The dark net is for most people not primarily associated with arts. As an anonymous corner of the Internet accessible only through special browsers, it does not have the best reputation even in these times of mass surveillance, where journalists or political activists can use these services to rally against oppression. The latest large scale art project to shed light on the dark web is the automated online shopping bot Random Darknet Shopper by Mediengruppe Bitnik, which goes shopping on the deep web and attracted attention from the media for its illegal purchases.
The web artists Dina Karadžić and Vedran Gligo now use the dark net’s principles to realize the exhibition project Pivilion for their Schlosspost web residency on the topic »Decentralization of Internet Art.« Pivilion is a decentralized and uncensored user-curated web art gallery on the dark net, which runs on Raspberry Pi’s – tiny and affordable computers that you can use to learn programming. Their concept is as much about freedom and free education as it is about the collaborative potential of online communities. But what is the art scene on the dark net like? An interview with the artists
CH: How does your project work and how did the idea develop?
Dina Karadžić & Vedran Gligo: The concept of the Pivilion project is developing a network of independent gallery-nodes, hosted by anyone on their RPis, and distributed through clearnet and Tor.
The drive to create a custom node-web space was to help cultural workers/creators emancipate themselves from the structures of existing online communities, and to test the omnia mea mecum porto possibilities in the digital domain and the nomadic logic in a highly networked time. The idea sprouted from various interactions in our local artist community, which has recently made a stronger turn towards independent practices. This situation is highly receptive to mutual support in the development of diverse collaborative practices in order to keep their/our proactivity on a do-able level.
The aim of the gallery-host idea was to create a nomadic free virtual environment that connects art-oriented users (both creators and consumers) by offering a participatory model of interaction. The base methodology of achieving this is allowing less experienced and community-driven users-curators to actively approach free network technologies while utilizing all the upsides of net tech, promoting connectability, privacy, and maximum freedom of curating content (while the advanced users are welcome to re-create their own virtual Pi-based galleries).
By transferring the gallery sites from the blogs and domains to a physical gadget of the Pi, Pivilion engages and connects users on two levels of interaction – on the virtual and physical level and the ideological and technical. Our focus of interest with the Pivilion is to help further concepts of freedom and free education and spark collaborative potentials of one’s communities.
The idea came to life during Dina’s residency in net.cube at G-MK in Zagreb/Croatia. She had her own web work that required hosting on a local network during a presentation. The Raspberry Pi seemed ideal for the project. We wanted to make the project accessible from the Internet and for that we needed to circumvent closed incoming ports that disallowed us from running services from inside the gallery. Tor hidden services pretty much do that out-of-the box. The rest seemed logical – I powered up one of hacklab01’s RPis and first made it a web server. Then installed Tor and set it up – the whole thing just worked and the setup didn’t take much time at all.
CH: What is an art scene on the dark net like?
DK/VG: We’d say that due to the (positive) intimate aspect of independent/general public node networks, we don’t know what real petite obscure networked art scenes look like. We haven’t stumbled upon a larger collaborative scene articulated towards the general public because dark net is (despite being a catchy dark spot) a generic term for a mass of individual and ephemeral information nodes that are not homogeneous and permanently structured unlike the global corporate networks we know.
Most of the art dealing with deep web logic is based on a physical (often institutional) reality and is establishing connections to the specific sociologic of the un-indexed and/or independent networks by revealing some of their practices and creating a kind of a mixed cultural protocol.
I would say the main problem for this is that »art« is something unexpected, hard to confine to one meaning and almost impossible to create a globally relevant aura around if it is not popularized/indexed in a way. Where would you go search to connect to the dark web? The keywording and meta of one work, apart from being unindexed, can be completely custom and off track of what you were looking for in the first place due to the often metaphorical gestures of artistic expression.
We hope Pivilion will be a constructive contribution to reversing misconceptions forged around Tor and illegality of privacy in general, but our project basically only utilizes the Tor network in order to build new possibilities by circumventing common public WiFi blockades and ensuring Internet access for nodes in the most uncommon places.
CH: How do you work together on the project? What is your professional/artistic background?
DK/VG: Actually, we just do our normal working routine. We’ve been collaborating online for a while now and have a lot of projects. We mostly chat on Facebook about everything. That is both good and bad because cluttered social networking keeps you connected, but steals away from your focus very easily. We tried to move off that and other channels to Together.js which is intended to be an online collaboration tool. We installed it on the web residency blog, hoping to get more people involved but they’re mostly shy and don’t want to interact with us, so we naturally switched back to other channels. (But we’re still there; feel free to txt us.)
The work is split into two parts – the tech background and the visual representation. Vedran does anything techy and anything you can see is Dina’s domain.
We basically have a similar POW, despite coming from completely different backgrounds.
V. is a DIY artist / hacker based in hacklab01.org in AKC Attack in Zagreb, Croatia. He dabbles in glitch art and loves wrecking havoc on various formats. Real life passions include but are not limited to frontend web development, GNU / Linux promotion and system administration, and hosting free public workshops in those fields. Notable recent projects: /’fu:bar/ gltich art exhibition fubar.space (big plans for 2016. heavily underway) & Glitch/ Databend – education in glitch art glitch-databend.tumblr.com
DK: I’m an artist (MFA in sculpture) and the artistic director of Format C, an artist organization with a focus of interest on contemporary artistic research and creative collaborative production.
I’m actively working in transdisciplinary and independent educational practices and exhibiting in the field of visual, digital, and net art. I have worked in the field of stop-mo animation, custom character design, and freelance illustration.
