The Research Center for Proxy Politics aims to explore and reflect upon the nature of medial networks and their actors, that is, machines and things as well as humans. The proxy, a decoy or surrogate, is today often used to designate a computer server acting as an intermediary for requests from clients. Originating in the Latin procurator, an agent representing others in a court of law, proxies are now emblematic of a post-representational political age, one increasingly populated by bot militias, puppet states, ghostwriters, and communication relays. During the period of the project (September 2014 to August 2017) the center will host a series of workshops at the Universität der Künste, Berlin, revolving around a wide range of relevant topics including the politics of digital networks, the political economy of crypto-currencies, the genealogy of networked thought, the mediality of physical landscapes and strategies of opacity. The center will also conduct material, experimental, investigations into the conception and construction of alternative networks, or alternets.
Close all sections
(Text) – 29/11 2016

Miloš Trakilović —
A Shot In The Arm

On November 19, 1971 Chris Burden stood against the wall of a Californian art space, intentionally offering himself as a target to be shot. As part of his by now iconic performance piece titled Shoot, Burden’s friend stood at about 5 meters distance aiming a 22 rifle at his left arm. One bullet was fired. Initially, that bullet was only meant to nick Burden’s arm; Instead, it pierced right through it, just missing the bone and causing a blood-spattering wound.

Now, let us agree to play fair from the start and acknowledge the fact that bullets easily give way to canons. One can straightforwardly argue that what Burden did here was a mere macho act of overweening ambition serving to cement his career. It was namely this extremely radical but simple undertaking that would catapult Burden from a recently graduated sculptor into serious art stardom. But my point isn’t about Chris here; it is about the burden that galvanized such an action. Regardless whether judged by the scope of ‘the canon’ or seen through the crosshair of a gun, the reason why I believe it is worth picking up on, why I feel this action is exemplary, is because in many ways it was still a gamble, a game with somewhat of an unknown outcome. Although at that very moment Burden had thought of himself as a sculpture, this wasn’t yet another lame artwork, this was serious. The stakes were high.

Shoot seemed more like a scene from a movie, but instead it was real.


Scott Kindall, ‘Shoot’, 2006. Recreation of Shoot by Chris Burden in Second Life

Scott Kindall, ‘Shoot’, 2006. Recreation of Shoot by Chris Burden in Second Life

To be real is to be in sync and one with life, to supersede representation. This is a struggle traditionally associated with art at the wake of the historical avant-garde at the turn of the 20th century. By revoking artistic autonomy inscribed in the separation of art from life, the avant-gardes heralded a revolutionary potential that was to eliminate the institutional role of artistic autonomy and reclaim its status within life. In their belief, art had to be freed of its role as mere representation and find a more democratic form for it to be commonly practiced by all.

In the very spirit of the avant-garde nothing seemed more effective in minimizing the gap between art and life than the very nature of performance or body art, its quintessential art form. This was supposed to be autonomy to the bone, now in the artist’s own hands, unique and unrepeatable. The body is seen as the last threshold in attempt to break from representation. It hinges on bare life and definite demise, on vigorous victory and full frontal failure.

The human body is a complex system, and so is the economy it creates, the technology it connects to and the world it inhabits. In this world, representation remains something virtually ineludible. As long as representation has to do with our physical senses, our ability to perceive, experience, see, create, inform and be part of this world, it will stay inexorably linked to our existence – it is that which forms and shapes our reality and gives a body to politics.

One could consider these objectives to be at the heart of Burden’s action. Shoot can be read as a direct attack on the rules and regulations of representation, a desperate attempt to break from reality.

One might still wonder why such a seemingly absurd act of deliberate subjection to the pull of a trigger would even be considered as art?

Burden claimed his piece never aimed at putting the body in full jeopardy by actually piercing through the flesh, but seeing as it did, it exposed both the vulnerability and extraordinary resilience of the human physique. Rather than the frame of art revealing the body, in this moment it was the bullet penetrating the body that revealed the frame of art, demonstrating that much like an affect in motion art has the ability to trigger movement as a vital response.

But my aim here however is not to prolong torture with the dreadful task of having to tell art from non-art, so let’s just make a jump-start and simply agree that it’s art. The other more intriguing question would be: according to what measures was it real?


Image stills from the video documentation of Shoot by Chris Burden

A real is an original, not a fake or a copy. As humans we learn to interpret and relate to our surrounding through representation. Representation is what promises a form to substance, and form today is information embodied largely through images. As we know, images do not only resemble reality, they are active agents that shape our very understanding of it, but if reality is largely understood and processed through vision, then digitization has made it impossible to differentiate between original and fake. With the proliferation of communication technologies, indistinguishable copies are made effortlessly in a blink of an eye, not even the push of a button. The chase for high definition and resolution makes it also increasingly difficult for our eyes to trust what is real. Tiziana Terranova described the digital turnover as a shift from representation to information.[1] This is not to say that forms of representation have disappeared, at the end of the day images have become more mobile and ubiquitous than ever. Rather, their locus shifted from a macro-state of representation to the numerical and molecular aspects carried in their informational flows, making them computable, profitable and imperceptible. Such algorithmic shifts have profound consequences in our effort to actually keep a grip on reality, as they create irrefutable structural imbalances between what used to count as the physical world and now its digital counterpart. As we continuously feed into algorithms through clicks, tracks, traces and likes they become more powerful in actively reshaping what we understand as representation. This world of code is largely cancelled from our direct material environment and as it comes to be more centralized and opaque, it becomes persistently challenging to navigate and make sense of our surroundings. We are left in the dark with unhinged forms of representation that become evermore unaccountable, intractable, nonsensical, distracting, dubious, dangerous, ugly and invisible.

Be it a political kind of representation, a cultural representation or a work of art, the struggle of representation to effectively represent, reflect, inspire and uphold reality is very much felt today. We find ourselves in states of constant digital distractions under permanent pressures to perform a reality of everyday life that is characterized by economic disproportions, asymmetrical conflicts, raging inequalities, fascism on the rise, bigots as leaders, bastards as presidents and bullshit as contemporary art. To cut to the chase: there is a deep and ongoing crisis manifesting in our reality and we cannot seem to rely on representation to carry us out of it. How to move from representation into live action?[2]

Potsdamer Platz, Berlin November 2015 iphone pic

Potsdamer Platz, Berlin November 2015 iphone pic

To animate is to move. Today markets move freely, while bodies remain grounded. In metabolic terms, the lack of movement is a fatal condition and is therefore a vital sign of life. Nowadays circulation and mobility are either a trend or privilege enjoyed mostly by white bodies, images and free market economies. Increasingly the perplexing logics of financial markets augment reality and govern movement taking over a great deal of previous political processes. Giving oneself deliberately away as a target is no longer absurd but has become normal. The state of proliferating digital technologies sees the body as a clear target, and static bodies make for easy targets. Bodies are seized by the ubiquity of screens while the processual drive of our digital economy, fueled by automation, accumulates profits through cognitive processes rather than through the force of physical labor. Centralized economies are thus dependant on our fixation on vision, to which end we are being captured by the movement of our images, rather than the other way around. We have all, to a certain extent, become players in an algorithmically governed attention economy where the demand for performance is pertinent yet somehow struggles to fully animate the body. From the perspective of big data it might very well be irrelevant whether one is even dead or alive as long as one keeps on trending. In this respect it seems licit to question if capitalism today even needs the animated, living and laboring body as such.



Real life is said to be nothing like a game. We are taught life is no game because, well you know, #YOLO. A game is seen as enjoyment and is therefore distinct from work which is usually carried out for remuneration. Today however, such distinctions between everyday life, work and play are becoming increasingly equivocal. The transfer of productivity from human labor to machines and code subsumes the body to pervasive processes of datafication giving rise to a new economy of capture, in which self-optimization and performance are of principal value. The radical aspirations of pioneering performance artist are therefore no longer avant-garde, they have rather become absorbed and appropriated as the norm. The media theorist Alexander Galloway goes as far to say we are now in a period of “ludic capitalism”– a game economy – whose online interfaces extract value from our labor of play.[3]

The phenomenon of the quantified self and the gamification of life through software, apps and dashboards seem to support such a claim. In today’s digital economy, perception is organized by the ubiquity of the game interface and screens where value is extracted through usership and various protocols of play. Reality itself is becoming more and more like a scene from a video game, only we don’t understand what we are actually fighting here. We seem to be completely clueless where to aim or how to even prepare for a potential combat. Life might be informed by games, but the burden of reality still somehow feels painfully real.

On the other hand, reality is always many and never just one. Perhaps there’s been no one as susceptible to this throughout history as the artist, so let us return to our example for some clues.

Although Burden’s action took place 45 years ago, there is something disturbing but timelessly compelling behind the simplicity of such a wicked action. Burden’s performance was a materialization of widespread forms of violence mediated by TV, but it contained many elements of a conventional shooter game as well. Most commonly, the purpose of shooter games is to shoot opponents and proceed through missions without the player character being killed or dying. Burden’s performance reversed such logics by intentionally redirecting the target onto himself. What Shoot did was to challenge the very understanding of the body as the ultimate real. Instead, it targeted the body as something replaceable, repeatable, duplicable – as a kind of stand in. In doing so, it imbued the real with a dimension of play through a gamble with mortality. Maybe it never managed to break from it, but it did manage to confuse reality by confronting it with its own violence. Perhaps, what it ultimately demonstrated is that in times of need, even the most unreasonable acts of play can be a useful tool of deception and transgression.

In today’s world characterized by the logics of capture and play, this is a thought worth holding onto.

Reenactment of Chris Burden’s Shoot from the series “Synthetic Performance in Second Life” by Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG

The growing codification of life has brought about vast variations of vision today, but what we see is not always what we get. The informational flows that constitute today’s data-driven society are forming all kinds of new complex and opaque informational landscapes that prefer movement beyond just the interface or what we get to see on screen. The media theorist Espen Aarseth calls these types of underlying digital topologies “cybertexts”. He says to navigate these texts requires a mode of engagement that is far more complex than the sender-receiver model. As he continues to highlight: “the cybertext reader is a player, a gambler, the cybertext is a game-world or world-game; it is possible to explore, get lost, and discover secret paths in these texts, not metaphorically but through the topical structure of their textual machinery”.[4] One would assume that through such forms of engagement we could reach an entire reconfiguration of our understanding of time and space, throwing ballistics into a serious curve.

A game-world of ‘life on respawn’, not a second life.

For all we know, ours could be a world in which revolvers are rendered as nothing but spray-painted bananas while shotguns get stripped to the fierceness of a 50 cent water gun from your local thrift store. A world-game in which economies tower as they collapse while money vanquishes as confetti in thin air. A world with no weighty Blockchains and only one dark Cloud, but one where hierarchies horizontalize to the pizzazz of Gloria Estefan as the blissful beats of the Conga form myriads of human-chains on cloud nine. Revert all targets! Turn the beat around! The rhythm is gonna get ya!

I’ll admit, this sounds exaggerated and far from reach, but it really spurs one’s imagination to run wild. Instead, what we have is PokémonGo and Face Swap. Bullets still kill, bodies that are in jeopardy are forced to stay put while others are threatened with deportation, markets enjoy unbridled movement and space and time haven’t moved much beyond FaceTime.

The type of game that we are playing today is neither entirely virtual nor material. It’s not so much of a swap as a strange superimposition of virtuality onto a materiality that is still heavily laced with traces of the human. Just notice how stampedes of players animated by their screens move in search for the rarest of collectible pocket monsters, only to find themselves in complete deadlock when arriving at the abounding minefields of Bosnia, the radioactive landscapes of Fukushima or Germany’s many Holocaust memorials.[5] The only action that we seem to be getting here routes us back to the dreary and horrids of our own past.

The real virtual of today however, is money and markets. Invisible, inconspicuous, insidious yet real like climate change – the financial markets are your AI. They play, we participate. They govern, we perform. They pose demands, we strike all the deals. In such nauseating states of permanent performance, how to play things differently?

Protesters from Occupy Wall Street march through New York's financial district as 'corporate zombies' in 2011

Protesters from Occupy Wall Street march through New York’s financial district as ‘corporate zombies’ in 2011

The gamification of life is not only evident on screen, but reaches into various aspects of life. Consider for example the way economies are replaced by monopolies. Look at how democracies today are being reduced to a game of strategic chess play, how incompetent leaders bluff their way to the top. We are living in societies and economies defined by a global competitive drive for victory and profit where reason, logics and playing by the rules hardly apply. Nothing alludes more to this reality than some of the most unparalleled and unreal global politics we are witnessing today, one simply wishes to disappear from the face of this planet. How to resist such a reality? Is there a way to counterstrike? Or is there no option but to play along?

In 1977, before even striking a record deal, Laurie Anderson released her very first single It’s Not The Bullet That Kills You -– It’s The Hole dedicated to Chris Burden, suggesting that it is never the external force that is the peril but our capacity to absorb its impact.

Well over a century later we might conclude that the leap of art into life, as anticipated by the avant-garde, has in many ways become more than apparent. The increasing gamification of life is only one such example. What is perhaps most striking of all is the overt lack of a supposedly accompanying revolutionary jolt. Instead, what has bounced back into life could rather be summed up as misery on autorepeat. Somewhere between ‘respawn’ and ‘permadeath’[6] what we have reached could best be described as a state of stasis, both in terms of a literal standstill, and in Agamben’s terms, as a political paradigm of inexhaustible planetary war and futureless future. The world is moving faster than we can keep up with, yet we seem to have accelerated into an irretrievable inertia.

Be it left, right, stasis or crisis – there is nowhere else to move. However one looks at the situation we are in, any move towards the future is going to be a gamble. Much like Shoot was a gamble with mortality indexed on real life and real death, we will have to gamble our way out from notions of real indexed on dubious forms of representation, false fictions, wrecked systems, refractory politics, ripped territories and exhausted forms of life.

We might already be targeted by our systems, paralyzed by our technologies, blinded by our representations, let down by leaders or even wounded by opponents, but how to combat the idea that there is no alternative?

