Metahaven - In Black Transparency— part essay, part fanzine—Metahaven embark on a journey of subversion, while examining transparency’s intersections with design, architecture, and pop culture, as well as its ability to unravel the circuitry of modern power
Metahaven, Black Transparency: The Right to Know in the Age of Mass Surveillance, Sternberg Press, 2015.
Black transparency is an involuntary disclosure of secrets against a backdrop of systematic online surveillance, as large parts of contemporary life move into the digital realm. Black transparency, as a radical form of information democracy, has brought forward a new sense of unpredictability to international relations, and raises questions about the conscience of the whistleblower, whose personal politics are now instantly geopolitical. Empowered by networks of planetary-scale computation, disclosures today take on an unprecedented scale and immediacy. Difficult to contain and even harder to prevent, black transparency does not merely create openness, order, and clarity; rather, it triggers chaos, stirring the currents of a darker and more mercurial world.
Metahaven was founded in 2007 by Vinca Kruk and Daniel van der Velden. In Black Transparency— part essay, part fanzine—Metahaven embark on a journey of subversion, while examining transparency’s intersections with design, architecture, and pop culture, as well as its ability to unravel the circuitry of modern power.
A new, vigilante type of transparency has emerged with the revelations of WikiLeaks. We call this movement Black Transparency. It is an attack, not on governments, but on the paradigm of government and the information privileges that come with it. Black Transparency does not act alone but is part of a global movement, now known by names like ‘Occupy’ and ‘Anonymous,’ which takes back fundamental goods of the state and redistributes them publicly. Public squares, public money and public information – which always belonged to the citizens – are saved from going under with a system wrongly entrusted with their management.
How does Black Transparency operate? There is no lack of spaces for it to appear, but all of them are ruled over by governments, their courts and their cyber armies. The global cloud of social media and Internet information is the indispensible, hydra-headed, chaos-mongering powerhouse of Black Transparency, but this house is built on territories over which sovereign rulers preside. Thus the appearance and shape of Black Transparency is always changing to fit the legal and political loopholes of the states whose legitimacy it opposes. Black Transparency finds temporary homes in jurisdictional enclaves while forming short-lived informational tax havens. Because its architecture depends on acts of evasion – and power – Black Transparency is not just transparent but also black.
Hi-res censorship: Metahaven on Edward Snowden and rebranding WikiLeaks
Metahaven, Can Jokes Bring Down Governments?, Memes, Design and Politics, Strelka Press, 2013.
In a world where “there is no alternative”, how do you dissent? Once upon a time, graphic designers would have made political posters and typeset manifestos. Today, protest has new strategies. Enter the internet meme. With its Darwinian survival skills and its viral potential, the meme is a way of scaling up protest. Hackers and activists have learned to unleash the destructive force of a Rick Astley video. They have let slip the Lolcats of war. Pranks have become a resistance strategy. As the rise of Beppe Grillo in Italy testifies, this may be the hour to fight nonsense with nonsense. Jokes are an open-source weapon of politics, and it is time to tap their power
Anonymous Fantasy Online Identity, Walker Shop, 2015.
For their Intangibles contribution, Metahaven is offering to design a visual identity for a person, expressed through a set of digitally designed images for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, WhatsApp, Snapchat, YouTube, or other platforms you may be using.
The actual piece arises after a process of exchange and dialogue between the buyer and the artists. Upon initiation of the process, the buyer will be asked to provide sentences about themselves, visual materials such as photos, and examples of things they are passionate about, wish to be associated with, or on the other hand, their deepest thoughts and dreams. These will be transformed into a visual world that is theirs alone. The buyer can order this identity for themselves, or as a gift to someone else. The resulting identity will be shaped around the buyer like a tailored garment, offering a compelling hybrid of opacity and expression between the default, the pop, the political, and cinematic self-imagination. It focuses on cross-platform experience, becoming a fantasy made real.
Dutch designers and artists Metahaven are long-standing critics of the “real name” identity boxes that come with the cloud computing oligopoly. Through collaborations with organizations like WikiLeaks, and pop musicians like Holly Herndon, the studio has expressed a belief in the visual science fiction that design can be when it gets applied to the right causes.
Metahaven (Daniel van der Velden, Vinca Kruk) with Marina Vishmidt.
Uncorporate Identity questions the purpose and value of design in a neurotic and treacherous era of geopolitical instability." - Alice Rawsthorn
"An eye-opening and provocative book." - Icon
"A sustained and multivalent investigation into the relationship between design and power, often using visual and design tactics themselves as the form of interrogation. (...)
In an appropriately inside-out manner, Metahaven echo Wally Olins’ definition of corporate identity – 'strategy made visible' – but with an entirely opposite intent." - Sam Jacob
“manic and spell-binding”... “the visual forms that emerge in this speculation are fairly astounding: passports printed with cuneiform, bar codes that extrude into architectural space, postage stamps of mirrors and satellites, a national flag composed only of a field of gray, a monopoly board game that imagines the Parisian banlieues.” - Design Issues
"There hasn't been anything quite this ambitious from a design team since Bruce Mau hit his stride...Uncorporate Identity collects the critical design projects they have undertaken to date and amplifies them with new material." - Rick Poynor
"After decades of corporate identity being reduced to logos, Metahaven has undertaken a larger project to explore identity in politics and culture, online and across borders. This expansive monograph is its own project – the transformation of a design practice into a research laboratory and think tank. An important book." - Design Observer
"An important status report for design in the contemporary context (…) Metahaven’s book will be a strong contender for either the sexiest thing in your library carrel or the smartest thing in your beach bag." - Alan Smart
"One of the most innovative design studios in Europe." Süddeutsche Zeitung
"One of the most radical groups of designers in Europe (…) Metahaven use a research-based, speculative 'meta-design' practice to rethink the structural parameters and channels through which emerging organizational models and political paradigms inadvertently stumble upon a form of communication." - Kaleidoscope
Contributions by Dieter Lesage, Chantal Mouffe, Regula Stämpfli, David Singh Grewal, Michael Taussig, Mihnea Mircan, Keller Easterling, Florian Schneider, China Miéville, Vladimir Kolossov, Boris Groys, Pier Vittorio Aureli, Sean Hastings, a.o.
'Just what is it that makes today's identities so different, so appealing?'
Metahaven is an Amsterdam-based design collective specialising in politics and aesthetics. Founded by Daniel van der Velden and Vinca Kruk, Metahaven’s work reflects political and social issues through research-driven design, and design-driven research. In 2010, Metahaven published Uncorporate Identity, a design anthology for our dystopian age, with Lars Müller Publishers. Vinca Kruk teaches editorial design at ArtEZ Academy of Art and Design, Arnhem. Daniel van der Velden teaches design at Yale University, New Haven, and at the Sandberg Instituut, Amsterdam.