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Life Sharing, 2000-2003

Technologies: Debian GNU/Linux, HTML, Javascript, Flash, Python

Keywords: locative, open source, network, privacy

"A computer, with the passing of time, ends up looking like its owner's brain. It does it more and better than other more traditional media, e.g., diaries, notebooks, or, on a more abstract level, paintings and novels."

Much as an office with its books, correspondence, and files reflects the interests and activities of its occupant, so, too, the contents of a personal computer can be seen as an intimate portrait of its owner. Because our computers contain so much personal information, we protect them from prying eyes with passwords, firewalls, and encryption software. In Life Sharing, a project commissioned by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the European New Media art duo 0100101110101101.ORG, a.k.a. Franco Birkut and Eva Mattes, turned their private lives into a public art work. From 2001-2003, they made each and every file on their computer, from grant proposals to incoming e-mails, available to anyone at any time via their Web site. This daring piece, whose title is an anagrammatic play on the term "file sharing," is an exercise in transparency, an act of data exhibitionism on the part of the artists that turns viewers into voyeurs. In Life Sharing, 0100101110101101.ORG demonstrates a willingness to make themselves profoundly vulnerable (in terms of potential identity theft and other online violations) in the name of art. They use their digital identities as a medium, much as such 1970s Performance artists as Linda Montano, Vito Acconci, and Chris Burden used their physical bodies in their work. Visitors to the Life Sharing site encountered a graphical representation of a Linux directory structure?a point-and-click version of the open source operating system's text-based interface. Instead of guarding their intellectual property, the artists shared it with anyone who was interested, much as the authors of Linux software make their source code public. Life Sharing was not 0100101110101101.ORG's first radical experiment with intellectual property. In 1999, they downloaded contents of the private art Web site Hell.com and made all of it publicly available on the 0100101110101101.ORG site -- a hacktivist intervention that garnered the ire of many of the artists' peers and brings to mind earlier examples of appropriationist art such as Sherrie Levine's reproductions of Walker Evans's photographs.

As a sequel to Life Sharing, 0100101110101101.ORG created Vopos, a project in which the artists wore Global Positioning System (GPS) transmitters to track their whereabouts, mapping their location on their Web site in real time. The artists also patched their mobile phone conversations through their server so anyone could listen in. A recording of their conversations was then remixed by Negativland, an art collective whose sound collages have led to multiple law suits for copyright infringement.

Vopos and Life Sharing were elements of a larger project dubbed Glasnost, a reference to Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of openness that led, albeit indirectly, to the collapse of the Soviet Union. According to the artists, in Glasnost "0100101110101101.ORG is trying to give an account of how vast amounts of personal information are moving into corporate hands, where it can be developed into electronic profiles of individuals and groups that are potentially far more detailed and intrusive than the files built up in the past by state police and security agencies." In response to this Orwellian specter of corporate data collection, 0100101110101101.ORG turned their Web site into a virtual glass house, applying the principles of open source software to open their lives to the public eye.

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