by Iuri Salles & Henrique Santana and photos from Henrique Santana
During the 18 days that changed the course of modern-day Egypt Tahrir Square, in the heart of downtown Cairo, became known throughout the world as the epicenter of freedom and change. We couldn’t wait to get a glimpse of the square and talk to people about what had transpired and what is transpiring.
Just a few days before our arrival the area around Tahrir was in chaos, so much so that we made contingency plans for where we would stay. Our daughter lives just a couple of blocks away and by the time we arrived things had quieted down. Quiet is a relative term. We headed out on Friday with plans to eat Egyptian pizza (fateer) and head toward the Nile for a felucca ride. At one end of Annie’s street ten soldiers in full riot gear blocked any movement and just past the soldiers sat four army tanks, ready and waiting to be used at the sign of any trouble.
As we attempted to get to the Nile, every where we turned we ran into obstacles. Large circles of barbed wire blocked street after street. And then there were the walls. These walls are like nothing I’ve seen before. They are massive square boulders built into 12 feet high walls. They are strategically placed in the downtown area to restrict movement and prohibit protesters from gathering. They are quite simply a clever means to block civilian dissent. To put this into context, it would be like New York City blocking off all side roads leading to Zuccotti Park with massive, immoveable, concrete boulders, sending all traffic in the area into chaos and frustration. Taxi drivers shake their heads in disgust as all attempts to drive places are met with detours imposed by the walls.
As quickly as the walls have been built, the graffiti has appeared. It was my children and Shepard Fairey that first challenged me to look at graffiti as an art form and a means of expression. The graffiti on the newly constructed walls does just that as it communicates powerful messages from civilians related to both the January 25th uprising as well as the violence that has been perpetuated this fall. This graffiti is well done. A common theme includes a patched eye, an accusation toward a young soldier who is infamous for shooting out the eyes of protesters – “Yes! I got another eye” is his arrogant quote.
More than anything, the graffiti is evidence of frustration and division regarding the ongoing role of the military in the new Egypt. For me the graffiti was a look into a society where I am an outsider. My Arabic is not good and even as I struggle to communicate, I want to learn more of what people are thinking and feeling. As with any kind of art, those who create the graffiti wish to use more than words to communicate their thoughts and ideas. Take a look and get a glimpse of Tahrir Square through the graffiti in these pictures.
Taken from communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/
Originally published by Mia Turouse for arte creative
The documentary provides a two year research in european Culture Jamming. From the roots in the beginning of the 20th century: Marcel Duchamp or the french avantgarde group Situationist International to postmodern info-war. Modern Culture Jamming is distributing viral information like fake media campaigns to jam the mass media.
For instance he website ‘voteauction.com’ by the media actionist Hans Bernhard which faked a trading platform for american votes. The claim ‘Bringing Capitalism And Democracy Closer Together’ was set up to provoke heavy reactions. The website was shut down by Domainbank Inc. FBI and CIA started researching and CNN produced an issue of ‘Burden Of Proof – Democracy Is On The Block’. His project ‘Google Will Eat Itself’ is classical internet art, which short-linked the virtual money transactions of Google. The aim of GWEI is to buy Google from Google’s money and distribute it to the internet community…
A big media hoax by italian artists 01.org was staged in Vienna at Karlsplatz. In the name of Nike they occupied the Karlsplatz and stated to rename it in Nikeplatz and to built a giant ‘Swoosh’-monument. The citizens of vienna were angry and outraged. Nike started a legal battle about 78.000 Euro.
‘Political Videogames’ are programmed by Paolo Pedercini of molleindustria.it. Molleindustria’s games are about gender, modern labour market, precarious working conditions and industrial production. The games ‘Tuboflex’ and ‘Mc Donald’s Videogame’ are postmodern educational games with a clear message. Molleindustria want to start a serious discussion about the political implications of videogames.
