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"Hacktivism as High (Tech) Art"
Marisa S. Olson

posted by steve on Tuesday May 28, @09:30AM   

Marisa S. Olson posted this review of Open_Source_Art_Hack to Rhizome on 05.28.02

Currently on view at New York's New Museum of Contemporary Art is "Open_Source_Art_Hack," a group show of artists poetically conflating hacking with open-sourcing. There is, already, a bit of a hacker ethos to open source. The idea that often commercially-valuable, always laboriously-constructed codes should be openly accessible (openly modifiable!) by all begs the invention of naughty plots la Bruce Sterling's 1993 cult classic, "The Hacker Crackdown." But the artists in this show are not rerouting police emergency calls to phone-sex lines or breathing heavily into payphone receivers to rip off Baby Bells. They are co-opting existing means of surveillance or surveillance-culture indoctrination to make new comments about life in network culture. Incidentally, by participating in a major museum show, they are also helping to launch "hacktivism" into the colloquy of contemporary art...

On Sundays, in New York, the curious can take a walking tour of the city's hidden cameras, led by members of the Surveillance Camera Players. The group has mapped over half of the city's estimated ten thousand strategically-placed cameras--though the total figure continues to rise, following post-911 rally-cries for increased surveillance. The Players have worked, through tours, performances, protests, and other activities, to protect the rights of Americans, outlined under the 4th Amendment to the Constitution, "against unreasonable searches and seizures." Americans, they say, have a right to observe those observing them. This mantra plays out, self-reflexively, in all of the work included in "Open Source Art Hack."

In SCP's case, the surveillance camera is treated like a television camera, before which the group performs theatrical gems from George Orwell's "Animal Farm" to Alfred Jarry's "Ubu Roi." After six years of interventions, SCP has come to feel that passersby have become more their audience than the police eyes trained on their target cameras, as evidenced in protests in which members inform oblivious strollers that they were being watched. Videos of these performances and walking-tours comprise SCP's contribution to the show. Museum visitors (or otherwise oblivious strollers) will find themselves peering in at the videos in the museum's storefront window--an at-once typical site for the investment of scopophilic energy and atypical site for the museum-display of art.

Next to SCP's videos, and further inside the museum, are the Radical Software Group's "Carnivore" clients. RSG's packet-sniffing machine monitors the traffic on a selection of computers--in this case, those in the museum's media lounge--and visualizes the docking-sites and use of pre-programmed keywords. Putting the "art" in "art hack," each RSG client has created a unique interface for this visualization. Particularly poignant is entopy8zuper's representation of active users as globe-circling airplanes trudging a crash-and-burn path where logoffs leave fiery pock-marks in an ambiguous web world. While "Carnivore" is modeled after the FBI's surveillance engine, RSG-founder Alex Galloway has shrugged off the typical hacker coat of arms, claiming to be more interested in exploring positive models of observation than undermining the state apparatus.

Here, RSG, like its "Open Source Art Hack" peers, reestablishes mimicry as a beautiful, if scientifically-complex, form of defense. But what is it that is being defended against? For starters, it's the infusion of panoptic strategies into network culture. Whether it is packet sniffing or search engine data-cataloguing, internet users are always-already vulnerable to the search and display of their activities and communication. Indeed, it is not just that Google is archiving one's chat-group confessions, but the possibility that any and all future actions might be monitored that invokes a Foucaultian digital panopticon-an always-present eye casting an impact upon the moves we make.

LAN's "Tracenoizer" clone sites exploit the abundance of unfiltered personal information online, creating sources of mis-information about websurfers bearing a data-based resemblance (say, a similar name) to "Tracenoizer" users. Filmmaker Harun Farocki, a welcome addition to the cadre of what has become a too-tight nepotistic circle of "new media" artists, explores these panoptic issues in his "Eye/Machine." Exposing the means and motives by which war machines look, Farocki pairs interviews of surveillance pilots with sample footage. The result is a document of the constructed realities (read: visions) of war and the impetus for incorporating military machinery into civilian life.

Both Knowbotic Research and Cue P. Doll have turned established search mechanisms on their heads in creating alternative means of gathering information about the world's major companies and organizations. Knowbotic Research's entrancing installation has at its heart a portal for the exposure of the crack-vulnerabilities of a public group's server. Plastic containers flash and buzz with varying intensity--a comment on the physicality of the firewall--as data rolls and pops on screen, Vegas-style. Cue P. Doll's "CueJack" bites the tongue of the "CueCat," a barcode scanner that delivers users at the door of retail websites. "CueJack" also reads barcodes, but rather than touting the many fine products for sale by the manufacturer of the item you've scanned, "CueJack" takes you to a database of the corporate wrong-doings and related boycotts of said retailer. Both Knowbotic Research's installation and Cue P. Doll's scanner require readings with the body, thereby making users corporeally complicit in the {art-} hack activities.

Radioqualia calls for sonic participation in their "Free Radio Linux" project. Artists Adam Hyde and Honor Harger have created an online and on-air radio station in which a computerized voice reads the Linux operating system code--an endeavor that will take years to complete. "Free Radio Linux" is the ultimate self-reflexive case of artists commenting on the character and relative complexities of existing channels of representation, distribution, and interpretation. Their project provides the sonic backdrop for the asking of several key questions underscored by "Open Source Art Hack." Perhaps most important is the question, "What is a code?"

The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) defines it as "a set of unambiguous rules specifying the manner in which data may be represented in a discrete form." The fact that we use the same four-letter word to describe a system of representation that we do to refer to social norms (see dress "code") is less a matter of irony and more an indication of the degree to which that system of representation is a reflection of a dominant ideology. That special milieu we've named "network culture" is no more than a percentage of the population at large behaving and interacting in such a way as to self-reflexively trace their patterns of protocol-driven activity. Seemingly mechanical activity like the ping-pong game of one computer chatting with another was scripted by humans who have been enculturated in a society in which there exist elaborate codes of propriety and impropriety, in communicative exchange, and where a sort of social Darwinism has translated keeping up with the Joneses into keeping up with the OS's. However phantasmatic the traces of these social scripts are upon computer codes, their products are entirely tangible. Hacktivism, while admittedly entrenched in recognizing--if not following--rules of engagement, then seems a worthwhile means of attempting to dissect the ideological apparatuses at play in this closed circle of coded signification.

http://www.earthcam.com/usa/newyork/timessquare/ (click camera #5 for SCP)

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  R E L A T E D _ L I N K S   
  • Carnivore
  • New Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Cue P. Doll
  • Harun Farocki
  • Knowbotic Research
  • LAN
  • Surveillance Camera Players
  • Linux
  • NetArtCommons
  • r a d i o q u a l i a
  • OSAH
  • Surveillance Camera Players
  • "Carnivore"
  • "Tracenoizer"
  • "Eye/Machine."
  • Knowbotic Research
  • Cue P. Doll
  • "Free Radio Linux"
  • http://www.newmuseum.org/
  • http://www.netartcommons.net/
  • http://www.thehacktivist.com/
  • http://www.earthcam.com/usa/ne wyork/timessquare/
  • http://www.rhizome.org/carnivo re/
  • http://www.tracenoizer.org
  • http://www.cuejack.com
  • http://radioqualia.va.com.au/f reeradiolinux/
  • http://www.atis.org/tg2k/
  • http://www.antiwargame.org
  • http://tuxedo.org/~esr/jargon
  • http://www.nyu.edu/projects/wr ay/wwwhack.html
  • "Open_Source_Art_Hack,"
  • More on Open_Source_Art_Hack
  • Also by steve

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    "Hacktivism as High (Tech) Art"
    Marisa S. Olson
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