I closed my report of the exhibition The Air Itself is One Vast Library on the promise that i'd come back to my last visit to Brighton with a few words about the crime scene-style outline of a drone that James Bridle painted on the city seafront.
Under the Shadow of the Drone, commissioned by The Lighthouse, is a one-to-one representation of one of the military drones piloted remotely to strike targets in distant areas of the world. The aerial attacks they conduct leave hundreds of people dead, many of them innocent civilians.
The controversy surrounding unmanned aerial vehicles has been recently intensified in the UK with the news that pilots at Waddington (Lincolnshire) are now working in relay with the military in the US to remotely operate American Reaper drones in Afghanistan.
For Bridle, what matters is not so much the drone in itself but the 'black box' side of contemporary warfare technology. "I have a political interest in drones as well, but beyond that, they stand for all aspects of these invisible technologies that have a great effect on the world but are kind of largely hidden from view," he told the Creatorsproject.
We might read about drones, get horrified by the way they monitor, gather intelligence, destroy and kill but we still cannot fully understand them, simply because we don't see them properly, even people who are directly affected by them hardly ever get a chance to see UAVs. Under the Shadow of the Drone suddenly brings drones into our daily life.
I had intended to write down the notes i took during a talk that James Bridle gave last month in Brussels for The Digital Now series of events but The Lighthouse has recently uploaded on youtube a similar talk that the designer gave to the Brighton audience. I highly recommend it. It is both entertaining and chilling. Bridle explains in detail his research into drones and more generally his investigation into the way we perceive and understand technology. He analyzes how the most reproduced 'photo' of a Reaper drone is actually a photoshopped image that first emerged in a forum for 3D modeling hobbyists, he discusses the Disposition Matrix and the escalating assassination program which tracks and kills suspects militant terrorists in other part of the world, etc. He also illustrates his research by explaining briefly some of his own projects such as Dronestagram: A Drone's Eye View which collects images of locations of drone attacks along with a description of the carnage they incur and A Quiet Disposition, a software system that is constantly scanning the web for news reports on Disposition Matrix and drones and finding links between them.
This much shorter video brings the spotlight on Under the Shadow of the Drone:
Under the Shadow of the Drone remains on view on the Brighton seafront, five minutes' walk east from the Brighton Wheel (do stop by The Lighthouse, they'll hand you a map with the location of the shadow) until May 26, 2013. The work was produced by Lighthouse and Brighton Festival.
While looking through the programme of the ongoing Sight and Sound Festival, i found out about The Pirate Cinema, an installation that makes use of a data interception software of the same name to reveal in real time the hidden activity and the geography of peer-to-peer file sharing but also the aesthetic dimension of P2P architectures.
The video installation relies on an automated system that downloads continually the most popular torrents. The intercepted data is immediately projected onto a screen before being discarded.
The flows appearing on the screens constitute a sort of 'surveillance' of the peers as fragments of the files that they are exchanging can be visualized during the transmission or the reception. The remote users are, unknowingly, composing an endless collage determined by what they chose to download.
Hi Nicolas! The description of the work says "In the context of omnipresent telecommunications surveillance, "The Pirate Cinema" makes visible the invisible activity and geography of the peer to peer sharing network." Could you explain with more details?
The geographical aspect of the project is key in activating the imagination, but also in developing a critical view of consumption areas by file. A text indicating both the geographical origin of the peer who issued this fragment, and the geographical destination of the peer who received it is overlaid on each video excerpt.
When the system focuses on a single file, we obtain a kind of portrait of the file through its geographic distribution. We could almost speak of following the geographical spreading of "cultural" products. Or in the case of a TV series like "Homeland", we could speak of following the diffusion of ideological propaganda.
For an exhibition like this one, which is based on the most traded torrents, the vision is voluntarily an ultra-reducing one, it is a form of "greatest common denominator" of media on a world scale. We can, in some ways, navigate through what is consumed at a particular moment.
Are images appearing randomly? How does the system work?
This version monitors exchanges of The Pirate Bay's top 100. Each computer selects a few torrents from this list and monitors them for a minute, before switching to new file.
To present the project clearly, I often talk about the context, the imaginary and the functioning of the P2P architecture.
In the '80s, VHS brought cinema into the living room. Today, P2P and Internet bring it into personal computers and mobile phones. Through these modes of distribution, a wide-ranging reflection opens up about the media, the medium and what it specifically vehicles.
The P2P sharing protocol is based on the fragmentation of the files in small samples, it is an exchange unit. This fragmentation loosens the exchanges to different recipients. A file can then be recomposed sample by sample until it is complete, from snippets emanating from separate users and in a disorderly manner.
From a cinematic perspective this preliminary fragmentation of the media is also a fragmentation of the film material and of the narration. These "broadcasting mechanics" come with specific formal opportunities: mashup cinema, random editing, weaving together different films frame by frame, glitches and merging of different fragments.
