ThomasMaderTheDiscerningBrute.com is excited to welcome guest writer Thomas Mader, a multidisciplinary artist based in Berlin. Mader has shown internationally and written for publications like Dossier Journal, Underscore Magazine, and Curbs & Stoops. For his recent public intervention “Balloon”, he handed out 1000 helium balloon drones in Salzburg/Austria and New York. “Balloon” will be shown in a different format, as a collaboration with video artist Christopher Michael, at ÑEWMERICA’s show “Birth of a nation” at Exit room Gallery NY, opening on the 3rd of April.

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by Thomas Mader

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In the early 2000’s, when camouflage patterns came back into fashion, some concerned voices could be heard talking about the dangers of introducing military symbols into a civilian context, and thus normalizing the otherwise aggressive connotations these patterns represent.

The people speaking out against this phenomenon were labeled ‘overanxious’, insofar as their arguments being dismissed by the mainstream as irrelevant or conspiracy theory babbling.

The discussion, however, made me recall my first trip to South America and how shocked I was then, not only for seeing armed solders pretty much wherever I went, but also because of how much of a mundane sight they were to the civilians of their respective countries.

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I understand that the military is much more present in an everyday context in the US than it is in many European countries, that it has a different status and a different appreciation, but I also think that it is important to not simply ignore the topics that surfaced in this camouflage fashion discussion. Because not only have I seen how literally camouflage had camouflaged itself, but also how quickly these hidden aggressive potentials can snap back into action and cause extensive damage.

…these hidden aggressive potentials can snap back into action and cause extensive damage.

The downplaying of violent symbols and control mechanisms by introducing them into a mainstream context is a very powerful tactic and we can witness its effects every day.

When Street Art was still relatively underground, the image of the surveillance camera was a warning symbol speaking out against the massive introduction of surveillance mechanisms in public spaces. As the medium got more mainstream attention, its symbols gradually lost their meaning.

A stylized stencil of a surveillance camera now no longer functions as a warning, it just means that Street Art, at least in its most widely recognized form, has become an easily consumable product.

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The medium’s symbols have become so iconic that they no longer contain any significant meaning. They merely serve as a business card for the medium itself.

This development was not necessarily propagated in a conscious way by the creators of the medium, but rather by those who recognized its potential for mainstream appeal and marketability.

In my opinion, a similar phenomenon can now be observed when it comes to drone technology. Almost every other week various YouTube videos show the advances in miniature drone flight and control capability. Companies like Amazon and DHL use drone parcel delivery as publicity stunts and remote control drones have long found their way into toy stores, allowing people to steer them using their iPhones or PSPs.

The technology seems democratic and there for all to use but how much the powers that be really feel the need to control said technology became clear once again when the whole extent of the NSA surveillance program in Germany was uncovered.

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The spying post the NSA had used to spy on top level German politicians, including chancellor Merkel herself, was, and to my knowledge still is, situated right on top of the US embassy in Berlin, smack in the political center of Germany, a mere stones throw away where the chancellor resides and the parliament assembles.

When the Sueddeutsche newspaper and NDR, a regional German TV channel, included drone technology in the research of their joint venture titled “A secret war”, their use of camera drones immediately resulted in police presence where reporters were forbidden to use the drones and had their personal data taken down.

…reporters were forbidden to use the drones and had their personal data taken down.

This discrepancy between seemingly democratic technologies and symbols and their inherent exclusiveness pertaining to a more or less invisible elites works as a sort of Trojan horse.

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People are being offered to use and enjoy certain symbols but they always incorporate the potential that an elite will take them away from the general public whenever they deem fit, or use them to ensure their own safety and status.

Of course, the same goes for certain online services and in their case almost always the well-known Internet rule applies: If it is for free, you are the product.

On that note: Here is your free balloon. Enjoy!

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*”Balloon” was made possible by “Basics” festival in Salzburg/Austria. http://www.basics-festival.net/