Captive Portal: What Does the Internet Sound Like?

Captive Portal: What Does the Internet Sound Like? Brian House The CCA is proud to present the second installment of “Captive Portal,” a site-specific curatorial platform comprised of WiFi and dedicated to the presentation of new work by local and international artists. The second in the series is a new commission by American artist Brian House and is available on your smart mobile device starting July 30 at the CCA.

What Does the Internet Sound Like? House’s project centers around crowdsourced descriptions of what the Internet might sound like. To create his piece for “Captive Portal” House collaborated with workers on the online labor outsourcing tool Mechanical Turk. Owned by Amazon, Mechanical Turk was originally created to connect workers to “requesters” who seek to gather data or employ workers to fulfill digital tasks that computers cannot, such as identify the best photograph or write product descriptions. Since wages are extremely low for each task, it is usually workers from third-world countries who are employed through this site. House solicited them to answer the question: “What does the Internet sound like?” and the answers he was given appear in succession as the work on “Captive Portal.” Though physically amorphous, the Internet functions as a space of interaction, one in which sounds, like those produced by YouTube videos, Skype conversations, and the like, certainly travel. Yet, the responses to House’s prompt go beyond the immediate associations of technological infrastructure in motion, or the sound of “speed”, to hint at the possible emotions elicited by particular sounds. Having little to do with the actual sound of the Internet, if such a sound exists, these interpretations perhaps yield a greater commentary on the globalized network of labor through which the project was enabled and an assertion of the individual experience of the workers participating in it.

But beyond that, House’s question seems to echo the classic philosophical thought experiment: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” In other words, can something exist without being perceived? And if so, how could we be sure? By turning to the Internet, arguably the most pervasive mechanism in contemporary life yet one that feels formless and invisible, House goads us to thinking about its very essence, the way it networks the world and connects us to others. In engaging with the services provided by “providers” through Mechanical Turk, House delineates the interconnected architecture of the digital and physical spaces we share with others, and draws a direct link between those interconnections and our uneven economic ones.

About Captive Portal “Captive Portal” is a digital “fifth wall,” like a gallery wall, that is accessed by visitors on their mobile wireless devices during their visit to the CCA, where the WiFi platform is available throughout the building. We constantly navigate WiFi spaces in our daily lives, and connect with them through “captive portals” that are usually used for commercial advertising by large corporations, but it can also serve as an invisible “canvas.” The CCA takes advantage of the constant obsessive search for WiFi, by both humans and cellular machines, to “captivate” or trap audiences into viewing a temporary, site-specific work of art before continuing to surf the net or use their mobile device. The project manipulates the very moment when visitors disconnect from the gallery space and enter an immaterial “space” rife with possibility. “Captive Portal” is curated by Yoav Lifshitz, Tal Messing, and CCA Curator Chen Tamir.  

Brian House is a media artist whose work traverses alternative geographies, experimental music, and a critical consideration of data-driven practices. By constructing embodied, participatory systems, he negotiates between algorithms and the rhythms of everyday life. His work has been shown by MoMA in New York, MOCA in Los Angeles, Ars Electronica, Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center, Eyebeam, Rhizome, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Conflux Festival, ISEA, NIME, and Issue Project Room, among others, and has been featured in publications including WIRED, TIME, The New York Times, SPIN, Metropolis, and on Univision Sports. He is currently a doctoral student at Brown University in the Music and the Modern Culture and Media departments.

Tal Messing and Yoav Lifshitz are theoreticians, lectors, creators, and curators, and are also the founders of the Pirate Party Israel. Among their projects to date are a fake mayoral campaign for Daphni Leef (March 2013); “The Unobject” exhibition at HaShuk Street Gallery, Tel Aviv (2014); “The Unobject: The Re-Materialization of the Concept,” and essay published in Bezalel’s Journal of Visual & Material Culture (August 2014); and “Occupy WiFi,” a conceptual and digital activist project (August 2014, ongoing).


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