Category Archives: sousveillance

Unauthorized images: when absurd gag laws call for absurd (but witty) artworks

Daniel Mayrit, Authorized Images

Daniel Mayrit, Authorized Images

Daniel Mayrit, Authorized Images

One of the benefits of being a citizen with a cheap camera phone is that it is possible to record abuses of power, disseminate them on social media and even see them used in court as evidence of police brutality. While reading the latest issue of the British Journal of Photography, i found about a project by artist Daniel Mayrit which comments on a “gag law” that was approved in Spain back in 2015. I didn’t know anything about the law but it is seriously restricting Spaniards’ rights of freedom of assembly and right to information.

The laws comprises several measures. One of them forbids citizens to photograph or film police officers, establishing penalties on “the unauthorized use of images or personal or professional information” about police officers “that could endanger their personal safety or that of their families, of protected facilities or endanger the success of a police operation.” Even journalists can be fined for tweeting the photo of police officers making an arrest. And in August 2015 a woman was fined 800 euros for posting on facebook the photo of a police patrol car illegally parked in a disabled parking space.

Daniel Mayrit, Authorized Images

Daniel Mayrit, Authorized Images

The law is ludicrously called Citizens Security Law. Artist Daniel Mayrit (famous for a photo series which presents the portraits of the most powerful people in the City of London as if they were delinquents caught up on CCTV cameras) decided to demonstrate the extent of the absurdity of the law. Since the police and other state security forces are authorized to distribute their own images of themselves through their social channels, and thus hold the monopoly on their own images, Mayrit submitted these photos to the censorship processes necessary to meet the parameters of the Gag Law.

This project challenges the effectiveness of the law by applying its own contents to images distributed by the police and other government agencies and institutions while exploring different visual strategies to dismantle the law’s objectives even under strict compliance with each and every one of its articles and postulates.

Daniel Mayrit, Authorized Images

I was wondering what this religious-looking bust on the website of Mayrit’s project had to do with the work when i found an article explaining that Spain’s government had given the country’s top policing award to a statue of the Virgin Mary. I’m going to let that sink in….

Anyway, the artist told El Pais that because of the award, the Virgin Mary was now part of the police state. He was thus ‘forced’ to preserve her anonymity by pixelating her face.

Mayrit also created a parody account of the police Instagram:

Photo from instagram imagenes autorizadas

Photo from instagram imagenes autorizadas

Photo from instagram imagenes autorizadas

Photo from instagram imagenes autorizadas

Previously: Show Us the Money. Portrait of financial impunity.

Extra Fantômes. The real, the fake, the uncertain

While in Paris a few weeks ago, i visited Extra Fantômes. The real, the fake, the uncertain, an exhibition at La Gaîté Lyrique that explores the interweaving of the technological and the uncanny.

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Extra Fantômes. View of the exhibition space at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Karolina Sobecka, All the Universe is Full of the Lives of Perfect Creatures. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Nils Völker, Seventeen, 2016. Extra Fantômes, exhibition view. Photo © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous

I thought it would be a light and amusing way to fill a rainy afternoon. And amusing it certainly was. At least at the start of the exhibition, when you find yourself plunged inside dark spaces and Lynch-inspired red room dedicated to the occult. There is a Oui Ja table, a mirror haunted by animals, a phone that puts you in contact with ghosts, a clique of translucent cushions that breathe over your heads. But the exhibition goes way beyond the mystical and the supernatural…

In a world where scientific rationalism rules, interest is on the rise for alternative forms of relating to the world and to others.

The exponential development of technology is paradoxically a time there is a surge in attention and demand for magical, unexplained and mythological phenomena.

After the first two rooms of fun and phantasms, the ride gets darker and the paranormal gets worryingly normal. The specters, spirits and impersonators become pervasive, intrusive, you can ignore them if you so wish but you can’t hide from them. They are made of the data we generate. They are our disembodied doppelgängers, our digital shadow and they relentlessly shed information about our opinions, routines, sexual preferences and working habits. Unsurprisingly, these last few rooms were the ones where i spent the longest time.