PokémonGo: Magikarp – commonly regarded as the weakest and most useless of Pokémon

PokémonGo: Magikarp – commonly regarded as the weakest and most useless of Pokémon

One game comes to mind that certain mammals, some fish and humankind in particular have always been exceptional at. If everything else fails – close your eyes and play dead!

It’s likely the oldest game ever to have existed, but in all its banality, it could now be more relevant than ever before. How exactly?

There is a small, but decisively real difference between being a zombie and playing dead and it has to do with agency. It is that same small difference between work and a twerk, a whistle and a blow, a hack and a rip, a strike and a pose, a shoot and a share, between survival and staying alive. Pick it out and let yourself be guided by it. Activate it and play it through.

If you cannot move, float. Destroy, don’t destruct. Leak, don’t bleed. Encrypt, don’t exclaim. Confuse, don’t debate. Play dead, but don’t be dead inside. Practice this, stop before it turns fatal, and let us play freely. Let us play madly, foolishly, passionately, dangerously, convincingly – differently.

There is however one requirement: In a world of misleading, permeating and flawed forms of representation we cannot rely on vision to inform us what is real. If we want to play differently today, we will have to do so with our eyes closed.



This text is partly made possible with support from the Mondriaan Fonds.

Thank you Penny Rafferty for your companionship, for sparking the desire to finish this text and for helping me to significantly improve it. Thank you RCPP for your valuable input, your patience and every effort to make this possible. But most of all, I am indebted to all the beautiful people of the UdK “Landscape” class in Berlin. Thank you for teaching me how to play. This is for you.


[1] Terranova, Tiziana. Network Culture – Politics for the Information Age. London: Pluto Press, 2004. p.35.

[2] Thank you Helena Hunter for this beautiful formulation.

[3] Galloway, Alexander R. The Interface Effect. Cambridge: Polity, 2012. p.28-9.

[4] Mitchell, Robert; Thurtle, Phillip. Embodying Information: Data Made Flesh. New York: Routledge, 2004. p.10.


[6] Respawn is a gaming term used to describe the action of a computer player or human player repeatedly coming back to life after being killed. Permadeath is the permanent and irrevocable death of a player or character.


(Text) – 08/10 2016

Mikk Madisson —
(Subject) Hood Prank

“What is up guys, DennisCeeTv here! I’m here with the one and only OckTv and today we are going around east New York asking people if they wanna buy a gun. But not a real gun – water guns. See if we get killed!” says 25-year-old Dennis Chuyeskov, aka Dennis Cee, in front of a New York police department building.

To Dennis Cee’s right, standing beside him, is Etayyim “Et” Etayyim and on the left his brother, Mohammed “Moe” Etayyim, intensely pointing his finger at the camera. Dennis Cee approaches five young black men sitting and standing in the shade around a green table and bench next to a running track. One of them is bouncing a basketball. Two water guns (one neon yellow, the other neon orange) bulge out of the back pockets of Dennis’s black Bermudas.

“Uhm, excuse me, guys, uh yo, do you wanna buy a gun real quick?”

“What?” replies the black youth sitting in the middle while his friend beside him steadily continues to dribble his basketball.

“A strap yo…” says Dennis, reaching back to fetch the yellow water gun, his fingers trembling.

“What?” repeats the one in the middle as he stands up.

“A strap”, “A WATER GUN! Let me show you!!!”

At this point Dennis is punched in the face, his head swerving towards the camera eyes pinched shut; the skin of his face, forced to eject by the inertia of the fist hitting his left cheek, reaches a threshold of a few centimeters and slaps back against his skull. The same moment repeats in slow-mo.

“A WATER GUN, IT’S A WATER GUN!” screams Dennis desperately, retreating as he does.


“Hood Pranks” is a candid-camera based YouTube sensation in the US, during which young white men enter a predominantly black, low-income neighborhood to provoke people into violent behavior. This behavior is then captured on camera and published on YouTube. To initiate contact, they misleadingly ask if people want to buy a “gun” when it is actually a water gun or a “strap” that is actually a yoga strap. This often ends with the provokers getting beaten up, or even held at gunpoint by the provoked, prompting the provokers to disclose that it had only been a prank. Nevertheless, “Hood Pranks” has become a form of viral content with videos having a million views or more. Enabling targeted ads on the channel monetizes this content. The millions of views may also win the publishers of the videos YouTube sponsorships.

“Hood Pranks” can be seen as an example of the YouTube generation (Generation Y) profiting from colonialism, shackle slavery, the racialization of blacks and the accumulation of wealth by applying cybernetic thinking. It’s as if they have inherited a world where they can reap profit from individuals with a false sense of their interiority fabricated by a planted subjecthood. They embody an extraction of historical value mimicking the predictive algorithms of advanced capitalism in a post-colonial world where colonization means the colonizing of the intangible or the inner. Through the altercations becoming viral content, the provoker as well as the provoked, participate in the discourse of the super-panopticon, where identities come into existence and are sustained without the awareness (outside the immediacy of consciousness) of the individuals themselves.[1]

The provokers abuse symbolic behavior and language to initiate a process of interpellation: the language and behavior of the provokers order the provoked to assume their presupposed roles as racialized criminal subjects of a low-income neighborhood. Once you submit to provocation, you are no longer in control. Also, provocation itself requires knowledge about the person provoked.

Cybernetics is described as the steering or controlling of natural forces using information and communication through feedback. Its aim is explicit control over nature by creating homeostasis, or an equilibrium, i.e that a property of a system would remain close to a constant. It is about self-regulation, at which computers excel and humans don’t. Cyberneticising a subject is an extension of modern western rational thought. A cybernetic organism is anything natural that has been mastered by culture. Pets are a good example, who, as Rosi Braidotti explains, qualify as cyborgs, since they are compounds of a nature-culture continuum.[2]



In eastern philosophies, language has been used to verbally plant negative feedback loops into subjects as a way of governing the outputs of their inner-self. This exemplifies how subjects might be configured via language. Verbally executing a negative feedback loop (such as a mantra) on a subject is similar to programming software or code and installing it on a computer. That is, a piece of software or code once executed on a computer changes the function of the machine. The altered internal (intangible) properties would change the material properties of the object. The input utilized by “Hood Pranks” in order to receive the desired output is, of course, “gun”.

In her book Programmed Visions: Software and Memory, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun eloquently points out how the monetizing of the internal or the intangible historically coincides with the patenting of software and code, which until the early nineties was legally considered a mathematical truth or a law of nature[3]. While referring to Margaret Jane Radin she asserts that programmability and the information age compromised the notion of intellectual property, which was based on a series of Enlightenment ideas: of autonomous subjects and heteronomous objects; of intellect being internal — i.e. that information could not be removed from the self — and property, external.[4] The information age had broken down the distinction between the tangible and intangible (the controversies surrounding the patentability of DNA are a manifestation of this process). The initial dreams of programmability, which stemmed from modern biology and genetics (and much more sinisterly from the field of eugenics), were quickly materializing. In her analysis, informatics and genetics are two complementary strands of a double helix, “breedability became the proof of programmability”,[5] as DNA is a piece of code that drives protein expression. Interestingly, these two strands – informatics and genetics – and their dreams are currently entangling in the Synthetic Biology research (with genome editing tools such as CRISPR*) that succeeded in engineering biological systems, by programming (instructing) cells.[6]


When I was in middle school we used to play an online role-playing game called Runescape. An important part of the game was mining for precious metal ores, which were then used for creating weapons and armor. Such items could also be traded with other players, this usually happened at a place called Varrock Square. But mining was time-consuming, as each hit with the mattock was equal to a click with the mouse. Therefore, some players developed software called Auto-Miners that would have the character of the player mine automatically by virtually simulating mouse clicks. Auto-Miners were freely shared at Varrock Square –players would shout out web links to pages where they could be downloaded. This situation was exploited by scammers: they created low-level characters that promoted web links to fake Auto-Miners which, in fact, were key loggers. Once the Auto-Miner was downloaded and installed, the key logger would be covertly installed as well. The player would sometimes get an error notification saying that the Auto-Miner couldn’t be installed. By using the keylogger, the scammer would receive a player’s (activity) log via email with the user account passwords for the game. Using these passwords, the scammer would log into the scammed user account and empty the character’s inventory of valuable items by dropping them somewhere in the game and picking them up with his own character. This happened at a time when, at least in Estonia, logging into someone else’s private online account was yet to be considered identity theft.


A log is an external manifestation of the history of a subject’s internal states. It contains personal data, which a scammer can profit from. Similarly, databases (e.g. Google, YouTube) commercially make use of the online traces their users leave behind. Personal data enables an algorithm to profile a person for targeted advertising. “Hood Pranksters” follow the same logic of discourse when trying to sell a “gun” to the black people in the videos.

The “gun” offered for sale is like the Auto-Miner marketed on Varrock Square. They are both utilized to hijack the target’s character in a way that benefits the provoker or scammer at the expense of his target. They are essentially target ads. The water gun is used to conceal the installed “key logger” or the actual weapon in this situation – the false sense of interiority that has been weaponized against oneself. The words “gun” or “strap” are user account passwords that have been given by the colonists to the colonized subjects to protect the internal states and the historical inventory of their planted subjecthood. Not only is the word “gun” a password, it is also the command. It is code at its most intrinsic, as it does what it says: it opens the front door of a system so that it’s internal states can be manipulated, a system that the colonist already well and truly knows.

“The colonist and the colonized are old acquaintances. And consequently, colonist is right when he says he “knows” them. It is the colonist who fabricated and continues to fabricate the colonized subject. The colonist derives his validity, i.e., his wealth, from the colonial system”.[7]

Race is an interface of the colonial system. It is an interactive interface that provides mastery over the racialized subject. It creates users that can use direct manipulation in order to control the system. From a cybernetic perspective, its operational logic is similar to a phenomenon called hysteresis, which is “the time-based dependence of a system’s output on present and past inputs. The dependence arises because the history affects the value of an internal state. To predict its future outputs, either its internal state or its history must be known”.[8]


The provoked black kids in the video are involuntarily used as extras in an act of extracting someone’s historical value. One might even go so far as to say that they are being treated like items in an antique shop that can be resold not for their material properties but for the intangible properties that are connected with history. History allows these intangible properties to be used for producing material effects. In the case of “Hood Pranks” historical value is extracted via provocation of violent behavior: the extras are put to work, to produce viral images of violence for a scarce attention economy.

In an interview on HOT97, DennisCeeTv stated that out of the hundreds of pranking scenes they film, only a few are worth publishing online, since in most cases the involuntary extras have failed to comply with their provocations[9]. Only, the few examples where the situation explodes make it online, in hopes of being able to produce millions of views. They produce these videos because racist biases are a relevant topic and filter attention. A demand exists for such imagery, and they provide the supply. The seemingly brave plunge into the hood to get beaten up enables them to monetize on the punches and kicks by converting them into millions of clicks. They produce users for their channel in order to be eligible for commercial sponsorships in the same way YouTube as an interface and database is interpellating them as users. “Hood Pranksters” are trying to get commercial sponsorships for their channel. Such sponsorships require displaying predictive targeted ads to the users of their channel based on their online activity logs. Their behavior is aligned with the prediction algorithms.

“Hood Pranks” target the black kids with their “guns” because a prevalent prejudice associates high rates of criminal activity with predominantly black, low-income neighborhoods and assumes that there is a demand for weapons in such areas. While they are offering the gun to the black kids in the hood to interpellate them into a racialized criminal subjecthood, the pranksters themselves (while presuming to be autonomous subjects empowered by an interface) are unaware of their own use as proxies for the database discourse of YouTube that, in turn, interpellates them as entrepreneurs. They are the pets, the bots, the cyborgs, the zombies, the low-level characters used by Runescape scammers – the proxies of advanced capitalism running wild. They are the nature-culture amalgams in a world where the conflation of nature and culture is a natural state of neo-liberalism.

“You are not, however, aware of software’s constant constriction and interpellation (also known as its “user-friendliness”) unless you find yourself frustrated with its defaults (which are remarkably referred to as your preferences*)”.[10]

*Read: A gun.



Acknowledgements: I wish to sincerely thank all the people whose patience, proofreading, edits and numerous conversations contributed crucially to finalizing this text: Vera Tollmann, Hito Steyerl, Ana Teixeira Pinto, Ying Sze Pek, Boaz Levin, Artur Sanglepp, Douglas Boatwright, Jiann-Chyng Tu, Johann Sander Puustusmaa, Max Schmötzer, Fred Lamb, the Lensbased Writing Group and the “On Projection” workshop with DAS.




[1] “The process of subject formation in the discourse of databases operates very differently from the panopticon. Foucault argued that the subjects constituted by the panopticon were the modern, ‘interiorized’ individual, the one who was conscious of his or her own self-determination. The process of subject constitution was one of ‘subjectification,’ of producing individuals with a (false) sense of their own interiority. With the super-panopticon, on the contrary, subject constitution takes an opposing course of ‘objectification,’ of producing individuals with dispersed identities, identities of which the individuals might not even be aware. The scandal, perhaps, of the super-panopticon is its flagrant violation of the great principle modern individual, of its centered, ‘subjectified’ interiority.”

Mark Poster, “Databases as discourse, or electronic interpellations”. In: Computers, Surveillance, and Privacy. Ed. David Lyon and Elia Zureik. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1996, 93.

[2] “… we need to rethink dogs, cats, and other sofa-based companions today as cutting across species partitions not only affectively, but also organically, so to speak. As nature–cultural compounds, these animals qualify as cyborgs, that is to say as creatures of mixity or vectors of posthuman relationality.” Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press 2013, 73.

[3] “Programmability is thus not only crucial to understanding the operation of language but also to how language comes more and more to stand in for – becomes the essence or generator of – what is visible.” Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Programmed Visions: Software and Memory. Cambridge MA: MIT Press 2011, 113.

[4] Ibid, 5,6.

[5] Ibid, 126.

[6] For a good example see:

[7] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press 1963, 2.



