Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2013-07-28 10:45:56
Publisher Zone Books writes: Political acts are encoded in medial forms--feet marching on a street, punch holes on a card, images on live stream, tweets--that have force, shaping people as subjects and constituting the contours of what is sensible, legible, visible. Thus, these events define the terms of political possibility and create terrain for political actions.
Sensible Politics: The Visual Culture of Nongovernmental Activism considers the constitutive role played by aesthetic and performative techniques in the staging of claims by nongovernmental activists. Attending to political aesthetics means focusing not on a disembodied image that travels under the concept of art or visual culture, nor on a preformed domain of the political that seeks subsequent expression in media form. Instead, it requires bringing the two realms together into the same analytic frame. Drawing on the work of a diverse group of contributors, from art historians, anthropologists, and political theorists to artists, filmmakers, and architects, Sensible Politics situates aesthetic forms within broader activist contexts and networks of circulation and in so doing offers critical insight into the practices of mediation whereby the political becomes manifest.
I left this book untouched for months when i saw that it counted over 650 pages. That wasn't the smartest thing i've done this year. Once i finally opened it, i realized that Sensible Politics was a brilliant series of short essays written by smart people about some of the artists, thinkers and works i admire the most. Think Trevor Paglen, Eyal Weizman, Michael Rakowitz, Allan Sekula, Rebecca Gomperts, etc. There's also Jean-Luc Godard, i'm only mentioning him we're all supposed to worship his work.
Surprisingly, there's no lame duck in these essays. I was expecting to skip through a couple of stodgy or irrelevant texts but all i've read so far is a series of very informative and well-articulated essays.
Here are just a few examples of the scope and pertinence of the essays: Ariella Azoulay discusses how images taken as casual souvenir can quickly become evidence that document a crime (think of the torture of the prisoners held at Abu Ghraib) or conversely, turn an abuse into an act of kindness, Meg Mclagan explains how successful documentaries such as An Inconvenient Truth or Supersize Me have paved the way for socially-engaged documentaries that double as commodities with box office appeal, Carrie Lambert-Beatty analyzes how labeling Women on Waves as an art project enabled the activists to bypass legal hurdles, film maker Kirsten Johnson shares her experience of being an embedded journalist in Guantanamo Bay and talks about the military's restrictions surrounding the prison and the trial of Salim Hamdan, Sam Gregory, Program Director at the human right organization WITNESS talks about the fate of grassroot human right footage in the youtube age, the two editors of the book interview Eyal Weizman about forensic architecture, Fayne Ginsburg raises the story of the virtual appropriation on Second Life of Uluru, a major Arborigenal sacred site where non-Aborigenals are not allowed to take photos or to film.
Sensible Politics. The Visual Culture of Nongovernmental Activism decodes and dissects the multiple interconnections between visual culture and the domain of the political. And it does it in a series of texts that are far-reaching, bold and never predictable. I'll recommend this book for anyone interested in activism, politics, social science, culture or/and visual art.
Image on the homepage: © Oliver Weiken, Germany, Shortlist, Current Affairs, Professional Competition, 2013 Sony World Photography Awards. Image Description: Palestinian morticians prepare the body of a man who died during an Israeli airstrike for his funeral in a morgue in a hospital in the Jabalya refugee camp, north of Gaza City, 21 November 2012.
Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2013-07-28 06:28:18
On Wednesday, the Saatchi Gallery will open Red Never Follows. The exhibition features 20 contemporary artists and celebrates the 20th anniversary of HUGO. In fashion speak, the show has been called a 'pop-up exhibition'.
Judging from the programme, Red Never Follows should make for a very entertaining Summer distraction (whether you're interested in fashion and aftershave or not): inflatable architecture, virtual painting using visitors body movements, pulsating kinetic sculpture, floor to ceiling ultra violet-light installation, robot and a bit of street art thrown in for good measure.
