Network Studies are audiovisual pieces exploring the network infrastructure that permeates sensitive urban locations through sound, graphs and textures.
For each Network Study, wireless data is collected from local networks as a space is explored on foot. The data collection is carried out using custom-software which is covertly running in a shut laptop, as the locations vary from airports to embassies, from financial to internet exchanges, from religious building to data centres.
The transcript of network activity is later converted into sonic signals, varying in response to the typology and intensity of the data, and visualised as a textual overview, a taxonomy or an aggregate of data packets, alongside a warping visualisation of the region explored, replicated through geomapping software.
Network Studies, nine in total, are available as a limited-edition SD card release. Among those are:
Network Study I – Docklands
The area northeast of Canary Wharf is inhabited by large, anonymous buildings, their imposing grey exteriors surrounded by multiple layers of metal fencing and countless security cameras. This especially militarised part of London houses the city’s most important node of the internet: LINX, the London Internet Exchange. In these buildings, over 600 UK network operators and providers connect and exchange traffic. Network Study I follows the path of the underground cables as they connect London, and the UK, to the global Internet.
Visible from the militarised area is the shine of Canary Wharf’s towers. As one of the most important European financial hubs, housing the headquarters of banks such as HSBC, Barclays and CitiBank, this location is no coincidence: the financial services and fast-trading algorithms thrive on the speed, performance and scalability offered by proximity to one such central node of the Internet, fed by the world’s fastest telecommunication cables.
Network Study VII – Vatican City
The only recognised absolute theocracy in the world, Vatican City has its own nature and accompanying mystique. In a place where incredible amounts of power, secrecy, lobbying and spirituality collide, the invisible forces of the network are easily forgotten.
However, the network has been furiously active within the Vatican City since 1933, when inventor Guglielmo Marconi was financially supported to research, prototype and build the first stable shortwave radio transmission system in the world. Early adoption of such a technology amplified the scope and reach of Vatican propaganda. As of today the Vatican Telephone Service maintain a complex infrastructure of networks for the telecommunications of its Vatican Radio, transmitting God’s word at a speed ~1500x slower than that of WiFi.
Network Study VIII – US Embassy
In 2013, reports of surveillance systems installed within US Embassies across many capital cities were published on a number of newspapers. Using documents leaked by Edward Snowden, journalists could reveal how the NSA had scaled up its STATEROOM program, used to famously tap Angela Merkel’s phone, to target the communications across hundred of cities. According to the reports, the covert collection of data is carried out on the roof of Embassy buildings, with equipment and staff assigned to such secret operations hiding behind “false architectural features”, such as roof maintenance sheds.
Network Study VIII focuses on the US Embassy conveniently housed in Rome’s Palazzo Margherita, in close proximity to many administrative buildings of the Italian government. Secured behind diplomatic immunity and the curtains of a visible, large roof-maintenance shed, an antenna intercepts the communication of Italian statesmen.
Network Study XI – Stansted
London Stansted Airport is the UK’s main hub for chartered deportation flights. At the behest of the UK government, and through an outsourced network of private companies, carrier Titan Airways operates flights forcibly removing people from the country. Often running under cover of night, these chartered flights take off amongst freight planes from a secluded part of the airport.
With their mobile phones confiscated, people are taken by coach from detention centres to the airport, where they wait for hours before being boarded onto a flight, on occasions unaware of its departure time or destination. Many endure the journey without the need to, as the Home Office commands that more people be in the airport than will fit on a plane to ensure that, in the case of someone receiving a last-minute injunction to stay, the expensive flights remain full. The required 5-days notice which the Home Office must provide to people it wants to deport, so that they may appeal against it, is not always respected.