“Behind the Smart World Research lab” at Ars Electronica 2016

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Ars Electronica 2016 - Radical atoms


‘BEHIND THE SMART WORLD RESEARCH LAB’ presented at Ars Electronica 2016 LabOratorium exhibition
initiated by: Linda Kronman & Andreas Zingerle (KairUs) in cooperation with servus.at
Contributors: Fabian Kühfuß, Raphael Perret, Martin Reiche, Michael Wirthig, KairUs.


Additional credits: ‘Behind the Smart World’ – a project by Linda Kronman & Andreas Zingerle (KairUs) realised the first time in cooperation with servus.at as a research lab and an exhibition for the Art Meets Radical Openness 2016 festival in Linz, Austria.

Material sponsoring (e-waste): MGG – Müller Guttenbrunn Group, Amstetten (Austria).


General text:

Agbogbloshie is a district in the teeming metropolis of Accra in West-African Ghana. The world’s largest electro-waste dump is located here. 22 hard-drives brought back to Austria from this dump are the starting point for the ‘Behind the Smart World’ research Lab. Alongside the material and exploitative dark sides of the dirty business with electronic waste. The project brings together artistic positions dealing with the value of digital information and our constant production of data. We leave not only material traces that have disastrous effects on people and our environment, but also digital traces, the value of which is to be called into question.





The Research lab + documentation video:



Some photos from the exhibition setup:


Again we got an e-waste material sponsoring from MGG-recycling, Amstetten, Austria.









‘Shell Performance’ by Martin Reiche is an open-source software art installation that transforms an operating system into a performative space. The performance is fueled by the data that is available on all attached internal storage devices. The underlying software is a Linux shell script that is constantly scanning the contents of the hard drives for files. Running on the data retrieved from one of the ‘Behind the Smart World’ hard-drives, ‘Shell Performance’ questions integrity of data as much as issues of privacy, highlighting the questionable relationship we have with data and our urge to save everything to protect us from potential losses through malfunctions.


‘Shopimation’ by Fabian Kühfuß. Artistic statement: When I looked into the first restored ‘Behind the Smart World’ hard-drive, I realised that there was no longer a folder structure. I decided to build up a new structure and it became apparent that a lot of thumbnails had been stored on the drive. These commercial thumbnails are placeholders for the aesthetical reflection of the ‘original owner’. ‘Shopimation’ is an approach to get closer to an unknown individual by researching his or her ‘aesthetic dreams’. As the techno-imagination of Vilém Flusser is an approach of coding a function of the meaning of techno-pictures, ‘Shopimation’ could be a code to translate the very private dream of who one would like to be.
‘Forensic fantasies’ by Linda Kronman and Andreas Zingerle is a series of three artworks dealing with data breaches of private information. In the artworks we use data that was recovered from hard-drives that were dumped in Agbogbloshie, Ghana. Reports suggest, that at this e-waste dump, criminals extract data from hard-drives to demand payments from their owners.
‘Not a Blackmail’ examines the possibility to blackmail a pre-owner of a hard-drive. Besides finding data of the owner it is crucial to be able to contact the person to express ones demands. From one hard-drive we could find out who it had belonged to. The artwork consists of one package, containing the recovered data and a letter. ‘Found footage stalkers’ takes a closer look at images found on one of the ‘Behind the Smart World’ hard-drives. Scanning through the private photos enables very personal insights into the life of the pre-owners of this hard-drive. It is similar to the feeling of stalking someone unknown online, one starts to create a story to these fragmented digital representations. By presenting the photos in an album we approach the material as ‘found footage’, the practice of gathering material flea markets for remixing and creating new artworks. Hence the artwork confronts earlier practices of using ‘found footage’ with now digital materials found amongst our trash.
‘Identity theft’ focuses on the phenomena of romance scamming. Scammers conduct id-theft by copying bulks of images of people to create fraudulent profiles on social media platforms. The scammers pose to be in love with their victim and after gaining their trust they lure them to give gifts and money. One of the ‘Behind the Smart World’ hard-drives contained several images of ladies. We suspect that the images were copied to this hard-drive to create and sustain fraudulent profiles. In this artwork 18 of the fraudulent online profiles using the same images found on the hard-drive are combined with Nollywood clips that thematises the topic of romance scams.
The installation ‘Recycling Yantra’ by Raphael Perret is on one hand a series of videos, documenting the informal e-waste recycling in Delhi, and on the other a contemporary interpretation of the tantric symbol ‘Smara-hara Yantra’ (Remover of Desire). The videos show how computers are collected, repaired, traded and taken apart over several steps, until all components are fed back into the production of new goods again. The yantra, composed of materials collected from the recycling process, is an energy diagram, comparable with a talisman which, in its original meaning, is supposed to help people free themselves from desire and the urges of consumer culture.


Raphael Perret during his 2 day setup
The ‘Yantra’ became one of the most photographed works of the festival.
‘Headcrash’ by Michael Wirthig. The most interesting thing of the ‘Behind the Smart World’ hard-drives is the magnetic disc itself. It is the physical place where all kind of personal data is saved on. In former works I’ve made various studies about the relationship between inner and outer worlds. Therefore I dissected the hidden world of a number of different appliances to turn them inside out, e.g. disassembling machines. For ‘Headcrash’ I extracted the discs of 2 Ghana hard-drives and explored the surface with a microscope. 1500 photos of the inside and outside influences of the discs, like scratches or dust result in a 1 min tour de force about the inner world of these drives.


‘Mapping the Smart World’ examines the life cycles of consumer electronics and network technologies. By mapping the key locations for mining, refining, production, storage and the urban mining of e-waste we want to bring forth the complex chains of development and production that enables our networked lives. The ‘Mapping the Smart World’ reveals locations of both stunning R&D, increasingly effective use of resources as well as dystopian working conditions and ecological disasters. The interactive map was realised during the ‘Mapping the Smart World’ ArtLab as a part of the ‘Vorbrenner’ program at the ‘Freies Theater Innsbruck’. We were able to show a first ‘work in progress’ with the Geopulse system that Ars Electronica Solutions produced for ESA.



Radio interview with FM4:





Fm4 – Unterwegs in der Postcity: (click on the image to get a pdf of the website)


Digital Brainstorming – Vier schweizer Projekte an der Ars Electronica (click on the image to get a pdf of the website)


Fuze – BEHIND THE SMART WORLD:あなたが捨てたデータの第二の人生


Studio International – The Ars Electronica Festival 2016 (click on the image to get a pdf of the website)



Kleine Zeitung – Moderne Alchimisten in mystischer Atmosphäre (click on the image to get a pdf of the website)



APA Press Science: (click on the image to get a pdf of the website)


Die Presse.com – Fische, Gips und Seifenblasen – Alchimie bei der Ars Electronica (click on the image to get a pdf of the website)


Tiroler Tageszeitung – Moderne Alchimisten in mystischer Atmosphäre (click on the image to get a pdf of the website)


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