Review | Jonah Brucker-Cohen does social subversion at Futuresonic09

Taking a break from the glamour of Space 1 at Futuresonic 09, I stumbled across the ultra-talented and sparky Jonah Brucker-Cohen of coin-operated in Space 2.

Jonah used his session to talk about some of his social subversion projects. These projects interrogate and play with different kinds of online social architectures and data networks. They also intervene in these networks in some way to reveal how underlying structure affects the character of the community such networks facilitate and often challenge this in some way. Here’s some highlights:

Alerting infrastructure

Alerting Infrastructure! is a physical hit counter that translates hits to the website of an organisation into interior damage of the organisations physical building. The point of Alerting Infrastructure! is to amplify the concern that physical spaces are slowly losing ground to their virtual counterparts. The amount of structural damage to the building directly correlates to the amount of exposure and attention their website gets, exposing the physical structure’s temporal existence.

Each new website hit is translated into a physical output in the form of activating a large, pneumatic jackhammer. With each virtual hit, the jackhammer slowly destroys the walls of the physical building. Since web sites and virtual interfaces can garner an almost unlimited amount of “virtual hits” without showing any visible signs of decay or extended use, Alerting Infrastructure! attempts to illustrate a fundamental reversal in role of physical spaces losing importance and relevance to their virtual counterparts.

Bump-list by Jonah Brucker-Cohen & Mike Bennett

Described as the mail-list for the ‘determined, Bump-list plays around with the mailing-list format. A net art work, Bump-list reveals how putting constraints on the structure of a communication system (in this case an email subscription list) shape how that community works. The constraint of Bump-list is the number of people that can be ‘subscribed’ at any one time, which is six. When new mails are posted  the oldest post is ‘bumped off. Members that want their post to stay on the list (for whatever reason) must re-subscribe and show their commitment. Having tried it recently, Bump-list really is weirdly addictive. Subscribe to Bump-list and try it out for yourself.



Launched at Futuresonic 09 (though I’m not sure it’s totally complete yet), Thwonk takes the idea of Bump-list one step further. Thwonk invites people to set up their own online communication lists with their own rules. Taking inspiration from the different kinds of mail-list tools created by developers in the early days of the web, Thwonk inspires a new generation of digirati to design their own. You can choose from:

  • Bump lists
  • Convergent lists
  • Divergent lists
  • Location lists

Join Thwonk to find out more and create your own mail list


PoliceState is an interface of 20 radio controlled toy police vehicles that are simultaneously controlled by occurrences of ‘blacklist’ keywords used by the FBI to communicate indications of terrorist attacks on American territory.The police codes used in this work correspond with actual radio codes used by the Californian State Police, referring to potential terrorist threats by numbers (for instance, ‘10-79’ for a bomb attack, and ‘1000’ for a crashed plane).


PoliceState is a Carnivore client. Carnivore was the third incarnation of surveillance software created by the FBI to snoop on data such as email, urls, Instant Messages sent through Commercial ISPs. Police State connects to the open-source version of Carnivore (which exists as a server and packet sniffer) developed by the NYC-based Radical Software Group and attempts to reverse the surveillance role of law enforcement into a subservient one for the data being gathered.

The data being “snooped” by the authorities is the same data used to control the police vehicles. So the police become puppets of their own surveillance. This signifies a reversal of the control of information appropriated by police by using the same information they gather to apprehend criminals but instead, uses it to control the police themselves.

In the gallery, the PoliceState police cars are setup on a raised platform with a projection of the screen interface so that visitors can see the data being parsed in real-time through the network. With each police code received, the toy cars start to drive around in a new pattern, while a siren wails and the current threat is announced by loudspeakers. Find out more about Police State.

Wi-Fi Hog

Wi-Fi Hog is personal system for a laptop or portable computer that enables people to gain complete control over a public access wireless network. The project presents an alternative to the utopian vision of wireless networks being open, shared, and utilitarian for everyone.


A cautionary project designed to highlight the power of telecom companies in determining who does and doesn’t ‘get access,’ Wi-Fi Hog was produced as a reaction to the battle over free wireless spectrum where corporate pay-per-use and free community networks are fighting for signal dominance in public spaces. Wifi-Hog exists as a tactical media tool for controlling and subverting this claim of ownership and regulation over free spectrum, by allowing a means of control to come from a third-party, an individual using the network.

Find out more about Jonah Bucker Cohen at coin-operated. There’s also a great interview with Jonah on we-make-money-not-art.

-claire_w –


~ by claire_w on May 24, 2009.

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