Politika // Activism in the Digital Age

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Our Politika – Art & the Affairs of the City exhibition features works by a number of artists who work on digital platforms. In contemporary society it is essential for activists to recognise the potential of technology as a tool for engagement and a way to intervene. Through our programme we wanted to expose participants to a variety of digital methods used by activists and present specific examples of their effect.

Susan O’shea Talks About Covert Networks – 24/09/14

We were given an insight into covert networks by sociologist Susan O’shea.  Susan has been working with the University of Manchester to examine behavioural traits of said organisations and if there are any common factors across a broad spectrum of groups who operate in secrecy. When creating politically-engaged work, many groups have to operate in secrecy for their own protection. At Upper Space we closely-follow the work of these groups and have exhibited a number of pieces by covert artists in our Politika exhibition.

It was really interesting to hear about how expansion happens and how organisation members are able to maintain their anonymity. The information sparked discussions and raised many questions.  It would be great to follow Susan’s research and find out more.

Ztohoven Presentation – 24/09/14

After we’d expanded our knowledge of covert networks, we were given an insight into a more specific example. Ztohoven are a Czech art collective who operate in secrecy because their work runs in opposition to the Czech government and would not be able to continue if members were discovered. The visiting members gave a brief history of their group and contextualised their necessity in a post-communist country that has been taken over by opportunist advertisers.

We had a closer look at ‘The Moral Reform’, the collective’s intervention that included sending  585 SMS messages to 223 members of parliament. The work highlighted the moral implications of policies and actions taken by parliamentary officials.  It was refreshing to see corrupt government members being held accountable for their actions when they affect the people of a nation. After this we were given a preview of their upcoming project, Parallel Polis, a venue and think-tank for hacking and technology in which bitcoin will be the only currency.  At Upper Space we’re very interested in alternative systems that could promote equality. It’s going to be really interesting following Ztohoven in the future to see what they’re able to achieve.

Bitcoin Manchester Crypto Party and Bitcoin Introduction – 24/09/14 & 30/09/14

Bitcoin Manchester taught us how to protect our data at a crypto party. We downloaded and tested various platforms for data encryption which left a few heads swimming but generated a lot of excitement about their potential. After this we looked in more depth at what bitcoins actually are and the future of the crypto currency. The conversation turned into a lively debate about the sustainability of various currencies and kept us in the gallery until after 11pm. It was great to be able to introduce all our speakers on the 24th. Susan was excited to meet Ztohoven and find another covert network case-study. Ztohoven members really got involved in the crypto party and learning about bitcoin was invaluable to them for their future endeavour of Parallel Polis.

The bitcoin workshop was so popular we decided to bring Bitcoin Manchester back on the 30th to give more people a chance to get involved. It was nice to see new people coming along as well as repeat visitors. Thanks to everyone who took part in any of our activities and to Susan O’shea, Ztohoven and Bitcoin Manchester.

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