Behind the Smart World at ISEA

In August we participated in the ISEA 2105 conference in Vancouver, Canada. The theme of this years ISEA was Disruption and as keynote speakers amongst others the Yes Men who were promoting their new film: Yes Men are Revolting

Maybe one of the most disruptive actions took place during the Yes Men keynote when young activist where questioning the connections of Simon Frasier University (the host of the conference) to a plan to build a new Trans Mountain pipeline to transport crude oil. With the help of the Yes Men in a selfie style video the activist got the whole ISEA crowd to say no to the pipeline.

The Yes Men – ISEA 2015 Keynote – #NoFuckingPipelines Is The New #KMFace from Jakub Jerzy Markiewicz on Vimeo.

We were also busy presenting the ‘Behind the Smart World’ project as a poster/artist talk in one of the sessions to present ongoing works and processes. It was a interesting 2,5 h during which people came and asked questions about our project after a short presentation we did for the whole audience. The poster paper is available here:“Behind the Smart World: 22 harddrives from a West African e-waste dump. While we had a chance, as KairUs, we also organized a 419-fiction workshop, made a demo presentation of our work ‘Let’s Talk Business’ and Andreas presented a long paper which is part of his PHD.

From our perspective the conference could have been more disruptive, but some highlights were Carmin Karasic  workshop”Hacktivism Seeds for Discourse” with Byron Smith explaining his concerns about the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that was to bisect his farm. Afterwards in a role play we tried to understand the perspectives of the government, the general public and how net activists could play a role i this. Also talks in the GeoPolitics and Activism session (e.g. Tugce Oklay. An Aesthetic Reading of Online Artivist Projects, Tomas Laurenzo. Geopolitical Subjectivity, and of course Andreas) and in the Surveillance  session (e.g. Annina Rüst. Participatory (Counter-) Surveillance and the Internet, and Leo Selvaggio. URME Surveillance: Analyzing Viral Face-crime) were very interesting. One of the most rewarding things about conferences are that one can get to know people behind interesting projects that deal with similar issues as ones interests are. And therefore we hope that both Leo Selvaggio’s URME Surveillance project as well as Emilio Vavarella’s Google Trilogy will make it as a part of the Behind the Smart World -publication. And of course at the main ISEA exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery we could spot one work with hard-drives: Error 404 502 410 by Marcelina Wellmer.

(images starting left Carmin Karasic, Byron Smith, Tugce Oklay + presentation slide, Tomas Laurenzo, Annina Rüst + presentation slide, Andreas wearing Leo’s face & Leo Selvaggio, Emilio Vavarella at a demo session and Error 404 502 41)


Behind the Smart World Day 2 Field trip & Artist presentations

Field trip to MGG Recycling (Müller Guttenbrunn Group) center in Amstetten. Chris Slijkhuis, responsible for E-Waste & Public Affairs gave us a tour through the center, showed us their shredder and talked in a presentation about his experiences at Agbogbloshie.

After Lunch in the evening the artists presented themselves at the Kunstraum Goethestrasse xtd.


Reading: In the Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method

Hertz G., Parikka J. 2012, In the Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an
Art Method, LEONARDO, Vol. 45, No. 5, pp. 424–430.

This text is an investigation into media culture, temporalities of media objects and planned obsolescence in the midst of ecological crisis and electronic waste. The authors approach the topic under the umbrella of media archaeology and aim to extend this historiographically oriented field of media theory into a methodology for contemporary artistic practice. Hence, media archaeology becomes not only a method for excavation of repressed and forgotten media discourses, but extends itself into an artistic method close to Do-It-Yourself (DIY) culture, circuit bending, hardware hacking and other hacktivist exercises that are closely related to the political economy of information technology. The concept of dead media is discussed as “zombie media”—dead media revitalized, brought back to use, reworked.

In this article Hertz and Parikka introduces the term zombie media as “media that is not only out of use, but resurrected to new uses, contexts and adaptations”. Even if the article is mostly concerned with circuit bending of consumer electronics it gives insights to think about our 22 hard-drives. The article describes how obsolete electronics are reused in new constructions in which “materials and ideas become zombies that carry with them histories but are also reminders of the non-human temporalities involved in technical media”. Gadgets and electronics are bought on flee markets or found while dumpster diving and repurposed in art works. Yet todays gadgets increasingly collect data of their prior owners. A blackbox that is broken (see figure 2 in the article) and abandoned will contain data of its prior owner. And if we continue the metaphor of the dead this data might be seen as a ghost that is now sealed in the gadget(hard drive) and can not be retrieved without expensive expert help. If this gadget was synchronised with other electronics or retrievable from the ever saving cloud the data is saved elsewhere and one might not make the effort to reanimate the machine thing just to delete traces of one self. Another scenario are all those old phones that sill function, but are somewhere in a shoebox now. During the spring cleaning it is for sure easy to drop them in recycling as dead shells while deleting personal contacts from it, would require to find the right charging cables which is of course lost. Though, as Hertz and Parikka argue, dead media is not always really dead:

Although arguments concerning death-of-media may be useful as a tactic to oppose dialog that only focuses on the newness of media, we believe that media never dies: it decays, rots, reforms, remixes, and gets historicized, reinterpreted and collected (see Fig. 5). It either stays in the soil as residue and in the air as concrete dead media, or is reappropriated through artistic, tinkering methodologies.

With the perspective of the hardware returning to be used in art pieces, likewise there is the chance that the media in the meaning of data resurfaces in the hands of artist or others. A haunting thought…

The Dead Media Lab (Garnet Hertz 2009) is also worth visiting. Here electronic waste finds the artist and dead media comes alive.



Artworks that deal with e-waste recycling, data security, personal data issues, data mining:
Eva and Franco Mattes – Life sharing

Die Wanze – Digitale Klasse UdK Berlin

BYOD – Bring your own drive – Aram Bartholl

Upcycled Hard drive hardware parts on Etsy

Mixed media sculptures by Franco Recchia

Hard drive wind chimes

Toys made of harddrives

Hard drive coffee table

9.578 Files by Anika Hirt, Margit Blauhut

ERROR 404 502 410 by Marcelina Wellmer

DEL!No Wait REW? by Michaela Lakova

NOOP+4 by Pete Edwards, Rosa Menkman, Gijs Gieskes and Phil Stearns