Chapter Four: Disappointment
curated by Heinrich Dietz
Violet Dennison deals with the dynamics and fragility of complex technological and biological systems. Her installations refer to ecosystems and infrastructures that permeate and shape our lived environments in ways that often go unnoticed. In her artwork—created especially for the exhibition Chapter Four: Disappointment—the artist works with code, as well as methods of information storage and transfer. She continues her sculptural examination of inconceivable systems and their material manifestations, hacking technologies, combining high-tech with the occult.
The Kunstverein’s exhibition hall hosts three sculptures, reminiscent of oversized baskets, in which pink and green plastic tubes form a tangled mesh of knots. The net-like structure translates the artist’s private writings—excerpts from chapter four of her memoir—into a binary code of knots. Yet, without a key, the stored information remains inaccessible. Our everyday experience of interacting with digital devices and infrastructures becomes virtually reversed. While information usually appears to be immediately accessible through a user interface, the underlying system, its material requirements and mechanisms, remain in the dark. Here, materiality and spatial structure stand before the embodied information. At the same time, it is a question of reception modalities—as well as one’s own viewpoint—pre-existing knowledge and interests, which information can be decoded from the sculptures’ noise.
Human perception can be understood as an interface, as a point of intersection between a human and the world. Dennison’s sound installation, Divination 2, suggests this interface allows only limited access and is just one of many possible ways to filter and decode information from unlimited data. The grid of cables and smartphone speakers emits a high-frequency cheeping sound, filling the hall with digital chirping. The audio work uses a new technology, transmitting “data-over-sound,” which can be used in smartphones alongside Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The sound waves transmit the digitally encoded prophecies from the spiritual medium Dainichi Lazuli about the artist’s future. Parts of the transmission are ultrasonic frequencies, making the signals inaudible to humansand resulting in only machines being able to receive and decode them. For Dennison, this is similar to the spiritual medium’s ability: they have access to another level of reality, other strata of data, inaccessible to most people, but always surrounding us much like the radio signals of our data networks and devices.
On October 21st 2016, a large part of the internet collapsed in the US and Europe. Highly frequented websites and platforms, like Twitter, Amazon, Netflix, Airbnb, New York Times, or CNN were inaccessible to users. As the biggest attack of its kind so far, the collapse was due to the malware Mirai (Japanese for future) that infected countless everyday objects connected to the Internet of things such as cameras, routers and printers. The bot net of infected devices attacked the servers of Dyn, Inc.—a company controlling the largest share of the domain naming system and thus an important part of the internet’s infrastructure. Reports about this attack, and the implied scenario of the ability to turn a chunky printer for home use into a weapon, capable of shutting down one of the internet’s central hubs, were the basis for Dennison’s work, WhisperF33d, a hacked Brother printer. During the exhibition’s opening, it printed the metadata of all data traffic within the Kunstverein’s Wi-Fi, a snippet of all the invisible, yet potentially always accessible, data streams that permeate the exhibition space.
In a world increasingly determined by digital megastructures, in which biospheres and infospheres merge into one another, Dennison investigates possibilities of self-expression, as well as communication and interaction with such systems. Code and information technologies become structures that are imbedded in and incorporate human life and its subjective expressions, but at the same time act upon it as material agents following their own machine regularities.
Photos by Marc Doradzillo