Network is the message
Hats that Hath No Name:
Valentina Vetturi and her reflections on the hacker world
by Laura Estrada Prada

Revolution is not ‘showing’ life to people, but making them live. A revolutionary organization must always remember that its objective is not getting its adherents to listen to convincing talks by expert leaders, but getting them to speak for themselves, in order to achieve, or at least strive toward, an equal degree of participation.”
― 
Guy Debord

.

The internet, a parallel reality where we live in, an intangible world that we believe we know. It is almost impossible to imagine life without the internet, the web, social media. Internet has become deeply engraved within our lives and our sense of self. Yet of that vast virtual dimension called ‘cyberspace’, most are familiar only with the tip of the iceberg, the world wide web. What lies beneath one surface is a place called the deep web, where “hatted”1 individuals navigate and form narratives in a world-wide network that embodies silent resistance, advocates liberty and embraces anonymity. William Gibson, who coined the term ‘cyberspace’ eloquently states:

“Burgeoning technologies require outlaw zones, that Night City wasn’t there for its inhabitants, but as a deliberately unsupervised playground for technology itself.” (Gibson, 1982)

They’re called hackers and they are portrayed within the collective vision as pirates of the internet age: always prone to mischief and theft. However, beyond the superficial considerations that are embraced and disseminated by hegemonic control, the hacker world is one of the most complex and least mainstream revolutions seen by the 21st century.

On February 8, 1996, John Perry Barlow wrote A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace for the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland. Barlow’s document addressed the institutions of hegemonic control, vouching for the liberty of mind and the emancipation from matter as entailed by cyberspace.

“Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions. You have not engaged in our great and gathering conversation, nor did you create the wealth of our marketplaces. You do not know our culture, our ethics, or the unwritten codes that already provide our society more order than could be obtained by any of your impositions. […]

Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.

We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.

We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.

Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here” (Barlow, 1996)

Although Barlow’s public insertion within society granted him the possibility to make his declaration more well-known, internet manifestos advocating for the freedom of the cyberworld and the nature of hackers started in the 1970’s, shortly after the launch of the ARPANET2. A parallel reality that had emancipated itself from matter, an interstice of reality that mocked time and space, cyberspace became the hub of worldwide collaboration against traditional power and the ripe terrain for hacker culture to flourish.

Valentina Vetturi, whose artistic body of work has dealt with themes such as invisibility, memory, secrecy and political engagement decided to become an element of “disturbance” within the unknown and protected world of hackers. Her research was conducted through slowly bred relationships and later interviews with key figures within the hacker world. The drive of her research was to transcend the technical comprehension of the work of hackers and approach the human sphere behind the screens. The first of a series of three works revolving around the hacker world, A Bit for Your Thoughts (2016), was presented by deuxpiece at Carroserie during Art Basel. A Bit for Your Thoughts, like most of Vetturi’s works, included an elaborate composition of media. A site specific installation, the work utilized text and sound to address concepts highly pertinent to the hacker culture: anonymity, authorship, the body-less reality of cyberspace, cryptography and digital money. The text within the installation was two-fold. On the one hand, handwritten fragments of text on the walls testified to the stories Vetturi had gathered from her encounters with hackers. Furthermore, two words (“think” and “do”) written in ASCII-code3 were scattered through the space. With these two very different textual interventions, Vetturi brought the virtual within the physical space, delivering both the figure of hackers and the nature of cyberspace in a form that allowed recognition and identification by any human spectator. For the sound element of the installation, the artist decomposed and re-contextualized fragments of Barlow’s A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. Barlow’s voice and the text on the walls and windows engaged spectators in the discrepancy between Barlow’s utopic ideals for internet freedom and the current state of affairs of internet control and manipulation.

V.Vetturi, A Bit for Your Thoughts, 2016, photo by Guillaume Musset

V.Vetturi, A Bit for Your Thoughts, 2016, photo by Guillaume Musset

The second work of the series by Vetturi addressing the hacker world was In the Corridor of Cyberspace, presented within “Anarchie! Fakten und Fiktionen” at Strauhof, Zurich, in 2016. Vetturi’s artistic intervention entailed a large scale artist book (50cmx70cm) with handwritten interventions and a series of talks and public readings. In the Corridor of Cyberspace functions as a testimonial of the artist’s “intrusion” within a relevant online platform for debate: “The Cyberphunk Mailing list”. Established in 1992, “The Cyberphunk Mailing List” gathered a vast array of individuals such as scientists, activists and libertarians to discuss subjects that were pertinent to the internet age. The mailing list included people such as Jude Milhon, Tim May, Eric Hughes, Julian Assange (founder of Wikileaks), and Philip Zimmerman (inventor of Pretty Good Privacy). The mailing list served as a platform for interaction and discussion on subjects pertinent to the internet age like privacy, cryptography, anonymity and digital money. From a plethora of approaches – political, technical, philosophical and mathematical – the platform served as one of the major seeds of crypto anarchy culture. The work of Valentina Vetturi is a testament of her incursion in this web correspondence. Her artist’s book evidences her submersion in a world she approaches as an outsider with an artistic pretext, her findings and her process within the artistic production.

