Malware: Symptoms of Viral Infection
4 July 2019 - 9 November 2019
Computer viruses steal, damage and threaten our most sensitive information, files and privacy. Nevertheless in a strange way, the virus also has an exciting, even 'beautiful', quality. The exhibition Malware, curated by Bas van de Poel and Marina Otero Verzier, focusses on the most infamous examples. These form the starting point for an exploration of questions of security, warfare and geopolitics in times of rapid technological advance.
The computer virus started out as an innocent joke played by nerds, but has now become a digital weapon of geopolitical impact. The design practice behind viruses often remains hidden, but in this exhibition this is brought into the open. Emulation software, archival material and artistic interpretations represent different moments in the transition from playful hobby to factor of radical international influence. The paradox of the 'beauty' and complexity of these types of technology is one of the factors revealed: the smarter the design of how a virus is made, the more devastating its potential consequences.
In our drive towards productivity and efficiency, society has become ever more reliant on digital technologies, all of which are additionally interlinked. This means that critical infrastructures such as water and energy supplies, government services, banks and transportation are more susceptible than ever to infection by computer viruses. At the same time, huge strides are being taken in the areas of artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that malicious programs too are better able to learn to adapt to human behaviour and emotions.
The chaos and damage non-human actors such as viruses can wreak is increasing. These do not represent a uniform, abstract 'evil,' but rather each individual virus is a unique combination of refined design on the one hand and more-than-human agency and potential for destruction on the other. The result is a challenge for the design community: how can we learn to design security and privacy under the current conditions in such a way that malicious hackers, malware and cyber warfare can be resisted?