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Artistic Interventions "Hack" Venezuelan Protests

With "Invisible Protests," "Murder Machine," and "SOS.Venezuela," Pratt MFA grad Diego Zaks uses tech art to tackle some of Venezuela's most pressing social issues.

by Emerson Rosenthal
Jul 1 2014, 6:50pm

When it comes to non-violent confrontations with important social issues, never has there been a greater opportunity for the production and dissemination of artistic interventions than the 21st Century. Through the democratization of information, the persistant increase in global consciousness, and the technologies that allow for seamless interactions between people thousands of miles apart, artists working today enjoy a plethora of mediums in their socially-conscious pursuits, the variety and availability of which have never before been available on Earth. 

Diego Zaks is one such artist, working at the front lines of art and technology to address some of Venezuela's most difficult and pressing social issues. Explains Zaks, "Who I am, where I've been and where I come from inevitably transform my design. Being forced to leave my home country of Venezuela in 2010 has changed me in many ways. It has opened me to new places and new experiences, but above all it has given me perspective on my life and on my country. As an outsider looking in, I can now better understand the issues that burdened me before I left."

For his thesis, a three-part project that consists of Murder Machine, SOS.Venezuela, and Invisible Protests, the Caracas-born, Pratt Institute-educated MFA graduate uses new, old, and "hacked" technologies to develop his exploration of, "the threshold between man and his environment within the structures of digital space."

Murder Machine, the first of Zaks' three running projects, is an "experimental infographic depicting the frequency of murders in the country." In Venezuela, where the violent death rate accounts for a staggering near-.1% of the country's entire population, one murder can be said to occur every 20 minutes. Opting to make an emotional appeal out of this brutally-depressing statistic, Zaks has created a hacked receipt printer that, every 20 minutes, prints details on a fabricated (but wholly plausible) murder. Disseminating his results via the @MurderMachineVz Twitter, the project has already produced a receipt over 500 feet long, with a log of over 13,500 representative murders.

Zaks' second project, SOS.Venezuela, features the kind of technological artistic intervention that brings people together under a community banner, in this case, a wireless network. For this piece, Zaks, "modified a wireless router to create a small and localized Darknet called SOS.Venezuela," which he then shipped into the Internet-restrictive country, "to serve as a portable, self-sustaining network that could help activists communicate during an internet blackout by uploading images and sending messages." The result was an instant success— within four days of its deployment, the network had identified over 40 crimes and amassed the 500 individual images that would inform his third and final project.

Invisible Protests, the culmination of Zaks' thesis, took the Venezuelan protests to the streets. Using an Arduino microcontroller to reproduce the images gathered on SOS.Venezuela "pixel by pixel and line by line, using a string of LEDs," which were then captured by a digital camera, Zaks transported and translated the contemporary Venezuelan fervor to NYC, resulting in a series of augmented-reality images that impress upon viewers the gravity of the situation at hand.

Below, some of the stunning results produced by Invisible Protests

What makes Zaks' artwork special is its ability to employ technology to offer emotional clarity to the often-clouded subject matter. To learn more about Diego Zaks thesis, check out his closing presentation at the AIGA My Dog & Pony: Fresh Blood V seminar (below):

For more on Diego Zaks' work, visit his website here.

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