Culture Jamming is the dawn of a new era of activism, media-hacking and info war…
The term Culture Jamming has been coined by the US-American avantgarde-band Negativland. To jam – which describes techniques to limit the effectiveness of an opponent’s communication or detection equipment in a military context – was to Negativland to take existing communication codes and reload them with new meaning.However, this cultural technique is not new, the first known example is Marcel Duchamps ‘Mona Lisa’, the picture of the Gioconda on which Duchamp has painted a moustache and wrote ‘Elle a chaud au cul – She has a hot ass’ on the lower side of the picture. Culture Jamming is a natural instinct of people to take objects and put them together to make something different out of them: To mix symbols of everyday life and make some creative work out of it, to recharge them with new meanings and to re-appropriate them. It’s somehow like the collages of the historical Dada movement, but using contemporary materials from different directions: Not only visual material, but radiowaves, sounds and stories. The basic idea is: Objects are there and you should be able to use them without asking for permission, because they are Public Domain: Symbols, Ideas, Music, Slogans, Logos etc.
Taken from creative.arte.tv/
At raves and road protests, Britain’s youth forge a new kind of politics. Collective youth up trees or down tunnels, protest camps and all-night raves across the land – these are the spectacular features of the politics and culture of nineties youth in Britain. DiY Culture lays to rest the myth of “Thatcher’s Children,” for the flags are flying again — green, red and black. Editor George McKay, author of Senseless Acts of Beauty, claims that popular protest today is characterized by a culture of immediacy and direct action. Gathered together here for the first time is a collection of in-depth and reflective pieces by activists and other key figures in DiY culture, telling their own stories and histories. This, then, is a book of both celebration and self-criticism, written by realists and idealists alike. From the environmentalist to the video activist, the raver to the road protester, the neo-pagan to the anarcho-capitalist, the authors demonstrate how the counterculture of the nineties offers a vibrant, provocative and positive alternative to institutionalized unemployment and the restricted freedoms and legislated pleasures of UK plc.
“What do I think of WikiLeaks? I think it would be a good idea!” (after Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quip on “Western Civilization”)
by Frans Jacobi
A couple of weeks ago, I visited Gothenburg and walking down the central avenue of the city I ran into a demonstration by coincidence. Around fifty young people were marching behind a car. The marching youths were surrounded by a similar number of police and the demonstration was tailed by ten to fifteen police vans.
The amount of police was quite astonishing compared to the rather small crowd of demonstrators and that inconsistency immediately caught my attention. Another strange thing was that the demonstrators only carried two banners – a small velvet flag and a large black banner, both without any text. Neither the music blasting out from the front car nor the occasionally shouts and rants from the youngsters gave away any clues about the goal and content of this demonstration.
I was really baffled by this lack of communication in a situation normally specifically designed for communication. During the fifteen minutes or so I followed the demonstration, two persons were arrested after a very short
outburst of tumult: a tall guy in his twenties and a young girl not older than seventeen. Apart from these two minor incidents the atmosphere between police and demonstrators was friendly. Many demonstrators seemed to be chatting with the other part, and a female police officer was running around the edges of the march photographing each and every protester with a large telescopic lens.
What at first sight seemed to be a very recognizable event, soon made me wonder, What was actually going on? Why the massive amount of police? Why the empty banners? Of course I could have asked some of the
people – police or demonstrator – what was going on. But by intuition I chose to stay uninformed, keeping my position as casual passerby. I took a couple of photos, followed the march for some time and left, curious and
bewildered. Somehow I was aware that there had been something crucial, something important hidden in the situation I had just stumbled upon The above story was the beginning of my application to the PhD program
at Malmö Art Academy. My proposal took this small event as the starting point of an investigation into what I thought was some new kind of activism centered around a refusal to communicate. Quoting J.G. Ballard, Bernadette Corporation, Guy Debord, the Situationists, Hardt & Negri, Paolo Virno, Jean Fischer and Jimmie Durham, I had some ideas about “constructed situations”, about the exit from the dominating discourses of
society, an ‘exodus’ as Virno calls it, about “another world” and becoming ‘another.’
Half a year later – now an official PhD candidate – I revisited Gothenburg to start my investigations into that demonstration. It took me one and a half day to figure out that it had not been a real demonstration – it had ‘only’ been a police exercise. The local police was training how to handle violent protest. They had recruited an entire gymnasium to act as protesters and then marched through the city, rehearsing different modes of conflict.
My project evaporated and I felt quite bewildered – not only thrown back to square one, but, even more, out of the game. From this point zero, nothing is what it seems – a fake, superficial proposal. I have tried to redirect my project back into reality, but as it is with reality today nothing is what it seems to be.