[10] Ibid, 67.


(Text) – 06/10 2016

Vera Tollmann and Boaz Levin —
The City and Its Double

On 23 June 2016, Britain will vote on whether to stay or leave the European Union. Many professionals have voiced concern for the possible depreciation of the pound sterling and for the probability that international banks will leave London yet without knowing where they will base their financial trade instead. Others warn that ‘the City’ will never be the same again (will it ever be?) and foresee only further liberalisation of the market once freed from the constraints of EU regulations. Either way, both speculations seem more concerned with the well-being of big business than that of human welfare. These questions for the City of London Corporation loom large; although it may be said that the interests of ‘the City’ are constantly debated and negotiated, they still remain within one conceivable framework – London. But what is this mysterious entity? A vestige of a long-gone imperial past? A symbolic relic preserved through custom? Or a bleeding edge world-city contrived for the global financial elite? As we shall see, there is more to the City than meets the eye.


The old sages used to say of Jerusalem that it is plural, doubled: a city above – divine, boundless, eternal almost – and a city below – earthly, profane and bound by matter, bricks and mortar. London too is doubled, displaced, present and absent at the same time. It has multiple maps.

Seriously, take New Bond Street, which runs perpendicular to Oxford Street, traverse it from north to south. On your right, number 98 stands as a three-storyed town house, white, simple, unassuming, currently home to luxury fashion brand Philipp Plein.[1] Now, open your map of the other London – the one which hovers above and beyond – you will see that from this town house you are in fact in Barbados. This particular property was purchased in 2010 for £4,960,000 by New Bond Properties Ltd, a company registered in an independent nation state within the British commonwealth.[2] Let’s continue our journey: walk down New Bond Street, to your left, number 72, another three-story high building, built in stone this time; it is the home of luxury brand Sarah Pacini. In London below this is a solid structure, draped by vine, rooted in the ground, above it is all liquidity, an asset temporarily stowed at 44 Esplanade St Helier, on the Island of Jersey, by GHS Limited. Across the street are the auction houses, Christie’s and Bonhams, but these buildings too are only partially present, their spirit and lifeblood lies elsewhere, stashed in the British Virgin Islands or the Isle of Man.

Profits are nomadic, expenses tend to be sedentary. Corporations transfer profits by setting the price for goods and services sold between controlled (or related) legal entities within a single enterprise. In this way funds are funnelled to offshore subsidiaries in low-to-no tax jurisdictions[3] – an arrangement known until recently as a ‘Double Irish’,[4] often combined with a ‘Dutch sandwich’[5] – while tax-deductible expenses are conveniently conserved onshore. The corporations that use these principles are household names, from the Nero coffee chain to Facebook, Google or Amazon. London above, as we can already see, is not a city on an island, but rather, a sprawling archipelago, a web in constant flux. Its territory must outwit what laws and regulations might come into place. It is boundless and divine to a superficial, symbolic extent: imagine a pair of anonymous hands fondling a shimmering GoldVish ‘Le Million’ cell phone answering to a push notification prompting: ‘sell’;[6] cross-dissolve to a pair of young legs trying on Philipp Plein’s ‘shining’ sneakers covered with a silly amount of either golden riveting or colourful crystals. Over the past century, capitalism’s material culture has become equal to a merciless religion, but where the believers are now entitled to own the sacred objects.


How did the City and its organisational form come to prefigure contemporary modes of governance? The history of the City is as complex and convoluted as its structure. Some would say this archipelago is a thousand years old, founded by the Romans and called Londinium. Its foundations can be traced back to at least 1067, when the City of London Corporation is first mentioned in a royal charter; with the 1690 Act of Parliament confirmed all ‘the privileges of the Corporation of London’, declaring that the mayor and commonalty and citizens of the city of London should ‘remain, continue, and be, and prescribe to be a body corporate and politick, in re, facto et nomine’.[7]

You could also trace its ascent as the financial capital of the twenty-first century to its commanding role within the British Empire and its web of Crown dependencies, including Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and the British Overseas Territories.[8]

The Corporation is the oldest local authority in the United Kingdom, and has an unusually wide range of responsibilities, but it lacks a charter of incorporation or any specific date of establishment, and is believed to have ‘evolved organically from earlier bodies’.[9] It is a sui generis mode of governance, above, before and beyond law and state, a hybrid of medieval custom, absolutist obscurity, and twenty-first century technological prowess. The British parliament has little authority over the Corporation, to the contrary, an official lobbyist, dubbed the ‘remembrancer’, is appointed by the Corporation and permanently stationed in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords to ensure the elected representatives will never compromise the Corporation’s interests, i.e., the interests of the financial class. His name is Paul Double. The City also has a unique form of ‘democratic rule’, whereby city businesses, which far outnumber its human residents, can register and vote. To become an elected representative within the Corporation you must first be a ‘freeman of the City of London’. To become a freeman you have to be approved by the ‘aldermen’, and for ‘aldermen’ to approve you, you need to belong to one of the City’s livery companies, guilds such as the ‘worshipful company of costermongers’, ‘fletchers’ and ‘horners’. Though mainly, to be eligible for any one of these positions, one has to have quite a lot of cash.


Home to an immense concentration of international wealth, the City has become synonymous with an opaque, globally connected financial elite, nested within a feudal boys club whose members travel in a golden coach and wear red robes with fur collars at ceremonies.

Last but not least, a more recent chapter in the City of London Corporation’s elusive history began in the 1950s, when, from the ashes of the British Empire and facing the uncertain fate of the pound, emerged an unlikely saviour in the form of the Eurodollar, and its corollary, the Euromarket. Euromarkets (also known as ‘Xenomarkets’) are markets in which banks deal in a currency other than their own. During the 1950s their development enabled the Eurodollar to become the de facto international currency. Since these markets do not affect the sovereign, internal money supply, their regulation tends to be lax, and their interest rates high, resulting in a liberal, and thus potentially toxic, loan market. This market and its ‘subsequent spin-offs would […] ultimately play a central role in forcing through the liberalisation of the world economy, whether the world’s citizens liked it or not’.[10] The USSR, perhaps unwittingly, was in the vanguard of this increasing financialisation. At the brink of the Cold War the Soviet Union was weary of leaving its dollars in the US, for fear that they might be confiscated if the conflict between the countries was to escalate. As a precaution they decided to transfer these funds offshore, to the City of London, where, in 1957, they deposited several hundred thousands dollars in the local branch of the Moscow Narodny Bank. The Bank of England looked the other way. The money quickly piled up. It wasn’t long before Wall Street joined the party. By 1959, two hundred million dollars were deposited in the freshly instituted Euromarket, and by 1960 it had reached a billion.

A decade later the world was awash in offshore foreign currency markets, with nodes established everywhere from the Caribbeans to Luxembourg. Gradually, onshore came to resemble offshore, with governments pushed towards further deregulation by the looming threat of capital drainage. The state had to now compete with special economic zones sprouting across the globe, with the authority of central banks increasingly limited by the power of Xenomarkets. Capital had new leverage over local policy. Journalist Nicholas Shaxson specifies why London became so attractive for foreign money: secrecy, ‘domicile’ rule, no legal jurisdiction and the right for corporations to vote – votes which outnumbered the people living in the City of London fourfold. These proxy politics have fuelled the global economy, where the Delaware Freeport, nation states, anonymous trusts, shell companies and Mossack Fonseca among others are treated as equal entities, with these acts of depoliticizing and cover-up resulting in ‘netscapes that are partly unlinked from geography and national jurisdiction’.[11]

In 1986, the ‘Big Bang’ spearheaded by Margaret Thatcher was in fact only chiming with the changes brought about by the institutions of the Euromarkets. Stock trading moved from noisy phone calls to silent electronic screens and humming servers. The Internet, with its ostensible ‘placelessness’ – annihilating, as Marx might have put it, space by time – is the perfect medium for such a regime. Places are deemed ‘virtual’, and thus a registered office in the Caymans can be as real as one in the midst of the City, or conversely, as unreal as a domain name registered under .ky, the island’s top-level domain address.

Literally, since the 1980s, the City above and the City below has been networked from the skies: via a system of satellites connected to down stations. Uplink, downlink. That is where the two levels intersect and communicate invisibly. When the mid-nineteenth century pioneering photographer Félix Nadar made his first photographic experiments, he pictured his home town of Paris from above – aboard his self-built balloon Le Géant – and from below – in the damp catacombs stacked with skulls and bones. What made Nadar think that a city can be best grasped when shot from two extreme locations, leaving the ordinary street level and public space ‘sandwiched’ in its middle?

In 1992, the City’s security infrastructure was built into the public space following an IRA bomb attack, and is continuously improved and cached. Reclaim the Streets activists have named this structure the ‘Ring of steel’, a barely visible set of rigid barriers dressed as flower beds or bollards, which silently disappear into the asphalt so that just their metal heads peek out. So well-blended into the formalised urban landscape, pedestrians need a trained eye to be able to see the ring’s discrete steel and concrete parts. Once again medieval and modern intermingle, since the ring runs parallel to the ancient London Wall and edges the very same territory. A territory that was re-territorialised on the Virgin Islands and later on Pacific atolls.

There are literally remains of the London Wall integrated in the basement of the Merrill Lynch Bank building in King Edward Street: sandstone bricks covered with crumbly grey mortar set in the midst of the perfectly smooth wooden wall and glass balustrade of the modern architecture; the leftovers of the medieval wall appear caged like a wild animal in the compound of a zoo, even though the bank’s business is built on jurisdictions dating back to the times these walls were built. Like the wall, a relic now incorporated into the bowels of the bank, sovereign rule too seems to have been relinquished to the men of the City; any external overview of its financial institutions is severely limited. Unlike any other financial centre in the world, the City of London Corporation relies on a method of ‘self-regulation’.[12]

Any state can call any other state a tax haven, as long as this state demands lower taxes. So what is it that makes these tax havens so appealing? Is it because these places guarantee bank secrecy and varying degrees of financial camouflage? Since isn’t risky business all about staying invisible, unnoticed and thus unaccountable?

5_Ugland House

Let’s return to the streets and buildings, where the deterritorialised system materialises and re-territorialises. Ugland House in South Church Street on Cayman Islands is a building that recently made the news as a landmark and grotesque manifestation of this shadow economy:[13] 20,000 firms call it home, using its name and address as their own. The Cayman Islands, just like the City it is modelled after, and linked to, has more registered companies than inhabitants. One can imagine much of the profit made on New Bond Street in London is funnelled into Ugland House, linked by an invisible, untraceable, umbilical cord or an undersea cable. The connection surfaces sporadically – a leak here, a lawsuit there. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, a symbolic step into transparency, a flashlight in the dark. Mostly they just hide behind their tinted window shades or move houses to continue on with the same dealings: opaque business. Returning us back to invisibility and the ambiguous naming for this archipelago – City of London Corporation – which in itself sounds so generic as if it would barely exist.

To come back to our initial question: What can this tale of the City of London teach us about the world we live in? As political theorist Maurice Glasman puts it, the City is ‘an ancient and very small intimate relational institution, which doesn’t fit into anybody’s preconceived paradigm of modernity […] a medieval commune representing capital. It just does not compute’.[14] Indeed, the City of London Corporation, with its arcane customs and silly costumes, is not the first thing one would imagine as the vanguard of twenty-first century global capitalism. The City ‘manages to be at once vastly powerful and barely visible. It fits into no modern analytical framework’.[15]

But what if modern analytical frameworks aren’t adept for understanding our current political and economic regime? Perhaps the secret to the City’s success lies in having anticipated the prevalent mode of governance? With the increasing merger between public and private interests and a dehumanizing political framework, the Corporation, writes political theorist Sheldon Wolin, ‘is now a vital element of domestic, foreign, and military policies […]. It is not only that the state and the corporation have become partners; in the process, each has begun to mimic functions historically identified with the other’.[16] In more than one sense, we now live in a world designed by the City and its ilk, which have created a world in which democratic rule is reduced to mere semblance – another empty shell. Should one still call this form capitalism?[17] As Wolin writes again, our ‘contemporary economy of powerful multinational corporations resembles nothing so much as the warring city-states of sixteenth-century Italy’.[18] Are we therefore in the midst of the advent of a feudal-industrial regime, stimulated by accelerated commerce and an exasperated state? According to art writer Joshua Simon, our households are now ‘resembling those of serfs. The fact that we live under the regime of a neo-feudal debt economy of credit cards and mortgages, along with our domestic practices, renders our daily lives all the more similar to those of medieval sharecroppers’.[19]

The City of London Corporation is symptomatic of the rise of the city-state[20] and waning state sovereignties,[21] the merger or sublation of Homo politicus with Homo economicus.[22] It also fosters the concomitant proliferation of notions of corporate personhood – can we call it economicus humanus? – and other non-human political subjects.


Competing velocities make this object of analysis elusive. Every attempt to end this text with a full stop triggers another aspect, unfolds another layer, introduces another story. To speak in pictures: when staring at the City it appears like a fractal image in 5D, progressively revealing new details – juridical, infrastructural, historical – and endlessly recurring patterns. Is Archipelago-capitalism a twenty-first century spin-off of the feudal age? Or something entirely different? Whatever it may be, the genesis of the City of London Corporation invites us to reconsider our recent history: perhaps it was 1957 – the day Euromarkets were born – rather than 1989 that signalled the impending collapse of a bipolar world split between two superpowers? It wasn’t the end of history, instead it was a stealthy Big Bang that spawned a lengthy process of expansion and dislocation, perforating states with ‘zones’ and secrecy jurisdictions, and overwhelming the world with cheap credit and new debt. We’ve been afloat ever since, drifting in an offshore world. Will these islands survive once the ice caps melt?


[1] Consider the sweatshops and textile companies where fashion brands like this produce the clothes in Indonesia or Italy, Turkey or Romania, adding an extra layer to the city map.

[2] Private Eye created an easily searchable online map of properties in England and Wales owned by offshore companies, see (last accessed 5 June 2016).

