Fotograf Magazine

Jennifer Lyn Morone with Tereza Jindrová

Managing Her Own Life

Where are the roots of the project in which you make yourself
a corporation? I’ve read you were influenced by the Snowden
revelations in 2013, so you started a “protest project” as a part of
your MA studies. Can you go back to these beginnings? And how is
the current project rooted in your previous practice and education in
Sculpture and in Design Interactions? Are there any precursors for
Jennifer Lyn Morone, Inc in your past work?

About the development and how this project is rooted in my previous
work goes something like this… Prior to 2012, my work primarily
concerned the human experience. It was less to do with technology
and more to do with our relationship to the environment (e.g. our
activities that destroy) – projects that aimed at creating communities
and working towards self-sufficiency. Two projects to mention as
examples are ‘Echoes of Man’ and ‘The Garden and the Greenhouse’.
‘Echoes of Man’ is a group of sculptures, casts of human forms (heads,
hands, feet) made from plastic (plastic kitchen wrap and plastic clear
tape). The focus on these specific body parts was because they are
responsible for conceiving of and making our world (with the exception
of other humans). Since the sculptures are made from very thin plastic
and are hollow, they are extremely delicate, representing the fragility of
our human existence threatened by our own creations (such as plastic
and petroleum products) with which we destroy our environment and
therefore ourselves.

‘The Garden and the Greenhouse’ was a public space intervention
that took over a derelict plot of land in front of an artist residency in
Berlin, whose theme was the notion of ‘home’. For me, someone who
didn’t identify with the values of where I was from and who had moved
around a lot, the notion of home was the place where I could put
down roots; a place of nourishment and peace, where I could sustain
myself and others. I proposed turning that plot into a garden, mostly
of vegetables, for the residents. It had a compost, closing at least one
waste stream, and provided a place for rest, to be outside, and made
a space to connect with locals of the community.

A little side note here… It is strange how we, humans, have
removed ourselves so far from what we actually need (food and shelter).
We’ve developed a way of life where we spend so much time doing
things that really aren’t useful or important or make the world better,
essentially just to get those basic things that we need, things that most
people in the past had direct access to. It’s not like this everywhere, but
what I found through the ‘Garden and the Greenhouse’ was that people
are so used to the ways in which we live now (going to the supermarket
to buy the exact same food that was growing in the garden). This was
both sad and frustrating; however, it was revelatory. It will take a lot to
change our ways, even if an alternative is right in front of us: our habits
and behaviours don’t just change easily. The work is called ‘The Garden
and the Greenhouse’ because the following season I built a greenhouse
in the middle of the garden with old windows. It was to become a lab to
work on growing with a closed system of aquaponics, where fish acted
as filters and fertilizing agents.

Far in the past, during my BFA, I looked at society and made
work that was a direct comment and criticism of American life at that
time – the value of work/money/success over family, the prevalence of
reality TV and media showing the worst of ourselves for entertainment
(Jerry Springer), the growing absence of morality, and how the making
of money took over and was detached from ethical boundaries. This is how we have wound up where we are today – where being financially
successful equals being a good person, no matter how you built your
success.

So, this is the type of trajectory my work was on. I made other work,
paintings of clouds and things like that, but I have always had an eye on
how we live, how we have organised ourselves, which really didn’t make
much sense to me. In 2012, I was doing my Masters at the Royal College
of Art. This programme doesn’t exist anymore because it didn’t have
industry relevance. It was called Design Interactions, and we used design
and art to critically examine technology and its impact on society. During
my time there, I was initially interested in in neuroscience.

One of our final projects was about big design…how the world
could be organised. I collaborated with a fellow student, Daniel
Tauber, and we thought about a post-oil London. Qatar has invested
a lot in London, actually owns much of the city. We thought about
how there might be a revolt and that the city would break up into little
municipalities, divided by lifestyle. We then zoomed in on just one
of these communities predominantly made up of scientists, artists,
environmentalist and designers.

In this community, the financial instrument that people used for
trade and services was energy – the Joule. People could create energy
themselves and harness it. We developed equations how to work out the
value of things, such as an apple – including the growing of an apple,
the grower’s efforts, and the calorific quantity of energy actually in the
apple to determine the price of the apple in Joules.

