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FOMO at the ICA, 29 May 2015 – 31 May 2015 – 01

FOMO: Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi, !Mediengruppe Bitnik

Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi

The first speaker on day one was Peter Sunde, founder of Pirate Bay and Flattr. He gave a very interesting overview of his ‘practice’ to date, beginning with the Pirate Bay beginnings and some of how the project’s strategy was to simply take on whatever label was thrown at them and run with it. When described as terrorists, they spoofed the Pirate Bay’s IPs so it appeared to be hosted in North Korea. When they were described as a cult, they registered themselves as a religion (Kopimism), which is surprisingly cheap and easy to do in Sweden, and also provides legal protection from state surveillance. The Pirate Bay’s operations are very well documented so I won’t linger on them further here.

His most useful observations were about the decentralised internet technology that increasingly carries content whose ownership is centralised and privatised by operators such as Facebook, Twitter, Google etc. This becomes a problem when consider that 3D printing is a technology that might one day be deployed to deliver food: do we want our food supplies to be owned and managed by Googles and Facebooks?

Matt Fuller chaired the Q&A session. Exploring the ‘believable but insane’ strategies of the Pirate Bay, he asked about their philosophical direction. Sunde described the internet as something similar to a prison or, more accurately, an airport: if you want to access it you have to give up significant freedoms, enter into a “rigidly controlled security environment”. In fact, Sunde said that he felt “less stressed in prison than outside”.

When asked what to do to make the internet good again, he said that “we lost that case”. The battle for the centralisation of the internet has been lost – his attitude now is that the internet is fucked, but not so fucked that this is visible to the average user; we need to let it get more fucked so normal users realise, and that when it finally breaks down we can build it again better next time, not making the same mistakes.

iMediengruppe Bitnik

Bitnik showed three bodies of work for discussion. The first was a piece in which they installed phone ‘spies’ in the Zurich opera house, which randomly phoned punters and offered them a live link up to the opera taking place. It’s based on an older model of technology, something that was proposed in the early days of the telephone. In the documentation they showed, the audience assumed the work was political activism: this also came up in the Arts Technologica interview with James Bridle, that audiences no longer can identify art, and assume that it becomes activism when it talks about political things.

The second piece was called Delivery for Mr Assange, and consisted of a Tim Knowles-style parcel that took and uploaded photos of its progress from a Hackney post office to the Ecuadorian embassy. Their explanation of the project seemed to go on forever, but to cut a long story short, Assange eventually received the parcel and he used it to raise awareness of other political prisoners. Part of me felt sad that this piece was talked up so much: it seemed like it only actually happened because it received media coverage. If it had remained secret, and not been picked up by the BBC, it would probably have been filtered out at a security checkpoint. For me, this indicated unresolved problems with how observation affects the thing being observed, old-school anthropology in a digital context. Additionally, the staging of the documentation of the piece in a Zurich gallery made me feel a bit squeamish: put together as a neat, clean-looking gallery show, using familiar tropes that saleable gallery art often deploys. Karen Archey nailed it later by describing it as presenting things in traditional ways because of no reason other than tradition.

The third piece was Random Darknet Shopper. This piece was a bot that randomly purchased an item from the darknet using 100 bitcoins every week, the objects to be delivered and displayed in a gallery. The gallery-based display strategy made more sense here, but there was also a bit of ‘filler’ in the way that the object’s progress was made evident in the gallery with screens outlining its dispatch, progress and so on. The question raised here, when the bot purchased some ecstasy pills, was who takes legal responsibility for the actions of an algorithmic system, be they ecstasy buying bots, or self-driving cars? The police confiscated the ecstasy but let them keep the rest of the items.

The Q&A was chaired by Matt Fuller again, and the first question was whether they feel the artworld restricts their practice. This is a complex question, as it touches on the potential extra-territoriality of art but also its hierarchies: while the darknet shopper exists outside legal structures, establishing that requires legal assistance that might only be available with support from a major gallery. Would a citizen deploying the same method receive such lenient treatment, even if they declared it as art?

Their response was really to do with issues raised earlier: when producing art under conditions of mass surveillance, do you self-censor? That’s what mass surveillance is compelling you to do, to be your own policeman.

When asked about the symptoms of a broken internet, they gave an interesting anecdote about how when working with galleries in China, people used online identity in much more flexible and mutable ways, popping up and disappearing again to retain a sense of anonymity: the opposite of Facebook’s own-name policy.

Matt Fuller made some interesting theoretical points about how disintermediation is one of the main characteristics of our current internet predicament. There are two systems: one is a Turing machine, a machine that handles symbols and moves them around; the other is capital, a system of general equivalence. He talked about “mixing the systems of symbolic transduction”. I wish had made better notes because it sounded very convincing the way he told it. In his view, it’s hard to know the consequences of the linking up you’re doing within those two systems.

(Timothy Morton: Hyperobjects)





Listening to a Radio 4 programme – Arts Technologica – and have finally learned how to pronounce Vuk Cosic: “vook chOzich”. Otherwise unremarkable – sets the scene, reports the status quo well, but doesn’t move the debate forward much.

Today I also read the first third of Luke Dormehl‘s The Formula. Surprisingly meaty, the first section on quantified selves leans quite heavily on Toffler‘s Third Wave.

Also did some work with computer-spoken versions of Reyner Banham’s new brutalism text.

