Mixing it up: The Mongrel Collective
The UK-based net art collective Mongrel has been active since 1999, working on projects that attempt to address notion of the hybrid and the interstice. Their projects are sometimes high tech, but for the most part they are not, as they are particularly interested in making accessible some of the technologies that are used primarily for commercial purposes, for social and creative acts. The group make use of both image and text in a collage-like fashion in order to express some of their sensibility visually. Mongrel has made use of a variety of media during this time, including internet and mobile phones, as well as installation.
Their ethos is best explained by referring to this statement on their homepage: '[W]e usually work with marginalised peoples who are on low incomes, socially excluded and cultural minorities. We do this by helping people to do things for themselves, creating community software and digital arts based projects that we then promote to a state of high visibility through our international network of arts connections. The groups gain a visible voice, self reliance, self confidence and informal training allowing them to get a foothold into mainstream training, education, culture and the economic life most of us take for granted.'
Some of their current projects include Hairy MPs, a web- and installation-based show in which they 'implant' hair on the pictures of faces of some British Members of Parliament. These MPs are kept up to date about the status of their facial 'fuzz' and advised what they may do to remove it, in terms of public service.
One project I found to be particularly interesting, although relatively dense and inscrutable at first, is the NetMonster Context (http://www.mongrel.org.uk/?q=netmonstercontext). This contains an interesting collage of words, code and image that speaks about control and power in the public sphere, and especially the freedom of information and technology. Perhaps as a summation of the project, the final entry into the journal that is NetMonster may be illuminating: 'The exceptional fantasies that the social elite has been living through have spawned strange and bewildering hierarchies of knowledge and war that have influenced the production of ideas. We need to squash these at the level of algorithm and representation. A free software culture is worth fighting for.'
A good overview of all their projects is available at http://www.mongrel.org.uk/?q=projects, and here one may view a description of the project, the projects page itself or the background and research that inform the work. From this overview it becomes clear that Mongrel is not a specialised or even specifically goal-orientated group that has particular agendas set out. Instead, much of their work is relatively reliant on creative association and freeform in style.
A particularly apt example of this in practice is their Nine (9) Social Software Research Programme. In this project, Mongrel aims to allow users of the software they have developed to create a visual database of images and text driven by their own interests and curiosities. The sites created with Nine (9) include http://9.scotoma.org/frontend.html?content=http://9.scotoma.org/cgi-bin/nine.pl, and http://9.waag.org/frontend.html?content=http://9.waag.org/cgi-bin/nine.pl. Both of these sites provide indications of the way in which the methodology of this project is able to evoke senses of space and community, a sense of the so-called real world finding expression in the virtual.