Berlin-based artists Christoph Wachter & Mathias Jud have installed WLAN / WiFi mesh network with can antennas on the roofs of the Academy of Arts and the Swiss Embassy, both located in the heart of "NSA's Secret Spy Hub" in the city. The network is at the disposal of passersby who would like to communicate anonymously and even send messages to operatives of the NSA and GCHQ intelligence who might lurk inside the nearby British Embassy and Embassy of the United States.
The installation is a direct reference to Edward Snowden's revelations that the U.S.' NSA, the UK's GCHQ and other key partners were operating a network of electronic spy posts hidden within the fabric of diplomatic buildings around the world.
Wachter and Jud's DIY can antennas don't hide themselves. They stand in plain sight between the camouflaged US and British listening posts and their network stretches over the administrative district of Berlin.
At the point at which the interception of Angela Merkel's cell phone occurred, the open network of anonymous communication options now unfolds as a legal and legitimate response to rigid restrictions on our freedoms and hidden, secret surveillance.
Messages can be sent to the intelligence agencies on the frequencies that are intercepted by the NSA and GCHQ. These personal messages include activist and political contributions, ironic disclosure of embarrassing intimacy, and calls for resistance. Many appeals are aimed directly at the surveillance operatives asking them to switch sides and become whistleblowers.
Mathias Jud was kind enough to answer my questions about the installation:
Hi Mathias! How did you get the authorizations to install the antennas? By the way, did you ask for authorisations?
The whole region is under special protection as it is next to the Parliament and the German Federal Chancellery. Surveillance, Police and Security are omnipresent. During our build up of the antenna tower a special Police helicopter with a pivoting surveillance cam was circling above us.
We also asked the Academy of Arts that is located next to the US embassy at the Brandenburg Gate. (The Academy of Arts is not an university, but an international 'master' academy of artists that was funded by a former Prussian king, and an art museum and collection.) Klaus Staeck, the President of the Academy and himself an active political graphic designer was very fond of the idea and promoted it together with Birgit Hein, the chief of the section Visual Arts.
In the last year we spent a lot of time discussing this project to be able to realise it. It is completely legal, and has the approval of the Swiss ambassador, the Swiss foreign office. The members of the Academy of the Arts discussed this project in their annual meeting and voted in favour of it. The German Federal Chancellery has been informed by the Swiss embassy.
Although our constitutional rights are restricted in the non-protest zone in the government district, there is no restriction of digital communication. With our qaul.net network that is the technological basis of the "Can you hear me?" installation we can experience a completely user-based network without any service provider as gate keeper and regulatory force in the network.
You organize guided tours. What do you show people exactly?
Guided tours are a possibility to discuss the project with us and to experience the special rules in the government district and the restricted zones in front of the embassies. We experience together the mesh network, and the area. We show how we built the antennas, discuss the network, the artwork and the philosophy behind it.
You also encourage people to send messages to operatives of the NSA and GCHQ intelligence, is that correct? how do you know how to reach them?
There is a special veneered wall at the US embassy, clearly discovered by infrared cameras where, according to the Snowden files, the listening post of the NSA is located. The GCHQ has a white radome where, according to the Snowden files, the listening post of the British is located.
Our antenna-tower on the roof of the Academy of the Arts is right in the middle of these listening posts and has a clear connection to them.
All messages in the WIFI mesh network are sent unencrypted to all participants in the network.
See also: Julian Oliver and Daniil Vasiliev's PRISM: The Beacon Frame. Speculative NSA Network Surveillance Equipment which was swiftly censored.)
A few days ago, the Haus der elektronischen Künste Basel (House of Electronic Arts) inaugurated its new premises with a three-day festival of drones, music performances, immersive data explorations and giant mushrooms.
HeK space is a cultural center dedicated to the new art forms of the information age. The programme is as sleek and geek as its buildings but its spirit is critical and inquisitive. HeK takes technology out of consumer culture and looks at its more meaningful, socially-engaged or aesthetic uses.
The first show in the programme is a solo of Ryoji Ikeda, an artist and musician whose immersive installations and sculptural works give data a tangible physical presence.
The entrance space is all luminous, white and empty except for a speaker on the wall. The sound emitted by the directional speaker can be perceived at one point only in the room. You can walk through the space 10 times and never notice it. Or you might stop at the exact spot of the sound and be able to listen to it.
