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Wired interview Dietz-Marketou
posted by curators on Monday May 06, @08:38PM   

Here is the full email interview with OSAH curators Jenny Marketou and Steve Dietz with Wired writer Michelle Delio:

How do you define hacking? And do you see all artists as hackers and all hackers as artists?
How did you come to define hacking and open source programming as an art?
Open source development--how did you decide to make this part of the show?
What mental doors would you like the show to open for visitors?

Michelle Delio: How do you define hacking? And do you see all artists as hackers and all hackers as artists?

Jenny Marketou: I think that our perception of hacking has been prejudiced in that we tend to only perceive it as an evil and mean act. Many times it has been identified with cyberterrorism and the media has portrayed hackers as secretive, destructive intruders committing online attacks in the name of social protest. The activity itself embodies the elements of both fear and fascination, and its aura of anonymity, sedentariness, and repetitiveness makes hacking suitable for such media hyperbole. I also think the media and the computer security industry have helped in promoting this fear by the way information has always been controlled, and any information we get about cases of hacking through the media is sensationalized and reduced to computer-based activities diverting our attention away from its significant social and creative implications. It is very convenient to perpetuate this image of the "evil hacker."

In its original technological sense, the word "hacker," coined at MIT in the 1960s simply connoted a computer virtuoso. Hacking might be characterized as "an appropriate application of ingenuity," whether the result is a quick and dirty patchwork job or a carefully crafted work of art. Hacking means reappropriating, reforming, and regenerating not only culture but also redefining systems and processes.

I have come to think of "hacking" as a process involving a combination of information dissemination, direct action, skills, and creative solutions. Hacking is an important phenomenon and as a metaphor for how we digitally manipulate and think through the networked culture that engulfs us and how this demonstration of virtuosity can be addressed as a new breed of activism, critical discourse, and creativity.

All hackers are not driven by the same motivations. Some hackers are politically-driven hacktivists; some are anarchists; and some are kids who want to be trendy. On the one hand are the underground computer hackers, defined by their compulsive digital virtuosity, anonymity, and technical skills. They directly manipulate the code, breaking into the economic system of the Internet in order to access and manipulate certain information. Of course, the Internet, has become the essential factor to all hackers. Hacktivists rely on it for organization, communication, and dissemination of information and are concerned that the Internet remain a location in which people are entitled to freedom of speech, information, and exchange of ideas--in the words of Oxblood Ruffin, "healthy, vibrant, open, and above all free [as in expression]." Hackers, on the other hand, also require a stable, healthy, and free Internet environment in which to exist and explore the complexities of computers and technology.

Steve Dietz: I think there are two poles of "hacking" that this exhibition investigates, and they are represented by our citation of McKenzie Wark and Critical Art Ensemble (below). These inventive and tactical poles, shall we say, are present to a greater or lesser degree in any given project, but I would never say "all" anything. . . Ever. ;-)

"Hackers create the possibility of new things entering the world. Not always great things, or even good things, but new things. In art, in science, in philosophy and culture, in any process of knowledge where data can be gathered, where information can be extracted from it, and where in that information new possibilities for the world produced, there are hackers hacking the new out of the old."
McKenzie Wark, Hacker Manifesto 2.0
"Today Acts of civil Disobedience are generally intended to hasten institutional reform rather than bring about national collapse and they do not threaten the continued existence of a nation or its ruling class. The question is for what reason you are an activist? What is the critical sensibility? How you intertwine this with the visual culture. Here lies the distinction between criminality and electronic civil disobedience."
Critical Art Ensemble, The Electronic Civil Disobedience and Other Unpopular Ideas
MD: How did you come to define hacking and open source programming as an art? I know "what is art?" is a weird and essentially unanswerable question on anything but a personal level, so keep it personal. Do you code or hack? If not, what is it about coding and hacking that says "this is art" to you?

JM: Although it is the nature of hacking to be destructive at the same time it can be constructive as well, "to discover freely, to invent freely, to create and to produce freely" as McKenzie Wark describes hacking in The Hacker Manifesto 2.0.

Or as the German philosopher Friedrich Kittler addressed it in his speach during Ars Electronica, 1998, on INFOWAR
"Only art history still knows that the famed geniuses of the Renaissance did not just create paintings and buildings, but calculated fortresses and constructed war machines. And if the phantasm of all Information Warfare, to reduce war to software and its forms of death to operating system crashes, were to come true, lonesome hackers would take the place of the historic artist-engineers."
To get inside the Internet and feel free to make it do things it was never intended to do; the ability to use thet system as a mechanism of protest and creativity among artists and artists collectives has a long history. Conceptual artists have always been cultural hackers in their effort to manipulate existing techno-semiotic structures towards different ends, going back to Dada or to Duchamp, who took the female identity of Rose Selavy or snatched Mona Lisa or put the urinal in the white cube of the gallery; and to the derive of the Situationists or to sampling rap MC. Their practices not only reconstructed a new system of meanings and representation but also shocked because this was expressed inside the boundaries of a bourgeois world. Hacking as art also means to infiltrate Hacking Culture and to contribute to the formation of new configurations of characters, space, time and play.

What I would like to point out from the projects in Open_Source_Art_Hack is that media artists feel free on one hand to explore "hacking" tactics and break into the complexities of computer systems as creative process, but by doing this they comment as conceptual artists did on the mechanisms and the myth of the art system, as well as other systems of power control. By doing so, they create tools and open source software.

