The <i>Piracy Today</i> exhibition explores how piracy can inform art.
Geraldine Juarez’s "Wealth Transfer"
“We’re in the golden age of piracy, and if you haven’t been stealing over the internet for the last ten years, you’ve been missing out,” is what the audience was told at the Piracy Today exhibition, in one of the final days of the Hack the Barbican festival in London.
But if your idea of piracy is the nonchalant torrent download of digital music, the video, sound, code and architecture showcased at Wednesday night's pilot exhibition may well challenge your perception of piracy as simply the action of digitally stealing the new Lady Gaga album.
Hosted at the exhibition was Geraldine Juarez’s Wealth Transfer, which is a trio of music tracks created from the patterns of three recent High Frequency Trading market crashes—an algorithm-based trade carried out by advanced computer systems. Traced onto transparency film stuck to the computer screen, the market glitches were converted, with a little interpretation, into digital sound data, and copied to a 10” vinyl record. The tracks were also copied to cassettes, especially made for Piracy Today. (You can listen above.)
In her artist statement, Juarez notes that, “Piracy is not about copyright, neither the sea, it is about abundance and the commons, so the concept needs to be broadened. High Frequency Trading is a shadow and shady economy with so much power capable to affect our everyday, although maybe the effects are not immediate... the production of Pirated media can act as an anti-economy—and contribute to the partial and asymmetric abolition of property.”
Juarez’s work sets apart from traditional views on piracy by exploring the merits and cultural meaning of ‘pirates’—to its advocates, piracy is not necessarily about theft, but about levelling the access rights to digital information bound by corporations. Or at least, that’s what pirates say, anyway.
Rachel Falconer, Piracy Today curator, alerted me to Juarez’s previous series of ‘bling-style’ necklaces (below), which are 3D printed financial stock charts that embody the turmoil of the economy in a cool fashion accessory. To finish the look, the prints were applied with a fake gold coating, presumably to maximise the satire of financial system decadence—a sentiment that clearly runs through much of her work.
Market $wag. Image courtesy of Geraldine Juárez “For this show, this is a recent piece that Geraldine showed in Copenhagen but she wanted to carry on the concept of copy-culture,” Falconer told me at the show. “So she’s got a record that you can see is projected there but then she bootlegged a whole load of audio cassettes and sent them around the world to people like me, who’s interested in listening to it, and distributing it, playing on the whole idea of distribution.”
Last.fm scrobble heatmap visualisation. Image courtesy of Flickr user Desktop
Also home to the event was Martin Dittus’ Calendar Heatmap which, although they may look like melted Matrix code that has been warped by an over-heating computer monitor, is an ongoing data visualisation project that reveals patterns of human behaviour. Captured from a selection of publicly available information, the visuals are plotted from timestamp metadata, which is embedded into a huge array of personal internet activity—be it an email, Tweet, or blog post. As a former Last.fm software developer, Dittus orginally used his program to visualise the habits of music listeners through their Last.fm scrobbles.
“You learn a surprising amount about someone’s habits, about deeper changes they make to their lives, and to an extent their personality,” he told me. “Also, when people are on holiday, when people change jobs, move to different timezones—so there’s a surprising amount of information that you can get from this data, and in the end it’s all just from timestamps.”
The heatmap depicts frequency and intensity using a coloured scale: dark means nothing, green represents moderate levels of activity and red is the highest of intensity. Dittus has also used his software to assess the Wikileaks US diplomatic cables data that leaked in 2010—pirated data that to some represents a serious threat to national security, and others, a step toward political transparency. The below visualisation shows when the US embassy in Damascus was publishing cables.
2010 Wikileaks US diplomatic cables leaked visualisation. Image courtesy of Flickr user Desktop. Click to enlarge.
“As the visualisation shows, there are some early releases in 2000 onwards, but the bulk of the cables came out in late 2005 and later. You can also see that cables were rarely ever published on weekends, but frequently in the early morning hours from 4/5am onwards,” notes Dittus.
“What will be interesting, and what I haven’t done yet, which is see when cables of particular security level or critically level are published in certain publications—so looking at more specific kinds of patterns.”
Other artworks from the show included a selection of work from The Piracy Project—a publishing and exhibition project exploring book piracy. Interestingly, the actual structure Privacy Today was housed within was also part of the exhibition: Penthouse 4C, a public replica of the most luxurious apartment in the Barbican Housing Estate—adding to the show’s anti-capitalism vibes.
Complementing the installations was the artist-audience discussion aimed to explore and articulate the concepts of the exhibition, asking about the limits of copying and free access to information: What is piracy? If piracy didn’t exist, would progress fail? How damaging is internet censorship? Questions that you'll find no easy answer to, but questions we'll all need to continually ponder and debate.
The next exhibition from Piracy Today organisers Hardcore Software will be at the the Tree Hub, Peckham Rye, London (TBC). You can find out more about it here.