Unbound: The Politics of Scanning

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There's a great scene in the first episode of House of Cards where the ambitious young journalist Zoe Barnes is sitting on the floor of her rented apartment's living room scanning the half-shredded documents of an education bill that was forwarded to her by her source/lover Frank Underwood, the Majority Whip. She's drinking wine, taking notes on her laptop, and scanning on her small all-in-one desktop printer/scanner. The next day she shows up at the office of the newspaper where she works with a 3000-word text and the 300-page document scanned, prompting her editors that "We should get this online right away."

Barnes's character is young and ambitious. Later in the season she moves on to work for a site called "Slugline," an early-Politico-like newswire, where "journalists post news directly from their phones." Her obsession with technology is used as a narrative device in the series to set her apart from her older, more conservative editors at the newspaper. And her ambition to upload information to the newspaper's site as soon as possible, to give the public the raw data before it can be filtered or analyzed, stands for her idealism.

The romanticized image of the scanner is based on the assumption that by scanning and uploading we make information available, and that that is somehow an invariably democratic act. Scanning has become synonymous with transparency and access. But does the document dump generate meaningful analysis, or make it seem insignificant? Does the internet enable widespread distribution, or does it more commonly facilitate centralized access? And does the scanner make things transparent, or does it transform them? The contemporary political imaginary links the scanner with democracy, and so we should explore further the political possibilities, values, and limitations associated with the process of scanning documents to be uploaded to the internet.

What are the political possibilities of making information available? A thing that is scanned was already downloaded, in a sense. It circulated on paper, as widely as newspapers or as little as classified documents. And interfering with its further circulation is a time-honored method of keeping a population in check. Documents are kept private; printing presses shut down. Scanning printed material for internet circulation has the potential to circumvent some of these issues. Scanning means turning the document into an image, one that is marked by glitches and bearing the traces of editorial choices on the part of the scanner. Although certain services remain centralized and vulnerable to political manipulation, such as the DNS addressing system, and government monitoring of online behavior is commonplace, there is still political possibility in the aggregate, geographically dispersed nature of the internet. If the same document is scanned, uploaded, and then shared across a number of different hosts, it becomes much more difficult to suppress. And it gains traction by circulation.

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DNS Politics: Citizen journalism after the Twitter ban

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Photograph posted to Twitter by Engin Onder on March 20, 2014, with the caption: "‪#twitter‬ blocked in ‪#turkey‬ tonight. folks are painting ‪#google‬ dns numbers onto the posters of the governing party." The poster shows the AKP candidate for Eskişehir.

Last Friday, DNS-themed graffiti and memes began to appear in Turkish streets and on the web, bringing the normally unnoticed architecture of the internet into public discourse.

The sudden focus on DNS, the system that translates a URL into its corresponding numerical IP address, was prompted by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's decision on March 20 to ban Twitter. Court orders were issued to Turkish internet service providers, who apparently implemented DNS redirects, meaning that requests for "twitter.com" would be routed to a different IP address and shown a warning page.

This kind of block is not particularly effective; users can easily circumvent it by using a public DNS server. Instead of sending the request for twitter.com to a Turkish ISP, users could simply change their computer's network settings and send the request to Google or OpenDNS, or any number of international, publicly available DNS servers. While this is easy to do, it's perhaps not widely understood, and so fans of internet freedom took to the web and the streets to spread the word about the DNS workaround. 

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Rhizome Joins Jan 18 Internet Blackout to Raise Awareness of PIPA/SOPA

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Rhizome is joining sites like Reddit, Internet Archive, Wikipedia, and others tomorrow in blacking out our site for 24 hours to protest and raise awareness of PIPA and SOPA. We believe in an open internet and recommend other organizations consider participating in this important action.

For more information, please check out EFF's coverage of this and other "blacklist" creating legislation. Updates from the blog Tech Dirt are also essential reading. Further information and templates to join in the internet blackout are located on the site American Censorship.

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YouTube Censors Petra Cortright, But 'VVEBCAM' Lives on in the Rhizome ArtBase

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RIP 2007-2011 – 65,403 views

On Saturday December 10th 2011, Petra Cortright received an email stating that a video of hers had been flagged by a member of the YouTube Community. The automatically generated email said that upon review it was verified that the video did indeed violate the terms of the YouTube Community Guidelines and has thus been removed. The video in question, titled "VVEBCAM" was uploaded to YouTube in 2007. It has exhibited internationally, is discussed in several new media and contemporary art texts, and is taught in academic curricula.

The video, likely known to most readers, features Cortright mundanely clicking through the stock effects of a $20 webcam, gazing bored into the screen of her computer, trance playing in the background. Far from offensive content. The violation lies in Cortright's use of keywords. The video description contained 733 keywords, ranging from "tits, vagina, sex, nude, boobs" to "san francisco, diego, jose, puto, taco bell, border patrol, mcdonalds, KFC, kentucky fried chicken, trans fat".

