HACKING SEDUCTIONS AS ART
interview by Cornelia Sollfrank with Jenny
Marketou took place in Hamburg,Germany on July
Jenny you agreed to show up personally in this video interview.You
are not a typical hacker who tries to hide her face.What kind of hacker
I would like to describe myself as an artist hacker, which means I am
interested in operating as a culture hacker. I believe that there are
two kinds of hackers.One is the cultural hacker, who uses computer hacking
methods as an open source medium and strategy to reconstruct new systems,
new creative environments on the internet. But hacking as art is also
a means to infiltrate hacking culture and to contribute to the formation
of new configurations of characters, space, time and play.
The other is the computer underground hacker that can be defined by
its digital virtuosity, anonymity and skills , and who directly manipulates
the code, breaking into the economy and system of the internet in order
to access and manipulate certain information. In this case I am referring
to the celebrity hacker ,which I am not.
The second kind of hacker has received a lot of media attention lately.
I think the reason why hackers have become the technological cause celebre
ripe for media coverage can be found in the wider social and historical
context of the information revolution and the current importance of
information technologies in our economy.Therefore information technologies,
by being a new economic, cultural and political asset have become particularly
vulnerable to a unique form of crime. The activity itself embodies the
elements of both fear and fascination, and the aura of anonymity makes
hacking suitable for media hyperboles as it is sedentary, repetitive
My work uses information technologies and communication, and I appropriate
hacking methods and strategies in my art process either as an esthetic
experience or as an intervention of resistance. Hacking means reappropriating,
reforming and regenerating not only culture but also redefining systems
and processes, and it can account for a new coinage when the process
is an open system. I believe that artists have always been cultural
As I understand there were “hackers” even before
the computer existed?
I think hacking refers to any imaginative and unorthodox use of any
artifact. “Hacking” means reconstructing a tool to understand
its workings and to reconstruct it in a personal, creative way. How
can art subvert and reappropriate given esthetics and technologies and
what does this mean in culture in general.
I can make reference to the history of art when Duchamp took a wheel
and put in the gallery space or snatched Mona Lisa. He snatched a product
and reconstructed a new system of meaning and representation.
But this is a conceptual thing without any skills. What do you think?
The computer underworld is populated with young men and (almost no women
) who live out their fantasies of power and glory on a keyboard. Of
course, computer hacking requires technical skills, compulsive digital
virtuosity and addiction.
You say to “hack into something”, so there has to be something
there ie, a system of some kind that you can “hack into.”
What is the relation or what might be the motivation for breaking into
a system which already exits, and make changes to it, whether it is
a technological system, a server, a computer network, or even a cultural
I have come to think of “hacking” both as an important phenomenon
and as a metaphor for how we digitally manipulate and think through
the electronic culture that engulfs us and how this demonstration of
virtuosity can be be addressed in the arena of theoretical, and cultural
politics and esthetics. I believe hacking is a form of cultural activism,
as a syntax for resistance and critical discourse.
Artists have always used their process as a strategy and methodology
for resistance.This kind of activism has become very apparent on the
internet, especially since information is becoming more and more valuable
in our economy. In which case the intention and ethics which drive both
artist hackers and underground computer hackers are the same.The intention
is to dismantle the present economic logic of the Internet in order
to take it forward into a state of free public space.
What are the different kind of skills between the computer hacker
and the artist hacker?
As I mentioned before, I would describe the computer hacker by its virtuosity,
mastery and ingenuity in breaking into computer systems and getting
at encryption technology. On the other hand, like the sampling rap MC,
hacker artists operate as culture hackers who manipulate existing techno-semiotic
structures towards a different end, to get inside cultural systems on
the net and make them do things they were never intended to do.
On a technical level, of course, the artist(s) avoids having to put
in the extensive time required for programming and instead get a lot
of technical support from computer hackers. Artists have a green light
in using those skills. I strongly believe that hacking is not an evil
act, but a very intelligent and creative process.There are straight
out culture hacks whose mere existences underscore the viability of
this subculture, its affinities with other parasitico-critical practices,
and the robustness of its free ware economy, a marketplace-bazaar for
codes of all kinds. Game patching also implies and includes the act
of tearing open a finished program to get at the underlying code and
explore what new coinages are invented when the process is an open system.
A lot of the bad image of hacking has to do with the media. Why do you
think society needs this dark side of information technology?