[3] Nicholas Shaxson defines offshore: ‘I am talking about the artificial movement or use of money across borders, and about the jurisdictions, commonly known as tax havens, that host and facilitate this activity. Once the money has escaped offshore, it is reclassified in an accountant’s ledger and it assumes a different identity—and that means, very often, that the forces of law and order will never find it.’ Shaxson, Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World (London: Bodley Head, 2011).

[4] The Double Irish principle uses two Irish companies. According to Irish tax law, corporations in Ireland are taxed only if they have their headquarters in Ireland. Double Irish is a term used to describe how an initial Irish company is established as the owner of license rights for intellectual property with a company headquarters in a tax haven (like the Cayman Islands or Bermuda). The second company is founded as a subsidiary company based in Ireland, which makes license payments to the first company and simultaneously acquires all enterprise profits earned from the use of those licenses.

[5] ‘Ireland does not levy a withholding tax on certain receipts from European Union member States. Revenues from sales of the products shipped by a second Irish company (the second in the double Irish) are first booked by a shell company in the Netherlands, taking advantage of generous Dutch tax laws. The remaining profits are transferred directly to Cayman Islands or Bermuda. This part of the scheme is referred to as the ‘Dutch sandwich’. ‘Double Irish arrangement’, Wikipedia, (last accessed 5 June 2016).

[6] A Swiss cell phone that comes in a limited edition of three and sells for one million dollars each.

[7] David Hughson, Privileges of London. (London: 27 June 1816), p. 92.

[8] These include the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands and Bermuda – along with Gibraltar, Turks and Caicos Islands, Anguilla and Montserrat.

[9] See the ‘Corporation of London’, The National Archives, (last accessed 5 June 2016).

[10] Shaxson, Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World (London: Bodley Head, 2011).

[11] Hito Steyerl, ‘Proxy Politics: Signal and Noise’, e-flux journal #60 (December 2014), (last accessed 5 June 2016).

[12] Barry Alexander K. Rider, ‘Self-Regulation: The British Approach to Policing Conduct in the Securities Business, with Particular Reference to the Role of the City Panel on Take-Overs and Mergers in the Regulation of Insider Trading’, Journal of International Law vol.1, no.4 (1978): (last accessed 5 June 2016).

[13] Jemma Buckley, ‘The Building in Tax Haven that 20,000 firms Call Home: Cayman Islands Has More Companies Registered There Than Inhabitants’, Daily Mail, 22 January 2016, (last accessed 5 June 2016).

[14] Maurice Glasman in Shaxson, Treasure Islands.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Sheldon S. Wolin, Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004).

[17] See Stephen Squibb, ‘Genres of Capitalism, Part II’, e-flux journal 54 (April 2014), (last accessed 5 June 2016).

[18] Wolin, Politics and Vision, p.365.

[19] Joshua Simon, ‘Neo-Materialism, Part Two: The Unreadymade’, e-flux journal 23 (March 2011), (last accessed 5 June 2016).

[20] Wolin, Politics and Vision,

[21] Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (New York: Zone Books, 2015).

[22] Wolin, p.589. See also Brown.

(Video) – 05/10 2016

The City and Its Double

(Text) – 11/04 2016

Francis Hunger —
Infrastructural Inversion: or how to “open” black boxed Database Management Systems

While networked practices and their infrastructure are one of the research fields of the RCPP, I would like to focus on a certain part of network infrastructure that has become infrastructure itself: databases. Today databases are a technical means to save large amounts of data in a structured way. Database Management Systems (DBMS) provide software applications for data and have thus become an infrastructural layer of nearly all contemporary software applications. When talking about databases we often associate them with major corporations like Google, Facebook or Amazon or we associate them with government (surveillance) activities, but indeed we can assume that almost every business is using it, almost every website is backed by a database solution and all kinds of public services rely on it.

Databases allow to store and access data, and to keep data independent from the software applications (i.e. the same set of data ideally can be used with different software applications). Think of DBMS as an operating system for data. DBMS structure data. For example, in relational database systems the structure involves tables, which again consist of table columns, which describe attributes, and table rows, which comprise of a single data set of a certain entity. DBMS also provide the means to restrict access through a login.


Participants of a database dérive, initiated by the author to discuss database infrastructure.

While DBMS may appear to the user like a black box, because one can only perceive its input and output, an infrastructural perspective may give us a more complex idea of what’s happening. Media scholar Lisa Parks, following Susan Star and Geoffrey Bowker  (1999) proposed to use infrastructural inversion as a strategy to explore those parts of an infrastructure that are visible to us. Parks argues, that infrastructure is often of high complexity, that even with full access to all resources it would be difficult to describe an infrastructural setting in its entirety and to make it comprehensible.

Rather, Infrastructural inversion tries to deduct its underlying classification systems and standards from a small portion of the infrastructural complex. One example that comes into my mind for databases is the project Other People also Bought by artist Sebastian Schmieg and Jonas Lund (2013). They wrote a script that would pick the automated shopping recommendations that Amazon pulls from its database based on user behavior. The artists’ script then adds one of these recommended products to the shopping cart, thus altering not only the user data but also triggering another round of recommendations. With this playful project not only do Schmieg and Lund explore the recommendation algorithms, but in a deeper sense expose the particularities of data storage and the structuring of data. They address the very existence of a new kind of data – the meta-data that was recorded from user interactions. These recordings create a new form of data based subjectivity, a particular data body of the particular user, who in most cases is forced into producing his/her own transactional data body.

Further, I remember more artists works, worth being discussed from a perspective of database infrastructure – classics such as Lisa Jevbratts 1:1 (1999), Heath Buntings The Status Project(since 2004), Paolo Cirio’s Amazon Noir  (2007/08), and Natalie Bookchins Testament (2009), all of whom either created databases for their own use or explored existing ones. Although it was not their direct aim to address the database as infrastructure, and although they have been interpreted mostly in the context of, a re-reading from a database perspective could reveal more about the underlying politics of databases.


Lisa Jevbratt 1:1. Each pixel represents one IP Address as of 2001. A mouse click on the pixel leads the browser to the respective IP address

Furthermore, non-artistic examples for infrastructural inversion of databases exist as well: For instance one could explore the popular WordPress content management system that runs on a MySQL database backbone using the plugin Query Monitor. It makes visible each database call ‘inside’ the WordPress system and gives us an idea what might be stored in database tables such as wp_posts, wp_comments or wp_users.

Other, more limited means to explore DBMS are APIs, which are sets of commands to access the – so to say – public part of large DBMS of companies such as Google , Facebook, Twitter, and so on. However, this seemingly open access is restricted in its own way. Exploration is only open to a certain extent that fosters, but does not jeopardize, corporate exploitation of data (cf. Taina Bucher).

While accessing databases through their interfaces forms one area of contesting DBMS, another form is infrastructural tourism (Shannon Mattern), which means actually visiting the material parts of a certain infrastructure. Boaz Levin and Ryan Jefferey have done so, when discussing the ideology behind the “Cloud” in their video essay All That is Solid Melts Into Data (2015) and Timo Arnall visited and filmed the Telefonica Data Center in Spain for his film Internet Machine (2014). Both films trace the physical layers of network infrastructure and – in my reading – also refer to infrastructural inversion.

We can only speculate whether analogous to “food porn” a genre called “infrastructure porn” will develop in the near future. Actually, there is a whole film genre that could be called “infrastructure porn”, but for reasons of deference it is labeled disaster movies. Popular culture thus offers a reading of infrastructure in the moment of breakdown, which is the moment where infrastructure gets most visible. Disaster movies allow a society to confronts its inner, unspoken fears and phantasms of losing its infrastructural base. Manhatten for instance is flooded and frozen in The Day After Tomorrow (2004), a large part of infrastructure gets destroyed, while just the The New York Public Library remains a survivors’ hideaway.

It is in the moment of breakdown, that we are confronted with the black-boxed database management systems. But can we really look inside these systems? I doubt it. Therefore let’s return to infrastructural inversion and to ‘superficially’ investigating the visible ends of DBMS. I have identified visual signs that may indicate the existence of a database and tested them through an ongoing series of database dérives. Visible indication of a DBMS may be given trough:   1.) the form field for data input, search queries and updating data;   2.) the list view or the presence of structured data;   3.) the use of abstract organizing principles, i.e. ID-numbers;  4.)  a login that allows for gradual access levels and individualization;  5.) the recording of meta data of user interactions such as change logs, i.e. in Wikipedia it records different article versions and the editors’ user names;  6.) external data access through a standardized interface, the API.

This list is by no means complete, but it may give a first idea of what I mean with infrastructural inversion. And although this list provides us with clues about the structural aspects of database infrastructure, it does not include infrastructure as capital investment, infrastructure as something that is learned through membership, or that is stretched in time. Processes of establishing and standardization, of conflict resolution, maintenance practices, governance and control, as well as the everyday use from a user’s perspective can only vaguely or not at all be addressed with this approach.

Another infrastructural area of DBMS that could be considered and has not been addressed yet, comprises of the production process and its producers (often male engineers). If we look for any access points, where the un-black-boxing could take place, we may end up with the producers and managers who heavily influence the structure of data storage and who have yet to be recognized as addressees for political claims. We may also end up with legislation, regulation and standardization, yet another field that is highly unattractive for artists. There may, however, be hope: The Political Spectrum (2008) was a collaborative mapping effort initiated by artist Julian Priest to discuss the changing regulation of airwaves. It is a beautiful project that demonstrates the potentials and restrictions of artistic work in the infrastructural field.


Julian Priests participatory work The Political Spectrum asked visitors to add their own comments to a board where he described regulation for the available air wave frequency spectrum per country.

(Text) – 31/03 2016

Oleksiy Radynski —
What’s ‘Cyber’ In Cyber War? Three Cases from the Ukraine-Russia Conflict


On December 23, 2015, a number of power plants in Western Ukraine underwent a sophisticated cyber attack that resulted in a major power blackout in the region. This hack is reportedly the first known case of a power blackout caused by a cyber attack on physical infrastructure in history. Vast evidence suggests that this attack was perpetrated by hackers most probably linked to the Russian military, although, as is often the case with cyber conflicts, it’s seemingly impossible to confirm the connection (1).

A little more than a month before the power plant hack, on November 20, 2015, the high-voltage power lines that supply Crimean peninsula with electricity from the territory of Ukraine were blown up. As a result, Crimea, which was annexed to Russia in March 2014, was blacked out completely, and a long-lasting power supply crisis started on the peninsula. Even though it is impossible to establish a cause-and-effect connection between the two events, they seem to be structurally symmetrical. Taken together, they seem to represent a shift in a war that is fought in the East of Europe – and beyond.


Destroyed power supply lines to Crimea (Kherson region, Ukraine, November 2015)

An explosion that destroyed power lines to Crimea was perpetrated not by the Ukrainian army, but by a militant group comprised of the members of Ukrainian volunteer battalions and exiled Crimean Tatars, engaged into the blockade of Crimean Peninsula. This is just one of many signs of the Ukrainian state loosing the grip on its monopoly on violence. Participants of the blockade claimed that they were merely enacting what the state itself should have done in relation to the government that occupied a part of its territory – for instance, stop supplying Russia’s troops stationed in Crimea with electricity from mainland Ukraine. In effect, some representatives of Ukrainian government supported the blockade, but the power lines were eventually restored.

The blackout in Crimea and the power plant hack in West Ukraine are both episodes of warfare that take place in a gray, undefined zone of power and conflict, in legal limbo where the military cedes its assignments and capabilities to proxies – both online and offline. The warring parties outsource their fight into both of these realms simultaneously.


In September 2014, a blog post that referred to Ukrainian troops fighting the battle for Donetsk International Airport as ‘cyborgs’ became wildly popular both in the blogosphere and in the mainstream media. This blog post claimed to reproduce the conversation of pro-Russian fighters besieging Ukrainian troops in the airport buildings, who were stating that the Ukrainian army had deployed cyborgs, rather then humans, in this battle. Otherwise, they just wouldn’t be able to remain inside the debris of a former airport and resist every attempt by the pro-Russian proxies to take it over.

The post, disseminated by the pro-government website Obozrevatel (2), was actually a hoax meant to boost the declining morale of Ukrainian army and ordinary citizens. However, the term ‘cyborg’ in its new sense was soon taken on by Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, and it soon became an almost unavoidable designation of anyone who participated in the defense of Donetsk Airport.

Despite their proud title, the so-called cyborgs of the Donetsk Airport were in reality very far from high-tech imaginary associated with contemporary warfare. The troops besieged in the airport reportedly only possessed small arms while being confronted with heavy artillery. They were called ‘the cyborgs’ precisely because they could survive in this battle despite their obvious lack of military technology (3).


During the Russian invasion of Crimea and its covert intervention in East Ukraine, a number of proxy groups emerged online – as a supplement to innumerable proxy actors that were offline infiltrating the protest movement of East Ukraine. The most visible of these online groups was operating under the name ‘Cyber-Berkut’, whose name is derived from the title of Berkut, the Ukrainian riot police which gained notoriety during the Maidan uprising in Kyiv due to its extreme brutality. The emergence of ‘Cyber-Berkut’ collective was a way to pay tribute to this counter-revolutionary force. It was based on the image of a loyal and committed counter-insurgency police officer who is operating in a grey zone between law and crime, half legal, half proxy.

During the Russian intervention in Ukraine, ‘Cyber-Berkut’ immediately became instrumental in soaring the anticipation of a full-scale cyber war against Ukraine. The first major cyber attack on Ukraine took place during its presidential election in late May 2014. The website of Central Election Commission was hacked and fake results of the elections were posted, claiming the election was won by a far-right candidate Dmytro Yarosh (who in reality gathered around 1% of the vote). The hack was fixed, but not before the images of fake election results made their way to the Russian television. However, nothing like a much-expected large-scale cyber conflict took place in the following months (4).


