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UPDATED: The Art of Anonymous

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, December 16 2010

Here's a look at some of the propaganda circulating around the Internet — largely from anonymous authors, natch — advocating for Anonymous or for Wikileaks. Source: Various (No Flash? Here's the Flickr set compiled for this slideshow.)

Gabriella Coleman, an assistant professor at New York University's program in media and communications and a longtime researcher of the multitudinous activist group Anonymous, makes the case that a specific design aesthetic and savvy use of online media are powerful tools in the arsenal of its supporters:

There may be no individual celebrity but there is certainly art. And this is perhaps one of the reasons I like to study Anonymous—and something that is rarely addressed—is that Anonymous is interesting for making great art, in the form of videos, images, manifestos. They are effective in grabbing attention for their masterful command of art, channeling the material under a shared aesthetics, spectaclish in orientation, and under the moniker Anonymous, all the while delivering constant news. It would be far weaker as a phenomenon without the masks, without their fantastic art work, without those videos. We can create a picture of Anonymous only as basement dwellers or we might also take a look at their own pictures and representations to form ours; Anonymous is a faceless phenomenon that is everywhere represented via their artistic output.

Here's an interesting idea. Anonymous members, besides using tools like DDoS attacks to make their points and IRC and PiratePad to communicate anonymously, collectively, and in real-time with other members, also have a kind of hive-mind propaganda department that is very savvy when it comes to online media.

In an IRC chat, Coleman, who has been studying Anonymous since 2008, told me that two of Anonymous' most prevalent visuals — the Guy Fawkes mask and the headless suit — both became popular grew in popularity, or were already popular, within the group during Scientology protests far in advance of the Wikileaks debacle.

These elements show up both in propaganda and on Anonymous' "official" web presences, connecting websites across platforms in a way that makes them more clearly the extensions of the same (faceless) group. Lately, the Anonymous/Wikileaks propaganda has also been making clever use of Wikileaks' oozing hourglass logo.

That same consistency, and savvy use of online media for advocacy, comes through in videos produced as part of "Operation Leakspin," an Anonymous initiative to flood YouTube with videos containing information from the secret U.S. State Department documents that Wikileaks is releasing over time.

American politicians have paid tens of thousands of dollars for video productions much worse than this one:

It's clear that the stylistic elements included in the more "official" videos rub off in the ones produced by Anonymous' members, who were exhorted to create one- to two-minute YouTube videos with nuggets from the Wikileaks release of embassy cables. Look at one video, then look at another from a different YouTube user, and it's clear that they're part of the same initiative, even if there are a few differences.

The slideshow above is a look at how Anonymous' members use their artistic abilities to define the group/collective/hive-mind/Borg/whatever's identity in the absence of a Julian Assange-like single personality or name.

And if you have links to more Anonymous art, please send them along or let me know on Twitter. I'd love to keep documenting the group's creative output.