4RTCR4X0RZ: Hacking Open Together: New Media Art, Activism and Computer Counter Cultures
jonCates ++ jake elliott

This text intertwines quotes from multiple artworlds' interpretations of togetherness into collaboration with our personal experience. This is an attempt to crochet together a hyperknitted patchwork of multiple entry/exit ways. We are not repeating others' comments robotically like mechanical dolls with record-playback-erase heads because we have hacked open those devices to inhabit them. We are not repeating ourselves but rather recursively transcoding a system that can swallow itself like a circuit bent Ouroboros, the infinite dragon. We are limited to a number of words and topics, finite and localized although overlapping and deterritorialized, speaking multiple expansions.

"Tactical Media are what happens when the cheap 'do it yourself' media, made possible by the revolution in consumer electronics and expanded forms of distribution (from public access cable to the internet) are exploited by groups and individuals who feel aggrieved by or excluded from the wider culture."

David Garcia and Geert Lovink. "The ABC of Tactical Media." May 16, 1997.

"Hacking might be characterized as 'an appropriate application of ingenuity'. Whether the result is a quick-and-dirty patchwork job or a carefully crafted work of art, you have to admire the cleverness that went into it."

"The Meaning of Hack.", The Jargon File, version 4.4.7. December 29, 2003.

The phrase "an appropriate application of ingenuity" is an abstract and immaterial characterization of hacking that is not consistent with the flattening effect produced by the phrases "quick-and-dirty patchwork" and "carefully crafted". The "ingenuity" characterization, even as "applied," functions to protect the sanctity of the term "Hack" from self-influence by its own material complications: its' dirtiness, illegibility; its' complexity and potential criticality. "An appropriate application of ingenuity" is a moralistic characterization, a characterization ad hominem, that establishes borders of appropriateness.

"The hacker code of ethics discourages any act of disturbance in cyberspace. Even the Legion of Doom (a group of young hackers that put the fear into the Secret Service) claims to have never damaged a system. Their activities were motivated by curiosity about computer systems, and belief in free access to information. Beyond these very focused concerns with decentralized information, political thought or action has never really entered the group's consciousness. Any trouble that they have had with the law (and only a few members break the law) stemmed either from credit fraud or electronic trespass. The problem is much the same as politicizing scientists whose research leads to weapons development. It must be asked, How can this class be asked to destabilize or crash its own world?"

Critical Art Ensemble. "The Electronic Disturbance." 1996.

If there is a characterization of hacking that is always already marginalized, a material characterization, it is hacking inside out; transgressive and also destabilizing. Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) describes the "hacker code of ethics" as incomplete for a hacker/activist/artist. Pursuing and articulating these positions, CAE mobilized and inspired Tactical Media approaches as well as Hacktivist strategies in various artworlds and communities. The positionality they describe involves an ability/willingness to destabilize your own class and crash your own system.

"Crash is always in relation to a (necessarily programmable) machine. A machine does not crash unless it is a Turing machine. Indeed, crash can readily be seen as the exposure of the programmable and machinic in that what perhaps was not necessarily viewed as machine/coded is now revealed as such. Crash exists in relation to an expanded interface or operating system and in relation to exposure and revelation."

martin howse. "crash." February 2005.

"During recent times and most strongly because of the wider effects of specific acts of repression, hacking itself has often become less able to get things going because it has (a) been driven more underground, (b) been offered more jobs, and (c) been less imaginatively willing or able to ally itself with other social currents."

Matthew Fuller. "A means of mutation." March 1998.

"Biennale.py is the first computer virus ever written employing the Python programming language, and one of the few, if not the only one, whose name is written at the same time in the Computer Science and Art History books. The virus stresses its "aesthetic qualities" through the beauty of its own source code, a "love poem" being an integral part of its executing code. We've chosen Python - says Massimo, Epidemic spokesman - exactly for the possibility to give any name to the variables, in practice you can write software with your own words."

0100101110101101.ORG. "Contagious Paranoia." September 2006.