Insignia of Berkut police forces (left) and Cyber-Berkut hacker group (right)

Both Ukraine and Russia are famous for their thriving hacker communities, engaged into the circles of international cyber crime. In Ukraine, some of them made their way into state politics – like Dmitry Golubov, who was once considered a top cyber crime boss by U.S. law enforcement, but now serves as a Ukrainian MP and a leader of the Ukrainian Internet Party. This party is famous for nominating Darth Vader as its candidate in the presidential elections. In one of the party’s most recent political hacks, a statue of Lenin in Odessa region was converted into a monument to Darth Vader which also serves as a wi-fi hotspot (5).


Dmitry Golubov, head of Internet Party of Ukraine, taking the photo op with his party’s candidate in Ukraine’s presidential election, 2014
The lack of an all-out cyber war between Ukraine and Russia is symmetrical to the lack of an all-out civil war that was projected and envisioned in the East of Ukraine in the months leading to the Russian armed intervention in 2014. The scope of individuals, groups and communities that were mobilized to participate in the Russian-backed uprising in spring 2014 was not significant enough to sustain a prolonged rebellion, which led to the covert military intervention to prevent a total collapse of pro-Russian movement. In a similar way, the vast numbers of those engaged in illegal cyber activity were reluctant to join either side of the conflict, thus diminishing the danger of its full-scale fallout into the cyberspace. An attempt to outsource cyber war to private proxy actors has, for now, largely failed – which can not be said of the attempts to outsource the actual war to proxy actors in the offline realm.


1: Legal confusion regarding the attribution of Russian cyber-attacks on Ukraine and other countries is reflected here:

2: Original post:

3: In his book ‘Cyber-Proletariat’, Nick Dyer-Witheford describes ‘the coexistence in contemporary capitalism of extraordinary high technologies and workers who live and die in brutal conditions often imagined to belong in some antediluvian past. This coexistence is also a connection. Mines and artificial technologies seem to belong to different worlds, but they are strongly linked.’ The story of the cyborgs of Donetsk airport could shade these observations.

4: This is made explicitly clear by most of the contributors to this publication:


(Video) – 03/03 2016

Landscape as Media

(Video) – 22/10 2015

Plunge Into Proxy Politics

(Text) – 15/07 2015

Boaz Levin, Vera Tollmann —
Plunge into Proxy Politics


The essay was first published in Springerin, hefte für gegenwartskunst.

By July this year, protesting in the public sphere in Spain will become an expensive affair – the Citizen Safety Law, dubbed the “gag law”, criminalizes protests that “interfere with public infrastructure”. Under the new law, which was passed by the governing “Popular Party” last December, protestors will be liable to fines of up to hundreds of thousands of euros for marching in front of congress, blocking a road or occupying a square. The law is the most recent in a series of attempts by the government to curb a wave of popular protests that has swept the country since 2011. With unemployment rates reaching over 25% and one out of two Spaniards under 25 jobless, hundreds of thousands of outraged citizens took to the streets, occupying squares and universities. With a discredited political class, tarnished by years of political scandals and corruption – the Indignados (Spanish for “The outraged”) sought to revert to the most basic tenets of political agency by reclaiming the public sphere. Protests similar in their occupation strategies were taking place across the globe, in Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Israel and the U.S. Though many commentators pointed out the role played by new technologies such as social networks and smartphones in facilitating these protest, it was the city square, as old as political thought, which was the star of the show. Thus, when the ironically titled Popular Party passed its new draconic law protesters were quick to seek an alternative solution to their bodily presence.

The result was a hologram protest, the first ever, as media outlets were quick to point out, skillfully choreographed and hastily projected in front of the congress gates. Specters were – for once quite literally – haunting the sterile streets, voicing the grievances of those citizens prevented from being there. The event had been rehearsed and performed in a nearby city, and the equipment (voluntarily) installed by a PR company in what was a clandestine operation. This was a proxy protest fit for the age of proxy politics (1).

The proxy, a decoy or surrogate, is today often used to designate a computer server acting as an intermediary for requests from clients. Originating in the Latin procurator, an agent representing others in a court of law, proxies are now emblematic of a post-representational, or post-democratic, political age, one increasingly populated by bot militias, puppet states, ghostwriters, and communication relays.

On a broader level, proxy politics can be seen as both a symptom of crisis in current representational political structures, as well as a counter-strategy, which aims to critically engage and challenge the existing mechanisms of security and control.

In his book Post Democracy (2), Colin Crouch describes the current political condition as one, which increasingly relinquishes power to business lobbies and non governmental organizations, with the result being that “there is little hope for an agenda of strong egalitarian policies for the redistribution of power and wealth, or for the restraint of powerful interests.” The vision of an autonomous, potent, political subject is devastated by the growing power of privileged elites standing at the nexus of transnational co-operations, extra juridical zones, infrastructural authorities and non governmental organizations. To give but one example: when the house of representatives recently voted to end bulk surveillance by the NSA (3), it was made clear that though it would take “the government out of the collection business, it would not deny its access to the information. It would be in the hands of the private sector — almost certainly telecommunications companies like AT&T, Verizon and Sprint” (4). In other words, even after a seemingly successful move towards reform, the corridors of power are revealed to lay elsewhere, between politics and the private sector. One could also think of strong relations which Google Inc. keeps with the White House.

Which forms of resistance and evasion could apply to this vague techno-political condition? How not to become a walking sensor platform generating indices of data?

Just as proxy politics is a condition – the name of a political regime, which thrives on obscurity, opaqueness and decoys  – it may also designate the possibility of a corresponding counter-insurgency. Ideally, proxy politics encompasses a myriad of modes of withdrawal and retreat, technical as well as metaphorical – it’s utensils could be a VPN, a 3D scan of a fingerprint, P2P technology, a surrogate, a stock image – it’s outcome is always concealment, evasion, subterfuge. Hito Steyerl (5) recently framed proxy politics as an answer to the “terror of total Dasein”. Most certainly, strategies like these might be significant for an interim phase, a time during which any difference between real virtuality and virtual reality, the tangible and the digital, is increasingly difficult to discern, while it is becoming evident how severely controlled both spheres actually are.

As Alexander Galloway has observed, “instead of a politicization of time or space we are witnessing a rise in the politicization of absence- and presence-oriented themes such as invisibility, opacity, and anonymity, or the relationship between identification and legibility, or the tactics of nonexistence and disappearance, new struggles around prevention, the therapeutics of the body, piracy and contagion, informatic capture and the making-present of data (via data mining)” (6).

Once considered to be a deterritorialized technology, the Internet is reterritorialized by way of security mechanisms, the TCP/IP control protocol and national jurisdiction. Emblematically, the NSA have attempted to map the internet using a program called Treasure Map.

The shadow-like figures in the hologram protest embody a double movement – a process of deterritorialization and reterritorialization: at first slogans and shouts were crowd-sourced online, and then they were synced with holographic images which were filmed in a nearby city, where the distances and angles of the scene in front of congress were meticulously reproduced.

Finally, scattered, dispersed voices were composited, montaged and reassembled in public space. The blue-ish tone of the hologram projection is reminiscent of surveillance camera footage, alluding to the popular depiction of a dystopian totalitarian state. Instead of public space, the simulated protesters inhabit a new medium, the proxy. In this case, a hologram, a digital object which manifests itself in three-dimensional space. Could these people be convicted on the basis of the actions of their holographic avatar? Would face recognition software criminalize them, or their doubles? Here, the individual is rendered into an intersection of profiles and data. As Nishant Shah has recently put it, “regulation of data is closely tied in with regulation of bodies, and that a failure to effectively govern data puts biological bodies in conditions of precariousness and danger.” (7)

While constellations of physical and digital spaces are under continuous negotiation, recent publications have shifted focus either towards the physical infrastructures (Keller Easterling (8) ) on which global networks are relying, or, towards the extended meaning of networks as “imagined networks” (Wendy Chun), considering “gaps between the experience and the representation of networks”. According to Chun, networks enable us to imagine the unimaginable, like global climate change or global capital as they create unforeseeable futures. Within these imagined networks, we are rather a series of “you’s” than a collective of “we”(9). This non-communitarian tendency might be considered as one of the shortcomings of proxy politics and its apparatus. The body double, the scan or VPN all refer to the individual user, rather than to a collective. But might the proxies mobilize en masse?

When the Turkish government banned Twitter during March last year, protesters and users turned to Google’s public DNS, using it to circumvent the ban, while spreading the word both in real life meat-space via graffiti, and online virally. Similarly to the hologram protest, once again public space and the screen were for a moment conflated. The proxy, whether as hologram or communication relay, metaphor or infrastructural intervention, brings forth the possibility of political agency in an age in which ruling powers increasingly enjoy a prerogative to obscurity, while political subjects are rendered increasingly transparent. Proxy politics is hinged upon a struggle for opacity, it is both a new form of power as well as a mode of resistance.


1: Hito Steyerl, Proxy Politics: Signal and Noise. In: e-flux journal #60, december 2014,

2: Colin Crouch: Post-Democracy, Cambridge, 2004. p 6

3: Edward Snowden described the 5 Eyes as a supranational organization that ignores the laws of their respective countries – the leaked NSA documents have revealed that FVEY intentionally and mutually spied on eachothers citizens, collecting and exchanging information amongst themselves in order to circumvent restrictive regulations for domestic spying.


5: Radical Philosophy Conference, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, January 2015,

6: Alexander R. Galloway, “Black Box, Black Bloc”. A lecture given at the New School, New York City, April 12, 2010.,%20Black%20Box%20Black%20Bloc,%20New%20School.pdf

7: Nishant Shah, The Selfie and the Slut: Bodies, Technology and Public Shame. In: Economic & Political Weekly vol l no 17, April 25, 2015

8: Keller Easterling, Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space, London 2014

9: Wendy Chun, Imagined Networks, Affective Connections, 2013 Marc and Constance Jacobson Lecture, Michigan University,

(Text) – 21/06 2015

Kamil Markiewicz —
Some notes on the Inter-vironment.

For millions of years, humans have evolved a set of abilities for extracting information from their surrounding environment – information was essential for their survival within this environment. The invention of electronic media extended human perception of reality, providing additional stimuli and augmenting daily experience with what Ray Funkhouser and Eugene Shaw termed a “synthetic experience”. Today we interact with digital displays more than ever: screens migrated out from our living rooms into public space, and mobile displays, designed to compliment our body, travel with us wherever may we go. This distribution of synthetic technologies into the spatial realm affects our perception of passing time, sense of depth, distance and scale, creating a more immersive synthetic experience.

During the mid-90’s the first Automatic Virtual Environment systems (CAVE), which enabled a full body immersion into synthetically generated environments, was developed. However, those systems still depended on fixed spaces and apparatus, while in order to create a fully immersive environment, perceived as natural, the body-motion of the user cannot be constrained. Other, more recent VR technologies such as Oculus Rift, use goggles and computer software to create virtual 3D environments. Despite huge technological progress, it is still extremely difficult to create a total immersive experience, and VR technologies still confine the user’s body to limited real space.


Yet perhaps instead of looking at the concept of VR from a technological point of view, we should concentrate on human experience. This shift of focus, reveals that we are, in fact, already living in a virtual reality system, where technological devices have been integrated into our daily experience to such an extent that our body is fully mobile, but on a mental level, our perception of that motion and our sense of presence in the world is being eradicated. As I am aware of the complexity of this subject, I wish to very briefly sketch out some of my initial observations on the matter.

In her book Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age, Tiziana Terranova offers an analysis of the cultural politics of information. She imagines information flow as a dynamic motion. Movement through space, she writes, is not just a linear translation of an object from point A to B. It brings a qualitative change not only to that which moves but also to the space that one moves in, for example a plane journey “is not about bringing a big metal flying machine with a bunch of passengers from one place to another. The plane movement affects the space it moves in and modifies it. (…). It affects the passengers and staff through a transformation of a qualitative change in their relationship with what they have left while they went to change what they are moving towards.”(Terranova, 2004).Terranova convincingly shows that movement of information throughout the network space has a similar potential for transformation- leaving behind an affect, a footprint or a modification of topology.


However, at some stage, this information flow appears visually as an interface. Seen from a phenomenological perspective, if a screen happens to be an interface between information flow and subject, we can assume that the movement of information here replaces the movement of the observer (or at least her subjective experience of movement and distance). To use the airplane example once more, the journey spent looking out a window vs. looking at a computer screen has a different effect on the sense of becoming passenger. If we take a scenario where a person looks at the screen without dropping her gaze, the perception of movement and, therefore, the qualitative changes that this perception may bring become absent, making her travel a static experience. The transformative potential of motion is lost. Of course, we are still free to move in the space, however one can see, how the proliferation of displays in our immediate environment, as well as intensification of stimuli displayed on those screens can easily direct our attention towards the synthetic experience.

Today the politics of information unfolds in communicational environment in which the basic problem is “how to clear out space and establish a successful contact” (Terranova 2004). In order to tackle this problem, communication experts use techniques that amplify stimuli to control the communication by sheer power (Terranova 2004). Image-makers, perception managers and advertisers, make good use of scientific research on perception. The newest imaging technology affords to wildly configure images and colour psychology provides a framework for it. The increasing competition for attention turned into war, which counts many “victims”: our attention span, mental health, imagination, all fall prey to it. Despite computer’s seemingly boundless possibilities to produce highly affective stimuli, the logic of amplification seem to have reached its limits. Today, whether one is looking at adverts on large scale billboards, an internet browser, or at new Nike shoes, the aesthetic experience has been homogenized across many planes and designs, using similar colours, futuristic shapes and imaging technologies. All these seem to signify one and the same thing: the Internet. The distinction between offline and online experiences is collapsing into something I call inter-vironment.


It is important to note that there is a functional relation between perception and action. Research on the phenomenon of “the quiet eye”, illustrates that meaningful action cannot happen without a reflective moment. The quiet eye describes a fixation of the gaze, which takes place just before the final movement occurs. The integration of visual information and motoric movement is probably best observed in professional athletes when aiming. Here, scientists have measured the length and position of their gaze to determine how it influences the efficiency of their shot. Unsurprisingly, the longer the “quiet eye” period lasts, the better the results. The same “quiet eye” moments describes the moment of information retrieval from memory. Similarly, I’ve noticed, that in order to concentrate and retain information, I have to move my gaze away from the screen into the distance. Today, with screens ever more captivating, it is increasingly difficult to engage in those “quiet eye” moments.

