During the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, governments restricted the access to the Internet in an effort to hamper online peer networking and thus self-organization. Could other governments ever operate a similar media shutdown and cut their citizens off the internet?
What would we do if ever an Internet kill switch was implemented in our country? Not necessarily to prevent us from orchestrating riots but to protect the internet "from unspecified assailants".
At the latest graduation show of the Design Interactions department in London, Philipp Ronnenberg was showing 3 methods to prepare for the time after a cyberwar. The Post Cyberwar Series proposes an alternative open navigation system, a makeshift wireless communication infrastructure as well as a novel data storage.
The Teletext Social Network enables people to bypass network providers and governmental institutions and communicate using the analogue television broadcasting which was freed last April in the UK.
OpenPositioningSystem relies on the seismic activity, produced by generators in power plants, turbines in pumping stations or other large machines running in factories to provide an open navigation system. I interviewed the designer about it a few months ago.
People living in urban areas could use the Sewer Cloud as a living, self-reproducing data network. This living network would be located in the sewerage system and use the algae species Anabaena bacteria for the insertion and extraction of data.
I contacted Philipp again to ask for more details about his project:
Hi Philipp! When i first interviewed you about the OPS, you didn't mention the kill switch. How did it go from one project about positioning system to a more complex scenario in which internet has been killed off? Were you inspired by any particular events from the recent news? I'm thinking of the NSA data collection: isn't controlling the internet and surveilling our every click enough for States?
The kill switch scenario stands for "killing" the Internet. But the Internet is only one network which is under control of companies and governmental institutions. The kill switch particularly is about the Internet, but other networks such as GPS navigation and mobile phone networks can be affected as well. In all three cases, the GPS navigation network, the mobile phone networks and the Internet, the control is in the hand of companies and governmental institutions.
I wanted to create three independent network alternatives. The body of work wrapped in the series Post Cyberwar is a reflection of how dependent we are today on the authoritarian structures of the networks we are using day to day. It is not only about surveillance and tracking down activity of users, it is also about content which becomes increasingly restricted, censored and monitored. The installation of controlling instances (i.e. kill switch) within these networks is justified with cyberwar and cyber-terrorism.
Controlling the Internet and surveilling our every click is enough for getting an insight. But as we saw in Georgia, Egypt and sometimes China, shutting down the Internet and mobile phone networks (or at least parts of it), is a powerful way to prevent communication and the circulation of undesirable information.
Speaking of OPS, how much has it grown since we last talked about it? Have the prototype and software improved and has the project given rise to attention and interest?
The OPS has grown a lot. First it got attention through your first blogpost and it was reblogged by some bigger blogs. I got very diverse feedback from "this comes out when art students try to be engineers (theverge.com comments)" and people asking me to get actively involved. I have 80 registered members on the website so far, but there is not much activity yet. I want to spend more time soon to bring new content on the website and therefore activate the registered members. The prototype and the software have slightly improved being more accurate and I worked on better tuning to seismic frequencies.
I gave two talks (#geomob London and W3C Open Data on the Web workshop) about the OPS so far where I tried to convince people to come on board. There is a third presentation at OHM2013 planned.
Is the Social Teletext Network installation at the show a working prototype? Which part of the communication would it replace exactly? I can't believe it could replace all internet communication, it seems to be so rudimentary.
The Social Teletext Network in the show was showing a demo. But I have the hardware and the software ready to switch it on. The demo in the show was created with the help of the same software which is used in the real setup. Unfortunately it is highly illegal to broadcast your own TV signals, therefore I decided to show a demo in the show. I could apply for analogue (VHF) frequencies, but it is very expensive (too expensive for a student project).
It is not meant to replace the entire Internet. The technical limitations for this task are too high. The Social Teletext Network is capable to provide wireless information streaming, using the old obsolete teletext technology, which makes it harder to track or to monitor. I tried to port some comfort which we know from computer interaction to the Social Teletext Network. For example: You can zoom into specific regions on a map and visualise user locations and other information.
The Teletext specifications provide a very limited resolution and it can only display text and graphics programmed with single pixels. Overall, the strength is that you can send and receive information wireless and over a distance (5km and even more possible with the right hardware and a high antenna).
