Monday, February 03, 2014

Welcome to your new NSA partner network. Tech art in Berlin.


Whilst walking around the Afterglow art hack day opening in Berlin, my phone buzzed as I had received a text message.  Opening up my phone I saw this:

"Welcome to your new NSA partner network."

I immediately had a scary thought.  "Had someone hacked into my phone?"

My next thought was "oh, someone is hacking the mobile networks".  "Damn, I forgot to turn my phone off like I usually do before coming to hacker events".

My phone didn't have service to either of the networks it usually connects to, so someone was definitely jamming the phone systems.

This message was a very impressive piece of tech art indeed.  It made me think, and feel something.




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Rest your head against the speaker.
Part of the art hack day.

"The revolution is over. Welcome to the afterglow." reads the opening line to the transmedial festival in Berlin.

The transmedial festival brought back Cyber punk type thoughts from the last 15-20 years or so.  Now that the digital revolution is over, and "The future is now", and that 2020 is just around the corner... what next?

The afterglow.

"What is next" is a question lots of people in tech are always pontificating about, but perhaps not in the context of the time known historically as the information revolution.

Despite all that lofty talk, and a long speech on this topic, the event was a lot of fun.  Especially the art hack day parts.  Lots of people were there interacting with various art works people had made.


Some sort of eletronic alchemy going on here
"Art Hack Day as a grassroots event/exhibit format/community for artists whose medium is tech and hackers whose medium is art."


Over 80 artist hackers were invited to create the exhibit from scratch in 48 hours.  What they came up with was quite often fun and impressive.

Stamps combine to make prints.


Knowing the design brief for these pieces can give you a better appreciation of what went into the thought process.  Here is the brief the creators were given:
As coders we fear the ‘legacy’ system, a piece of old junk we haven’t yet figured out how to throw away. As artists, we’re tempted by prolific outbursts of freshness and novelty; more art of less value. Businesses and government crave more data, more connections, more context. By embracing these impulses without contemplation we perpetuate the technological hype cycle and unintentionally shorten the half-life of our artefacts. Technology has become akin to a natural resource, generating physical and immaterial waste that is appropriated in such diverse contexts as e-garbage dumps, big data businesses and mass surveillance schemes. As such, trash is no longer what is just left behind but is central to our post-digital lives. When digital detritus piles up it decomposes, giving rise to a post-digital afterglow with the potential for new expression and new enterprise. Can we make peace with our excessive data flows and their inevitable obsolescence? Can we find nourishment in waste, overflow and excess? Can the afterglow of perpetual decay illuminate us?

This honey pot exhibit was one of my favourites.  If you look closely you can see a phone in there tempting passers by...

Honey pot.  With actual honey. With phones in the honey.

Below are a selection of short video clips showing some of the other exhibits in motion.






The tower of beer was one of my favourites.  Not just because it had beer cans in it, but because of the great video effect it had when filmed.




The augmented reality of this tablet swinging from a rope was popular.  Point it at the picture of a rubbish bin painted on the wall, and the video will show rubbish flowing out of the wall.






Not only is the Afterglow happening for the digital revolution, but also for the revolution in Berlin.  After the Berlin wall fell, many artists entered the city from around the world.  It is currently undergoing another revolution of sorts, with many tech companies growing from within Berlin, and also moving to Berlin.  However, tech in Berlin has been around for a long time.  From groups like the Chaos Computer Club (europe's largest association of hackers), to the Z3 (world's first working programmable, fully automatic digital computer), Berlin has a very old historical involvement with technology.  The other revolution in tech that is going on is citizens fighting back against surveillance of the state and corporations.  So maybe we are not finished with the digital revolution, and perhaps it will cycle, one more time, towards a future.  But which future?



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