We have been always fascinated by the “black box” and the
technical virtuosity of hackers who manipulate them, but at the same
time we are fearful of their lack of transparency and the fact that
our conventional concept of technological experts may be fatally undermined
by largely anonymous,unaccountable and potentially subversive technological
whiz-kids.The perennial nature of techno-anxiety is illustrated by the
historical range of cultural expressions that give it voice. It is present
in the fate of such Greek mythological figures as Prometheus and Icarus;
it is vividly portrayed in Mary Shelley’s gothic classic Frankenstein.
The Zeitgeist that hackers personify has been vividly expressed in the
fictional genre of cyberpunk novel Neuromanser and science fiction films
such as Blade Runner ,Terminator and Matrix.
I also think our government has helped in promoting this fear by the
way information has always been controlled, yet any information we get
about cases of hacking through media is not real and the government
purposely keeps the truth of what is really going on from us. So it
is very convenient to perpetuate this “evil image” of hacker.
But the mainstream always creates this kind of alienation with anything
marginal or any form of resistance until it is embraced and domesticated
by it. Making hackers celebrities advances their disempowerment.
At this point, Jenny, I would be interested in learning more
about your work.Can you give me an example of your way of hacking?
In my my most recent work,I am creating artificially intelligent agents,
bots, with hacking and tracking behaviors, which vary from IP snatching
and reappropriating codes, to getting personal information from privately
networked environments such as CUSEEME chat rooms. My goal is to develop
website controlled, electronically based installations and environments
that use transformational imagery to explore the fluidity of personal,
cultural, and historical identity, and what kind of new coinage can
be created through the open source agency of information hacking, classification,
What has always interested me is the body, embodied and disembodied,
its relation to space and time as well as the potentiality and meanings
of embodiment within an environment built around and within communication
technologies, with a special regard to the relationship between technology,
body, and subjectivity - the alienation,dislocation and liquidation
of subjectivity all experienced within networked environments.
Can you give me a concrete example ?
A good example of IP snatcher and code hacker is the artificial intelligence
of CHRIS.053 the protagonist in my web based project SMELL.BYTES TM.
SMELL.BYTES TM was originally conceived and produced as an on-line project,
since the internet has become a fantasy generating dream machine for
the wired man. The project can be experienced part on-line and part
as a hybrid physical environment through three panoramic streaming video
projections. Through the hacking virtual persona of Chris.053 , SMELL.BYTES
TM explores human subjectivity on the net. Chris.053 is an invisible
bot and has been programmed to be driven by its insatiable olfactory
desires, relentlessly lurking, and sniffing on the net and gaining unauthorized
access to servers and IP addresses of participants in CU SEE ME teleconference
environments and chat rooms on line.
Visitors can enter the "odor lab" on the SMELL.BYTES TM website
to witness Chris.53’s hacking virtuosity, peruse graphics based
on the molecular structures and data of 7,000 odors and witness the
constant downloading and processing of grabbed unaware human portraits.
Accordingly, those with the most beautiful faces-the most symmetrical-are
assigned seductive odors. The narrative of the interface scripting and
design was based on my research on current studies at The Ludwig Boltzmann
Institute of Urban Ethology,Vienna .The studies support that beauty
and symmetry in humans is correlated to body odors. In other words,if
you are symmetrical you are beautiful therefore you have beautiful body
odors.SMELL.BYTES TM of course takes a critical stance on this kind
of biological classification and Frankensubjectivity.
What happens to the information ?
The information from each CU SEE ME hacked participant has been processed
and classified in the “stinky gallery” as a series of numbers
and corresponding odors.However the viewers do not not have access to
the code. I do.
I created the video projections by appropriating Chris.053’s hacking
skills, and as an invisible agent, I can hack into IP addresses and
access codes of teleconferencing networks , and also log on onto CU
SEE ME chat rooms. Invisible and anonymous, I can join these chat rooms
and download patches of live video streams from those teleconferencing
participants on line. These patches are recorded, processed, manipulated
and projected. As the viewer interacts with the website of Chris.053,
the artificial intelligence simultaneously is surrounded by these stolen
processed profiles of unaware participants. In SMELL.BYTES TM I have
always felt that the author/artist of the project is really Chris.053.
Cornelia Sollfrank is an artist, cultural activist and editor
of Cyberfeminism magazine. For the last two years, she has been interviewing
and researching women hackers. She lives in Hamburg, Germany.