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Showing Revision 2 created 12/29/2017 by Maximilian Marx.

  1. Carmen: Hi. We're Mediengruppe Bitnik,
    this is Doma, my name is Carmen. We're
  2. really happy to be here; thanks for having
    us. And we'd like to show you a series of
  3. works. We don't quite know how many; we've
    been kind of changing the slides, so we'll
  4. have to see what fits. I think... just 2
    words about Mediengruppe Bitnik: We're
  5. from Zurich originally. We're based in
    Berlin now... have been based for 1 and a
  6. half years and we work on the digital, but
    usually our works also affect physical
  7. spaces, as you'll see in a minute. And
    we'd like to talk about recent works
  8. around bots remote code glitch. So, the
    first work is called "random darknet
  9. shopper". We produced this work in 2014
    together with Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen.
  10. This was after the Snowden revelations in
    2013, where we kind of felt that, as
  11. artists, we needed to re-assess our
    cultural "heimat", the internet. As a kind
  12. of it was this mass surveillance thing and
    we kind of felt we couldn't work there
  13. anymore or that many of our works were too
    naive and so together with Kunst Halle
  14. Sankt Gallen, which is an art space in
    Switzerland, we put together a show around
  15. darknet, because we felt that by looking
    at internet subculture, we could kind of
  16. question ideas around anonymity, intimacy,
    identity, trust... And in this show we had
  17. 12 works by various artists around these
    topics and our work was "random darknet
  18. shopper".
    Doma: So, basically the random darknet
  19. shopper is a piece of software... is a
    small bot, which we started in autumn
  20. 2014. We started with the interest in the
    question of trust: "How do you gain trust
  21. in encrypted networks, where you don't
    know to whom you're speaking to?", "How
  22. does those trust mechanism work when
    everything is kind of obfuscated and
  23. encrypted?" And we wanted to challenge
    this question, basically, on the darknet
  24. markets, which were kind of a big topic, a
    controversial topic, after the Silk Road
  25. raid. And we thought that it might be good
    to evaluate these questions with a bot,
  26. questioning also "How does trust-building
    work when you have goods, which are
  27. shipped from all over the world to the
    buyers?" and so we wrote this part which
  28. was called the "random darknet shopper",
    which had $100 weekly budget, based in
  29. bitcoins, and the idea was that the bot
    would log in to the deep webs and go to
  30. the biggest dark net market at that time,
    it was called agora I think, and randomly
  31. select an item and then buy it and
    directly send it to the exhibition space,
  32. without our interference. So the idea was
    that in the exhibition, we had 12 of those
  33. vitrines -- they were empty -- basically
    waited to be filled over 12 weeks of the
  34. duration of the exhibition.
    Carmen: So we basically connected the very
  35. dark markets of the darknet with the very
    visible space of the art gallery.
  36. Doma: Technically it was pretty simple: It
    was basically a small python script which
  37. remote-controlled a Firefox and basically
    logged in to the darknet markets through
  38. Tor and then just clicked around to choose
    a random category, get all the items below
  39. $100, randomly choose one, hit the buy
    button, send an encrypted message to the
  40. seller to send it directly to the
    exhibition space, and pay the fee or the
  41. things in bitcoins.
    Carmen: So, over time we wanted to have a
  42. whole landscape of goods from the
    darknets. There was also a lot of talk in
  43. the media at the time -- well, there still
    is -- about the darknets and what you can
  44. buy there and we didn't believe what they
    were telling us; we really wanted to see
  45. what we would randomly get from the
    darknet. And the first item was called
  46. "fire brigade masterkey set", which the
    seller said was a set of keys usually
  47. owned by the fire brigade in the UK to
    open storage...
  48. Doma: ...public gates in public spaces,
    stuff they need access to, so...
  49. Carmen: We have no idea whether it's true
    or not.
  50. Doma: But we still really like that
    object, because it has that potential of
  51. opening doors in the UK.
  52. Carmen: The second item was cigarettes
    from the Ukraine. So basically, in very
  53. good darknet fashion, circumventing the
    taxation on tobacco in the European Union.
  54. Doma:I think, it was about $35 at that
  55. Carmen: Yeah.
    Doma: Third week, we had this Louis
  56. Vuitton Trevi handbag for $95. And
    actually, if we speak about trust, this
  57. was the only item which wasn't delivered,
    but the seller was kind enough to send the
  58. bitcoins back, because he knew he couldn't
    deliver. So, also here, it kind of worked.
  59. Carmen: Then, we received the Lord of the
    Rings collection by JRR Tolkien in PDF
  60. format, which, for $1, which we printed .