Last week was a blur of supervisory meetings and lectures. I attended a performance-lecture by Brandon LaBelle in support of his upcoming book Lexicon of the Mouth. There were a lot of interesting textual interplays in his performance, which was delivered wonderfully calmly and engagingly. The mouth, as a site from which sound emerges in the absence of language, seems to him to be an interesting area of study, and his analysis took in stammering and speech impediments, silences and breaths, and the voice. The mouth is important in that it is to him “a channel between depths and surfaces”, and because “subjectivity is defined by the mouth”. I thought of how young children explore the world through putting things in their mouth, and how this transitions to expelling things from the mouth – words – as a way of positioning oneself in the world. “The mouth escapes my vocabulary”. Great stuff.

I’ve also been working on a number of pieces for a show that might not happen. One of these is a collaboration with my supervisor that has involved the heavy editing of the soundtrack to a TV show about architecture. I’m also working on a piece that uses computerised voices, in this case from the fab Acapela Group who I last worked with on the Host 8: Observatory project, and a text on brutalism by Reyner Banham.

I today prepared a proposal for a live art mentoring opportunity. I have a horrible feeling the deadline has expired but it was still useful to write it. Getting a sense of what I think is lacking in this area of my practice helps me figure out what I want to happen: I don’t know how to devise performance. To get some assistance with that would be helpful.

But, mainly, I’ve been thinking hard about this text by Jamie Lauren Keiles. It’s been on my mind a lot because the description of online experience as causing shame resonates strongly. Why shame? Shame is about the private being revealed, vulnerability, revelation. The messy links between sharing online and the erosion of privacy – we feel anxious and ashamed. It’s sticking in my mind so much that I’m almost going to have to make a piece of work about it.

Today was a productive studio day. I managed to get the key-tapping solenoid thing working from the raspberry pi, by installing Processing and then Arduino using these instructions. It’s really exciting to have Processing running on the pi, as this opens it up to me as a usable computer. I’ve been holding off from using it because it’s such a pain to translate everything in to Python from Processing Java. To be fair, it runs incredibly slowly when drawing graphics – down to 3 or 4 fps – so this will only be a useful method for control apps that are very light on visuals.

I’m hopeful that oF will do the trick for more video or graphics-heavy applications, but I doubt it.

In between, while things were loading and updating, I read a few articles from the inaugural issue of Social Media + Society. The best and most interesting article was a piece that discussed animation as a paradigm for understanding social media activity, replacing the shortcomings of performance as a theoretical lens. Interesting stuff, about how the audience fills in the gaps in representation with an animation, which can be just a few sketched lines. I think I need to look into this a bit more fully.

After another week of undergraduate assessment, I’m now back into research mode.

I have spent the last couple of days working on turning the Method conference presentation into a paper. It’s now pretty much there, although there is a little tweaking and the bibliography/footnotes to attend to.

I had a supervisory meeting yesterday too, which was really a careers advice session with regard to the upcoming changes at work.

Daily updates seem to have become harder to keep up with during the run up to the Method conference, but I’ll attempt to get back on track with them retrospectively.

I need to write up the following:

Site Gallery’s The Listening Body conference;

Method Conference;

Group Therapy exhibition at Fact.



via Flickr

I’m working towards the Method conference presentation next week, and it seemed useful to complete something in the data representation experiments that I’d been keen to see off: making the thing tap out key presses. I want the productive activity to become a distraction, and this seems like a good way of doing that.

Read more

Making some sense today of Robin Nelson’s work on practice as research, as mentioned by Dani in last week’s seminar.

Summary of adjustments from practitioner to practitioner-researcher:

• Specify a research inquiry at the outset.

• Set a timeline for the overall project including the various activities involved in a multi- mode inquiry.

• Build moments of critical reflection into the timeline, frequently checking that the research inquiry remains engaged and evidence is being collected.

• In documenting a process, capture moments of insight.

• Locate your praxis in a lineage of similar practices.

• Relate the specific inquiry to broader contemporary debate (through reading and exposition of ideas with references).

(p29), Nelson, Robin. 2013., Practice as Research in the Arts : Principles, Protocols, Pedagogies, Resistances. [online]. Palgrave Macmillan. Available from:<> 21 April 2015

Reading this chapter is like leaning back on a big, comfortable mattress of “you’re doing okay”.

It’s been a very non-standard week, during which my productivity levels have not been high. After being laid up with a cold all weekend, my first business of the week was the adrc seminar on Tuesday delivered by Dani Abulhawa. She spoke very clearly and confidently about the content of her son to be completed phd, and spoke persuasively about the importance of  ‘doing the stupid thing’, a useful reminder that you need to do the dumb stuff before you get to the clever stuff. If you know what you’re doing then it’s not research: research is a knowledge-producing activity that proceeds from a position of not knowing.

I spent Wednesday preparing a class for Thursday and also working my way through a morning’s worth of openFrameworks video tutorials. These made it look very simple and I’m hoping that as the course progresses b I’ll be in a position to actually use it to make some work. The problem is that in order to use it, and in fact to use Git without woe, I need to upgrade my os. That might cause more problems than it solves though.

Thursday morning I delivered the workshop to MA fine art students, and although it was quite poorly attended it was very enjoyable and hopefully useful for the students.

I spent the afternoon working on the method conference presentation. Turns out I am still rubbish at explaining my research project, and it took me 7 mins of my 15 minute paper to even explain my question let alone my method. More work to do, it seems.