WITH: Jacob Appelbaum & Ai Weiwei, Zach Blas, James Bridle, Émilie Brout & Maxime Marion, Simon Denny, Jill Magid, Metahaven, Laura Poitras, Evan Roth.
Art in the Era of Pervasive Surveillance
Photo: Tanja Kanazir / Drugo more (Flickr galerija)
How did the internet go from the utopian free-for-all, open source heaven, libertarian last frontier to the current state of permanent surveillance, exhibitionism and paranoia?
This duplicity is the underlying thread that links the artists and activists who will participate in The Black Chamber, an exhibition set in Mali salon as a part of Mine, Yours, Ours Festival, organized by Drugo more. The exhibition is curated by The Influencers (ES) and produced in partnership with Aksioma (SI).
Developed through ongoing research on these subjects by internationally renown artist duo Eva & Franco Mattes and researcher and curator Bani Brusadin, The Black Chamber aims at discussing the delicate and often awkward role of art and imagination in the age of mass surveillance, stressing the multiple connections between post-studio art and independent research, grassroots reverse engineering, and new forms of political activism in the age of networks.
The exhibition opens on Thursday, 07 April at 8 pm, and will remain on view until 30 April, 2016. Entrance is free.
Video report from the exhibition opening (Moja Rijeka)
The Black Chamber exhibition is a selection of some of the most significant works by a generation of artists and activists who devise both technological and social tactics to peek into contemporary phenomena of surveillance and paranoia, including the ambiguity of massive voyeurism and actual systems of corporate or state control over citizens.
Operating occasionally at the center, though more often at the periphery, of this huge, mysterious, always slippery, and constantly changing patchwork of forces, we find the post-studio artist as well as the political dissident, the unruly technologist or the unconventional journalist. This passionate tangle of people sets out to suggest alternative and always ephemeral ways of disseminating information and countering automatic processes of control over bodies and collective fantasies. They know that no existing map can be fully trusted.
What is actually at stake is both technology’s role in shaping global culture and people’s opportunity for technological, social, and even aesthetical empowerment. Adding the precision of investigative journalists or hackers to the passion of explorers or superusers, the artists and activists invited to The Black Chamber translate problematic histories associated with the governance of the infrastructure and the control over people’s imagination into subtle visual forms.
In 2005 Jill Magid was commissioned by the Dutch secret service (AIVD) to make a work for its new headquarters to help improve its public persona by providing “the AIVD with a human face.” So for the next three years Magid met with willing employees in non-descript public places and, since she had been restricted from using any recording equipment, collected secret service workers’ personal data in handwritten notes. Those notes later informed the project Article 12, part of which, in spite of being previously reviewed, was immediately censored, its content redacted, and its visibility restricted by the secret service itself.
James Bridle’s Citizen Ex flag series are full scale flags based on data from the Citizen Ex project. “Every time you connect to the internet, you pass through time, space, and law,” says Bridle: this information is stored and tracked in multiple locations, and used to make decisions about you, and determine your rights. These decisions are made by people, companies, countries, and machines, in many countries and legal jurisdictions. Citizen Ex shows you where those places are, defining a tentatively new form of “algorithmic citizenship.” A form of citizenship that is formed at the speed of light and which is nomadic by nature, yet revealing the nature of an underlying structure of data, protocols, and rules.
The Drone Shadows are a series of installations consisting of the outline of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone: a 1:1 representation conveying both the physical reality, and the apparent invisibility, of drone aircraft. They have previously appeared in London, Istanbul, Washington DC, Berlin, Sao Paolo, and a host of cities worldwide. The project is open source, and anyone can draw a Drone Shadow based on plans freely downloaded from the internet.
In the age of massive and ubiquitous connection, intimacy, as well as the possibility of real political agency, are paradoxically mediated by “personal” technologies. That is why Edward Snowden’s revelations made apparent government betrayal, but also fundamentally altered our relationship with the network, its devices, and its imagery. Developed in collaboration between singer and artist Holly Herndon and Metahaven, Home heavily relies on a “data veil” made of logos and symbols from Snowden’s leaked documents. As Metahaven said, “WikiLeaks and Snowden used ‘information’ as the raw material for political change, leaving the ball in the court of ‘imagination’ to make the next move.”
