Surveillance and the art of software maintenance

At a recent conference there was discussion of the preservation of new media art. One of the panellists, an esteemed curator of new media at an important national museum in Scandinavia, spoke about conservation and the need to preserve old computers and programs and the difficulties of achieving this. Nevertheless, he believed the fundamental project was viable. Someone proposed that an obstacle to preservation was the artist’s carelessness, and this view was shared by several of the panellists. I replied from the floor that much Internet artwork uses events and content from remote websites over which the artist and the artwork have no control. I said that this artwork was inherently unstable and temporary. It was intended to be so, and this was part of its unique quality. It cannot be preserved. (There was no time for examples, but if Wikipedia ever disappears, logo_wiki will disappear also as a live work. This is true, whatever hope might be placed in the success of documentation.)

The museum curator replied that I had decided (I think I quote accurately), “to choose to break cultural laws”. It seemed that I had little reason to complain – which I was not: I intended merely to point out that not everything is bound for the museum.

There is the imbrication of curatorship and surveillance: the former with its documentation, display, and preservation; the latter, with its observation, monitoring, and evidential processes. These have something shared, and this is a programme of the creation and maintenance of forms of order.

This order, in the case of curatorship, is not merely the continuance of the integrity of physical structures. It is also the creation and imposition of cultural order. The point perhaps that the museum curator had implied.

However, the gun that is pointed at your own head may occasionally be turned on those that point it at you. In so doing, it is credible that curatorship should embrace the fugitive and the unstable. A counter-order, if you like. Surveillance too might cease to serve power by inversions that turn the apparatuses of control upside down. Both are strategies at the margin, not a form in dominance. Anti social. Not working.

For software to engage with what is happening now, it needs to be maintained, more urgently perhaps than it needs to be preserved. Data requires updating, page scrapes need to be checked. When you make a machine, you create a machine minder.

The way logo_wiki works is that it has a list of selected ‘Big Brother’ editors and the Internet addresses of their computers. Every networked computer has an address on the network, an IP (Internet Protocol) address. It’s a long number such as this,, which happens to be the address of one of the Pentagon’s computers. (You can check this on the DomainTools’ website at Networked computers are registered at terrestrial addresses. For the Pentagon computer, if you run a check, you will get a result like this:

OrgName: The Pentagon
Address: OPN-BM, Pentagon
Address: Rm BE884
City: Washington
StateProv: DC
PostalCode: 20310
Country: US

Most of the Big Brother editors who edit Wikipedia do so anonymously, and if they do so, the Wikipedia website logs their IP addresses, as it does with all anonymous edits, along with a record of the edit. All we need now is to compare Wikipedia’s evidence of IP addresses of anonymous editors with our list of heavy-duty establishment types. And if a match is found, we then have proven a link. And this is what logo_wiki does. It swaps Wikipedia’s logo for the editor’s logo to make the point. And it shows you the edited page. It’s a sort of reverse obscuring. It is a bringing forth of that which is hidden through the agency of identifying images.

It works in real time. It selects recent edits at random. It isn’t a database [1] . If there are no recent edits, logo_wiki cannot show you anything. If Wikipedia disappears, or changes its recording processes, logo_wiki disappears too. It is, if it may put that way, event-dependent artwork.


[1] There is a database, ‘WikiScanner’, “a software tool written by Cal Tech computation and neural-systems graduate student Virgil Griffith. Griffith's project created a searchable database that ties edits from the popular encyclopedia to organizations, allowing one to see where they originated by cross-referencing edits with information on the owners of the poster's IP addresses.” Jonah Brucker-Cohen,, 10th May 2008,

Wayne Clements

published on this website are copylefted according to the GNU General Public License.

Part of this essay was originally published as: Clements, W. (2008) Surveillance and The Art of Software Maintenance: Remarks on logo_wiki, in ‘Observatori 2008. After the Future’. Valencia,