Extra Fantômes. View of the exhibition space at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

The first one presents itself like a Control Room that enables the visitors to discover the immaterial energies and invisible forces that inhabit the same spaces as us. These forces are not esoteric anymore. They are real, they are the ones that inevitably accompany our technology-mediated existence.

onformative, Google Faces, 2013

onformative, Google Faces – Google Earth Flight Animation

Google Faces was my favourite piece in the room because of the way it ties up the uncanny atmosphere of the previous rooms with the reality of the current technological world.

Google Faces tirelessly travels through Google Maps’s satellite images and uses a face detection algorithm to detect portraits hidden in the topography of our planet. The images would look nothing like faces were it not for pareidolia, a psychological phenomenon wherein the mind perceives a familiar pattern of a face, animal, object, message or other where none actually exists. “Unprejudiced” technology meets human subjectivity.

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Tobias Zimmer and David Ebner, Database, 2014. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

The cameras of the Database installation record the faces of visitors as they enter the room, a recognition algorithm analyzes them and the resulting data is sent to a printer, which automatically prints the little portraits along with data about the time of the visitor’s passage in the gallery. The process is super fast. Every hour though, the intrusive work acknowledges the right to privacy by blending all the faces into a composite portrait and displaying it on the installation’s website, while all other digital records are deleted. As for the ridiculously voluminous prints, they get shredded.

Database publicly documents the nuts and bolts of facial recognition—which governments and large corporations keep behind closed doors—and also refuses to catalog or monetize the information accumulation, in stark contrast with other entities that collect big data.

Semiconductor, Magnetic Movie, 2007

In Semiconductor’s Magnetic Movie, physicists from NASA’s Space Sciences Laboratory at UC Berkeley describe their experiments about magnetic fields while images visualize this invisible phenomenon in the form of hectic, ever-changing geometries.

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Extra Fantômes. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

The last room in the exhibition bears the inauspicious title of ‘the Bunker.’ There’s nothing oppressive about it though. The space is filled with ideas and strategies deployed by artists to fight back against data collecting, machine scrutiny and other forms of control. They make us disappear and even turn us into ghosts in the eyes of the machines.

There’s a very straightforward way to make yourself untraceable. Head over to the website of LessEMF and get a maternity camisole, sleeping bag or poncho that will protect you from electro-magnetic fields. My personal choice would be this fetching upper body shield which might come in handy next time i fancy a bit of jousting.

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Extra Fantômes. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

Adam Harvey, Stealth Wear

Adam Harvey, Stealth Wear

Adam Harvey designed a range of fashionable thermal evasion garments that protect their wearer from the eyes of the drones and other heat sensing machines.

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Extra Fantômes. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

The artist and researcher is also famous for CV Dazzle, a sly make up and hair fashion technique that covers the face with bold patterns. By breaking apart the expected features targeted by computer vision algorithms, CV Dazzle makes you immune to CCTV scrutiny.

Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Invisible

Finally, Heather Dewey-Hagborg has been exploring the next frontier in surveillance: biological surveillance. Her Invisible kit ensure your genetic privacy by obliterating any DNA trace you leave behind.

Extra Fantomes HD_03
Catalogue Extra Fantômes

Extra Fantomes HD_15
Catalogue Extra Fantômes

The catalogue of the exhibition is published by Gaîté Éditions and Lienart. It contains plenty of great essays by the like of James Bridle, Finn Brunton, Vinciane Despret, Marie Lechner, Elliot Woods (Kimchi and Chips), Mushon Zer-Aviv, etc. Only available in french, i’m afraid.

More images from the exhibition:

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Karolina Sobecka, All the Universe is Full of the Lives of Perfect Creatures. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

Mathieu Schmitt, Oui Ja, 2013

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Mathieu Schmitt, Oui Ja, 2013. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

Malte Martin, Spectres, 2014

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

Extra Fantômes, exposition à la Gaîté Lyrique du 7 avril au 31 juillet 2016. © vinciane verguethen/voyez-vous
Extra Fantômes. Exhibition view at Gaîté Lyrique. Photo: © Vinciane Verguethen/voyez-vous

Extra Fantômes. The real, the fake, the uncertain was curated by Daily tous les jours. The show remains open at Gaîté Lyrique in Paris until July 31rst 2016.