V.Vetturi, In the Corridor of Cyberspace, 2016, photo courtesy of the artist

V.Vetturi, In the Corridor of Cyberspace, 2016, photo courtesy of the artist

Shortly after In the Corridor for Cyberspace, Vetturi produced a work based on the recurrent words of “The Cyberfunk Mailing List”. The title of her third work, A Better Chance to Gain Enough Entropy is, in fact, based on the recurring words she traced within the online discussion. The work, presented at the 16th edition of the Quadriennale in Rome within the exhibition De Rerum Rurale curated by Matteo Luchetti was composed of an light-box installation with rectangular wall paintings and handwritten text, accompanied by a performance of nine voices. For this work, Vetturi recalled the search engine format in her light-boxes, only to fill them with phrases that were a product of her research on the hacker world:

“On the border of legality / force the law to name/ accept what Hats create

Hit by a bus it happens/ Share knowledge scatter/ drafts avoid the risk

Be online here/ while twelve there/ Knock down frontiers / be everywhere

Public is transparency /Private is anonymous /Be anonymous In /a transparency land

Digital Panopticon Don’t Be / Your Own Panopticon Take care / Preserve Your digital self” (Vetturi, 2016)

The nine voice performance disrupted the exhibition space in a random way, personifying the hacker modality of desired entropy. The performers sang a cacophonous manifesto of sorts, inviting spectators to question the internet imperialism4 that currently mines the liberties of the world-wide-web, imposing a Foucaultian model of panopticon surveillance on internet usage. With the performance and installation, the artist writes her own manifesto embracing the anarchic voice the web once represented, disseminating the struggle for transparency and equality behind the best hacker ethics.

V.Vetturi, A Better Change to Gain Enough Entropy, 2016, photo by OKNOstudio, courtesy of Fondazione La Quadriennale di Roma

V.Vetturi, A Better Change to Gain Enough Entropy, 2016, photo by OKNOstudio, courtesy of Fondazione La Quadriennale di Roma

Valentina Vetturi’s series on the hacker world triggers reflections on the libertarian nature of free information and transparency the internet once promised. Today, institutional powers have found a plethora of ways to manipulate and commodify internet usage, menacing the freedoms technology once offered. Vetturi leverages the findings of her research on the field in order to shed light on a subject that touches us all: there is no need to be a hacker in order to feel and acknowledge the control of the imperialisms of the internet age. Furthermore, as an artist, Vetturi once again explores her role as an intruder. In this instance and different from previous works, she is an intruder amongst intruders of the web. This double intrusion enables a multi-layered series of disruptions that are coherent with the entire hacker idea: the artist intrudes a community of people who invade silently, while rattling the spectators’ sense of virtual security and the presumed independence of online identity, extrapolating the virtual and re-interpreting it within a physical exhibition space.

1 Part of the hacker lexicon includes the internal classification of “hats” based on criminality and behavior. White hats are security researchers that when they identify a security vulnerability within a software or system, they inform the vendors. White hats sell their information on vulnerability. Black hats use their hacker skills to find and develop security breaches, attacking systems and stealing information. Grey hats sell or disclose vulnerabilities governments—law enforcement agencies, intelligence agencies or militaries. (K.Setter, “Hacker Lexicon”, WIRED, 2016)
2 The first ARPANET link was established between the University of California, Los Angeles and the Stanford Research Institute at 22:30 hours on October 29, 1969. The ARPANET, together with other networks were the beginning of the internet as we know it today.
3 ASCII-code is one of the most widely used binary text-codes used fro computers.
4 Internet usage is currently undergoing a strong control ploy. Systems such as Big Data are a perfect example of digital control and the commodification of internet usage. Hackers refer to these internet powers as the GAFAs (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon).

Bibliography

Barlow, John Perry. “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”. Manifestos for the Internet Age. Greyscale Press, Poland. 2015.
Setter, Kim. “Hacker Lexicon: What are White Hat, Gray Hat and Black Hat Hackers?”. WIRED. April 13, 2016.
Gibson, William. “Burning Chrome”. Omni, Burning Chrome, July 1982.

Immagine in homepage di V.Vetturi, A Better Change to Gain Enough Entropy, 2016, photo by OKNOstudio, courtesy of Fondazione La Quadriennale di Roma