The main exhibition space, made of pure blackout and pure data, is the exact opposite. The data.tron projection drowns you into pixels of image composed from a combination of pure mathematics and various sets of data that define and control our world.
Nine monitors across the room form data.scan, a more intimate installation that continues the artist's exploration of data. The work presents an audio-visual relationship relating to large sets of data from two recent meta-scientific investigations that have mapped the human body and the astronomical universe. The horizontal field of the monitor-based data.scan is registered intimately in relation to the viewer's body.
The opening weekend also involved a performance of REMOTEWORDS by Achim Mohné and Uta Kopp. The duo painted BILD ≠ KUNST (image ≠ art) in huge red letters on the rooftop of HeK and used a small semi-professional drone to show us what it looked like from above. Over the past few years, Knopp and Mohné have painted similar permanent texts around the world, waiting for satellite image tools such as Google Earth to update their images and visualize the messages for everyone to read.
The text of this one, BILD ≠ KUNST, is a reference to the book "The Myth Of Media Art" by philosopher and art historian Hans Ulrich Reck. His wording mirrors the paradigmatic shift in the meaning of images by digital media. Images no longer stand solitarily at the center of art but are defined by artistic strategies. The House of electronic Arts, Basel (HeK) stands symptomatically for this relationship between (electronic) image and art, a relationship that is subject to constant change.
There's actually quite a lot of rooftop action at HeK...
Huge mushrooms are sprouting on its roof. Titled, A Band of floating Mushrooms, the artwork is a 6.5 meters high group of music-making mushrooms by Monica Studer and Christoph van den Berg. If you want to listen to the sound randomly generated by the sculpture while you're at HeK, just ask for a set of headphones. Or just click this way.
The wires so noticeably attached to the mushrooms (they are not functional) made me realize that you see no wire nor trace of technological structure at Haus der elektronischen Künste Basel. There's just you and the artworks.
But HeK is more than just an exhibition space. Its strong education programme makes it a place for media literacy and critical analysis of technologies. When i visited the space for the inauguration, there was a workshop to build robots for kids and another one to create photos using yeast. In the coming month, the team will organise workshops to learn Processing, build a mobile charger powered by bikes and make theremin instruments.
The Ryoji Ikeda show remains open until 29 Mars 2015.
Other events coming up at Haus der elektronischen Künste Basel:
It's the end of the year and yet again, i'm looking at a huge pile of books i've enjoyed but never found the time to review on the blog. So i'm going to file them here and you can think of this list as a christmas gift guide for the many smart and curious people in your life.
Publisher Verso writes: Propelled by years of chats and encounters with a multitude of hackers, including imprisoned activist Jeremy Hammond and the double agent who helped put him away, Hector Monsegur, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy is filled with insights into the meaning of digital activism and little understood facets of culture in the Internet age, including the history of "trolling," the ethics and metaphysics of hacking, and the origins and manifold meanings of "the lulz."
Four years ago, i visited the wonderfully informative exhibition High Society: Mind-Altering Drugs in History and Culture at the Wellcome Collection in London. It only recently occurred to me that i could re-visit the show through its catalogue.
Publisher Thames & Hudson writes: Cultural historian Mike Jay paints vivid portraits of the roles that drugs play as medicines, religious sacraments, status symbols and trade goods. He traces the understanding of intoxicants from the classical world through the mind-bending self-experiments of early scientists to the present 'war on drugs', and reveals how the international trade in substances such as tobacco, tea and opium shaped the modern world.
Maker Dad. Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects, by author, illustrator, bOING bOING co-founder and chief of MAKE magazine Mark Frauenfelder (available on amazon USA and UK.)
Maker Dad is the first DIY book to use cutting-edge (and affordable) technology in appealing projects for fathers and daughters to do together. These crafts and gadgets are both rewarding to make and delightful to play with. What's more, Maker Dad teaches girls lifelong skills--like computer programming, musicality, and how to use basic hand tools--as well as how to be creative problem solvers.
My dad taught me how to build electronic circuits. Obviously, no dad could every be as wonderful as mine was but they can have a try by following Frauenfelder's super clear instructions and build all kinds of drawbots, crazy jewellery, retro arcade video game and kite video camera with their kids.