Could you explain me with more details the process of the data insertion and extraction from algae? Because if i want to retrieve some data, how do i know which algae i should fish and where?
Text, images, video and any piece of digital data is written in binary code (110011110). These 1's and 0's are then encoded to the four base-pairs of DNA (Adenine, Cytosine, Thymine and Guanine). The new base-pair string will be synthesised to a complete DNA string and inserted into living organisms. To read data out of a DNA string the base-pairs would be decoded to 1's and 0's again and from that to human readable information.
As 1 gram of DNA can hold up to 700 terabytes (700.000 gigabytes), the amount of data what you can find in a single piece is very high.
If you would insert data into algae and hide the algae at a specific site, the chance that it stays there is high. It would reproduce itself and the following generations would go on a journey. But if the conditions are good, the origin would stay at the same spot and you could still find the same data even years after you have put it somewhere. So the idea is more, that you would know by locations where you can find specific information.
La Cosa Radiactiva has brought a group of young engineers, musicians & artists on the roads of Spain to explore sites related with radioactivity.
The team (composed of Sergio Galán, Victor Díaz, Alejandro Pérez, Servando Barreiro, Marcos Carnero, Alvaro Santamaría and Javier Villaroel) is not always welcome in nor around the facilities they investigated but they nevertheless measured radioactivity in locations that range from the Arrocampo artificial lake (which water is used to refrigerate the turbines of the nearby Almaraz Nuclear Power Plant) to a dismantled uranium mine in La Haba (a small town of 1000 inhabitants in the Badajoz province), from the first nuclear power plant (in process of dismantling) in Zorita to a nuclear waste storage facility in El Cabril (Córdoba), etc.
They traveled with their own measurement and visualization system that combines a Geiger counter, an Arduino microcontroller and an app for Android phones. The data gathered is visualized on online maps and in the form of audiovisual performances organized on the public squares of the villages and small towns they visit. The findings collected are also used to trigger discussions with the local population as well as with a broader audience about the social and cultural impact of nuclear energy.
La Cosa Radiactiva is a "research on transparency and nuclear secrets. A performance to demystify radiation while building awareness of its risks. An imagination exercise to reflect on how it would be like to live with radiation and above all this, a call about the importance of citizens having their own tools to be able to verify public health data provided by governmental authorities."
La Cosa Radiactiva / The Radioactive Thing. English trailer
La Cosa Radiactiva / The Radioactive Thing is another brilliant project i discovered during my last visit to MediaLab Prado (i recently wrote about Citizen Cyber Science and the Freedom of Speech Kit.) Because i only had a few minutes to talk about it with Sergio Galán while i was in Madrid, i emailed him to ask him further questions about the project.
Hola Sergio! How much is known, made public in Spain about radioactivity? Was it easy for the team to find information about the location of radioactive sites?
First of all, just to clarify, all places we visited were not radioactive, I mean, with high levels of radioactivity. They were places with some connection with the nuclear industries: mines, factories, centrals, storages... Some of them are still working some are dismantled.
So, answering the question, it is not a secret to find those places. These are mostly old industrial places which are documented in quite a few webs.
But it is tricky. For instance, the ambient sensors provide a measurement of "radiation" around them, so we might think that if those sensors are below certain levels there is no risk.
There is a Geiger counter in many places where old mines or nuclear power plants are. Even if there were a leak or there is underground contamination, the geiger counter won't measure anything alarming unless something quite big is happening.
If you measure ambient radiation in a room where there is radioactively contaminated rice, you won't see a high measurement in your geiger counter, but it doesn't mean you can eat the rice. Counters detect external irradiation not contamination. If you don't know this, sensors can provide a fake "safe" feeling.
Furthermore when something happens, transparency falls down. In Spain during the last 30 years we haven't had a serious incidence, but even the small ones were hidden below the carpet. There was a tiny leak in ASCO - one of the nuclear power plants in Spain - and they didn't inform about the incidence until months later.
So it is a strange policy, always showing off transparency but hiding information when something happens. This is an example that should make us think twice before being too optimistic about the current transparency & open data wave - which of course I stand for - because it can also be used as a smoke curtain to hide things while seeming transparent.
