United Kingdom: Video Tagging to protest Nokia's Actions in Iran

It is an ongoing story in international media, that a joint venture of Siemens AG, the German conglomerate, and Nokia, the Finnish cell phone company, provided Iran's government with the necessary tools to enhance it surveillance of private communications. The European Parliament has strongly criticised them.

Last June marked the one year anniversary of the contested presidential elections and mass protests in Iran. While the government is still firmly in power, new forms of protest continue to appear…

Reverse the Wave is a blog by Ms.Deena DeNaro-Bickerstaffe, an artist who is using “video tagging” to protest Nokia's actions. Her self-stated goal is to “reverse the trend of duplicitous advertising” by financing projections of a “subvertisement” mimicking a Nokia advertisement in public places around the world.

Below are a few examples:

Video Tagging the Iranian Embassy – June 12 &13, 2010

Video tagging the UK Dept of Trade & Industry Building

Interview:Deena DeNaro speaks to Global Voices about the project, its goals and challenges.

When did you begin to get interested in Iran's protest movement? had you followed Iranian political affairs before the June 2009 election?

I didn’t get involved with the Iranian protest movement until making this “subvertisement”. I had been aware of the protests in Iran last summer, but was so busy working I had little time to read any newspapers or watch any television to find out more. Most of what I’d heard about the Iranian election and protests came from my radio alarm clock that is set to go off 2 hours before I have to get up. I just filed the stories in the back of my mind for later, and sort of smiled at the irony. From an American point of view, the notion of Iranians fighting for democracy seemed very ironic and I hoped that these events would wear some chinks in the armor of our own propaganda.

Was this a personal initiative or were other companies and/or NGOs involved?

Reverse the Wave came about as a response to the MoFilm competition [made-for-mobile films]. Someone in the Media & Broadcasting Department from a local university approached me to collaborate with them on a submission so we could develop a course that teaches students to make a film to an [advertising] client’s brief. We had a meeting and I went home to read each sponsor's brief. There were about 7 different companies putting out briefs, but the one that jumped out at me most was Nokia's because of how hypocritical their words seemed to be. There was a huge disparity between what they were saying about themselves in the competition brief, and the role that the sale of their technology had actually played in last year’s elections. To me, it felt like they were almost trying to cover up their actions with marketing. As someone who has worked in the business a long time, I took exception to that and felt I had to call them on their shit.

So as not to jeopardize the university’s relationship with MoFilm, I dissolved the collaboration with that professor and took this on as a personal project. No other organizations were involved in the production of the “subvertisement” and the projections in London were initiated by my producer. But we’d be open to working with any NGOs that might want to collaborate on future taggings (outdoor projections) or screenings.

Why did you tag the UK Department of Trade & Industry Building and the Car Phone Warehouse in London? Is there any relation to Iran or was it just to get attention?

My producer chose those two locations. The reasoning for targeting them was to bring awareness to both the people that created the rules governing trade deals and the people that buy and sell mobile phones. I’m not familiar with the neighborhoods of London, but my producer picked the Car Phone Warehouse in Ealing because there is a large Iranian population there.

Do you collaborate with Iranian artists or activists?

This was the first time I have collaborated with any Iranian artists or done anything involving Iranian culture. It has really opened up my eyes. Having lived in many countries, I like to think of myself as cosmopolitan, but those countries in which I lived were mostly western cultures. Researching this project was the first time I have ever been able to “put a face to the name” so to speak. I was surprised at how familiar the images of the protesters in Iran looked to me. Most people make the mistake of associating a citizen of a specific country with the dominant politics or cultural movements that country is known for. Even for a fairly educated American like myself, it was really surprising to think of Iranian’s wanting democracy. I mean with all the fuss going on in New York about the construction of the “Freedom Towers” how many New Yorkers do you think know that Borj-e Azadi means the same thing? Whether or not there’s a tinge of propaganda to why each is named so, we still have a lot more in common with each other than we are led to believe.

Also, I would have never been able to make this “subvertisement” if I hadn’t had help and input from Iranians. Aside from the fact that most of the documentary footage we used came directly from Iran, my casting was going nowhere until my [Iranian] assistant director came on board. She managed to get actors in such a short time, communicate what I was looking for, and tell me if what I had in mind was actually contrary to how things would be done in Iran. Her input into how the set should look was invaluable.

The best thing about collaborating on this project is that it has opened up a whole new world of art, literature, film and music for me. The worse thing is, I’ve become so intrigued by a country I will probably never get to visit.

It seems YouTube plays a central role in spreading word of your project, what about other social networking such as Facebook?

I’ve been trying to reach people in as many ways as possible, and YouTube is the best way of hosting the video in a highly trafficked area right now. We also have a website (currently populated by BlogSpot pages until we can find a proper web developer), a Facebook group anda Twitter hash tag (#ReverseTheWave).

Since this is truly a grass roots web 2.0 effort we started a PayPal account to accept donations for future projections around the world. We will also be looking into some crowd-funding efforts shortly with groups such as Trust Art.

We are currently looking for a web developer, and projectionists, producers or location managers in different cities. If anyone would like to get involved or have us bring Reverse the Wave to their city or town please contact us through deena [dot] de [at] mac [dot] com.

1 comment

  • […] Highlighting the role of Western tech in Iranian online surveillance Interview with artist Deena DeNaro about her recent “subvertising” project which aims to highlight the role of Siemens AG and Nokia in shipping surveillance technology to Iran. […]

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