Publisher Thames & Hudson writes: The expedition of 1957/58, led by Vivian 'Bunny' Fuchs, was one of the 20th century's triumphs of exploration - a powerful expression of technological daring as much as a testament of sheer, bloody-minded human willpower. As a key member of the expedition, Everest veteran George Lowe was there to capture it all in photographs and on film
Awe-inspiring landscapes, candid portraits and action shots evoke the day-by-day moments as the expedition travelled across snow and ice, facing extraordinary challenges and dangers.
Typewriter Art: A Modern Anthology, by Barrie Tullett, a graphic designer and senior lecturer in graphic design at the Lincoln School of Art and Design, and cofounder of The Caseroom Press (available on amazon UK and USA.)
Publisher Laurence King writes: This beautiful book brings together some of the best examples by typewriter artists around the world. As well as key historical work from the Bauhaus, H. N. Werkman and the concrete poets, there is art by contemporary practitioners, both typewriter artists who use the keyboard as a 'palette' to create artworks, and artists/typographers using the form as a compositional device. The book will appeal to graphic designers, typographers, artists and illustrators, and anyone fascinated by predigital technology.
Views inside the book:
Publisher FRAME writes: After several print runs that have almost sold out, Frame has now updated the existing content and added 36 pages with completely new material to one of its best-sellers. (...) This edition contains 17 new material catalogue cards, including lithium, rare earth elements, photovoltaic cells, non-newtonian fluids, gallium, mercury, horn, diamond, nacre, precious stones, carbon and more. Ordered alphabetically and illustrated with photos, each of the cards holds a description of the material with its main properties, strengths and weaknesses, and possible uses.
And a few favorites among the ones i did review in 2014:
The conference (ridiculously interesting and accompanied by an exhibition i wish i could see all over again but more about all that next week) looked at how practitioners redefine the documentary genre in the digital age. In his talk, artist James George presented artistic projects that demonstrate how fast computational photography is evolving. Most of the project he commented on were new to me but more importantly, once they were stitched together, they formed a picture of how innovations are changing our relation to the essence, authorship and even definition of the image. Here are the notes i took during his fast and efficient slideshow of artistic works:
Erik Kessels printed out every photo uploaded on Flickr over a 24-hour period. Visitors of the show could literally drown into a sea of images.
The work, commented George, functions more as data visualization than as a photo installation.
In 2006, Penelope Umbrico searched for 'sunset' on Flickr back. She then printed the 541,795 matches and assembled them into one wall-size collage of photographs. She said. "I take the sheer quantity of images online as a collective archive that represents us - a constantly changing auto-portrait."
With 9 Eyes ongoing work, Jon Rafman shows that you don't need to be a photographer to create photos. The artist spent hours pouring over google street view to spot the inadvertently eerie or poetic sights captured by the nine lenses of the Google Street View camera cars.
Clement Valle fortuitously discovered broken images on Google Earth. The glitches are the result of the constant and automated data collection handled by computer algorithms. In these "competing visual inputs", the 3D modellings of Earth's surfaces fail to align with the corresponding aerial photography.
Google Earth is a database disguised as a photographic representation. These uncanny images focus our attention on that process itself, and the network of algorithms, computers, storage systems, automated cameras, maps, pilots, engineers, photographers, surveyors and map-makers that generate them.
Teehan+Lax Labs, Google Street View Hyperlapse
Teehan and Lax created a tool that taps into Street View imagery and pulls it together to create an animated tour. Pick the start and end points on Google Maps and Hyperlapse stitches together a rolling scene of Street View imagery as if you were driving the GSV car.
Living Death Camp, by Forensic Architecture and ScanLAB, combines terrestrial laser scanning with ground penetrating radar to dissect the layers of life and evidence at two concentration camp sites in former Yugoslavia.
But how about the camera? When is the camera of the future going to emerge? What is it going to be like? It will probably be more similar to a database than to an image. In his keynote speech concluding the Vimeo Festival + Awards in 2010, Bruce Sterling described his prediction of the future of imaging technology. For him a camera of the future may function as follows: "It simply absorbs every photon that touches it from any angle. And then in order to take a picture I simply tell the system to calculate what that picture would have looked like from that angle at that moment. I just send it as a computational problem out in to the cloud wirelessly."
