Grand Theft Samo documents COLL.EO’s eponymous 2014 project comprising an artistic mod, a series of in-game performances, a set of videos (machinima), a collection of screengrabs and digital prints. The second of a series of interventions in Grand Theft Auto IV by COLL.EO that also includes Grand Theft Vito (2013), Following Bit (2013), and Arthur Rimbaud in Liberty City (2015), Grand Theft Samo puts the player in the streets of a fictional New York under the guise of a virtual Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Additionally, COLL.EO has faithfully reproduced several SAMO's graffiti and embedded them on the walls of Liberty City, replacing the existing ones. The book includes a gallery of SAMO's graffiti, never seen before images from SAMO IS DEAD, a machinima created by COLL.EO, a critical essay by Morgan Rachel Levy entitled "A Disheartening View From A Privileged Perch", and an introduction by the artists.
Grand Theft Samo is available in a limited edition of 99 copies.
Colleen Flaherty. A visual artist trained as a painter and a sculptor, Flaherty uses her craft and woodworking skills to create works that invite the viewer to engage with art in a tactile, tangible way. She received her M.F.A. in Painting from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2002 and her B.F.A. Cum Laude, with emphasis in Painting and Drawing, Minor in Music from San Jose State University in 1999. Her work has been presented in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Montevideo, Uruguay, and Pienza, Italy. In 2012 she started COLL.EO with Matteo Bittanti. Co-founder of Random Parts, an artist run space in Oakland, Flaherty lives and works in Northern California.
Matteo Bittanti is an interdisciplinary artist based in San Francisco and Milan. His work lies at the intersection of videogames, toys, cinema, and the web. Bittanti's conceptual pieces have been presented in the United States, Canada, England, Australia, Mexico, Scotland, Australia, France, and Italy. Since 2012, he has been collaborating with Colleen Flaherty as COLL.EO. As a scholar, he conducted fearless research at UC Berkeley, fought technological determinism at Stanford University, understood the difference between critical theory and hypocritical theory, social practice and social justice as an Adjunct Professor at California College of the Arts.
Morgan Rachel Levy: Morgan is a freelance photographer currently living in Denver, Colorado. Originally from Philadelphia, she lived and worked in New York and San Francisco for many years. Morgan often wishes she was photographing in Iceland where much of her personal work is based. When she’s not doing that, she’s busy desperately trying to catch up on her issues of The New Yorker. In recent years her editorial work has been featured in US and international publications. Her fine art work has been included in numerous exhibitions including a solo show at the Gulf & Western Gallery, group exhibitions at the New York Photo Festival, the Invisible Dog Art Center, Winkleman Gallery, Milk Studio Gallery, the Lower East Side Girls Gallery and Texas Woman’s University. Her work was selected this year for AI-AP 31 as well at Review CENTER Santa Fe.
COLLEO'S GRAND THEFT SAMO
"The images work on the viewer in other ways as well. It’s unsettling to see a deceased historical figure virtually resurrected in images called photographs. COLL.EO has visualized something in limbo in between the analog and digital world by showing us something that has-truly-been (Basquiat) in a type of image we’ve never seen before, effectively needling at the precariousness of our culture’s current relationship with the photographic image. Like Basquiat on the bridge, photography is in a transitional moment. For further proof of this in a less esoteric context, one can look to the 2015 World Press Photo competition in which hundreds of entrants were disqualified for digitally modifying their photographs. The overwhelming number of ineligible images is indicative of how unclear even professional photographers are about the definition of a photograph.
In addition to the questions Grand Theft Samo raises about the meaning of artistic interventions and the current ontological state of the photograph, there are broader political implications as well. The meaning of the performance is altered if we forget about the historical figure that serves as the character’s real world referent. In his place, we just see a young black male alone in a landscape equipped only with a can of spray paint. His sole prerogative is to create graffiti and not get killed while doing it. But in one of COLL.EO’s video documentations we watch this figure repeatedly get shot by a police officer. No matter how many times COLL.EO replays Grand Theft Samo, the character remains stuck in a world where creating graffiti and getting killed are his only two options. The back of a black man continues to be a politically charged landscape in America considering how many unarmed black men the police shot and killed in the last year alone. The image of the figure on the bridge with his back towards us takes on additional new meaning in this context. Perhaps it reminds of the Danziger Bridge incident, in which two unarmed black men were killed on a bridge in New Orleans six days after Hurricane Katrina hit. By self-consciously inserting a new character into Liberty City the artists apply their criticism to both the virtual and real worlds, not so subtly suggesting that as a culture, we’re far from the utopian society that we have the potential to build.
But it’s unclear if the work suggests we can do anything to change that. Digital media has not lost its capacity to be anything we want it to be, but like New York City the tidal wave of capitalism has crashed over it. In 2013 Wired UK reported that by the end of the third day of sales of Grand Theft Auto V, GTA IV’s follow-up, Rockstar Games estimated that worldwide retail sales had exceeded one billion dollars. By building a character that is fated to repeat the same futile gesture over and over COLL.EO’s prospects for a real and virtual society seem pessimistic. The ultimate conclusion these images leave us with is that as a culture we’re stuck precisely in the oppressive sameness that the real Basquiat as SAMO forecasted." (Morgan Rachel Levy, "A Disheartening View From A Privileged Perch", 2015)