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Digital Checkpoints Exhibition


FLEFF 2011 | online exhibition

Dale Hudson and Sharon Lin Tay


Violence, Peace, Distributed Networks


Checkpoints mark spatial and temporal crossings that are not only physical and referential but are also experiential and referred. Although they are embedded in geographical and historical debates that often seem utterly objective, they can feel deeply subjective.


Some checkpoints mark violent moments in everyday life like going to work when it involves crossing into a free trade zone, like going to school in an occupied territory. Other checkpoints are mark peaceful moments like the birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries, like the sound of a personal alarm clock in the morning or of calls to prayers that punctuate the day.


Checkpoints register within environmentalism in terms of bioengineered foods, endemic disease, indentured labour, militarized international borders, civil war, neoliberal economic policies, intellectual property, free trade zones, informal economies, rare minerals, and human rights.


Checkpoints also register along distributed networks, such as the Internet and mobile communications, where information may be accessed remotely and controlled digitally. Political theorists have suggested that an epoch of disciplinary control is giving way to one of regulated control in a centre-less, yet hierarchical, distribution of power that functions like distributed networks of what was once called the ‘Information Superhighway’.


From the Abstract to the Physical


Despite efforts of transnational media corporations to co-opt political movements as a ‘Twitter Revolutions’ or ‘Facebook Revolutions’, movements often emerge in the streets when communication networks are blocked and when news media seem unready or unwilling to dispatch investigative reporters or even broadcast information. Checkpoints take forms other than microblogging through copyrighted social-networking software.


Checkpoints are everywhere — in the airwaves and on our hard drives. Artists, community activists, intellectuals, and students respond with innovation and circumvention. States and corporations strike deals for exclusive power and absolute copyrights, while hackers and modders crack and unlock systems for the commons.


Around the world, new media, transmedia, and locative media artists produce work that moves from the abstract realms of distributed networks into the concrete realms of physical sites. It refuses to allow us to hide in a darkened cinémathèque and dream of the revolution to come. Instead, it engages us in small ways, prompting us to rethink, respond, and, when possible, redo. We sometimes forget where the work ends and we begin.


The Jury Prize Winners


With our jury of Carlos Motta (USA/Columbia) and Sharon Daniels (USA), we have selected thirteen pieces. The Digital Checkpoints exhibition at FLEFF 2011 show us ways we assemble and dismantle digital checkpoints with every keystroke.


The Texas Border by Joana Moll (Spain) and Heliodoro Santos (México) was selected for the jury prize. The piece negotiates the complexities and contradictions of the Texas-México border — one of the primary arenas in the United States’ Global War on Terror (GWOT) — as it has been mediated through satellite-image display software and online surveillance cameras. It makes visible everyday acts of war and offers the possibility of political action through counter-surveillance.


The jury also recognized Afghan War Diary by Matthieu Cherubini (Switzerland), which negotiates another major arena of the GWOT — Afghanistan — and three pieces by Owen Mundy (United States/Germany), including Camp LaJolla, which investigates another aspect of the U.S. military-industrial complex (MIC).


Works in the Exhibition


While most of these and the other pieces included in the exhibition focus on checkpoints in relation to the violence of surveillance and security, The Maiden Voyages Project by Valerie Hird (USA) is a collaborative piece with women in Egypt, Iran, Jordan, and Palestine in which checkpoints become a scheduled day per month to communicate thoughts among women. Hird’s communications work to cut though the firewall of misinformation about the ‘Middle East’ by transnational media corporations based in places like North America, Europe, Japan, or Australia.


The Digital Checkpoints exhibition also includes three pieces by Paolo Cirio (Italy), which with the work of Owen Mundy, engage with the complexities of everyday information checkpoints, whether Facebook or Google, seeking ways to reverse engineer the algorithms of coding towards ends that are politically and artistically engaged.


Also selected for the exhibition are The Monsantra Project by Wendy DesChene (Canada) and Jeff Schmuki (United States) and The Art-Qaeda Project by Wei-Ming Ho (Taiwan). These projects combine tactical and locative media to promote critical thinking and political action about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI).

Finally, the exhibition includes Your Life, Our Movie by Fernando Velázquez (Uruguay) and Infinite Glitch by Ben Baker-Smith (United States). These image-search programs mine data from popular search engines and web sites, then recombine information according to algorithms. The results are dazzling and provocative.