Our engagement with the Internet is paradoxical, we seem to imagine it as an external entity separate from us, when, in fact, the activity of mapping, imaging, framing and creating divisions along often random lines, can be seen as an ontological distancing from the environment we are already fully immersed in. It is in this act of distancing that we can see the Internet becoming a new environment that requires a novel consciousness. In his book, Distance and Relation Martin Buber presents a sense of spatiality as the beginning of human consciousness. Buber claims that human beings are able to objectify the world by setting themselves apart from it and creating a gap, a distance. He thinks of human beings in relation to their natural environment. Might it be possible, that we are engaged in the same act of ontological distancing when it comes to the informational sphere? If that is the case, then, ironically, this new space-the Inter-vironment-, is being born just at the time when our “original real” is disappearing. Science is convinced that climate change is real and that it has severe effects upon “the environment”, while new frontiers of synthetic experience are forced upon us.

Perhaps Rancière will be helpful to understand how is it possible that this shift was left unnoticed. Rancière’s sensible describes the total field accessible for perception. It is a distributed system that assigns proper roles and functions according to an established notion of (police) order, thus rendering any exclusion invisible. The partition of the sensible is an act of making the operations of the partition itself invisible. Although Rancière’s line of division runs amidst people, I would expand this definition to include everyday objects, screens, architecture, and physical environment as such. I would risk the claim that the primary vehicle for the distribution of the sensible today is the Internet. If the sensible is distributed through the Internet, then anything that falls outside of it, is rendered invisible.


The Internet occupies a peculiar and paradoxical position of being, at one and the same time, a vehicle for this distribution and its product. In other words, it distributes its own aesthetics while being distributed through other objects such as wearables, tech-devices, fashion, prosthetics, house appliances or hybrid-architecture. One must remember that immersive synthetic experiences are built not only around bodies, but first and foremost around minds. The Internet became a sort of narrative, an umbrella term that unifies objects and imagery across space and time, thus creating total immersion.

The question for artists remains, how to deal with this new scenario: is there a way to resist it, should we embrace it, or is there perhaps a productive third way? Terranova suggests that constant amplification of the signal might lead to a breakdown, just as in a circuit of a stereo system. Looking at the level of exhaustion and schism we are currently experiencing, partially caused by stimuli overload, it seems that the breaking point is already here, but we don’t know where exactly. Will it cause a breakdown in our mental health, aesthetics or perhaps politics? Will it bring us to another place, return us to older forms of orientation or will it just reveal the illusory nature of this new spatiality? We might not be able to undo the Internet, but before fantasizing about its power, we should keep in mind that every environment has its limits and we should be honest about them.


Terranova, Tiziana Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age, London: Pluto Press, 2004.

(Text) – 04/05 2015

Robert Rapoport —
Tunnel Montage \ Stack Soliloquies



The closing frames of All that is Solid (2014) by Louis Henderson composite a map of a goldmine, a rainbow of compression artefacts and a group of men burning computers. Both the men and the goldmine are somewhere in Ghana, but it is the artefacts that seem to link the two: Mining, and extraction more generally, drive the montage of All that is Solid, which unfolds exclusively in the GUI. The film is a fifteen-minute screencast that burrows towards an imagined core while remaining stubbornly on a desktop. The result is a kind of dissonant, recursive montage.


The film opens by scrolling down the Wikipedia entry on the Gold Coast (Modern-day Ghana). The introduction does not scale, literally or otherwise: we get half sentences composited with archival footage of men making gold bullion. A voice-over of a contemporary gold trader explains: “The good gold goes to London, while they leave the bad gold here.” This is said over four stacked QuickTimes of a hand holding some nuggets that apparently got left behind. In this nested image perhaps we have a parody of how value is created recursively in London’s Square Mile: removed from anything as solid as gold, by a path more circuitous than any mine.


The litany of gold mining images gives way to a mine of a different sort: the e-waste dump of Agbogbloshie (On the outskirts of Accra); the second largest of its kind in the world. The dump ingests waste from across West Africa, but also a great deal from Western Europe. Workers, largely migrants from the interior, are charged with extracting value from planned obsolescence. Motherboards are asked to part with their copper, generally by burning. The plastics leave while the metals stay, releasing a number of toxins in the process*. Stacked and composited in the GUI these fires take on a votive quality, like so many sacrifices to Moore’s law, their smoke promising some primal source code for the bountiful (data) harvest. Here montage melds with the software stack: the foregrounded image is always already there.


In the smoke of Agbogbloshie might data exhaust have a foil? The production of value here dead-ends in the fact of a man trying to extract a meal from obsolete hardware. Software is reduced, with some final disinterestedness, to the stubborn infrastructure on which it is predicated. If we can imagine the network as a viewer, this would be the Cloud’s soliloquy to its own skull.

tumblr_inline_nnsnv3hb4i1too1sl_1280 tumblr_inline_nnsoysvv6j1too1sl_1280

Compare All that is Solid to another film shot in the same place some 60 years prior: Jean Rouch’s Les Maîtres Fous (The Mad Masters, 1955), focuses on a religious cult called the Hauka in what was then the British Gold Coast. Like the workers in Agbogbloshie, the Hauka were primarily migrants from the interior doing menial work in Accra. While both groups have to metabolize something they would rather not, in the case of the Hauka the dynamic is less abstract in that they can point at the source: the British Military.

The film is structured around a ritual in which cult members are possessed by figures from the colonial hierarchy. In trance, the Hauka embody and critique power that would otherwise be inaccessible. They draw their oppressor closer to create a sense of agency; like a vaccination one is intentionally exposed to pre-empt the Real Thing.

In the film’s coda, Rouch asks: “One wonders if they (the Hauka) may have found a way to absolve our inimical (European) society?” The Hauka turned themselves into effigies to profane the British generals by proxy. They would verify their retreat from the sensory world by burning themselves while strutting around in a stiff-legged parody of a military march. Halfway through the film Rouch cuts in a colonial military ceremony suggesting it is a kind of source code for the ritual.

tumblr_inline_nnsny4h0mj1too1sl_1280 tumblr_inline_nnsnxy2ayq1too1sl_1280

Both films suggest as space where protocol goes liminal. The Hauka verified their trance—their divorce from external stimuli—by using torches to burn themselves. Might we find echoes of this in the semi-votive fires of Agbogbloshie?  All that is Solid seems to channel the automatism of the Hauka into the mode of montage itself: nested QuickTimes create a kind of mise-en-abyme that asks: when montage meets the network, is the only way out, through?

* Asante, Kwadwo Ansong, et al. “Multi-trace element levels and arsenic speciation in urine of e-waste recycling workers from Agbogbloshie, Accra in Ghana.” Science of the Total Environment 424 (2012): 63-73

(Text) – 25/04 2015

Tiziana Terranova —
The Tale of Robin Hood Retold


Over the first week of May, timed to coincide with the opening of Expo2015 in Milan and the Biennale in Venice, a series of events will take place between the two cities. The events, organized by social centers such as MACAO and S.a.L.E. Docks, bear the title Ab-Strike: A Science-Fiction Platform for an Abstract Strike. The week-long festival composed of panels, workshops, actions and exhibitions, will address questions such as: how does one block the cultural industry? How does one damage the “event economy”? How does one overthrow the financial elite, sabotage crisis producing algorithms, and hinder the impoverishment of workers and enrichment of speculators? Is it possible to fight financial abstraction with an abstract strike?

Among the events to take place under the Ab-Strike umbrella, is a five-day workshop and action against unpaid volunteer labor at Expo2015 initiated by a strange entity named Robin Hood Asset Management Cooperative. Robin Hood claims to be “the black sheep of activist hedge funds which bends powers of finance to the production and protection of the common”. As a long-standing member of Italian autonomous nomadic institutions of higher learning and a recent member of the board of advisers to Robin Hood Cooperative, I will participate in a panel together with Adam Arvidsson, Franco Berardi BIFO, Marco Sachy of D-Cent, and Akseli Virtanen, chair of Robin Hood. I will also take part in Robin Hood’s open office, which will run between the 1st and 4th of May at MACAO together with Brett Scott (author of The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money); Benjamin Lozano (from the Speculative Materialism website); Emanuele Braga (from MACAO) and other members of Robin Hood.

What is Robin Hood about then? What is a hedge fund doing at a festival dedicated to the research and development of new forms of strikes that correspond to the conditions of hyper- precarity characterizing labor today?

As outlined in an interview with Akseli Virtanen, one of the founders and currently chair of the cooperative, Robin Hood’s genealogy takes us back to the activities of a group of young economists and PhD candidates based at the Helsinki School of Economics, which is now part of Aalto University. The narrow mindedness of the discipline of economics following the establishment of the hegemony of neoclassical economics is a well-known fact, which was suspended for a while in Finland. The freedom granted to this group to think about issues of economy, finance and organization outside of the approved conceptual framework constituted the milieu out of which Robin Hood was to emerge. The encounter with post-workerist economic thinking and post-structuralist theory, the translation of authors working in that tradition (from Antonio Negri and Christian Marazzi to Franco Berardi) and the interaction with the arts, all helped produce what seems to be an exciting intellectual endeavor, opening up new ways of thinking about the economy. Robin Hood was born out of the scattering of this thought collective and the re-establishment of the status quo. It is an attempt to translate these concepts and theories of the economy into a project that brings together precariousness and financialization in a challenging way.

Before a very recent shift towards Blockchain (a bitcoin wallet service) as a means of producing equity, the core of Robin Hood’s organization has been the parasite – an algorithm that has been trained on the data produced by the U.S. stock market over the past fifteen years. The algorithm has been developed, owned, and is operated by parasite engineer Sakari Virkki. The algorithm operates on the basis of the mimetic theory of the stock market, which has been advanced especially by French economist Andrea Orléan and US economist  Robert J. Shiller. Such theorists argue that the stock market’s valuations are not produced by an “objective” relation to the underlying asset, but by the imitation-driven behavior of market operators, considered as a decentralized network characterized by the overwhelming power of a few large hubs.  This notion, even if controversial, has already produced what many consider to be finance’s Holy Grail: consistently profiting simply by imitating the behavior of successful investors. Against all odds and all other teams and resources mobilized to achieve such result, at the moment Robin Hoods’s algorithm is actually proving to work, producing (until now) extraordinary rates of returns.

Robin Hood has been organized as a cooperative operating under Finnish law. Members pay a membership fee (two shares for a minimum value of 60 euros) and invest as much as they want into the fund. They also get to choose how much of such returns to appropriate and how much to return to the common pool. The money collected into the common pool is set aside to fund projects aiming “to produce and protect the common”. The procedure for allocating funding is experimental (at the moment, members can submit a project and a committee made of members randomly selected among volunteers decides). Robin Hood, then, claims to offer access to finance (hedging precarity), appropriating a portion of the financial flows and reinvesting them into an alternative economy. It is not part of the movement of “ethical finance”, in as much as it does not select investments on the basis of their ethical value, but aims to introduce a new kind of discourse and strategy into the debate around financialization.

Recently, a comrade asked me what was so special about Robin Hood, since the strategy of playing the stock market to make money to invest in the common is ultimately reinforcing the logic of financialization rather than supporting an alternative. This position, which is quite common amongst Marxist and leftist milieus, seems to me to be based on a reading of financialization that sees it as a kind of “false economy” which is the opposed to the real value-producing activities of labor. But what if, following the lead of post-workerist Marxism, we thought about financialization as the answer of capital to the new conditions of production of value which are no longer exclusively contained in the wage-labor relation, and hence released from the classical labor theory of value? What if financialization was the “communism of capital” as described by Christian Marazzi? That is, seeing finance as a kind of ‘black mirror’ that reflects to us, darkly, the common as the new engine of production, which demands new ways of redistributing wealth, generating liquidity and allocating funding and investments? What if the future of production is the positing of a social and economic space, which precedes the division of labor and which can no longer be just compensated by wages, but rather requires a new allocation of risk, liquidity, cash flows and optionalities?

As Robin Hood proceeds to what might be an even more controversial stance by adopting the Blockchain technologies developed by Ethereum and seeking and expansion of capital investment, it seems to me that regardless of the future, which is by-definition uncertain, RH has already reached an important achievement. I would like to recount an episode, which struck me as significant. One day, a few weeks ago, I was sitting in my flat together with two members of the initiative “Napoli per Kobane”, drafting with them our application to Robin Hood for funding to support the re-construction of the “school for democracy”, that is a space for the social development of a practice of democracy, in the regions of Rojava engaged in the struggle against ISIS. While drafting the simple exposition (just one page and a half) of the reasons why such political experiment was crucial to the development of the common. We commented on the strange feeling deriving from the possibility to access funding outside of the constraints, bureaucracies and limits of institutional organizations (from the EU to NGO), the strange elation caused by the thought that access to capital and liquidity could possibly not be mediated by capital and its minions, but self-produced. This is an incorporeal transformation, which also drives a number of other projects taking up the challenges of the relation between financialization and social cooperation (such as FairCoop and OmniCommon in Oakland, California). As Blockchain technologies relying on smart, self-enforcing contracts are set to also potentially increase the control of capital over the labor process (such as in employment contracts where payment of fees is exactly linked to performance and output), it seems important to learn how to understand this new terrain and create counter-weapons which operate at the crossing of the technical and the social, the automated and the subjective.

To join Robin Hood visit

Robin Hood Asset Management Cooperative will hold its open office in Milan between the 1st and 4th of May at MACAO.

(Text) – 12/03 2015

The Research Center for Proxy Politics

Several years ago, media scholar Lambert Wiesing made a bizarre analogy: that without media, people would have a jellyfish-like indifference to the outside world (quoted in Jan-H. Möller: “Mediale Reflexivität. Beiträge zu einer negativen Medientheorie”). Rather recently, climate change researchers predicted that one day not only the Great Barrier Reef will disintegrate and dissolve into jelly, all oceans might suffer from jellification due to climate change.