I was commissioned an editorial for the exhibition website and I was in jolly company. Filip Visnjic from Creative Applications wrote about Breeding Innovation, Julia Kagansky from the Creators Project was assigned Creativity and Lifestyle, Peter Kirn from Create Digital Music wrote about the discipline blur, Verena Dauerer from Design Journalists produced a text about global trends & innovation. That said, i didn't win the lottery with the theme i was given: Brands as creative enablers. But i do like a challenge, the result of which i was asked to copy/paste here:
From alcoholic genius Orson Welles celebrating the virtues of Paul Masson chablis on TV commercials to rapper Nicki Minaj designing a line of lipsticks for MAC Cosmetics, the idea that brands are champions of creativity can be taken in its most literal guise. It's a case of elementary mathematics, of iconic figures adding their aesthetics and/or charisma to the surface of a brand. When the temporary alliance is successful, both parties are happy, the product acquires edge and visibility, profiles are raised, everyone takes their share of the profit.
Over the years, however, several collaborations have demonstrated that the brand/creator coalition can enter into a more mutually fruitful dialogue. And in these instances, the mathematical operation generates a result far greater than the sum of its parts.
Various scenarios can emerge at different stages of a creative career. Brands can intervene early, at educational levels, partnering up for example with interaction design departments to investigate the future of money, mobility or health care. The goal is not to come up with the next killer app or gadget but to help both the brand and the student sharpen their discourse, focus and outlook at upcoming potential areas of investigation. At the other end of the spectrum are brands that team up with a creator, or group of creators who have already gained recognition (albeit sometimes a fairly marginal one.) The company will commission them to devise a new intervention, a performance or an artefact. Creators might then have free rein, either exploring further a direction they were already working on or taking the commission as a challenge and opportunity to experiment with even bolder ideas. The results can definitely be arresting. The most absurdly endearing example I've ever seen dates back to 2007 when a British style magazine asked Miltos Manetas to come up with a website that expressed the huge debt felt by artists towards Andy Warhol. The outcome is a seemingly never-ending animation of cute creatures literally saying a million thank you's to the pop art guru. More recently, Yuri Suzuki drove around London in a taxi equipped with a microphone that recorded ambient noise such as traffic, police sirens, pneumatic drills, etc. while specially designed software analyzed the frequencies of the rather unpleasant urban sound, and used them to compose and play music in real time. All in the name of a new headphone release that would not have generated such a buzz among design and music aficionados.
As the examples above demonstrate, the dialogue between the commissioning company and the creative individual(s) doesn't necessarily involve any direct commercial application. Sometimes, it is not even about long-term brand building. Instead, we are talking about two partners reveling in the freedom to experiment, take risks and surprise.
I won't conclude that one model of collaboration should be abolished at the benefit of the other. I am perfectly happy with the idea that both types of alliances coexist. The one that involves little more than Shepard Fairey slapping his OBEY Giant character onto a pack of Trusto Cereal. And the partnership that requires both parties to challenge themselves, throw their own boundaries through the window and look for new forms of expression. Whether we're talking about graphic design at breakfast or remastered urban cacophony, all directions deserve to be explored. If anything for a practical reason: long gone are the days when the artist had to be this romantic figure who starved in the name of pure beauty. Nowadays, creators need to pay their rent too and as long as they don't feel like they are losing their soul and credibility in the deal, they can use the collaboration as a platform to gain wide exposure and opportunities for professional and artistic development.
But the other reason is that most people don't feel the need nor desire to enter art galleries, theater halls and museums and that is fair enough. Art, design, music and other creative disciplines are never as powerful as when they exit the air-conditioned safety of institutional and commercial white cubes and go directly to the public. That's precisely where brands have an opportunity to step in and play a more nurturing role to young creativity. Because, for better or for worse, brands are everywhere we look, walk, eat and socialize.
I've never met anyone who said that our cities and sheer human existence were in dire need of more branding. We could, however, all do with a little more creativity and imagination in our life.
Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2013-07-26 12:08:14
One last project exhibited a few weeks ago at the Sight + Sound festival in Montreal. You might remember that a while ago I interviewed Arthur Heist about the workshop Analyze Dat: TOR Visualization & online black markets. Before that, i talked with Nicolas Maigret about The Pirate Cinema.
This time, i had an exchange of emails with Mario De Vega to talk about Thermal, a performance in which he uses microwave ovens to alter the molecular composition of different materials. The work also uses custom-built hardware to sonify the electromagnetic activity produced by the overheating of the content of the ovens.
Hi Mario! Thermal is an audio-visual performance in which several objects are modified using a microwave oven. Now I'm sure you've been asked that questions many times but isn't it dangerous to put objects inside a microwave? The photos from the performances look a bit on the hazardous side to me. Do you have to take certain precautions?
