Let’s Get Physical
By: Peggy Nelson | Categories: Kudos, Spectacles, Uncanny

Psst— want to share things anonymously with strangers? You know, things: messages, pictures, perhaps even certain unusual practices, or strict instructions? Want to maybe receive things in return? You know, things: packages, streams, transmissions of one kind or another? Well guess what, you’re in luck, there’s this thing called The Internet . . .

With his project Dead Drops, new media artist Aram Bartholl (@agoasi) has ported the anonymous give-and-take of cyberspace back into the physical world; he has penetrated the firewalls of actual structures with tiny orifices. With USB thumb drives, to be exact — his recent residency at Eyebeam in New York has culminated in the seeding of open, expectant thumb drives in various locations in that city, and a call for others to do the same in theirs.

Any passer-by might sidle up to a certain walls, slouching to position themselves at just the right angle, and whip out their laptop (which may be on the smaller side, sure, but perfectly respectable) and, with a careful flourish, plug it in.

And it’s really up to you which role you’ll play. You can submit, or transfer. Others may guess, but only you will know.

The risks are exactly what your mother warned you about, should she be conversant with such things. You may pick up a nasty virus. You may get your drive filled with porn. You may inadvertently spread something you might not have even known you had.

And afterwards? Fair warning: when you go the anonymous route, you may find the encounters somewhat alienating and the content, anti-climactic. As we have seen over and over again on the internet, anonymity tends to push quality towards the lowest common denominator. But so what? With info porn, as with all other types, the excitement is all in the anticipation; data and imagination are close neighbors in virtual reality. Manifesting the virtual takes work, but is work worth doing. Eventually, inevitably, the extent of the work required will change projects like these into quite different forms of exchange.

And you know what that means: a relationship.

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Peggy Nelson is Arts Editor at HiLobrow, covering art, art-makers, and the virtual life; she was also HiLobrow's first Artist in Residence. She is a new media artist whose work involves fractured narratives in film, augmented reality, Twitter, and even objects on occasion. Follow her on Twitter at @otolythe.