Employee 12995: Programmed To Obey
By Thom Fowler
Posted 02/01/02 13:59:10
Wesley Thomas Meyer has been called a “socio-political” artist. His interactive, immersive short “film”, More, Inc. was featured in the 2001 Sundance Online Film Festival. The short is actually Flash animation that prompts the user, who takes on the role of employee 12995, to complete a series of inane and absurd tasks, conditioning employee 12995 to numbly accept the demands placed on him by corporate culture.
While you are given “choices”, you are required to choose at least four tasks from a menu of equally disturbing options before your work day is complete and you are allowed to go home.
The short follows employee 12995 past the job and into “life after work” where home is a completely rational storage container for worker X. At home, you are allowed to choose from a few trite, time wasting events until bedtime when his dreams unfold into mental derangement with the potential of rediscovering the unique “self”.
The map of a suburban division looks like the layout of a prison with neatly ordered rows of numbered cells.
Making a different combination of choices will lead to different scenarios. While rediscovery of the authentic self is one possibility, there is also the possibility of being relegated to a modern day Sisyphus, who had to roll a boulder up a hill just to have to roll it back down so he could roll it up again. It was a punishment, he wasn’t supposed to be able to complete the task.
The imagery and the involvement of the user will evoke strange and startling realizations. Doing it is showing you something as much as watching it.
Wes Meyer’s work has been featured by New Radio's Turbulence.org web site and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona. More, Inc. can be played at www.sundanceonlinefilmfestival.org/sundance/newforms/more_inc.html. Mighty Mighty, another short can be seen at www.drunkenboat.com and doglatin.org. Meyer is twenty-three and holds a BFA from the University of New Mexico.
Thom: How do you define "social-political" art?
Wes: My art leans more to the social than the political. I'm not pushing a political agenda. I identify with the political in the phrase because I assume corporations and the government are the same thing. What I'm after is "mental environmentalism". In the same way every smoke stack, car exhaust, and oil spill effects our physical environment; every advertisement, campaign slogan, and intra-corporate moral building initiative effects our mental environment. In our culture these psychological factors have the same toxic effect as the physical factors I've equated them to. Art has a place in all this in the sense that it can enter our society's media stream and hopefully have a more positive effect.
Thom: What was the inspiration for More, Inc?
Wes:More-Inc. is largely the production of personal experience. The entire time I was in art school I was employed by a certain "world's largest media company" (who's name I will not mention). I had the whole package: a number, joint custody on a cubicle by the window, and an ever expanding supply of t-shirts that said things like "Go Team" and "We're #1". I met a lot of people that were really taken in by all that. I saw people completely lose touch with their individuality, and I witnessed how much their loss benefited the company. More-Inc was inspired by a desire to provide people with a situation where they may be able to question how their employment effected their identity and self image. As the project evolved it began to lose its exclusively "insider" tones, and allowed entry into the work for people who may not be directly employed by Mega-Corps.
Thom: Did suburban ennui drive you to art school?
Wes:No. I did not spend high school sitting alone in my room writing in some journal that I never showed to anyone. I was more of a suburban terrorist and art school helped to mellow me out a bit.
Thom: What are some of your ultimate fears, for yourself, for the world.
Wes:To find myself living in a place where art is marginalized, capitalist pig-fuckers own and control everything, and my value as a human being is determined only by the size of my SUV and the number of features available on my cell-phone. Oh my god...
Thom: Ultimate dreams, for yourself, for the world.
Wes:I allowed myself to forget that question. Honestly I'm too great an optimist to not come off sounding all sappy when asked about my dreams. Here's my best effort:
I make work like More-Inc because I feel I have to. I look around and I can't stop myself from being consumed with ideas like that. In my ideal world, I wouldn't have to do that because the social problems I get caught up in would either be minimal or nonexistent. This would free my mind to do thing I really enjoy like photographing my amazing fiancée or maybe taking a few years to go to culinary school. That's what I'd want for everyone. I don't mean I'd want everyone photographing my fiancée, I mean I'd like everyone to have the chance to do what they really want to do, not just what the TV tells them is fun or relaxing.
Thom: What interests you more, design or communication?
Wes:A trick question to me. You can't communicate if your work is so painfully ugly no one will look at it, but there is nothing more disappointing than beautiful and intellectually vacant work. I want effect. To even come close to that you have to have both.
Thom: I like the simplicity of Mighty Mighty and the absurdity of More, Inc. Do you seek to affect change?