SD: Neither hacking nor open source coding are "art" sui generis. Each of the projects in the exhibition, however, explicitly engages the cultural realm, so it becomes interesting and appropriate to consider them as and in relation to artistic practice. I am interested in ways that artists "misuse" technology--use it for other than its intended or sanctioned purposes. This transformation appears to be a common if not fundamental aspect of the artistic use of technology, including coding and hacking.

MD: Open source development--how did you decide to make this part of the show? Was it just that most hackers are interested in open source, or is there another reason?

JM: According to the Jargon Dictionary the term open source was coined in March 1998 following the Mozilla release to describe software distributed in source under licenses guaranteeing anybody rights to freely use, modify, and redistribute the code. The intent was to be able to sell the hackers' ways of doing software to industry and the mainstream by avoiding the negative connotations (to suits) of the term "free software." The Free Software movement means software that gives users enough freedom to be used by the free software community. Specifically, users must be free to modify the software for their private use, and free to redistribute it either with or without modifications, either commercially or noncommercially, either gratis or charging a distribution fee.

Obviously hacking and open sourcing "e-conomy" go hand-in-hand as they both are advocates of free information, and as a tool for creativity, manipulation and exchange of ideas .

Many of the artists in the show are using programming and coding and scripting languages and techniques such as Perl, Max, java, javascript, and php as their creative medium to visualize data and to create their own software and tools which, based on the open source e-conomy, are available for other to use. So the software becomes the art for this artists.

What it is interesting though in general now is that an iconography and esthetic comes out of this practice of "software art," the image of which, according to Lev Manovich in his recent essay "Generation Flash" was for decades associated with SIGGRAPH geekiness. Now mathematical functions, particle systems, RGB color palettes are welcome on the plasma screens of gallery walls.

Although this is true in many net projects today, I also think that the arttsts in the exhibition go beyond this because apart from the esthetics there is a strong social and cultural concern in "software art" as their ultimate motivation.

Finally a good example of open source practice is this website, which uses Slashcode software widely used in the open source community and open for repurposing such as for this exhibiiton, as part of a new project called "netartcommons," initiated by Steve Dietz and supported by the Walker Art Center.

SD: I believe that one of the fundamental issues confronting society at large is the dimunition of the public domain. In the digital realm, open source has the potential to provide an alternative and viable model to the expansive privatization of resources. As is often the case, artists are among those modeling and experimenting with how this might actually play out and what it could mean.

MD: What mental doors would you like the show to open for visitors? What thoughts do you hope to provoke? Would you like everyone to discover the hacker within?

JM: As you know the selected works for this exhibition brings together a wide range of American and international media artists, collectives, designers, hackers, activists, and filmmakers. From my point of view one of the goals of this exhibition is to explore this emerging phenomenon where the free e-conomy of the software as a social object meets with the extreme subversive tactics of hackers and intersects with skills in appropriating and abstracting digital data in order to construct a platform of creative production.

As a result, the projects in this exhibition reshape not only the virtual space but also the real space of the museum through the magic of the process. I hope the show gives to the visitors food for thought as to what kind of meaning, politics, and poetics come out of the above intersection. II would like to believe that in this show artists, curators, and visitors are taking over the public domain of New Museum and the neighborhood through their work and their public actions, as the Situationists did years ago in the streets of Paris.

Finally, I realize that hacking, free Internet, and surveillance are very contested and sensitive issues especially in New York after September 11, but I believe this is another reason for this exhibition to open new meanings to those terms associated primary with terrorism by the administration and media.

SD: I am not particularly interested in viewers getting in touch with their inner hacker. That may be a byproduct of art, but it is not a very compelling goal. I am always interested in someone really trying to understand what an artist is trying to do and, especially with this show, what are the issues provoking her.

MD: What was the most interesting part of curating this show for you? What surprised you, what delighted you, what did you learn?

JM: I think of Open_Source_Art_Hack as one of the most challenging and rewarding projects in my mediated life so far and very closely related to my own practice and ideologies as a new media artist.

Certainly my collaboration with Steve Dietz as the co curator has been a delightful experience in both professional and personal level. And yes I learnt a lot about new media art and politics through research essential for this kind of exhibition but also by meeting the artists and learning so much from each of the project . Due to the nature of the show, as a curator I had the opportunity to challenge and to be challenged by the institution of the museum on several legal issues, which were addessed in some works. Certainly it has been once more a surprise to me how most of the cultural institutions in this country are not ready yet to host this kind of exhibitions on both technical and on controversial grounds raised by the politics associated with some of the works.

SD: Most of my curatorial practice has a collaborative element, and it is generally one of the most rewarding aspects of a project. Jenny and I share some background and a lot of differences. Negotiating these has been a challenge and a delight, and the show has ended up different than if either of us tried to curate it alone--without it feeling, hopefully, like a camel by committee. And for me, as someone who gave up practicing art almost as soon as I was trained to do it, there is always a certain amount of awe for the ways artists negotiate their way to meaning in a world that it is not hard to imagine being more hospitable.

Jenny Marketou is a new media artist who works with the net, video,photography, web based installations , telepresence environments and media related artforms. She was born in Athens, Greece and is based in New York City where she has taught at Cooper Union School of Art and The New School.

Steve Dietz: http://www.walkerart.org/gallery9/dietz/

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  R E L A T E D _ L I N K S   
  • Walker Art Center
  • Jenny Marketou
  • New Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Slash
  • NetArtCommons
  • OSAH
  • Steve Dietz
  • Hacker Manifesto 2.0
  • Open_Source_Art_Hack
  • According to the Jargon Dictionary
  • "Generation Flash"
  • curatorial practice
  • http://www.walkerart.org/galle ry9/dietz/
  • Wired writer Michelle Delio
  • More on Open_Source_Art_Hack
  • Also by curators

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