Datenspiel (2013)

Tactics of disruption and tools of re-appropriation for hybrid city inhabitants
19-22 & 25-26 May 2013

4 workshops for the city of Athens
with Julian Oliver, Danja Vasiliev, Gordan Savicic [Critical Engineering Team]
and Sabrina Basten & Audrey Samson [Roger 10-4]

A project by Goethe Insitut – Athen
in collaboration with Frown Creative Platform

curated by Daphne Dragona

Datenspiel is a cluster of workshops about networks, data and their invisible flows in the urban environment. Referring to the condition of contemporary hybrid cities, where residents’ practices, interactions and encounters occur simultaneously in both the physical and the digital space, Datenspiel aims to  discuss their challenges and contradictions. What happens when every mediated action in the urban environment generates data? While a city’s intangible grid of network connectivity is hard to realise, at the same time everything circulating within the digital networks leaves its trace behind. Data leak goes unnoticed as no one is in a position to know how, when and by whom his/her data can be used in today’s playful and participative metropoleis. Users’ likes, checkins and geotags activate an infinite game among companies, governments and users which seems unfair and rather asymmetrical. Today’s hybrid cities, charming as they might seem, are places where user generated data bodies are being built and different interests are being served. But, is it at all possible to change this? Can the network architectures become visible, allowing their vulnerabilities to be exposed? Are there any alternatives for the upcoming hybrid environment?

Datenspiel is an initiative about the asymmetries and misconceptions of today’s networks, examining the use and misuse of data flows in the urban environment. The word Datenspiel has a double meaning just like the word spiel does in German. It comes to express on one hand the infinite game of data among companies, governments and citizens and on the other the possibilities for its unpredictable, yet radical, reversal. Through four different workshops, Datenspiel wishes to examine networks as systems open to manipulation, to locate their exploits and to introduce playful counter-mechanisms and tactics of resistance. While attempting to game the city, as a complex system, Datenspiel is an effort to raise awareness and provide citizens with tools of emancipation for the regaining of control.

The workshops invite participants to explore how electromagnetic fields can be ‘felt’, how the data body of the city can be mapped, in which manners data can be captured and how a city’s transportation network can become a system of information exchange. Using free and open source software, low-cost materials and innovative creativity,  participants -in collaboration with the artists- are invited to develop prototypes and applications and test them in the urban environment.

Covert Computing with Julian Oliver

Covert Computing tackles issues of trust in a world where objects can have imperceptible properties. As ‘network insecurity’ and anxiety preoccupy the minds of today’s citizens, this workshop responds with an active and direct strategy. What if citizens can take over the control of the information flows by appropriating and modifying the technology and equipment they are using? Covert Computing explores methods and materials for building  and powering hidden networks and communication infrastructure using tiny inexpensive computers and found ubiquitous objects. What appears to be a keyboard might in fact be sharing files whilst a soft toy might be recording all facebook messages in an office environment and post them online.

Participants in this workshop are invited to learn how to turn harmless looking objects into powerful devices that can capture data and route traffic. Plastic fruit, food or an old landscape painting which can be bought at a local market can all be used in the workshop. Decentralised and unsurveilled, these objects can themselves be considered as tools of empowerment and possibly activism. They are proposed as alternatives to privatised infrastructure and technologies increasingly used to
both study and govern us.

The workshop involves programming embedded computers, soldering battery packs onto them and inserting them into innocuous objects.

dataplay covert from Frown on Vimeo.

Netless with Danja Vasiliev

Netless is a model for a grassroots communication network. It is based on an interconnection of nodes but it includes no central hubs, switchers or gatekeepers. It demands no permanent connectivity and it is not dependent on the internet. Netless is a proposal for a parasitic network liberated from standard data carriers or radio channels, taking advantage of the city transportation infrastructure. The same way a network of buses, trains and trams provides efficient traffic flow for the city inhabitants, information flow can also be facilitated if communication nodes are attached to the transportation vehicles. Inspired by the sneakernet system that allows the physical transfer of removable media, Netless invites users to swap data as they are moving around, changing from one train to another during their daily city life. When the nodes attached to the vehicles meet, a shortrange wireless communication session is established and information is exchanged. Netless is activated by its users, their movement and their desire to communicate. It is based on a mesh network topology and on a protocol which is open, inclusive and driven from values and interests, opposed to the ones supported by the main social networking sites.

Having been developed and presented already as a table-sized model installation, Netless is attempted for the first time as an urban experiment in the streets of Athens. Participants in the Netless workshop learn how to build their own nodes and experiment with different tactics for the development and coordination of a netless system of exchanging information, taking into consideration the topography of the city.

dataplay netless from Frown on Vimeo.

City CPU mapping with Gordan Savicic

City CPU mapping aims to capture the contemporary city based on its network infrastructure. While the map of a city is usually a result of a combination of urban planning and impromptu building interventions by its inhabitants, with the emergence of the hybrid city a new need became apparent; the need to map a city’s topology and perceive its continuously evolving network of networks which allows and controls the data flows in the urban environment.

The City CPU mapping workshop – a reference to the Central Processing Unit within a computer –  tries  to utilize online-mapping tools in order to create new narrations between the city itself and its data body. It claims that residential or commercial areas must now be related not only in relation to their natural and urban contexts, but also to their integration of network interfaces. In this context, participants are invited to discuss early examples of cartographic visualizations as well as contemporary mapping tools while addressing the following question: What data can possibly be fetched and read out directly from the streets and how does it differ to pure statistical data?

As outcomes of these workshop, small prototypes and sketches are created and a new map of Athens is attempted. Following previous mappings for the cities of  Basel, Shenzhen and Aarhus,  where the city is captured as a computer mainboard diagram, the production of such a map tackles issues of urban surveillance and control and responds to the contemporary desire to grasp the city as an information system.

dataplay cpu from Frown on Vimeo.

Εlectromagnetic Cityscape with Sabrina Basten & Audrey Samson

Electromagnetic Cityscape addresses the intangible nature of networked connectivity and raises questions about the impact it has in our daily lives. As the amount of electronic devices per person is growing, a city’s electrosmog increases exponentially and concerns about it are intensified. Is the electrosmog dangerous to our health? Does it leak information? Is it really there? Imperceptible as it is, its presence remains obscure and uncanny.

The workshop offers to participants the opportunity to explore this territory by learning how to build their own sniffing detectors from old electronic devices. Particles of old radios, TVs, VHS players, mobiles, tape recorders or kitchen appliances can all be used for the this workshop and become electrosmog detectors attached to the body which function as antennas and allow the body to physically feel the flows and waves of the networked world.

Electromagnetic Cityscape responds to networks immateriality with breaking things open, studying how electronics work and recycling them purposefully. The aim however is not only to make networks ‘tangible’ by inventing new ways of sensing them, but also to reverse the planned obsolescence of technological objects. Instead of keep updating technology, this workshop insists that new perceptions, new movements and new interactions are possible through re-incarnated objects, which in a playful and creative way can raise awareness about the networked environment.

dataplay electromagnetic from aggeliki hatzi on Vimeo.

Photo documentation:

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