Tactical media is a fairly recent form, with the term coined in 1996 at the Next Five Minutes Festival to “denote a form of media activism that privileges temporary, hit-and-run interventions in the media sphere over the creation of permanent and alternative media outlets” (“Tactical Media”). It generally involves an activist approach that intervenes in some form of mainstream media culture, appropriating many of its activities from Letterist and Situationist International practices of détournement. The term references an act of turning something against itself, appropriating it in order to make it do something unusual and unexpected. It was usually activated to draw attention to the original form, and stimulate active participation in or production of culture. The intention was “the concrete construction of momentary ambiances of life and their transformation into a superior passional quality” (Debord). Using elements of the everyday, and turning them against themselves, the Situationist International movement aimed to stimulate a cultural revolution that stood in opposition to the mainstream (Sadler 1). In addition to Situationist practices, it was also influenced by Dadaism and Surrealism, which used the unexpected, shock and antithesis to create artistic impact.
Wikipedia notes that the practice increased from the early 1990’s, within the political climate created by the fall of the Berlin wall. Tactical media artist and theorist Ricardo Dominguez also notes influences from the Zapatista uprising and other community-oriented political movements through the late 20th century. Cheaper technology and better access to distribution channels allowed for quick and easy sharing of information, and the development of the Internet also facilitated global networking on an unprecedented scale.’ Modern problems of capitalist expansion, environmental destruction and political violence worldwide have stimulated many different activists to take action through artistic means, however this does not mean that all activist art is necessarily tactical.
The roots of the are often credited to the work of Michel deCerteau, and particularly his treatise The Practices of Everyday Life, where he outlines the ways that non-mainstream individuals are able to co-opt mainstream media, laws and culture by taking them and transforming them to suit their own needs. This subversion of the mainstream allows the outsider to create his or her own production within society, using the elements that were there originally and re-arranging them into something that expresses their own voice. In this, deCerteau emphasizes uses and means of production over the representation itself. In the introduction to Practices, deCerteau puts down a definition of tactics and strategy, one that has remained the core of Tactical Media practices today. In the text he writes that a Strategy is “the calculus of force-relationships which becomes possible when a subject of will and power (a proprietor, an enterprise, a city, a scientific institution) can be isolated from an ‘environment’”, a phrasing which seems to describe a coordinated institution that has a clear distinction of boundaries from everything surrounding it… or in another way of phrasing, it is a formal distinction between the self/representation and “the Other”. Tactics are, notes deCerteau, “on the other hand, a calculus which cannot count on a “proper” (a spatial or institutional localization), nor thus on a borderline distinguishing the other as a visible totality. The place of a tactic belongs to the other”. Here, it is impossible to distinguish the boundaries and they blend together. DeCerteau also continues this example in his discussion on the reader, who, upon engaging with a piece of literature “insinuates into another person’s text the ruses of pleasure and appropriation: he poaches on it, is transported into it, pluralizes himself in it like the internal rumblings of one’s body… A different world (the reader’s) slips into the author’s place”. This borrowed space is where the reader/user/producer is able to make room for their own ideas and culture; they are able to subvert it for their own purposes, however temporarily.
It is in de Certeau that Tactical Media becomes more complicated that other forms of activism. Instead of a simple distinction between two opposing forms, Tactical Media is able to slide into boundary zones, and work either in opposition or by taking on the same form as the original media. This lack of borderlines or limitations makes Tactical Media an extremely flexible approach. It can morph into whatever form necessary at the time, and discard it just as quickly. The Critical Art Ensemble describes this fluidity in their essay “Framing Tactical Media”, where they note that although there is some friction within the movement itself in even defining what Tactical Media actually is, it generally pulls between two streams, tacticalists and strategists. Whereas tacticalists embrace the instanteneity and flexibility of a single action, without needing to care about consequences, strategists work with a broader scope, linking many actions together in a broader offensive as a means to a political end. However, weighting their support behind ephemeral tactical approaches, the Critical Art Ensemble suggest that “tacticality is more fluid because it does not have to be focused on efficiency and optimization. It has the luxury of seeing individuals as more than a force to be brought to a field of contestation. And finally, tactics can fail without necessarily leading to the demise of a front, movement or campaign”. Here, The Critical Art Ensemble draws a connection to Tactical Media as an experimental fighting force or research and development for the larger campaign. They note that the flexibility allows individual practitioners with short term projects to do things that larger institutions could not accomplish. These tactical offensives are invented, refined and passed on to the more strategic practitioners, who may be able to apply them to longer term projects.
Wikipedia notes the comparison of Tactical Media to culture jamming, which often utilizes many of the same techniques. However, it also distinguishes culture jamming as fitting within a binary relationship with the mainstream, whereas Tactical Media is able to work within it.