One of the objectives of La Cosa Radiactiva is to 'hold workshops where people can learn about our work and about the radioactive phenomenon in a different way." How different is it from the way radioactivity is presented in mainstream media?
Since it was discovered there has been a strong fascination for radioactivity, thinking about it as a kind of paranormal power like green waves emerging from minerals and mutating all life around. One of our goals when doing our workshops was to teach basic scientific knowledge. We explained that of course it might be dangerous but it is a natural phenomenon, governed by natural laws. And it is actually everywhere, it is on nature in low levels.
Reality is that a lot of people don't have a serious clue about what radioactivity is. I've talked to many people about the project I was doing and quite a few asked me if it had to do with mobile phone waves, which is a totally different issue. So people don't receive scientific education to differentiate electromagnetic waves from nuclear radiation, but we - as a democratic country or society - have decided that we can use it as one of our key energy sources
While on a tour to locate and measure radioactivity around Spain, you met with local communities. How aware (and maybe worried?) are they about the presence of radiation in their environment?
We didn't make any serious poll, but my impression is that there is always a group of people interested and worried, but most of the people don't really care. For instance in a village were there used to be an uranium factory (where most of the workers died or are suffering uranium related illnesses) a guy told us that people don't talk about it. Some of them want to know if there is danger but at the same time they don't want to dig too much, because in case of finding something it might create economic troubles to the region.
So in the places we visited, when there is a nuclear power plant, people live well, they have jobs and so on. And they don't want to know. When there was something in the past, it is an old conflict. It is buried, only ecologists complain from time to time.
The exception is when there is an ongoing conflict. We visited a small village next to where the government plans to build a storage for nuclear waste and in that region people are really engaged, both for and against it.
What is the state of the nuclear energy discourse is in Spain right now? Is the country planing to create new power stations or is it looking for other forms of energy?
It is very ambiguous. On one hand there is a "nuclear moratory". Seven nuclear reactors were under construction in the 80's and then the government stopped them (so they are now just huge empty cement buildings that we are still paying, which is another interesting topic).
On the other hand, the active nuclear power plants, easily get new permissions to keep working for more years. Current government is more pro-nuclear than the old one, but I don't think they'll seriously plan to build more nuclear power plants, basically because they are very expensive, and require many years to start producing energy. Public sector is not investing on anything right now, and private sector won't invest unless they are strongly supported by public money/laws.
The official policy used to be to build more wind and sun powered plants -and Spain is actually among the leaders in both technologies. I think that it is the right thing, but is it enough? People like green energy and don't like carbon or nuclear, but nobody asks the uncomfortable questions like: Can we sustain our energy appetite with green tech only? Are we willing to pay more money for energy to avoid the energy sources with bad reputation? Or are we willing to stop our continuous growth system to consume less energy?
Can you describe briefly the DiY Geiger counters you've made and how members of the public will one day be able to make their own?
Since Fukushima's accident there has been quite a lot of interest for domestic Geiger counters, so they are becoming cheaper and smaller. The one we bought is made by a Spanish company and it is fully open hardware. It works over Arduino, and using the "Android-ready" version of Arduino we could connect it to the mobile phone.
So we don't build it but it is technically possible to build it from scratch. What we developed is a software to use the counter with Android phones. Thanks to the Medialab-Prado's open lab I contacted Alvaro and together with my colleague Victor we did all the Android+Arduino coding.
The goal was to build something more "user centered", a kind of nice interface for geiger counters so people can use it to make explorations and understand what's going on and how good or bad the measurement is.
Does the device show the difference between natural and man-made radioactivity? Sorry for the idiot question but have both forms of radioactivity the same impact on the environment?
Please note that I'm talking as an amateur, not as a scientist, so I might be not very precise. But in essence there are three kinds of radioactive particles: Alpha Beta and Gamma. The three of them can be natural or man-made. A Geiger counter reads the total radiation level so we don't know if the radioactivity we are measuring is natural or not. However if you read an abnormally high level of radiation somewhere, there is probably some human involved there.
Each radioactive element decays into other element emitting different combinations of particles, so scientific equipment can find out if the radiation is coming from natural sources or from other elements which are not usual in nature or directly only exist in nuclear waste or in the nuclear fusion process.
Animals are used to live with low levels of natural radiation in their environment, so if it suddenly increases that is when health problems start to appear.