Confessions of a Data Broker and other tales of a quantified society

The White Room, Opening of Nervous Systems. Photo: © Laura Fiorio/HKW

!Mediengruppe Bitnik, Reconstruction of Julian Assange’s study room at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Opening of Nervous Systems. Photo: © Laura Fiorio/HKW

While in Berlin for the Anthropocene Campus, i visited the one show you shouldn’t miss if you happen to be in town this week and next: Nervous Systems. Quantified Life and the Social Question.

The exhibition smartly enrolled artists, media historians and writers to chart the history and current rise of data-technologies and the world they bring about, exploring and exposing our quantified society and the processes of self-quantification. The food for thought that this show provide is overwhelming. Almost as much as this (partial) review of it!

Nervous Systems was co-curated by Anselm Franke and by Stephanie Hankey and Marek Tuszynski from the Tactical Technology Collective but because pretty much every single artwork and historical artifact in that deserves to be mentioned, i thought it would be better for everyone’s patience and sanity if i focused on one segment of the exhibition only.

The White Room, Opening of Nervous Systems. Photo: © Laura Fiorio/HKW

I picked up the one called The White Room, for the very arbitrary reason that it was curated by Tactical Technology Collective whose brilliant twitter feed i’ve been stalking for months. The other strength of The White Room is its combatant, encouraging and engaged attitude towards rampant quantification, loss of autonomy and demise of privacy. It gives visitors the means to understand their data and devices but it also provides them with the tools necessary to gain more control over their digital life.

The White Room opens up the black box of our daily technological environment, brings to light the links between Silicon Valley’s most successful start-ups and the military-industrial complex, and even uncover the Big Brother that hides behind the benevolent masks of some philanthropic initiatives.

Perhaps the best introduction to The White Room is actually this video that sums a research that Tactical Technology Collective has made into information brokering services:

Tactical Technology Collective, Confessions of a Data Broker

Inspired by David Ogilvy’s book Confessions of an Advertising Man, Confessions of a Data Broker presents results from interviews with and research into data brokers in Europe, North America and Asia, providing insights into how the industry works, who is buying/selling data and what it means for users.

What is worrying is that data brokering is not only unreliable and invasive of your privacy, it is also opaque. It is indeed often very difficult for individuals to find out what data a broker holds on them, how they used it and how long they store it.

James Bridle, Citizen Ex

Citizen Ex is a browser plugin that makes us better understand data gathering. Once installed on your computer, Citizen Ex shows where the websites you are visiting are located geographically. Over time, Citizen Ex builds a user’s algorithmic citizenship based on your browsing habits.

Whether or not you download Bridle’s software, you already have an algorithmic citizenship. Every time you click on a link, every time you visit a website, you leave traces behind. Companies collect this data in order to deliver content and ads better targeted to each individual. But that’s not all! Data gathering is also used for credit rating, insurance, ID verification, health care and fraud detection. And of course, government surveillance agencies like the NSA and GCHQ monitor your data to decide whether to spy on you.


Intelligence Community Watch puts data gathering into the hands of the citizens. ICWatch has mined LinkedIn for résumés posted by people who state that they have worked for the NSA or Intelligence community or for related contractors and programs. ICWatch then compiled these findings into a searchable database of the US intelligence community. Transparency Toolkit, who developed it, say the aim of the site is to “watch the watchers” and better understand surveillance programmes and any human rights abuses associated with them.

Aram Bartholl, Forgot you Password, 2013

In 2012, got hacked and passwords for nearly 6.5 million user accounts were stolen. A few months later parts of the decrypted password list appeared on the Internet. Aram Bartholl printed 8 books that list the 4.7 million passwords leaked in alphabetical order. The work reminds us that the safety of our data can never be guaranteed.

Some of the artistic projects selected in the show are using everyday objects and tech devices to demonstrate that the “I have nothing to hide” dismissal of surveillance is unwise now that we are part of a quantified society: Ai Weiwei and Jacob Appelbaum’s stuffed panda (see SAMIZDATA: Evidence of Conspiracy. Talking secrets and pandas with Jacob Appelbaum), Sascha Pohflepp’s Button camera, Danja Vasiliev and Julian Oliver’s sneaky Newstweek… And Un Fitbits:

Tega Brain and Surya Mattu, Unfit Bits

Tega Brain and Surya Mattu, Un Fitbits. GIf via bionymous

Un Fitbits enables you to obfuscate your data traces by generating fake data, while giving you the ability to control and understand your real data. All you have to do is clip the Fitbit bracelet to a metronome, dog, drill, bicycle or pendulum and they’ll get fit and active for you.

