Category Archives: media art

The art of Hackgate

At about 12.30 last night a widely-published cartoonist had his email and password broadcast on Twitter. Mark Wood’s only connection to #hackgate is that he has also worked for The Sun.

If his characters are anything to go by, Wood is a likeable sort. His client list suggests he’s hard-working. And indeed a web listing makes clear he “will draw anything for anybody”.

Someone must have pointed out his innocence, because the offending tweet has been removed. But sadly a few journalists and techies still have mobile numbers, etc, in the public domain.

Disclosure of these details was the fairly shabby denouement to an otherwise spectacular assault on the servers of News International by a crew of hackers known as Lulzsec.

Lulz boast repeatedly about providing “high-quality entertainment”. But the fake death notice they posted on Sun online was not in and of itself all that funny or entertaining.

But what was gripping was the hacking procedural drama in which they played central characters and the metaphorical panache with which they suggest they operate from an incorporeal longship.

So when @Lulzsec tweeted about sailing over to NI and wrecking it, the image of vikings at Wapping coupled with that of geeks tapping away at laptops was a potent mix.

Elsewhere you can see what they’ve done with code. In their exaggerated reports of Rupert Murdoch’s demise, the group reported a body found in the mogul’s “famous topiary garden”.

Topiary, as has been mentioned in the Guardian, is also the handle of a prominent member of the group. Monocles also feature in both fake news stories and Twitter avatars.

With these in-jokes, Lulzsec hint at vast depths. It’s an informational chiaroscuro. If Stockhausen got in hot water for comparing 9/11 to a work of art, he might have waited for something like this.

Art has played a further role in the story this afternoon when Murdoch and his son took their seats before the Select Committee of ten MPs asking interesting questions on behalf of the DCMS.

This was, up to a point, a more polite drama. And behind the action on the far wall of the Wilson Room was a no less polite painting. I was told this was an Untitled work by Kate Blee.

The epic scale and red/brown colour scheme brought to mind certain Rothkos. Although the macho excesses of abstract expressionism were here trimmed by the employment of, I think, painted linen.

But when it was Murdoch’s turn to be attacked in person, we cut to this contemplative work. At that point art came across like the wilful blindness of which James Murdoch was indirectly accused.

As for that incident with the custard pie, it certainly wasn’t a very good performance piece. There’s a time and a place for that sort of thing and it ain’t on the “most humble day” of anyone’s life.

If you haven’t already, check out this post by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian in which he talks up the art factor in a widely circulated photo of Rebekah Brooks.

Cory Arcangel, Beat the Champ, 2011

This post, about art hacks, has almost nothing to do with cultural journalists. It has more to do with a visit to the Cory Arcangel installation at the Barbican and computer hacking.

Arcangel has taken 14 games consoles and fitted a chip which allows the system to play itself. His coding dictates that the central character in each of the games, all ten pin bowling, always loses.

Media art as practiced by Arcangel may be new, but the spirit of it goes back some way. You might argue that a famous 16th century painting could contain a skilful hack into our field of vision.

Modern art is meanwhile full of examples of what you might call hacking. Pointillism found a short cut to the visual cortex. Cubism fixed a few residual problems with perspective. Surrealism cracked the firewall of the preconscious mind.

And the spirit of sabotage is certainly there in the work of Nam June Paik, whose first show in 1963 featured pianos which had their keys glued together and were otherwise wired up to fail. So this is a tendency which has been in media art since its beginnings.

Games consoles may not be quite as resonant as pianos, yet. So Arcangel’s history of bowling games is a pretty narrow theme. But it no doubt acquires depth and relevance if viewed from the right angle. Just like that skull by Holbein, in fact.

Blogger Thomas Schickle offers one such angle with his review of the show and interview with the artist.

Meanwhile, here’s a glowing review from self confessed fogey of sorts Charles Darwent in The Independent. Here’s a featurette on the show with quotes from Mark brown in the Guardian. And finally,here’s my slightly less enthusiastic review for Culture24.

Beat the Champ is on show at The Curve in the Barbican Centre until 22 May.