I over-expose danger and confront human vulnerability through a frontal situation. Security advices are given before the performance starts and audience are free to leave the room. I give information and advice of possible danger.
Of course, by overheating a device which development comes from radar technology research from WWII, confronts a complex paradigm: the oven could explode during the performance, gases are highly toxic and electromagnetic activity aim to be materialized thorough acoustic pressure.
Thermal is a confrontation with our own vulnerability using an electronic device that mainly everyone can recognize, a device that modified nutritional facts, social interaction and climate. The action has a political content itself without intending being political as principle. It confronts and intimidates through presence, ambiguity, over-exposed information and acoustic pressure. It also has a visual aim. I'm interested in how electronic devices or arrangements suggest context through ambiguity, in other words, I'm interested in producing events and situations in which codes are visible but not completely "readable". We could be able, in this case, to recognize an object (microwave oven) but our understanding of things reduce our approach, resulting in a situation with dislocated semantic structure in which things are there, frontal and visible and more over we can not understand what is happening.
During the performance, you put materials such as wax, ceramic, magnesium, carboxylic acid, pvc, etc. inside the microwaves. Could you describe how some of them react? Did any of the material you used react in a way you did not expect?
This has mainly a sculptural mean; with Thermal I'm interested in research materialization, irritation and modification as main topics. I modify materials, amplify, expose the process and materialize the results through different outputs. Technically, by irritating the molecular composition of matter, microwaves reflection change by absorption. We can think this in terms that certain materials absorb more than others, and here absorbing means less reflection and less dynamic range in an audio event.
The first one has the aim to amplify electromagnetic activity, high frequency mainly into the 2.4 GHz range. For this I use SNUFF and LIMEN, electronic devices based on logarithmic detectors used to demodulate high spectrum electromagnetic signals into a human audible ranges.
The second later is luminal activity. Using mainly a custom amplifier (BABEL) to convert lumens into sound.
The third part is electro-mechanic, using mainly a contact microphone to amplify friction and mechanic activity produced by the oven, rotating plate movements, for example.
More generally, could you describe what is going on during the performance? What can the audience see, smell and hear?
What you hear is mainly activity that in a normal situation humans would not be able to codify as acoustic pressure. I use electronic media to demodulate, amplify and over expose highly toxic electromagnetic pollution produced by an electro-domestic device used by 40% of the population worldwide. Burnt plastic and overheated corrosive materials are toxic; smell is an important issue for Thermal.
If I understood correctly, the main instrument for this audio-visual performance is the microwave oven. Did you have to modify the household appliance for the work?
No, the ovens are not modified. This would be a very complex and even dangerous task. For me it's even more interesting to use the devices as they are, I just simply amplify its activity.
Any upcoming project, event or research field you'd like to share with us?
Probably I should then here expose deeply my apologizes to delay this interview so long. I've been working in a solo exhibition in Mexico City during the last two years (SIN); the opening was on the 20th of June in a Museum located downtown named Laboratorio Arte Alameda. It's composed by 6 site-interventions, curated by Carsten Seiffarth and a retrospective salon curated by Michel Blancsubé.
If you're curious about Mario's work, head to Berlin Art Link, they recently visited the artist's studio.
Other works exhibited at Sight and Sound, a festival produced by Eastern Bloc in Montreal: Analyze Dat: TOR Visualization & online black markets and The Pirate Cinema, A Cinematic Collage Generated by P2P Users.
Photo on the homepage: © Kimberley Bianca / transmediale. All other images courtesy of the artist.
Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2013-07-25 13:45:23
On 12 July, the Arts Calalyst organised one last evening of discussions in its Clerkenwell Road HQ.
The Language of Cetaceans brought together two men who share a passion for whales. One is environmental scientist and marine biologist Mark Peter Simmonds who investigates and raises awareness about an issue that is far away from our sights: the threats to the life of marine mammals caused by the increasing emissions of loud noise under water. The other is artist and inventor Ariel Guzik who has spent the last ten years looking for a way of communicating with cetaceans.
The evening started with Nicola Triscott, Director of the Arts Catalyst, showing us the Field Guide To UK Marine Mammals. I had no idea there were whales, dolphins, seals and sharks sharks on the coast of the UK!