    Doma: It's several thousand pages. Then,
  61. the first or ... second super-digital
    item: It was called Visa.
  62. Carmen: Visa Platinum top card, sent from
    Torland for $35. Apparently this was a
  63. Visa prepaid. We received a visa, so the
    visa number, the expiry date, the name and
  64. the little number you have on the back.
    Doma: And we didn't dare to use it.
  65. Carmen: Then, sixth week the random
    darknet shopper selected 10 yellow ecstasy
  66. pills with a Twitter logo on them...
    *giggling in the audience*
  67. Carmen: ... sent from Germany for $48 to
    Switzerland; they actually arrived. We
  68. took them as a title for the talk also,
    because we really liked the description.
  69. We displayed them like the rest.
    Doma: They came in this stealth packaging,
  70. pretending to be a DVD in this alufoil and
    then vacuumed again.
  71. Carmen: Yes and around about this time,
    also the press started picking up on the
  72. work, because they kind of felt that this
    random darknet shopper was questioning or
  73. posing questions around who's responsible
    if a bot commits something illegal. So,
  74. "What happens when a software box goes on
    the darknet shopping spree?", the Guardian
  75. asked. Who is responsible when a bot
    randomly shops for ecstasy in the darknet?
  76. Is it the person who programmed it, is it
    the person who executes it, can a robot or
  77. a piece of software be jailed if it
    commits a crime?
  78. *giggling in the audience*
    Doma: And also what happens if the code is
  79. open source and written by many people,
    like if you have an algorithm which goes
  80. wild?
    Carmen: But the random darknet shopper
  81. just continued shopping and it bought some
    Nike Air Yeezy 2 limited edition trainers
  82. for $75.
    Doma: If you convert the bitcoins into
  83. nowadays' value, it would be around $3000.
  84. Doma: It costed $75 at the time.
    Carmen: Then, we received a cap with a
  85. built-in camera that little... that's
    where the camera is, from the US for $99.
  86. Doma: Then a thing I really liked, it's
    called the decoy first class letter. So,
  87. it's basically a plain letter you receive,
    like a service and it came from Australia,
  88. addressed to our exhibition space in
    Switzerland. It's basically an empty
  89. letter, just to basically traceroute your
    postal system, to check if the system is
  90. ok, if you can receive mails...
    *giggling in the audience*
  91. Doma: ...if it's... maybe somebody opens
    it. So, the idea by buying stuff in the
  92. deep webs is basically also to anonymize
    somehow your postal box and to test that
  93. you can basically send yourself a letter
    and see if something happens. It's also
  94. good tactics, basically, if you want to
    introduce a new address somewhere, start
  95. sending letters there and the post office,
    the post person, the delivery person, will
  96. get used to it and basically...
    Carmen: Yeah. The next item was a Sprite
  97. stash can. You probably know this, this is
    an empty soda can, constructed to weigh
  98. the same as a full one and you can screw
    the top on, so you can place whatever you
  99. want inside and it's hidden away
    Doma: Then, the next one: These Diesel man
  100. jeans replica from Hong Kong for $79.
    Carmen: And the last item we received was
  101. a high quality scan of a Hungarian
    passport for online verification. So, here
  102. you see, this is basically how we
    displayed the items and this all went
  103. really well, until we took down the
    exhibition in January 2015 and the day
  104. after the exhibition closed, the public
    prosecutor of St. Gallen in Switzerland
  105. basically seized the whole work and we
    were a bit confused.
  106. *laughter*
  107. Carmen: So, we were a bit confused in the
    first moment, because of the timing. So,
  108. after the exhibition closed, they seized
    the whole work, but it turned out, that
  109. for them it was mostly about the drugs the
    random darknet shopper had bought. We were
  110. kind of worried about the passport and the
    visa card as well, which they felt was
  111. totally okay.
  112. Doma: And in the first moment, the
    question also by the public prosecutor was
  113. raised, it was about responsibility: Who
    is responsible in this specific moment? Is
  114. it the artists who wrote the code? Is it
    the museum who basically hosts the show?
  115. Is it the curator? Is it the people who
    work there? Because me and Carmen, we have
  116. never touched those drugs; we have not,
    basically... it was all done somehow
  117. automatically. Or is it the bot himself
    who is somehow its own legal entity and
  118. could be punished? So, in order to somehow
    also protect the staff of the museum and
  119. to also to get our items back, we thought
    "The stuff is ours; we want the things
  120. back.", we raised our hands and said "No;
    I think, if you want to charge somebody,
  121. you should charge us."