The artists were interested in FitBit after noticing that insurance companies were giving away Fitbit to their customers. Wearing the device and walking a certain number steps would earn customers discounts. How do companies benefit from your healthy lifestyle? Can your data be considered ‘yours’ if it can be used against you?

The White Room also presented a series of projects that are decidedly at the most dystopian end of the quantification spectrum:

Sesame Credit. Photo via The Independent

Sesame Credit is a credit-rating system that scores Chinese citizens based on both online and offline data: their spending behaviour, habits, minor traffic violations, fiscal and government information, interests and affiliations. A high score will result in a better chance to find a job, get a date, rent a car without paying a deposit and be deemed ‘trustworthy‘ by the government. The project was approved by the Chinese government as a pilot for a future nationwide database, an individual citizen ‘social credit-rating’ system, planned for nationwide rollout by 2020.

Some projects were labelled “Big Mama” by the curators. Dressed up as care, initiatives such as eye-scanning for refugee aid and facial recognition to monitor attendances in churches look more like Big Mama (“It’s for your own good”) than Big Brother.

Jordan: Iris Scanning Program In Action

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has introduced an iris-scanning technology to verify the identity of Syrian refugees in Jordan. The pilot program allow refugees to withdraw their benefits from ATM machines but also to buy groceries through looking into an iris scanner.

The project is implemented by tech company Iris Guard which sells the same iris-scanning technology for border control, prisons and national ID. Iris Guard has 3 advisory board members: the CEO of a global merchant bank, the former hear of MI6 and the former Homeland Security Advisor to the President of the US.

Electronic databases of personal information raise privacy but also security concerns. Databases are being hacked all the time, and that’s a huge threat to privacy and security. Hacked biometric data is particularly problematic, because unlike credit cards or even social security numbers, the data cannot be modified.

Churchix compares CCTV camera footage of people to a database of congregants of the church. Photo Face-Six via

Churchix is a facial recognition-based ‘event-attendance tracking’ software designed to help churches easily identify members of their congregation, and record their attendance at church and church-related events. Churchix identifies individuals in ‘probe’ photos or videos and then matches them with previously uploaded reference photos. Face-Six, the company behind it uses similar software for products used in casinos, airports, shopping malls and at border control posts. Churches in Indonesia, the US, Portugal, Africa and India have already adopted the system.

The Google Empire (information graphic / wood and acrylic.) Photo La Loma

A table exposed the presence of marketing departments, Washington D.C. expats, lobbyists and Wall Street analysts behind the sleek facade of some of Silicon Valley’s most successful startups. Think of how Google went from the friendly search engine to Alphabet, the owner and developer of self-driving cars, DNA databases, AI and robotics. What used to be a bunch of bespectacled geeks is now a group of powerful companies who have accumulated vast amounts of power, knowledge, and wealth.

The Fertility Chip (simulation / laser cut and engraving.) Photo La Loma

In 2012, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave a grant of 11,316,324 US dollars to MicroCHIPS Biotech to develop a contraceptive chip that can be embedded in a woman’s body for up to 16 years. The technology would enable a remove control of a woman’s hormones, activating her ability to either conceive, or prevent fertilization.

MicroCHIPS hopes to introduce the product in 2018. Note that the technology is intended for women and girls in poorer countries.

Inside Palantir offices. Credit Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

The Shire (model of a office room of the Palantir). Photo La Loma

Data-analysis company Palantir Technologies might keep a lower public profile than Airbnb and Uber but it is one of the Silicon Valleys most powerful start-ups. It has contracts with government groups, including the CIA, NSA, the FBI, the Marine Corps and the Air Force. We know that its software processes huge amounts of disparate data to elaborate predictions and conclusions, enabling fraud detection, data security, consumer behavior study, rapid health care delivery, etc. Rumour has it that it was them who provided the data-analysis skills that located Bin Laden. But little else is known publicly about Palantir.

The exhibition reproduced a model of Palantir’s head office, the Shire, based on photographs for a 2014 New York Times article. The world map is based on the strategy board game Risk: The Game of Global Domination.


