Michael Gurstein on Fri, 29 Jun 2001 00:25:55 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] Want to See Some Really Sick Art?

Thought this might be of interest.

                   Copyright (C) 2001 Wired Digital Inc

  2:00 a.m. June 27, 2001 PDT

Want to See Some Really Sick Art?

By Reena Jana
 Nothing sucks more than a computer virus.

 Yet the contemporary art world, always hungry for the new, the trendy and
 the controversial, is starting to recognize the virus as an art form --
 perhaps because computer viruses embody all of the above.

 This year's Venice Bienale -- one of the international art world's most
 prestigious events -- served as the launching pad for "bienale.py." It's
 the art world's interpretation of the destructive "Melissa" and "Love
 Bug" viruses that grabbed headlines in recent years.

 At the Bienale, which opened on June 10, a computer infected with
 "bienale.py" remains on display until the exhibition closes in November.
 Viewers can witness someone else's system crashing and files being
 corrupted, in real time, as if it were a creepy performance.

 The artsy-fartsy virus was created by the European Net Art Collective
 0100101110101101.ORG, in collaboration with epidemiC, another group known
 for its programming skills. The virus only affects programs written in
 the Python computer language and is spread if someone downloads infected
 software or utilizes a corrupted floppy disk.

 Because Python is a relatively esoteric language, the artists hope that
 the source code, which they've printed on 2,000 T-shirts and published on
 a limited edition of 10 CD-ROMs, will be the most contagious form of

 "The source code is a product of the human mind, as are music, poems and
 paintings," explained the epidemiC team, which prefers to speak
 collectively -- and somewhat pretentiously. "The virus is a useless but
 critical handcraft, similar to classical art."

 Adds a member of 0100101110101101.ORG, which also prefers to speak
 collectively (and anonymously), "The only goal of a virus is to
 reproduce. Our goal is to familiarize people with what a computer virus
 is so they're not so paranoid or hysterical when the next one strikes."

 The artists have created a mini-hysteria over their piece.

 More than 1,400 of the shirts have been sold at $15 apiece. And they've
 sold three CD-ROMs, at $1,500 each (the collectors chose to remain
 unnamed for legal reasons). Yet the potentially damaging code is
 available for free on the artists' homepages.

 "In theory, we should get sued," said 0100101110101101.ORG's
 spokesperson. "But we've gotten almost no complaints. Well, we've gotten
 a few e-mails from security experts who want to know who these asshole
 artists are."

 Laws like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act state it's illegal to send
 damaging code in interstate or foreign communications. But the artists
 don't feel liable for any damage caused by "bienale.py" because they sent
 a warning to major software and antivirus companies including Microsoft
 and McAfee.

 "We've explained how to disable our virus, so people should know how to
 fix it," said the 0100101110101101.ORG spokesperson.

 Not everyone's buying this excuse.

 "If a thief leaves a note saying he's sorry, do we feel better? No," said
 Jason Catlett, the president of an anti-spam group called Junkbusters,
 who has testified before Congress on Internet privacy issues. "Doing
 things that are socially undesirable in the name of art does not redeem
 the act."

 This isn't the first time artists have adopted annoying practices to gain
 attention. Spam, for instance, is emerging as an "art form" as well; the
 Webby-winning Net art collective Jodi.org sent 1,039 spam messages
 through the e-mail list Rhizome Raw this January.

 Some media art theorists think that an artistic statement about computer
 viruses can only be expressed effectively by spreading a virus itself.

 "To talk about contemporary culture, you have to be able to use all kinds
 of expressions of contemporary culture," said Lisa Jevbratt, who teaches
 media art at San Jose State University. "So a virus can be considered a
 legitimate art form. Of course, there will be artists and pranksters
 doing interesting new things with such forms. But there will be artists
 and pranksters whose actions are merely rehashing critiques."

                   Copyright (C) 2001 Wired Digital Inc

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