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reSource 006: Overflow

September 19th, 2013 by L'auteur · Keine Kommentare

“After me, the flood!”1 or right in the middle?

While “Big Data” buzzes through the tech industry as new promise of salvation and secret services grab exabytes of data, normal users are unable to cope with the vast amount of digital information and at the same time are ill-informed about the personal data they leave as traces. The sixth edition of reSource, the Berlin based artist and activist network around transmediale, tries to examine this area of conflict in talks, artistic interventions and workshops, held on three days (12.-14. September 2013 @ Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien). Overstrained myself by this rich program, I had at least time for two exciting panels.

Ludic Overload – Ludic Overkill, 13. September 2013
Gamification, another buzzword that circulates many business areas and always seems to have positive connotations. Who could be against playing? Marketing, business, NGOs, military – everywhere they develop strategical games or playfully develop strategies for problem solution and product placement. In fact, those games gain more and more a regulative function as normative soft power that influences the individual and society as a whole. Daphne Dragona, media art curator and research fellow at the Post Media Lab of Leuphana University (Lüneburg), explains how games facilitate the collection of user data for companies by stimulate users to share and interact. What else is the number of friends then a high score? Datafication works at its best when it is wearing its game garment, which is obvious at least since Foursquare. On the other hand, Dragona shows that these processes can be disclosed by artistic positions and in a playful manner. The game designer Ian Bogost for example developed the game “Cow Clicker“, whose only game element is clicking every six hours on a cow sprite – which sums up pretty well the mechanics of games like Farmville. While Tobias Leingruber uses the way of overidentification to question the status of social media profiles by his Facebook ID card; the Facebook Demetricator by Ben Grosser tries to devaluate the incentive systems of Facebook. Another strategy of refusal is the anonymous net-nonsense à la 4chan, which subverts capitalistic use as nonsense.

Julien Oliver, engineer and artist, as well as co-author of the Critical Engineering Manifesto understands gamification as a new technically mediated way of practicing rules and attitudes in society. But the problem of today’s technology is that it’s hiding behind a beautiful surface and faces the user as designed black box. Oliver tries to lay open this disparity in his artistic projects. When his Transparency Grenade, a computer with WiFi antenna built in a transparent grenade container, is set off, it scans the network traffic in the area and streams it to a server. Here, the data mining of secret services is staged as act of war against personal rights, as well as it underlines the lack of transparency of the technology and the governments. The works Flamer, a machine gun-USB-stick with the Flamer.a trojan, and No Network, a network jammer in form of a tank, also reflect on the metaphor of “cyber warfare”. The gadget “Newstweek“, co-developed with Daniil Vasiliev gained a lot of attention in 2011. With a computer camouflaged as power plug they could grab signals from WiFi networks and stream them to their computers, so that headlines of online articles could be manipulated in realtime and sent back to the unsuspecting users. This shows that between the information on the screen and its source, there are many steps of mediation, which are never questioned in our everyday use.

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Mining the Image, 14. September 2013
In his rich article “Human Resolution“, which was released in April at Mute Magazine, the artist Harry Sanderson works on the capitalistic processes that enable digital image production. He covers a wide array of conflicts: Chinese sweatshop companies like Foxconn, where workers labor under awful conditions; render farms, in which thousands of slave computers calculate the render algorithms dictated by the master computer; and Chinese gold farmers in World of Warcraft, slaying monsters 12 hours a day to gain digital gold and sell it for a handful of real dollars to western gamers. The same problem arises here: You cannot see how much humans, energy and resources are exploited to produce a digital image. In his upcoming artwork [Unified Fabric], an exhibited render farm, Sanderson wants to make this disparity tangible. It will be shown in October at Arcadia Missa in London.

Cultural scientist Vera Tollmann, who did research in China for some time, underlines the discrepancy between beautiful appearance and its production, which is much more dramatic in the digital image then in the analog one. The fetish of high definition is deeply intertwined with the energy intensive method of production of late capitalism. A gigantic HD LED display on Beijing’s Tian’anmen Square for example has more then one million Yuan of energy costs a year. In “Human Resolution”, Sanderson points out, how the work is hidden in the digital image, by quoting an article of Jonathan Watts, writing about the yearly Arirang Festival, the spectacle of mass gymnastics in North Korea:

“It is an awesome product of political control and economic weakness. Starved of energy, and economically retarded, the only resource North Korea has in abundance is its people – and they are often employed in places where richer countries would use electricity.”2

Instead of strictly timed performers, who raise colored boards in Pyongyang to produce large-scale moving propaganda images, there is just a movie on the LEDs at Tian’anmen Square. But these displays are also produced in piecework by the workers in Shenzhen! In this context, the performance “Consumption” by Li Liao would be interesting, as Tollmann proposes. The artist worked 45 days at Foxconn to buy an iPAD from his wages, which is shown in a gallery next to his working dress and employee badge.

Artistic strategies are able to disclose the mechanisms behind interfaces, apps and networks and to therefore impart a certain reflexivity to the massive overflow of nowadays, which seems to carry away everything and everybody.
Mining the Image, 14. September 2013

  1. “Après moi le déluge! [After me, the flood!] is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation.” – Karl Marx: Capital. Volume I., III., 8., 5., [MEW 23, S. 285] []
  2. Jonathan Watts, ‘Welcome to the strangest show on earth’,The Guardian. 1 October 2005, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/oct/01/northkorea []

Tags: @// · Berlin · CGI · China · digital culture · games · media art · performance · technology · user · web 2.0