We might think that oceans are silent but they are filled with noises and animal conversations. First of all, marine mammals, fish, and a few invertebrates depend on sound to locate food, identify mates, navigate, coordinate as a group, avoid predators, send and receive alert of danger as well as transmit other types of information. It's very dark deep in the ocean so hearing is the sense they rely the most on.
Nowadays, however, whales and other mammals cannot hear with each other because of all the man-made noise intruding on their habitat.
Some of these sounds are so loud, they are driving the animals away from areas important to their survival, and in some cases injuring or even causing their deaths. The intense sound pulses of mid-frequency military sonars, for example, have been linked to several mass whale strandings. But it's not just the military that is to blame. The fossil fuel industry is firing loud air guns fusillades to detect oil buried under the seafloor, undersea construction operations drive piles into the seafloor and blast holes with explosives. Add to the picture, the dramatic growth in shipping traffic that generates a constant noise.
Whales are particularly vulnerable because they communicate over vast distances in the same frequencies that ship propellers and engines generate. The whales are not only unable to communicate with each other but they also panic when the noise gets too loud. When they are hit by a blast, the creatures flee, abandon their habitat and with that the source of their alimentation.
NGO Ocean Care has launched the Silent Ocean campaign. Have a look at their video, it explains the issue with more clarity and details.
And here's the video of Mark Peter Simmonds's talk:
Ariel Guzik then presented his attempts at creating instruments that would mediate the communication between cetaceans and humans. One of his latest instruments is currently shown in the Mexican Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
The devices that the artist developed over the course of his career go from Laúd Plasmaht which uses the electric variations of Mexican cactuses to make a concert for plants to Nereida, an underwater capsule that doubles as a musical instrument to establish contact with cetaceans.
Here's Ariel Guzik's talk. It is not as fast-paced and entertaining as the one by Mark Peter Simmonds but Guzik is one of those 'crazy' visionary artists whose work involves biology, physics, music and a deep respect for the environment. His work, i'm sure, will fascinate you:
The rest of Ariel Guzik's talk is over here!
Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2013-07-23 10:34:00
Only a few days left to see Glitch Moment/ums at Furtherfield Gallery in Finsbury Park! The show is about glitches or those malfunctions, bugs or sudden disruptions to the normal running of machine hardware and computer networks.
From a video tutorial on how to make your own glitched visuals to screen captures of glitches weaved in black and green, the exhibition shows various approaches by artists hacking familiar hardware and their devices which include mobile phones, and kindles. They disrupt both the softwares and the digital artefacts produced by these softwares, whether it be in the form of video, sound and woven glitch textiles.
It's a stimulating show for anyone who is already interested in glitch culture. And it's an eye-opening experience for those who have only vaguely heard of the artistic approach to tech errors. I'm somewhere in the middle. I'd never pass for a glitch expert but over the past few years, i've encountered a few artworks that make a creative use of accidents or create them on purpose.
Glitch Moment/ums was curated by Rosa Menkman and Furtherfield. One can't dream of a more competent curatorial team: Rosa is the editor of The Glitch Moment(um) book (which i can't recommend enough) and the organizer of the GLI.TC/H festival. Among their many activities, Furtherfield are running one of the most approachable and though-provoking galleries dedicated to practices in art and technology i've ever visited.
Because i still have much to learn about everything tech & glitch, i contacted visualist, theorist and curator Rosa Menkman and asked her a few questions about the show and about glitch culture in general:
What does moment/ums - the title of the exhibition - refer to?
The title of the exhibition 'Glitch Moment/ums' references 'the Glitch Moment(um)' book I released in 2011. In this book I describe how my first encounter with a piece of glitch art came hand in hand with a feeling of shock. What had once been a first person shooter was now a broken, pixelated vortex of confusion (Jodi, Untitled Game, 2006). I was lost and in awe, trying to come to terms with an experience that seemed unforgivable. But finally, these ruins of expected functionality revealed a new opportunity, a spark of creative energy that showed that something new had taken shape. I felt questions emerge; what is this utterance, and how was it created? Is this perhaps ...a glitched video environment? But once I had named the glitch, the momentum -the glitch- was gone ...and in front of my eyes suddenly a new form had emerged.*
These days I try to understand glitches as a manifold of moment/ums, having their meaning depend on time, discourse and context from which they are perceived. First, the glitch is a break from an expected flow within a (digital) system. Here, it is perceived as an absence of (expected) functionality and often experienced as an uncanny, threatening loss of control. This moment itself then can become a catalyst, with a certain momentum - a power that forces knowledge about actual and presumed media flow, onto the viewer. What was voided of meaning, becomes interpreted and gains new meaning.
