REMOTE CONTROL – SHANE COOPER
1999 • INTERACTIVE NET-BASED INSTALLATION
Remote Control is a computer-based online interactive installation created by Shane Cooper. The artwork was produced for the exhibition "net_condition" by the Institute of Visual Media in 1999. Shane Cooper uses the Internet's news flows and politically re-assembles the lyrics spoken by a virtual news anchor.
Visitors enter the installation to find a sofa with a television set playing in front of it. An everyday scene – you sit down and watch TV. An apparently current news program is playing: in a virtual studio, a computer-animated news anchor reads out news reports that have been generated by accessing online newswires. A remote control can be used to flip to a second news channel broadcasting a mirror image of the same visual appearance. The news reports are just as current, but with complementary content. The two available channels are called “Truth 1” and “Truth 2”, but neither of them presents actual world events. Beyond this, the artist illuminates the believability of artificially constructed images; presciently, in the 1990s he raised the question of what significance newscasters hold in the evaluation of news.
Remote Control is using a linguistics program made by Shane Cooper. If the user press the key “Truth 1” on the remote control unit near the sofa, the anchorman reverses the truth of the news. The linguistics program modifies a message received from the network, a proposition, and translates it into a conditional form, questioning therefore the meaning of the original message (eg. It is highly unfortunate that… you should not believe that… It would be a disfigurement of the truth that…). In addition a new text is inserted into the modified source text, which turns the previous statements into negation. For example, “this is wrong” or “this has been hinted as misinformation”. Thus, the original source narrative from the text is doubly duped, that is, logically returned to the original truth form. The second Channel, on the other hand, underlines the statement received from the network, emphasizes its truth content: “We have actually verified that…”, “You should believe that…” or “It is certain that…”. In this structure of moderation, like in the first channel, a second text is also inserted to convince the visitor of the truthiness of the information “we confirm the reliability of the source of this news” or “This news is absolutely true”. The effect is two news channels reporting the same information, but opposite in truth relative to each other.
Depending on whether the underlying remote news sources are accurate, one of the channels will be true and the other will be false. Which channel is true and which is false, however, is determined entirely by the truth of the remote news sources. Since one channel is the meaning of every sentence reversed and the other is the meaning of every sentence supported, one channel is guaranteed to be true whether or not the news itself is. Both programs, “truth reversed” and “truth confirmed” can be true thanks to an underlying linguistic manipulation program.
The work of Shane Cooper is a piece of applied rhetoric that illustrates the significance of the rhetorician, the speaker, and the speech treatment in the assessment of a message. The basic necessity of understanding a message and giving it their faith, the so-called credibility, is thereby removed from the legitimacy base. The artificial picture of the studio and the “Anchorman” denies the unconscious, visually generated seriousness of a statement in order to examine it exclusively in its linguistic form or to lead it absurdly.
Conservation treatment (in collaboration with Matthieu Vlaminck)
Remote Control is using a commercial 3D rendering software named Alive! to display this artificial studio and news anchor. Like all single user commercial softwares Alive! has a standalone license, it can be used only on a dedicated computer, in this case, a Silicon Graphic Inc O2 – this means that the license file is attached to this O2’s processors ID, which is as unique as a fingerprint.
On the acquisition contract is stated that if we needed a new licence to install the artwork on another O2 (to make a backup or directly replace the first one - hardware can fail at any time...) we just had to ask the company who made Alive! - Protozoa - and they would give us a new license key for free.
Unfortunately, Protozoa closed down many years ago. This means that we don’t have any way to obtain a new license key for a backup O2 anymore. And even worse, the artwork currently exhibited in ZKM is using the only SGI O2 in working order with the licence of Alive!.
The only (illegal) solution remaining was to “hack” the software for the sake of preserving the whole artwork.
How to proceed ? Can we directly modify Alive! itself ? Do we have to modify the operating system ? The solution chosen was eventually close to the latter.
Alive! is using the FLEXnet Licensing system, which uses - as we said before - a unique hostid (identifier) for the machine. Each time that the software is launched, it calls this hostid to see if it matches the one registered with the licence: the lmhostid.
The trick was to make Alive! implemented on the second O2 believe that it is on the original one by running a scripted program that would emulate the lmhostid of our choice (in this case the one from the original O2). The program is launched each time the O2 boots, thus fakes the lmhostid before Alive! calls for it. It give then the fake one to the 3D software, making now possible to have as many spare computer as we need to preserve the artwork in middle-terms. Even better, this solution can be used for any standalone licensed software on SGI O2 and Indigo2.
This case has raised many questions: Can we hack for the sake of art preservation? Should the museums be allowed to obtain free access to the sources / licensing of old softwares used on their exhibited artworks? Should the companies be forced to release unlocked versions of old software as a last action after any support definitely has stopped? The current laws are not adapted to such cases, and should maybe be reviewed in the future to match museum’s preservation’s needs.
Since its acquisition and production, Remote Control proves to be quit unstable mainly because of its web-based implementation and the fragility of the remote control (physical device). The physical as well as virtual communication with the outside world is whimsical and leads to crash.
The online news are received through RSS feeds and displayed on a small CRT monitor next to the TV set. The display of the internet-fed messages are an essential component of the art piece: it allows the visitor to get easily the linguistic manipulation and identify by himself that there is a manipulation of the information. The accuracy of the news is paramount to create the visitor’s wondering and astonishment. Of course, the accuracy of the news emphasizes the anachronism of the TV set, CRT monitor and 3D graphics of the work but it also exacerbates the reality of present day. This piece of applied rhetoric, created in 1999, resonates more than ever the current television and journalistic climate of nowadays (fake news, political manipulation and breaking new race).
RSS feeds are simple HTML sources sent by a software called a news aggregator which automatically checks the host website for new content. This type of sources proved to highly dependant on the web fast changing and fluctuations. For example, after the 11.9, Yahoo’s servers were down and Remote Control wasn’t receiving any news anymore. In 2002, the URL of the RSS feed had changed, causing the crash of the software. In 2012, the Newsfeed of the installation changed again. We changed it to “Reuters”, a big news agency. However the script of Remote Control had to be rewritten to includes unsupported new HTML tags. So since the creation of this work, small changes in the RSS feeds have occur but with good recoverability possibilities as we saw and without changing too much the original code.
These types of news sources are still used in nowadays but won’t be in the next years I presume. We actually cannot predict what would happen for this kind of Internet resource. For this type of works relying on third party sources or software like RSS feeds, technological watch remains our best option so far in order to react as fast as possible when RSS feeds will disappear. We just adapt the software to the changes and cross finger so that news agencies continue to maintain such resources.
The remote control is a paramount interface to access the content of the work but like said before, it is prompt to failure because of its fragility and extensive use by the public in exhibition context. The plastic pressure mat of the buttons and the inside platine are stressed out and need to be exchanged often. The original remote control was made especially for this artwork. A commercialized housing and board were modified to match the artist’s intention.
However its design doesn’t impact the artwork’s look and feel. Its functionality is more important than its design since it won’t suffer from any anachronism or comparison to a certain type of remote control. This remote control doesn’t look like the one we have at home anyway, so it shouldn’t be a problem to change it. Efforts were directed on creating a remote control that is more robust to facilitate the public participation to this artwork, while maintaining the same functionality and number of buttons. After designing it, the new remote was 3d printed and is currently in a test-phase in the exhibition Open Codes.
Hacking for the Sake of Digital Art Preservation, article presented at iPres2018