Following, I continued looking more into humans and technology,
from cybernetics and the human as the machine theories of that time
to people’s behaviours and how they’ve changed with technology over
time. I was aware of the lack of a common goal (not aware of the goal
of peace and the spread of democracy since WWII). I researched
different theories of technology, such as technological determinism.
Since I was already thinking about neurology, I began questioning
how digital technologies, particularly how the internet, is rewiring
our brains. René Dubos wrote a wonderful essay titled ‘Trend is not
Destiny’. In it he talks about technology and how we develop it without
much question as to what we are developing it for. We do not seek
first to understand how we want to live and then determine how
what technology we need to build to make that happen. Instead, we
proceed blindly, following trends which do not need to be our destiny.
I think we are in a hyper state of this situation. Updates are the perfect
embodiment of our day and age. We are making little incremental
changes to the dysfunctional systems we have created instead of
thinking about what we really need and then creating that. For example,
we are in a time of post surplus. We do not need Facebook or Google;
we need stronger communities, space, and economic security. We
do not need Amazon, whose sole purpose is to get us to buy more
crap; we need a logistics service that can figure out what needs to
go where in the most efficient way. During this time, I started looking
at people’s behaviours, how the phone became this extension of
ourselves, the growing lifelogging community, the ways in which
people were using social media to create a brand of themselves and
promote it, the ways in which people were telling superficial stories
about themselves through photos and platforms. It all seemed so
ridiculous, egotistical, individualistic – exactly what capitalism thrives
on and companies love. 

Getting back to the birth of this project… It was the summer of 2013,
there was little thought as to how companies like Google and Facebook
made their money, much less that they were collecting personal data.
I was focused on our behaviours with these technologies, scrutinizing our
digital lives against a critical backdrop of the USA and capitalism. I knew
these things mattered and related to each other but was missing a piece
of the puzzle. Meanwhile, I experienced a series of rejections, personal and
professional. These struggles made me question my self-worth and if I had
any value in modern society. In this mental state, I entered into the second
year of my Masters in the autumn. My peers and I were given a brief to
design a protest. By this time, the Snowden revelations had come out.
But the tensions had only started to mount. Privacy was the focal point in
the media. My interest was caught. A melding of my scepticism towards
the American government and corporations became interwoven with the
many months of research of society’s history with technology. I thought
about why the NSA and corporations were collecting all of this data –
yes, possibly to protect and stop threats; yes, definitely to control and
manipulate. But what about the financial incentive? Given my reduced
sense of worth, I came to the conclusion that if the data are considered
valuable then my life, just because it produces data, is as valuable as
anybody else’s. Combined with my previous concerns of automated labour,
degradation of social systems, and the growing wealth gap, this new
realisation of the data industry birthed my protest. This protest would not
take to the streets – it was too abstract. Instead, I spun the surveillance
situation around and investigated how, why and for what companies and governments were collecting these data – from the source, the individual.
I looked further at the nature of the data hunters and the hunt: who
they were, what information they were collecting, who were the buyers.
Eventually, a commonality emerged – all of the data collectors and traders
were the same thing – C-Corporations. They were all registered (born) in
the same place – Delaware – although none of them was based there. This
led me down a rabbit hole of the insidious nature of corporations and that
they are the sociopathic ‘people’ of society.

In the end, I was protesting two things. One, personal data has
a value and is sold; therefore, the producer should have property and
labour rights, control of said data, and access to markets. Two, that
corporate personhood should be abolished.

In essence, the protest was and is to end data slavery and corporate
power. At that time there were zero regulations in place, no way to claim
rights over one’s data or to claim it as personal property. However,
corporations have a myriad of ways to claim ownership and control over
things such as data. The whole thing fused – one way to claim and fight
for my data was to actually become one of the very things I was protesting
– a corporation. I climbed in the suit of the enemy to use their tools and
loopholes to try to turn the tables in our favour.

Have you been influenced by some other artists or by the recent
boom of corporate aesthetics in contemporary art?

Not really influenced. I wasn’t looking to the art world. I was looking
at life and industry. Also, the recent boom was not apparent. When I started this, there were artist whose work I admire and are relative,
such as Heath Bunting, Carey Young, The Yes Men, Lucy Kimbell (Audit,
The LIX Index), Mike Merrill (Kmikeym), Paco Cao (Rent-a-Body), Josh
Begley (Metadata+), Omar Fast, and Marina Abramovic.

