There is nothing that represents “the right to know” as well as the hacking movement. In the purest meaning of the term – beyond the conventional media suspicion – a hacker is somebody who critically looks into things, figures out their structure, is able to modify them and actively take part in a knowledge creation process. The artists invited at The Art of Hacking, the exhibition currently on show at NIMk, all share an hacking-oriented approach: they analyze systems, expose their bugs, creatively interact with them. Some hack into technological interfaces (Moddr and the Albert Heijn Bonuskaart, for example), others into bureaucracy and publicity (Heath Bunting and his multiple identity project, the Yes Men and their famous Dow Chemical declarations). Some, apart from producing artworks per se, additionally guide visitors into the practice with videos and materials (Cornelia Sollfrank, Übermorgen.com). Generally, The Art of Hacking is a selective overview of some of the most interesting Internet artists around, from net.art pioneers to contemporary mediactivists, with additional in-depth looks provided in documentary form (WikiRebels, Hippies From Hell). You should definitely go check it out.
Alongside the exhibition, NIMk has also organized a few collateral events: workshops, screenings, and a conference. The talk, which brought a very promising roster of personalities to the table, discussed the increasingly crucial topic of Ethical Hacking. In turn, renowned hacker Rob Gonggrijp, writer Karin Spaink, cultural activist Patrice Riemens, and artist Heath Bunting answered questions from the moderators (Italian hacker Jaromil and journalist Cecile Landman) as well as the audience.
One of the main knots in the discussion, and the most tightly-related to “ethical hacking”, was the temptation for hackers to tamper with democracy. As a security consultant, Rob Gonggrijp (who has also collaborated with WikiLeaks in the past) played an important role in pointing out the fallacies of the voting machines the Dutch government was using for the elections. The following uproar showed how data security is an increasingly popular concern for the general public. When Jaromil asked Gonggrijp if he didn’t think of changing the election results himself, though, the hacker answered that he still respects democracy – which he defined “the best shitty thing we have.”
Heath Bunting’s “Identity Bureau” project was also at the core of an extended conversation. The Uk-based artist described his identity manufacturing practice, which is apparently – in case you were wondering – perfectly legal. From Bunting’s art project the debate moved onto Facebook’s face recognition resources and the subsequent surveillance paranoia that derives from it – e.g. you can be in the background in somebody else’s picture and be identifiable, even if you don’t have a Facebook account. When Jaromil asked whether there will ever be some kind of regulation of these issues, Karin Spaink pointed out that hackers need to collaborate with the government, training them to really use computers. Jaromil then mentioned the Pirate Party, which is gaining momentum by taking seats in governments and going beyond neutrality, to which Gonggrijp replied that those groups still have a long way to go politically, but things are getting better.
The hacker also made an interesting point about the centralization of the Internet. Since we’re losing the ability to run a mail server – Google does it for free – we’re letting few big corporations do everything, in a time when we’d have the right tools for decentralization, instead. Hackers, of course, can help: “If there is a disruption, I’m not sure the people running this world can boot it again.”