Technologies: Constructor, HTML, SiteBuilder
Keywords: corporate parody, hacktivism, prank, collaboration
"®TMark is indeed just a corporation, and benefits from corporate protections, but unlike other corporations, its 'bottom line' is to improve culture, rather than its own pocketbook; it seeks cultural profit, not financial."
In 2000, the Whitney Biennial included Net Art for the first time; one of the nine online projects selected for exhibition was that of the art-activist group ®TMark (pronounced "art mark" and sometimes spelled RTMark). At the Whitney, the featured Web sites were exhibited on a single computer and projected onto a gallery wall. When museum-goers accessed http://www.rtmark.com, they didn't see the group's regular Web site, which serves as an archive of past and current projects and mimics the language and graphics of corporate sites. Instead, visitors witnessed a revolving showcase of sites -- such as The Backstreet Boys' home page, a Christian university's site, and a pornography outlet -- submitted to the group by friends and fans?''. ®TMark's rebellious act of inclusion could be seen both as a portrait of the Internet at that particular moment in 2000 and as a series of Duchampian readymades.
Subversion is ®TMark's modus operandi. Like other New Media art collectives, such as Etoy, ®TMark's members have largely remained anonymous so they can freely engage in socially conscious sabotage. The artists emphasize the ®TMark brand over their own individual identities in a parody of corporate brand-consciousness. As an actual corporation, ®TMark benefits from the same limitation of liability that protects business owners from legal damages. In other words, ®TMark's corporate status allows its members to promote and participate in anti-corporate and anti-governmental actions without the worry of financial risk or ruin.
The group's provocative actions have indeed sparked legal threats. In 1998, for example, ®TMark helped fund a CD of Beck's illegally sampled songs, "Deconstructing Beck," which was met with an angry letter from Beck's record label. And in 1999, ®TMark launched GWBush.com, a highly convincing spoof of George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign Web site, GeorgeWBush.com. ®TMark's site mocked Bush, and instructed site visitors to conduct informal polls and submit the results to the Bush camp. The GWBush.com site prompted not only a cease-and-desist letter, but also Bush's comment "there should be limits to freedom" -- the latter in response to a reporter's query on ®TMark's action.
With their widespread visibility and influence, ®TMark has helped support other New Media art projects, including eToy's Toywar, a battle against corporate giant eToys' spurious lawsuit to stake a claim to the eToy name. Raising funds for these activities by such imaginative means as auctioning on eBay their tickets to a celebratory dinner for the 2000 Whitney Biennial, ®TMark uses commercial and institutional channels in their critiques of systems of power.