Software for Less
25 May–22 June 2022
Aksioma | Project Space, Ljubljana
The last twenty years have been characterised by the rise of software. Software has made the web possible, animated the smartphone and, in the words of one big tech CEO, enabled a world that is “more open and connected.” However, the software that is now used every day by billions of people all over the world has embedded within it the capitalist ideologies of those who create it. Today’s software, which has its roots in the growth-obsessed corporate culture of Silicon Valley in the United States, wants what its creators want: more. This desire is fundamental because it determines how software works, what it does and what it makes (im)possible. The result is a global populace now dependent on software platforms that deliberately activate within users a “desire for more,” a need that software meets with its “like” counts, algorithmic feeds and endless notifications, all in the service of what big tech is most keen to achieve: more users, more data and more profits. And though wealth and fame has come to those who craft the platforms, their relentless focus on growth and scale has left a trail of destruction in society. Mental health, privacy and democracy are all casualties – diminished, while authoritarianism, racism and misinformation are emboldened. Twenty years after the rise of software, big tech’s drive for more has transformed its most lauded asset into its biggest liability.
For more than a decade, artist and programmer Ben Grosser has worked on projects meant to define, examine, reveal and defuse how software activates the desire for more: to “demetricate” social media (Facebook Demetricator, 2012), to defuse emotional surveillance (ScareMail, 2013), to confuse big data algorithms (GoRando, 2017), and to track and trace how the politics of interface become the politics of humanity. The exhibition presented at Aksioma focuses on his more recent work, the outcome from a new experiment aiming to generate a “Software for Less”. How would users feel if software platforms actively worked to reduce engagement rather than to produce it? What if software interfaces encouraged conceptions of time that are slow rather than fast? Why can’t software want less instead of more? Utilising custom methods such as software recomposition, techniques like data obfuscation and genres that include video supercuts and net art, Software for Less introduces functional applications and media-based artworks that tackle those questions, presenting works that produce less profit, less data and fewer users. It includes a social network that aims to limit compulsions to use it, systems that make AI-driven feeds less attractive to those they profile, and artefacts from investigations that reveal how a tiny few manipulates a broad public into a hyper state of more – and how disrupting that manipulation could point the way towards an alternative future. Not software for more, but Software For Less.
Less Metrics, More Rando: Techniques of Resistance in a Platform World
25 May 2022 at 7 PM
Today’s social media users are constantly confronted by platforms that seek to profile their interests and manipulate their emotions in order to generate never-ending profits. Yet these same platforms have become the world’s de facto communication tools, the mediums through which we connect with each other and learn about the world. How can we better understand—and thus potentially withstand—the ways these systems influence who we are and what we do? What are techniques of resistance in a platform world? This talk will examine these questions through several of the artist’s works that critically intervene in, extract from, and/or reimagine the world’s most profitable tech companies, making possible renewed opportunities for user agency over the software platforms we engage with every day.
Recomposing the Web: Tools and Techniques to Regain Agency in a Software-Driven World
25 May 2022, 2 PM–5 PM
In the framework of:
konS – Platform for Contemporary Investigative Art
Ben Grosser creates interactive experiences, machines and systems that examine the cultural, social and political effects of software. Recent exhibition venues include the Barbican Centre in London, Museum Kesselhaus in Berlin, Museu das Comunicações in Lisbon and Galerie Charlot in Paris. His works have been featured in The New Yorker, Wired, The Atlantic, The Guardian, The Washington Post, El País, Libération, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Der Spiegel. The Chicago Tribune called him the “unrivaled king of ominous gibberish.” Slate referred to his work as “creative civil disobedience in the digital age.” Grosser’s artworks are regularly cited in books investigating the cultural effects of technology, including The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, The Metainterface, Critical Code Studies and Technologies of Vision, as well as volumes centered on computational art practices such as Electronic Literature, The New Aesthetic and Art and Digital Art. Grosser is an associate professor in the School of Art + Design and is co-founder of the Critical Technology Studies Lab at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, both at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA.
Author: Ben Grosser
Production of the exhibition:
Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana, 2022
Part of the series:
Tactics & Practice
the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia and the Municipality of Ljubljana
Software for Less is an adaptation of an exhibition of the same title commissioned by arebyte Gallery (UK) in 2021. The exhibition was curated by Rebecca Edwards and featured the works Platform Sweet Talk, Minus and DEFICIT OF LESS commissioned by arebyte.