The Conceptual Crisis of Private
Property as a Crisis in Practice
A Screenshot by Robert Luxemburg
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crisis.png crisis.php crisis.txt
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Sometimes, grafting concepts one on top of another can clarify, or at least
correlate, complex relations between the different points of view from which a
set of data can be critically examined. The Conceptual Crisis of Private
Property as a Crisis in Practice, by Robert Luxemburg, merges the paradoxes of
bodylessness and the possibilities of their obfuscation in an artifact which can
cast a light on several different problems at once. In a single screenshot, in
fact, the author encrypted the whole content of the massive novel
'Cryptonomicon' by Neal Stephenson and, in this image, there are several
elements, none of which was chosen randomly: a background by Jon Haddock, an
artist who reconstructs famous photos with the perspectives and techniques of a
videogame, the video 'Burn Hollywood Burn', by a.s.ambulanzen, the unauthorized
.pdf version of 'Empire', by Toni Negri and Michael Hardt, as well as the icons
of the applications used by the author, taken from the dock of mac os x. All the
materials fall on the fine border between fair use and illegality, between legal
and illegal digital material, a challenge to the american laws which are trying
to obfuscate it even more. The possibility of 'hiding' an information inside
another intersects the technical field with the political and legal ones,
turning into a contemporary comprehensive collection of the means of
reproduction and manipulation of data, impossible to regulate with traditional
techniques of protection. Thus, this image synthesizes a manifesto of the
endless duplicability of digital information and, at the same time, of its
invincible ability to spread and manipulate real-world artifacts, making it
immune to any kind of censorship.

Neural, November 2003


Das Projekt 'The Conceptual Crisis of Private Property as a Crisis in Practice'
von Robert Luxemburg ist vordergründig ein technisches Kunststück, bei dem der
gesamte Text eines Romans zum Thema Verschlüsselung in der Datei eines
Screenshots verborgen wurde. Das Projekt zeigt die Verquickung politischer,
technischer und juristischer Bedeutungsebenen im Medium digitaler Software - ein
Labyrinth, in dem der Ariadnefaden, der in die Freiheit führen könnte, selber
wieder ein Stück verschlüsselter Code ist.

Transmediale Catalogue, November 2003


The lengthy title indicates the critical trajectory of this work based on a
quote from Hardt and Negri's Empire. Submitted to competition under the
pseudonym of Robert Luxembourg, you are presented with a script (crisis.php), an
explanatory text file (crisis.txt) and a screenshot (crisis.png) as a conceptual
puzzle that together sits uneasily in an arts context. If you run the program it
parses the screenshot into the full text of the novel 'Cryptonomicon' by Neal
Stephenson. The project thus forms a neat conceptual loop between form and
content addressing issues of encryption, privacy and intellectual property
rights. It allows the reader to gain access to the novel in such a way that the
author of the software remains within the legal constraints imposed on the
author of the novel by the publishers. The work thus pushes the limits of the
legal apparatus that Hardt and Negri see as underpinning the power structures of
contemporary capitalism (Empire). Property rights are only infringed on
execution of the script itself. The software on the other hand is distributed
overtly as free, open software (under the terms of the GNU General Public
License agreement). On closer examination, the work emerges from earlier works
by textz.com/project gnutenberg and the production of the software that lies
behind the encryption process (pngreader v1.1) that works under the principle
that images and texts have the same underlying code of zeros and ones. Any
output that is encoded in such a way (using the pngwriter) can be decoded (using
the pngreader) allowing for the covert distribution of copyrighted materials.
The user is 'instructed' to perform an illegal act by running the php script by
executing the simple instructions in the text file. Furthermore, the submission
plays an ironic joke on the nature of competition itself, the commodification of
software and the production of art (available expensively as a limited edition
or free over the network) that we hope is somewhat enhanced by its inclusion as
exemplar of good practice in software art. It unashamedly reveals contradictions
and is thoroughly ideological.

Transmediale Jury Statement, November 2003


El arte contemporáneo es cada vez más político, y la crítica del concepto de
"propiedad intelectual" tiene en él cada vez más presencia en todos los medios
artísticos, sean videojuegos, net.art o piezas de galería. Robert Luxemburg
tiene una obra llamada "La crisis conceptual de la propiedad intelectual",
consistente en un programa GPL que transforma una captura de pantalla (en la que
aparece el propio programa) en el texto completo de Criptonomicon de Neal
Stephenson. La imagen contiene el texto del programa que la modifica y también
la documentación, así es una obra autocontenida, algo así como el literate
programming, pero en ofuscado. Aunque en su sitio web Luxemburg ofrece el
programa en PHP que modifica la captura de pantalla, el que quiera la imagen
entera tendrá que pagar los 20 dólares que cuesta el CD firmado y numerado o
rebuscar en su red P2P favorita. Según la legislación de algunos países, el mero
hecho de transmitir o poseer esta imagen podría ser un acto ilegal. Y más aún lo
puede ser seguir las instrucciones que aparecen en ella. Hay una anécdota (puede
que se trate de una leyenda urbana) que dice que, durante la Prohibición en
Estados Unidos, vendían ladrillos de uvas pasas con las instrucciones: "no meta
este ladrillo con agua, azúcar y levadura en un recipiente grande ni lo mantenga
apartado de la luz durante un mes, porque obtendría una bebida alcohólica, lo
cual es ilegal". Pues eso. Como dice el propio Luxemburg, se trata de una prueba
de concepto que ilustra que "incluso los sistemas de computación más "seguros"
siempre tendrán puertas traseras que permitan contra-aplicaciones artísticas".
Al igual que algunos ejemplos de la galería de descodificadores DECSS de Dave
Touretzky se trata de un ejemplo de hacking técnico y legal al mismo tiempo, y
una propuesta para la reflexión sobre si es posible la "propiedad" de algo tan
maleable y fluido como las información y las ideas.

Barrapunto, February 2004


In der Reihe nunmehr als solche anerkannter Kunstwerke innerhalb des Netzes soll
hier - nach 'walser.php', 'forkbomb.pl' oder 'form art competition' - Robert
Luxemburgs 'crisis.png' vorgestellt werden. Das als Freeware konzipierte
Programm definiert die neue Bildgewinnungs- und Bildspeicherungsvariante des
Screenshots als eigenständige Kunstform, indem es eine Vertextlichung des zuvor
komponierten Shots erlaubt. Mit dieser Arbeit reiht sich Luxemburg alias
Sebastian Lütgert in die Riege der Künstler, die bewusst mit der fraglichen
Bildhaftigkeit von 'Bildern' im Netz arbeiten, die eine letztendliche
Textbasiertheit jeglicher netzimmanenter Darstellunsgform zum
medienkünstlerischen Inhalt erklären. Mit Vorläufern wie dem hier mehrmals
vertretenen Vuk Cosic oder den Netzkünstlern JODI kann 'crisis.png' als Hybrid
von klassischer net.art und software.art beschrieben werden.

Medienturm, March 2004


'The Conceptual Crisis of Private Property as a Crisis in Practice' is a
screen-shot, i.e. a digital image, whose code can also be executed as a program
- when executed, the file produces the novel 'Cryptonomicon' by Neal Stephenson.
The project is a riddle about the different representational and juridical
layers at which coded, and thus also encoded intellectual property, can exist.
Here, 'runtime' is not only the condition, but the problematic medium, interface
and gateway to the borders of representation and legality.

Runtime, June 2004