Tactics & Practice #7: Critical Engineering

Tactics & Practice #7:
Critical Engineering

Radical Tools for Interventions in Infrastructure 

Talks | Exhibition | Workshop
26 – 27 March 2019

Kino Šiška Centre for Urban Culture, Ljubljana
Aksioma | Project Space, Ljubljana

Part of the Tactics & Practice series and the EU project State Machines

Miha Fras | More

In 2011, a group of artists and engineers published the “Critical Engineering Manifesto”, since translated into 18 languages. Around the manifesto, originally written by Julian Oliver, Gordan Savičić and Danja Vasiliev, gathered a larger group – the Critical Engineering Working Group – now including also Sarah Grant, Bengt Sjölén and Joana Moll.

In true avant-garde fashion, the “Manifesto” launches by describing Engineering as “the most transformative language of our time, shaping the way we move, communicate and think”, thus, it is the work of the Critical Engineer “to study and exploit this language, exposing its influence”. Further, a Critical Engineer “recognises that each work of engineering engineers its user”, considering “any technology depended upon to be both a challenge and a threat”. And so the manifesto unfolds.

Nearly ten years later, the relevance of the “Critical Engineering Manifesto” has only become more evident, as an ever-growing public becomes aware of the techno-political implications of using – and depending upon – integrated systems and complex, networked technologies. Today, one can find its 11 points listed on the walls of hacklabs, museums, engineering and media-art academies, and in a great many texts, the world over.The Tactics&Practice event entitled Critical Engineering comprises an exhibition, a seminar and a workshop, underlining the artistic, theoretical and educational work done by the Critical Engineering Working Group along the last decade. The seminar will host all the members of the group – all of them recognised artists with long individual artistic careers – using their statements and their projects as case studies to analyse the transformative potential of Critical Engineering in the context of a tactical and technical arts practice.

Detailed program and biographies of the participants


26 March 2019, 5 – 8 PM
Kino Šiška Centre for Urban Culture, Ljubljana

Danja Vasiliev
Dark Internet Topologies

In this talk, Danja Vasiliev gives an overview of “dark internet topologies” in the context of his and Julian Oliver’s commissioned piece Vending Private Network. Challenging the popular reading of the internet as a digital incarnation of the commons, “public space”, he – using command line utilities known to network administrators – reveals a deep and original privatisation, one that necessitates new “dark abstractions” to achieve the public space we expect from it. In doing so, he shows how “darknets” are technical implementations of the same rights structures we value and actively defend within corporeal public life.

Gordan Savičić & Bengt Sjölén
Electromagnetic Situationism

Gordan Savičić and Bengt Sjölén talk about works developed together with the Critical Engineering Working Group. Both artists explore network situations in which the electromagnetic infrastructure has been used as a field of intervention. Making use of contemporary technologies such as software-defined radio, they examine the analysis and reconstruction of any leaked signal over the air, independent of whether it originated from an intentional transmission at an antenna or from an unintentional emanation from a conductor on a substrate. The electromagnetic space serves as research framework for developing investigations into the traces and shadows of our technological dependency.

Joana Moll
An Autopsy of Data Business

Our so-called networked society has failed so far to transpose the logic of interconnectedness into our lives. Citizens are becoming increasingly machine-like and dependent on data, threatening the connection between humans and their natural habitats. Although most of our daily transactions are carried out through electronic devices, we know very little of the apparatus that facilitates such interactions, or in other words, about the factory that lies beyond the interface.

Sarah Grant
Radical Networks

Radical Networks is an international conference and arts festival which features practitioners working with the electromagnetic spectrum in critical and creative ways. In response to the obfuscation of the inner workings and issues that arise from being an always-on, internetworked society, Radical Networks seeks to demystify and push those very things to the foreground of our consciousness. Sarah Grant discusses some of the thinking that has led to the creation of Radical Networks as well as what it hopes to achieve as a community focused event, including highlights from past talks.

Miha Fras | More

Sarah Grant & Joana Moll
Surveillance Override
Wednesday, 27 March 2019, 09:00–18:00
Kino Šiška Centre for Urban Culture, Ljubljana

Psychological Warfare, also called PSYOPS, is a strategy used in military and government intelligence networks aimed at influencing the emotional, cognitive and rational structures of governments, organisations, groups, and individuals, in order to change their behaviours and ultimately their purposes and goals. PSYOPS tactics are deeply rooted in the diverse techno-social arrangements that lie at the core of algorithmic governance, yet they are often ignored or overlooked by most global citizens, who nevertheless operate within such arrangements. With increasing distrust in “The Cloud” comes a broad call for publicly-owned network infrastructures that would give users greater control over their personal communication, data and identities.

