[artinfo] The Aesthetics of Computer Viruses - I love you [rev.eng]

Alessandro Ludovico a.ludovico at neural.it
Thu Sep 2 00:52:09 CEST 2004

I love you [rev.eng]
The Aesthetics of Computer Viruses. German Exhibition on International Tour

Providence (USA) / Copenhagen: The return of 
"Made in Germany" - "I love you [rev.eng]" 
(rev.eng = reverse engineering), the extension of 
the successful exhibition in Frankfurt devoted to 
the phenomenon of computer viruses, is going on 
an international tour. It can be seen from 
September 11th to October 4th at the renowned 
private Brown University in Providence, Rhode 
Island, USA, and then from October 7th to 
November 14th in the Museum for Communication in 
Copenhagen, Denmark.

Nowadays computer viruses are an integral part of 
our computerised everyday life. The damage to 
national economies caused by the more than 90,000 
viruses that have already appeared worldwide runs 
into many billions. The independent US research 
institute Computer Economics puts the damage in 
the case of "I love you" in 2001 alone at 8.75 
billion US $. But not all computer viruses are 
harmful. Computer viruses can also result from 
experimentation with (programming) language. "I 
love you [rev.eng]" is the first exhibition 
worldwide dedicated to the phenomena of computer 
security and computer viruses, and takes up both 
these aspects to carry out a controversial 
experiment with contemporary culture that goes 
far beyond current vehement debates on hacking.

"I love you [rev.eng]" is divided into political, 
technical and historical areas of investigation 
and focuses on the controversial positions of 
security experts and hackers, of net artists and 
programmers, of literature experts and code 
poets. What actually is a computer virus? Who 
creates them, and why? What sort of world is 
hiding behind these everyday phenomena? The 
exhibition provides background information, 
presents artworks, and reveals the role of 
computer viruses as a destructive force and 
economic threat as well as an inspiration for 
creative art. "I love you [rev.eng]" is conceived 
and presented by the cultural organisation 
digitalcraft.org based in Frankfurt, Germany.

"digitalcraft.org sees itself as a future 
oriented model for a changing understanding of 
cultural communication," says Franziska Nori, the 
leader of the digitalcraft.org team. "The big 
question being raised by the exhibition as to 
what digital culture is today and will become in 
the age of the information society doesn't only 
determine contemporary artistic and cultural 
production, but is also intended to motivate 
cultural institutions to rethink their practice 
and their own role."

What can visitors to the "I love you [rev.eng]" exhibition expect?

- Computer viruses in close-up. At isolated 
terminals ("in the zoo"), visitors can activate 
infected data with viruses like "Sasser" or 
"Suicide" and force computers to close down. A 
presentation of the 30 year history of computer 
viruses and their technical development offers 
background information on the development of this 
phenomenon right up to the present day.

- Virus outbreaks in real time. An interactive 3D 
game world has been developed specially for the 
exhibition to allow visitors, by operating a 
joystick, to experience in real time the 
otherwise invisible processes involved in a 
global virus outbreak. Visitors can also click 
together their own viruses using a computer with 
so called virus construction kits like the ones 
often used by budding hackers to flood the 
Internet with evernew viruses.

- The web artists 0100101110101101.ORG and 
epidemiC present the computer virus 
"biennale.py", which, over and above being a 
self-reproducing program, has been declared as a 
social work of art. The work "The Lovers" by the 
British artist Sneha Solankis creates, using two 
mutually-infected computers, an analogy between 
the distorted communication between the computers 
and that between lovers. '"I love you" [but do 
you know what love really means?]' by the artist 
Caleb Waldorf is an
  installation video montage reflecting how media 
represents the phenomenon of viruses and how 
governments and corporate entities react to the 
increasing threat of cyber terrorism.

  - Insights into the heterogeneous culture of 
hackers with a broad spectrum of film material 
created in the scene itself, including "Freedom 
Downtime" by the New York hacker community 2600, 
and "Hippies from Hell". Historical and current 
material provide insights into the development of 
the scene from its origins in the late 50s, when 
the term "hacker" was a neutral word for students 
at the MIT who lived out their fascination for 
logical tasks and enthusiasm for understanding 
the new computers, to the criminalisation of what 
is now known as the VX Scene, to the 
commercialisation of the phenomenon, supplemented 
by a wealth of interviews in which various virus 
authors talk about their motives.

