14
Dec
10

/Interview/ The brains behind : Dead Drops

Berlin-based artist Aram Bartholl has been embedding USB sticks in walls in New York to create an offline filesharing network, with the locations of the “dead drops” posted online. Tanya Combrinck finds out why

.net: What made you decide to do this?

AB: It evolved from a series of projects. I find it very interesting to mix up the digital world and the physical world, and I have undertaken a couple of other urban interventions where I placed objects from the digital space in the street. This project has this “spy” theme, so it’s about hidden treasures and things like that. I’m interested in the vision of people holding their laptops to a wall and embedding data literally in the wall, in concrete. We are living in a time of super-connectivity, and I like the idea of breaking it down to a more simple way of connecting. I like this idea of infiltrating the city itself with data.

.net: What kind of reaction have you had?

AB: I get a lot of different reactions, but overall people totally like the project, which is good. Some people are concerned about viruses, but the point is that the dead drops are public and you can’t control them. That’s the whole idea. It says a lot about how we perceive public space on the internet and public space in the city. The internet has viruses on every corner; every click could be a virus. We all know that, and even so, we feel fairly safe. But the moment the data device is out in the street, people are frightened that something dangerous could happen. It’s true that there could be danger, but we need to make sure that our computer security works properly all the time. It’s interesting to see how people think about what could happen in one place as opposed to another.

There’s another reaction from the US cultural side. The sexual implications are very vibrant there, and they say it is some kind of electronic glory hole. I think it is typically American that they immediately come up with a metaphor from that direction! It’s funny, I didn’t intend it, but it’s true. I like the picture of people taking their very expensive laptops and bending down to the curb to try to find something interesting.

Overall, it’s a very successful project so far, lots of people are interested. It’s still in its early stages; I’m still figuring out what to do next.

.net: What have people put on the dead drops?

AB: It’s a secret! You should go there and take a look. The whole point is that it’s a dead drop and it’s not on the internet, so we don’t know. It’s very much about the thrill and the idea of what’s on there and what could be on there. My friend, who is a musician, said he could release his new album on there, so everyone who wants it would have to go to that place. There are many possibilities for using them to find new ways to distribute data.

.net: Are you going to make any in Berlin?

AB: Yeah, sure. I will continue with it here, and everywhere I travel. The next phase will be to encourage everyone to make their own dead drop in their home city. I am going to put up a how-to manual. I hope it will spread over the world!

 

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