Artist's Statement: State control, David Miranda and digital migration at Lighthouse in Brighton

| 02 May 2014

Artist's Statement: Tobias Revell on state control, smashed hard drives and Wi-Fi migration in The Monopoly of Legitimate Use



“I chose the title, which is a kind of mini-blurb for the films, because it takes from Max Weber’s famous phrase that the state has nothing other than the legitimate use of violence.

I wanted to rue the idea of that as the main tool for power and see how it’s changing. When the theme for House came out as migration and immigration – essentially the shift of people for a political reason – I wanted to respond to that.

An image of a map showing various lines of digital communication
Tobias Revell, Open Source map of Current London Network Coverage (2014)© Courtesy OpenSignal.com
You don’t just exercise political power to move migration across the surface of the earth, but also through a kind of vertical migration through networks and technology.

Your state, your city, your culture, your identity and other entities are just as important when it comes to your digital presence.

I work as a futurist, so a lot of the ideas are about extrapolating the things that we see already as points of absurdity to examine what might happen if they continue.

I wanted to do three very short, simple, almost fable-like fictions that examine speculative ways in which people can exploit this power to migrate through digital networks in order to gain leverage on the state, and question the legitimacy of using these technologies.

In one of the films, Blackspot, this woman is hunting out a physical space within London where she can find no network – a blackspot where there is no kind of opportunity to share.

And there she discovers a mesh network – this underground version of the internet. There’s one in Greece, Seattle, Catalan and places like that, but I imagine it will start to spread through Europe as the internet becomes more securitised and you have things like the NSA revelations and Google securitising their control of the internet.

A photo showing a communications device in front of a cinema screen in an art gallery
This film particularly examines how networks are in a physical space and not just an invisible thing that’s all around – they are physically dependent.

There’s a map on the wall which is a partner piece for it: a real, open source project where they explore how good cell phone coverage is in areas around the world, to actually show that these networks have a physical presence.

Another film is called Stateless.

It explores the curious 2013/2014 issue of the new powers of the Home Secretary to remove a state from someone.

It’s a power that has existed for the last hundred years but has only been used in the last four or five, really. It was only legalised in the last three months.

This chap in the film is a journalist. It was kind of inspired by the story of David Miranda being arrested at Heathrow Airport and how the state is almost panicking in its use of leverage against people who are undermining it through the use of networks.

He’s had his citizenship removed. He still writes articles and he decides that his persona is getting too much attention so he removes it.

It’s literally that simple. It was particularly inspired by the story of Dread Pirate Roberts, who was running an online marketplace on the internet from public libraries in San Francisco.

He basically ran this empire. It’s exploring how this infrastructure allows you to just completely navigate the control of the state.

The decision of the state to try and smash the Guardian’s hard drives to stop a story getting out is a great example of how misleading our understanding of how these things work is.

The other film is called Bumper. You may have seen the World Press Photo of the Year 2013, with the guys holding up their mobile phones on the border of Djibouti.

The main character goes down to the beach at Dungeness and uses a piece of kit, which is round the corner in this exhibition, to get onto French Wi-Fi networks and trade as if he’s in France. He effectively migrates to France using just the network.

It was inspired by that phenomenon where you can essentially put yourself in another country if you’re in another country’s cell network.”


What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of various people in states of digital surveillance
© Tobias Revell, courtesy Lighthouse

A photo of people watching a film while sitting on a bench inside an art gallery

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