Rather than the bright neon lit halls of social media, the Research Center for Proxy Politics is dedicated to the exploration of the gelatinous zones of networks, its mush, sleaze and cum.

1. Network Closures

Our object of research is the network. The network has become a default aesthetic, technical trope and organizational structure. To paraphrase Tiziana Terranova, following Foucault, networks are also technologies of power. What needs to be done is to reconsider structures that have been taken for granted by users or that have been (rhetorically) obfuscated by its operators. Many critical voices address contradictions between corporate projections and technical realities. “Cloud computing is the opposite of transparency, a ‘smokescreen’ which means that actually our hardware and software ultimately are black boxes and we do not know what they are doing.” [Paul Feigelfeld] Alex Galloway takes it further and speaks of the “black boxing of the self (…), a call center employee, a card reader at a security check-point, a piece of software, a genetic sequence, a hospital patient. The black box is no longer a cypher waiting to be unveiled and decoded, it is a function defined exclusively through its inputs and outputs.” (Alexander Galloway)

For others, the emergence of a new digital class society is threatening. “If everything has to become immediately visible, differences are hardly possible. Transparency dictates conformity which eliminates the other, the stranger, the deviant. Especially Big Data visualizes collective behavior patterns.” [Byung-Chul Han] But Dasein is certainly more ambivalent and profound than the so called “normal distribution” – as extrapolated from masses of data.

Media scholars criticize “free labor” (Tiziana Terranova), “The Soul at Work” (Franco Bifo Berardi), the “filter bubble” (Eli Pariser) and the “solutionism” of Silicon Valley as well as “algorithmic regulation” of governments (Evgeny Morozov).

How can people resist the datafication of their lives? How not to become a walking sensor platform generating indices of data? Which forms of resistance could apply to these technological upgrades? How could “perfect” generic images or processes be hacked? Would bootlegged versions of ourselves give us back the control over images and networks?

Artists counter-act with offensively brutal affirmation (for example, Jennifer Lyn Morone’s corporate art piece Jennifer Lyn Morone™Inc) or shield themselves in “opacity” (as Zach Blas suggests with his Facial Weaponization Suite) and therewith confront or resist corporate social media monoculture and biometrics.

During the course of a three years research period, scientists, activists and artists will reflect upon their use of so called smart objects and the network. We aim to question, and redefine the term smart – what is a smart way of surfing in the future? According to Deleuze, every art object ideally serves as a medium of reflexivity.

2. Proxy Politics

In spite of discussions that evolve around transparency and bodies and minds becoming transparent (see Big Data and neuroscience data debates), power remains obscure and power structures become even less intelligible. Ongoing processes of standardization introduce ever more normative, readable, templates making clear that complacency and speed of data communication go together with the perfection of control.

When observing the world of digital networks one is faced by two kinds of realities: a material world of hardware – servers, tubes, devices and light – and a virtual world of distribution, communication and imagination. The latter addresses users and begs for constant visualizations of their everyday life. And yet, digital networks remain a complex ecology – despite desperate attempts by American corporations to keep them clean and tidy wherever they can – containing a myriad of shadow counterparts to the user friendly world wide web, such as the so called “Darknet” and “Deep Web”.

The lesser visualized material world (besides a handful of carefully curated stock footage) has a rough side – from slave-like labor conditions in Asia to conflict funding mines in the heart of Africa. At the very end of the consumption chain, (smart) things scrape a shadow living in dumb sites. “Modest and even abject objects became hieroglyphs in whose dark prism the social relations lay congealed and in fragments.” Digital archeologists might find interest in electronic waste, because “a thing is never just something, but a fossil in which a constellation of forces is petrified.” (Hito Steyerl) While these time capsules remain rather silent in the realm of visible invisibility, smart technology is sneaking playfully into our daily lives – for example face recognition apps turned make-up adviser and shopping assistant launched by a big beauty products company from Paris (see Makeup Genius by L’Oréal,

This underlying ambivalence between worker exploitation and consumer seduction as well as a lack of information must be addressed without dooming (digital) technologies as such. Instead, one might want to ask, how to work with both accelerated innovation and a mode of informed visibility? What could an alternative set of working methodologies look like, and could one develop a radical set of practices? How should one speculate about an ambiguous network?

Proxy Politics describe modes of withdrawal, subterfuge or retreat in a literally technical, but also in a metaphorical sense – its utensil could be a VPN, a scan, P2P technology, a body double, a stock image) and ideally helps people handle the terror of total Dasein [Hito Steyerl].

Psychopolitics (Byung-Chul Han) and its sublime control mechanisms have yet to become a reality, even though many prominent voices call for a totalitarian society of neuro enhancement and quantified selves. Instead, Chaos Computer Club speaks of “smart stupidity”, there is no good use for all the data. Instead, “the Internet of things will force us into separate tribes (i-tribe, Android-tribe, Facebook tribe…) and isolate data; this dark side of the moon-effects will grow ever more as long as politics don’t intervene.” [Frank Rieger] Bandwidth throttling already divides users into fast and slow surfing tribes.

3. People, media, artifacts

Constellations are shifting: formerly disparate discourses seem to overlap. Besides clouds, networks and big data being the focus of digital media discussions, a materialistic point of view adds to this new ambiguous discourse. Non-human agents like devices and infrastructure enter the focus of attention. Rosie Braidotti speaks of “unfamiliarity” and “dis-identification” as methods to reconsider everyday objects (who or what is this machine that I’m working with day by day and with whom else is this machine communicating, one might ask). Alexander Galloway speaks of the interface effect. Interesting consequences of these reconsiderations would be – following a 20th century of technological superiority over nature – if the climate change discourse would open new perspectives on technology. How do Google and Silicon Valley Startups incorporate environmental awareness into their business plans and politics? How does it work exactly? How can we as smart users make it work in our interests? How can we build up technological sovereignty?

Therefore, instead of a macro perspective, micro perspectives seem to better serve the course of interest. As Joseph Vogl suggests: “media are specific, systemizable objects of study for the following reason: everything they store and mediate is stored and mediated under conditions that are created by the media themselves and that ultimately comprise those media (…) we should set aside any general concept of media in favor of examining historically singular constellations in which we can identify the metamorphosis into media of things, symbolic systems, or technologies.”

(Workshop) – 20/01 2017

Virtualization of Reality in China
yi projectspace


A report from Beijing

Antonie Angerer and Anna Eschbach, founders and curators of I: project space in Beijing, will present
 their AR based book by publishing platform tria. The catalog “lin_ke” features video works by the artist Lin Ke. In close collaboration with designer Sonja Zagermann and the artist, the editors explored new possibilities for translating moving images into printed matter. The result is a book that can be constantly updated.
Besides presenting the interactive publication, Antonie and Anna will
 contextualize their experiment on closing the gap between the digital and the analog by taking us on a tour through the
 extended virtualities of the Chinternet (the Internet with Chinese characteristics).

(Lecture) – 10/01 2017

Automated Participation and the Proof of Communication
Luciana Parisi

A workshop entitled “Data-synthesis and the end of design in computational architecture” will start at 5 pm. Luiana Parisi will talk about examples and implementation of algorithms in design.
The workshop will be followed by the lecture “Automated Participation and the Proof of Communication” starting at 8 pm in the auditorium (Hörsaal 158).
Data-oriented machine intelligence no longer relies on responsive feedback but involves the automated ability of knowing how to activate the learning functions of algorithms in order to obtain proof of communication.  If what was simply feedback response has now become automated participation, it is because algorithmic rules have acquired the capacity to prove that communication needs no subject, content, or propositions. The talk will discuss the politics of machines in this 3rd order of cybernetic control.
(Workshop) – 12/12 2016

The Materiality of Bitcoin
Mick Halsband, Elad Verbin

What is bitcoin? What is blockchain? Let’s look under the hood and see what this machine is made of. In the workshop, we will examine the building blocks of cryptographic systems, e.g. simulation-based security, zero knowledge, one-way functions and others. We will also play with real-world metaphors for these concepts, translating them into tangible objects.

Elad Verbin received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Tel-Aviv University. He is an amateur futurologist, and works in data science, predictive modeling, and blockchain-based social change. In academia, he has worked on randomized algorithms and on computational impossibility results

Mick Halsband is an engineer, researcher and writer. He is interested in the intersections of media, philosophy, technology, science and economy. In the tech industry, he had worked on mobile devices, flight simulators, computer vision for cinematography and applied data science and machine learning for trading algorithms, amongst others.

(Workshop) – 22/11 2016

Cloud Index
James Bridle


Cloud Index is a weather prediction model that consumes vast amounts of historic weather data from satellites and correlates it with polling data on major political events, most notably the recent EU referendum. Bridle’s new commission for the Serpentine explores the connections between climate, behaviour and networks and uses the principles of weather divination and advanced neural networks to question our technological certainties and our democratic convictions. With Cloud Index, Bridle takes on the computing ‘cloud’ as the most pervasive and least understood metaphor of our times.

James Bridle is a British artist and writer based in Athens, Greece. His artworks have been commissioned by galleries and institutions and exhibited worldwide and on the internet. His writing on literature, culture and networks has appeared in magazines and newspapers including Wired, Domus, Cabinet, the Atlantic, the New Statesman, the Guardian, the Observer and many others, in print and online. He lectures regularly at conferences, universities, and other events. His formulation of the New Aesthetic research project has spurred debate and creative work across multiple disciplines. His work can be found at

(Workshop) – 15/11 2016

Network Geometry


Berlin-based design and research collective PWR will map out convoluted, cryptic network geometries starting from a number of poetic figures: The Secret Enclave, TrustZone, Fog Computing, Mist, Ether, Cloud, Urbit Ships, The Great Firewall, Proof-of-Location.

For the second part of the session we propose to look at current standards for network topology icons (eg. cisco) and together sketch out additions – other roles and constellatons that are not taken into account.

(Workshop) – 25/10 2016

Shell Corporation*
Auto Italia South East


What are the desired conditions to produce artwork? What is enabled by working collaboratively that is greater than what we can achieve alone?

Marianne Forrest and Edward Gillman of the London-based artist-run project and studio Auto Italia South East will lead ‘Auto Italia: Shell Corporation’, a half-day session presenting research and references informing Auto Italia’s current programme and studio practice.

Touching on alternative methods for producing and distributing artwork through collaborative production, the session will consider the potentials for art and artistic practice enabled through operating under the guise(s) of Auto Italia. The session will encourage a collective imagining of what ‘artist-led’ groups might look like and operate as in the future, touching on histories of group production and seeking enlightenment from examples found in theories of group work, esoteric decision-making strategies and role-play.

*A shell corporation is a company which serves as a vehicle for business transactions without itself having any significant assets or operations.

(Workshop) – 04/07 2016

Sky Traffic
Deborah Ligorio and Stefan Heidenreich


Throughout the centuries, from Aristotle to Copernicus, Galilei to Kepler, right up until to today’s astronomers’ photographic mapping, the universe continuously expands. At the same time our view is constantly redefined with the increasing availability of ever-higher resolution lenses. It is a “denatured vision”, writes Joseph Vogl.

This workhop consists of two parts: It starts with a 20 minutes long CosmoMeditation guided by artist Deborah Ligorio, using breathing and imagination techniques to follow rhythms, routines and rotations of bodily orbits and planetary flows through a focus on the apparatuses that measure them.

The meditation will be followed by a pop-up observatory session. Writer and media theorist Stefan Heidenreich will give an introduction into heavenly matters, including human and nonhuman satellites, with friendly support from ’Heavens Above.

Please bring a blanket.

(Workshop) – 22/06 2016

DIY Mesh Networks
Philipp Borgers and Mathias Jud

More and more people are single-handedly installing and maintaining free networks. Every user in the wireless community network provides his or her wireless LAN router for data transfer to other participants. In return, he or she can also transmit data, such as text, music and movies through a free network or use services setup by participants to chat, call or play online games!
The workshop will give an insight into important topics of wireless community networks such as the right to information and technical aspects of mesh networks. We will explore the cultural, social, political and artistic importance of these projects.

(Lecture / Workshop) – 29/05 2016

New Companies on the Block
Ben Vickers

Corporations are people, one would generally assume. What if not? What if a recent paradigm shift has unleashed the full cyberneticization of trade? Can a decentralized autonomous corporation be truly autonomous? And if they can; What do these new decentralized companies running on the world computer want? Over the course of the last 6 years a strange, almost mystical technology has appeared in our midst, known as the blockchain. Born as Bitcoin, a decentralized digital currency, described in a white paper, and unleashed on the world in code by the pseudonymous and AWOL Satoshi Nakamoto. Having recently achieved the acceptance of regulators and investors, the inception of its upgrade Ethereum, “the world computer” in 2015, could signal a change in sentiment. Rebuilt from the ground up and designed as a distributed blockchain based platform focused on planetary scale computation, smart contracts and decentralized autonomous organisations. Its creation has significant implications for bitcoin’s initial promise of disintermediating nation states and monetary markets.Despite being less than a year old this platform has already seen the deployment of multiple decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) and decentralized apps. Raising the question of What happens when legal paragraphs and mission statements turn into code? What about questions of ownership, jurisdiction and legal liability? Taxes? Subsidies? And what are the latent possibilities for wide scale adoption of code based organisations that are registered nowhere, and available everywhere? Ben Vickers will discuss new digital infrastructures and their social and political effects.

