A few days ago, i was on video skype for an interview with Tatiana Bazzichelli and her irresistible Italian accent.
I had long wanted to sit down properly and have a chat with Tatiana. The reasons for that are many. First of all, Tatiana is one of the few people who knows the world of art but also the hacking community from the inside. Besides, she has a strong academic and curatorial background.
Bazzichelli is a curator and researcher, author of the books Networked Disruption. Rethinking Oppositions in Art, Hacktivism and the Business of Social Networking (2013), Networking. The Net as Artwork (2008), and co-editor of the book Disrupting Business. Art & Activism in Times of Financial Crisis (highly recommended, like all her book this one is available as paperback but also as a free download). She is director of the Disruption Network Lab, an experimental curatorial project on art, hacktivism, and disruption, based in Berlin. We'll talk during the interview about the upcoming activities of the lab but do not miss its opening event this month, it's called Drones and it examines drone warfare through the perspectives of a former U.S. drone operator, an artist, a criminal law researcher, investigative journalists, activists, filmmakers and a series of international experts.
Previous to that, Tatiana was programme curator at the transmediale festival, initiating the year-round reSource transmedial culture project, and was a Post-Doctoral researcher at the Centre for Digital Cultures, Leuphana University of Lüneburg.
The second reason why i wanted to steal a moment from Tatiana Bazzichelli's life is Networked Disruption, an exhibition and a series of events she has curated. If you're in Ljubljana (lucky you!) you have until Friday to check out the show at the Škuc Gallery. Right after that, the exhibition will move to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rijeka. Future events in other European cities are on the agenda.
Centered on the concept of "Networked Disruption" (a concept which is analyzed in depth in her book of the same name), the exhibition highlights the mutual interferences between business, art and disruption. Because it brings together the heterogeneous practices of hackers, artists, networkers, whistleblowers, activists and entrepreneurs, the show is dense in reflections, provocations and references to contemporary society.
The increasing commercialisation of sharing and networking contexts since the middle of 2000s is transforming the meaning of art and that of business. What were once marginal practices of networking in underground hacker and artistic contexts have in recent years become a core business for many information technology companies and social media enterprises. In Bazzichelli's analysis, art intertwines with disruption beyond dialectical oppositions, leading to a discovery of subliminal and distributed strategies, which emerge from within the capitalistic systems, or act within it.
Here is the transcript of the interview:
Hi Tatiana! What was the catalyst of your research into the ways artists and hackers can disrupt the system from within? How and why did it start?
In 2008, I moved to Denmark to do a PhD. The research came from very personal reflections. When you and i first met a few years ago, i was interested in questions of sexuality and practices of queer culture. At the same time, i was also speaking about practices of hacking as a form of openness and DIY in connection with political activity.
However, around 2004-2005, I think that there was a moment of change because we started to get into a more mainstream social media framework. This for me modified the perspective because i think many people, who were part of our underground political culture, started to use tools that were becoming common at the time. I noticed that many people -and that includes the net art culture- started to be on Facebook and many of the conversations were happening there. It was a real surprise for me. I could not understand how it was possible that people like us, who used to be really critical, started to shift the field of conversation and action to Facebook.
For example, before Facebook, many people were using MySpace and here in Berlin it was the platform that was popular among the club scene. From MySpace people later migrated to Facebook. Many of these people came from the queer culture and were always speaking of the pleasure as coming from your own understanding of the body but also as a political mean. But when you are just clicking "Like" all the time on Facebook, you transfer your pleasure into a commodified value. "Like" means 'it gives me pleasure' but it also translates into a way for corporations to make money through advertisement. So i was at the time a bit upset.
Then in 2004 i went to this conference in Berlin. It was organized by Tim O'Reilly. It was the time when they were really launching this concept of Web 2. 0, both as a theme and as a business model.
What surprised me at the conference is that they were using the idea of hacking, DIY and many characteristics of the hacker culture to present their products. And i remember Tim O'Reilley at that conference saying that data is the next 'Intel Inside'. I found it a bit strange that the ideas of DIY, openness, sharing, participation were becoming a business model. Even if we always say that business and art are totally intertwined, i was surprised to hear that this could also apply to hacker culture because i was coming from a more politically-oriented hacking.
When i started my PhD in 2008, i wanted to investigate this process: how hacking, business and art started to be so intertwined and what were the consequences for our community of net artists, hackers and so on. As we know that Web 2.0 started as a concept in the Silicon Valley, i travelled to San Francisco and California during my PhD and i started to interview a lot of people. I summarized these experiences in the book.
In the book i started talking about the idea of disruption. That was in 2008 when not many people were using the concept of disruption. Now it is a total buzz word in many contexts, including political, artistic or hacker practices. Disruption is a term coming from business. If we want to define the term disruption, it means to introduce a product, a technology or an innovation that the market doesn't expect. This is usually a definition used by many start-ups to define the way they create disruptive innovation. The idea is that you introduce into the market an innovation that is often cheaper than the other products already available and in this way you create a disruption because you shift the public and the consumers into using the new product. This component of being unexpected is important. But what is equally important is that the discourse of disruption comes from inside this system.