In mid-2005, New York City MTA commissioned a weapon manufacturer to make a futuristic anti-terror surveillance system. The images were to be fed directly into computers, watched by algorithm and alerts would be sent automatically when danger was detected. However, the system was plagued by "an array of technical setbacks", the system failed all the tests and the whole project ended in lawsuits. Thousands of security cameras in the New York subway stations now sit unused.
One month later after Sterling's talk, Microsoft released Kinect. The video game controller uses a depth sensing camera and computer vision software to sense the movements and position of the player. Visualizations of space as seen through Kinect's sensors can be computed from any angle using 3D software. James George and Collaboration with Alexander Porter decided to explore the artistic use of the surveillance and kinect technologies. "We soldered together an inverter and motorcycle batteries to run the laptop and Kinect sensor on the go. We attached a Canon 5D DSLR to the sensor and plugged it in to a laptop. The entire kit went into a backpack.
We spent an evening in the New York Union Square subway capturing high resolution stills and and archiving depth data of pedestrians. We wrote an openFrameworks application to combine the data, allowing us to place fragments of the two dimensional images into three dimensional space, navigate through the resulting environment and render the output."
The OS image capture system, which uses the Microsoft Kinect camera paired with a DSLR video camera, creates 3D models of the subjects in video that can be re-photographed from any angle virtually.
George and Porter later worked with Jonathan Minard and used the technology again for CLOUDS, an interview series with artists and programmers discussing the way digital culture is changing creative practices.
New and old media collide in Sophie Kahn's work. The artist uses a precise 3D laser scanner designed for static object to create sculptures of human heads and bodies. Because a body is always in flux, the technology receives conflicting spatial co-ordinates and generates irregular results.
Marshmallow Laser Feast, MEMEX | Duologue
MLF worked with a 94-camera high resolution scanning rig, to create the full body scan of an old lady and explore what filmmaking for the virtual-reality environment could be like.
Source Filmmakers, produced by Valve, is a tool to create movies inside the Source game engine. George finds their work relevant to his own practice because although Valve comes from a video game culture, they investigate the same ideas.
Beyond: Two Souls, by Quantic Dream, is an interactive drama action-adventure video game for PlayStation 3. At some point in the game, character Jodie Holmes (played by Ellen Page) is taking a shower. All in a perfectly politically correct fashion.
After the release of the game, nude images of Jodie Holmes leaked online, and were published by several gaming blogs. The "nude photos" were a result of hacking into the files of a debug version of the game and manipulating the camera. The game's publisher, Sony Entertainment, got these posts taken down. "The images are from an illegally hacked console and are very damaging for Ellen Page," the rep reportedly told one site. "It's not actually her body. I would really appreciate if you can take the story down to end the cycle of discussion around this."
But if the nude images were "not actually her body," how could they be "very damaging" to the actress? Whether or not the answer to this question is a convincing one, the little scandal shows the kind of challenge that filmmaker will have to face when dealing with this kind of hyper realistic technology.
Selfiecity by Lev Manovich and Moritz Stefaner analyzes 3,200 selfies taken in several metropoles around the world and looks at them under theoretic, artistic and quantitative lenses.
Third (and last) project from the graduation show of The interactive Architecture Lab, a Bartlett School of Architecture research group and Masters Programme headed by Ruairi Glynn, Christopher Leung and William Bondin...
With CRAF, Eizo Ishikawa and Tamon Sawangdee looked at how machines can be deployed to organize spectacles and engage people into performances and new forms of social protests. CRAF turns into paper planes messages of protests that people exchange on social media. Comments and reactions sent to @aerocraf are printed on paper, folded into little projectiles and thrown over passersby by a 6 meter high paper plane-folding machine.
Quick discussion with Tamon Sawangdee:
Hi Tamon! Why did you call the work CRAF? Is it an acronym?
CRAF has many meanings for our project. It came from our first paper plane folding machine project, which was called "AEROCRAFT". We chose the word "CRAFT" to signify its folding activity and transportation ability. After we have been working on our project for a while, we develop ourselves and our machines into an agency that is called CRAF. Having our ideas rooted from people protesting and looking for ways to express their ideas or feelings, we created CRAF to be the agent that works with people and can act for them. It is an acronym from Cultural Restoration and Acting Facilities.
You tested CRAF on Gordon Square. Can you tell us about the experience? How did people react?
