Counter-Infrastructures in Media – N

New article published @ Media-N

“Counter-Infrastructures: Critical Empowerment and Emancipation in a Networked World”

“With every receding seam, from cable to code, comes a techno-political risk. Without edges we cannot know where we are nor through whom we speak” Julian Oliver writes while discussing stealth infrastructures in the urban environment. [1] Similarly, his colleague Danja Vasiliev remarks, “we hardly know what our device does behind our back.” [2] The network of networks within which we communicate and interact today is, to a great extent, based on infrastructures and devices that are increasingly disappearing, becoming invisible. And with such a disappearance, the user, if we follow the thought of the artist Olia Lialina, is “silently becoming invisible” too, losing his or her rights over the technology being employed. [3] Therefore, it seems that we have entered the era of “stacktivism,” a term which derives from Benjamin Bratton’s “Black Stack” and describes the invisibility of the infrastructures, the fact that we might have no understanding or access to them. The “stack” according to Bratton “staged the death of the user” while other kinds of nonhuman users, like the sensors and the algorithms, were at the same time empowered. [4] And as the “stack” reflects a new nomos for the relationship among technology, nature and human, it is also made clear that this non-transparency, opacity and invisibility concerns the functioning of the networked environment in its entirety, and the capturing of users’ interactions throughout their daily life [5]….

in Art & Infrastructures
Media – N Journal, Fall 2014: V.10 N.03

editor in chief: Pat Padani
Guest Editors: Kevin Hamilton and Terri Weissman

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New Babylon Revisited Documentation

A series of actions, workshops and dérivés that starting from Constant’s New Babylon re-discuss issues concerning the free communication of a city’s inhabitants. Artists and theorists propose new architectures of connectivity, inviting the inhabitants to think and act collectively.

Pictures from our project now online

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Re-engineering the web – Review of the Othernet Workshop of Danja Vasiliev @ Weise7

from neural


In times of increasing online networked surveillance, the need for our disconnection and emancipation from centralized technological platforms becomes more and more crucial. One no longer feels safe when it comes to data. The news is out and the mere charm of constant connectivity is long gone. The growing possibilities of today’s data-driven world are unavoidably accompanied by insecurities as we seem to be stuck to network topologies and protocols functioning beyond our control. While a lot is being said for the emerging alternatives, the rhythm of change still seems to be rather slow and the question remains open: Can control really be regained if we, the users, manage to build and maintain our own systems? Today’s ‘politicized youth’, as Sarah Harrison put it at her talk at the CCC 13, has grown up with free internet and feels that has the power to keep it this way. But is this at all possible? The Othernet Workshop by Danja Vasiliev aimed to address such issues by inviting users to take an active stance; participants, as it was stated in the workshop call, would get to learn how to use alternative open source tools and Linux based systems in order to overcome the current centralized architectures and to actually re-engineer the Web.

The Othernet Workshop was of course in total accordance with Danja’s overall work, emphasizing the need for critical empowerment and embracing the potentiality of autonomous user based systems. It followed for instance Netless, an offline parasitic communication network, Newstweek -created with Julian Oliver-, a device that allowed news’ manipulation in hotspots, or the Weise7 book -an outcome of the Weise7 studio-, which in reality was a hidden and independent-to-the-internet wireless server. The workshop also can be seen as a complementary to radical interventions of the artist realized in collaboration with Julian Oliver such as their recent work, PRISM: the Beacon Frame, which was disabled during the last Transmediale for intercepting in cellular communications or their older project Men In Grey which revealed the insecurity of social media communication.

Furthermore, and more interestingly, the Othernet workshop goes beyond Danja’s artistic work being the latest one of a great number of non-artistic workshops that he has been running the last few years for different audiences. Such are for example the well known Networkshops, taught in collaboration with Julian Oliver, where participants learn on a theoretical and practical level about network structures and mechanisms, the Cryptoparties, initiated along with other colleagues in Berlin, where tools for obfuscation and encryption are communicated, or workshops especially organised for younger participants where the network is purposefully performed and played.

Taking into consideration this prior work and following the principles of critical engineering the new workshop took things a step even further. Participants were now invited to dive deeper, aiming to create their own communication systems and computational infrastructures. The three days workshop program included: learning how to install and run a virtual private server on one’s computer, making the server available from the internet, connecting it to a virtual private network and last but not least experimenting with its possible uses. Leaving this latter point open to the participants’ interests and needs, the system was successfully used as a web server, it was turned into a wireless access point tunneling all network traffic to a Tor network and it was connected to a cloud service with data locally stored. In some cases a Raspberry Pi was also used.