Apart from my own practice, I have managed several NGO projects with my colleagues in the past year; all of them art-based, but community and commons driven: Inquiry Inc. ARC; /’fu:bar/ glitch art expo; Glitch /Databend; free_art_-_collab (an embassy at The Wrong – New Digital Art Biennale), amongst others.
In 2016, these activities are moving beyond one-off events – one glitch art event is in its second iteration this September; free_art_-_collab was »only« the first module of many »free art« discursive expo concepts, and G/D has proved itself to be a continuing concept and a meeting point for people with diverse ideological, technical, and artistic positions in new media.
We’re working with other people, but most of the new and fun stuff we’ve initiated and done together (/’fu:bar/, G/D, the initial development of timeCAPsule concept social network in the production of net.cube project, Visual condensations web scraping and infovis workshop, D-Day : Design Archive). And we have more ideas for the near future. (Hire us to do fun OCD stuff. ^^)
CH: How will you engage other users to open up their own online gallery? If I had a Raspberry Pi, what would I have to do?
DK/VG: Once the Pivilion project is presentable (it will never be complete), we plan on making a social network campaign to engage users and form a community. We would love Schlosspost’s and NETRO’s help with that. The point of our decentralization concept is to provide content-makers and content-providers with a starting point skill-set to be able to conceive networks beyond the mainstream internet and regular systemic paradigms.
We feel like there is a big community of people valuing opportunities, providing them with nomadic micro-areas of power, and we plan to make the project as open as possible, like any other open-source project. So we’re hoping for multiple levels of user engagement.
The end user (content creator) of a Raspberry Pi can choose two paths. One is to simply download the complete image from our site and follow the simple instructions which include connecting to the Pivilion, uploading art, getting in contact with the main site (us), setting up the connection, and opening the gallery door.
The other option is to follow the tutorials on our website to install all the required software and make their own Pivilion from the default Raspberry OS and learn how it all works »under the hood« in the process.
While setting up your own Pivilion, you’d probably acquire a nice understanding of what Raspbian is, what a protocol is, what the difference between a Tor browser and a regular Mozilla is, what a terminal can do, etc.
CH: You will be setting up a final exhibition project at the end of the residency. What art will you show? How will you select it and how will it be visible inside and outside the dark net?
DK/VG: Our plan is to wrap up our Schlosspost residency with an announcement of the first working public Pivilion exhibition. We are considering several great variations and it’s a tough choice. We would like to keep focus on what our residency was about – namely creating a free environment – so we’ll probably be going with a collaborative concept of inviting a guest curator (or a team of them) and giving up our strict control over Pivilion immediately.
Regarding the distribution and visibility of the exhibitions, the Pivilion clearnet site has a »normal« domain; it will have social network pages, and all the normal things that go with it.
It will list future exhibitions’ .onions accompanied by their short descriptions. In order to visit a featured active dark net gallery device, user-visitors need to access the Tor network (i.e. by using the Tor browser) to get to the content hosted on Pivillion nodes.
Even before the official gallery opening, we’ll feature a collaborative test run during our telepresence in The Artist is Online group expo at Solitude’s project space Römerstraße 2 A on April 2 2016, with a performative P2P processual demonstration.
CH: Is there any similar project or community related to your idea? Who have you met during your residency so far?
DK/VG: To tell you the truth, we don’t really know of a similar project. We did do a Google search to find something like this but to no avail. There is a lot of really interesting and perfectly articulated art dealing with ideas related to the deep web, anons, peer-to-peer networking, but art mostly finds a poetic way to communicate a higher point. Our project is a bit off because we want to develop a working code of a utilitarian concept that would broaden the areas and ways in which art can be created and distributed. I believe Pivilion’s transdiciplinarity puts it somewhere in-between an attempt to »hack« conventions and implementing the idea of cultural decentralization and independence, regardless of your background or formal education.
We usually do non-institutional, »off-the-major-grid,« and free community projects, so we believe a lot of artists and authors are basically doing the same thing in different ways – shamelessly hacking culture. (<3)
Currently we are in the process of networking with the Solitude community, both project coordinators and associates, past and current and fellows as well. NETRO’s curatorial concept and the project selection creates a fantastic opportunity to directly connect to artists who are contemplating ideas on the same frequency, only from a slightly different position.
The concept of a web residency is a major win, imho. From a project point of view, it’s a lightweight support which catalyzes further development of work, which is the most important thing in order to get it actually done. Sometimes it’s necessary to change base and work with people, but teleactive work is a beast of its own, with a lot of upsides for the authors’ work in today’s economy of presence.
As for the recent visitors of pivilion.net, we were hoping to meet random people interested in the project. (Don’t be so shy; we only bite IRL! ^^)
CH: What is going to happen with the project after the residency?
DK/VG: The project is actually kicking off for real after we wrap up the residency. This period is an incubated build up of Pivilion’s capacities, and the post-Postschloss period has even more potential for the engagement of the community. So we hope to be seeing Pivilion galleries soon after the project’s completion. (Send us an e-mail if you want to be on our Pivilion early bird mailing list.)
Our wish is for the Pivilion network to grow organically and improve the project over time, keeping it uncensored, but transparent, useful, and constantly evolving.
The artists on the logo:
An adequate representation of the project Pivilion required a representative image which could suggest openness and ambiguity of any future content, as to minimise any aesthetical suggestion to the content of each custom Pivilion. Our logo concept was based around the network (soc. or comp.) – Pavillon (Pavilion) – Papilio (butterfly/moth). We ended up with a structure which may be interpreted as an image of an open device, a complex of three connected standalone bianco cubical objects. If you are more of a 2D mind, you could also catch a grid faceted papilio suggesting the ephemeral, diverse and transient nature of Pivilion’s manifestations.