Patches that can be purchased online, along with t-shirts, calendars and coffee mugs from the apparel store off Lockheed Martin, America’s largest contractor, making fighter planes, cluster bombs, combat ships and designing nuclear weapons. It is also the largest private intelligence contractor in the world, working in the past on surveillance programs for the Pentagon, CIA, NSA and making biometric identification systems for the FBI

The White Room, Opening of Nervous Systems. Photo: © Laura Fiorio/HKW

The White Room, Opening of Nervous Systems. Photo: © Laura Fiorio/HKW

On Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, workshops, demos and discussions help visitors understand the devices and interfaces we use every day. White Room workers are also on hand to help visitors navigate an alternative “App Center” that offers tools to regain control over their data and their tech gadgets.

More views of the exhibition Nervous Systems:

Opening of Nervous Systems. Photo: © Laura Fiorio/HKW

Opening of Nervous Systems. Photo: © Laura Fiorio/HKW

Nervous Systems. Quantified Life and the Social Question was co-curated by Stephanie Hankey and Marek Tuszynski from the Tactical Technology Collective and Anselm Franke. The show is at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin until 9 May 2016.

Related stories: Obfuscation. A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest, Sheriff Software: the games that allow you to play traffic cop for real, The Influencers: Former MI5 spy Annie Machon on why we live in a dystopia that even Orwell couldn’t have envisioned, SAMIZDATA: Evidence of Conspiracy. Talking secrets and pandas with Jacob Appelbaum.

Big Eye Kabul. Surveillance blimps over Afghanistan

Antonio Ottomanelli, Big Eye Kabul

Antonio Ottomanelli, Big Eye Kabul

Every single day and every single night, rain or shine, the movements of people living in Kabul and Kandahar in Afghanistan, are watched over by huge surveillance balloons. The U.S. army calls them aerostat or Persistent Threat Detection System. From the ground you can almost forget they exist. Equipped with computers as well as infrared and color video cameras, the dirigibles are part of a network of drones and CCTV cameras that allow the U.S. to keep a close watch on the populations and even zoom in on specific locations to detect an suspicious individual or behaviour.

But officials value them for more than just surveillance. A 2012 Army “After Action Reportrecommends to fly the balloons “as much as possible, even if the camera systems/feed is broken. Work IO [Information Operation] messages that re-enforce the perception that [they] can see everything.”

In Kirsten Johnson’s The Above a U.S. military surveillance balloon floats on a tether above Kabul, Afghanistan

Antonio Ottomanelli: Kabul + Baghdad, an exhibition that opened last month in Turin’s new photography space Camera, shows a selection of blimp ‘portraits’ that photo reporter Ottomanelli took in Afghanistan.

Curator and researcher Joseph Grima writes: “In Kandahar City alone there are eight, and at least as many in the rest of the province; they say the insurgents call them frogs because their large eyes never stop staring. In Herat, they call them shameless because they peer indiscriminately at everything and everyone, men and women alike. In Helmand Province they’re often nicknamed Milk Fish: they languidly swim the skies propelled by small fins, and their milk skin stands out brightly against the blue of the sky. In Herat, during the torrid nights of the summer, couples no longer have sex on the rooftops under the stars.”

Check out the show if you’re in Turin in the coming weeks. The main exhibition at Camera at the moment is Bruden of Proof (which i previously saw in London and reviewed over here) but you’ll find the Kabul Big Eye photos in what the exhibition blurb calls ‘the Center’s monumental hallway’ which is basically the main corridor.

Antonio Ottomanelli, Big Eye Kabul

Antonio Ottomanelli, Big Eye Kabul

Antonio Ottomanelli, Big Eye Kabul

Antonio Ottomanelli, Big Eye Kabul

Antonio Ottomanelli, Big Eye Kabul

Joseph Grima and Antonio Ottomanelli will be giving a talk on 10 March, 2016 at Camera: Kabul+Baghdad. Fotografare l’attualità: politica, progetto, rappresentazione.

Antonio Ottomanelli: Kabul + Baghdad is at Camera in Turin until 13 March 2016.

