The Transparency Grenade
The Transparency Grenade was a project developed by Julian Oliver to comment on issues of transparency in the world today. Unlike the classic Soviet F1 Hand Grenade it was modeled after, The Transparency Grenade is designed with a sleek exterior and translucent encasement that alludes to the transparent nature of affairs that arises as a result of this project. In addition to the physical design of the piece, the technical aspects are what truly speak to the overall statement of the project. The grenade is specifically wired to intercept data traveling through the users local networks, and route the content to an exterior server to be mined. The resulting piece of net art comes in the form of a map which displays data in a user friendly interface, showing the location of 'detonation' and the data retrieved with a live mic feed streaming through the server.
All of these elements combine to comment on the highly relevant topic of corruption and corporate secrecy that has made headlines in recent years. While whistleblowing has received negative attention in cases such as Edward Snowden, Julian Oliver promotes this type of behavior in the dialogue on internet privacy. The encapsulation of this technology in the form of a stylized grenade explicitly addresses the need to blow apart the institutions that have proven to be heavily involved in subversive politics. The idea is that if we as citizens are able to spy back on antagonistic corporate and political establishments, the balance can be restored. The project has since evolved into a smart phone application to allow individuals to employ this technology in an increasingly practical manner.
Cory Doctorow notes the cultural significance of this work on Boing Boing:
"It is intended to be hidden in smoke filled rooms where secretive and corrupt meetings are taking place, so that all the material therein can be widely viewed. Most importantly however it is the hyperbole and fear around containing these volatile records, of the cyber burglary, that increasingly yields assumptive logics that ultimately shape how we use networks and think about the right to information.Just as record companies claim billions in losses due to file sharing, the fear of the leak is being actively exploited by law makers to afford organizations greater opacity and thus control." (Doctorow, Cory, 2/15/12, Transparency Grenade: a grenade-shaped surveillance device for smoke-filled rooms)
Thankfully, artists like Julian Oliver are providing an often drowned out take on the nature of web security. While news channels and popular media highways ramble on about the treacherous nature of network breaches, voices like Julian Oliver's alert the world to the fact that these popular dialogues are often being driven by entities that have something to lose/hide. Most importantly, Oliver, and The Transparency Grenade, call for investigation into the places that are trying so desperately to stay in the shadows.
This tendency to examine the nature of internet privacy is prevalent in other areas of Oliver's work, most notably in The Deep Sweep. This project was similar to The Transparency Grenade in the way that it, too, was aimed at capturing data traveling through exposed networks. In this particular project, an airborne balloon was released into the stratosphere in order to capture drone to satellite communications. Again, the language used in Oliver's creative statement (which refers to the "vast and often secretive world of signal in our skies") and the nature of the work expresses the need to infiltrate highly secretive networks.
Another artist creating work similar to Julian Oliver is an artist by the name of Aaron Koblin. Like Oliver, Koblin uses data in his art work to visualize sociopolitical phenomena. One project that was particularly interesting and relevant to Oliver's work was New York Talk Exchange . Unlike Oliver's work, Koblin takes a less critical approach to our network traffic, and instead seems to marvel at the interconnectivity created by these sites. In this case he visualizes real time AT&T phone call and IP data flowing between New York and the rest of the world.
The style of Koblin's visualizations are notably different from Julian Oliver's. Where Oliver's maps were symbolized with red spots emanating from 'leak points' on an aesthetically military map, Koblin's appears as a much more palatable presentation, with softer colors and intriguing communication path visualizations. This stylistic difference is indicative to the intent behind the work. Koblin clearly aims to display the extensive interconnectivity of the world through the web, whereas Oliver seeks to utilize the network as a weapon against those abusing it's capabilities.
The Transparency Grenade Showings:
-Weise7 Studio exhibition, Labor Berlin, Haus Der Kulturen der Welt