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Culture

Student Unnerves Public with "Art Attack"

A news anchor taken hostage and forced to read terrorists' messages at gunpoint? Turns out it was all a gag orchestrated for art's sake -- one that is having legal consequences for the artist and, maybe, the nation.

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Artist Boeg wasn't planning to shoot the newsreader

The German nightly news show "Tagesschau" aired as normal everywhere on the evening of Sept. 22, 2004. Everywhere, that is, except in a couple of bars in the western city of Karlsruhe.

Patrons likely choked on their beers when suddenly, a man armed with a gun stormed the "Tagesschau" studio, and forced the anchorwoman to read out messages about "the evil" in the world.

What the viewers couldn't have known was that the whole scene was faked. Design student Oliver Karl Boeg, 30, convinced the owners of eight bars in the city to air his version of "Tagesschau" as an art happening.

Top marks

Boeg got top marks for his "video experiment" from his teachers, but judges at the Karlsruhe district court were less pleased. They fined the ambitious student 450 euros ($545) for disturbing the peace.

Boeg's lawyer is appealing the decision. Despite the small punishment, the case has attracted much attention in Germany, as it raises big questions about the freedom of art and artists, as well as the right of every individual to be protected from such "art attacks."

As the district attorneys in the case argued, Boeg imposed his "art" on unwitting bar patrons, without asking if they wanted to be part of the experience.

Fearful reactions

Many patrons took the almost 30-minute-long video seriously, and were concerned enough by what they saw to immediately inform friends.

Screenshot aus der Tagesschau

The real thing

Boeg had taken pains to make sure that his video was capable of deception. Even the microphone came from the supplier to the "Tagesschau." The anchorwoman's face would have been familiar to the viewers. Although Anne von Linstow is not a "Tagesschau" newsreader, she is an actress in a regional series.

Boeg calls his work a "real-time-action-film," the purpose of which was to draw attention to the way "one-way media penetration programs consciousness."

To prove his thesis, Boeg placed several of his peers in the venues where the video was shown to film viewer reactions. That move could have been his downfall. An IT expert who was eating a pizza when the disturbing scene came on was so annoyed by the student filming his reaction that he filed a complaint with the local police.

Boeg said he was aware of the effect his project might have from the start, and took the court's verdict in stride.

"From an artistic point of view, I feel almost honored that it's still possible today to disturb the so-called public peace with an art event," he said.

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