forth year: 2001/2002 series of lectures: lectures / conversations with lecturers / lecturers

course for curators of contemporary art: course participants / study excursions / program collaborators / exhibition / course participant's texts


Course participants
Media is a Weapon, Use it!

Already during the first phase of planning the concept of the exhibition the title of the theoretical part of the World of Art program-Strategies of Presentation presented an important reference, therefore, we focused on the activism phenomena as a culturally and socio-politically engaged operation within the art system. Because we were aware of the vastness of the territory of the chosen theme and the time limits we limited the focus of our interests to projects which include a tactical(1) use of information and communication technology as well as electronic (mass) media.

Today media no longer represents merely a means of spreading information, for the various media are becoming tools, if not already weapons in the hands of individuals and civil initiatives for operations and actions that are socially oriented, culturally - artistically rebellious or politically subversive. As stated by David Garcia and Geert Lovink tactical media are 'the media of crisis, criticism and opposition.' (2)
Within the framework of the exhibition the chosen projects were used mainly as representative models of the possible parasitism, violently claiming and subverting the dominant systems of the contemporary information society. The title of the exhibition itself, the paraphrase of Brecht's notorious statement 'The book is a weapon, take it in your hands!' brings back to life the distant calls of Bertold Brecht(3) as regards the changed role of the radio from a distributive to a communication role, at which we would like to draw special attention to the fact that every receiver is also a potential transmitter(4), or, to be more precise that every user is also a potential distributor. Most forms of mass media communication depend on technology, or, one could say that in most cases technology is already implied in the word 'media'(5). The problem of the transformation from a distribution media to a communication one is not of a technical nature but of a political and/or economic nature. 'Also, the use of the chosen media and the way we use it is not self-evident or incidental'(6) rather, it is closely linked to the development and increase in technologies, which is in turn dependent on the actual needs and demands of the specific social and institutionalised organisms. The second half of the 20th Century was strongly marked by the revolution of information and communication technologies, which are in most cases the result of research and experimental work of the military industry and scientific research institutions. The process of handing over the technologically more complex and strategically useful systems therefore takes place from the military and scientific elite to the academic and institutionalised circles, into the economic and civil sphere and only then into the domain of art.

The infiltration of new information and communication technologies into all fields of social life is radically changing our everyday life. New technologies are not undermining the older technologic achievements, but are connecting with them; thus they are expanding and fulfilling the possibilities of using the new technologies in combination with the old ones. The primacy over the television and radio frequencies, the Internet, satellite systems and cable networks is still in the hands of the military, multi-national corporations and media conglomerates. Their investment into telecommunications gives them the power, influence and overview of the information transfer within the signal territory. Amidst artists, activists, hackers, etc., this has (apart from the price accessibility of the contemporary technologies to the broader public) encouraged research and development of alternative, creative ways of using new and old technologies, improving new applications and experimenting. And this has helped them form a critical view of the political, social, economic and cultural consequences introduced by the technological changes.

Marko Peljhan deals with the issues of the supremacy of power structures and capital over the global information infrastructure. He presents the field of operation of the electromagnetic spectre as a part of the global social and political environment. The Electronic Media Monitoring (EMM) project, shown at the exhibition with the documentary material is a by-product of the broader set and more complex Makrolab (7) project and includes a communication console equipped with satellite antennae, decoders, radio and computer equipment which enables monitoring, mapping and intercepting all kinds of telecommunication signals in the electromagnetic field. 'Espionage' of this kind offers help at developing and forming new forms of resistance and establishing a state of realisation of the global community.

In the archive of the intercepted audio and video materials we can find the documentary video Spin(8), by Brian Springer, which draws attention to the possibilities of electronic rebellion and guerrilla actions with the use of satellite technology. Most people use satellite antennae for viewing regular television channels, while Springer takes advantage of the standard consumer satellite TV system and catches various satellite feeds, thus intercepting raw, not worked upon video material(9). Springer took advantage of the public access to the media potential and has thus shown the close interactions between politics and media as well as the background of constructing media images.

The problem of intervening with the privacy of the individual and endangering his safety is exposed by the group Monochrome. The monitoring of all forms of digital communication, which is enabled by Echelon, the global intelligence system, is joined by the increasingly popular use of CCTV (Closed Circuit TV) in town centres and shopping centres, while companies are increasingly using electronic systems which enable the checking and monitoring of their employees. With the use of a hidden camera and microphone, placed under one of the tables in the neighbouring bar, and with the possibility of monitoring and listening in the gallery, the Observation project discusses the problem of total control, which remains the privilege of the highest state institutions and corporations.