From drone garden to cheeky surveillance networks. An interview with Martin Reiche

Martin Reiche, Drone Garden (installation part 1.) Part of NN – Computability, Survival, Cybergenesis Solo Exhibition January/February 2015, Berlin. Photo by Martin Reiche

I discovered Martin Reiche‘s work a few months ago. I was visiting the art+bits festival organized by Medialab Katowice (the event was very good and i’ll post a review of it sooner rather than later) and i came upon a work, Drone Garden, where electric circuits were competing for bandwidth as if their lives depended on it. The idea was puzzling and thought-provoking. The aesthetic of the installation was simple and elegant. A few meters further was an interactive piece that was observing visitors and matched them in real-time with a profile on Facebook. Now that work was vexing, i felt offended when i saw who my social network alter-ego was supposed to be. But the work was witty and intelligent in the way it dealt with identity propagation. Plus, it was by the same artist as the Drone Garden. I had to get in touch with the artist…

Martin Reiche studied computer science at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology but then decided to change path and moved to the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design to study media art with Michael Bielicky .

His work investigates issues as different from each other as perception, international power networks, religion, changes in the human condition through technology, surveillance and electronic and physical warfare. His book, Real Virtuality, explores how the virtual has seeped into every aspect of our life and shifts not only our understanding of the world but also the way we define ourselves.



Martin Reiche, Firewall (Sculpture), 2015. Photos Martin Reiche

Martin Reiche, Firewall (Sculpture), 2015. Photos Martin Reiche

Hi Martin! I was watching a talk you gave for the OpenTechSchool and you explained that your background is actually in computer science but that at some point you decided that being a scientist wasn’t enough so you left the course and studied art instead. What is it about science and the way it is taught or presented nowadays that doesn’t satisfy you? And what do you find in art that you couldn’t find in science?

When I was studying computer science at an engineering university, what I saw in my direct community was the development that people went through while studying eg. linear algebra and stochastics for a good two years. They learned a tool to solve a problem, but the more they got aware of the potential of the tool they learnt, the more they saw everything as a problem that can be solved by this tool. It was like in the classic joke: If you only have a hammer, everything else becomes a nail. Personally, I wanted to take a step out of this and thus started to study media art, but this of course was just my personal strategy to diversify in order to get a better overview of things. Luckily, I stayed on that path and now integrate both my experience in media art as well as in mathematics and computer science into my artworks.

Martin Reiche, Drone Garden

Martin Reiche, Drone Garden (installation part 1.) Part of NN – Computability, Survival, Cybergenesis Solo Exhibition January/February 2015, Berlin. Photos Martin Reiche

I really like the fact that you describe Drone Garden as being a “contemplative non-interactive installation.” I think that many art & tech shows would gain from inviting contemplation but maybe it’s just the lazy in me who’s speaking. What made you decide to call this work ‘contemplative’?

Contemplation is something very important for me personally and that in my opinion is underrepresented in ‘art and tech’ projects. In many of them, the technological part acquired an overly important role, and then sometimes the critical layer overshadows every other aspect of the work. Then again, a lot of works are mainly sensationalist. For me, the key is stripping the sensation out of the equation: It might make it less accessible in the first place, but it also adds the mystery of some untold part of the work. And sometimes, the work’s meaning becomes completely obsolete if you are just getting sucked into the contemplative space that the work radiates.


Martin Reiche, Drone Garden. Exhibition – art+bits festival. Photo: Krzysztof Szewczyk – CC BY 4.0 Medialab Katowice

The description of the piece also refers to the organic world with terms such as ‘plants’, ‘garden’, ‘fight for its existence’. The micro controllers are also immersed into water. Why was it important to you to bring parallels with the organic world?

It was a design decision that came into being when I was creating the concept for the piece and I was reminded of plants in a greenhouse when I was sketching the microcontrollers hanging from the network hub, so it seemed natural to me to further work on this inherent visual parallel to the organic world. Even calling it a “garden” started at this point.

Also, I like the idea to re-naturalize technological artifacts, because they are finally so directly connected to our everyday life that we see them as a given, as something almost natural to us.

Now i’m also wondering how it works. Did you program microcontrollers with some forms of warfare strategies so that they will compete against each other?

Exactly. All three microcontrollers implement different and very common types of attacks against networked systems. One is flooding the network with unsolicited data, one is constantly trying to take over the identity of the other two microcontrollers, and the last one is just trying to crash the installation altogether by directly attacking the surveillance machine. So what you can see on the screen is the outcome of this “fight” on a network packet level. This would be what a network administrator of a company sees when he/she is trying to find out how an adversary broke into their system.