In my previous experiences, i used to think that sometimes it was good to create opposition in order to trigger a change. It was the time right after the anti globalization movement, when we had to reflect on tactics that were often characterized by a component of opposition. Many people started to think that we needed to invent new forms of criticism. And that's why i was so interested in the queer community because they were usually adopting tactics that were playful and not merely oppositional of the system as many people were doing for example during the G8 manifestations when disobedience was applying a very frontal opposition. After the massacre of the 2001 G8 Summit in Genoa, we could see that the movement had to rethink its strategies. So i started to investigate different forms of practices that were working from within or adopting viral and playful strategies. Initially, I looked into queer culture but then after web 2.0, i moved into business because i could see that it was a second step that needed to be analyzed.
After the PhD, i i started to write about disruption and i saw that it could be applied to the art field. Just like the business is speaking about disruptive innovation, i thought maybe we should apply this concept to the art field and start to imagine practices that are actually coming from within the system and are also using this unpredictability as a form of tactical strategy, just like businesses do.
Of course it's not something new. The avant-garde for example created an artistic shock and used the idea of the unpredictability of practices. Following these lines and somehow transforming it into the present condition of net culture, i thought disruption could then be applied as an artistic practice and also analyze its loop.
In my book, this loop brings together art, business and disruption.
If you understand how i conceptualize this model, then you can see how artists, activists, hackers, entrepreneurs, networkers are all inside this loop because they act from within the system. The mutual interferences and the mutual feedback loop happen between business, art and disruption. In my model, art is disrupting business by creating interferences, perturbations and virality inside the business field. I use the word business because it's a word that artists and activists despise. Business is directly connected to managerial thinking, to company rhetoric, etc. If you read artistic texts, you will find that they talk about market, not business. And that's why i decided to use the word. I think we have to start appropriating an imaginary and words that have never been parts of certain fields, like art and hacking. Or that used to be if we go back in time. The critical fields of artists and hackers however hate that word. So i thought we should start to appropriate the word business, just like the word hacking has been appropriated by web 2.0.
You curated an exhibition that is currently on view at the Škuc gallery in Ljubljana. Could you take us through some of the works you are showing there and tell us how they fit into the "disruptive feedback loop", how they embody this idea of networked disruption?
The idea for this exhibition was to refer to the book because the people who are part of the exhibition are also featured in the book but i also wanted to bring it to the present. That was a bit complicated because when you write a Phd you don't necessarily start to think about how to translate it into an exhibition.
I also wanted to try and reflect on the modality of curating, of presenting networks of networks that are all dealing with disruption and at the same time i wanted to have the opportunity to reflect on what disruption means as a strategy that is interfering with from within the systems. At that point i'm going to mention another reflection i made in the book about whistleblowing. Whistleblowers are people who are not only acting inside the system (they work for corporations, secret services, governmental agencies, etc.) but to me, they are also creating détournements of perspective because they facilitate an important moment of change. And there is also this idea of unpredictability. A person who was regularly working for a corporation or an agency is suddenly turning out to be somebody who's revealing the misconducts of the corporation or entity they work for.
I think that whistleblowers are actually artists because if we think about the history of art, going back to the Avant-garde and reflecting on this moment of détournement, shock, change and unpredictability, then it is exactly what whistleblowers are doing. They create shock and change And it's interesting because this applies also outside the metaphysical aspects of art. I mean it's not just civil disobedience, it's something that is having consequences on their daily life. There is no way back for them.
In that sense, it is also a very important act. Everyone could be a whistleblower. Every person who works into this closed system could wake up and say "I don't want to do this anymore" and they could start revealing secrets. It's also really interesting for me because it happens in the context of everyday life. We could say that the avant-garde was still really working into the art field. The idea was to bring life in to art... You know the usual sentence! But the perspective changed after the end of the seventies, even with punk culture or the idea of hacker cultures and many of the practices exhibited in the show, such as Luther Blissett and Neoism. These people had the idea of bringing art into life. It's thus something different. And that's what i'm interested in. I'm interested in the moments when art goes out of the usual structures and constraints and becomes something that everybody could apply into their own life. From this point of view, a whistleblower is an artist because he or she totally follows a perspective in which you create détournement of a point of view. That's the reason why i included some whistleblower projects and some practices connected to whistleblowing in the exhibition.
In the first room of the show, you can see the work of Julian Oliver, Laura Poitras, Trevor Paglen. Then we look at the roots of practices that come from subcultural groups that were active in the 80s and 90s (Luther Blisset, the Neoism movement, The Cacophony Society, the Billboard Liberation Front, etc.
And of course mail art because mail art has a connection with art, and also because mail artists spoke about how art does not necessarily have to be connected with the gallery system. Everybody can be an artist, everybody can do mail art. Besides, in some situations, people used mail art to circumvent surveillance. In the DDR for example.
These lines of inquiry reach the discourse of Anonymous, a practice that is totally in line with the discourse of anonymity and also with the disruption of identity and the discourse of dismantling a single truth. These aspects were already important in Luther Blissett and Neoism, they were playing with the idea of the truth of the media, of the identity, of the art field and they even played with their own practices. Many Neoists were indeed claiming they were not Neoists or they were coming up with different definitions of Neoism. I think that Anonymous is directly connected to that. Not only because the group is made of people whose identity you don't know but also because they are bringing together this aspect of political engagement but without the political mandate and they are having fun in the process, 'doing things for the Lulz' as they say.
