Bot Like Me symposium: May 20 (details).
For the exhibition Desperate times call for desperate measures, lol, Swiss artists !Mediengruppe Bitnik explored gigabytes of data from the hack of Ashley Madison, an online dating service marketed to married men seeking mistresses.
A 2015 hack of the site revealed that, with more male subscribers and virtually no human women available to meet them, the Ashley Madison site had moved away from human-to-human contact altogether. In the place of human connection, the vast majority of women users were actually 75,000 chatbots, a fact hidden from its male subscribers, whom the company argued were paying merely for “entertainment.”
Each of the bots had a name, age, a list of pick up lines and a location. 211 of these bots lived in San Francisco and provided this entertainment to 68,935 registered users here. For the swissnex Gallery, Bitnik surfaced data from Ashley Madison bots located in San Francisco and brings them to life.
By giving an embodied form to the 51 bots “living” closest to Pier 17, Bitnik exposes a secret layer of virtual fantasy hidden behind the reality of the city. Bitnik presents these fembot chat scripts, taken directly from Ashley Madison’s exposed code, in an embodied form of purposeful artifice. Still masked, the anonymous machines call us to a false intimacy, their opening pick-up lines echoing throughout the space:
“Do you want to know me?”
“What are you looking for?”
!Mediengruppe Bitnik explores these human-bot relationships and the currency of trust on the internet. The materialization of these online “fembots” in physical space critiques the commodification of women, and sex, in online spaces. The work also engages questions of intimacy, the willingness to compromise “real” and “fake” experiences in online entertainment, and the temptation to project meanings onto the blank screens of the digital sphere.
This exhibition was first shown at the Centre Culturel Suisse in Paris. In June 2017, the exhibition will travel to the newly opened ArtLab at the EPFL’s University Campus in Lausanne.
!Mediengruppe Bitnik live and work in Zurich/Berlin. They are contemporary artists working on, and with, the Internet. Their practice expands from the digital to physical spaces, often intentionally applying loss of control to challenge established structures and mechanisms. !Mediengruppe Bitnik’s works formulate fundamental questions concerning contemporary issues.
In early 2013, !Mediengruppe Bitnik sent a parcel to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy. The parcel contained a camera which broadcast its journey through the postal system live on the internet. They describe “Delivery for Mr. Assange” as a “SYSTEM_TEST and a Live Mail Art Piece.” The group created a bot, called “Random Darknet Shopper,” which went on a three-month shopping spree in the Darknet, where it randomly bought Ecstasy and other illegal objects which were shipped directly to the gallery space.
!Mediengruppe Bitnik are the artists Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smoljo. Their accomplices are the London filmmaker and researcher Adnan Hadzi, and the reporter Daniel Ryser.
Photo: 51 Ashley Madison chatbots from San Francisco given a physical form at the swissnex Gallery San Francisco by Swiss artists !Mediengruppe Bitnik.