Marianne.von.Willemer. Prize for Digital Media

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Credit: Kathrin Stumreich

The Marianne.von.Willemer. Prize for Digital Media provides financial support directly to female artists. It honors women who use digital media as an artistic tool and means of expression. This prize is meant to single out for recognition innovative works of art characterized by the use of or the explicit reference to digital media.

Kathrin Stumreich is the recipient of the 2016 Marianne.von.Willemer. Prize in recognition of her work “What would Ted Kaczynski’s daughter do…?” The jury was delighted by its sense of humor, its critique of media, and its take on an ambivalent society of technophobic users and true believers in technology.

Chrystal Tesla, the figure created by Kathrin Stumreich, is the artist’s response to issues of surveillance, anonymity and identity in a reality dependent on digital media. Tesla’s fictional backstory is loaded with allusions to the history of media and culture; her form is a reference to the stylized self-depiction of digital natives. Deploying the array of devices and DIY implements that Stumreich has placed at her artistic protagonist’s disposal, Chrystal Tesla fends off what is purportedly a system of control. In the narrative concocted by Stumreich, Chrystal Tesla’s apparatuses attract the attention of several curators, who are so delighted they resolve to showcase them in an exhibition.

The exhibition “What would Ted Kaczynski’s daughter do…” offers a glimpse into the Wunderkammer of Chrystal Tesla, the daughter of mathematician Theodore Kaczynski, the notorious Unabomber.

Chrystal Tesla shapes her character amidst, among other formative elements, the paranoia she inherited from her father and her personal affinity for technology, which manifests itself in terms of her career in engineering. She walks a thin line between a schizophrenic existence and a reality whose boundaries are adjustable depending upon the political situation and national security.

In this Wunderkammer, the degreed ethno-linguist and engineer displays her knowledge in order to confront the discipline of national security in Europe in 2015.

Constantly wary of being under surveillance by her father’s enemies, even here in Europe, she reveals her dual mindset—she’d like to be on the same level as those spying on her, to think as they do; by the same token, this implies understanding the other side, and this incessant shift plays right into the hands of Chrsystal’s diagnosis.

Chrystal responds to her encounters with various national security practices in the form of apparatuses inspired by and archive material adapted from those very practices. She builds absurd but rationally thought-out objects that integrate everything from state-of-the-art devices to the most primitive construction methods researched in the archives of ethnological science. Chrystal defines and orders their deployability within her idiosyncratic system of thinking, and goes into a spiral that drives her to act and create.

In stark contrast to her father’s hostility towards technology, her aspiration is to participate without constraint in high-tech developments, and to take a DIY approach to forming them to advance her own interests.

Interview

Read an interview with Kathrin Stumreich on our Ars Electronica Blog: Resistance from Below

Exhibits

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650 nm Laserspy

The Laserspy apparatus that Chrystal Tesla built herself makes it possible to eavesdrop over long distances. A laser beam is aimed at a window pane. The laser is reflected by the plate of glass and received by a light-sensitive cell positioned far away.

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Audio Watch surveille

The apparatus constantly rotates and, via a lens, takes in the light reflected by its surroundings. The lens is focused and the light’s values are amplified and made audible by a sensor corresponding to a pixel.

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2.4 GHz Weaving

2.4 GHz Weaving is based on the idea of manually producing a copper fabric that can shield various electromagnetic wave bands.

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