Nowadays the moment of criticism is changing, especially for the hacker culture. Today if you want to look for enemies, these enemies are so powerful that you know you will never win the battle. This is the era of Big Data so tell me "Who is the enemy?" Since Snowden, we know about surveillance, we know that the enemy is totally pervasive. So if you want to be critical, then your strategy, your practice also need to be pervasive. I think that this is exactly what Anonymous is doing. Even if their operations identify the so-called 'enemy', they are so distributed that you know there is not one single mission. There is a plural aspect of dealing with anonymity. So i found it to be a very important strategy and one directly connected with whistleblowing because we know that one of the last operations was involving AntiSec and Jeremy Hammond. He leaked to wikileaks private data and sensitive information from the Stratfor corporation. That was an act of whistleblowing. And indeed Hammond got 10 years in jail for it.
What i'm trying to do in this exhibition is to draw these connections but at the same time i didn't want to be just the curator in a hierarchical way. I decided that i wouldn't be the only person taking the decisions. I worked with an internal individual from each group. We decided together to exhibit certain aspects of the entity or group and we were totally conscious that we were not doing a historical exhibition because that would have been impossible. Instead, the show analyzes some specific aspects of each group that we think are important in relation to disruption and then the show connects these aspects together. The idea was then to create a network of networks in relation to networked disruption. The title is thus networkED disruption as in "disruption among networks" and also inside of them. It is also connected to the idea of the disruptive loop because the loop is creating a network for disruption in which different agents participate to a feedback loop.
I was watching the video of the talk you gave at re:public last year. At some point, you were explaining that hacking cannot be disconnected from business in the U.S. You gave Burning Man as an example. Could you expand on this connection?
When i was at Stanford during a visiting scholarship during the PhD research, i met Fred Turner and we had interesting conversations. He wrote this book From Counterculture to Cyberculture. He was claiming that, at least in California, the development of hacker culture was always intertwined with business. He doesn't like to speak about co-optation but about layering, with things that don't just co-exist but are intertwined. i was inspired by this idea of layering and i tried to recreate it by analyzing artistic practices. In layering, there is a coexistence of opposition. And they are not oppositions from the outside, the oppositions are all living inside this loop. In my first scenario, i analyzed this practices by referring to Walter Benjamin, especially the idea of dialectical image that is the moment in which oppositions coexist. Business, disruption, art and hacking all together at the same time create something which in Germany they call Denkbilder ('thinking image'.)
Going back to the exhibition, you could say that it is the coexistence of oppositions because these groups were active at the same time but were never necessarily in contact.
The show also looks into the idea of business disruption with projects that are directly related to web 2.0 and social media. They are the most recent one such as Anna Adamolo and the collective Les Liens Invisbles. They are analyzing the Facebook system and other social media and creating disruption from within it by really understanding how the system of virality works.
After long discussions with Janez (Janez being one of the producers of the show), we also decided to have a Janez Janša work. We are showing the letter in which the three artists communicate to the Prime Minister Janez Janša that they are becoming Janez Janša. Again, this was a moment of change that interfered with their private life (just like what happened with the whistleblowers). it is also a strong act of creating an unpredictable change in their life and also as artists.
Are you planning to show Networked Disruption anywhere else?
Yes, we are about to move the exhibition to Croatia. The opening is on the 23rd of April and the show will be up until the 14th of May. It's at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rijeka. The idea is then to move it to move it to the UK in 2016 as part of the AND Festival. I'm also trying to bring it back to Berlin. So it's going to be a traveling show.
How did the public react to the show? Did it echo with their own life?
The feedback we got in Slovenia is very positive, including among young people. I don't want to sound like a grumpy old lady but it is sometimes difficult these days to make young people understand that social networking is a practice that has a history, that Facebook hasn't invented everything from scratch. The show wants to highlight that social practices can be imagined in a different way, that if you understand a system, you can play with it. And play from the inside.
You are the director of the Disruption Network Lab in Berlin. I noticed the very promising title of an upcoming event on the homepage. It's called Launch Event: Drones. What have you programmed for the event?
Last year, i applied to the Hauptstadtkulturfonds, the culture fund of Berlin and i got a grant to develop a one year program (hopefully we will manage to go beyond one year.) My idea was to build upon the PhD research and the practice-based experience i had with Transmediale with the reSource program. So i decided to develop a platform of events and research that will take place at the Kunstquartier Bethanien in Berlin.
There will be 6 main events. One every 6 weeks. They are scheduled in April, May, August, September, October and December. Each event focuses on a different topic but all are aligned with the discourse of disruption as a concept which means 'to interfere with the system from within.'
Each specific thematic will be analyzed from different points of view. They will also together people who approach the subject from different perspectives. Hackers, artists, whistleblowers, activists, investigative journalists, researchers, critical thinkers, etc.
The first event is called Drones. Eyes from a Distance and we'll be analyzing the politics and strategies within and behind the drone usage. Somehow, drones are these invisible weapons that you know are used during conflict. They also have some kind of mystical aura. Mystical and horrifying. You know drones can kill people and they do it in a massive way. They are operated at a distance so they are part of the discourse of deterritorialization of conflict. At the same time, drones are becoming widespread in society. Amazon is using them to deliver parcels. Journalists are using them for filming from above. Makers and hackers are using them in their DIY experiments.
So this topic obviously opens up a lot of discussions.
This event will last 2 days. The model of the Disruption Network Lab events is a series of panels, discussions, keynotes and workshops sometimes. We also try to connect with other spaces in Berlin.