One of the other major features of this practice is the line that it treads between legality and illegality. It shape-shifts, moving from practices like graffiti and hacking which obviously overwrite private properties (digital or physical) and doubling and impersonation where it mimics (often almost indistinguishably) the form of mainstream institutions and corporations (as in the work of 0100101110101101.org which mimics institutional websites like that of the Vatican, and subtly changes the content). Another aspect of questionable legality is contained in practices like Rodrigo Dominguez’s approach of civil disobedience. Dominguez writes that, unlike most tactical media which often operates within subversion, trickery or appropriation in order to create a turn, civil disobedience as a tactical act invites transparency. They announce plans and actions publicly, well in advance of the event “because ECD is about bringing together real bodies and digital bodies in a transparent manner that follows the tradition of Civil Disobedience –that people are willing to break a law (like blocking the street) to uphold a higher law”. Civil disobedience, maintains many of the instananeity and fluidity of tactical media (unlike larger institutions which could not risk illegal action), but sheds the elements of disguise.
Finally, one of the most distinctive features, that seem to be common across many of the different artist listed below, is that Tactical Media invites a level of collaborative and group practice that isn’t seem in many other genres art. It may be influenced by the activist elements of the work, but it also draws on movements like the Situationists, Lettrists and Surrealists who came together to create a cultural revolution. A revolution that requires a critical mass, and since most of these artworks involve alternative voices, they also include a huge cultural diversity that is not as obvious as other practices. There are many non-Western and artists from minority groups practicing tactical media, likely because it is seen as the most effective way of subverting long-established colonial, patriarchal and heterosexual influences.
Noted as one of the defining definitions of Tactical Media, Geert Lovink and David Garcia’s “ABC of Tactical Media” describe it as “… an aesthetic of poaching, tricking, reading, speaking, strolling, shopping, desiring. Clever tricks, the hunter’s cunning, maneuvers, polymorphic situations, joyful discoveries, poetic as well as warlike… Our hybrid forms are always provisional. What counts are the temporary connections you are able to make. Here and now, not some vaporware promised for the future”.
These descriptions of trickery, hijacking and cunning are also prevalent in the influences on the practice, including punk and rap music, DIY, anarchism and other alternative movements from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. More recent influences, or rather sub-genres include hacktivism, yarn-bombing and even grassroots activism through social and new media platforms.
Obviously Tactical Media has also been influenced, as noted above, by the Situationist International, Surrealists, Dadaists, and Michel de Certeau. Since de Certeau established the terminology of Tactics and Strategy as key to the practice, one should also note the military connotations associated with it. In addition, the history of propaganda plays a strong role in Tactical Media, although unlike other forms of activism, this practice very strongly separates itself from the trap of falling into propaganda by maintaining a self reflexivity, since as Joanne Richardson notes, “propaganda does not examine its own position”.
Etoy – http://www.etoy.com/
RTMark – http://www.rtmark.com/
Joanne Richardson – http://www.tacticalmediafiles.net/article.jsp;jsessionid=9B7A3794190AAD029323599B28C91D84?objectnumber=37387
the Critical Art Ensemble – http://www.critical-art.net/
The Yes Men – http://theyesmen.org/
Electronic Disturbance Theater – http://www.thing.net/~rdom/ecd/ecd.html
Institute for Applied Autonomy – http://www.appliedautonomy.com/
Bureau of Inverse Technology – http://www.bureauit.org/
Ubermorgen – http://www.ubermorgen.com/2010/index.html
SubRosa – http://www.cyberfeminism.net/
I/O/D – http://www.phreak.co.uk/i_o_d/
Krzysztof Wodiczko – http://www.gsd.harvard.edu/#/people/krzysztof-wodiczko.html
Guillermo Gómez-Peña – http://www.pochanostra.com/
Coco Fusco – http://www.thing.net/~cocofusco/work.htm
Nao Bustamante – http://www.naobustamante.com/
Allan Kaprow – http://allankaprow.com/
Michael Mandiberg – http://www.mandiberg.com/
Daniel García Andújar – http://www.danielandujar.org/
Knowbotic Research – http://krcf.org/
Luther Blissett – http://www.lutherblissett.net/
Tellervo Kalleinen – http://www.tellervo.net/
Paolo Cirio – http://www.paolocirio.net/
Chim↑Pom – http://chimpom.jp/
Tactical Media Crew – http://www.tmcrew.org/
Adbusters – https://www.adbusters.org/
0100101110101101.org – http://0100101110101101.org/
subRosa – http://www.cyberfeminism.net/
Aram Bartholl – http://datenform.de/indexeng.html
Oliver Bienkowski – https://www.facebook.com/oliver.bienkowski
Ivan Martinez – http://www.martinezivan.com/
Guerilla Girls – http://www.guerrillagirls.com/
Richard Bell – http://www.milanigallery.com.au/artist/richard-bell
Rita Raley – http://raley.english.ucsb.edu/
Geert Lovink – http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/geert/
Michel de Certeau
Andreas Broeckmann – http://www.mikro.in-berlin.de/wiki/tiki-index.php
McKenzie Wark – http://www.newschool.edu/lang/faculty.aspx?id=1718
Blake Stimson – http://tigger.uic.edu/~stimson/
Ricardo Dominguez – http://visarts.ucsd.edu/faculty/ricardo-dominguez
Nato Thompson – http://natothompson.wordpress.com/
Yates McKee – http://yatesmckee.wordpress.com/
Next 5 Minutes Festival – http://www.tacticalmediafiles.net/n5m4/about.jsp.html
The Influencers Festival – http://theinfluencers.org/en/festival/2013
Memefest: Festival of Socially Responsive Communication and Art – http://www.memefest.org/
Boler, Megan. Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times. Cambridge: MIT P., 2010.