La Cosa Radiactiva is also about transforming nuclear radiation into image & sound. Can you explain us how?
One of the main goals of the project was to work with radioactivity as a kind of input material for art or performances. So I contacted Servando Barreiro which is a media artist and VJ and also an old acquaintance. He had made a laser projector and with it he generates waves and shapes. For me, the aesthetic of his laser projections, resonates with what popular culture associates with radioactivity: green rays of death. So we agreed on working together. We added an option to the mobile app to stream the measurement levels. So Servando receives the measurement levels and he uses that information to change and modify the shapes of the projections.
My main idea was to have a kind of laser sculpture for villages with nuclear power plants. The laser sculpture will draw day after day the same bored calm shapes. But if there is a radiation leak and the village is in danger, the sculpture would mutate into creepy shapes, and people would admire it before realising that they are in danger.
It sounds poetic but we couldn't talk with the mayor of any place interested on having this. So I just tell it as a kind of design fiction, and in case a mayor of a "radioactive town" wants to build it, he can contact us.
Is the project over or are you planning to work further on it?
I'd love to have some time to finish the app adding a nice visualisation on how dangerous the radiation level that you are measuring is. That will happen probably soon. But the project as it was imagined at the beginning is almost finished. Now I'm thinking on what to do with this. We could make a nice installation for art centres and so on, but we'll see. For now we've just released the documentary a couple of days ago. Marcos Carnero recorded our trip and together with Alejandro we made the script for a series of short films explaining the project and the opinions of the people we found.
For the future I'd like this to be a kind of public service. Like ghostbusters. People would send us an email telling: I think I saw green smoke coming out of the nuclear power plant yesterday. Can you explain us how the geiger counters works or can you come with your counters and tell us what's going on? But besides accidents, I think the main utility for geiger counters is educational. Showing people how it works, explaining that radioactivity is everywhere and using them as a tool to learn & talk (and get fascinated by Servando's figures if they have the chance to.)
Book description: The Art of Walking: a field guide is the first extensive survey of walking in contemporary art. Combining short texts on the subject with a variety of artists work, The Art of Walking provides a new way of looking at this everyday subject.
The introduction relates peripatetic art now to a wide range of historic precedents, and is followed by a series of visually led 'Walks' dealing with seven overlapping themes: footprints and lines; writers and philosophers; marches and processions; aliens, dandies and drifters; slapstick; studios, museums and biennales; and dog walkers.
The guide includes newly commissioned art and writing, and many artists have been actively involved in the design of their respective pages.
This overview of artworks dealing with walking completely took me by surprise. I was expecting psychogeography, peripatetics, geolocation and theory. But The Art of Walking: A Field Guide is not only light on words, it also follows themes that range from aliens to slapstick to dog walking.
The way the content is illustrated is worth a mention too. There are the usual photos that document performances of course but also letters, preparatory drawings, souvenir programme, etc. The succession of images for each artwork allows the reader to fill in the dots, complete the short presentation text and create their own narrative. The author even asked some of the artists to participate in the editorial process. For example, The Art of Walking opens on a series of proposals that artist Peter Liversidge wrote down on his old typewriter for the author of the book, for himself or for the reader. He invites you to put down the book and go outside, for example. And following his suggestion, the book closes on 5 empty pages for you to write down notes.
The book was thus nothing i expected. And that's never a bad thing.
Special mention for the format and design of the book. Soft cover. Thick, glossy pages but not too glossy (if you know what i mean.) Round corners.
And now for the traditional tour of some of the works presented in the book:
In 2003, Regina José Galindo walked from the Congress of Guatemala building to the National Palace, dipping her bare feet in a basin filled with human blood, leaving red footprints behind as a protest against the presidential candidacy of Guatemala's former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt whose military regime committed widespread human rights abuses.
In 1991, Francis Alÿs dragged a magnetic toy dog on wheels through Mexico City until it became covered entirely in coins, bits of old tin cans and other street debris.
In the 1999 video performance 'Stoat', Marcus Coates is staggering on wooden platforms, in a pitiful attempt to recreate the animal's gait.
GPS device in hand, Simon Faithfull walked along the Greenwich Meridian from Peace Haven in Hampshire to Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire. Following the exact line of longitude involved climbing through windows and up fences, crossing private properties, swimming through streams and crawling through hedges.