But as I wrote in the (Glitch) Art Genealogies catalogue: [the meanings of] these glitches are constantly subject to revision: their language systems emerge, their meanings shift, idioms ossify and standardize into a fashion or genre.
The glitch thus heralds a transformative power - a potential to modulate or productively damage the norms of (techno-)culture. To study glitch is to engage a study of the succeeding turns and changes of failure and functionality, revolutions and ossification. A concept represented in Antonio Roberts work 'What is Revolution?'.
How come something that used to be regarded as a problem has been elevated to a phenomenon that is exhibited online and in art galleries?
I feel that many people have lost the ability to formulate questions - this generation has become good at researching and finding answers or creating new datasets: In university, in the library, or on google ('the internet') we are conditioned to find and formulate answers. However, I feel there is a general inability for conceptualizing new questions. Maybe this is because we don't understand things well enough to be able to formulate the questions we have or because we have been conditioned to see things in a certain way, making it difficult to shift our perspective.
Personally I think that one of the most important roles of art is to create problems that provoke curiosity - the impulse to investigate the limits of what we know and to ask questions. I understand glitch studies as a field investigating dis-functionality that can be co-opted into a desired functionality.
And because glitch art is so seducing, i've also been wondering whether or not it has already been translated into a more mainstream commercial world?
The concept that a glitch can be designed or distributed through standardized glitch software, seems at first maybe a-typical, but has in fact become a more and more common tendency and even important tradition in recent glitch art. More and more 'new' glitch art is being modeled after authentic glitches inherent within older media, perpetuating a shift from destabilizing breaks within technology or information-based processes towards a generic and associative display of more or less 'retro' effects.
Besides this, mainstream media have a tendency to leach onto any emerging aesthetic and try and capitalize on it.
The biggest loser Australia in which glitches are used as transitions between spy cams that film 'illegal' activities of one of the contestants.
The MTV video music awards using glitches to make the sponsors (-Verizon-) look cool.
I actually created a youtube channel in which to collect glitches found in popular culture and media. It's a very loose collection of snippets of advertisements, movies, videogames and television that use glitch effects for different purposes. I think these forms of glitch are examples of the growing vocabulary of media materialities in which different glitch effects gain meaning beyond their original technological /root. Some day I actually would like to write a dictionary of glitch effects.
What's next for GLI.TC/H? Are you planning other exhibitions, publications or events?
GLI.TC/H is the title of a festival I co-facilitate with Nick Briz and Jon Satrom, which has been running for three years now. GLI.TC/H concepts and ideals are based on the free and open sharing of inspirations and theoretical and technological knowledge and maybe even more so on creative community building (DIT = Do It Together), poking and pushing. The GLI.TC/H happenings aim to bring like-error-minded bug collectors together IRL, to engage and share work/ideas/concerns and to foster collaborations.
So whats next? First off... we might be losing our domain in the near future due to "a personal dispute" based over the .tc extension (which is associated with the Caicos Islands). This is why the name of the GLI.TC/H festival might change to GLI.TX or maybe GLI.FK...
Besides this we are working on a GLI.TC/H 2112 READER[ROR} - a publication associated with last year's festival.
* A slightly re-written paragraph from: Menkman, Rosa. Tipping Point of Failure. Exhibition Catalogue. November 2010.
More photos in Furtherfield's Glitch Moment/ums flickr set.
Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2013-07-22 12:52:03
Keep Your Timber Limber (Works on Paper) explores how artists since the 1940s to the present day have used drawing to address ideas critical and current to their time, ranging from the politics of gender and sexuality, to feminist issues, war and censorship.
