Month: July 2020

Art Without Media and Artists

Art from data — Aaron Koblin, TED

Art—generated from data, Aaron Koblin/TED

Art is now taking new turns. In the metamorphosis of art, new characters and catalysts are emerging into the play where the individual medium and artists are gradually becoming insignificant than before. Like artificial intelligence in technology, art itself is turning into an independent catalyst of this transformation, and is somewhat working independently off the artists! Specialised formats of art which result in single pieces hanging on one person’s wall are rendering themselves irrelevant. They are now being replaced by a thriving proliferation of mediums with infinite combinations and possibilities. It’s a time when each work is a new experiment, a new format and possibly a completely new style. It’s a turning point of embracing new dimensions of diversity and experiments, and perhaps most exciting time to be an artist!

Transformable form in workspace, self assembly

Transformable, self assembling forms—Self Assembly Lab, MIT, Google

Technology is having a huge impact in these accelerating changes. We have seen data as art, where parts of the works are done by a machine-intelligence and parts by a human. Self-assembling, self-generating objects, forms, patterns and fractals are not new concepts anymore. Blurring these lines between an artist’s planned moves, and the uncertainty of randomness of nature, mathematics, quantum superpositions or AI, is the new reality. Also the concept of collaborative works has gone to a new level, where an entire symphony is composed by random people, or design of a house is crowd-sourced by dozens of architects together. Even simple everyday objects, cellphone photographs and videos are edited, tied and taped to make remarkable works of art! Then there are these blurring lines between performing, visual and experiential arts. A dance choreography, for example, is more than dance nowadays; it is a designed experience. One notices similar things in theatre and film.

Art, now more than ever, is everything, and for everyone. Ai Weiwei famously wrote “Everything is art. Everything is politics.” The critical word here is “everything”! To elaborate, Weiwei said: “My definition of art has always been the same. It is about freedom of expression, a new way of communication. It is never about exhibiting in museums or about hanging it on the wall. Art should live in the heart of the people. Ordinary people should have the same ability to understand art as anybody else. I don’t think art is elite or mysterious. I don’t think anybody can separate art from politics. The intention to separate art from politics is itself a very political intention.” Everything is influencing and shaping one another in this hyper-connected world. As Juhani Pallasmaa said in one of his lectures at Bengal Institute, “Every book that you read, you are a co-author because otherwise it’s just a book and printed letters.” The way readers join hands in creating the meaning of a book, the spectators become artists too! The spectators’ experiences, feelings, understandings and definitions are a part of every artwork.

There is no way to look into art, architecture, literature, politics or even technology and science separately anymore. The quicker we learn to embrace them together as integral parts of each other, the more we will prepare ourselves for the future. 

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Originally published on the newsletter-magazine of Bengal Institute, Vas—issue 04

The History of the Future

The History of the Future — Photo by Abdul Momin

[Photo © Abdul Momin]

History is a philosophical and political statement or opinion, and it is invariably incomplete. It is never absolute, and will always invoke a range of responses, from outright rejection to enthusiastic support, depending on who the narrator, and who the readers are. We have learned to accept the incompleteness of history and the inherent conventions that come with it, but for a better understanding of our current state and predicting the future, we need to turn the tables and look at history through different perspectives.

This idea of questioning history and accepting the inherent limitations of any account gives us a unique opportunity to understand history in a whole new way: to look with fresh eyes at some of the incomplete and erroneous narratives in text books and everyday discussions.

The ‘production process’ of written history is a kind of a luxury. It is usually written by the victor, and only produced by privileged people, such as historians and chroniclers who are sponsored and supported. Any recorded history is aligned with the imaginations, desires and myths set by rich and powerful patrons. This represents the hegemony of the privileged few over the rest.

The raw material of history is documentation. The evolution of history, for this reason, was much slower, for example, than art. Documenting was an expensive business until the invention of cheap paper, and later computers. While artists were already practicing self-expression, architecture and historiography were still beholden to the powerful. It has only been in recent times that the work of a historian has become easier, cheaper and a way of life, and historians have started to enjoy independence from patronage and established hegemony. Today, the number of photographs and recorded videos produced everyday in the world might be more than what have been produced throughout the 20th century. This change has a massive impact on the future of how history will be absorbed, documented and written, and may mean that we are heading towards a more comprehensive version of the history of humanity.