This installation suggests a way to perceive the digital filmic medium as a stream, or rather as streams distributed on a global scale. In other words, The Pirate Cinema intends to re-explore films through the logic of cables, which is unique to each connection and location.
Since you're French, i can't help asking you about the French legislation, they have the reputation of being pretty intolerant towards P2P culture...
In France since 2004, the year of the first conviction for illegal download, P2P has been systematically associated with piracy. Many legal devices were then invented (such as Hadopi and Loppsi), that led to a massive criminalization of internet users, a legitimation of the monitoring processes carried out by some states (DPI), and the setting up by providers of systems to filter and block access to Internet.
I've just opened a twitter account to aggregate the news related to this issue.
Is this something that you and Brendan Howell (who is from the U.S. if i'm correct) kept in mind while working on the project?
We saw it as a kind of game. Ever since the beginning of the project, we anticipated the operating modes of the system so that we could be presentable regardless of the different ongoing pieces of legislation. For example, an encrypted connection to Sweden (Ipredator / the Pirate Bay) is used to anonymize each machine used in the project. Fragments of the files are encoded and remain on our machine only temporarily.
Didn't you fear that you might get into trouble?
We thought about it, we were particularly concerned about the exhibition spaces, but the legal aspects are very schizophrenic. It is obvious that the peer-to-peer structures have positive cultural impacts and also often positive social ones. The same questions were asked with the arrival of photocopiers, audio cassettes, VHS, etc.. The main stumbling blocks remain the obsolete structures of film and music production.
Several studies have demonstrated that the biggest downloaders are also among those who spend the most on culture (cinema, concerts, dvd, etc.), the company that produces the torrent download software Vuze is also boasting similar survey conclusions.
Teachers will find on torrents content for their classes that their local libraries can't provide. Recently, a list of the files downloaded by employees FBI leaked online.
With the hyper connected generation, a change is taking place and this change is obviously not just a technological one. In this regard, Michel Bauwens and the P2P Foundation study and communicate the alternatives in this field. They also explore transformative potential of P2P on the social, political, economic, cultural, educational levels. This is a pretty serious ideological trend that could take a growing part in the current debates.
The relationship to property and copyright has long been null and void. The past 15 years however (from Napster to EMule, Limewire or Mega) have blown up this contradiction in the digital domain. The right to exchange, share, re-appropriate or pool have become a space for a real prospective research. Russian artist Dimitry Kleiner has recently worked on a license, the Copyfarleft, that attempts to circumvent some limitations of the creative commons licenses and other copyleft approaches.
Is the work also a comment on the way p2p exchanges are vilified by the cinema industry?
Yes, the legal aspect is obviously closely linked to the film industry and to blockbusters. The Pirate Bays' top 100 reflects the issue quite accurately.
These past few years, download has even influenced the film industry and the production choices of big studios. In addition to blockbusters in 3D, they now design films made specifically to be seen inside cinema theaters and during films events. And these lose some of their appeal when they are viewed on Laptop / Home theater.
The Pirate Cinema goes beyond copyright, though. It is at the crossroads of many territories (social, legal, political, aesthetic), it leaves room for many versions and sequels to come.
Did anything surprise you about the images displayed on the screen? For example, do the same faces of famous actors in blockbuster movies keep appearing on the screen?
When you look at the installation over a long period of time, you start to notice many things about many things about the mass media distributed on P2P:
- For example, one can clearly identify the formal leveling between all the TV series (framing, casting, expressions, etc.)
- The aesthetic similarity between porn and video clips (explicit content) is also quite striking.
- At times, you can also see multiple versions of the same films, screeners captured in cinema theatres using different material and framing.
Is Sight and Sound the first place where you're showing The Pirate Cinema?
I started toying with the idea in early 2012 without knowing whether or not it would be fully realizable. We developed a first proof of concept during the Summer of 2012 with Labomedia in Orléans by modifying an existing Torrent client software. Around the same period Julian Oliver introduced me to Brendan Howell and we started experimenting with the concept. Brendan has gradually developed a specific "python" program. It took us almost a year to finalize a functional and stable version. I presented the work in workshops and conferences in the meantime, but Sight and Sound is the first to exhibit the project as an installation. We are currently working on a second version of The Pirate Cinema which will take the form of a live performance.
You can see The Pirate CInema during the fifth edition of Sight & Sound, a festival produced by Eastern Bloc. Sight & Sound has kicked off a few days ago, it remains open until 29 May in Montreal, Canada.
New year, new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM.
