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This 404 Message is Anti-Google Art

MTO’s “We Live On Google Earth” provokes debate on corporate hegemony and censorship.

Earlier this year, Google announced its new street art project, an ambitious attempt to memorialize street art from around the world before the pieces get whitewashed or painted over. But while Google has the support of famous Obama poster-maker Shepard Fairey, it’s also been the target of criticism from other artists. Among them is MTO, a French artist who debuted three new pieces in the Italian coastal town of Gaeta that challenge Google’s hegemony, imagining a dystopic future in which all art and expression are mediated through and curated by Google.

Titled “We Live On Google Earth,” the project, which was created for the Memorie Urbane Festival in Italy, features a large painted 404-message declaring the “Mural Not Found.” Another mural, close by, is composed of two loading symbols and the words, “Loading... Please Wait.”

The two murals are accompanied by a billboard of a mock front page for The Sun newspaper in the year 2020. The headline declares, “Computer Says No.” The text beneath it reads:

“In the small city of GAETA, Italy, a giant 125m (471 ft) wide mural by French street-artist MTO has been silently censored by Google CORP. Is this the first case of artistic censorship on our good old Google Earth? One thing is for certain, it’s sure to open a huge can of worms, as governments around the world consult their top legal minds and grapple with the implications for freedom of artistic expression. The censorship happens against a backdrop of growing international revolt against Google’s global supremacy in information control. NATO is now thought to be looking at all options to overturn the decision and thereby prevent a massive worldwide protest in the artistic and journalistic worlds.”

MTO visualizes the world as a “digital planet,” in which Google is an omnipotent ruler, with control over every message and image that is presented to us. “We Live on Google Earth” is an attempt to disrupt Google Street View as a “trojan horse,” lodging messages of dissent within Google itself. It examines issues of censorship and corporate monopolies, all the while attempting to co-opt the very distributional channels it hopes to critique.

The mock front page also includes headlines reporting that water prices have reached a “record high” and the country of Palestine is “no more.” But while these news items are faked, they bear a startling resemblance to reality, gesturing towards the Irish water protests, worldwide droughts, and the latest assault on Gaza. These messages, deployed together, provoke debate on private ownership and the monopolization of land and resources. But while they arrive to us from MTO’s imagined future, Google’s increasing pervasiveness in both our private and public lives force us to wonder whether we’re not living them as realities already.

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