As the title implies, there's nothing sheepish nor restrained in this show. It displays male superheroes ready to spring into action while wearing restrictive feminine outfits, muscular cavemen ogling one another and men of religion ejaculating on themselves. The appropriate opening for the exhibition is thus Fucked by Numbers, a 8 metre long graffiti of a penis firing a US flag. Numbers being scribbled around the phallus to details the statistics of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. How many died, how many refugees, how many dollars spent, how many US army veteran suicides, etc.
Judith Bernstein's work is a contemporary version of an image she first made in 1967, to protest the war in Vietnam.
In case the Brits feel left out by the artist's disapproval, the Union Jack-Off Flag, with the words 'Jack-off on US policy in Vietnam' awaits the visitor on the other side of the wall.
If Bernstein's drawings bring the spotlight on male urges to display power and to destroy, Cary Kwok's work looks at male vulnerability at the moment of orgasm.
I was amazed by Kwok's blue biro drawings. But i can't remember having ever been so felt so embarrassed when watching some artworks.
The drawings of Touko Laaksonen, aka Tom of Finland, played an important role in popularizing gay culture. His depictions of homosexual encounters are jolly, humorous and carefree and that's precisely what made them revolutionary. Before him, homosexuals were represented as sad, pervert, dirty and clandestine men. Tom of Finland clad them into police or sailor uniforms, leather outfits and lumberjack attires -that would later be seen on the member of the disco group Village People- and let them frolic in woods and changing rooms.
In an interview with Charlie Porter, Curator Sarah McCrory says that Marlene McCarty has been looking at women who work with primates and their relationships that have broken beyond ethical and moral boundaries. Women who have been looking after apes and let them sleep in their marital bed, either as if they were children or in different ways. She's looking at confusion within sexual roles.
"My hominid images are all also based on true-life narratives of intense relationships between humans and apes", the artist further explained. "I'm interested in the idea of hybridization (a term used in the study of evolution to indicate those gray areas where one 'species' interbred with another). The process of evolution has been cleaned up for our basically Calvinist/Puritan Western thinking. We uphold very clear distinctions of various species (especially our own) as they've developed from one another, but what doesn't really get talked about is that sometimes one species would begin to appear alongside another and there was most probably interspecies breeding. (Example: Homo neanderthalensis more than likely bred with Homo sapiens, although most schoolbooks would simply present them as one following the other.)"
Keep Your Timber Limber might well be one of my favourite shows in town this Summer. I will however agree with the ever grumpy Adrien Searle when he writes that some of the artists don't quite fit into the show. The fashion illustration of Antonio Lopez seemed a bit meek in the exhibition context and i couldn't quite see the point of adding one drawing by George Grosz that shows over-fed members of the bourgeoisie followed around by skinny figures.
Feed : we make money not art
Published on : 2013-07-17 14:00:07
A few weeks ago, Sight and Sound, a festival produced by Eastern Bloc in Montreal, ran a workshop titled Analyze Dat: TOR Visualization. Headed by someone who presents himself (or herself) as Arthur Heist, the description of the workshop suggested an internet driven by secrecy.
This workshop explored the use of natural language processing tools to analyze the goods, products and services available on online black markets, trying to reveal a faithful cartography of the dark web.
The workshop will begin with an introduction of the tools involved in accessing the Internet's black markets (Tor bundle, Bitcoins). Participants will then process these webpages to extract information from natural language to draw a map of hidden services. These tools allow the user to go from simple word frequency analysis (i.e. cloud tags) to more complex semantic comparison and statistical relationships between those networks. The goal is to be able to visualize this data in order to get a better understanding of the inner, deep feelings society keeps hidden.
I knew about the stateless, encrypted online Bitcoin currency of course, i had heard of the Tor software that enables online anonymity but other than that, i felt that there was precious little i knew about the Deep Web, the vast submersed side of the World Wide Web that countless people are using in perfect anonymity every day to buy goods that neither ebay nor amazon will ever sell you and to exchange services that won't appear when you do a google search.
The more i looked into Tor and the many activities it enabled, the more intrigued i was. I thought that the easiest and fastest way to get a better understanding of the issue would be to interview Arthur Heist:
HI Arthur! How much can one discover about this underground economy ?
It is quite easy to find out about any good or hidden service available on the dark web. One just needs to know the first entry point that keeps track of these peculiar services.
Do you have to be a seasoned hacker, a super smart programmer or can any web user make interesting enough discoveries ?