Da Costa, Beatriz. Tactical Biopolitics: Art, Activism, and Technoscience. Cambridge: MIT P., 2010. Print.
De Certeau, Michel. The Practices of Everyday Life. Reprint. U. California P., 2011. Print.
Critical Art Ensemble. Digital Resistance: Explorations in Tactical Media. Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2001. Print.
—-. Disturbances. London: Four Corners Books, 2012.
—-. Electronic Civil Disobedience and Other Unpopular Ideas. Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1997. Print.
—-. Electronic Disturbance. Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1994. Print.
Garcia, David and Geert Lovink. “The ABC of Tactical Media”. Nettime.org Mailing list. 16 May 1997. Web. 25 November 2013. <http://www.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l- 9705/msg00096.html>.
Kluitenberg, Eric. Legacies of Tactical Media. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2011. Web. <http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/portal/publications/>.
Lichtenfels, Peter and John Rouse. Performance, Politics and Activism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Print.
Lievrouw, Leah A. Alternative and Activist New Media. Cambridge: Polity, 2011. Print.
Lovink, Geert. Dark Fiber: Tracking Critical Internet Culture. Cambridge: MIT P., 2003. Web. <http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/portal/publications/>.
—-. Networks Without a Cause: A Critique of Social Media. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2012. Web. <http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/portal/publications/>.
Lovink, Geert and Miriam Rasch eds. Unlike Us Reader: Social Media Monopolies and Their Alternatives. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2013. Web. <http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/portal/publications/>.
Meikle, Graham. Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet. London: Pluto Press, 2002. Print.
Raley, Rita. Tactical Media (Electronic Mediations). U of Minneosta P., 2009. Print.
Richardson, Joanne. AN@RCHITEXTS: Voices from the Global Digital Resistance. Brooklyn: Autonomedia. Print/ Web. <http://subsol.c3.hu/>.
Rushkoff, Douglas. Media Virus!: hidden agendas in popular culture. New York: Ballantine Books, 1994. Print.
Special Issue: Whither Tactical Media? Third Text: Critical Perspectives on Contemporary Art and Culture. 22.5, 2008. Web. <http://www.thirdtext.org/>.
Tactical Media. New York University. 2002. Web. 27 November 2013. <http://www.nyu.edu/fas/projects/vcb/tactical.html>.
Wark, McKenzie. A Hacker Manifesto. Cambridge: Harvard U.P., 2004. Print.
Important Centres/ Organizations
Critical Art Ensemble – http://www.critical-art.net/
Meme-Rider Media Team – http://www.nshafer.com/viewmemeriders.html
Telestreet – http://imaginationforpeople.org/en/project/telestreet/
Preemptive Media – http://www.preemptivemedia.net/
Institute for Applied Autonomy – http://www.appliedautonomy.com/
DoEAT group –
Creative Activism – An Open Undergraduate Study Group Exploring Tactical Media – http://www.creativeactivism.net/
SubRosa – http://www.cyberfeminism.net/
Tactical Media Files – http://www.tacticalmediafiles.net/
Institute of Network Cultures – http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/portal/
F.A.T. Free Art & Technology – http://fffff.at/
Cacophony Society – http://www.cacophony.org/
Indymedia – http://www.indymedia.org/or/index.shtml
Institute for Unstable Media – http://v2.nl/
Critical Art Ensemble. “Framing Tactical Media”. Ed. Joanne Richardson. AN@RCHITEXTS: Voices from the Global Digital Resistance. Brooklyn: Autonomedia. Print/ Web. <http://subsol.c3.hu/>.
Debord, Guy. “The Construction of Situations June 1957”. Situationist International Online. Web. <http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/report.html>. 27 November 2013.
Dominguez, Ricardo. “Electronic Civil Disobedience Post-9/11”. Third Text. 22.5,2008. 661-670. T & F Online. Web. 27 November 2013.
Sadler, Simon. “Introduction”. The Situationist City. Cambridge: MIT P., 1999. Print.
Richardson, Joanne. “The Language of Tactical Media”. Ed. Joanne Richardson. AN@RCHITEXTS: Voices from the Global Digital Resistance. Brooklyn: Autonomedia. Print/ Web. <http://subsol.c3.hu/>.
“Tactical Media”. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 10 June 2013. Web. 27 November 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tactical_media>.