Whistleblower Exhibition Exposes Surveillance Age Vigilantes
A Danish exhibition showcases multimedia work about vigilantes like Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden.
Julian Assange, "The World Tomorrow: Slavoj Zizek & David Horowitz". Video, 28:00 min. Installation view from 'Whistleblowers & Vigilantes, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, 2017. Photo by Anders Sune Berg.
Whistleblowers and hackers often earn scorn from governments and media outlets, but a new exhibition on these rogues of the information age hopes to restore balance to the debate. Now on at Kunsthall Charlottenborg in Denmark, Whistleblowers & Vigilantes showcases multimedia work about whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden. Alongside these works are pieces about Anonymous, a recreation of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski's Montana cabin, printed selections from his manifesto, as well as installations by artists and collectives DIS, Etoy, Omer Fast, Peng! Collective, Metahaven, and more.
Peng! Collective's Call-A-Spy installation greets visitors, letting them call agents from various countries' spy services. In the main exhibition space sits Lutz Dammeck's recreation of Kaczynski's cabin. On a wall behind it are selections of the Unabomber's manifesto, a 35,000-word neo-Luddite essay on the perils of technological innovation and its systems of control—which, 22 years later seems more prophetic than ever.
Also on view are full copies of the Pentagon Papers, documents on the Vietnam War that were collected and leaked in 1971 by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Screens on the surrounding walls play filmed interviews with Thomas Drake and noted lawyer Jesselyn Radack, who has represented whistleblowers like Drake, Snowden, and others. Elsewhere, Metahaven explore transparency, surveillance, and privacy with Black Transparency, a 14-minute video installation accompanied by a collection of graphic novel-esque scarves that combine fashion and information. In another room, a video installation shows the Collateral Murder videos leaked by Manning to WikiLeaks, which depict a US Apache helicopter shooting a group of Iraqi men, including two Reuters reporters.
"[Whistleblowers] were seen as subversives or as enemies of the state, often with an (alleged) anti-American intent," says Kabisch. "This reductionist understanding coincided also with political activities on the ground when suddenly, especially in Europe, leftish critics of neoliberalism assisted whistleblowers (like Julian Assange) that are driven by an anarcho-capitalist agenda."
Kabisch and his co-curator Inke Arns were very intrigued by the differences amongst whistleblowers. Snowden, for instance, possesses 1.7 million NSA documents, yet has released less than one hundred of them. Assange, on the other hand, wants all government workings to be transparent in order to make power structures crumble.
Arns and Kabisch wondered why these individuals resist, as well as how they justify that very resistance. This curiosity caused the exhibition's scope to expand to include hackers like Anonymous and vigilantes like the Unabomber.
"With the surveillance infrastructure that is in place today, other notions of resistance come to the forefront of how one can resist certain effects of the Internet, or even the phenomena of the digital as such," Kabisch explains. "To give these points of view, and their notions of resistance a voice was the final aim of the exhibition."
Arns and Kabisch selected artists like Peng! Collective and Metahaven because their digital art had become part of the political landscape, much like pioneering artists of the 1990s, such as Electronic Disturbance Theater, UBERMORGEN, and Critical Art Ensemble (CAE). For the curators, the artists featured in the show are defining the political debate about political representation in the Internet Age.
Arns says they selected Dammeck's Unabomber cabin and manifesto selections to note how vigilantes can be violent, like Kaczynski, and non-violent, like Anonymous.
"What makes the Unabomber particularly interesting is the fact that on the one hand side—by his resorting to violence—he is positioned as the exact opposite of Edward Snowden," says Arns. "But at the same time you could say that in 2013 Snowden proved the existence of 'the big machine' that Kaczynski already saw appearing on the horizon in the late 1970s and 1980s."
Ultimately, Arns and Kabisch don't want to propagate any one particular political outlook inWhistleblowers & Vigilantes. For them, the show is an overview of the most notable figures of political resistance in the digital age.
"This does not mean that we want all of our visitors to start to resist," cautions Kabisch. "We want them to have this knowledge, so they can decipher the often reductionist debate about whistleblowers or other forms of resistance on the Internet. In this way we hope that they regain political agency."
Click here for more information on Whistleblowers & Vigilantes, which runs at Kunsthall Charlottenborg until August 13th.