Satoshi Nakamoto is the creator of Bitcoin, a revolutionary and unfalsifiable payment system for performing online transactions anonymously. This virtual currency is widely used on darknets, networks guaranteeing anonymity which have a bad reputation, especially because of the cybercriminal activities they facilitate (drug trade, counterfeiting, etc.). From his first public message until his disappearance on December 12, 2010, Nakamoto made every effort to preserve his identity. Émilie Brout & Maxime Marion decided to produce the evidence of the existence of Satoshi Nakamoto using the technology he created.
Simon Denny’s The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom is a collection of copies, rip-offs, and limitations of the “real” contraband. This forms a tangible focus point for what could be seen as one of the most important legal discussions of the moment, entangled as it is with borders, law, entertainment, and what it means to steal, be supervised, and who owns what.
The neon pink Fag Face Mask is one of five masks in Zach Blas’ collection, Facial Weaponization Suite. By aggregating biometric facial scans from a multitude of queer men, Blas created a single facial composite, which he manipulated to create something excessive and shapeless. If gaining visibility in network society means contributing to opaque and private database intelligence, or just being subjected to state surveillance, then Fag Face Mask is an example of what Blas calls “queer technologies,” an experimental form of public, grassroots reverse engineering that challenges the notion of technology as objective, especially when it is used as an instrument of automatic control over the people.
A joint project by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and hacktivist and political dissident Jacob Appelbaum, Panda-to-Panda is not about surveillance, but about secrecy. Absolute transparency should be for everyone exercising public power; privacy is for everyone else. Unfortunately, the reality of governments and network corporations reveals that the contrary is true. Panda-to-Panda appears as nothing but a sweet-looking stuffed panda bear toy, when in fact it is a condensed version of collective resistance strategies adopted by millions of people in China (“panda” as some popular code word to talk about censorship and bypass it) or anywhere (such as cryptography or decentralized peer-to-peer technologies). The Oscar-awarded filmmaker Laura Poitras caught the making of Panda-to-Panda on film in The Art of Dissent, a short film that shows the personal and political empathy and commitment of three persons who had to flee their countries and were or still are targets of indiscriminate and opaque surveillance because of their activities.
Recently commissioned by Masters & Servers, Evan Roth’s new work Internet Landscapes: Sweden is a series of web based artworks that will allow one to experience the internet’s physical, digital and cultural infrastructure as a landscape depicted by an unusual set-up of infra-red photos, radio frequencies scan, and packet data. Visiting the internet physically is an attempt to repair a relationship that has changed dramatically as the internet has become more centralized and monetized, as well as a mechanism for global government spying.
Evan Roth: Internet Landscapes: Sweden
Eva and Franco Mattes are an artist duo originally from Italy, working in New York. Their medium is a combination of internet, video, and performance. Their work explores the ethical and moral issues arising when people interact remotely, especially through social media, creating situations where it is difficult to distinguish reality from a simulation. Mattes’ work has been exhibited at White Chapel Gallery, London (2016); Watari Museum, Tokyo (2015); Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (2015); Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, Switzerland (2014); the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (2013); Site Santa Fe (2012); Sundance Film Festival (2012); PS1, New York (2009); Performa, New York (2009, 2007); National Art Museum of China, Beijing (2008); The New Museum, New York (2005); and Manifesta 4, Frankfurt (2002).
In 2001 they were among the youngest artists ever included in the Venice Biennale. They have given lectures at universities, museums, and festivals, including Columbia University, New York; RISD, Providence; New York University; Carnegie Mellon, Pittsburgh; College Art Association, New York; Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid; and Musee d’Art Moderne, Paris. They are founders and co-directors of the international festival The Influencers, held annually at the CCCB, Barcelona, Spain (2004-ongoing). The Mattes have received grants from the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Roskilde; and ICC, Tokyo. They have been awarded the New York Prize 2006 from the Italian Academy at Columbia University and are currently recipients of the Creative Capital Award. They are faculty members at the MFA Fine Arts and Photography Departments of the School of Visual Arts, New York.
Links to many of Mattes’ projects can be found at their web site: http://www.0100101110101101.org/
Bani Brusadin is an independent curator and a researcher sailing on the troubled waters where contemporary art, networked technologies, popular cultures, and politics meet, and often times clash. Since 2004, together with Eva & Franco Mattes, he co-directs The Influencers, a festival about unconventional forms of art and communication held at the Center of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona. In the past he has been involved in different art and activist projects, among them Las Agencias and Yomango (2002-2007). Bani currently teaches about digital cultures and social change at the University of Barcelona. He is also a faculty member at the Elisava Design School and a lecturer at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia and at IED (European Institute of Design) in Barcelona. He holds a PhD in Advanced Studies in Art Production.