How much does this fight reflect what is happening every day in global communication network for example?

The hardware that you see in the installation is what is being used around the world still today to create the global networked communication system that we call the internet. Especially the protocols, ie. the basic rules on how to exchange impulses of electric current in an organized manner so that the other end can interpret it as data or the rules on how to gain and maintain free access to this network, they are still the same as 20 years ago. Despite all claims to make the internet safer and better and more secure, its best ideological feature is that every member can have access to it, can freely communicate and that we can all build a vast network of knowledge and sharing. Of course, this means taking risks, as every form of freedom implies. The risks are manifold: Break-ins into corporate networks by adversaries, identity theft, organized crime just to name a few. The methods to “protect” the network from these risks are as manifold: Network surveillance, de-anonymization, censorship.
In “Drone Garden”, the microcontrollers fight the same fight that every server and every workstation connected to the internet is fighting: it is a fight for bandwidth, for being allowed to be a member of the network, for not being censored.

I also like what i would call the ‘minimal aesthetics’ of the Drone Garden. But how important is the aesthetic aspect important in your works? Is this something you pay much attention to?

My whole body of work is paying much attention to detail, especially to visual and conceptual detail. In that line of thought, the visual aesthetics of a piece is absolutely critical to understand the piece in the manifold ways it is intended to be seen. Also, a minimal setup in an installation allows visitors to easily understand the full setup: Everything is just right in front of their eyes, connected to each other. Yet, what I am showing is not just the combination of these parts, but the essence of their assemblage. If you pair that with the indiscernable nature of software in the physical world, you get a work that is minimal yet complex, sculptural yet digital.


Martin Reiche, BNC B, Beyond Non-deterministic Connections, Version B (Post-digital sculpture),2015. Photos Martin Reiche

Martin Reiche, BNC B, Beyond Non-deterministic Connections, Version B (Post-digital sculpture),2015

BNC B (example still of the video generated by the work)

BNC B is a stunning piece. However, i have to admit that the description is way way too techy for me. Could you dumb it down a bit and explain what is happening between the metallic structure and the video on the screen?

BNC B is, just like Drone Garden, a project that falls into what I call “post-digital sculpture”. The work explores the functionality of basic physical building blocks of our connected world, in this case coaxial cable connectors called Bayonet Neill-Concelman tee connectors. Using 400 of these T-shaped connectors I built a sculpture that not only strikes visually with its sharp 90 degree angles and minimalist style, but also still preserves its function: It is a huge network which is connected to two DVD players that run two abstract video works in an infinite loop. By sending the output of these DVD players into the sculpture, the videos are analogically mixed and then again displayed on two small TV screens. The resulting video is a colorful mixture of the two movies that lies somewhere between analog video art and glitch aesthetics.


Martin Reiche, CCTV2.0 (Interactive video installation), 2015. Premiered at Playin’Siegen Festival in April 2015, Siegen, Germany. Photos Martin Reiche

Who are the artists or scientists whose work and ideas inspire you the most?

Definitely Carsten Nicolai, Marina Abramovic, Daan Roosegaarde and Buckminster Fuller, and all the other great thinkers that just don’t come to my mind right now.

You co-founded the Subformat Research Group. Again, that’s a pretty interesting name. What is the group researching exactly?

It is a small but international extra-universitarian research group that started in Karlsruhe back in 2012. A couple of people including me were discussing on how a digitization of our world leads to formatization of perceptible space, eg. how we change our understanding of space through the usage of specific forms of digital technology (such as smart phones). We figured that we need a name for that group, something that could serve as the umbrella for a lot of streams of research on digital anthropology.

Martin Reiche, LUMEN documentation


Martin Reiche, Lumen (Stills from the video installation), 2016. Photos Martin Reiche

Any upcoming work, event or field of research you’d like to share with us?

Yes! I am very happy to show BNC B for the first time on the European continent this month (23-28 February 2016) in Madrid at the JUSTMAD art fair. Also, I am currently working on an editioned giclee print series that will be for sale around May this year – so stay tuned!

Thanks Martin!