On extracting data, and its art and craft.

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Data art started long before the internet, but for some of us, facebook (fb) for a long time served as our Cantarell Complex. On 2012 I accidentally began leaking it when I created drik magazine and later its archives. Today, quite more consciously, I can say beneath my internet data projects a reservoir of information has been formed, and this has happened on different data-based projects by other artists too.

Servers are attached to our soil just as onshore platforms are, soaking on data from all of their users. The internet is the equivalent of a pipeline but with the shape and function of an ouroboros. It’s a two-way pipeline, draining information from us and vomiting it back through our computers. Data flows through the internet into and from same wave territories (Santiago de Chile, Lima, DF, Nuevo Leon, Costa Mesa, and Washington DC) where we distill it through our computers in order to gather our resources, just as it happens in the rest of the world. The internet isn’t on the sky; we do not store data in clouds, we store it in servers. The floating internet concept is a lie in order to prevent us from realizing that the internet is grounded by a powerful tellurian nature.

On Cyclonopedia (Reza Negarestani), Dr. Hamid Parsani identifies oil as a tellurian lube. It’s the element that allows mankind to happen (contemporarily), and that is abundant on the gulfs of Persia and Mexico (among other places). Oil represents power and wealth, hence it represents control and sabotage too (ex: the Nationalization of Mexican Oil, the Arab Oil Embargoes, Saddam Hussein’s burning of the Kuwaiti Oil Wells, the Energetic Reform in Mexico, etc).

Data is quite similar to oil. Oil is the product of the passing of thousands of years, and information stays exactly the same. Oil wasn’t magically formed, and data inside the internet (and outside it) is never borne out of nothing. It is always the result of human life, and that is precisely why Lanier coined the concept of Digital Maoism (DM).

Sites like fb are considered great exponents of DM, since all the data they hold (and which constitutes the tellurian lube of the digital) has been uploaded by its users. At a glance it seems only fb profits from the data we gather for it, and in most cases this is true. However, fb and other companies’ profits depend on the behavior of its users. We need to fill DM with holes. We need to transform it into swiss cheese; then wait for data to fill the void and drain fb and other DM sites with no mercy.

Since the presentation of Swarm at ARS Electronica ’98 on the hands of the Electronic Disturbance Theater, in support of Digital Zapatismo and the victims of the Acteal massacre, art underlined how the concept of sitting gained effectiveness if it blocked the flux of data instead of the flux of people. In 1967, just a day after the Six Day War had begun, countries like Iraq, Kuwait, and Bahrain decided to use oil as a weapon and embargoed the US and the UK for supporting Israel. This led to the formation of the OAPEC, an organism that in 1973, executed a second embargo. This time the oil price was raised by 70% and the Arab countries stated their oil production would be reduced by 5% each month until Israeli forces left occupied territories in Syria and Egypt, which had been gained by Israel during the Six Day War. The embargo had little to no effect on the economy of the Arab nations, while all major markets of the rest of the world faced the 1973-74 Stock Market Crash.

We can use data as a weapon too. DM is not a house for data, data lives outside it. We control the production and digitalization of data, the tellurian lube that allows the existence of fb and other DM companies. We can pump data through it in order to drain what we’re looking for, and then pump it out in order to profit from it. This is why I believe 21st century art needs to be data-based.

The art world came into existence since the French Academia as a Napalmic entity, one made of an inextinguishable fire that can flow/flood into every corner of culture and won’t disappear until it consumes itself. It is this very nature which requires it to burn out. But it is its hunger for recognition and legitimization what has inspired it to generate strategies to keep the fire burning perennially. It’s because of this that art and culture have been burning all that surrounds them for centuries, becoming one of the communities of the world’s greatest enemies, and burning them ceaselessly too. This way, not even painting or sculpture were our friends. However this doesn’t mean they can’t ever be.

Data has been flowing through art since the beginning of art, just as oil has been there since the beginning of civilization. Art has also been used to gather data for centuries. We do not need to transform art into a data bank. Art has been a data bank since the beginning. We need to start controlling the data and its flux. Data has a liquid nature too; it tends to flow wherever it can, and we can make it flow through the art world (which today occupies important territories in education, power, business, economy, banking, and tourism, among other areas). The art world is nothing more than fog of war. It is the same fog described by John McTiernan’s The 13th Warrior, covering the Wendol and their serpent of fire while they murdered humans to consume them. By using data as a weapon and incorporating it into art, we can transform art into a gigantic tank in the fight for freedom that uses the same fog of war to strike with a powerful backlash. Art should no longer be a trigger for action, its time to counter back and use art as a war machine.    

alonso cedillo <ceo@nimda.co>

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Better than a robot

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Photo: Peter Yang

I logged into virtual worlds and began working inside them at the beginning of 2007. Those days were filled with tapenipulation, drumbots making, and a bit of circuit bending. I didn’t really liked working with computers back then. For me they were boring, and perhaps too easy. Modular synths and tapes seemed so much more interesting. Then I realised I didn’t liked computers because they allow much more intuitive ways of working. Everything is easier and simpler. All the work of building a synth, studying music, none of it matters when using computers. The knowledge might help, but it’s not necessary. And that’s our current reality. It’s very easy to become an artist nowadays if you use computers.

Suddenly, I had an epiphany: I rejected computer generated works because they were menacing my field of expertise. I think I even thought their existence was something unfair. This made me remember the words of a piano teacher (which I had considered too conservative): “Synths doomed musicians. The work of 90 can be done by them, so people prefer to pay the work of one, than the work of 90.”

I realised my thoughts were not very different from my professor’s. So I decided to act the opposite. Then I began making music with computers and inside virtual worlds and net communities. I realised the true beauty behind computer generated works, is that anyone can do them. Suddenly the web has been flooded with songs of unknown musicians thanks to myspace and soundcloud. And that’s amazing! One can visit soundcloud and listen to songs that were uploaded seconds ago. You just have to write that name on a browser to call them up. More than a collective place, the internet is a land where anything is possible.

After visiting a friend in New York, and seeing the shows in all the museums, as well as the galleries in Manhattan and Soho, I realised all the art they house is so contemporary. And it’s time for it to be that no more. That’s why since the beginning, S.T.A.R.S. has acted like a Trojan horse for reality. Our ultimate goal: to bring the art world together with the 21st century’s reality through the internet. The internet is all that the art world wishes, and claims to be. And thanks to its possibilities we’ve envisioned another art world. A new reality – one that offers a different future, to a “contemporary” art world that is still stuck in 1648.

Most of the people working with computers are not contemporary artists, so they haven’t been stuck to a specific form. They’re trying all the buttons and all the combinations. And that’s the beauty behind Digital Maoism. All the information on the web, each song, each image, each algorithm, they were all done by people. Nothing’s magically created, but somehow authorship disappears. What matters are the benefits that the network gets out of data. And that’s how art is gonna be. Art is becoming useful for people. Since the beginning we’ve done everything wrong, and the internet is giving us a chance to change that. Inside the internet, art may be free. And by free I do not mean cost-less, but rather the freedom to copy art and then adapt it to one’s own uses.

Franz Zubizarreta <franzubizarreta@gmail.com>