The e-mail from "Craig Cook" arrived on March 2. It directed me to a Facebook page pretending to be Greg Cook's, and a YouTube video. I was busy, so I watched only the beginning of the latter.
VIDEO: "Fake Greg Cook" attempts to hack the ICA
Someone had pasted some whacked-out photos of me onto an '80s Max Headroom video. A robot voice said it was responding to an essay I'd posted on my blog, the New England Journal of Aesthetic Research, and on the on-line arts journal Big Red & Shiny calling for local artists to have more do-it-yourself moxie. I'd suggested organizing shows in apartments, garages, on-line, in rented trucks parked on Harrison Avenue. "Someone should hack the ICA's Mediatheque computers — since the ICA isn't using them — and fill them with crazy digital art," I wrote.
The video focused on the part about the ICA. "I tried to hack the ICA Mediatheque lab computers but failed," the robot voice said before I shut it off and returned to more pressing matters.
I didn't think much about it until a friend living abroad e-mailed asking what was up with the video. Then a co-worker complimented me on it. A local gallerist said she'd been contacted to be my Facebook friend; she'd replied yes, the video had arrived, and now it refused to be deleted from her computer.
"Craig" started to seem creepy. As a critic, I'm fair game for satire and complaints. What bothered me was the identity-theft bit. And how Fake Greg Cook was messing with my personal and professional relationships. It didn't feel funny; it felt something like stalking. And I thought I knew who "Craig" was.
Strange things can happen when you're a (sorta) public figure — and the Web encourages weirdness. Once someone altered my Wikipedia entry to read: "Greg Cook wrote many comics but all were rejected by the human society. He was later killed in 2001 because his works were so bad."
A fundamental aspect of life on-line is the second self. We are constantly being asked to forge anew our Web identity — what is your username and password? Aliases, avatars, and alternative personas have proliferated. And now, suddenly, it seems impostors are all the rage. There was the Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, a blog lampooning Apple's chief executive that had been (secretly) written by then Fortune magazine senior editor Daniel Lyons. Recently an impostor began Tweeting as Globe editor Marty Baron. Last month, former Seattle Post-Intelligencer art critic Regina Hackett blogged that she'd been duped by the Tweets of a fake Blake Gopnik, art critic for the Washington Post. Unfortunately, that was after she wrote that "all his worst faults are on view" in "his" Tweets.
Fake Facebook Greg Cook's style looked like the work of Elaine Bay. The Somervillian distills the style of Web sites, MySpace, and even terrorist videos into bright, crazy, flashy, pointed pop art. In my Phoenix "Year in Review" article for 2008, I called her stuff some of the best art being made around here. She's part of an art collective called the Miracle 5, along with husband Raul Gonzalez, Dave Ortega, Rhonda Ratray (a/k/a Aimée LaPorte), Chris Miller, and assorted others. Critics picked Gonzalez for the top painting prize in the 2008 Boston Art Awards, which I organized. The gang seem about to blow up as the next big thing in town.
I've been friendly with Bay and some of the other Miracles for years. She called when she heard I wasn't amused by Fake Greg Cook; she'd pretended to be me, she said, as part of a project questioning Facebook's usurping of everything people post there. I replied that you don't show that someone's a jerk by pulling jerk moves of your own. Bay said she was sorry I was offended.
One of the proudest traditions of Modernist avant-garde art is freaking out the squares. So we're amused and "challenged" by art like Vito Acconci's Following Piece (1969), in which he picked out random strangers to trail around New York, or Claim (1971), in which he sat blindfolded at the bottom of a gallery stairwell threatening passers-by with a crowbar. His anti-social shenanigans have become canonical. Is today's impostor stuff part of this jerk-art tradition, or is it simply satire, or is it something more pernicious?
"Craig" e-mailed on March 12: "Please don't suggest or write about any more ideas that you don't truly believe in." Maybe "Craig" had a point. I'd encouraged people to hack the ICA, so what right did I have to feel wronged when someone hijacked me? On the other hand, isn't there a difference between hacking an institution and hacking an individual?