Now choosing a series of real events – three crucial, large-scale moments in the very recent history of Scandinavian protest movements – my focus is still on the constructedness of these events. On how the establishment of
a certain regime of pictures and their representation in media becomes the underlying goal of an activism that seemingly aims for something else.
The three moments I have chosen to investigate are:
– The Anticapitalist riots during the EU summit in Gothenburg, Sweden 2001;
– The YouthHouse Movement in Copenhagen, Denmark 2007/2008;
– The Climate Justice Action and other attempts at protest surrounding the CoP 15, Climate Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark 2009.
– To create an outside point of reflection/mirroring, I also visited Tiananmen Square, scene of the riots in Beijing in 1989.
Closely linked with the idea of “constructed situation” or “creating another world” is the idea of “becoming another.” In his introduction to “Robespierre, or, the Divine Violence of Terror,” Slavoj Zizek quotes Gilles Deleuze. “They say revolutions turn out badly. But they’re constantly confusing two different things, the way revolutions turn out historically and people’s revolutionary becoming.”
This “revolutionary becoming” or “becoming the people” as Zizek puts it, is the other prime focus of my investigations. How do the scattered crowds of activists and protesters in the three chosen moments “become movement”? What kind of visual and aesthetic strategies facilitates this ‘becoming’?
These activist practices are often inspired by art or resemble certain art strategies, since parts of the contemporary art scene are incorporating activist strategies. My project has been researched through a process of performances, exhibitions, and writing. An attempt at creating a kind of performative research, where the different spatial and symbolic strategies of the activist movements and the opposing agents of power are transformed into speculative constructions of text, performance, and space.
RESPONSE/ Jan Kaila Let me begin with the techniques of the research Frans Jacobi calls “performative research”, i.e. the researcher stands up and is a sort of figure in the performance. In Jacobi’s text, I have read about the Brechtian use of the author as actor within the play. It seems to me that Jacobi uses such a strategy as a part of the research. But not only the performance, also exhibitions and writings are to be included in his
PhD research project.
My first – pragmatic – question then is, How would people be able to evaluate the entire project? How would Jacobi summarize such a PhD project for a committee? Subsequently, in using the Brechtian model,
is there a transformation to a meta-level for commenting on the project? Or does it imply writing a meta-text that will go beyond, not in value but mentally, the performance? Is that needed or not?
The project contains a lot of information that is dealing with politics. The political in the demonstrations, the organizations, the individuals, and the movements is described in an almost anthropological sense. As part of the scripts for the performances, I find that very fascinating, since it also concerns the question of new knowledge in a documentary sense. However, the image of demonstrations and movements, the political in public space, all emerge as being extremely stereotypical. In the context of what I just called the anthropological sense, the question arises of how much straightforward information should be included in the phenomena under research?
What fascinates me as a result of the anthropological information, though, is how Jacobi researches symbolism and various aesthetic approaches the movements use as strategic and practical tools for their demonstrations. The movements and the way they operate have never been analyzed in that sense. At the same time, however, Jacobi’s project is a continuation of 20th
-century political art and, therefore, deals with many elements that have been done and discussed in the 20th century. What would happen if one divides the 20th century into two opposites, one being the political avantgarde, especially in the 1920s and its continuation later on; and the other the fascistic, totalitarian kind of art emerging in Germany and then after the 1930s to some extent in the Soviet Union? If one looks at these opposites and their relation to art and politics, one could use a Benjaminian concept as a tool. Walter Benjamin mentions two different kind of approaches, the one is aestheticization of politics and the other is politicization of aesthetics. So, my question is how does Jacobi see his work in the context of a continuation of the 20th century?
My last question refers to what most of us are familiar with and that is that the political situation in Denmark has been very complicated and of course – from a leftist point of view – very problematic. That situation in Denmark has been going on for ten years now. Therefore, Jacobi’s research in the Danish context, I suppose, gets a very specific political dimension. How important is such a situation for political engagement in relation to the research one does?
Taken from maHKUzine10.pdf/
by Hans Ulrich Obrist
Hans Ulrich Obrist: Before we begin with the questions from the artists, I wanted to ask you about the Bourbaki, an anonymous group of mathematicians that you have often referred to. I am very curious to know more about your interest in them, and whether they were related to your own decision to appear in public rather than remain anonymous.
