Ars Electronica 2016 & Sound Art Symposium @ Bruckner University.

Can you hear me? – Christoph Wachter & Mathias Jud

Can you hear me? engages in questions challenging who gets access to information and data, privacy and the state of surveillance. The work co-opts a medium of interaction in a way that allows the artists and participants to leave the traditional space of artistic discourse and occupy a space for dialogue currently used by a system of governance known for overriding basic rights of the democratic society – personal privacy and freedom of speech.

Christoph Wachter and Mathias Jud wanted to set up a temporary installation on the subject of power and powerlessness in the Digital Age. On the roof of the Akademie der Künste—right between the listening posts in the American and British Embassies—they set up improvised antennas and installed an independent Wifi communications network, the range of which included the Reichstag, the Office of the Federal Chancellor and the Swiss Embassy. Anyone with a Wifi-capable device could join the network and chat, send text messages and share files. Personnel of the embassies and German government agencies were cordially invited to join in too. Plus, anyone who wished could send messages to the intelligence organizations on precisely those frequencies on which the American NSA and the British GCHQ were listening in.

On the top of the Swiss Embassy, they installed a series of antennas. Their antennas weren’t as sophisticated as those used by the Americans and the British, they were makeshift can-antennas, not camouflaged but totally obvious and visible.

A different regime of conversation unfolded: If people are spying on us, it stands to reason that they have to listen to what we are saying. At the same time, the participants in the communication network were largely anonymous. It was an inversion. The options for publicly talking and freely assembling are limited in the government district, as it is a non-protest-zone. But there are no special regulations regarding digital communication. This installation was therefore perfectly legal. The Swiss ambassador even informed Chancellor Merkel about it. For 33 days this independent and anonymous network was used by thousands of people, and they sent more than 15,000 messages to the NSA and the GCHQ.

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