The experience from testing CRAF in Gordon Square was really amazing. We have been working on it for a long time and it was the first time that we got to see it fully equipped and elevated up to 6 metres in the park. The weather was nice and sunny on that day so we got a lot of audience from the people who came in to have lunch, as well as, the ones who were just passing by. Some would come to talk to us about how it worked and what it was, while, most of the people sat around and waited to see the performance. One of the noticeable reaction that we got was the group of people who sat down and asked each other "What is that?" pointing to our machine. People were talking about our project and they were surprised about it being in the center of what was usually very quiet park. We were satisfied about the test in Gordon Square because a lot people showed a lot of interest. It was nice to see people enjoying what we were doing.
Is there any reason why you selected the colours red white and blue for the ribbons hanging from the machine?
Our theme for CRAF was #FLYFORPEACE, it is a civilian service. Our concerns, are about the political, socio-economical and cultural sustainability aspect of the community. We chose the colour red, white and blue for our prototype because we wanted to give it an appearance of stability, freedom, with a touch of revolution and justice. We wanted our machine to be amicable but not too whimsical, though, at the same time representing the topics of the conversations that we were trying to create. At that time, our machine was representing the Scottish Independence Referendum, if our machine was to perform to represent another message, the colours of the ribbons could change to match that theme.
How does it work? How does the paper get fold into airplanes?
If you tweet to the machines twitter account @aerocraf. The printer would print the message onto the paper plane. When the paper comes out of the printer, it gets fed into the paper plane folding machine, that's when the folding starts to happen. There are 3 steps of folding. The paper travels through the machine by the use of rollers controlled by motors, chains and sprockets. The machine folds the paper in to a plane by folding the tip of the paper plane first, and then the side wings, the centre of the plane gets fold half until it comes out of the machine. Then, it is ready to launch!
And does the machine send the planes in random directions?
The machine can rotate 180 degrees. The rotational movement can vary depending on the site and installation strategies. The print outs and the instructions of how to use the machine comes out in random directions when there are many people. We want the paper planes to be received by the citizens, so, ideally it would have a behavior that looks for people and decide its projectile direction.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered while developing the work?
One of the biggest challenge while developing the work was how to get people to realise that the paper planes that we were flying was containing a message. In order for our project to work smoothly, we needed to get people from the public to work with us. We had a lot of trouble trying to get people to behave accordingly to how we expected, which was to pick up our papers and investigate them and respond our paper planes. Different people in different places would react differently, we had to do many experiments to find our way of delivering the paper airplanes, its flying ability, and what it looks like and how the messages communicate to the people. We also had to design our installation strategy and opening performance to grab the interest from the crowd.
The text of the catalogue says "CRAF can be a network of communication platforms along the city by having machine carriers traveling along the existing bike routes of London." Could you explain how that would work?
CRAF was created to be a communication platform that was initially inspired from the contemporary social crisis and the expressions of dissent happening around our world. We wanted it to be able to serve as a novel communication tactic that people can use to express themselves freely about their ideologies or simply talk to each other via the aid of social media in the hope that it would create a stronger and more culturally sustainable community.
When we were developing CRAF, we were looking for strategies to disseminate our messages and get people involved with the performances. We studied street performances and theatrical machines. We got inspired by how they were able to attract or engage people into live events. Because of that, the idea of using bicycles as a mode for transporting our machines came to our minds -- however, we were not limited to just bicycles but tend to see CRAF working rather more of something like a vehicle or a machine integrated within a vehicle. Our machines were designed to be able to travel around and interact with people or get people to interact with each other along its path. In that sense, we think that CRAF can be developed into a system of multiple machines that can be moved or carried around the city.
Making use of social media and the rapid spread of its content via the internet and social networks, we wanted CRAF to become an agency that can be installed into different nodes like the public spaces of London. The communication network coming out from CRAF is imagined to work similar to that of online social network from social media. Instead of only having people interacting in the online space, we wanted to bring people from the online communities out to enjoy the physical environment. When CRAF physicalised online messages into public space, we can have a real human to human interaction. In a way, CRAF is meant to encourage physical social networks happening from the systems machines traveling and sending out messages around its routes.
What is next for CRAF? Are you planning other performances?
At the moment we haven't been planning any performances.
Eizo is back in Japan and I am now in Thailand. We are both doing different things.