Hacking has been described as a crime, a compulsion, an often troublesome end result of insatiable curiosity run amok. Rarely has anyone who is not a hacker attempted to portray the creation, exploration and subversion of technology as a valid and elegantly creative art form.
NEW YORK — Hacking has been described as a crime, a compulsion, an often troublesome end result of insatiable curiosity run amok.
Rarely has anyone who is not a hacker attempted to portray the creation, exploration and subversion of technology as a valid and elegantly creative art form.
But Open_Source_Art_Hack, a new show opening Friday at Manhattan’s New Museum of Contemporary Art, attempts to show how the act of hacking and the ethics of open-source development -â€“ direct participation, deep investigation and access to information -â€“ can be art.
Each piece and performance features technology altered by an artist-geek with an activist attitude, something that the curators of the show refer to as “hacking as an extreme art practice.”
“Originally the word ‘hacker,’ as coined at MIT in the 1960s, simply connoted a computer virtuoso,” said Jenny Marketou, a new media artist and co-curator of Art_Hack. “Now hacking means reappropriating, reforming and regenerating not only systems and processes but also culture.”
Art created with open-source ethics in mind allows artists to become providers of more than pretty pictures. They can produce functional tools that they and others can then use to create new art forms, said museum director Anne Barlow.
“And given the nature of open source, the process can be as important as the end product,” Barlow said.
Process — how the art was created and how it can evolve — is one of the key focal points of the show. Activism — using art and hacking to tweak a system or totally sabotage it — is the other primary focus.
In this show, it doesn’t matter much how the art looks. What matters is what the artist and others can do with it and learn from it.
“I have come to think of hacking as a process involving a combination of information dissemination, direct action, skills and creative solutions,” Marketou said. “Hacking is an important phenomenon and a metaphor for how we digitally manipulate and think our way through the networked culture that engulfs us.”
Art_Hack will have a number of interactive exhibits that will involve museum visitors in altering or undermining the code used every day in software and society.
One installation will allow viewers to clone their own “data bodies” and set them loose on the Net. The clones then serve as a sort of digital double-identity, allowing people — at least in theory — to deflect any data-gathering invasions of privacy.
Another piece explores the same disinformation idea by using automated tools to create fake homepages. The bogus pages are then propagated through various search engines so that it becomes impossible for anyone to verify anyone else’s personal data. The idea spins off the common practice of providing false information on mandatory website registration forms.
In Anti-wargame, Future Farmers artist Josh On challenges the ideas behind most computer games. On’s games reward players who demonstrate even a shred of social conscience.
Cue P. Doll/rtmark’s CueJack project turns the infamous “CueCat,” an electronic device intended to provide marketing information to corporations, into a tool that provides consumers with information. With one swipe of the CueJack, consumers can access a database with “alternative” information about a scanned product’s manufacturer.
“I am interested in ways that artists misuse technology, use it for other than its intended or sanctioned purposes,” said Steve Dietz, curator of new media at the Walker Art Center, and co-curator of Art_Hack. “This sort of transformation appears to be a common if not fundamental aspect of any artistic use of technology, including coding and hacking.”
Also on display will be art created from the data collected by electronic wiretaps known as “packet sniffers.” This project allows museum visitors to check the security status of networks belonging to various activist groups. When the sniffer finds a security hole, it will launch a sound and light show in the museum.
“Due to the nature of the show, I had the opportunity to challenge and to be challenged by the museum on several legal issues which were addressed in some works,” Marketou said. “It has been a surprise to me how most of the cultural institutions in this country are not ready yet to host this sort of exhibition because of both the technical and controversial issues raised by the politics associated with some of these works.”
Art_Hack opens with a “Digital Culture Evening” hosted by Marketou and Dietz, who will discuss hacking as art.
Other planned programs include German hacker Rena Tangens discussing European versus American concepts of privacy, and guided walking tours to spot the hidden surveillance equipment installed on and above the streets of Manhattan.
Art_Hack runs through June 30.
Author: Michelle Delio
News Service: Wired News