In this 8-hour, hands-on workshop we will try to connect the dots between PSYOPS, psychology, propaganda, surveillance, the internet, data and algorithms, and we will underline the need to build alternative networks to retain sovereignty over our communications technologies and natural resources.

In the first part of the workshop, Joana Moll will give participants a deep understanding about the many mechanisms used by corporations, agencies and governments to collect, sort and exploit personal data, along with the main social, political and environmental impacts of such processes. In the second part, Sarah Grant will introduce participants to the basic building blocks of computer networking, command line interface and WiFi communication. We will learn how to self-host our own web servers, file servers and personal wireless networks. These servers will allow their users to send messages, publish websites and share files across an offline local area and mesh network.


Critical Engineering
27 March – 26 April 2019
Aksioma | Project Space, Ljubljana

Janez Janša | More

How can we use engineering to visualise, respond to and resist the daily, strenuous – and mostly successful – effort perpetrated by the tools and infrastructures designed by corporate and governmental subjects to engineer us? Intended as “radical tools for interventions in infrastructure”, the works developed by the Critical Engineering Working Group offer different answers to this question, from simplified, easy access to resistance tools, to hijacking technological infrastructures in order to expose their inner workings. According to the Critical Engineering Manifesto, “the greater the dependence on a technology the greater the need to study and expose its inner workings, regardless of ownership or legal provision”. Thus, it’s no surprise that the three “tools for intervention” presented in this exhibition focus on networked infrastructures and online communication, especially WiFi communication via portable devices: technologies we depend upon to communicate as well as to locate ourselves in the physical space, yet that are also used to control and follow us.


Julian Oliver, Danja Vasiliev
Vending Private Network, 2018

Vending Private Network takes the form of a condom-vending machine, such as those typically seen in public toilets, nightclubs and bars. Equipped with mechanical buttons, a coin-slot and USB ports, it offers 4 VPN routes, each with an animated graphic depicting the route as a fantasy destination. Visitors are invited to insert a USB stick into the slot, a coin (1 pound or euro) into the machine, and to select a VPN destination by pressing a mechanical button. In doing so, a unique VPN configuration file is then written to the USB stick. Special instructions (in the form of a README.txt) are also copied, explaining how to use the VPN in a special “sheathed” mode that evades detection methods (namely Deep Packet Inspection, or DPI) used by corporations and state-controlled infrastructure administrators. This is the only means known to work against state-controlled firewalls.

Janez Janša

Bengt Sjölén, Gordan Savičić
Packetbrücke, 2012

Packetbrücke (Packetbridge) explores the simulation of entire network situations by transferring the electromagnetic infrastructure to a different physical space. The result is a revealing “confusion” of devices and services reliant on this infrastructure. Wireless network packets are directly captured from a specific location and tunnelled through the internet to a remote location, where they are released back into the air. In doing so, Packetbridge literally injects one electromagnetic representation of geographical space into another, effectively producing a new imaginary topography and, through this remediation, an “impossible reality”. Packetbridge demonstrates that positioning systems based on WLAN are a site for intervention, at the same time expressing their vulnerability to location spoofing attacks.

Janez Janša

Bengt Sjölén, Danja Vasiliev
Unintended Emissions, 2015

Inserted into urban environs, Unintended Emissions captures, dissects, maps and projects radio emissions unintentionally and invisibly shared by our portable wireless devices. Employing two arrays of directional Yagi antennas, the project attempts to determine positions of WiFi devices in the vicinity. Similarly to surveillance and tracking systems such as StingRay, Unintended Emissions places mobile WiFi users on to a map indicating the kind of a device a user has, the time of appearance, the user’s network activity and other user-specific metadata. This information can be further analysed to determine the user’s identity and movements within a locality and the internet. Using methods and technologies known to be deployed by federal surveillance initiatives, the intervention seeks to engender a “healthy paranoia” in the interests of an increased techno-political subjectivity.

Janez Janša


Curated by: The Critical Engineering Working Group

Artistic director: Janez Janša
Head of production: Marcela Okretič
Executive producer: Sonja Grdina
Development Specialist: Jana Reneé Wilcoxen
Technician: Valter Udovičić
Public relations: Urška Barut
Documentation: Miha Fras (photo), Gregor Gobec (video)
Corporate visual identity: Luka Umek

Production: Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana, 2019
Co-production: Kino Šiška Centre for Urban Culture, Ljubljana and Drugo more, Rijeka

Critical Engineering is realised in the framework of State Machines, a joint project by Aksioma (SI), Drugo more (HR), Furtherfield (UK), Institute of Network Cultures (NL) and NeMe (CY).

Supported by: the Creative Europe programme of the European Union, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia, the Municipality of Ljubljana.

Media sponsors: Radio Študent and TAM-TAM

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This communication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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