Leaving a mark on the timeline of history with ‘architecture’ versus ‘Instagram’ has some stark differences! Architecture can work as a map of the society, a culminating work showcasing long standing culture, whereas Instagram is a snap, however, still important as a historical evidence. We do not have much opportunity of looking into the snaps of everyday lives of everyday people from even the 1700s. All we have are archaeological evidences and written pieces that are slowly and carefully crafted, often to represent the ‘greatness’ of emperors or piped up heroism of generals and soldiers.

Architecture is not always a very efficient mode of communicating and documenting history, although, often that’s all we have when we are looking into the past. Learning history from the ancient architecture has some fundamental problems. It is slow and ambiguous. One of the biggest missing pieces of the puzzle of reading history from the ancient architectural and urban archaeology is the daily snaps of random people. It was never documented in such volume with architecture, art or even literature, the way it is happening now. Consider yourself a historian of 2090, and suddenly you have a plethora of written evidence with fine details since the late nineties when people started posting their daily lives on the Internet.

The future of history is going to be very different. It is potentially going to be more complete, and hopefully a little freer from bias. Then again, there is the inherent problem of focusing on the ‘snaps,’ as they come from only the people with access to internet, technology and education. Since it is now easy to document, if we want to change the dynamics of how our own history will be written in future, we have to start posting more about the people who are otherwise left behind, and creating a balance. That’s the only way to work against the hegemony of history. The key to a more independent and unbiased history is in the uniformity of the distribution of how accessible information is. For the first time in history, anyone can write and post, take photo and shoot videos, and directly contribute to the global archive of documentation. We need to leverage this change! This will surely change the dynamic of the future of history.

In order to fix the problem of the production of history ‘today’, we have to empower the marginal communities and people who cannot afford the luxury of contributing to it. A big portion of our national expenditure needs to go into the production of history to turn the table from the West to East; rich to poor, colonisers to oppressed. And it is easier now than ever before.


Originally published on the newsletter-magazine of Bengal Institute: Vas—issue 04.

You Thought Zoom Is Insecure?—So Is (Almost) Every Other Group Video Calling Service!

Group video calls

[Stock photo stolen from TechCrunch]

Recently you may have heard about Zoom’s security issues. They are true. Zoom’s video calls are not secure, they are not fully encrypted. But the bigger truth is, neither the others!—except Apple’s FaceTime.

One-to-one video calls are secure on a few platforms (like Signal). But group video calls are difficult to encrypt end-to-end (E2E). Often it is not just about the will of the service provider, it is also a technology limitation.

If you know the concept of E2E, it is not supposed to reveal absolutely anything on the way to and from the recipients of data, not even to the servers—now think how group video calls are managed by an app, it zooms in or highlights the person who is talking, right?—it means the “server knows” who is talking!—hence it is most certainly not an E2E technology, and for the same reason, it is difficult to make a group video calls E2E in general, as the server needs to know who is talking when to organise the video streams and bandwidth allocation. In most cases there may be Transfer Layer Security (TLS/HTTPS) enforced, that encrypts the calls on the way to and from the servers, but the server itself can listen, record, archive the calls as open unencrypted videos, and most probably you have already given the consent for recording and also automated transcribing by clicking some “I agree” jargons that nobody reads. And those recordings can be subpoenaed by the government agencies depending on your local laws.

Now how to know if your conversation is secure:

Is it a group video call? Then assume by default that it is not secure, and you should be careful about what you are saying. It does not matter if you are on Zoom, Google Meet, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, StreamYard etc.—nothing, nobody has E2E security on group video calls (except FaceTime).

An open-source platform called Jitsi is now gaining traction, you can use their Jitsi Meet platform for group video calls (still not fully encrypted, but they are testing E2E option for group calls). Good thing about Jitsi is calls on their platform is often routed peer to peer avoiding a central server. Jitsi can be also scaled and hosted independently in your own server, which makes it more secure by eliminating the issue of trusting third party servers for storing and routing video calls.

The bottomline for everyday practice, remember, group video calls are not secure in general; it does not matter which platform you are using.