Reena Jana breezily dismisses 0100101110101101.ORG's bienale.py project in her Wired review (1) of this project that exists as virus and collectivized New Media Art. We do not want to participate in the simplicity of this dismissal or to continue to cultivate the confusion between virus writing and hacking (because simplicities are dangerous oversights and hackers have been falsely mythologized as evil spirits in the machine). Still, Jana points out correctly that artworlds are "always hungry for the new, the trendy and the controversial". This hunger shares motivations with other imperialisms, seeking to colonialize and monetize new experiences in an indefinite expanse of abstracted overdevelopment. Artworlds pride themselves on maintaining self-reflection to mobilize ongoing analysis, critical discourses and engaged practices, however, the phase of expansive hunger for new conceptual and commercial territorializations moves the borders of artworlds out, enveloping romanticized others: 'Outsider Art', 'Naive Art', 'Hacker Art'... 'Hacker', 'Hacktivist' or 'Interventionist' as artist, as social construct, holds cultural currency in artworlds as these constructs are overcoded: dangerous, mysterious and outlaw other.

"cracker: n. One who breaks security on a system. Coined ca. 1985 by hackers in defense against journalistic misuse of hacker"

"cracker.", The Jargon File, version 4.4.7. December 29, 2003.

"Cracker" is immediately an exclusion: the wide band of inappropriateness at the borders of "Hacker" as described by the hacker ethic. "Cracker" is not a group of people but a gradation of contempt held by a group of people for a body of activity that makes people anxious. To articulate (and in articulation soothe) cracker anxiety, the Hacker/Cracker relationship reduces itself into simple elitism, a binary coded value system that socially establishes the primacy of the 'Hacker' as a 'true' ethical signal against the 'false' immoral (dirty) noise of the 'Cracker'. Thus 'Cracker' plays outsider to 'Hacker' if these distinctions can be maintained or stabilized.

"Though crackers often call themselves 'hackers', they aren't (they typically have neither significant programming ability, nor Internet expertise, nor experience with UNIX or other true multi-user systems). Their vocabulary has little overlap with hackerdom's, and hackers regard them with varying degrees of contempt."

"Crackers, Phreaks, and Lamers.", The Jargon File, version 4.4.7. December 29, 2003.

The vocabulary at the edge of "hackerdom" is a kind of populist coded satire of elitism called l33t. As Cracker is strategically excommunicated from moral activity by Hacker, l33t becomes not only a vocabulary but a pervasive affect. "The" becomes "teh" and "owned" becomes "pwned" as mistakes fold into the language, dirty glitch becomes linguistic atom moving horizontally and playfully rather than being controlled by linguistic legitimacy.

"As the Internet was coming into its own, during the early 1980s, hackers that didn't want their websites, newsgroups, etc, to be picked up in a simple keyword search began using numbers to replace certain letters (mostly vowels) such as A = 4 or E = 3 ... There is no agreed-upon way to write l33t, so it's up to you whether or not to go with light l33t, medium 1337, hard |_337 or even ultra |_33ø|ø."

h2g2 Researchers. "An Explanation of l33t Speak." August 2002.

The proposal for "dirty new media" that we articulate (in various languages and affectations including l33t) is an attempt to play rather than render illegible. We want to resist clean code. Dirtiness prevents simple reductive indexing because it destabilizes indexicality, introducing and embraces noise.

Chicago is currently home to various noise projects that cross borders between New Media Art, hacking, cracking and experimental musics. I Love Presets, one such project, specifically inspires and enables these conversations to continue through events such as r4WB1t5, Hackmeetings and spaces such as dai5ychain, Busker and the Flowershop... I Love Presets, the collaborative project of Rob Ray, jon.satrom and Jason Soliday imagines itself as systems crash:

"I Love Presets combine the sound of a semi-truck falling off the sunset, a scratched up hip-hop album kissing an outlet and the sound of an angry life guard at the boom-box swimming-pool. Audio and video collide head on to open the timespace rift spewing forth sonic mirth and visual delight. Where else have you seen a 16 color rainbow explode?"

I Love Presets. "(A) r4WB1t5 micro festival." May 2005.

