009 – fusion – Anonymous: The Void in Visual Culture
Dr Sam Bowker and Professor Craig Bremner, Charles Sturt University, Australia
The Breach of Anonymity: From the Spoon to the City
It would be easy to say the history of anonymity is the product of history itself. The further back we go, the less we know about who authored what. But the need to know the origins and authorship of everything has only relatively recently become an obsession. Before we became obsessed with knowing and therefore possessing, we didn’t need to know maker’s names because the things illustrated their own relationships (think of jewellery). In addition to not knowing the origins of things there was also a long-term durational stream of production where the form was really the author – again not of products but of relationships (think of the traditional Chinese ceremonial robe or the men’s suit). Above all there has been a long history stretching into the present of the production of relationships by collaboration (think of cities). By deferring to complex relations as explanations for objects and other manifestations of visual culture, individual names are conveniently omitted and overlooked.
This issue of fusion is a response to the increase in value, in every sense of that word, of authorship at the expense of anonymity and the impact this has had on things around us. This revaluation is a product of the projects of culture and capital (now synonyms) and the two vectors that shape value in the Capital project are price and quantity producing four value propositions;
- lots of cheap things is a straight forward price proposition (e.g. hamburgers)
- lots of expensive things is a brand proposition (e.g. motor cars)
- few cheap things is a craft proposition (e.g. embroidery)
- few expensive things is an authorship proposition (e.g. Picasso)
Its obvious from this simple formula that making lots of expensive things is the most profitable position to be in so branding has become the most desirable strategy of everyone making everything. Then the currency of the brand has risen sharply as economies shifted from the production of goods to services – i.e. from things to nothing. A service has to be visible so it can be perceived, experienced and repeated so its needs a brand identity and then a character so it can be personalised to each of us. We eventually author our own service and become loyal to the brand.
The stubborn persistence of the anonymous reminds us of our relational humanism and inadvertently exposes the dark history behind Capital’s ambitions for authorship and brand. The anonymous object covers up the murky history of trade by stripping commodities such as livestock, criminals and slaves, of their individual names and agency. Even land – terra incognita– can be stripped of sovereignty and rendered fit for exploitation by the imposition of anonymity, as places without names on maps are free for the taking. Capital aestheticised the brand and transfigured authorship towards increasingly profitable proprietary names.
In this issue of fusion – Anonymous: The Void in Visual Culture – eight authors have stepped into the void to revisit the relational value of anonymity. They have produced a robust brace for visual culture’s anonymous backbone.
Professor Craig Bremner
Table of Contents
- Anonymous: The Void in Visual Culture – Sam Bowker
- Calling Things by their Real Names: Anonymity and artistic online production during the Syrian uprising – Charlotte Bank
- Performative Portraiture – Tony Curran
- Unarticulated Labour: Anonymity in an Artist-Led Space – Lucy Elvis and Gino Querini
- Anonymous Objects as Exhibition Organisms – Ruth Sacks
- Anonymous was an Embroiderer – Sue Wood
- Who Made Me? – The Anonymity of the Blade – Karl Cook and Sam Bowker
- Anonymous Ancestor – Christopher Orchard