Interactive installation with 3 video channels and an offline web server.
In collaboration with Nestor Siré
Commissioned by the 2022 Warsaw Biennial
Fragile Connections is an ongoing artistic research project about SNET (Street Network), a vast grassroots computer network connecting tens of thousands of users across Cuba’s capital Havana. This vernacular infrastructure not only compensates for the lack of internet access but has also generates new relations between people and fostered new forms of community. SNET allows users to play multiplayer video games, chat, send messages, debate in forums, share files, or host websites. It relies on a network of thousands of participants who collaboratively create, operate, and maintain its hardware and software infrastructure, making it a unique local alternative to the global internet. The network’s material base consists of miles of ethernet cable running across streets or balconies, Wi-Fi antennas mounted on poles on rooftops, and servers and network switches operated by an army of volunteer node administrators. As the software interface through which the network is accessed, SNET makers have repurposed TeamSpeak, a voice conferencing software that allows users to communicate with each other via voice and text over the Internet or a local area network (LAN). While TeamSpeak is firmly rooted in gaming culture (being designed for gamers who can use the software to communicate with other players in the same team in a multiplayer video game), it is employed in SNET as a central organization tool for its many features, customizability, and low system requirements.
Based on this research, we created a series of projects that explore the particular digital practices, social dynamics, and human infrastructures within SNET. The exhibition consists of various elements: an interactive installation replicating an SNET node’s technological set-up and thus constitutes a fully functioning local area network (SNET developed out of private LAN parties in which Cuban video gamers first experimented with network technology). This LAN not only hosts the three most popular SNET games but also runs a TeamSpeak server in which segments of interviews we conducted with SNET members are arranged as a real-time VoIP conversation across the three levels of its hierarchical structure: users, support, and administration. Audiences can connect to this network via their WIFI enabled devices and thus create user IDs and interact with each other in public TeamSpeak channels, creating a temporary offline community, which will remain as a documentation of the exhibition.
The exhibition further presents a series of photographs, videos, and objects that represent the network’s distinctive infrastructure and the creative modifications users engage in, as well as an infographic that details the power dynamics and hierarchies within the network (conceived in collaboration with Cuban sociologist Adrián Olivares and designer Mauricio Vega). A set of stickers with icons and symbols SNET members use to create their digital identities allows visitors to performatively take on an SNET personality themselves.