Blake Edwards, who performs and organizes experimental noise events, describes I Love Presets as "local video and sound corruption". (2) In the same document Edwards contextualizes his own collaborative experimental projects as 'punk'. A connectivity is present in Chicago between Punk, Industrial, Experimental, Electronic, House, Jazz, Improvisation and Noise musics. The messy, dirty, impure and corrupted connections include DIY strategies, digital punk approaches, hardware hacking, circuit bending and artistic misuse or recoding of software systems by artists/musicians.

"The concept of DIY is less relevant to networked youth culture today as it was when we grew up (with movements like Hardcore). DIT - Do It Together - which finds it's roots in the Open Source movement's model of production, is a far more relevant paradigm today."

anil bawa cavia, "DIY Culture", December 8, 2005.

"Terms such as " mapping," "borders," "hacking," "trans-nationalism," "identity as spatial," and so on have been popularized in recent years by new media theories' celebration of "the networks" - a catch-all phrase for the modes of communication and exchange facilitated by the Internet.
We should proceed with caution in using this terminology because it accords strategic primacy to space and simultaneously downplays time - i.e., history. It also evades categories of embodied difference such as race, gender and class, and in doing so prevents us from understanding how the historical development of those differences has shaped our contemporary worldview."

Coco Fusco. "Questioning the Frame." December 16, 2004. In These Times.

In Chicago we have Media Art hystories of Free Culture and experimentation such as the Copy-It-Right approach of Phil Morton, the 'first copier' of Dan Sandin's Image Processor. The Sandin Image Processor, an analog computer or artware system built from 1971 to 1973, offered artists unprecedented abilities to create, process and affect realtime video and audio, enabling performances that literally set the stage for current praxis. (3) The proto Open Source license developed by Sandin and Morton for the Distribution Religion, the technical plans for building copies of a Sandin Image Processor, anticipated many artists' current approaches to Free and Open Source Software development, distribution methods and DIT collaborations.

"First, itÕs okay to copy! Believe in the process of copying as much as you can; with all your heart is a good place to start - get into it as straight and honestly as possible. Copying is as good (I think better from this vector-view) as any other way of getting Ôthere.Õ

Phil Morton. " Distribution Religion." 1973

"On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other."

Stewart Brand. "Whole Earth Review." May 1985.

This quote is not usually mobilized in a manner that would articulate a complexity of readings. Normalized usage of 'information wants to be free', is symptomatic flag waving of an iconic banner in the overlapping communities we are interfacing in this text. The original analytical sentiment of the quote, a quote which was and is a 2 sided statement, describes a conflictual tension in the manner in which 'information' could work or move socially in economies of use and distribution.

Imagine an identity construction called Art Hacker, who is not a Hacker Artist. Imagine developing an Art or Artware of Hacking Art Operating Systems...

"As far as sociological theories on art and hacking go, I've come increasingly to the conclusion over the last four, five years in which I have been involved in hacking, that hack culture always has something bordering on a nationalÉ(laughter) flavor. ThatÕs why it is interesting for me to visit other countries and especially Italy, where it appears as if there does not exist the slightest fear of contact between artists, activists, philosophers etc. They coexist there naturally, dialogue with each other and create a common language in which they can communicate (laughter), which is something I havenÕt experienced in Germany. As a female artist in the Chaos Computer Club, I have come face to face with some of the worse preconceptions, accusations and verbal abuse of my life (unfortunately)."

Cornelia Sollfrank interviewed by Florian Cramer. "Hacking the art operating system." December 28th, 2001.

Imagine an identity construction called Art Cracker, who is not a Cracker Artist. We are developing an Art or Artware of Cracking Art Operating Systems... Translated through dirty New Media noise and the 1337 we speak, this identity becomes an 4Rt cR4x0R and this conversation continues to be cracked open together as an ongoing discursive project at: http://4RtcR4x0Rz.com

jonCates ++ jake elliott
Chicago IL .US
December 23 2006

1. Reena Jana. "Want to See Some Really Sick Art?", 2001. http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,44728,00.html
2. Blake Edwards. "February C.I.P. Update." February 1, 2006.
3. Dan Sandin interviewed by criticalartware. April 9, 2003. http://criticalartware.net/int/dS/dS.int_txt.html