As a reply to the established mass communication media in the service of the prevailing ideology, the so-called alternative media have been emerging during the past ten years. These forms of media offer civil initiatives, political activists, cultural commandos, social actors and others the space for expressing and spreading ideas, contents and critics of the current social and political state. Today, direct actions and protest gatherings are joined by new methods of (activist) operation and education of the broader public, and these methods include also new technologies. In the same way that the Tactical Mobile Robot programme, which operates within the frame of DARPA Advanced Technology Office, is developing multifunctional robots for various tasks (for instance checking the terrain and data collection for military purposes, help for police and rescue units, etc.) the Institute for Applied Autonomy has developed a remote controlled robot GraffitiWriter, which can handle five linearly spread cans of colour spray. This mobile platform enables the safely placed operator to spread subversive messages from within an urban environment. This is a social experiment, which tests the capability of robot technology at the creation of a spectacle which would change the public belief. Do-it-yourself is a principle, which dictates a creative approach at the development of alternative possibilities of technology use.

Prompts on Stations, a project by the group Pholks & more, is a guide through telecommunications, with the emphasis on the telephone systems and its alternative use. The reader of the manual, dictionary, ethical codex and advice gathered on a diskette and accessible on their homepage(10) is not understood merely as an user of telephone services, but also as a potential active member creating low-budget innovative solutions, which show the possibility to change individual apparatuses and their components.

The role of the Internet is no longer limited merely to the global communication tool, with which it is possible to search, gather and exchange information, publish publications, form virtual interest groups, plan and co-ordinate actions, but it is becoming increasingly used as a tool for direct actions. According to Dorothy E. Denning(11) such actions include also attacks which try to disable the normal operation of web sites: virtual blockades, automatic e-mail bombs, invasions into computer systems, computer viruses, etc. Denning divided the types of operation into three main activities: activism, hactivism(12) and cyber-terrorism. While the first is perceived as a category of non-problematical use of the Internet, the remaining two categories have become a synonym for computer crime. In Great Britain the Terrorism Act 2000(13) is in effect as from February this year, and this is an act which offers a very broad definition of terrorism. According to this act anyone who 'causes serious disturbances in the electronic system' with the intention to endanger or influence the government or the general public, and performs this act in order to support 'a political, religious or ideologic principle' is defined as a terrorist. Apart from enabling the police and security services to gather and store information on the world wide web the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act also gives them the authority to access the key for coded material without a warrant(14). Paul Mobbs, a member of the British hactivist group electrohippies collective, states the non-understanding of the very basics of the problem as a reason why the aforementioned acts even reached the parliament(15) This is added also by the slightly crooked understanding of the definition in the media and amidst politicians(16), the mocking definitions which are further evoked by this word and artificial exaggeration of fictive threats, which hactivism as a movement supposedly represents to the informational and communication technology industries. Mobbs defines hactivism as 'anything that can be defined through the context'(17). It proclaims itself as the free and open source software movement or as a movement which promotes the idea of electronic civil disobedience and transforms it into direct actions against virtual subjects of the corporations or government bodies on the world wide web, etc. In any event, Mobbs sees it to be of key importance for the understanding of various groups and their perception of the Internet, which should represent the first step in the development and influence upon the public consciousness, which can create a new environment, where a realisation of social changes will be possible(18)

The battle for survival in the flood of commercialisation, monitoring and censorship of the Internet and other media is fought by a number of activist groups. etoy is an artistic collective which operates exclusively on the Internet. Their virtual actions draw attention to the dark spaces and the weak points of the world wide web. In one of them, digital hijack, thousands of Internet users were kidnapped. With the subversive use of the global search engines they have disclosed the possibility of manipulating the international data network. The only artefacts that can be purchased of the etoy group are shares (etoy.SHARE-CERTIFICATES), the owners of which (as shareholders) co-operate in the artistic project etoy. Today, etoy represents the collective rebellious spirit, which helped in the victory against the Internet giant eToys. eToys demanded from the etoy group, even though etoy existed before the establishment of the company that they shut down their homepage.

The group (r)Tark decided to get involved, so that the misuse of power and the exploitation of the large corporations would not become a regular practice for achieving their goals. (r)Tark took over the structure and function of a mediation agency, which takes advantage of 'the limited responsibility'. As a financial mediator amongst the executors of individual projects, ideas and investors, (r)Tark supports the sabotage of corporate products. For example, under the protection of (r)Tark, which takes over all responsibilities for the execution of all projects, the saboteurs swapped the voices of the toy figures Barbie and GI Joe, introduced a homo-erotic content into the computer game Simcopter, etc. The advantage of such a manner of operation lies in the (alongside minimum financial investment and time for planning the action) quickly gained and spread publicity. Even though (r)Tark uses sensationalistic approaches, which draw attention of the media and the general public, it also sees regular publishing of texts, issuing video materials (Bringing IT to YOU!), co-operation at conferences and informing the potential investors and saboteurs as regards the current projects over their homepage as an absolutely necessary method of anti-corporate activism.