The first pit stop is to go to the Tor project website and install the Tor browser for your operating system. Once installed, you can launch Tor browser and access any website anonymously. So, no need to be either a hacker or programmer to begin browsing the hidden web. A popular place where a lot hidden services are listed is "The Hidden Wiki". From there, you can even find search engines that specifically target onion websites (those with an cabalistic URL).
And how did you find about it in the first place ?
As a user, I had been using Tor for a few years to enhance my anonymity online. I like the fact that it allows you to bypass some restrictions applied unfairly by companies who want to protects their assets. In a way, Tor gives us back the net neutrality some companies or governments want to put at risk. Concerning the dark web more specifically, this whole economy emerged more recently as a result of the emergence of bitcoin currency approximately 4 years ago. Even though I did not get interested in bitcoin specifically, I was more fascinated by the whole range of services and activities made available by these new technologies.
From a general point of view, I have never thought that the internet was much different or more dangerous than what we can experience in the real world. Let's say you are going to Toronto for the first time and you want to buy some crack cocaïne, where do you go? Who do you get in contact with? In the same manner, if you want to find illegal services on the web, it takes the same effort to know about them.
The general public has been fed what commercial companies want them to know. They have their minds locked in a narrow place for them to consume more easily, in the same way they'd go to Starbucks instead of the local coffee shop because it's not advertised on the same scale.
Were the participants like me, attracted by the description of the workshop but totally unaware of what it entailed? Or did they come prepared and knowing what they would be looking for ?
The nice thing about the participants was that they represented in their interests the whole range of topics discussed during the workshop. Some were more interested in the political issues involved, some more in the use of natural language tools. Most of them had already installed Tor on their computers.
How exactly does this online black market reflect the traditional offline black market ?
As stated above, there are no major differences between what you can find through online or offline black markets. And as a matter of fact, in the offline black market, anonymity is also the rule, going from changing your real name to wearing disguises so as not to be recognized. The main added value that the online black market allows for is the possibility to connect dealers and customers that would not have met otherwise in real life, which is also the main characteristic of online services in general too.
Does it allow for other types of transactions, activities, exchanges of goods and services?
Of course, anonymity brings a wide range of activities that you would not be able to find if it weren't anonymous. Among things you can find through hidden services are the scary contract killers who offer to kill someone, whose prices are set depending on the popularity of the person to kill. A funnier website called Tor University offers you to write any assignment or essay you need to get better grades. Another website offers to set up pranks to your friends; for example, by breaking into their house with a fully equipped SWAT team ...
I read that law enforcement agencies were struggling to deal with online black market. Why is it even more difficult to grasp and fight than, say, traditional drug traffic?
Because of the inner nature or how Tor works, by encrypting the communications being sent, all along the way through each relay (except for the last one), it is not easily possible to track down one specific user or website. Nevertheless, one famous hack was made possible on the Tor network by setting up a few Tor routers, which all relay a lot of information. Most of it is encrypted, but when the router is chosen (by the algorithm itself) to act as the last relay, then the data being transited is sent in the clear. So, if you set up your own relay, you are able to log all data transiting on your node, and thus retrieve information people have not encrypted before sending it through the Tor network. Tor network offers anonymity, not confidentiality! I read there also were some rumors that US governmental agencies may possibly run fake drug websites, so as to be able to get an alarm when some user was buying a too large amount of drugs for it to be his personal consumption.
Can the dark web (the way it operates, protects itself, etc.) teach innocent users of the internet (like me) anything ?
Blatantly, recent news about the US Prism program shows us again that giving up your personal data into the hands of big internet companies is like leaving your luggage in your hotel lobby: how trustworthy is it, you can never be sure it won't be stolen or searched by anyone. And what the Tor network (and as en extension, bitcoins) achieves is the possibility to give us back the power to build the internet as it should, free and open. Of course, mass media like to make us think the use of these tools is evil and unsafe, whereas it is indeed the safest thing to do.
What did the participants achieve during the workshop ?
The workshop was more about awareness, discussion and showing how these various tools work and how to use them in your own practice.
Also part of Sight and Sound, a Montreal festival which, this year, explored the rhizomatic and permeating structures of society's concealed systems: The Pirate Cinema, A Cinematic Collage Generated by P2P Users.
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