(Presentation) – 07/02 2016

Solid State: Sunlight
Harry Sanderson

In this presentation, Harry Sanderson will address his work with caustic imaging technology, and the ways in which this can be contextualized in a wider field of thought. Caustic imaging is a technology that makes use of recently developed algorithms to produce physical surfaces that reproduce digital images as existing physical properties of objects, existing in the same sense as is their weight, density, or mass. The project is concerned with producing a physical remnant of computation that no longer relies on its infrastructure, yet at the same time attests to the capacity of that infrastructure to determine available modes of existence. The artist will examine the various algorithms employed in the production of the objects, and through explaining their most common commercial applications provide a space to think through the implications of an artwork that occupies a developing technology situated at the juncture of the digital and the real.


tumblr_inline_o2brx1xhoj1too1sl_1280 tumblr_inline_o2bry1njtk1too1sl_1280tumblr_inline_nzm8vrhuym1too1sl_1280
(Workshop) – 04/02 2016

Networked Maps and Artistic Territories
Brian Holmes

On the first day of this workshop theorist and mapmaker Brian Holmes will present both the results and the underlying techniques of his recent cartographic work on political ecology issues in Chicago. Then he will show participants how to set up a multimedia web-map interface that they can use. Together we will dream up some kind of theme or metaphorical structure to fit participants’ desires, then everyone will have a week to begin artistic processes at specific points or around Berlin. Holmes will return a week later and help participants integrate the documents of their work to points on the map (images, texts, audio or video files). The workshop will be both theoretical and practical, open to aesthetic questions beyond the specific techniques employed. No programming skills are required but whoever wants to begin learning how to work with a flexible and sophisticated map interface (Openlayers 3) will be able to do so.

Brian Holmes is an art and cultural critic with a taste for on-the-ground intervention. A polyglot living in Paris from 1990 to 2009, he collaborated with political art groups such as Ne Pas Plier, Bureau d’Etudes, and Makrolab. With Claire Pentecost and the 16 Beaver Group he co-organized the Continental Drift seminars. His books include Escape the Overcode: Activist Art in the Control Society (2009) and Unleashing the Collective Phantoms: Essays in Reverse Imagineering (2007), as well as Volatile Smile (2014) in collaboration with the photographers Beate Geissler and Oliver Sann. In Chicago where he now lives he is a member of the Compass group and teaches intermittently at the University of Illinois.

(Seminar) – 17/01 2016

Proxy Wars and Proxy Politics
Oleksiy Radynski

In 2003, Harun Farocki concluded his documentary War at a Distance by stating that current wars are no longer fought between the equals: rather, they are outsourced and exported to the already degraded, downbeat and devastated parts of the globe. In post-2008 era this formula needs to be revised, as zones of total impoverishment, permanent crisis and collapse of state sovereignties sprout into areas formerly known as ‘First’ and ‘Second’ worlds. While Russia is deeply entangled into the undeclared war in Ukraine, planting the post-sovereign militarized para-states in the East of Europe, France is declaring a war on an ephemeral and elusive entity that is Islamic State. It seems that the central figure of today’s warfare is a proxy gone rogue. Is the proxy war merely a continuation of proxy politics by other means? This seminar will trace the emergence of ‘proxy’ subjectivity through the reading of texts by Nick Dyer-Witheford (Cyber-Proletariat, 2015) and Giorgio Agamben (Stasis, 2015), as well as a number of visual artefacts. On a second day of the seminar, three films by Oleksiy Radynski made between 2013 and 2015 will be screened and discussed.

Oleksiy Radynski is a documentary filmmaker and writer based in Kyiv. He is a participant of Visual Culture Research Center, an initiative for art, knowledge and politics founded in Kyiv in 2008.


About Oleksiy Radynski

(Workshop) – 17/01 2016

Computing In-Formation: Data and its base
Francis Hunger

This workshop aims to establish a notion of computing history that is oriented towards database software. During the first day we look into diverse practices of database usage, its historical and social origins.

Knowledge production by way of the library, the collection, the processing of mathematical equations in the age of human computing and bio-political practices such as statistics, data collection, resource management and insurance business have informed database technologies.

Lately, notions like big data or large scale search engines were added to this set of practices. During the second day the discussion focuses on tables and relations that form and put in form the base of data. And we go for a database dérive, which means we go outside to observe databases in their natural habitat to sense the infrastructural dimension of database usage today.

Francis Hunger (*1976, Dessau) lives and works in Leipzig. In his practice he combines artistic research with the capabilities of narration through installations, radio plays and performances. His media-archeological works realize a critical examination of the history of technology as ideologically charged knowledge and power constellations.


About Francis Hunger

(Lecture / Workshop) – 08/12 2015

New Media is wonderfully creepy
Wendy Chun

New media technologies provoke both anxiety and hope: anxiety over surveillance and hope for empowerment. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun reveals that these two reactions complement rather than oppose each other by emphasizing how exposure is necessary in order for networks to work. New media is–at its best–wonderfully creepy.

tumblr_inline_o0ktnevx741too1sl_1280 tumblr_inline_nydwm9lyzc1too1sl_1280 tumblr_inline_o0ktoysmwb1too1sl_1280


(Workshop) – 18/10 2015

Magnetic Fields
Charles Stankievech

Taking “Counterintelligence”, a show he curated in 2013 at the University of Toronto as a starting point, Charles Stankievech will unfold his research into early warning systems, spying strategies and surveillance strategies from the times of the Second World War through Cold War up to today in Europe and the North of Canada. How are humans, atmosphere and technology entangled? What kind of exchange processes can one discover between military artifacts and the artworks? What sort of interdependencies exist between control and of freedom, security and obscurity? “Counterintelligence” explored “the intersection of art and military intelligence communities tactics such as double agents and ‘security through obscurity’”. In this workshop, Charles Stankievech will talk about the visible invisible, (dis)continuities of military technology and ecologies of military infrastructure.

(Workshop) – 07/07 2015

Refugees Emancipation
Eben Chu, Simon Redfern


Internet cafés are no start-up playgrounds, but a social space in which people can read and research side by side. This workshop describes the everyday life in five Internet cafés, by refugees and for refugees, initiated by Eben Chu from Cameroon for the organization “Refugees Emancipation”. The cafés run on old computers in various refugee homes in Berlin and Potsdam. “We need a place that we control ourselves. The existing communal space is used for prayers or gymnastics and is under the strict control of the home management. They know who keeps the keys when. That’s why the computers are for us a means for self-determined action.” Most users want to read news from their home country and chat with friends and relatives abroad. Also they want to talk about their rights and health issues with other refugees in Berlin who are in a similar situation.“ After all, the German bureaucratic language can cause hard times. Therefore “Refugees Emancipation” initiated a web app where their users can exchange insights and information anonymously from wherever they are. Eben Chu and his fellows will discuss necessity and experience with the app thus far.

Introducing App for refugees by Refugees Emancipation and Workshop with Eben Chu.

Eben Chu is founder and project manager of Refugees Emancipation, an initiative which aims at improving daily life conditions of refugees in Germany. Refugees Emancipation are based in Potsdam. Since most refugee homes do not have wireless internet – less than 5 percent of the refugees have internet access – Eben Chu started an Internet cafe initiative while he himself was living in a refugee home some years ago. He describes the Internet cafes as a circle of trust within the controlled spaces of the refugee homes, or a place which refugees can trust in. Most recently Refugees Emancipation initiated their new web app Adoro, which exists as a beta version so far.

Simon Redfern provided the Adoro app which is an instance of the open source forum Discourse ( Simon is the CEO of TESOBE, a Berlin based agency that builds web and mobile apps using programming languages like Python. In 2008 Simon founded the Open Bank Project as a reaction to the financial crisis. He is a seasoned technologist with over 25 years experience in IT. He studied electronic engineering in Manchester in the early 80’s focusing on real-time programming and digital systems, followed by relational databases and then the web in the early 90’s. With his company TESOBE he co-lead a project called Feowl to gather data about power cuts in Douala in Cameron. Other projects include Open PEPs for Transparency International and Open EDU for UK Government.

(Workshop) – 25/06 2015

We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire*
Paul Feigelfeld


The workshop explores unstable infrastructures and alternative networks throughout history. Technological protocols and power structures, trade routes from the original Silk Road to the Darknet, ubiquitous computing and sensory environments, early postal systems between Thurn & Taxis and the Butchers’ Post, Jesuit information networks, but also the networks of signifiers and mathemes that constitute them: graph theory, topology, and knots.

The morning and early afternoon sessions will be accompanied by some readings. The workshop closes with a hands-on crypto workshop (bring your laptops and phones).

  • In his novel The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon tells the story of Tristero, an underground organization with post-boxes disguised as regular waste-bins using _W.A.S.T.E. _as an acronym for We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire.
(Workshop) – 11/06 2015

Ethical Design of Interfaces – Combat Drones and their Users
Manuela Winbeck


With a growing number of sensors being installed on remote-controlled vehicles and drones, an increasing amount of decisions is being shifted from the pilot to a technological object. Thus the virtual interface of the computer-cockpit remains the only source of information available to the user, or pilot, upon which to make decisions.

In his story Weapon Systems of the 21st Century or The Upside Down Evolution, Stanislaw Lem claims that attacks by insect-like miniature weaponry, artificial storms and pseudo-natural disasters will eradicate the differentiation between nature and technoculture.

The workshop will focus on “hardware” components and technological limits of algorithmic operations.
How are weapons controlled? How may scenarios of weapon application be modeled and who exactly is to be modeled? Who is acting if decisions are made by a machine? How can morally sensitive information be displayed? To what extent can decisions be delegated to machines and who is ultimately in control? How is conflict changing without the moral agency of a human?

The workshop will consist of two parts, a discussion based on relevant texts (details tba) and some practical hands-on experimentation.


Additional workshop guest is curator Tatiana Bazzichelli, who reports about her recent conference Drones – Eyes from a Distance. As part of an ongoing series, Bazzichelli’s Dispruption Network Lab looked at drones as a case study for systems of contemporary non-human vision and warfare technology as well as respective effects. Bazzichelli contextualizes the military use of drones from a hacker’s perspective and elaborates on her curatorial strategies of disruption – also in comparison to Silicon Valley’s understanding of a strategy under the very same name. In the framework of the Lab, the term serves to investigate hacker and artistic practices that interfere with political and technological systems from within.

(Workshop) – 03/02 2015

Securing the Social
Tiziana Terranova


This two-day workshop aims at critically exploring the topos of the network as the image of nodes and links remains the invariant topological constant of data visualisation in a disparate number of domains. In particular, the notion of ‘social network’ will be looked at by discussing the development of social network analysis and graph theory through a genealogy of dispositifs of security or control. Alternative ways of thinking about the nature of the social relation diagrammed by graph theory will be explored, as well as the notion of the aesthetic and cultural ‘experience of networking’.



Dildo-tectonics in action

(Workshop) – 29/01 2015

Zach Blas

Contra-internet describes the emerging artistic militancies and political subversions of neoliberal, networked digital technologies. Recognizing the internet as a premier arena of control today, contra-internet is both a refusal of, or exodus from, the internet and also an attempt to build aesthetico-political alternatives to its infrastructures. Aspects of the contra-internet include the global proliferation of autonomous networks and development of encryption tactics.

Poised against the ever popular term “post-internet,” contra-internet is a conceptual, practical, and experimental framework for uniting explicitly political positions that understand internet technologies as bound to mechanisms that vehemently police and criminalize populations—biometric regulation, drone attacks, and data surveillance, to name but a few.

Inspired by Beatriz Preciado’s Manifesto contrasexual, contra-internet is feminist, queer, anti-racist, and anti-imperialist, addressing how non-normative, minoritarian persons are violently impacted by neoliberal network technologies.

Contra-internet practices involve:

  • An implicit critique of the internet as a neoliberal agent and conduit for labour exploitation, financial violence, and precarity.
  • An intersectional analysis that highlights the internet’s intimate connections to the propagation of ableism, classism, homophobia, sexism, racism, and transphobia.
  • A refusal of the brute quantification and standardization that digital technologies enforce as an interpretative lens for evaluating and understanding life.
  • A radicalization of technics, which is at once the acknowledgement of the impossibility of a totalized technical objectivity and also the generation of different logics and possibilities for technological functionality.
  • A transformation of network-centric subjectivity beyond and against the internet as a rapidly developing zone of work-leisure indistinction, social media monoculture, and the addiction of staying connected.
  • Constituting alternatives to the internet, which is nothing short of utopian.

Zach Blas is an artist and writer whose work engages technology, queerness, and politics. Currently, he is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Art at the University at Buffalo.

Blas has exhibited and lectured internationally, most recently at Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City; the 2014 Museum of Arts and Design Biennial, New York; the 2014 Dakar Bienniale; Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Queer/Art/Film LA, Los Angeles; quartier21 / MuseumsQuartier Wien; Center for 21st Century Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; transmediale, Berlin; and Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, Liverpool. In 2012 – 13, he was an artist/researcher-in-residence at the b.a.n.g.lab and Performative Nanorobotics Lab, University of California, San Diego. In 2013-14, Blas was a resident at Eyebeam in New York City, The White Building in London, and The Moving Museum in Istanbul.
Reading list:
Beatriz Preciado’s Contra-sexual Contract (Sample)

(Screening) – 29/01 2015

All That Is Solid
Louis Henderson

All That is Solid (2014) HD 15’26”

Later that evening we’ll host Louis Henderson for a screening his most recent film All That is Solid. The screening will be followed by a a discussion.

Produced for the 59th Salon de Montrouge – Paris – with support from Ekimetrics. Featuring music by Joseph Munday and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe

This is a film that takes place. In between a hard place, a hard drive, and an imaginary, a soft space – the cloud that holds my data. And in the soft grey matter, Contained within the head.

As technological progress pushes forward in the west, enormous piles of obsolete computers are thrown away and recycled. Pushed out of sight and sent to the coast of West Africa these computers end up in waste grounds such as Agbogbloshie in Accra, Ghana. On arrival the e-waste is recuperated by young men, who break and burn the plastic casings in order to extract the precious metals contained within. Eventually the metals are sold, melted and reformed into new objects to be sold – it is a strange system of recycling, a kind of reverse neocolonial mining, whereby the African is searching for mineral resources in the materials of Europe. Through showing these heavy processes, the video highlights the importance of dispelling the capitalist myth of the immateriality of new technology to reveal the mineral weight with which the Cloud is grounded to its earthly origins. Trailer: