In 1999, Philippe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe acquired the rights to a meek and unassuming Manga character known as ‘Annlee’. In the world of anime, characters are valued by the perceived complexity of their personality. Traits such as courage and ambition are appraised highly for their malleability to plot-lines and their ability to aid the character’s survival in several episodes. Having discovered her image in the catalogue of Kworks, a Japanese agency which creates cartoon figures for animated films and comic strips, the artists bought the cipher for the modest sum of 46,000 yen (around £260). Annlee was unfinished; her eye sockets empty, her clothing inconsequential. With “[t]rue heroes being rare and extremely expensive”, Annlee’s lack of any exceptional qualities whatsoever would have seen her quickly disappearing off the scene. But the French duo saw the potential of a tabula rasa, and labelling it the “No Ghost Just a Shell” project, after Masumune Shirow’s series, they honed in on the character’s digital mutability. Intending others to appropriate Annlee by creating works of art which would instil this “shell” with a life, they ultimately salvaged her from an industry which would have certainly condemned her to death.
Intending their venture to continue for a number of years, the sublicensing of the figure to other artists was free of charge. While the experiments undertaken were certainly rooted in a desire to explore contemporary technological developments, more keenly Huyghe and Parreno saw the opportunity to foster a level of creative interactivity, communication and collaboration. The common goal of her sustained fecundity brought together individuals from diverse mediums and backgrounds, with the common aspiration of reimagining and subsuming Annlee into their own original art.
The collective and repeated use of the same character exemplifies the collaborative possibilities in the creation of art. By definition, Annlee’s service in the repertoire of numerous artists is directly related to the fundamental principles of the sharing economy: a system predicated on the shared access of existing resources, rather than imposing the burdens of individual ownership. It is a peer-to-peer economy which stimulates the social distribution of goods and services more efficiently. By extension, the new system sees the worth of Capitalist waste; it enables it to be reallocated where it is needed and valued. This concept of the utilization of waste does apply to Annlee’s adoption, but not on a material spectrum. As a vapid, bland and useless creation of a massive corporation, she was digital debris, destined to evaporate into the web stratosphere. With the “No Ghost Just a Shell” project intent on “making Annlee the open-source, freeware starlet of a time-limited, collaborative enterprise”, Huyghe and Parreno undermined the mechanisms of the established economic system. By promoting a product that is viable only in a communal context, and only to be used gratis, they are promoting the division of resources between individuals even on a virtual platform.
Unlike so many artists of the 21st century whose work is defined by an exhausting preoccupation with the deficits of society, Rirkrit Tiravanija exhibits a utopia. Focusing on social exchanges, such as cooking and eating, acting or playing music, the dynamics of humility and human connection are core elements of his artistic practice. In viewing the gamut of his art, his participatory installations are inadvertent scaled down reproductions of the intrinsic mores of the sharing economy. In his 2003 piece Ghost Reader, Tiravanija depicts Annlee in an eight-hour film where she reads Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, the novel which inspired Blade Runner. The main theme of the text is empathy, or rather the androids’ lack of empathy; it is the yardstick for what it means to be human. Drawing intense similarities between the robots of the novel and Annlee, the piece is self-referential. Despite her own technical and perpetual “hollowness”, the nature of her very existence in the realms of art means that she is never truly empty. Rather, she is imbued with the spirits of a historical collective who will unremittingly bring her to life.