Interviewed by Ann Dingli
Non-Aligned Networks curator Yasemin Keskintepe
Yasemin Keskintepe curates Valletta Contemporary’s newest collective exhibition, Non-Aligned Networks – a show that “explores the complexities of the Internet as a political space and the dynamics of governing information online”. The exhibition brings together works that present alternative forms of information access, sharing and circulation. It examines the development of a de-centralised web and the potential independent networks, as well as the spaces they could inhabit. It traces initiatives on fair data practices, whilst drawing parallels between online systems and spiritual and natural communication methods. Keskintepe is a curator whose work looks specifically at the politics and poetics of digital systems. She completed her Masters in Contemporary Art Theory from Goldsmiths College in London and has been involved in various major projects for ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Impakt Festival (NL) and Contemporary Istanbul. Here she speaks to Ann Dingli about the premise of Non-Aligned Networks as a departure point for more sustainable and privacy-oriented onine world.
Ann Dingli (AD): In very simplistic terms, the underlying premise of Non-Aligned Networks is that the Internet was initially intended for collective good, but that it has manifested into something that is quite often, arguably, bad. Sticking with this reductionist explanation – what’s the worst thing about the Internet today?
Yasemin Keskintepe (YK): I don’t like binary oppositions such as good and bad. I believe the current situation is much more complex than that. There are always two sides to it, and it has become about establishing a more diverse understanding of the socio-political repercussions of the digital space in order to find ways of negotiation to allow for better regulation, transparency and accountability. It’s by looking into the in-betweens we can start determining an imaginary of a digital space that is free of oppression and allows for self-determination.
NTU, NERVOUSCONDITIONER.LIFE.001.NTU, 2015
(AD): Some of the works on show in Non-Aligned Networks serve to up-end the conventional acceptance of where technology derives and the where the foundations of how it works lie. Hasn’t this been happening since the creation of the media? Re-framing and curating truthful information is a historic phenomenon. Why is it worse now?
(YK): There has always been a struggle over narratives, and as you say a re-framing of historic information over time is nothing new. History and narratives are shaped by those in power, those who have the means of controlling information. Digital technologies have only enforced that.
To me it is important to consider a global perspective with regards to the usage of new technologies. The exhibition tries to think of possibilities of how to think beyond predominant narratives to shape a more pluralistic understanding of digital space.
(AD): The exhibition is said to bring together works that centre on alternative forms of information access, sharing and circulation. Can you give an example of one of these works and how that alternative form is represented?
(YK): An example would be NTU’s work Nervous Conditioner, which creates an independent online network to explore the possibilities of a safe and independent space on the Internet: free of discrimination, speech control and surveillance. NTU created its own web server on which to host Nervous Conditioner, a closed network prototype on the deep web. Nervous Conditioner was conceived as a safe space for people of colour to discuss, share, and organise, without the presence of patriarchal, hetero-normative oppressions that seem to govern the public forums of the Internet.
Shawn Maximo, easyDarkCafe, 2019
(AD): One of the works from the show, easyDarkCafe (Shawn Maximo, 2019, wall print) is underpinned by nostalgic themes of the Internet as a social space – both physically and cerebrally. Do you think there is an exercise to be had wherein the social spaces that now exist ubiquitously online could learn and improve from looking back to old models? For example, is there a benefit to having people limited to using the Internet at the same time, within the same place? Could we ever go back to that?
(YK): Internet cafes are not completely outdated models, but over time they have evolved into different forms as Internet accessibility proliferated. There are still plenty of places where people come together on the occasion of sharing a physical social space while being provided Internet infrastructure. See the many co-working spaces for example, or hacker spaces to emphasise the more community-oriented spaces.
Miao Ying, ChInternet Plus, 2016
(AD): As evidenced by particular works in the show, such as ChInternet Plus (Miao Ying, 2016, mixed media installation), the Internet can still be a powerful tool for protest and even dissent. How can it become more powerful?
(YK): I am focusing on the Internet as a means of communication and how information is accessed and circulated. The Internet has become a highly politicised spaced. The power lies in the communication networks and its accessibility. Who governs the data, who has access to data, and who can create powerful algorithms are the dominating drivers. It is about how we can ensure a more privacy-oriented approach where the rights of users are protected from the misuses of companies and states.
(AD): Non-Aligned Networks explores alternatives to current Web architectures and searches for different designs and navigation systems. Do you think the Internet in its current format will be recognisable to our children and grandchildren? What do you hope they will succeed in improving?
(YK): I would hope for a more sustainable and privacy-oriented system.
Interview by Ann Dingli