HACKING HABITAT: the art of control

How can humanity survive in a quickly changing high-tech society? At the art manifestation HACKING HABITAT in Utrecht (NL) over 80 international artists and designers show work about the growing influence of systems and institutions, and the impact of technology on everyday life.

This manifestation (which can be visited till 06.06.2016) is presented in the former prison of Utrecht, so the feeling of being small in this anonymity that is formed by digital captivity is magnified.

HACKING HABITAT provides a sense of awareness through three filters: Data & Surveillance, Finance & its Logics and Destructive Forces. Counterstrikes is a forth filter, which meanders through all spaces, because the artist, ethical hackers and pressure groups use the technology to their own advantage. The manifestation wants to make us aware of the way technology, politics and economic systems keep a grip on us. Through various forms of art: photographs, paintings, installations, drawings, and short films, the enormous amount of art work shows us the control of the system. Every artist has his own prison room to exhibit his vision on the theme, every time you step into another room you seem to step in another person’s mind. This feeling of intimacy conflicts with the stories that are being told. How can the intimacy feel so wrong and bad, when you are confronted with captivity in a system and anonymity?

I was deeply touched by the work of Paul Alberts “Democratic Portraits” (1994). This work was made in the context of the elections in South Africa in 1994. In that year all South Africans were granted the right to vote, but only if they could identify themselves. However, many people in rural areas did not even exist on paper. Paul Alberts established a temporary studio for them, and their existence in society was created by simply a picture, showing their name and address on a children’s chalkboard. Is inclusion and exclusion of a person in society that “easy”? Twenty-two years later, whereas in the modern world more and more is organized by technology, this work shows we still need a human input to be creative in existing systems.

Democratic Portraits (1994), Paul Alberts
“Democratic Portraits” (1994), Paul Alberts

Another example at the art manifestation is “No Work, No Pay!” (2012) by Matthijs de Bruijne and De Vakbond van Huishoudelijk Werkers (Dutch labor union for domestic workers). This artwork is about the 150.000 domestic workers in The Netherlands, they come from places such as The Philippines, Eastern Europe, Indonesia, Latin America, and Ghana. The work is a short film of ten minutes, black and white, it is almost an animation. You see the person performing her duties: a woman entering a home with the groceries, vacuum cleaning, et cetera. It is confronting because normally you shut your eyes, but because it is shown at life-size you cannot escape. The work poses the accurate question: We trust these workers with the key to our house; the care of our children; they are an economic link in our society; they take part in our everyday life, but how come we treat them as an outcast?

"No Work, No Pay" (2012), Matthijs de Bruijne
“No Work, No Pay” (2012), Matthijs de Bruijne (artwork at the left)

Besides these themes, the art manifestation also shows how our commercial and social relationships are influenced by the internet; and how public spaces and society are controlled by cameras, smart gateways and automatic face recognition installations for the sake of safety and risk-management. Because the artists focus on these oppressively elements of modern society, we can become aware of these practices. Modern society is, indeed, an Art of Control.

The art manifestation is shown from 26.02-2016-06.06.2016
Wednesday-Sunday from 10am-18pm

Wolvenplein 27
3512 CK Utrecht
The Netherlands

About the author: Tessa Roberts-Smorenburg

Tessa Roberts-Smorenburg

Tessa Roberts-Smorenburg (1987) graduated as a master in Ethics of Care and Policy at the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht (NL) in 2015. She currently holds the double position of ethical consultant, and policy advisor in the Centre on the Quality of Life and Survivorship, at the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek hospital in Amsterdam (NL). This centre accommodates the physical/psychosocial, supportive and survivorship care for cancer patients. As a sociotherapist she worked in direct contact with patients in psychiatric clinics. Her previous experience at TAAK brought her in contact with visual artists and care institutions to whom she provided an ethics of care perspective during research and project development for the programme “Art & Care”.

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