Julian Assange: The Bourbaki were an anonymous group of French mathematicians who published a series of mathematics books over a period of about 20 years under the collective allonym Nicolas Bourbaki. They kept their individual identities anonymous, and their books are still regarded as some of the finest math books ever published in French. In 2006, I saw that WikiLeaks needed to be, if not completely anonymous, then pseudo-anonymous—ideally publishing under a collective allonym such as Bourbaki. First of all, as a young organization publishing very controversial material, we didn’t want to be more of a target than we needed to be. While I was publicly a member of the advisory board, that is different than being the editor in chief or one of the principal writers. I also wanted to remove ego as much as possible from what we were doing, to make sure people were writing and conducting their work for reasons other than ego. Also, as an organization that did not yet have a reputation, we needed a personalized voice to quickly get a reputation. If we pulled our collective efforts into a name like Jack Bourbaki, or another collective allonym, our personality would quickly gain a reputation because of the relatively high level of our output.
But within a month of our coming to the public stage there was a leak of one of our internal mailing lists by a New York architect named John Young, who had been involved in his own primitive, but aggressive publishing project. John saw from the press publicity that WikiLeaks would become significant in the field and might threaten his own project. But it was quite a revelation to have our own leak very early on. And I thought to myself, well, this is very interesting—now we get to taste our own medicine. And actually, this medicine tasted quite nice, in that what I saw was a group of very committed, idealistic people whose internal dialogue was even stronger than their external dialogue. So, there was no hypocrisy in what we were doing, precisely the opposite—we were even more principled and idealistic internally than we were externally.
Early on, I already had an existing reputation, and I spent that reputational capital to get volunteer labor from good people. But when the press started sniffing around, very curious as to who some of the principle people in this project were, some of my friends, rather unfortunately, said, well, it’s Julian, and he deserves all the credit. I could’ve shot them! And then I saw that, by trying to engineer a position in which I was not seen as an authority figure for the organization, we ended up with people who were not involved in the organization at all claiming to represent it. And so we started suffering from reputational opportunism, which we had to stamp out. We also grew more politically powerful with many supporters all over the world. So we no longer needed anonymity for ourselves in quite the same way—I still needed locational anonymity for security reasons, but my name being known was not so important anyhow, given that the information was already floating around for anyone who really cared to look.
HUO: This locational anonymity has caused you to move through many different places, and in interviews with you, there is a great deal of discussion about your nomadism going back much earlier. You seemed to be traveling the world with literally just your backpack and two notebooks, just living in people’s houses.
JA: Well, I’ve been traveling all over the world on my own since I was twenty-five, as soon as I had enough money to do it. But for WikiLeaks, I have been consistently on the move since the beginning of 2007. Up until the latest problem with the Pentagon, which started around June/July of last year, it wasn’t a matter of being on the run. It was more about following opportunity and ensuring that I wasn’t in one place long enough to allow for a proper surveillance operation, which involves getting inside and installing video cameras, monitoring all outgoing electronic signals, and so forth. Such operations take time and planning, so if you’re a resource-constrained activist organization facing the prospect of surveillance by some of the most advanced surveillance agencies, such as the National Security Agency and GCHQ, you only have two methods to resist it: one, changing the location of your headquarters with some frequency, and two, complete geographic isolation.
Taken from http://e-flux.com/
by Hans Ulrich Obrist
One of the documents used by the revolutionaries in Cairo is quite interesting to consider. After Mubarak fell, we witnessed an extraordinary change in rhetoric from Hillary Clinton and the White House, from “Mubarak is a great guy and he should stay,” to “Isn’t it great what the Egyptian people have done? And isn’t it great how the United States did it for them?” Likewise, there is an idea that these great American companies, Facebook and Twitter, gave the Egyptian people this revolution and liberated Egypt. But the most popular guide for the revolutionaries was a document that spread throughout the soccer clubs in Egypt, which themselves were the most significant revolutionary community groups. If you read this document, you see that on the first page it says to be careful not to use Twitter and Facebook as they are being monitored. On the last page: do not use Twitter or Facebook. That is the most popular guide for the Egyptian revolution. And then we see Hillary Clinton trying to say that this was a revolution by Twitter and Facebook.