The guest of this episode is artist and critical engineer Julian Oliver whose award-winning software and hardware works include a wall plug that manipulates the news appearing on other people's screens, a pair of augmented-reality binoculars that replace advertisements in public spaces with artworks in real-time, but also a Transparency Grenade able to capture network traffic and audio at the site of secret corporate or governmental meetings and to anonymously stream the data to a dedicated server where it is mined for information. Julian Oliver's projects might be provocative and entertaining but their ultimate aim is to make us question the technologies we use every day: who really owns them? Who made them and to what purpose? How much do they shape our behavior? Do these technologies service us as much as we service them?
During the show, however, we're not going to talk about Julian's exciting projects. Instead, i wanted to focus on the Critical Engineering Manifesto that Julian wrote a year ago together with Gordan Savičić and Danja Vasiliev. Expect explanations about why Engineering is the most transformative language of our time, questions about how to adopt the critical engineering ethos if you have next to zero technical skills, and details about Julian Oliver's upcoming projects.
This is already the fifth episode of the art and science show i've been recording for ResonanceFM! It broadcasts today Monday 18 June at 16.30 (GMT.) There will be a repeat on Thursday at 22.30. You can catch it online if you don't live in London. And of course we will have podcasts (still waiting for them.)
Today i'm talking to Tom Keene, an artist whose work investigates technological objects and attempts to understand their agency and how they act as mechanisms of control within contemporary society. I met Tom at a conference about Interactivity a few months ago and he was the one guy in the panel who added a social and sometimes even political perspective on interactivity and on technology in general.
Right now Tom is completing an MA in Interactive Media, a course that merges Critical Theory and Practice at Goldsmiths College. The course graduation show will open on 6th, 7th and 8th July. Tom will be showing "Uncertain Substance" - a speech recognition system that searches the radio waves for conversations about money!
Here's the description of "Uncertain Substance" that Tom just sent me:
A speech recognition algorithm searches radio waves for conversations about money. As an ongoing investigation of the Viterbi algorithm this project seeks to understand the agency of a mathematical entity that operates as structural thread within the fabric of contemporary society.
Conceived in 1966 the Viterbi was originally used for digital signal processing where it detects and corrects errors in digital codes. Its use has subsequently extended through the technologies of speech recognition, DNA analysis, video encryption, deep space, and wireless communications systems. Physical manifestations of this algorithm exists as microchips installed in billions of mobile devices worldwide, enabling communications networks to permeate every conceivable space, blurring distinction between home, work and social environments.
Used to identify patterns and trends of human behaviour, the Viterbi plays a role in automated systems that interpret, record and report on human activity. These systems increasingly make economic decisions, govern response to crime, disaster, health and manage the everyday flow of cities. The Viterbi operates at a deep social level as it constructs new sets of social relations and radically shapes the development of our cities.
Today our conversation will focus on topics such as the social impact of the Viterbi algorithm (with a previous explanation on what the algorithm does exactly) and wireless infrastructures, the loss of public space in cities, in particular in London and in the area surrounding the Olympic sites.
Five years ago, three artists legally changed their name to Janez Janša and joined the conservative Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS.) So far, so almost normal. Except that Janez Janša is also he name of the leader of the party and Prime Minister of Slovenia. Suddenly there were more Janez Janšas acting together within the same physical and media space.
Their experience is being turned into the documentary My Name Is Janez Janša in which individuals, artists and academics ponder about the meaning and purpose of one's name from both private and public perspectives.
A debate arose in the media and art circles around the three Janez Janša's artistic gesture: What was its intent and significance? Was it a political critique? A work of activism? Pure provocation?
Followers of the politicians didn't leave much space for discussion and subtlety when they launched a defamatory campaign and declared that My Name Is Janez Jansa was little more than a work of pornography. The cover of a recent issue of the conservative magazine Reporter illustrates the manoeuvre (the still images published on the cover are actually from Bruce La Bruce and Rick Castro's movie Hustler White which has been quoted in My Name Is Janez Janša.)
The artists have now opened a crowdfunding call to ensure that they'll be able to finish the post-production of the film and distribute it widely.
I contacted the three Janez Janša, asked them to tell us more about the movie, the name change, the defamatory campaign and immediately realized that they haven't lost any of their sense of humour in the process:
It's been 5 years already since you decided to change your names (Davide Grassi, Emil Hrvatin, and Žiga Kariž) to Janez Janša, the same name as the Prime Minister of Slovenia. I'm sure you were expecting that it would have an impact on your everyday life but what were the effects of the new names on your work as an artist?
Janez Janša: Let me correct you first. My legal name is Janez Janša while the politician's legal name is IVAN Janša. He has been called Janez since his childhood, but he never changed his legal name into Janez Janša.
Janez Janša: Interestingly enough, when he appears in front of the court, as he is involved in many legal cases, he does it with his legal name Ivan Janša while in his political life, when he represents Slovenia, when he signs state documents, he uses a pseudonym, Janez Janša.
Janez Janša: I was expecting him to change his legal name in the same name we have, Janez Janša.
