Social Aesthetics and Spyware

Goldsmiths CCA

Serpentine Gallery’s CEO co-owning NSO Group epitomises the art-world as a weaponised ‘social’. Serpentine gallery was a public art space in London. “Championing new ideas in contemporary art since 1970”. NSO Group was a private weapons contractor for government agencies. “Developing best-in-class technology to help government agencies detect and prevent a wide-range of local and global threats.” One guiding principle with art since 1970 is Relational Aesthetics. For example, of ‘the social’. One guiding principle for private weapons contracting for government agencies is spyware and data surveillance. For example, Pegasus. Both Relational Aesthetics and Pegasus enable effective forms of social engineering. Relational Aesthetics is defined as, “a set of practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space”. Similarly, Pegasus is designed to infiltrate devices running Android, Blackberry, iOS and Symbian operating systems and turn them into government surveillance devices. For example, by processing ambient information, tracking subjects, and harvesting all the information from the phone and it’s apps.

Now, NSO’s attack capabilities have become more advanced. Pegasus infiltrations can be achieved through so-called “zero-click” attacks, which do not require any interaction from the phone’s owner in order to succeed. These will often exploit “zero-day” vulnerabilities, which are flaws or bugs in an operating system that the mobile phone’s manufacturer does not yet recognise and so has not been able to fix. Similarly, one might track Relational Aesthetic’s current capabilities operating. For example, achieved through so-called “zero-click” aesthetics, which do not require any interaction from their context in order to succeed. These will often exploit “zero day” vulnerabilities, which are flaws or bugs in an art-world operating system that artists do no yet recognise and so have not been able to fix.

art exhibition gathering of people
Art Forum’s ‘Scene and Herd’

An example of such a flaw might be the spatial politics of art-world representation. For example, of what constitutes ‘art’ or ‘community’ in gallery environments. Through the chronicles of a social media feed (the terminal phase of ‘outreach and education’) we can experience a weird kind of social reproduction where inclusion operates as a function of power. The institutional ‘context-provider’ reissues the ‘subject-content’ therein. Art ‘delivers’ ‘community engagement’, not the other way around. For example, Assemble (the Turner Prize winning collective of (not)artists and architects are an example of this: a ‘community-led’ regeneration / gentrification of a specific neighbourhood in Liverpool. Here, the institutional value of such activity is encoded into the fixtures and fittings of the Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art, a public art gallery in a former Bath House, Assemble were commissioned for.

instagram post
Instagram

The current exhibition at Goldsmiths CCA is Testament, introduced “As the UK navigates seismic shifts triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, environmental crises and Brexit, the role of monuments has been brought into sharp focus, becoming the centre of public debate. Testament is a large-scale group exhibition across the entirety of the CCA building, staged in response to this tumultuous period.” And Pericles (495-425BC) suggests “what you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others”.


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