Taken from e-flux.com/
by Hans Ulrich Obrist
Hans Ulrich Obrist: How did it all begin?
Julian Assange: I grew up in Australia in the 1970s. My parents were in the theatre, so I lived everywhere—in over fifty different towns, attending thirty-seven different schools. Many of these towns were in rural environments, so I lived like Tom Sawyer—riding horses, exploring caves, fishing, diving, and riding my motorcycle. I lived a classical boyhood in this regard. But there were other events, such as in Adelaide, where my mother was involved in helping to smuggle information out of Maralinga, the British atomic bomb test site in the outback. She and I and a courier were detained one night by the Australian Federal Police, who told her that it could be said that she was an unfit mother to be keeping such company at 2:00 a.m., and that she had better stay out of politics if she didn’t want to hear such things.
I was very curious as a child, always asking why, and always wanting to overcome barriers to knowing, which meant that by the time I was around fifteen I was breaking encryption systems that were used to stop people sharing software, and then, later on, breaking systems that were used to hide information in government computers. Australia was a very provincial place before the internet, and it was a great delight to be able to get out, intellectually, into the wider world, to tunnel through it and understand it. For someone who was young and relatively removed from the rest of the world, to be able to enter the depths of the Pentagon’s Eighth Command at the age of seventeen was a liberating experience. But our group, which centered on the underground magazine I founded, was raided by the Federal Police. It was a big operation. But I thought that I needed to share this wealth that I had discovered about the world with people, to give knowledge to people, and so following that I set up the first part of the internet industry in Australia. I spent a number of years bringing the internet to the people through my free speech ISP and then began to look for something with a new intellectual challenge.
HUO: So something was missing.
JA: Something was missing. This led me to using cryptography to protect human rights, in novel ways, and eventually as a result of what I was doing in mathematics and in physics and political activism, things seemed to come together and show that there was a limit to what I was doing—and what the rest of the world was doing. There was not enough information available in our common intellectual record to explain how the world really works. These were more the feelings and process, but they suggested a bigger question, with a stronger philosophical answer for explaining what is missing. We are missing one of the pillars of history. There are three types of history. Type one is knowledge. Its creation is subsidized, and its maintenance is subsidized by an industry or lobby: things like how to build a pump that pumps water, how to create steel and build other forms of alloys, how to cook, how to remove poisons from food, etc. But because this knowledge is part of everyday industrial processes, there is an economy that keeps such information around and makes use of it. So the work of preserving it is already done.
HUO: It’s kind of implicit.
JA: There is a system that maintains it. And there’s another type of information in our intellectual record. (This is a term I interchange freely with “historical record.” When I say “historical record,” I don’t mean what happened a hundred years ago, but all that we know, including what happened last week.) This second type of information no longer has an economy behind it. It has already found its way into the historical record through a state of affairs which no longer exists. So it’s just sitting there. It can be slowly rotting away, slowly vanishing. Books go out of print, and the number of copies available decreases. But it is a slow process, because no one is actively trying to destroy this type of information.
And then there is the type-three information that is the focus of my attention now. This is the information that people are actively working to prevent from entering into the record. Type-three information is suppressed before publication or after publication. If type-three information is spread around, there are active attempts to take it out of circulation. Because these first two pillars of our intellectual record either have an economy behind them, or there are no active attempts to destroy them, they do not call to me as loudly. But, this third pillar of information has been denied to all of us throughout the history of the world. So, if you understand that civilized life is built around understanding the world, understanding each other, understanding human institutions and so forth, then our understanding has a great hole in it, which is type-three history. And we want a just and civilized world—and by civilized I don’t mean industrialized, but one where people don’t do dumb things, where they engage in more intelligent behavior.
HUO: Do you mean a more complex behavior?