Wes:I do. And I seek change on a broad scale. The idea of mental environmentalism doesn't work if you only reach a select group. The danger in using art for this goal is you run the risk of only effecting that tiny demographic slice of our population that has an interest in art. I seek to effect change on a broader demographic level, so I create work that reaches out of the exclusive and into the more common and populist.
Thom: You single out the suburban and corporate condition, what is it that draws you to illustrate these two things.
Wes:If my intent is to effect change on a broader demographic level then I have to select content that speaks more about the human condition than exclusive and theoretical topics. If someone is looking at internet art they likely have a home and a job, and have feelings about these things. The corporate condition is a place where anyone can see there are a lot of problems. Corporations are buying our lives and then selling them back to us.
Thom: And why with as much bleakness and intensity as you do?
Wes:There really is not room for being gray with my goals. You have to either have the dial on 0 or 11.
Thom: Who is your audience?
Wes:I think we're clear on that by now
Thom: How do you define "success"?
Wes:As something I won't see for a long time. My work has goals that at the very best will take decades to fulfill. More Inc is 8 months old and has gone to places like Turbulence.org, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona, and the Sundance Film Festival. These places are fantastic artistic venues, but are still demographically narrow. I'll feel more successful when I get more emails from managers complaining that everyone in their office was playing with More-Inc instead of pushing along the company business.
Thom: While it seems like a lot of theory goes into your work, what do you imagine is the raw effect on someone without an educated perspective?
Wes:More-Inc is diabolically in both worlds. My professors and colleagues make references to Kafka and Dante, and people at work say it's like this Dilbert cartoon or an episode of the Simpsons they really liked. Regardless of their education they all seem to find a few things about the work they can relate to their life.
Thom: It may seem like a ways off, but do you plan on exploring other forms?
Wes:I see many new forms on the computer. To say computer art is only one thing is like saying there is only one type of sculpture. New forms of data-basing, hacktivism, and expansion into portable and wireless devices are very interesting to me.
Thom: Are you working on any current projects?
Wes:I'm breaking ground on some new work right now. I'm refining my interactive capacities to find a way to make the new work more artificially intelligent. More-Inc and Mighty Mighty are both semi-intelligent as they mutate via a series of random variables so they never play the same way twice. I'd like to extend that further to have these "mutagines" in the work determined by more environmental factors such as stock prices, news headlines, or current voting lines in congress.
Thom: What are you current obsessions? List at least five without thinking.
Wes: warning labels, box cutters, furnitureporn.com, Ashley Kruger, Empire Earth
Thom: Do you hope your audience will come to you or are you looking for ways to intersect with your audience?
Wes:I seek my audience by the way the work is created. By tailoring content and delivery for my audience I feel it naturally finds them. This is a major factor in why I produce art on the Internet. I feel art that can only appear in galleries and museums has a much harder time finding a broad audience than a medium that is wired directly into millions of homes and business.
Of course there is the issue of how they find my web page among the millions of other web pages. That's where I find my audience often times comes to me. By checking log files on my server I can find little points in the day were somebody forwarded the site to a bunch of friends or co-workers.
Add to this the attention from groups like Turbulence and Sundance, and you get very effective word of mouth advertising. Honestly I've done very little to promote the piece after it's creation. I've never sent a press release or even registered on a search engine.
Thom: Will you do commercial work when it comes your way?
Wes:I'm very hard to work with, and not very commercially viable. I've turned down or scared off as many commercial projects as I've taken.
Thom: Do have a hard time reconciling commercial art and art for arts sake?
Wes:No it's easy to reconcile it...it's crap. I live in New Mexico. There have been dozens of great artists to live and work here. However, we're also the home to what has to be the biggest, tackiest commercial art scene in the world. The are hundreds of thousands of "southwest style" this's and that's that somebody who claims to be an artist will custom build to match your couch, carpet, or curtains. This would drive some people nuts, it just makes me laugh.
Thom: Are you familiar with Rtmark?
Wes:Igor Vamos (and friends) is one of my personal heroes. Rtmark consistently produces Solid concepts and perfect delivery on every idea. I don't like to dilute what they do by calling most of it art. It's activism. My most favorite project currently on their site is the Yes Men collaboration in Finland. I wonder if they'd let me borrow one of those suits.
Thom: Who would you recommend I look into for an article about artists with a similar concern as you?
Wes:The first place I would send you to would be Rtmark, but you've got that covered. ADbusters is also a fantastic organization. Both their web site (www.adbusters.org) and magazine are well worth looking into.