    Carmen: And we were summoned for an
  122. interrogation, which was really
    interesting. There we learned that the
  123. drugs actually contained MDMA, so the
    police had tested them and confirmed that
  124. they did.
    Doma: I mean, we knew through the ratings
  125. on the drugs on the darknet markets, that
    this stuff was good.
  126. *laughter*
    Carmen: But then we kind of had to
  127. discuss. We tried to explain what we
    were... that we were trying to raise these
  128. questions in public through publicly
    accessible art piece, because we felt it
  129. very important that we talk about these
    things. Nevertheless, the public
  130. prosecutor decided to destroy the drugs,
    which was very unfortunate. We, of cause,
  131. claimed they were an art piece.
    Doma: So, you're destroying an art piece
  132. here and our lawyer was also referencing
    all other artworks which involved drug
  133. from the whole history.
    Carmen: Yeah, but we did receive the whole
  134. work back in the end, except for the
    drugs, and all charges were dropped
  135. against us and the public prosecutor wrote
    a very nice letter, saying that we
  136. actually were allowed to break certain
    laws to raise certain questions within
  137. society. Without specifically naming
    freedom of art.
  138. Doma: So, our understanding of why they
    seized the whole thing, is that they were
  139. afraid what the next artist would do. So,
    the first one buys it, the second one
  140. takes it as a performative act and the
    third one gives it to the audience and
  141. it's kind of clear that they need to draw
    a line. So, the question about
  142. responsibility was not solved.
    Carmen: No, we still have it. We then
  143. continued with this question of bots and
    the mechanical gaze... Oh, okay. You're
  144. jumping, sorry, wrong introduction... The
    same year, we were asked to do a public
  145. art piece, which is always the case in
    Switzerland when public buildings are
  146. built, part of the money has to go into an
    art piece and usually that art piece is
  147. sculptural: It can be a sculpture in the
    lobby o...
  148. Doma: ... a sculpture in public space. It
    should... there're different kind of
  149. things you need to address; the public art
    piece should work for 30 years, should be
  150. sustainable, so it's mostly made out of
  151. Carmen: So, for us as digital artists,
    this was a very interesting question, also
  152. because the building is the house for
    Electronic Arts in Basel, also
  153. Switzerland. So, for us the question was
    "How can we talk about digital topics, but
  154. not using digital media?"
    Doma: And we asked ourself "Is there a way
  155. of... I mean we thought a lot about
    architecture and software and how
  156. basically the software you use is also
    infecting the architecture which is built
  157. and since this is all software, what we
    have never seen is a software error. So,
  158. we ask ourself "Is it possible to build or
    is it funny to build a software error into
  159. stone?" and...
    Carmen: We kind of had to try that.
  160. Doma: We had to try that, so we took a
    picture of the place, of this house, and
  161. basically glitched it through a small
    script and told them to rebuild it and
  162. this is how it looks now.
    Carmen: This is what the building looks
  163. like today. So, they... You can see it.
  164. *applause*
    Carmen: And when you stand there it kind
  165. of gives you a surreal feeling: There's a
    square in front of this facade and you
  166. you're not sure, whether your eyes are
    wrong or the building is wrong, and then,
  167. when you come closer, you then, of course,
  168. Doma: And also here, the glitch reveals
    stuff, like... People came to us and asked
  169. "How does the piping system work?"
  170. Doma: "Is it still here?" And this is
    something which we like about software
  171. glitches. That you sometimes you get an
    understanding how a system works only of
  172. breaking it or by forcing it to throw
  173. Carmen: Then we...
    *the 2 lecturers discuss something,
  174. whispering*
    Carmen: Sorry.
  175. Doma: We need to discuss what we are
    speaking about.
  176. *laughter*
    Doma Okay, so we'll skip another project,
  177. because we are running out of the time.
    Carmen: I think the last piece we'd like
  178. to just quickly show you is very recent.
    We're still kind of amazed at this. So,
  179. this year, we were asked to do a book on
    our work and we felt... This was really
  180. difficult for us, because usually we do
    websites and you can change websites and
  181. then you do a book and you kind of... it's
    printed and then it's there and that
  182. really... it was very hard for us, but
    once we decided to do this, we kept
  183. thinking about "How can we break this very
    static print format of the book?" and
  184. together with the 2 designers of the book,
    Konrad Renner (???) and Christoph Knurz
  185. (???), we thought about... we said "Well,
    the title should be code, because maybe
  186. through the title, you could inject code
    into various websites, because books,
  187. they're online, you can buy them online.
