Kamler also asked South Africa's infamous Clinton Fein to contribute. You remember him: last year, his wall-sized photographs re-creating Abu Ghraib torture scenes reverberated like mortar bombs throughout the 49 Geary art complex. Imagine what he could do with a white dove.
"Who says what's officially annoying? Is that a business we really want our government to be in?" -- Clinton Fein, purveyor of the website Annoy.com, complaining about a bill in Congress that would make it a federal crime to "annoy" someone over the Internet.
"It's a stupid law that has slipped in under the radar," says Clinton Fein, a San Francisco-based artist who runs annoy.com, a website that he says offers "unique and irreverent" commentary on politics and culture.
Clinton Fein, who runs the Annoy.com Web site, is also aghast. His site is specifically set up to annoy people through, among other means, anonymous postcards sent through the mail that direct the recipient to read the sender's message at the Annoy.com site. Fein calls the new legislation annoying.
The nation's new cyberstalking restrictions started this month. The legislation updates laws designed to protect people from harrassment. The updated law makes it illegal to use the Internet to harrass someone. But a provision of the legislation also adds the word "annoy" to the types of communication that's illegal.
One of the people who picked up on this new language is the creator of the Web site annoy.com. Clinton Fein calls himself a political artist. He's based in San Francisco. He photoshops irreverant and frequently offensive digital postcards for users to send anonymously to whomever they want--the attorney general of the United States, for example, or perhaps your boss. Fein readily admits to pushing legal boundaries. But he wonders who, under the new law, decides what is legally annoying.
First, we will discover what Section 113 truly means when someone challenges the law. A candidate being mentioned on the Internet is Annoy.com; the site offers a "service by which people send politically incorrect postcards without being required to furnish their identity."
The site owner Clinton Fein has a history of "seeking declaratory and injunctive relief" against the Communications Decency Act of 1996 through which "indecent" computer communication that is intended to "annoy" was criminalized. Fein believes Section 113 "warrant[s] a constitutional challenge."
Annoying someone via the Internet is now a federal crime. It's no joke. Last Thursday, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity.
Clinton Fein, a San Francisco resident who runs the Annoy.com site, says a feature permitting visitors to send obnoxious and profane postcards through e-mail could be imperiled.
"Who decides what's annoying? That's the ultimate question," Fein said. He added: "If you send an annoying message via the United States Post Office, do you have to reveal your identity?"
Civil liberties groups have vowed to fight the legislation in the courts under the First Amendment, claiming that it would make it impossible for whistleblowers to operate without putting themselves at risk.
Clinton Fein, a South African activist who runs Annoy.com, was scathing about the new law.
"It appears that one is guilty of a crime if one were simply to 'utilise' a telecoms device 'with intent to annoy' a person regardless of the content or even in its absence," he said. "A conduct rather than a content crime; perhaps waving a BlackBerry in someone's face."
Art in America Review: Clinton Fein at Toomey Tourell
By: Peter Selz
Art in America, December 2007 Cover
Clinton Fein currently exhibits horrifying high-resolution C-prints depicting (through carefully staged reenactments) the torture of prisoners by the American military at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. For some time Fein's political images have been immersed in controversy and dissent. A native of South Africa, he left that country, with its harsh climate of censorship during apartheid, for the U.S., hoping to find truly free expression. Becoming aware of deep flaws in the application of the First Amendment of the Constitution, he filed suit against Attorney General Janet Reno in 1997, seeking declarative and injunctive relief from the provisions of the Communications Decency Act. The suit made its way to the Supreme Court, and Fein won the case. He insists on the fundamental right to annoy and created a Web site in pursuit of that end, maintaining that indecency is one of the most effective tools to counter public apathy.
In a 2004 exhibition at Toomey Tourell he exhibited a striking image, Who Would Jesus Torture?, depicting George W. Bush on the Cross, an American flag wrapped around a phallic missile emerging from his loincloth. Derisive images, also digitally manipulated, of Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz and company, as well as of Pfc. Lynndie England, poster girl for the Abu Ghraib outrages, are also included in this picture. The printing company Fein had hired to produce the digital image ultimately refused to release it and threatened to sue the artist for defamation. In the end, Fein managed to come up with an alternate printer willing to produce the image in time for his exhibition.
The recent show, titled "Torture," consisted of staged and manipulated photographic images. Fein felt that the low resolution of the pictures taken by the GIs participating in the Abu Ghraib abuses - the images that later appeared in the press - had the effect of muting and veiling the actual horror of the scenes depicted. Only sharp, high-resolution images, he concluded, could convey the full impact of the humiliating atrocities and show what the corrupt leaders of a supposedly civilized nation routinely endorsed.
The Columbian artist Fernando Botero was so deeply shocked by the spectacle of Abu Ghraib that, instead of his ebullient images, he produced a suite of over 100 provocative paintings and drawings [see A.i.A., Jan. '07]. Other artists -- Richard Serra, Gerald Laing, Jenny Holzer and Paul McCarthy among them - have taken the disgrace of Abu Ghraib as subject matter for their art. But it was Fein's notion that a full reenactment of the terrifying poses into which prisoners were forced was in order. After all, the original photographs were themselves staged, intended as trophy images, much like those by-now familiar photographs of lynchings in the American South, images crowded with the smiling faces of all who had come to see. So Fein re-created, for instance, the picture of Pfc. England holding a naked prisoner by a leash while pointing to his genitals. Another re-created photo shows a naked detainee made to masturbate another prisoner. Sadomasochistic sexuality, which is implied in the original snapshots, is stressed in Fein's prints. The artist is well aware of America's fascination with sex and violence, attested to by much of the current fare in movies and TV.
The hooded prisoner with the electric wires tied to his hands has become the unofficial logo of the present war in Iraq. For the 2004 election, Serra made a poster of this image, and it has also been restaged by Fein. So has the picture of the human pyramid of naked men, an image to which the artist has given the title Rank and Defile (2007). In addition to the photographs that simulated the original snapshots, there were also two entirely fictional C-prints in the show. Crucifiction 1 and 2 (2007), for example, are the artist's imagined views of what it is like to collapse under extreme physical abuse.
Torture of detainees or their rendition to countries with even more abusive torture regimens has become semi-legal under the Bush administration. Fein reminds us, however, that these practices can never be anything less than intolerable. Otherwise, the real war is already lost. -- Peter Selz