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Accessing art through spy methods

Aram Bartholl’s DVD Dead Drop brings a ‘layer of secrecy and playful adventure’ to file sharing at the Museum of the Moving Image.

Grasping the facade of the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, art-seekers may garner some curious stares from passers-by. But that's the only way you're going to find German artist Aram Bartholl's latest project -- the DVD Dead Drop. Somewhere embedded on the exterior of the building, he has installed a slot for DVDs. If you find the slot, insert a blank DVD. A Mini Mac in the building eats the disc, and 7 minutes, 12.9 seconds later, spits it out with burned digital content curated by Bartholl.

The dead drop was used in Red Scare-era espionage, according to Bartholl: "In the Cold War times, this was what you used to pass on information. So two spies set an appointment for a secret drop -- one spy leaves something, and the other spy gets it later."

The allure of dead drops is the "layer of secrecy and playful adventure," Bartholl adds.

The idea stems from the artist's previous project, USB Dead Drops, which blends street art with defacement of public property. In 2010, Bartholl started the movement by mounting five USB drives in New York City public spaces (three in Manhattan, two in Brooklyn) for offline file sharing. To get the content, you'd have to find the dead drop, bring a laptop and plug the exposed USB cemented in the wall into your computer.

The USB file sharing is anonymous, and users can modify or delete old files while adding their content. This makes dead drops open to sabotage by hackers, although Bartholl says viruses have never been a problem.

"This is another idea for the DVD, actually -- to make a DVD with all the viruses, like a virus database," Bartholl says with a chuckle. "You get it burned and you don't want to put it on your computer, like a high-toxic disc."

Some of Bartholl's less volatile ideas for future dead drops include "a collection of CD-ROM art from the '90s" and a compilation of speeches from conferences he has attended. He will change the content monthly; the inaugural art exhibition expires on Sept. 15.



New uses for old technology

Aram Bartholl’s work prompts conversations about outdated technology, like the USB and DVD. He cites the growth of online cloud storage as the source of the DVD Dead Drop’s retro artistic vibe.

“Ten years ago, the drive ... was cutting-edge, new and expensive — why would you just throw it away in a wall?” he says, pondering the speed of advancements.

For Bartholl, the success of his work begins when “people start discussing these issues and raise awareness on how we live in a digital space, and how we’re ... giving away our data to Dropbox or Google Cloud.”

 
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