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"We Felt Terribly Alone"
Brian Boucher

posted by steve on Thursday May 23, @03:28PM   

In the latest Thingist newsletter, Brian Boucher reports on the May 3 Open_Source_Art_Hack panel, which was moderated by Jenny Marketou and Steve D_IE_tz, with Christian Huebler of Knowbotic Research, Anina Rust of LAN, Bill Brown of Surveillance Camera Players, Adam Hyde of r a d i o q u a l i a, and Alex Galloway of RSG.
"In tribute to Vuk Cosic, Steve Deitz was wearing a Deep Throat ASCII t-shirt, but that was one of the few really happy notes sounded at a panel discussion on the occasion of the opening of open_source_art_hack, the New Museum's latest installation in its Z Media Lounge, organized by Deitz, artist Jenny Marketou, and the Museum's Anne Barlow. The discussion touched on themes of visibility vs. security; the modern American security culture; the question of artists' activist responsibilities in that culture; and, most contentiously, the museum's viability as a forum for exhibition by artists trying to push the boundaries of legality and forge new artistic practices."
See http://newsletter.thing.net/index.php?id=46


"Open Source" and "hacking" are not terms you'd expect to combine with "museum," Deitz started out by saying. What can I as a curator learn, he asked, from the practices we're exhibiting here, and how can I bring these practices into the museum? The tone of much of the discussion that followed, however, suggested that this exhibition was an exercise in reinforcing the institution's distance from the artistic practices it is working to analyze.

Security vs. visibility and surveillance vs. privacy were recurring themes. Anina Rust explained LAN's project, Tracenoizer, which creates red herrings and smokescreens by creating fictitious homepages about any name entered. It is a service, she explained, for those wishing to obscure their identity and frustrate electronic surveillance. Knowbotic Research's port scanning project addresses the nature of a paranoid security culture, asserted Christian Huebler. This culture is not about addressing problems but rather about concealing them, so that publicizing weaknesses in web servers, as their project does, leads their host, the museum, into a legal gray area.

Bill Brown described the Surveillance Camera Players' project as an ongoing exposition of the machinations of security culture. While he's not an artist and while the SCP use very low-tech methods, he said, the SCP are at home in this exhibition because they "hack an idea," appropriating the US military's technique of monitoring open, public gatherings to mine whatever information is available there. RSG's Galloway, on the other hand, described their Carnivore software as a public-domain improvement over the FBI's program of the same name, and one that questions perceptions of surveillance: "Surveillance is always viewed as either good or bad. This is meant to not be so black and white."

After the "opening salvo presentations," the discussion became heated almost immediately, when Deitz asked Huebler to expand on his comments about the object of security being to suppress problems rather than address them. There is such paranoia about security in America, he complained, that we were forced to think about actually printing our findings about security weaknesses in a book, which would be protected under First Amendment rights, or distributing them privately to avoid legal hassles. "And was the museum really in the boat with us, in the end?" he asked. Answering his own question: "We felt terribly alone." Were there negotiations that took place between artist and museum, it was asked? Well, of course, explained Steve Kurtz, of Critical Art Ensemble, in a conciliatory tone. There are restrictions on the museum, and the museum is forced to place restrictions on its people, etcetera. It's really unfortunate and simplistic to talk about this problem in terms of censorship, Kurtz asserted.

And the museum was not the only one criticized; one questioner doubted the validity of techniques such as publicizing methods to destroy surveillance cameras (something included in other exhibitions, not this one) as being too easily co-opted by security culture. Another wondered whether open-source software on one hand and hacking practices on the other are really sufficiently similar to be bound up in the same exhibition, and even how well they're represented.

Yet another questioned the quality and daring of the works in the New Museum show. When Congress is considering bills that will seriously compromise our privacy whenever we use a computer, he asked, "Do you feel like you're aiming low?" Couldn't these projects be more activist? Deitz: "There's a value in being indirect. It's not necessary, or necessarily interesting, for artists to be activist always, in everything they do." These problems are also constantly discussed by artists, it was offered. But, the questioner retorted, a New Museum exhibition provides a broader audience to which artists could have publicized their ideas. "It's a really good point," conceded Deitz.

But Huebler had more to say. "Art museums are not collective partners," he said loudly into the microphone. "Of course it's boring to talk about censorship." But it was a modest little project we were doing here, he said, that came out of a careful analysis of what the museum wanted to do and what we could reasonably do in this context. And for Huebler's money, the museum still came up short.

See http://newsletter.thing.net/index.php?id=46

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  • New Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Knowbotic Research
  • LAN
  • Surveillance Camera Players
  • r a d i o q u a l i a
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  • http://newsletter.thing.net/in dex.php?id=46
  • Thingist newsletter,
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  • Open_Source_Art_Hack
  • Jenny Marketou and Steve D_IE_tz
  • Knowbotic Research
  • LAN
  • Surveillance Camera Players
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    "We Felt Terribly Alone"
    Brian Boucher
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