Following the Paths of the Communication Revolution
Foto: Tanja Kanazir / Drugo more (Flickr gallery)
Drugo more proudly presents Post/Drone, an exhibition by Swiss artists !Mediengruppe Bitnik bringing two of their well known Live Mail Art pieces to Filodrammatica Gallery – Delivery for Mr. Assange and Random Darknet Shopper – The Bot’s Collection.
Before the exhibition opened on Thursday, June 16th at 8 pm, Domagoj Smoljo from !Mediengruppe Bitnik held a presentation about the collective and exhibited works.
The exhibition will remain on view until June 30th. Entry is free.
The online environment of the Internet has emerged as a wild and open space where communication is fluent, content is freely exchanged and identity is difficult to track behind the opacity of IP addresses and monikers. In recent years, however, there has been a titanic effort on the part of national governments, international organizations and companies to exert control over this anarchist utopia. Of course, this hasn’t been without conflict: activists, private citizens and other organizations and companies are actively working to protect the “freedom of the Internet” on an infrastructural level, well aware that when this infrastructure changes – for whatever good reason (protection of copyright and patents, the fight against terrorism, etc.) – what we will lose is far more than what we will gain. This conflict is no longer something that can be reductively limited to the field of technology. As an important part of current global politics and economics, it is something everybody should be aware of.
The rise of the so-called “darknet” is part of this process. Technically speaking, a darknet (or dark net) is an overlay network that can only be accessed with specific software, configurations or authorization, often using non-standard communications protocols and ports. Two typical darknet types are friend-to-friend networks (usually used for file sharing with a peer-to-peer connection) and anonymity networks such as Tor via an anonymized series of connections.” (from Wikipedia) Like peer-to-peer networks or forums allowing anonymity, darknets are not illegal – or used for illegal purposes – by default, but as free, uncontrolled spaces, they are easily demonized as dangerous, uncomfortable places where bad things such as terrorism, espionage, pedopornography and black markets flourish.
On the other hand, even though it’s no secret that by using social networks we are freely giving the information about our identities, actions and habits to various centers of power, many examples show that sometimes it’s hard to predict their subversive potential and the consequences of their application for infiltrating “behind enemy lines”. In the same way as the postal network can be used as a means of prevailing various obstacles and check points, regardless of numerous surveillance mechanisms (sometimes it’s hard to believe the illegal items people actually send via mail, like chemicals, drugs and weapons), the communication at the internet’s surface often goes unnoticed by those who should be watching carefully – let’s just remember the theories of terrorist attacks being planned by using the communication tools in video games and unencrypted messaging applications.
Post/Drone exhibition connects those two worlds, moving from the dark and opaque depths of the network, where bots are using crypto-currency to buy whatever they bump into, to sending a parcel through the thick line of police and secret service operatives in the center of diplomatic battlefield, while letting anyone online follow the parcel’s status in real-time.
Delivery for Mr. Assange is a 36-hour live mail art piece. In January 2013, !Mediengruppe Bitnik sent Wikileaks-founder Julian Assange a parcel containing a camera. Through a hole in the parcel, the camera documented and live-tweeted its journey through the postal system, letting anyone online follow the parcel’s status in real-time.
The parcel was intended as a SYSTEM_TEST, inserted into a highly tense diplomatic crisis. Would the parcel reach its intended destination? Or would it be removed from the postal system?
Julian Assange has been living in the center of a diplomatic crisis at the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June 2012. Although he was granted political asylum by Ecuador in August 2012, he cannot leave the embassy premises. The embassy is surrounded by UK police forces and UK authorities threaten to arrest Julian Assange on sight.
After aprox. 32 hours and a journey in various postal bags, vans and through delivey centres, the parcel was delivered to the Ecuadorian embassy in London in the afternoon of 17 January 2013. By that time several thousand people had gathered on Twitter to follow the tantalizing and intense journey. The experiment was crowned by Julian Assanges live performance for the camera.
Both the live performance and the exhibition at Helmhaus Zurich (14.02. 06.04.2014) received wide media attention. The work was covered internationally in La Libération, die Zeit, Monopol, European Photography, Vice UK, Kunstbulletin, NZZ, Swiss Radio and Television and many more.
The Random Darknet Shopper directly connects the exhibition space with the darknet. For three months, !Mediengruppe Bitnik sent an automated online shopping bot on a shopping expedition into the darknet once a week. With a weekly budget of USD 100 in Bitcoins, the bot randomly chose one item from around 16’000 articles online and had it sent directly to the exhibition space. Random Darknet Shopper – The Bot’s collection shows the 25 items which the Random Darknet Shopper purchased between October 2014 and March 2016 for the exhibitions at Kunst Halle St. Gallen, Horatio Junior Gallery London and Aksioma Institute for Contemporary Art Ljubljana.
Random Darknet Shopper – The Bot’s Collection, installation, !Mediengruppe Bitnik, Helmhaus, Zurich. Photo: !Mediengruppe Bitnik
«There’s just one problem», The Washington Post wrote in January 2015 about the work, «recently, it bought 10 ecstasy pills». In its review, the Guardian asked: «Can a robot, or a piece of software, be jailed if it commits a crime? Where does legal culpability lie if code is criminal by design or default?».
These global questions were negotiated locally after the closing of the exhibition, when the public prosecutor’s office of St. Gallen seized the work. The Random Darknet Shopper was finally released three months later together with the order for withdrawal of prosecution. All items were returned to !Mediengruppe Bitnik except for the Ecstasy, which was tested positive for MDMA by the authorities, and then destroyed. The Random Darknet Shopper and !Mediengruppe Bitnik were cleared of all charges and the public prosecutor affirmed that the possession of Ecstasy was indeed a reasonable means for the purpose of sparking public debate about questions related to the exhibition.