraordinary Rendition” (the equally ascetic term used to indicate the kidnapping of so-called “potential unlawful combatants” by government agencies such as the CIA and the FBI). During the interrogation (sorry, questionnaire) the Superenhanced Generator questions the user’s stance on these issues, his/her level of patriotism, political views, and how he or she would behave in potentially dangerous situations, and poses questions like: “Is it ok to step on an ant willingly? Who is more important: The System (Country, State, Company) or the individual, the person? How important is it to follow rules in enhanced interrogation? Hatred in the world is best fought by war – yes or no?
The final results of the questionnaire are presented to the user in the form of Rendition Orders and lists of questions for Enhanced Interrogations. The user’s data is also inputted into the generator’s database, which thus gradually becomes a repository of public will. The database also becomes the brain behind a series of live performances, where enhanced interrogations performed by real people are carried out according to the suggestions given by the database. The responses of the users therefore determine whether the Superenhanced Generator subsequently becomes a further instrument of torture, or a tool for civilization.
In February 2009, FPEditions (www.fpeditions.com) will publish the monograph UBERMORGEN.COM (edited by Domenico Quaranta, with contributions by Inke Arns and Jodi.org).