It's AOL, But Is It Art?
A Spokane, Washington, man is taking tech to a new level: He's turning it into art. Tom Dukich is exhibiting his artwork that uses America Online's ubiquitous discs to comment on the company's business marketing practices.
Dukich's exhibit, titled "Ways of Know-ing and No-ing," is running at
Among those is a 30-gallon trash can full of AOL CDs, sitting by a wall displaying giant mock AOL CDs, framed with garbage can lids.
"With my art, I try to take a look at both sides of the issues surrounding technology and science, both the positive and negative sides," Dukich says. "Part of art is the artist's comment on culture, and it can take a critical point of view or a noncritical point of view. AOL is now such a part of our cultural fabric. These discs are ubiquitous."
Dukich had hassles with AOL in the mid- to late-1990s, he says. When he was beginning to experiment with the Internet, he came across one of AOL's promotional discs and decided to sign up for the service. But when he decided to drop the service, he says, he had trouble getting AOL to quit charging his credit card. E-mail produced no response, and he says he spent "hours and hours" on hold when trying to call.
Finally, he canceled his credit card and his credit union helped recover half of his money, Dukich says.
AOL would still like to help Dukich resolve this issue in any way it can, says company spokesperson Nicholas Graham, who has not seen the art exhibit. Graham says that while he is not familiar with the exact circumstances of Dukich's account, AOL "goes to extraordinary lengths to make the cancellation process easy."
The company declines to comment on the status of member accounts, or even to confirm membership.
Dukich says he followed AOL's business practices for several years after his experience. He says he was "always amazed" at the company's success despite vocal customer complaints and
Seeing the AOL promotional discs all around him, Dukich began pondering a use for them.
He considered sending them to John Lieberman and Jim McKenna, two California men who are trying to
Dukich then toyed with the idea of creating one enormous disc using aluminum. In the end, he decided to create the smaller discs, about two feet in diameter, that are currently on display in the garbage can frames. His exhibit also includes a large disc he calls "America Oneline: Paper Version 1.0" with a logo he designed to enhance the resemblance between AOL's triangle logo and the triangle found on dollar bills.
The artwork also draws attention to AOL's offers for free service that accompany the promotional discs. The free time AOL touts in a first month of service often exceed most people's waking hours.
"AOL's offers have always amused me--amused and irritated me at the same time," he says. "They offer 1025 hours free, but you have to use it within 45 days. There are only 1080 hours in 45 days, so you'd have to be on the Internet around the clock to take advantage of the offer." Dukich's exhibit includes discs that claim to be free for life, and are good for 21 days, a statement meant to highlight what he calls the company's ludicrous offers.
AOL stands by that offer, denying it is in any way deceptive, Graham says. "It's our standard offer, 1025 hours or 45 days, whichever comes first," he says. "We make it very clear to our users what constitutes the offer and how they will be billed subsequent to the free period. This offer provides real value to potential AOL members and it clearly works with consumers."
Dukich is careful to note that not all of his artwork is critical of technology. His exhibit includes pieces honoring Pierre Bezier, the French mathematician behind the Bezier curve; and Alan Turing, the mathematician who broke the Enigma code used by German U-boats during World War II.
Dukich also acknowledges certain similarities between his endeavor and the business of AOL. His artwork, after all, is for sale. "It's part of being an artist," he says. "Marketing your work and getting recognized is part of what you have to do to make a living. That's what these discs are about."
AOL would likely agree.