You registered yourself as a corporation in 2014. In an interview
you said: “Repurposing the corporate ment ality even further
required me to stop thinking like an individual ab out what I want
and need but what other people want and what c an I offer to meet
their needs. This helped me to determine my services.” – How
has your life changed so far, now that you’re not only “a private
person” anymore? Are you acting differently now?

In general, the project and taking on this perspective has given
me a sense of empowerment, and I definitely try to be less selfish.
I don’t feel worthless anymore, and I don’t seek someone else, such
as a person or company, to instil a sense of worth or value in me. I am
literally in charge and the director of my life, for now. Living like this,
with a corporation, I feel like there are more options and I have more
freedom. I have more privacy than I did before, perhaps because I am
conscious of how I engage with technology. I don’t use Facebook and
I am de-Googling my life.

Corporations are meant to create value in the world – that means
you produce, you don’t consume – whatever you decide to define that
as. You look at the myriads of ways you create waste and try to turn
those streams into value. You define a mission, a purpose, your goals –
all of which can change, but the important thing is that you define them
and work towards them.

I don’t think about going out and getting a job. I have my own
dreams and goals, and there is not one company out there that has the exact same vision as I do. Why would I work on a different
vision? Instead, I think in terms of partnerships and collaborations.
For instance, when I develop new projects I will set up profit-sharing
schemes.

A recent example of value creation is a personal one. My mom got
sick. She needed around the clock care and help navigating the world
of cancer. It was more important to me than anything to be there for
her – she was always there for me. Since I was in charge of myself and
my goals, I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission. My being there
was valuable to her, and was invaluable to me. This was and is the
kind of value I want to create. These are precisely the type of things
we should place more value on in society and support. No job is more
important than taking care of each other.

Living this way has given me an outlet to look at all the things
that I have a problem with in the world and find a way to approach the
subject(s) playfully. If we want to see change in the world we can do it,
but we can also do it creatively and playfully.

What is the value of privacy to you? How ab out the reactions of
your family and friends?

I value my and others’ privacy and I don’t think we should have to put
a price on it. Concerning friends and family, I’m not the one infringing
on their privacy and collecting and profiting off their data. There were
no dramatic reactions.

Is the project working as you expected? What was the biggest
surprise for you? Is the whole thing alr eady profit-making?

The project has yet to be fully realised as was expected. Even the
possibility of it never being fully realised was a possible outcome. When I launched this project, it was the beginning. The journey is part
of the work – and does any journey really turn out as you expected it?
There are goals, sometimes they are lost or unanticipated stops are
made on the way. The three products were such stops. They aren’t
the goal, nor do they get me closer to finalising the project. However,
they allowed me to step back for a moment and refocus and to make
statements about market capitalism.

In a way, I don’t know when or how this project will be fully
realised. This project is really about trying to survive capitalism. Since
capitalism is an evolving thing, the way we live in it is constantly
changing. So it’s hard to devise my “exit plan”.

One of the biggest surprises was just how much better it is to
exist, as an American, as a corporation. It is really shameful.

If you want to know explicitly, if through the sale of data the
company is making a profit, not specifically, and solely because the
structure for that is not ready.

From my point of view, this project has an accelerationist quality.
You said: “I am experimenting, with myself as the subject, to push
the limits to the extreme to provoke change.” – Are you expecting
that it can cause some practical changes also for other people?
Do you plan to provide DOME app to others in the future? In
2014 you were also thinking about a Platform that “would then
combine different people’s information, as this increases the
value of the data, and then sell it to the appr oved markets. Those
that contribute their information would then get a return on their
investment.” – Are you still thinking ab out this?

Yes, it does have an accelerations quality, but not solely. Initially,
I wanted to push to an exaggerated version of where I thought we
might end up. I had no clue we would get there so fast. There were
ways that I could have emulated, such as the crap being made on
YouTube, but I didn’t want to go there, and I didn’t want to exploit
others. In some ways, I fell into the trap that plagues our modern
society: we can comment, criticize, or mock to draw attention to
what we want to change, but it doesn’t really have an effect. Now,
I am focused on working earnestly on those things that might have
a better chance, such as what you mentioned in the question. These,
or versions of these, have always been in the plan, part of the goal,
but they were too big for to build alone. Now, with a bit of a name for
myself on this subject, I can work with other like-minded people and try
to create what might help – not alone but with others.