What has the experience brought you?
Janez Janša: My life didn't change because of the name changing. I still live the same kind of life and my artistic work is still my main profession.
Janez Janša: Shakespearean Juliet maintains that the name of the rose does not affect the sweetness of the rose itself. Yet, it is right my new name that makes now other people smell me different.
Janez Janša: The name is what you put forward when you introduce yourself to others. It streams your figure into public life. Other people use your name much more than you do. When you change your name, you don't change yourself. You change your "interface". That is why your name change affects other people more than it does affect you.
Janez Janša: ...as one's death. It affects more relatives and friends than the one who actually died.
How do you feed the discoveries and experiences of the past 5 years into your work as artists?
Janez Janša: They basically feed by themselves into our work as artists because the name change practically merged our art with our life.
I read this afternoon in El Pais that the documentary had faced censorship. Can you explain us what happened exactly?
Janez Janša: This issue around our documentary is far from being over so I wouldn't use the pass tense here. It is rather difficult to summarize the whole story. Maybe the best is if you can point your readers to the on-line document that contains the chronology of facts. Then they can make up their minds about the issue. I'm not even sure I will call this a case of censorship. It's more a case of "preventive media pillorying", an attempt to disqualify the work in front of the public opinion before it even get released...
Janez Janša: ...this way creating conditions for the public opinion to easily accept the censorship that might follow. The rhetoric used for achieving this goal is of a very populist kind. All the media close to the conservative government agree to define the movie as a "merely pornographic" and "highly offensive" product. A kind of "art" that shouldn't be allowed any further to be supported and produced with taxpayers money.
Janez Janša: The funny thing is that all the discrediting arguments are based on "something" that "somebody heard" that "someone else has seen". No one of the journalists attacking us has actually seen the work as the movie is not even finished yet.
But were you not expecting to be challenged and criticized when you decided that the 3 of you would adopt the name of the PM of Slovenia and join his own party? Surely that gesture must have been interpreted as a political position? And probably not as one that pays homage to his person and politics? How did he react to it?
Janez Janša: The first reaction by the Prime Minister was silence, and his silence was a very clear reaction. There was a lot of speculation in the media whether our name change is to be understood as a gesture of support or criticism to the politician.
Janez Janša: It is only in February 2011 that Janša, at the time the leader of the opposition, commented on our gesture. In an interview he gave for the 1st channel of the National Radio he said that he was receiving invitations to appear in front of the court and invoices for fines related to crimes we've done.
Janez Janša: After Janša made his public statement also conservative media and intellectuals started to comment on our name change especially highlighting the way public money were spent and for which kind of "politicized art". Some of the progressive critic instead maintained that by changing our names we helped the politician to himself to the public under a better light. Other accused us of doing a mere marketing operation to gain more visibility and therefore get more money.
Janez Janša: But all of them basically agreed on the fact that this name change would be a short exploit in our careers and that soon we will all change our names back, or further.
Janez Janša: Well, they were right, at least in my case. I've changed back my name to Žiga Kariž in January 2009 and now I'm still using Janez Janša as a pseudonym especially when I do some work with these two guys, Janez Janeša and Janez Janša...
Thank you Janez Janša!
The documentary My Name Is Janez Janša is in its post-production phase, and it needs financial strengthening. Help the artists finish the film and reach worldwide audience.
While in Amsterdam last weekend, i went to see The Art of Hacking at the New Media Art Institute. The exhibition presents art projects that subvert, improve on or circumnavigate 'official' systems and practices and offer alternatives. I first thought of writing a report about the whole show but the work Identity Bureau ended up grabbing all my attention. That's what happens when Heath Bunting has a project in a collective exhibition.
Identity Bureau builds upon The Status Project (2004-2008), an inquiry into the construction of our 'official identity', as a collection of data and how it influences the way we can move around in social space, the internet and private or governmental databases.
One day Heath Bunting realized that in the UK it is legal to have several identities, if they are not for criminal purposes.
He set up an 'Identity Bureau' to allow ordinary people to buy new, official and legal UK identities at reasonable cost (500 euros.) It might start with something as banal as a supermarket loyalty card and from there, a new identity builds up that gets more and more coherent. The identity is based both on intangible and tangible materials. Bunting hands the ready-to-use identity inside a suitcase where the buyer can find supermarket loyalty cards, transportation cards, a mobile phone number, letters sent by governmental departments to an address in the UK, etc. The identity also exists in a less tangible way as the new person is inserted inside a web of shopping, library or transportation cards, bills, government correspondence, and other "personal" data. The person also belongs to a network made of other people, organizations, and institutions. The new identity allows you to have a bank account, free health care and a social security number in the country.
Identity Bureau challenges the idea of personhood by showing how materially produced an identity is.
See also the conversation between UK barrister Bob Colover and Heath Bunting.