Marches by Lawrence Abu Hamdan is an audio recording, booklet and map documenting two performances on 23 May 2008.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan choreographed two marches in the Queen's Walk and Tower Hill areas of London. The marchers stomped wearing footwear created by local cobblers for greater sonic effect.
And While London Burns is the soundtrack for the era of climate change, set amongst the skyscrapers of the most powerful financial district on Earth, London's Square Mile. An opera for one, it takes the listener, equipped with an mp3 player on a walking audio adventure through the streets and alleyways of our city.
Between 1976 and 1979, Keith Arnatt photographed dogs and their owners out for walks near his home in South Wales. The artist went to great lengths to ensure that the owner and his pet are looking at the camera at the same time.
"Where the photographic act is concerned, a dog's attention span is extremely short. When, for example, calling a dog's name fails to attract its attention, I am forced to resort to more extreme measures."
"My barking and growling are quite effective, though such antics tend also to affect the owner's own response. And though a fair number of pictures do show the dog making the required response, they are marred by showing the owner peering down to see whether they are doing so."
In 2007 high wire artist Didier Pasquette attempted to walk between three of Glasgow's Red Road high rise tower blocks. Unfortunately, high winds forced Pasquette to retrace his path. The performance was used by artist Catherine Yass as the basis of a reflection on the urban environment.
Also by David Evans: Critical Dictionary.
The Work in Progress show of the Design School at the Royal College of Art opened a couple of days ago. I went twice and haven't moved beyond the Design Interactions department yet but i'm hopeful i'll get to see the works of the other departments over the weekend as well.
The department is showing some 40 projects this year. The variety of interests, means to explore them and degrees of speculation is remarkable.
Philipp Ronnenberg's ongoing OpenPositioningSystem / openps.info is a very hands-on, concrete project that aims to offer an alternative to the dominant global positioning systems or other navigation systems which are controlled by governments, network companies or in the case of GPS by the U.S. military. These technologies are closed at the moment and can be shut down at any time.
OpenPositioningSystem, however, was developed in the same spirit as OpenStreetMap. It would be open, accessible to anyone and collaboratively run by citizens.
Here's how the system works:
At the current stage of this project the sensor can detect and collect different frequencies.
In this early stage, the project will still rely on GPS and maps. With the process of expanding the new network of seismic sources, it can be possible to build a stand alone positioning system.
The designer is hoping to gather interested people on the web platform openps.info and build a community which will help him develop the software, hardware and testing processes.
All images courtesy Philipp Ronnenberg.
The School of Design Work-in-Progress Show remains open until 3 February 2013 at RCA Kensington.
My sincere apologies for this belated (but enthusiastic) report from the AND Festival, a festival of new cinema, digital culture and art that takes place annually in Liverpool or Manchester with an extended regional programme.
Finally! An art & tech festival that makes sense. A festival that resonates with the media art expert and the casual passerby alike. An event that values art above in-your-face tech prowess. It was my first visit to an AND festival. I found it witty, surprising, often thought-provoking and enlightening.
Exhibitions, performances, open air cinema and workshops were free and distributed all over the city. My first stop was for the CUBE which was showing two works dealing with biotechnology. Pigs Bladder Football by John O'Shea and Reproductive Futures by Zoe Papadopoulou.
Pigs Bladder Football looks back at the time when football balls were made from pig bladders but instead of using an existing organ, the project tissue engineered small balls from animal cells harvested from abattoir waste. The artist was showing a video, a DIY incubator case as well as prototype of bladder muscle cell growing on 3D-printed polymer scaffold.
Zoe's exhibition was charting the history of assisted reproductive technology, putting the spotlight on landmarks such as the first premature baby wards in the US which used to be part of freak shows, the first test-tube baby, the first orphan who had more than 2 genetic parents, artificial wombs and the possibility to be the 'ultimate solo parent' one day. Reproductive Futures particularly explores one of the many cultural implications of these breakthrough: how are we going to explain children how babies are made? And will the techniques themselves have the potential to fundamentally change the way we perceive parenthood and reproduction?