I am working on DOME and the goal is to make it available to
everyone. More importantly, I am initiating a universal data union.
People who join, hopefully everyone that wants to control their data,
will become a member. This is not an employee type union. The union
will, with its members, define data rights and uses. The union stands
up for its members to companies, governments, whatever situation is
necessary. We need a united voice. The Platform, a cooperative data
broker, is still in the works, too. Anyone interested helping build these
initiatives is welcome.

Currently, I am developing new work (not in the Prague exhibition)
that would show how this could work. A quick version of how it could
work is that everyone who uses DOME has access to the Platform.
The Platform (which serves the people that use DOME) would act
as the marketplace – a data broker on behalf of the data producers/
owners. The data producers/owners decide what data they want to
put in the marketplace; they decide who and how the data could be
used and terms attached to it. No more one-way contracts allowed.
Everyone who contributes data to the Platform would be a member or
shareholder and would receive dividends. The Platform would be run
lean: no exorbitant salaries, no bullshit jobs. Maybe other arrangements
– such as instead of dividends, money is paid out as universal basic
income, or money is not paid out at all but the data are exchanged
for services, such as healthcare, energy, transportation, food, etc. –
would exist. That would mean getting rid of all the middlemen, bye-bye
insurance companies.

I am aware that people are going to poke holes in this, that the
entire system could be hijacked or manipulated like you see with activist
investors. However, if we do nothing, we can expect nothing.

I understood Jennifer Lyn Morone, Inc mostly as focused on the issue
of personal digital data and its value. Why did you decide to also
sell products like your urine, pheromone scents, hormone therapy,
diamonds made of your hair, etc.? I’m sure this is more attractive for
the exhibition presentation or for the press and audience in general,
but isn’t it already too “manneristic” and illustrative?

With digitalisation everything can be broken down and thought of as data.
That’s how I see the world. In Extreme Capitalism, the individual is the
source of resources, the means of production, and relies on itself to produce
value in whatever form the owner chooses in as many forms as possible
– intellectual property, products, raw materials – all of which can be in
digital form, physical form, or a combination. An intention was to make this
association with data – that it is not just what you look up on the internet, or
a photo you post, data is everything, or everything is data. If someone starts
collecting your urine, your hair, or likes your scent and captures, replicates,
and sells it, would you mind? I chose these products – a hormone cream,
diamonds, and perfume – because they reflected a few of the manipulative
industries that pump out over- or undervalued unnecessary products. The
exhibition that these works were produced for was a commercial gallery, so
I wanted to make products that fetched prices that might be skewed to the
true value of the work – commenting on that art world.

In detail – Urine is a data set that tells a lot about you and your life
– a waste stream rich in information, valuable chemicals and elements.
Very useful as a fertilizer, and there is a market on eBay for people with
upcoming drug tests. It has also been used to produce hormone creams
and gunpowder.

While these were works did not directly contribute towards the goal
they did provide some relevance to data collection and were a way to
have fun while pointing out absurdities in human activity.

Is there any connection between your decision of developing a project
addressing the value of one’s potential, creativity, knowledge, skills…
and the fact you’re established in the art world? I mean: in the art
world, there are so many aspects and factors whose direct economic
value is hard to define, but we (the art insiders) feel that they are very
often undervalued. Isn’t your project also partly a reaction to this?

Absolutely!

However, you don’t have to be creative, brilliant, or possess amazing
skills to be valuable. Essentially, I see most of our problems as economic
problems. The majority of artists have always faced economic hardship.
Even if you have fantasies about becoming a successful artist, eventually
you have to face the truth. Basically, if you want to make a steady living,
you don’t become an artist. Most often, you are an artist and you find ways
to subsidize your art.

I would like to add that I wasn’t so established in the art world when
I started this. Actually, it was not made for the art world at all, even though
that’s where it ended up.

There are many layers to this point of the “art world” because it
depends on which art world you are talking about – the art market or the
museum art world. In regards to markets and regulation, the art market
is perhaps the last to be regulated. It’s a place where rich people look to
store their money in, and they get a tax write-off. They pump up the value
of work through promotion, rendering any real “value” of the work a result
of hype and manipulation.

Then there is the other side of the art world, where artists are pushing
boundaries and allowed to critique or reflect the world in which we live.
Often these works are truly valuable but have no value determined by
the art market, perhaps after the artists die. The works are probably
undervalued because we have not figured out a way to put a price on
things that are good for us, such as clean air, water and healthy people.

#32 non-work

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