For the launch event, we will have a drone operator coming from the US. He used to work in the army there until he decided to become a whistleblower by discussing in public what it means to be a drone operator and how the work interfered with everyday life. There will be a panel with an investigative journalist, a criminal lawyer working specifically on Palestine questions, and activists from Gaza (if we manage to get them here as it's tricky to get all the permissions).
The following day, we have a second panel with another investigative journalist, an artist working on the mapping of strikes, and then a Norwegian film maker. His film, DRONE, will also be screened at the event.
We will also document the event and upload all the videos online.
Networked Disruption, an exhibition and a series of events produced by Aksioma and Drugo more in collaboration with several partners. The show is up until April 3 at Škuc Gallery, in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Do check also the PDF guide of the show.
True to my reputation of "slowest reporter on this planet", i'm still catching up with my last visit at MediaLab Prado in Madrid. As you might remember, MLP was celebrating the opening of its decidedly bigger and brighter space with open days, the 2013 edition of the Libre Graphics Meeting and a new Interactivos? workshop (number 13 already) titled Tools for a Read-Write World.
A whole morning of the Libre Graphics Meeting was dedicated to the presentations of the projects that had been selected to be developed during the Interactivos? workshop. One of them is the KLE - Kit de Libertad de Expresión (or Freedom of Speech Kit), a portable digital device that allows people from all over the world to participate to remote protests by sending and displaying text messages in public space. The interactive banner is (unsurprisingly) inspired by the record number of social protests that took place in Spain in 2011. It is estimated that over 23.000 demonstrations have been organised that year around the country.
Developed using open free hardware and software, the KLE device is made of textile LED screen, is energetically autonomous, light and easy to build/replicate. Although KLE is a personal device, its use is shared by the community promoting participation and expression
Hi María and Chema! How did you come up with the idea for Free Freedom of Speech Kit (KLE)? Why was it important to you?
The idea came when participating in one of many social demonstrations during last years in Spain. I never brought a billboard, but there are so many things to say! People bring their written banner to a demonstration but, once there, one might get inspired and have new ideas for messages to display. We also observe a lot of creativity in the banners messages, some of them are visual poetry. So the question arose: what would happen if banners were an interactive display?
Then this simple idea started growing and we saw the real implications that a connected autonomous device like this could have in the realm of the freedom of speech, such accessibility and communication between cultures in collective manners.
As we deepened in the subject, we also noticed that the main social movements had been sprouting through social networks, where one connects as individual to, later on, collectively gather on the public space. That revealed us that we could develop tools for providing a smoother transition between the individual use of social networks and the collective expression that public space represents. Fortunately, the project team comprises a great combination of technology and public space experienced professionals, gathering the required knowledge to develop such idea .
The project is fairly ambitious and when i saw its presentation at the Free Tools meeting the other day i was wondering how much you'd manage to achieve in just the two weeks that the Interactivos? workshop lasted. So how far are you in the hardware and software?
These two weeks have been a great opportunity for accelerating the development of the project. Currently we have a prototype built in fabric (flexible and light) which is connected by Bluetooth to a mobile phone running an Android application for sending messages. So in just two weeks and with a great team of collaborators (Quique, Rafael, Dani, Carlos, Sonia, Gonzalo, Andrea, Echedey, Soraya, Eva and many others) we have built our first functional prototype: a crafted LED flexible display with internet connectivity through a cell phone. So we are now just one step far from having a real KLE (Kit de libertad de Expresión/Freedom of Speech Kit) working in the streets.
Is KLE mostly an art project with just the one prototype and a couple of performances to demonstrate its potential power or do you hope that its use will spread and that people will build their own and use it the way they want?
We come from the engineering and architecture world, both with a strong creative component but, even though we are very close to the artistic world (we are collaborating with photographers, theater companies...), we try to think as well about the actual functionality of our work (we are active members of a community garden and other self managed civic projects in Madrid and Barcelona).
We give as much importance to the conceptual framework of our projects as in contributing to society, providing solutions and tools that satisfy citizens needs rather than creating new ones.
Therefore, in KLE we are making an effort to unite technology, human and accessibility, with making it visually appealing and helpful to citizens. In fact, we aim at that joint where a piece of art is used and replicated on the streets giving it a much more powerful meaning, making it evolve in unexpected ways: born with us but living through other people.
How do you see people using it exactly? In advertisement context? Activist, protest ones?
Being a visual platform it makes it suitable for advertising purposes. However, our scope is focused on the social / citizenship field, where freedom of speech comes true sense. We are seduced by the idea of people expressing themselves by a platform that someone else or a community have built for others (note that the Freedom of Speech Kit is envisaged as a Do it Yourself Kit). It is also intriguing the concept of the "carrier" of other people messages, probably a new scope of legal issues may arise.
Besides other possible uses, our main interest is on bringing our kit to the streets serving citizens and their creativity and solidarity with others. We want to explore collective processes on the construction of messages and the interactions that these might generate in a context such a demonstration.
In this direction, our most ambitious goal, that we comment with great caution (due its dependance on the local restrictions of each country in terms of Human Rights, which we are now starting to look into), would be the creation of a worldwide KLE network where messages from different countries could cross over the globe and be displayed from square to square, connecting collectives from different public spaces globally.
Why do you think people will need it? Aren't Facebook and twitter enough to spread text messages?
The word "need" might be too disruptive. There was a time when human beings didn't need fire, electricity or internet, but once they were invented they became extremely useful technologies.