Cortright told us over email that she appealed the decision. She explained to YouTube that the video and its contents were part of an original artwork. She referenced interviews that have explained the importance of the use of "spam" in the video's description. Four hours later her appeal was denied, and the video now has ceased to exist on YouTube. The work is also defunct on the artists website, where the video was embedded via YouTube.

Thankfully Rhizome has recently archived VVEBCAM in the ArtBase. We worked with Cortright to create an archival representation of the work as it existed on her site. We have replaced the broken YouTube video with an HTML5 player that references local files and emulates (at least approximately) the look and feel of the original YouTube player.

 

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David Wojnarowicz's A Fire In My Belly at the New Museum and HIDESEEK.ORG

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David Wojnarowicz "A Fire in My Belly" Original from ppow_gallery on Vimeo.

In protest of the Smithsonian's decision to pull David Wojnarowicz's A Fire In My Belly from the "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery after pressure from the Catholic League, Rhizome's sister organization, the New Museum, will screen the work in the lobby until January 23, 2011. Many other museums, galleries and universities around the country (and world!) are following suit. Check HIDESEEK.ORG for a full listing of screenings of A Fire In My Belly organized in response to the controversy.

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This painting is not available in your country (2010) - Paul Mutant

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Originally via PAINTED,ETC.

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Porte-Parole Mouthpiece (1996) - Krzysztof Wodiczko and Sung Ho Kim

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The Porte-Parole Mouthpiece is an instrument for strangers, its function is to empower those who are deprived of power.

This object encircles the jaw with a small video monitor and loud speakers placed directly over the wearer’s mouth, showing the lips moving in sync to the prerecorded narrative. It is designed to replace the hesitations and fearful silent of an immigrant’s personal voice with a fully formed version of the immmigrant’s story. It function both as a conduit of ones' voice and image as well as a gag that blocks the mouth and prevents from speaking.

Porte-Parole transforms its user into a virtual subject, literally, a cyborg communicating through a high-tech device rather than your own bodily apparatus for speech. The small size screen drives viewers to come closer to the user face in order to see the image of the moving lips and hear the voice.

-- FROM THE ARTIST'S STATEMENT

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Good Copy Bad Copy (2007) - Andreas Johnsen, Ralf Christensen, Henrik Moltke

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a documentary about the current state of copyright and culture

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Sonic Outlaws (1995) - Craig Baldwin

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Within days after the release of Negativland's clever parody of U2 and Casey Kasem, recording industry giant Island Records descended upon the band with a battery of lawyers intent on erasing the piece from the history of rock music.

Craig "Tribulation 99" Baldwin follows this and other intellectual property controversies across the contemporary arts scene. Playful and ironic, his cut-and-paste collage-essay surveys the prospects for an "electronic folk culture" in the midst of an increasingly commodified corporate media landscape.

-- FROM UBU

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Erase You

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As a compact but cogent set of explorations on governmental secrecy, censorship and other forms of knowledge control, the exhibit "For Reasons of State" consequently doubles as a menagerie of information technologies: projects on display feature microfiche, voice mail, tape recording, 16mm educational film, printed books, photography, surveillance video, card catalogs, typewritten documents, and good old pencil and paper-- though, perhaps significantly, there's not a computer monitor in sight. Ben Rubin's Dark Source (2005) comes closest via perverse analogy: a bank of microfiche readers displaying copies of documents that appear to be nothing but hand-scrawled bars. During a 2002 security snafu, Rubin was able to acquire the software code for Diebold's controversial voting machines, but then blacked out each line--in accordance with corporate trade secret laws-- before exhibiting it. Rubin's self-imposed censorship mirrors Jenny Holzer's Redaction Paintings (2006) mounted nearby, comprised of enlargements of classified US government documents released via the Freedom of Information Act, still containing large swathes of darkness. Other pieces deal less with active suppression of facts than their effective loss through lack of proper indexing: Lin + Lam's Unidentified Vietnam (2003-Present) series recreates a sloppy card catalog from the Library of Congress's collection of hundreds of propaganda films produced with the help of the American government for use in South Vietnam, while Mark Lombardi's Neil Bush, Silverado, MDC, Walters and Good c. 1979-90 (2nd Version) (1996) serves as an example of the late artist's obsessive sketches of conspiracy-style flow charts linking together powerful individuals, government bodies and corporations in tightly-bounded nests of sometimes inscrutable interconnections. The more exhibited and obvious choices for the show's theme (Trevor Paglen's photos of "black sites," Julia Meltzer and David Thorne's oft-programmed video essay "It's not my memory of ...

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