In the Live Art Performance ‘The Anomaly” artist Tom Estes explores the complex place and function of internet censorship within culture. The performance will be at this year’s prestigious Venice Biennale as part of AVBIV and in Hong Kong at The Affordable Art Fair. The costume for the performance is a fusion of characters from The Terminator and The Matrix and so is reflective of our on-going relationship to the cybersphere.
We don’t have an open internet. We haven’t had an open internet for a long time. Many of us often see the Internet as impossible to control based on its very structure, as it gives everyone access to a democratic form of communication free of government control. The Great Firewall of China shows us that it isn’t quite that simple — the Internet has its bottlenecks where censorship can be instituted and technologies abused to aid in censorship. From China’s blocking and filtering system, Singapore’s class license system, and the United States’ government-private partnership model we are dealing with ideological thing: extreme centralization of power. A common ground for censorship is maintenance of an orderly state, whereas, the underlying motive is to keep public ignorant of the information that can potentially threaten authorities. The danger of any kind of censorship is it’s substantial harm to free speech, a cornerstone of democracy. The most chilling effect of Internet censorship however, is not just it’s substantial harm to free speech, the real danger is, we are losing privileges and rights all of the time and we don’t even notice it.
The Great Firewall of China shows us the Internet has its bottlenecks where censorship can be instituted and technologies abused to aid in censorship. Image: Still from video projection as part of the performance The Anomaly
For example you don’t see someone spying on you, you don’t see something censored, you don’t see when someone deletes things out of the search results in Google. The biggest problem, therefore is to get people to pay attention to the problem. If you don’t see the problems, you don’t feel connected to it. So perhaps that is something that needs to be focused on. Most people think of the internet like a new kind of Wild West as if things are not in chains yet, but that is not really the case. We have never seen this amount of centralization, in any system before. That has big implications for our society because the more oppressed the internet is, the more oppressed society is.
Live Art Performance ‘The Anomaly” by Tom Estes outside the Co-Cathedral of St. John, Valletta. The Anomaly was first staged during Notte Bianca on the streets of Valletta and at City Lights in Malta back in 2014. In the performance Estes rings a bell. The performance was inspired by the practice made famous in a scene from Cinema Paradiso in which a priest rings a bell in order that the projectionist cuts certain images from the film before public viewing.
So, we can’t really talk about the open internet because it does not exist anymore but the situation is not going to change because apparently it is something people are not interested in fixing. The internet, however, is just a part of a bigger puzzle. Cyberspace, by kind of pretending to be something which will connect the whole world, actually has an agenda- a perfect tool of mass surveillance and thought control. We are dealing with an ideological apparatus almost perfectly seemless for the centralization of power while negating any criticism. The trend is just going in one direction: a more closed and more controlled internet. We are not gaining anything anywhere and nobody is stopping it from happening.