The importance of our input is very far from those examples, but we are convinced that if in a demonstration there is a KLE, there will be many people willing to use it. We would like it to be a platform that provides accessibility to those who for any reason can not be on the street (physical challenge, illness, job restrictions, fear, etc) but want to join the community by sending a message through it.
So far, Facebook or Twitter do not solve that. It is a paradox, because even though they are social networks, their users produce and consume content on them individually. They are collective channels, but their access devices are individual. Our platform is producing and displaying content in a collective environment, that could as well be supported by these communication channels. We would like to explore two features that social networks still have not solved: the actual collectivity (in a shared place and time) and its interaction with the public space.
Can you briefly explain how the system will work?
The kit consist of an electronic portable banner where a user can display messages either using a local physical interface, such a keyboard, or a virtual one using social networks through internet. Likewise, there is a sort of online platform that allows writing messages and sending and displaying on the banner.
In a more technical level; we provide different entry interfaces: a physical one, so anyone close to the banner can send messages to it, and another one via internet, thus anyone in the world, using their cell phone, computer or other device connected to the internet can send messages to the banner as well.
On the other hand, we want to develop an appropriate web service where all banners built in the world can be registered and be geolocalized by a GPS. In that way, messages could be sent directly to a specific place of the world (from square to square, as we were saying previously).
The device is built with a series of textiles (both conductors and insulators of electricity) and LEDs, together with a microprocessor and communication modules. All software and hardware design is being documented in an instructions manual, so anyone will be able to build their own kit: DIY. Actually, it will be delivered under copyleft license, so users will be able to improve the design, adapt it to their local circumstances and their knowledge will be delivered in the same way back to the rest of the world.
Any other upcoming steps/further developments for the project?
Right now, we think is quite important to reach the international communication layer via internet. There are situations we need to take in consideration, such how to solve communication when there are frequency inhibitors or when mobile phone cells are saturated during a demonstration. Step by step we will be analyzing and trying to come up with solutions to the wide range of circumstances, for maximizing KLE interaction possibilities.
The next phase of the project, to improve the implementation of the platform and make it more accessible, is to start a crowdfunding campaign. We want to complete the first version of the kit and distribute the first units in places where freedom of speech is under threat.
Thanks Chema and María!
Full cast of people involved in the development of the prototype:
The prototypes of Interactivos?'13 Tools for a Read-Write World are exhibited at MediaLab Prado until May 31, 2013.
This year's edition of the FutureEverything festival in Manchester brought a much discussed phenomenon to the fore: participatory culture. From Wikileaks to Iceland's crowd-sourced constitution, to the Arab Spring, participatory technologies have demonstrated their powerful political potential. The world of culture is harnessing the same connected energies with projects that involve citizen scientists cataloging celestial bodies in the Milky Way galaxy, crowd-curated photo exhibitions and of course the many projects created by artists and designers who either directly use collective action or bring it under a new light.
The festival is over but the exhibition, titled FutureEverybody, remains open till June 10. It is hosted in the spectacular 1830 warehouse, the world's first railway warehouse, part of the Museum of Science and Industry.
The show obviously focuses on the artistic dimension of new participatory technologies, giving a tangible and very approachable dimension to a phenomenon we tend to associate mostly with online practice. FutureEverybody opens with the work of an artist known for putting them spectacularly into practice: Aaron Koblin who, a few years ago, teamed up with Takashi Kawashima and thousands of online workers to create a $100 bill. But you all know Aaron's work so let me call your attention to some of the projects i discovered in the show:
Over 48 hours of user-created audio is uploaded to the internet every minute, a figure that is increasing exponentially. Maelstrom by Daniel Jones and James Bulley draws on these audio-fragments in real-time and broadcasts them through suspended speakers. By organising these fragments based on their tonal attributes, they collectively form a vast instrument, whose properties are affected by global internet activity.
Wikipedia articles, especially new ones, are reviewed by the community to determine whether or not they meet Wikipedia's notability guidelines. Articles nominated for deletion are discussed collectively by the editors before they decided in favor or against keeping them. An administrator then reviews the debate and makes the final decision.
Moritz Stefaner, Dario Taraborelli and Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia analyzed Article for Deletion (AfD) discussions in the English Wikipedia. The result of their research is Notabilia, a visualization of the 100 longest discussions that stemmed from the proposal to delete an article.
I was less interested in the data visualization (which is obviously clear and competently designed) than in learning about the articles questioned and the reason put for forward for their remotion from the online encyclopedia. The entries deleted ranged from the surprising (Islamophobiaphobia) to the downright absurd (List of songs about masturbation, List of Playboy Playmate with D-cups or larger breasts). I've also noticed the high number of articles exposing dubious political or religious agendas.
Jamie Allen's Refractive Index is an ongoing art-research project that uses the large scale public media displays as a kind of camera obscura; inverting typical uses of the screen, and showing us what our screens "see" when they peer into the night sky. I'm not sure i understand what makes it a project that deals with collective action but i loved the rigorous research behind it as well as the way it was documented.
Right in the middle of the exhibition space was a heap of miniature ceramic figures hand-made by Lawrence Epps. A few days before i visited the show, the Sykey Collective distributed 8,000 of these tiny workers in the streets of Manchester. Passersby were then invited to bring them to work, home, on business trips, holidays and document the figurines journey online, either on www.sykey.org and via twitter #littleclaymen.
I wanted to steal a figurine from the exhibition pile and take it with me on the train to London but being a stupidly well-behaved girl, i just looked sadly at them and walked away empty-handed.