In a time when information is gaining on its strategic importance and power depends on the possibility to access information, new methods of warfare are emerging, methods which are based on the 'knowledge is power' principle. The potential held by the information technology as a 'info-weapon' in the 'info-war' is understood by the war analysts and activists alike. In the article 'Cyberwar is coming'!(19) the authors John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt draw attention to two concepts of information warfare: cyberwar and netwar. As regards the new organisational principles and the use of technologic interfaces, cyberwar denotes large changes within warfare. It is based on the gathering of information on the opponent and disturbing and destroying the communication systems. In netwar it is important to '...destroy, damage and modify that which the target public knows or thinks it knows about itself and the world surrounding it. Netwar can be focused on the public or elite opinion or even on both. It can include public diplomatic measures, advertising and psychological campaigns, political and cultural subversions, involvement in local media, infiltration into computer networks and databases as well as the promotion of dissident and opposition movements and ideas through computer networks.'(20) Inter-disciplinarity, independence, innovativeness and social engagement are the characteristics of media activist organisations, artistic collectives, civil initiatives, social movements, computer tribal communities, etc., all of which categorically denounce the passive posture towards the actual social and political issues and are most commonly the main users of the methods of network rebellion against the totalitarian institutions of power, the consumer society and the corporate colonisation of the globe. The fast development and vastness of the information and communication technologies demand a fast reaction of the multi-national users' network, who with (artistic) experiments and simulations, critically reflect the use of technological innovations. Their operation is recognised as a disturbance within the system, however, they represent the key factor at the establishment of a global critical public.



The term as used in our context was defined by David Garcia and Geert
Lovink in their manifesto The ABC of Tactical Media. 'Tactical media is
what happens when the cheap do-it-yourself media, accessible due to the
revolution of the consumer electronics and wide spread forms of distribution
(from public access and cable networks to the Internet) is used by groups
and individuals who feel threatened or excluded from the broader culture.
Tactical media not only report on the events but also, because they are
never unbias, help to form them and this is what makes them differ from
the mainstream media the most.'

(2) ibid.

(3) Bertold Brech, Theory of the Radio, in Hans Magnus Enzensberger, 'Constituents of a Theory of the Media'. in book Electronic Media and Technoculture, ed. by John Thornton Caldwell, Rutgers, The State University, 2000, p.53

(4) Hans Magnus Enzensberger, 'Constituents of a Theory of the Media', in Electronic Media and Technoculture, ed. by John Thornton Caldwell, Rutgers, The State University, 2000, p.53

(6) ibid.

(7) Makrolab is an autonomous, modularly conceived laboratory that, even though it is isolated and placed in extreme natural conditions, can enable long lasting habitation and work to six people with its own energy source and production of food. The operational part of the Makrolab project is represented by scientific and technologic tools, systems and expert knowledge which enables the reflection of three global dynamic systems of the contemporary society: weather and climate, migrations, telecommunications. You can find more on the project at

(9) Taken from: Brian Springer, 'Satellite feeds' in Ladomir-Faktura: Fourth dimension - The contact dimension!, Materials, Project Atol, Ljubljana, 1st edition, June 1996

(11) Dorothy E. Denning, Activism, Hacktivism and Cyberterrorism: The Internet as a Tool for Influencing Foreign Policy, Georgetown University

(12) There are numerous definitions which define hactivism, however the most common one is that hactivism is 'merging hacker knowledge with activistic practices' , 'the intertwining of the evolution of the computer activism with the politicisation of hackers' or 'the evolution of activism in a wired global community'.

(13) Abstract, commentary and sources are available at the GreenNet Civil Society Internet Rights Project homepage.

(14) From: "Ricardo Domiguez"
Subject: <nettime> Hackers: the political heroes of cyberspace + URL target for NeTstrike
Date: Mon, 12 Mar 2001 09:01:46 -0500

(15) Paola Di Mario, Content-Wire, 19 March 2001

(16) In the media it is quite common to find the wrong use of the word hacker instead of cracker, which was opposed on numerous occasions by the hactivist groups. In the computer vocabulary the word hacker represents an in depth understanding of computer systems and networks and the ability to create, modify and improve such systems, while the word cracker defines taking advantage of expert knowledge on computer systems for illegal purposes.

(18) ibid.

(19) John Arquila and David Ronfeldt, 'Cyberwar is coming!',, original published in Comparative Stategy, Volume 12, No. 2. pp. 141 - 165

(20) ibid