Invisible Airs / Endless War
Curated by Declan Sheehan
Invisible Airs & Endless War brings together two of YoHa’s projects which explore databases as governance.
Graham Harwood and Matsuko Yokokoji (YoHa) have lived and worked together since 1994. YoHa’s graphic vision, technical tinkering, has powered several celebrated collaborations. Harwood and Yokokoji’s co-founded the artists group Mongrel in (1996-2007) who specialised in digital media and who also established the Mediashed, a free-media lab in Southend-on-sea (2005-2008).
Gallery 1 Endless War – YoHa with Matthew Fuller (2012 – work in progress)
NATO forces invaded Afghanistan on October 7th 2001. At that point a system for reporting every interaction between NATO and local people started up. On 25th July 2010, WikiLeaks released a document set called the Afghan War Diary, over 91,000 (15,000 withheld) reports covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010. The reports, written by soldiers and intelligence officers, are mainly short descriptions of military actions but they also include intelligence information, reports of meetings with political figures, and other details.
This document was used by a group of newspapers to generate articles, many of which gave new kinds of insight into the prosecution of this war. The full data set however is rarely seen, and access to it is blocked in many territories around the globe. As a full document it is 108MB of text. It gives unique insight into the futile nature of the war in Afghanistan but also the ontology of contemporary war as it is carried out on the ground. Just as an algorithm is an ‘effective procedure’, a series of logical steps required to complete a task, the Afghan War Diary shows war as it is computed, reduced to an endless permutation of jargon, acronyms, procedure recorded, cross-referenced and seen as a sequence or pattern of events.
Endless War is not a video installation but a month-long real-time processing of this data seen from a series of different analytical points of view. (From the point of view of each individual entry; in terms of phrase matching between entries; and searches for the frequency of terms.) As the war is fought it produces entries in databases that are in turn analysed by software looking for repeated patterns of events, spatial information, kinds of actors, timings and other factors. Endless War shows how the way war is thought relates to the way it is fought. Both are seen as, potentially endless, computational processes. The algorithmic imaginary of contemporary power meshes with the drawn out failure of imperial adventure.
Matthew Fuller’s books include ‘Media Ecologies, materialist energies in art and technoculture’, ‘Behind the Blip, essays on the culture of software’ and ‘Elephant & Castle’. He works at the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London. http://www.spc.org/fuller/
Gallery 2 Invisible Airs – YoHa (2011)
Invisible Airs investigated the expenditure database of Bristol City Council. In 2011, YoHa, assisted by Stephen Fortune, attempted to read 20,000 comma-separated lines of apparently open-data. After several hours of endurance, YoHa understood that power revealed itself through multiple layers of boredom.
We decided that the best way to reveal the relations contained within the databases fields to the people affected by it would be to construct four contraptions which would enable you to: Test your aim with our expenditure filled spud gun; Balance the books with open data book stabbing; Polish the floor with an older people pneumatic brusher; and, Grab the civic reins with our public expenditure riding machine.
Bristol was in a strange state the week we took our contraptions out to different areas of the city, riots and the royal wedding surrounded us as we stabbed ex-library books and shot potatoes over the Avon River.
The project culminated in a lecture in the council chamber in which the Lord Mayor of Bristol mounted our expenditure-riding machine during our Pneumatic Soirée. Two films will be shown by YoHa and one documentary about the project by Alistair Oldham.