Jeremy Hutchison's Extra! Extra! is a collection of newspaper advertising boards with headlines written by Facebook users on the project's Facebook wall. The messages are printed by the Manchester Evening News, and plastered on newspaper billboards around the Museum of Science and Industry site.
Blast Theory was premiering their new game I'd Hide You. As is often the case with the UK collective, I'd Hide You is an online/offline game. Only performers play in the streets while the public can log online, follow them and play. Rules are detailed in the trailer:
Who wouldn't want to be one of the three performers with the cool outfits and gadgets running in the streets of Manchester?
Previously: An Ant Ballet at FutureEverything.
Entrance to the FutureEverybody Art Exhibition is free. The show remains open at 1830 Warehouse, Museum of Science and Industry, in Manchester until 10th June 2012.
Last week, i was dragged out of bed at the most scandalously early hour to participate to the final jury of the projects presented by the students of the Master in Media Design at the Geneva University of Art and Design, aka the Head. The programme has been launched two year ago and a first class of students were finishing their cursus. We had seven projects to review and mark. The one that really stood out for me was Matthieu Cherubini's rep.licants.org web 'service.'
rep.licants.org allows people to install a bot on their Facebook and/or Twitter account. The bot will combine the activity the user is already having on other channels such as youtube or flickr with a set of keywords selected by the user to attempt and simulate that person's activity, feeding their account with more frequent updates, engaging in discussions with other users and adding new people to their list of contacts.
The bot does not provide a fictitious identity, but will be added to the real identity of the user to modify it at his convenience. Thus, this bot can be seen as a virtual prosthesis added to an user's account. With the aim to help him to forge a digital identity of what he would really like to be and by trying to build a greater social reputation for the user. Moreover, this bot can be perceived as a threat by defrauding even more the reality of who is really who on social networks and by showing the poverty of our social interactions on these so-called social networks.
Here's a short video introducing you to the service:
But since, Cherubini already has a rather promising portfolio, i took the liberty of digressing a bit and asked the artist to talk to me about a couple of his other projects as well:
Hi Matthieu! This Summer, you are going to exhibit one of your previous projects at the FILE festival in Sao Paulo. The Afghan War Diary "connects to a Counter-Strike's server and retrieves in real-time frags (when a player kills another). These frags trigger a search by chronological order in the Wikileaks database: Afghan War Diary, which contains over 75,000 secret US military reports covering the war in Afghanistan. According to the retrieved data, the website shows the location of the attack on Google Earth."
Is this the database the project is using http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/07/wikileaks-afghan/? it can't seem to be possible to access it right now. Does it affect your piece?
Yes, my project uses this database. When Wikileaks published these stolen databases it was possible to download them in order to install them on your own web host. It is what I did and hopefully it doesn't affect my project.
What is fascinating with AWD is how you managed to put together 3 potentially subversive issues: online ﬁrst-person shooter video games, war in Afghanistan and Wikileaks. What did you wish to say, highlight or denounce with this work?
When Wikileaks released their data set I was kind of surprised by the enthusiasm of people for these data because if you forget the "top-secret" part, they got absolutely nothing special nor divulge any over sensible information. Actually you can ﬁnd a lot of similar database related to war in public data banks which were created way before the release of the Afghan War database.
However, except some information designers, statisticians or journalists who needed speciﬁc information for an article, nobody ever cared about this kind of information.
Wikileaks supporters claim "Information wants to be free" however most of them are the ﬁrst to hide behind a mask of anonymity.
All of this gave me the idea to do a project that is a sort of reality television based on Wikileaks data where actors are unconscious virtual soldiers and spectators passive towards this kind of events.
Because we are terribly passive towards this kind of events -and that includes me, having an interest for Wikileaks data is not an act of interest towards war atrocities but an act of interest for what the government hides from us.
Now let's discuss rep.licants.org. This is a "web service allowing users to install an artiﬁcial intelligence (bot) on their Facebook and/or Twitter account. From keywords, content analysis and activity analysis, the bot attempts to simulate the activity of the user, to improve it by feeding his account and to create new contacts with other users." One of the objectives of the projects is to improve the social reputation of the user. Is it that clear-cut? Can a bot really make you a more interesting person in the eye of twitter or facebook users?
In someway yes. Social networks are the ﬁrst medium to display our social status to everybody with a simple statistical number (number of friends on Facebook and number of followers on Twitter). Those numbers are a kind of digital validation about what we are really worth, for example a user with a low number of followers will be regarded as not interesting. On Twitter getting a higher number of followers isn't that difﬁcult, you have to post aggressively, follow a lot of users, retweet, get retweeted, etc. All those actions can be done by a bot. If suddenly the bot ﬁnds and posts an interesting content, it can become "viral" and you will get more followers. Of course we can argue that those kind of things can be done by the user and that's true. However a lot of user are digitally shy, introvert, etc. The bot has been programmed to be extrovert so it doesn't worry about posting ridiculous or interesting contents, contacting users that it doesn't know or contacting users that you wouldn't dare to contact. All those things put together will help the user keep an activity on social networks which make them visible to the others. That is why i like to compare the bot as a virtual prosthesis for introvert users.
But it is disturbing that a bot can be more sociable than yourself on social networks. So all those social interactions we virtually have, and that a bot can do better than some of us, are they really sociable ? Or is the word "social" in "social-networks" just a way for the designers to pull the wool over our eyes?
