Panel: Artistic Identity on the Net
An automated teller machine is perhaps the most ordinary example of information technology’s presence in everyday life. In addition to its financial aspects, however, ATM usage is also a sensory experience: screens and buttons are touched, symbolically extending of our sense of touch and entangling us in a dense weave of financial, demographic, travel, biological, sensory and other threads. Through a discussion of my work with ATMs, I will pull various strands from this weave, focusing on networked notions of identity and social relations.
Scads of baby boomers no doubt get weak in the knees with this nod to the pinball wizard Tommy who pleaded some twenty years ago “See me. Feel me. Touch me. Heal me.” But this appropriation of the Who is far from the anti-establishment, touchy-feely sentiments that are now attributed, rightly or not, to the 60s. The reworked refrain is actually a recent advertising campaign for Citibank ATMs. The campaign’s shameless new-age component no doubt served its purpose well by stirring the nostalgic impulses of those boomers who sang along with Tommy. It was a brilliant new context for this hippie anthem – a psychologically packed site of technology, especially so for aging boomers who often feel literally blind to the impact of information technology on their own lives, and whose children often know more about it than they do.
But the decor on Citibank’s ATMs was also part of a much wider campaign by this bank and the rest of the financial industry to make information surfing both pervasive and user-friendly – and of course to make a lot of money. From the recent wave of bank mergers -including the one between Chase and Chemical, creating the largest bank in the United States – to business section stories describing new “relationship” banking strategies, to op-ed cartoons showing ATM customers watching Disney’s “Pocahontaswhile ” they’re performing transactions, it’s becoming
more and more clear that our future will be mediated by financial instruments like ATM cards, credit cards, debit cards and other financial/demographic currencies. Playing into this dynamic is the World Wide Web’s enormous interest in insuring the security of credit card transactions. With all the anticipation of a mission into space – or, dare I say, cyberspace – stories seem to break almost daily that count down to when a secure credit infrastructure will launch us into a new age of “safe” web transactions. Where’s the cyberspaceship headed anyway? But more importantly, what kinds of experience does touching an ATM screen activate? It’s all kind of touch and go, actually.
- Jeffrey Schulz, USA. Artist and writer. Solo exhibitions at White Columns and TZ’Art & Co., New York, 1994. Group shows at The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, 1992 and 1995; Sandra Gering Gallery, New York, 1994; and Koelner Kunstverein, Cologne, Germany, 1995. Published in Leonardo, Machine Culture, and Critical Matrix. Profiled in World Art.
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