I'll talk about these two works in more details in the future. Zoe is going to have a show of the final project this Fall in London and an interview with John O'Shea and Professor John Hunt is coming up next month on my art&science radio series for Resonance FM.
The AND festival had also given caravans to artists (London Fieldworks, Hellicar & Lewis, The Center for Genomic Gastronomy, Bureau A, Julian Oliver and Designers Republic) for them to customize, turn into micro art spaces and form a Mobile Republic.
Julian Oliver is perhaps the artist that made the most congruous use of the caravan with a work of "dislocative media." Boarder Bumping highlights the fact that as we traverse borders our cellular devices hop from network to network across neighbouring territories, often before or after we ourselves have arrived. These moments, of our device operating in one territory whilst our body continues in another, can be seen to produce a new and contradictory terrain for action. A free custom-made app on your phone checks for discrepancies between location data and mobile phone towers, thus between where you actually are and where your network says you are. The Border Bumping server then redraws accordingly the map of the national borders you are crossing.
One of the most stunning works i saw at the festival was a duo of videos by Jan Peter Hammer: The Anarchist Banker and Monarchs and Men. They were part of What have I done to (de)serve this? at Blankspace. The show presented works that reflect on the current global financial crisis and explore alternative economic systems.
The protagonist of Pessoa's story was inspired by Artur Alves dos Reis, a fraudster who mounted a scam so big, it shook the credibility of the Portuguese currency, the Escudo. The repercussions on the economy and politics of the country were considerable: the escudo lost much of its credibility and so did the Portuguese government. The crisis enabled the military coup d'état of the 28th of May 1926 and eventually brought the dictatorship of Salazar who stayed in power until 1968.
In Hammer's film, the dialogue between Pessoa's protagonists has been adapted to reflect upon the financial practices of neo-liberalism and the current credit crunch. It is set as a tv talk show in which a banker with a ruthless logic is interviewed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
The other film, Monarchs and Men, is a sequel of The Anarchist Banker. The same banker is back on screen with a similar panegyric of 'rational egoism' and individualism. This time the scenario is based on an imaginary conversation between Leon Tolstoy and John Davidson Rockefeller, published in 1913 by Maximilian Harden. Hammer sets the scene at the opening of an art exhibition at a gallery supported by the banker.
The films are brilliantly frustrating. The banker is the star of both. Anyone watching it will detest his brutal point of view and be irritated by the way he invariably defeats any argument opposed to his dogma. But it is also impossible not to admire his eloquence, firm beliefs and unflappable logic. Besides, the media usually show us capitalists attempting to defend their practice. There's no apology nor hypocrisy here, just merciless, unadulterated mindset.
The theme of the Blue Crystal Ball exhibition at the Holden Gallery should have repelled me. Well actually it did repel me but i tried not to let my prejudices stop me. The show presented film and video works that explore the ideals and values of the Olympic movement.
The videos were very different from each other and very good. Without any exception. But i've already exhausted my quota of video reviews that aren't accompanied by any extract online for the day so you'll just have to take my word for it alas!
And i'll close with men briefs. Because i couldn't find any reason not to end on this happy note.
Yesterday, i went to the Saatchi Gallery to see Korean Eye and the most charitable comment i'm willing to make about the show is that it has a few good moments. However, the exhibition on the top floor, The Nine Eyes of Google Street View, is worth the trip to King's Road.
The nine eyes are the cameras mounted on the pole on top of each vehicle that Google sent around the world 5 years ago. The technology of Google Street View has sparkled moments of deep humiliation, interest from the press photography community, privacy concerns and brilliant artistic reactions.
Jon Rafman was one of the first artists who spent hours looking at the images collected by the cars and searching not just for the amusing, the ridiculous and the fortuitous but also for postcard perfect moments. And does he have an eye for stunning images...
As the artist writes: With its supposedly neutral gaze, the Street View photography had a spontaneous quality unspoiled by the sensitivities or agendas of a human photographer... capturing fragments of reality stripped of all cultural intentions.
Without indication of their location:
Looks like Trellick Tower in North Kensington, London.
Probably my favourite:
Previously: Community Performance in Google Street View, Aaron Hobson's Cinemascapes: Google Street View Edition which i discovered at the London Festival of Photography, and Michael Wolf, We are watching you...