JA: Right, more complex and layered behavior. There are many analogies for what I mean by that, but I’ll just give a simple one, which is the water ritual. If you sit down with a friend, and there’s a pitcher of water on the table, and there are two glasses, then you pour the other person’s water before your own. This is a very simple ritual. But, this is better than the obvious step, which is to pour your own water before the other person’s. If we can see a few steps ahead, the water ritual is a more intelligent way to distribute water at a table. That’s what I mean by civilization—we gradually build up all these processes and understandings so we don’t need to make bad moves with each other or the natural world. So with regard to all this suppressed information, we’ve never had a proper understanding of it because it has never entered our intellectual record, and if we can find out about how complex human institutions actually behave, then we have a chance to build civilized behavior on top of it. This is why I say that all existing political theories are bankrupt, because you cannot build a meaningful theory without knowledge of the world that you’re building the theory about. Until we have an understanding of how the world actually works, no political theory can actually be complete enough to demand a course of action.
HUO: So that clearly maps out how you came to where you are today. Since many people now refer to you as one of their heroes, I was wondering who inspired you at the beginning.
JA: There have been heroic acts that I have appreciated, or some systems of thought, but I think it’s better to say that there are some people I had an intellectual rapport with, such as Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr. That comes when you’re doing mathematics. The mathematics of Heisenberg and Bohr is a branch of natural philosophy. They developed a system or epistemology for understanding quantum mechanics, but encoded within this intellectual tradition are methods to think clearly about cause and effect. When reading mathematics you must take your mind through each intellectual step. In this case, the steps of Heisenberg or Bohr. Because good proofs are very creative, it takes the full energies of your mind to reach through one step to another. Your whole mind must be engaged in a particular state of thought, and you realize that this mental arrangement is the same as the author’s at the moment of writing, so the feeling of mental similarity and rapport becomes strong. Quantum mechanics and its modern evolution left me with a theory of change and how to properly understand how one thing causes another. My interest was then in reversing this thought process and adapting it to another realm. We have an end state that we want, and I looked at all the changes that are needed to get to this end state from where we are now. I developed this analogy to explain how information flows around the world to cause particular actions. If the desired end state is a world that is more just, then the question is: What type of actions produce a world that is more just? And what sort of information flows lead to those actions? And then, where do these information flows originate? Once you understand this, you can see it is not just starting somewhere and ending elsewhere, but rather that cause and effect is a loop; here we are today, and we want to create an end state as a result of action. We act and by doing so bring the world into a new state of affairs, which we can consider our new starting point, and so this process of observe, think, act continues.
HUO: Science, mathematics, quantum theory—all of these come together in your work. If one reads about your beginnings before WikiLeaks, one finds that you were not only instrumental in bringing the internet to Australia, but that you were also one of the pioneering, early hackers. You co-authored this book called Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier. I’m curious about your hacker background, and this book as well, since it seems to be a sort of fundament on which a lot of things were based afterwards.
JA: In my late teenage years, up until the age of twenty, I was a computer hacker and a student in Melbourne. And I had an underground magazine called International Subversive. We were part of an international community of underground computer hackers. This was before the internet connected continents, but we had other ways of making international connections. So each country had its own internet, of a sort, but the world as a whole was intellectually balkanized into distinct systems and networks.
HUO: Like The WELL in the States.
JA: Right, that kind of thing, or ARPANET, which connected universities in the States. And something called x.25, run by the telecommunications companies, that banks and major companies used to link systems together. We, the underground community, sometimes bumped into each other deep inside these computer networks. Or we would meet at underground watering holes like QSD in France or ALTOS in Germany. But it was a very small community, with perhaps only twenty people at the elite level that could move across the globe freely and with regularity. The community was small and involved and active just before the internet, but then crossed into the embryonic internet, which was still not available to people outside of university research departments, US military contractors, and the pentagon. It was a delightful international playground of scientists, hackers, and power. For someone who wanted to learn about the world, for someone who was developing their own philosophy of power, it was a very interesting time. Eventually our phones were tapped and there were multiple, simultaneous raids that resulted in close to six years of legal proceedings. The book covers my case, but I deliberately minimized my role so we could pull in the whole community, in the United States, in Europe, in England, and in Australia.
HUO: it also created a kind of connection between all these different local scenes? At that time, you were also known as an ethical hacker.
JA: Right, though I actually think most computer hackers back then were ethical, since that was the standard of the best people involved. Remember, this was an intellectual frontier, and it had very young people in it. It needed young people for the degree of mental adaptation necessary. Because it was an intellectual frontier, we had a range of people who were very bright, though not necessarily formally educated.
HUO: Was there a connection to America, to the beginnings of The WELL, to people like Stewart Brand, Bruce Sterling, or Kevin Kelly?