    And we decided to go
  188. for as its title.
  189. Dona: JavaScript, which normally, like
    YAML, you can't write JavaScript into a
  190. commentary field on Facebook, because
    these things is parsed out and so the
  191. browser does not execute that code, so
    they check it, but we thought "Maybe if
  192. it's so deep in the databases, like the
    ISBN databases, the national
  193. bibliographies and whatever, it might pop
    up somewhere."
  194. *laughter*
  195. Carmen:And the book came out in September
    and then in October we realized that on
  196. Walther Kรถnig, which is a big art
    bookseller with a big online website, it
  197. worked, so when you search for
    "!Mediangruppe Bitnik" on the website...
  198. Hope this works... And you go to the
  199. *laughter*
  200. Doma: So, this one this one is pretty
    okay. I mean, normally if you... on other
  201. website it breaks the "buy" button, which
    is not in our interest, but...
  202. *laughter*
    Doma: So, you can still buy it on
  203. Buchhandlung Walther Kรถnig. Just click
    "okay" and then it's okay. So, here's just
  204. a small collection of 10, 12, which are
    popping up. It's like... everyday we get
  205. more. And we can show you a small video of
    2, 3 pieces.
  206. Carmen: Don't know what we're going to see
    now. I think eBay.
  207. Doma: I don't know.
    Carmen: Okay. This is eBay.
  208. Doma: So,
    *smartphone notification sound*
  209. Doma: BAM! And this only worked on or...
    they already fixed it, so somebody made a
  210. bug report. I like this one.
    *smartphone notification sound*
  211. *laughter*
    *smartphone notification sound*
  212. *laughter*
    *smartphone notification sound*
  213. *laughter*
    *smartphone notification sound*
  214. *laughter*
    *smartphone notification sound*
  215. *laughter*
    *smartphone notification sound*
  216. *laughter*
    *different smartphone notification sound*
  217. *laughter*
    Doma: So, thank you!
  218. Carmen: Thanks.
  219. *herald speaks, but it is unintelligible
    due to technical problems*
  220. Herald: We have 5 minutes for a very short
    Q&A if there are already people lying out
  221. (???). Please, number 2.
    M2: Very cool talk, thanks. I'm from
  222. Switzerland, so I wonder, you were lucky
    that you got dropped off the charges. How
  223. much would it got for the charges if you
    would not drop them? Do you know?
  224. Doma: I don't you know. I mean, it was
    basically or here it was about drug
  225. possession and 10 ecstasy pills and we
    were totally okay to take this fine. We
  226. don't know it, but it was kind of...
    Carmen: It would have been fine, because
  227. in Switzerland, according to our lawyer,
    it would have been for personal use. I
  228. mean, this is not the amount you carry
    around, apparently, if you're selling, so
  229. we would have gotten away with a fine.
    M2: So and I... Thanks very much that you
  230. said that actually writing the code and
    then the program buys it makes you
  231. actually responsible, right? So, would
    you... At the end you said, it was your...
  232. "I would take the charge", because you
    were writing the code...
  233. Carmen: Yes, the problem was that usually,
    at least in Swiss law, possession of drugs
  234. needs to mean that the drugs were either
    found on your person or in a space that
  235. can be... that definitely belongs to you.
    And the problem was that it was clear from
  236. the process that we hadn't touched the
    drugs and we didn't want somebody else to
  237. get fined for drug possession ; that would
    have made no sense. We wanted to also
  238. publicly discuss this... having to step up
    and say "No, it was us."
  239. M2: Thanks.
    Herald: Okay, final one.
  240. Microphone x: Hi. Sorry... thanks for the
    talk. I have to ask: Does the plumbing
  241. work?
    Carmen: Yeah. It works, because... so the
  242. pillars were... I'll try to explain
    briefly. So, architecturally this building
  243. was a storage for dry goods and the
    pillars used to support the building, but
  244. when they turned it into a museum, they
    actually filled the space between the
  245. pillars with insulation, so the pillars
    were gone. And then the architects didn't
  246. like it. They thought, the pillars should
    be there, because the building didn't look
  247. good, so they actually put fake pillars
    onto the facade again and so we could just
  248. take the empty pillars and cut them up and
    put the plumbing inside. So, now the
  249. visible plumbing is fake, but the real
    plumbing is inside the pillars; that's how
  250. it works.
  251. Herald: Amazing work. One final, big round
    of applause for Mediengruppe Bitnik and
  252. thanks for being here!
    Carmen: Thank you; thanks.
  253. Doma: Thank you.
  254. [Music]