- The aesthetics of the source code. Apart from 
its pure functionality, a program code (which 
computer viruses are based on, just like any 
other computer program) can also be an aesthetic 
and artistic creation. "Obfuscated C Codes" are 
examples of such highly virtuoso programming. The 
exhibition presents two exceptional contributions 
from the "International Obfuscated C Code 
Contest" that has been held regularly since 1984, 
the three-dimensional flight simulator by C. 
Banks (1998) and the Saitou.c Code by Don Yang 
(2000), a program with a graphic layout that 
generates a set of mutually reproducing programs.

- Program code as language. Here, comparisons are 
drawn between traditional poetry and contemporary 
code poetry. The unbroken line from the Carmina 
Figurata of antiquity and the Middle Ages via the 
concrete poetry of the 19th Century to modern 
poets and contemporary code poets show a 
coherence of form that reveals the source code as 
a new material for contemporary poetry.

- Internet security. Security concepts and 
current methods for preventing global attacks on 
the network are presented for an interested 

Through a collaboration with experts at Brown 
University's Watson Institute for International 
Studies and researchers from Symantec - the 
market leader in internet security - 
digitalcraft.org further delved into the 
political, economic and social actuality of this 
subject. At both locations, the exhibition will 
be complemented by symposiums, in the USA with 
the theme "The Power and Pathology of Networks".

The cultural organisation digitalcraft.org is 
taking up with this project the challenge of 
exploring complex virtual phenomena and 
presenting them in a visual way. "I love you 
[rev.eng]" (rev.eng = reverse engineering) is the 
revamped and expanded version of the initial 
exhibition which was successfully shown in June 
2002 in the Museum for Applied Art in Frankfurt 
and in February 2003 at the "transmediale.03" in 

Further information on all exhibits, the digital 
version of the exhibition catalogue and extensive 
pictorial material can be found on the project's 
website www.digitalcraft.org/Iloveyou (+ press 
section) or direct from:

Dr. Gabriele Reinartz
  PR and communication
  Phone: +49 (0)171 / 8 34 56 48
  Fax: +49 (0)69 / 48 00 61 32
  E-Mail: gabriele.reinartz at digitalcraft.org


Brief profile of digitalcraft.org

digitalcraft.org was founded in 2003 as a 
spin-off of the "digitalcraft" section of the 
Museum for Applied Art in Frankfurt am Main 
(2000-2003). Its mission is to research and 
document fast-moving trends in everyday digital 
culture and to present them to the public. Since 
2003, digitalcraft.org has been an independent 
cultural organization under the direction of 
Franziska Nori. Its work includes 
interdisciplinary exhibition projects such as 
"adonnaM.mp3" (2003) on the phenomenon of file 
sharing, "Origami Digital" (2003) on the digital 
demo scene, public lectures and publications, and 
consultancies for public institutions and 
museums. The subjects it explores reflect the 
rapid development in communications technologies 
and methods and their significance for modern 

Brief profile of the Watson Institute for International Studies

Brown University in Rhode Island is one of the 
most renowned private Universities in the USA. 
One of its associated institutes is the Watson 
Institute for International Studies, named after 
its founder, which is dedicated to 
interdisciplinary studies. Under the direction of 
Prof. James Der Derian, the "Information 
Technology, War and Peace Project" has been 
started up to make a targeted analysis of the 
potential impacts of network structures in the 
globalised society. In September, 
"InfoTechWarPeace", a new, one-year research 
project, is starting up with the heading, "The 
Power and Pathology of Net-works". The central 
matters it will be dealing with involve analysis 
of the questions: What new forms of global 
security and governance are needed to manage the 
potential, allocate the resources, and reduce the 
risks of networks? How do we assess the dangers 
of global interconnectivity (networked terrorism, 
computer viruses, pandemics) against the vaunted 
benefits (increased transparency, higher 
productivity, global interdependence)? The 
research project will be inaugurated with a 
symposium and the "I love you [rev.eng]" 

Alessandro Ludovico
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