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
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
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."
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"
Critical Art Ensemble, The Electronic Civil Disobedience and Other Unpopular
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
SD: I am not particularly interested in viewers getting in touch with
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
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
Steve Dietz: http://www.walkerart.org/gallery9/dietz/
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Bare Code: Net Art and the Free Software Movement