JA: There was almost no connection. The WELL had influenced some parts of the computer hacking community in the United States, but we were deep underground, so most of our connections didn’t rise above the light and we were proud of that discipline. Those who knew did not speak. Those who spoke did not know. The result was a distorted US-centric perception of the underground. In the United States, in particular, you had quite marginal computer hackers engaging in conferences but the people engaged in the really serious business, because of the risks involved, were almost completely invisible until they were arrested. The entry points into it were the bulletin boards—these were the central places, places like P-80 in the United States, and Pacific Island in Australia, which had public cover for a private side. But then, once reaching a certain level, people only used completely underground bulletin boards. There were on x.25 networks places like ALTOS in Hamburg where we would go to talk. ALTOS was one of the first, if not the first, multi-party chat system, but in order to get into it, you had to have x.25 credentials. While some bank workers and telecommunications workers would have access to these, teenagers would only have them if they were decent computer hackers, or if their fathers worked for the telecommunications company.
HUO: In a previous issue of e-flux journal I discussed a lot of the history of anarchists and piracy with Hakim Bey, who mentioned that as an anarchist he has never fetishized democracy, saying that “democracy, to be interesting for an anarchist, has to be direct democracy.”When you worked as a hacker, were you inspired by anarchistic ideas?
JA: I wasn’t personally. The anarchists’ tradition revolving around figures like Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Peter Kropotkin was not something on my horizon. My personal political inspirations were people like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, anti-Stalinists in The God That Failed, and US radical traditions all the way up to the Black Panthers.
HUO: Liberation movements.
JA: Yes, the various liberation movements—in their emotional tone and force of will, not in intellectual content. That tradition really spread into some other things I did later, like the Cypherpunks, in 1993 and ‘94. 1994 was probably the peak of the Cypherpunk micro movement. Cypherpunk is a wordplay on Cyberpunk, the latter was always viewed as nonsense by real computer hackers—we were the living Cyberpunks while others were just talking about it, making artistic pastiche on our reality. We viewed the better books as a nice showing of the flag to the general public, but like most causes that are elitist and small, we had contempt for bowdlerized popularizations. The Cypherpunks were a combination of people from California, Europe, and Australia. We saw that we could change the nature of the relationship between the individual and the state using cryptography. I wouldn’t say that we came from a libertarian political tradition as much as from a libertarian temperament, with particular individuals who were capable of thinking in abstractions, but wanting to make them real. We had many who were comfortable with higher mathematics, cryptography, engineering or physics who were interested in politics and felt that the relationship between the individual and the state should be changed and that the abuse of power by states needed to be checked, in some manner, by individuals.
HUO: Is this the fundament of WikiLeaks?
JA: Yes and no. There are many different intellectual strands that ended up in WikiLeaks that are unrelated to ideas swirling around the Cypherpunk community. But the use of mathematics and programming to create a check on the power of government, this was really the common value in the Cypherpunk movement.
HUO: And you were one of the protagonists?
JA: I was. There wasn’t really a founding member or a founding philosophy but there were some initial principles, people like John Young, Eric Huges, and Timothy C. May from California. We were a discussion group like the Vienna school of logical positivism. From our interactions certain ideas and values took form. The fascination for us was simple. It was not just the intellectual challenge of making and breaking these cryptographic codes and connecting people together in novel ways. Rather, our will came from a quite extraordinary notion of power, which was that with some clever mathematics you can, very simply—and this seems complex in abstraction but simple in terms of what computers are capable of—enable any individual to say no to the most powerful state. So if you and I agree on a particular encryption code, and it is mathematically strong, then the forces of every superpower brought to bear on that code still cannot crack it. So a state can desire to do something to an individual, yet it is simply not possible for the state to do it—and in this sense, mathematics and individuals are stronger than superpowers.
Taken from e-flux.com/
“People are pasting their own photos and covering all the walls where Ben Ali used to have his portrait so on VERY symbolic places.. it s incredible to be witness of the place of Art in a Revolution”… JR
Taken from woostercollective.com/
JR, a French street artist, uses his camera to show the world its true face. He makes his audacious TED Prize wish: to use art to turn the world inside out. A funny, moving talk about art and who we are. Learn more at insideoutproject.net.