Fair Use (Notes from Spam)

By O'Reilly, Sally | Art Monthly, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Fair Use (Notes from Spam)


O'Reilly, Sally, Art Monthly


Graham Parker, Fair Use (Notes from Spam), Bookworks, 2009, edition of 1000, full colour, five booklets in a slip case, 14.95 [pounds sterling], 978 1 906012 04 5.

Where profit is the main priority and wealth the most effective way of inflating one's happiness rating, it would make sense that the methods by which money and goods are transported and administrated are the jugulars of such an organism. Indeed, just as the stagecoach was vulnerable to the highwayman of 17th-century Britain and the railroad was instrumental to the conman in 19th-century United States, so the internet is now prey to spamming--the process by which an anonymous assailant tries to separate us from our money.

Graham Parker's Fair Use (Notesfrom Spam), 2009, comprises five booklets brought together in a slipcase, each one relating and ruminating on contemporary and historical instances of economic delinquency, filtered passage and human weakness. Petrol Liar, for instance, relates an encounter with one of those 'desperate people' who stop strangers in the street to ask for petrol money so they can visit their ailing mother, wife in labour or some other emotive fabrication that is impossible to reject, no matter how transparent the lie. Parker touches on the psychological mechanisms involved in this particular brand of ruse, identifying the various strains of self-consciousness that the 'petrol liar' manipulates. In Spectres of Marks this is developed further in an essay that begins with the gravestone of Benjamin Marks, who gave his name to the sucker who is fleeced by the conman and was instrumental in the development of the 'Long Con' and the 'Big Store', which thrived as the US rail network spread it tendrils. Parker notes the aggregate of greed appealed to in a mark that falls for promises of bounteous returns on often not inconsiderable investments.

Narrow Gauge, meanwhile, considers the phenomenon of email spam in relation to the French town of Portbou. The border town was historically instrumental partly because of the difference between rail gauges in France and Spain, and thrived on the boredom of travellers often obliged to wait for many hours while the trains' wheelbases were changed. During the Second World War it became a major point of departure for those fleeing occupied Europe, and was where Walter Benjamin was found dead, thought to have committed suicide on the news that his exit papers were not in order and that he would consequently be handed over to the Gestapo. In The Wire--a collation of spam emails that promise increased performance with vitality or the best vitamins, announce the lucky winners of a 'flash fortune lotto' or offer a fully verifiable diploma Parker formulates metaphors for the process of screening and clearing spam. He suggests that the experience of and activity on the internet is not unlike the grand tour, where journeying takes precedence over destination, and that resistance and obstructed or monitored passage are not simply analogous to, but an extension of regimes of control and surveillance (and its abuse), which are themselves atavistic impulses.

Parker is predominantly an artist, and a number of images of his work run throughout the booklets: each cover bears one of a series of neons, for instance, that declare words and phrases gathered from spam subject fields. …

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