Academic journal article Afterimage

Reconfiguring the System: RTMark and Agricola De Cologne

Academic journal article Afterimage

Reconfiguring the System: RTMark and Agricola De Cologne

Article excerpt

The 1990s were a fabulous time for opportunists, visionaries, and entrepreneurs. With the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web, the potential to communicate with a global audience, with relatively little expense. appealed to many. While a number of people wanted to get in on a piece of the action by creating a start-up or at least investing in one, there were some artists, visionaries, and activists who saw the Web as a democratizing force--an opportunity to give the "little guy" a voice and find a global audience for their special interests.

A widely known art activist group that began using the Internet as its tool of communication in the 1990s is the anonymous collective named RTMark (also known as [R]TMARK, and pronounced "art-mark"). The group uses the Internet and the Web as a platform to raise awareness of social and corporate injustices, to build community, and ultimately to foster change. The group's Web site acts as a clearinghouse for tactical media projects. The RTMark site ( touts, "Since 1996, the RTMark brand has accrued value by providing key services to artists, activists and the intellectual community. The RTMark system supports the incubation of cutting-edge cultural ventures, while providing a unique opportunity for private investors to sponsor these activities." (1)

One of the most notable projects that RTMark has engaged in is the Yes Men's World Trade Organization (WTO) parody site, The site, launched in early 2000, looks almost identical to the WTO's official site but has been modified to generate critical discourse about the policies and proposals of the WTO. The site spawned invitations to attend conferences by visitors who thought that they were conferring with the actual WTO, which the Yes Men accepted. The resulting outcome can be seen in the documentary The Yes Men (2003) by Dan Ollman, Sarah Price, and Chris Smith, who follow the activists' antics as they act as spokesmen for the WTO.

I recently met with "Max Kauffman," one of the RTMark members who joined RTMark six months after its founding in 1996. Kauffman, like other members, prefers to remain anonymous and goes by this pseudonym. Initially, Kauffman became interested in the idea of art as an activist tool after being frustrated by his experiences as an employee of a multinational corporation. Kauffman was concerned with the increasingly materialistic culture and growing margin between people and profit. According to Kauffman, RTMark was built by a network of artists, classmates, and activists who found one another at the rise of the Internet in the mid-1990s.

Despite the eclectic projects, RTMark's tactics are clear. Kauffman asserts, "We come from the tradition of Jonathan Swift and A Modest Proposal [1729]--the idea of couching sharp social commentary in the guise of satire." (2) An important project RTMark completed in 1999 was aiding an Austrian art group, etoy, in a lawsuit filed by over the use of the domain name EToys claimed the Web site was hurting their sales. Linked by the Internet community, which made the debate international news, an outpouring of support helped etoy get their domain back, and the arts organization is still in existence today. The Internet helped RTMark achieve its goal of promoting and aiding activists' projects. As Kauffman says, "RTMark is a clearinghouse for ideas of resistance to corporate abuses of power. I don't think RTMark could have existed without the rise of network culture." (3)


In Cologne, Germany, Agricola de Cologne uses the Internet to create thematic social sculptures. By linking to other artists and curatorial projects, de Cologne builds community with like-minded thinkers. As a result, he has created what he describes as, "a dynamic network including countless projects, artists, curators, institutions, and organizations; without them, my work would not exist. …

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