Simon Farid discusses Michael Green and Identity Squatting
We have all seen those accounts that tweet and sell marketing advice online. These personalities are always carefully constructed, but what if they were completely falsified. Simon Farid’s project explores the identity of ‘Michael Green’, Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP’s business alter-ego. Samuel Fry asked him about this project.
You are currently developing a project based on notion of “Identity Squatting”. How would you describe the project?
The wider project of ‘identity squatting’, of which this project comprises a part, is derived from the conventional notion of squatting; occupying a pre-constructed space that has been discarded or left unoccupied. Where this practice differs from conventional squatting is with the focus on identity, looking for pre-constructed unoccupied identities within which I can operate through infiltration or mimicry.
This is of course distinct from identity theft in that the occupied identity is discarded, rather than hijacked from its primary owner/user, and that I am not using the identity itself for access that would provide income; they are not used for fraud or stealing.
Where did the idea come from?
This emerged from an art practice that was concerned with romance and courtship, interrogating the use of social rules and the deception inherent in social performativity and self-presentation. As this work developed, I became interested in news stories about undercover policemen who had been pushing these ideas to absurd and abusive degrees; forming long-lasting romantic relationships with their targets.
In researching these tactics, the question of what happens to the identity itself (bank card, passport, drivers licence, information) became a new focus, and from this I began to look for other instances of constructed identities that were later discarded, like that of ‘Michael Green’, Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP’s business alter-ego.
What issues are you hoping that the project will raise?
There is, of course, a political element to this work. Deception is a valued currency in contemporary British politics, and with Michael Green we have an instance of double deception; the use of another name (and image, Shapps often used a handsome stock photo to represent the elusive Green) and the deceptive language that is commonly used in internet marketing culture, allowing a nod to the wider background deception (in terms of profit) that capitalism requires to function.
Above the content, I am looking to explore the ways in which rolling online performance could function, as well as examining the suitability of re-enactment (for example my verbatim re-construction of Green’s long-deleted website www.howtocorp.org) and speculative re-enactment (the imagining and playing out of what a Michael Green webinar would entail) as journalistic tools.
This project rests partly on finding an engaged audience to partake in the online seminar. How are you planning on promoting this?
Michael Green and his company were inherently networked; that is what internet marketing companies do. Whilst Michael Green was most prolific before social media really took off, a Michael Green operating today (as he will, through me) will be a keen Tweeter and all the rest. This contingent marketing, marketing the work as a part of the work, will be a useful tactic in terms of generating audience interest. The episodic nature of my interventions will be designed to create a momentum within the work that should attract and maintain engagement.
This work will also interest a wide range of parties, hopefully appealing to those interested in politics, art, internet culture and activism. This work will also be very funny, which will hopefully make the streams more accessible and appeal to a broader than usual audience.
What are your next steps?
A lot of the research into the now long-deleted HowToCorp has already been done, but I imagine I’m still going to spend many more hours trawling through internet caches and old internet marketing message boards to find more of Michael’s online traces and promotional material that I can present.
Once this information is secured, I have a lot of tweeting and Facebooking to do, interacting both with the audience for this work and with some ‘real’ internet marketers, lots of whom have been interacting with Michael in good faith.
As Michael becomes a more established character with a bigger online impact I will start presenting his ‘webinars’, short live-streamed performances in which he will discuss his company and what it does/did. These will vary in length and content, and I am even hoping to produce some one-on-one tutorial ‘performances’ to viewers over Skype.
How do you see this influencing the future of digital performance?
With this work I am looking to integrate live-streamed performance within a wider context of interventions. There will be a number of streamed performances at different points during this project, but these will only comprise part of the work, rather than the primary content around which the rest will lead up to. An interaction between these different kinds of digital performance, different orders of performance, in which no one part will be afforded greater importance than the others, could be a way for other practitioners to approach online performance work going forward.
Digital and online performance is a growing field that already displays a wide range of different approaches, both in terms of content and approaches to audience engagement. Alongside this work I will be producing a document in which I will evaluate my own particular approaches to audience engagement that will be shared publicly at the conclusion of the project.