What is the feedback from the people who tested the 'service' so far?
I'm happy with the feedback of the users, some really interesting things happened which i couldn't have imagined. For example, one of the users couldn't recall if it was him or the bot who was posting messages; another began to interact with his own bot. There is a case where the bot contacted a random friend of an user on Facebook and it was actually an old friend of him whom the user never thought about contacting. The fact that the bot started to discuss with that old friend allowed the two users to have a real discussion together.
There is also, sometimes, interesting conversations between the bot and a user who doesn't know that he is speaking with a bot. Some excerpts of those communications can be seen on the bot's diary.
Looking at your portfolio, it seems that rep.licants builds on previous projects which also investigated social networks. The Pursuit of Happiness for example. With the project you hacked into some Facebook accounts in order to steal users' private messages. This was a bold move. Were the people whose fb account was hacked aware of what you were doing? And more importantly, what did you try to achieve with this project?
No, they weren't aware of that but as i have deliberately put their contact (email and/or phone number), it happened once that a girl contacted me and asked me to remove all the information related to her. Someone warned and contacted her but i do not know whom!
My ﬁrst aim with that project was pretty similar to rep.licants.org: i was fascinated by the relation in between Facebook's users and the kind of communication they have. I was motivated to ﬁnd why so many people use for so many hours per day social networks while they are whole day already constantly surrounded by real social interactions. Having a look at the users private messages was a way for me to have a look at the real use of Facebook because the public part is not relevant. For example, no one is going to say that he uses Facebook as a way to ﬂirt (ﬂirting is almost never mentioned on the Facebook's users studies) however i was impressed by the number of users who where using Facebook as a ﬂirting tool. Unfortunately I don't really feel I could achieve those initial aims because most of those private messages were extremely poor. I then made the decision to centre my project on the poverty of dialogues between the users, who mostly used Facebook several hours by days.
But now, after all that Wikileaks buzz, I think this project could open some discussions because it is basically a Wikileaks of the individuals instead of the governments.
Are you planning to improve rep.licants.org? offering new services, features, etc.
Yes because the bot is actually using very basic rules and features and it doesn't pass the Turing test with some "experienced" users. There is still a lot of research to do for trying to close the gap in between a bot and a human on social networks.
It might come as a surprise to some of you but it's not everyday that a major contemporary art institution in Europe dedicates some space and energy to look into one of the most prominent characteristics of today's culture: the social web. The National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens is doing just that with an exhibition bearing one of the most evocative and imaginative titles i've ever read: Tag ties & affective spies. The online works selected for the show comment on the aspects of the web 2.0 and evoke more particularly the controversies that have animated its short but intense life.
Exploring the functioning modes of the social networks and the ways users interact within them, a new form of artistic practice is being formed that comments, critisizes and subverts their structures by altering their semiology and formalism. Posing questions, and approaching the social media in a playful way, the works presented aim to raise awareness about the different possibilities that are now opened up to the users.
Daphne is an Athens-based media arts curator and organiser. The exhibitions and events she's been involved in over the last few years have focused on the notion of play and its merging with art as a form of networking and resistance. She is a also PhD candidate in the Faculty of Mass Media & Communication of the University in Athens conducting a research on social media. I asked her to give us more details about the why and how of the exhibition.
Tag ties and affective spies is part of a series of online exhibitions featuring works conceived for the Web. Does the exhibition appear only online or is there an installation or anything else inside the actual museum that points to its existence? Would it make sense to you to mirror this exhibition in 'real' space like it is done sometimes with online exhibitions?
Tag ties & affective spies is presented online in the museum's media lounge area, where computers are available for visitors to explore the works.
We have not created a specially built environment or installation particularly for this exhibition. Really, there wasn't need for an additional structure. The natural environment of these works is the internet, wherever this is : at the computers in the users' homes or offices, at their mobile phones or at the computer screens provided in public spaces - such as those in the museum.
But, yes I do believe that it is very important for museums to mirror online exhibitions in the real space so that net based art can be further supported. Visitors might not spend hours to view all works. In reality, they usually have a glimpse of the exhibition and then they visit it again at their own places and leisure. But museums need to support the opportunity for this first acquaintance in order to spread the information. Also, let us not forget that visitors mostly go in a contemporary art museum, to see contemporary art works. Most of them would not look at net based art on their own because they are not accustomed with this form of creativity. An institution though, can help to attract their attention towards a new direction.
In reality, net based art cannot become institutionalized. This is its charm but also its handicap because it cannot support itself easily. Net based art is about works that usually cannot be sold and consequently cannot offer money to their creators. It is about works that bring different kinds of challenges to institutions.
Projects based on social media bring into mind the issues net art was facing back in the nineties. Issues to do with what can be bought, what can be preserved and what can be owned. Instead of bringing to light these discussions again I think, we should look for ways to support these forms of art, to assist in conveying their messages and making them known to a wider public. Therefore, mounting an exhibition like the "tag ties & affective spies" in an institution is meaningful to me.
The exhibition is a critical approach on the social media of our times. Could you tell us how you got the idea for this show? What motivated its existence?
Well, I find that it is a field with an amazing interest as it is also controversial; both full of promises and restrictions; a genuine product of our times based on connectivity, affection, and surveillance. I think, what intrigues me most is the fact that most people share, communicate, and participate without realizing the story behind or without thinking about how this constant aggregation of information from their profiles works for the market. I believe creativity can play a role here as it speaks for the medium using the medium itself, a fact that I consider to be very interesting. While forms of creativity based on the social media platforms might be difficult to attract an art audience that is not technologically savvy, on the other hand, they can turn up to be of an interest for a wider audience that might not be art savvy but partly lives in this virtual dimension.