Unlike prior workshops of Danja however, which were accessible for all, the Othernet workshop required some basic programming skills and technical knowledge to be followed comfortably. In a way, it could be considered as a second part for the Networkshop, where users can gain further skills and competences. And this was a decision taken consciously by the artist, as a response to the urge of our times.

Increasing the number of today’s conscious sysadmins, of the datapunks or the army of awaken softwarists that Assange, Wark, Lovink and Bifo have all respectively talked about, seems to be what this new workshop ultimately aimed for. At the end, it was not only about users’ disconnection from the cloud and their emancipation from centralized networks; it was also about empowering an emerging class of critical network professionals and skilled users to change the current network based asymmetries between citizens and governments and to move towards new conditions of communicating, working and being. The task is difficult, but at the same time this is why the contribution of artists running such workshops can be of special importance. Apart from communicating knowledge, these affect-driven initiatives can progressively build ties between users and open up to a different unified future of possibilities.

The Othernet workshop took place from the 24th until the 26th of January 2014 at Weise7 studio in Berlin. It was curated by Teresa Dillon in the context of her “Urban Knights: Systems for independent city living event” program, along with a panel focusing on governance and user-developer power relationships within emerging decentralised systems for urban and civic living. Both events were part of the Transmediale 14 program. An Othernet wiki page with documentation and useful resources will soon be available.

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[Blank] Project by Soichiro Michara, an experience of the unfelt

Blank-Project-An-Experience-Of-The-Unfelt first published on   A changing sculpture of bubbles and a weirdly constructed bell catch the visitor’s eye when confronted with Soichiro Michara’s [Blank] project. The environment seems quiet, subtle and cryptic. But on closer inspection one realises that the components of the work, which are both physical and analogue, build two functioning systems that conceptually connect. Bubbles climb up on strings, which connect air pumps to tanks filled with soapy water, while sound is produced by a bell attached to a microchip and a tube. The work is an outcome of the artist’s two year occupation with a difficult issue: How to respond to the disaster at Fukushima, a tragedy that once again proved that nuclear power can not always be controlled? How could one tackle an issue that many still do not want to think about? And how can one perceive unseen and unfelt contemporary threats? It seems that Michara purposefully chose a system of bubbles in order to depict something which is artificially created, manipulated and up to a point controlled and he empowers it through a mechanism that is ambiguously functional as a detection or warning system. The wind-bell, a common symbol in Japanese tradition that protects people from evil spirits, is now recording radiation levels. What initially seems playful or non-important in this installation might prove to be real and harsh. It depends which side one prefers to see.

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Mapping the Commons receives the Elinor Ostrom Award!

The Mapping the Commons received  “I Premio Elinor Ostrom a la investigación e intervención social vinculada a Bienes Comunes”  in Buenos Aires!

Picture 36

More info here:

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Loophole for All

Paolo Cirio likes exploits. One could say that he is a real virtuoso of today’s networks as he is constantly studying them in order to expose their mechanisms, locate their vulnerabilities and subvert their modes of functioning. In his latest project, Loophole for All, Cirio focused on an obscure side of today’s networked economy, the offshoring. The artist targeted the Cayman Islands, one of the major offshore centers that serve multinationals and banks by providing them secrecy, little or no taxation and loose legal control.  As they allow companies to hide and maximize their profit, offshore centers were seen by Cirio as network switchers which facilitate the flow of corruption for the global market and are therefore worthwhile of being attacked. And so it happened. Cirio hacked the Cayman Islands governmental server, stole a list of 200,000 registered companies and proceeded in issuing for anybody interested counterfeited certificates of incorporations from the company’s registry at a very low cost. Fiction or reality one could ask. As expected, the Caymans Companies Registry denied the incident declaring that the list was not really a hack but rather  a result of search engines which aims to scam people. But unfortunately for them, Cirio had already succeeded his goal.  Exploiting the loopholes that companies themselves use, he took advantage of the offshore companies’ anonymity , appropriated the system and opened the stolen data to the public.  While a ‘democratization of the offshore business’ might be fiction, raising awareness through revealing networks’ invisible structures seems indeed to be possible.


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