“Whistleblowers and Vigilantes”

Kunsthal Charlottenborg
Nyhavn 2, Charlottenborg Udstillingsbygning
June 18, 2017–August 13, 2017

View of “Whistleblowers and Vigilantes,” 2017. From left: John Perry Barlow, Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, 2014; Ubermorgen, Vote-Auction, 2000.

In the lobby is a grid of prime suspects, drawn up like “wanted” posters. The Whistleblowers—Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning—join the checkered Vigilantes: a police sketch of the hooded, sunglasses-sporting Unabomber and the Guy Fawkes–masked face of Anonymous. The exhibition hangs on the famous mugs that have come to represent issues of digital privacy, mass surveillance, and the impossible weight of what we, mere names on a list, can do about it. One wall bears a creepy cutout of Julian Assange’s head, with a monitor playing an episode of The World Tomorrow, the Wikileaks founder’s TV show on Russia Today, mounted over the corner of his mouth. Weirder still is DIS’s Chelsea Manning, 2016, for which they had the low-res selfie that served as Manning’s only headshot during her incarceration rendered as a weave-on-demand throw blanket. This “homage”—if you believe the wall text—is spread over the back of a couch below a projection of the infamous US Army footage Manning leaked in 2010 under the title Collateral Murder.

The show’s most unsettling conjunctions come from projects that muddy aesthetic concerns with the volatility of real life. The curators have covered a wall in small prints of some particularly mean-spirited (or is it antiauthoritarian?) LULZ memes, such as one featuring two flying WTC towers crashing into a pair of giant upright planes. In the collective Ubermorgen’s Vote-Auction, 2000, here represented by a news clip, their “artist website” offered to buy and sell votes, attracting official scrutiny from at least eight US states. A kunsthal is a court of public opinion, not of law, and this show argues from the gut—which puts the onus on the viewer to qualify the easy valorization of vigilantes like Assange and Ted Kaczynski. But then again, sometimes it’s better to bypass the talking heads.

Travis Diehl