Speaking from a more personal point of view, this exhibition also expresses my need to share the first bit of knowledge I have gained from my PhD, which I have just started on social media and art. I wanted to see how the audience would react to such an entity of works, how the press would respond, and how local artists would experience it. I looks it is going well so far... Greece is not an easy country. My experience, during the last decade, tells me that things are moving slowly in the field of media arts. Budget is usually tight and the audience is usually reserved. Some of the media art festivals happening in the country in the past have now ceased to exist. It is somewhat difficult to take big risks. But, organising events of a smaller scale, like an online exhibition, that thematically refer to contexts and issues the people are familiar with, could be a safer path and a transitional stage for a wider opening to the media arts.
Did it change anything in the way of curating the exhibition to know that the exhibition was organized by one of the major art institutions in the country? This probably implied that the exhibition would receive a different, maybe broader exposure. Did you approach the subject differently than you would have done if you had worked again for a more media art-oriented institution like, say, LABoral?
No it did not. I did not modify or alter any of my ideas because the exhibition was organised by a museum. I must say that the museum was very positive and did not have any hesitations regarding the concept and the selection. So, all went very smoothly. Context and content would have been the same even if I was to do this privately somehow. I was thinking anyway of an exhibition that would be viewed, hopefully, not only by people from athens but by internet users from different parts of world. There is no locality on the web. What locally exists, is the support of institutions to net based projects as well as their presentation to new audiences. For instance, now, the exhibition will also be presented in the context of the Enter festival in Prague. This support can attract attention, bring discussions and open new roads for collaboration among art and other disciplines.
A comparison with the work in LABoral is difficult because the exhibitions were very different from one another. But, as institutions they are not that different. LABoral is more media art oriented but it does have a strong interest also towards contemporary art. Additionally, every institution does have particularities that connect to the structures of the country it belongs. In general, I think it is the feeling of trust and mutual appreciation that is essential for collaborations between artists, curators and institutions. When there is such ground, fruitful collaborations do happen.
Having a look at your selection of artworks i had the feeling that it provides a good snapshot of the current issues and debates that surrounds social media. The title itself reflects quite accurately and poetically the appealing and appalling aspects of contemporary social media. Do you feel that the general trend is heading towards more "surveillance and exploitation" or is the big picture much more optimistic? Which trend(s) does the now ueber-popular Twitter embodies best for example? subjectivity - collectivity - production - consumption - exposure - surveillance - affection - exploitation - participation - resistance...all of them at the same time?
I think that the moment web 2.0 embodies all these notions. Each platform might have some features stronger than others depending on the possibilities it offers. Twitter is a lot about announcing feelings and moments. Exposure, affection, and a kind of surveillance are definitely involved. I don't like to be negative for the future. I hope that we are not going towards a model that involves more surveillance and exploitation. I believe that as the "mainstream" social media evolve, so do the creative and critical stances. The great number of people using the social media will soon bring a new situation on stage. More and more social platforms should soon appear that would allow groups of people to connect and form networks for different purposes based on open source models and these do not need to be controlled or be accessible by the market. Connectivity is an incredible feature of our times - we don't need to get lost on the way.
The REACTIVATE!! exhibition at the at the Espai d' Art Contemporani de Castelló, near Valencia (Spain), being an almost endless source of wonders i tried to cover last week (see REACTIVATE!! Part 1, Urban reanimations and the minimal intervention and REACTIVATE!! Part 2, Instant urbanism), i still have a last story in my magic bag to share with you:
Some of the projects presented in Castellon were commissioned by the contemporary art center to engage in a site-specific fashion with the theme of 'remodeled spaces and minimal interventions.'
The most poetical installation was created by ex.studio, two Barcelona-based Mexican architects Patricia Meneses and Iván Juárez with an impressive portfolio chock-full of projects that investigate and experiment with new ways of relating space with society.
Designed as minimal spaces for auto-reflexion, the Refugios Urbanos are 6 suspended semi-transparent pods that temporarily invade the building of the EACC and its public space.
Looking like chrysalids, the flexible structure can only contain one person. Its very delicate walls allow the inhabitant to enjoy privacy as well as a softly blurred view of the surrounding world.
Refugios Urbanos proposes new ways to inhabit and imagine space where people are both part and parcel of the city and isolated from it in order to better contemplate it.
It all starts with the Pet Garden! At the opening of the Reactivate!! exhibition, visitors were invited to adopt a piece of garden. Each of them would take home a plant or plot of land to take care of it. Like real pets, owners can take them along for a walk in the street. They also require a lot of care and attention.
The flower pot comes with a code giving pet owners access to the Petgarden website that gives them all the necessary instruction to pamper their botanical pet. Besides, they can share with other woners the story, health news and adventure of the plant on a blog. Current technologies enable thus the various parts of this 'atomized garden' to form a community able to stay in virtual but close proximity.
All images courtesy of Espai d' Art Contemporani de Castelló. For info, the third project commissioned by EACC for Reactivate!! was POTLATCHNIÑO by Rafael Sánchez-Mateos Paniagua + Susana Velasco + Jordi Carmona Hurtado from Ludotek.