The artproject picidae
Surfing the Internet and the world shrinks to the size of a village. The farthest regions are just one click away. But taking a closer look, the infinite freedom of a virtual space is just an illusion. Why does not even one single website from North Korea exist? Why isn’t there a website about the Tiananmen Massacre from within China, no right wing extremist propaganda from Germany, not one single Pin-Up girl from Iran, no criticism of Islam from Saudi Arabia, no call for a protest rally from Syria?
The World Wide Web, the nervous system of a simultaneous communication and the platform for global data exchange, is quite a diverse heterogeneous formation. Many nations have an active Internet censorship. Government, Internet providers and Internet Services are observing, controlling and even blocking content. Therefore the Internet appears in different forms: tidied up, and in other ways trimmed or fragmented. So what’s about this world that appears on our computer monitors?
Disposal of language
The criteria of censorship and its technical accomplishment are also clandestine. While continuously eliminating specific content, censorship eradicates criticism as well as discussion, language, and the medium itself.
Automated censorship is unable to make value judgements: targetted words get wiped out arbitrarily. Google China deleted the web site www.bassexperts.com because of the word “sex” in the domainname. The word 屠杀 (massacre) is such a huge problem for the Chinese censorship authorities that all results listed from the search engine www.baidu.cn are immediately replaced by a notification of a network problem. (Baidu search for massacre 屠杀)
Any action of control and censorship influences the handling and meaning of the media itself. The range and conditions beyond our perception and communication are fundamental for our own world view, cognitive ability and expression.
The power of pictures
Because of the fact that information is only detectable automatically in specific encodings and because the bandwith of user Internet connections are already fast enough, we developed the pici-server that generates pictures of websites to access web web pages. We installed the first pici-server in Zurich and started for our self-experiment a journey to the end of the Internet.
Berlin was the starting point of our journey. It was for decades a city divided by the wall, now slowly recovering from the separation. From Berlin we flew to Beijing, a mega city almost exploding by the speed of its development. China is experiencing a massive boom and is still strictly controlled and kept under surveillance by its communist regime.
For three weeks we checked the functions of the Golden Shield, the huge Chinese firewall, in Beijing and Shanghai. For most Chinese the numerous Internet Cafés are their only access to the Internet. Entering the Café everybody is asked for identification, and has to be registered. Like most places within Chinese cities even the rooms are observed by cams. As Europeans it was not possible to avoid being noticed – but even under these aggravating circumstances picidae was running very well. Our server delivered us with all the web sites that are usually only reachable on the other site of the firewall.
With our media art project ZONE*INTERDITE we unveiled some blind spots in our own perception. picidae follows up here and explores our perspective and imagination in relation to the digital information transfer. picidae takes the questions for the image of the world literally. The pici-server delivers images of web pages and uses the image as digital encryption. The power of an image is not calculable.
We have torn a hole in the Chinese firewall.
The first holes in the Berlin wall were torn by so called “Mauerspechte” (engl. wall woodpeckers). The project is named after these first wall breakers: picidae (Latin for woodpecker). The hole in the wall presupposes uncertainty. What is beyond it? A new sight can lead to a new impression or might result in a new notion. Catching sight is a borderline experience: Will I be, will the world be the same afterwards?
One way to evade the firewall within China is to install a server or a proxy abroad. Foreign companies in particular benefit from this option. However, people who don’t have such connections abroad, most of them do not even own a computer, are hit by the restrictions even harder. Chinese censorship is disguised as a network problem, or the request is redirected directly to a dummy site. picidae allows us to compare websites from different regions. In this way the amount of censorship appears is exposed openly within China.
picidae allows a glance into another world and opens a new prospective.