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Radical Data at Digital Arts Zurich 2021

Last tended on February 01, 2022

The Radical Data Project spent last October in Zurich. Invited to speak at DA Z Digital Arts Festival, the team was only too keen to share its thoughts on the future of art, activism and the digital world. Aside from the outstanding hotdogs and overpriced coffees, in Switzerland we stumbled on a gathering of brilliant thinkers and bizarre art installations, each with their own vision for a more radical tomorrow.

Post Fake News

The internet has given us unprecedented access to knowledge, but often without the tools to distinguish fact from fiction. In a world brimming with questions, reliable answers are in short supply. Which begs the question: can we continue to trust in digitalization? At DA Z, Radical Data capitán Jo Kroese joined a panel of experts to find out if we can - and if we should.

post fake news

Alongside Niniane Paeffgen (managing director of the Swiss Digital Initiative) and Carsten Menke (head of next generation research at banking firm Juilius Baer), Jo discussed competing visions for rebuilding trust in a post-fake-news world. Unsurprisingly, next to a private banker, Jo ended up on the more Radical™ end of the spectrum. They took the chance to map out plans for a fundamental shift in the relationship between technology and society:

“The data revolution promised us well-timed buses, beautiful genetically-curated children, and disease-free lives that could potentially last forever. A digital utopia, if you're into that kind of thing.

“But fast forward to 2022 and what we’ve ended up with is on its best days a boring dystopia of eye-tracked consumer optimisation. On its worst, a system abetting police brutality, targeting the surveillance of minorities and aggravating race-hate in countries that big-tech programmers can’t find on a map.

“Like the industrial revolution before it, the data revolution gave new tools to the already-powerful and kept them out of the reach of citizens. Once again, we’ve been betrayed.

“And so how to rebuild trust after a betrayal? Well, just like in a relationship, it's worth Googling it. Search results suggest that the betrayer should apologise sincerely, consider the reasons for their actions, and let themself be guided by the needs of those they have hurt. Ask yourself, have we seen Zuckerberg attempt even one of these? The answer is a resounding no.

“Which brings us to the ultimatum of Google search suggestions: know when to walk away. If those who betrayed us don’t seem to care about regaining our trust, maybe it's time we turned our backs on them altogether and instead placed trust in ourselves. In other words, why not build our own utopias? Why not create digital spaces designed by citizens not corporations? Why not turn data from a tool for greed into a tool for dignity, justice and joy?

“As a data scientist, I could sense the potential. And it only took a little bit of digging to realise that a new world is already out there, making use of data in radical ways. Architects using machine learning to expose war crimes. Protesters outsmarting surveillance AI with lasers. Collectives mapping marginalised queer experiences from across the globe. What Radical Data wants to do is give this new world a voice and develop it further, to help collectives from around the world find each other and collaborate. In short, to begin reimagining the data revolution on our own terms.”

A New Nature

Mark Dorf foresees a revolutionary ecology. We were lucky enough to catch his installation, A New Nature, on the second day of the festival. Composed of 3D animations, data-surveillance and drone footage, Mark takes us on a tour of natural landscapes as we’ve never seen them. Reappropriating these tools of techno-capitalism, we journey through images of a familiar world but from an alien perspective, imagining a future that blurs the lines between nature, data and technology. A future that sees nature not in harmony or crisis, but in transformation:

“A world that is augmented with technology for both better and worse; a strange future full of mysteries lying around every corner, inhabited by beautiful and hybrid planetary systems of technology-organism… Technology will probably save us. But it's probably going to destroy the thing we’re trying to save now. It might not be what we want, but I’m not even sure we really understand yet what it can or cannot be.”

mark dorf a new nature Mark overlays images of a forest and a data server. We often consider data to be inherently unnatural and immaterial. In the new nature, Mark suggests that data will bear a very real, even physical connection to our environment.

Algoraving Antics

And it’d hardly be a festival without some flippin tunes would it. For DA Z, some of Europe’s finest live coders were called in to host gigs throughout the city. Manipulating computer code in front of a crowd, live coders compose dance music (or algorave) on the fly. Most coding software is open source, meaning anyone can get involved. And with code projected onto the walls, audiences can engage directly in the live production process. Not surprisingly, the Radical Data Project is all about it. Every movement needs an aesthetic, and the open, communal nature of live coding reflects a culture primed for a data revolution.

jobi sabrina live coding Jo (as Jobi) performed their stomping hyperpop bangers alongside Sabrina, an expert in the art of live-coded imagery.

timo hooogland Amsterdam’s Timo Hoogland (t.mo) closed out the festival on a hypnotic, ambient note using his own customised coding software.

Jesus Topples the Metaverse

Never one to shy away from an algorave, even Christ himself made an appearance. Walking for miles through the foggy streets of Zurich with a 7-foot Facebook logo, performance artist / Jesus lookalike Filipe Vilas-Boas hoped to take a subtle swipe at the deification of social media, showing us a society crumbling under the weight of big tech ambitions. On arriving at his destination he carved up the gigantic F with an axe - a not so subtle F U to the world of social media.

filipe vilas boas carrying the cross facebook jesus

"What's your problem with Facebook?" Jesus was asked as he limped along Schiffbaustrasse.

"It's too heavy."

See you next October, DA Z.

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