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Want to See Some Really Sick Art?
From: InfoSec News <isn () c4i org>
Date: Thu, 28 Jun 2001 03:15:53 -0500 (CDT)


By Reena Jana 
2:00 a.m. June 27, 2001 PDT

Nothing sucks more than a computer virus. 

Yet the contemporary art world, always hungry for the new, the trendy
and the controversial, is starting to recognize the virus as an art
form -- perhaps because computer viruses embody all of the above.

This year's Venice Bienale -- one of the international art world's
most prestigious events -- served as the launching pad for
"bienale.py." It's the art world's interpretation of the destructive
"Melissa" and "Love Bug" viruses that grabbed headlines in recent

At the Bienale, which opened on June 10, a computer infected with
"bienale.py" remains on display until the exhibition closes in
November. Viewers can witness someone else's system crashing and files
being corrupted, in real time, as if it were a creepy performance.

The artsy-fartsy virus was created by the European Net Art Collective
0100101110101101.ORG, in collaboration with epidemiC, another group
known for its programming skills. The virus only affects programs
written in the Python computer language and is spread if someone
downloads infected software or utilizes a corrupted floppy disk.

Because Python is a relatively esoteric language, the artists hope
that the source code, which they've printed on 2,000 T-shirts and
published on a limited edition of 10 CD-ROMs, will be the most
contagious form of distribution.

"The source code is a product of the human mind, as are music, poems
and paintings," explained the epidemiC team, which prefers to speak
collectively -- and somewhat pretentiously. "The virus is a useless
but critical handcraft, similar to classical art."

Adds a member of 0100101110101101.ORG, which also prefers to speak
collectively (and anonymously), "The only goal of a virus is to
reproduce. Our goal is to familiarize people with what a computer
virus is so they're not so paranoid or hysterical when the next one

The artists have created a mini-hysteria over their piece.

More than 1,400 of the shirts have been sold at $15 apiece. And
they've sold three CD-ROMs, at $1,500 each (the collectors chose to
remain unnamed for legal reasons). Yet the potentially damaging code
is available for free on the artists' homepages.

"In theory, we should get sued," said 0100101110101101.ORG's
spokesperson. "But we've gotten almost no complaints. Well, we've
gotten a few e-mails from security experts who want to know who these
asshole artists are."

Laws like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act state it's illegal to send
damaging code in interstate or foreign communications. But the artists
don't feel liable for any damage caused by "bienale.py" because they
sent a warning to major software and antivirus companies including
Microsoft and McAfee.

"We've explained how to disable our virus, so people should know how
to fix it," said the 0100101110101101.ORG spokesperson.

Not everyone's buying this excuse.

"If a thief leaves a note saying he's sorry, do we feel better? No,"
said Jason Catlett, the president of an anti-spam group called
Junkbusters, who has testified before Congress on Internet privacy
issues. "Doing things that are socially undesirable in the name of art
does not redeem the act."

This isn't the first time artists have adopted annoying practices to
gain attention. Spam, for instance, is emerging as an "art form" as
well; the Webby-winning Net art collective Jodi.org sent 1,039 spam
messages through the e-mail list Rhizome Raw this January.

Some media art theorists think that an artistic statement about
computer viruses can only be expressed effectively by spreading a
virus itself.

"To talk about contemporary culture, you have to be able to use all
kinds of expressions of contemporary culture," said Lisa Jevbratt, who
teaches media art at San Jose State University. "So a virus can be
considered a legitimate art form. Of course, there will be artists and
pranksters doing interesting new things with such forms. But there
will be artists and pranksters whose actions are merely rehashing

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