Dropping the Internet

80 × 170 cm

Dropping the Internet (2014) is a critical response to the status of a post-Snowden Internet in reference to Ai Weiwei’s Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995)..

Photo triptych, 80 x 170 cm

The Internet lost its innocence a long time ago, but since Edward Snowden revealed classified information about invasive and potentially threatening global surveillance programs in 2013, he has proven how deeply interlinked and vulnerable our digital communications are to mass surveillance. With each day, we send more and more data through the Internet – mostly via corporate owned, monopolized networks and clouds like Google, Facebook, Amazon & co. These companies track our movements and collect our personal data to sell our ‘digital identities’ to advertising companies for targeted marketing purposes. In the meantime, the NSA is archiving all of this information in huge data silos. Such scenarios were not completely unknown before, however the tremendous scale to which all of this data was being collected and used became public for the first time in June 2013.

Originating in the principal of decentralized design and open source culture, with roots founded in academia and the revolutionary mindset of California in the 60’s/70’s, the Internet always stood for freedom and progress in society. Over the past few decades, the promise of a democratizing, open access Internet that could bring free education to all people worldwide has been a celebrated idea. Even so, the Internet has also been used in less meaningful ways. For example, groups like the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation), or the CCC (Chaos Computer Club), have always warned that governments, Secret Services and other powerful companies will use the Internet to control, oppress and enhance their power to fit their own agendas.

The documents Snowden revealed proved these warnings to be true. For years, a horrifying scheme of data collection of private information has been occurring beyond our awareness – beyond sight, beyond touch and beyond what we can feel. The brutality and impudence with which all this is happening makes speechless. Unless broad sweeping changes are made, the globally networked Internet as we know it will splinter into divergent networks between countries and private companies that can filter information through firewalls and Deep Package Inspection as they choose. As opposed to the dropping and shattering of a ceramic vase as Ai Wei Wei did when making a statement about breaking with oppressive traditions of the past, the Internet cannot be physically broken in the same way. But Dropping the Internet is as a symbolic message, demanding that we break with corrupted ideas of an Internet of the past and re-envision what an Internet of the future could be. The altruistic belief that technology will be used to benefit humanity must be scrutinized. In 2013, something inside of me broke. The Internet as I believed to know it is gone.

Aram Bartholl 2014


  • Bridging Differences, T3 Photo Festival Tokyo, Tokio, 2022

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