Randomized computer art program that purchased drugs seized
When a robot buys drugs in the name of art, who’s to blame? Is there a point at which art stops being art? These are some of the questions that police in Switzerland are now trying to answer.
The machine in question, The Random Darknet Shopper, is a computer program designed to make one random purchase from the Deep Web a week with $100 in Bitcoin. The items are then shipped to the sight of the art exhibit, titled The Darknet: From Memes to Onionland, and added to its previous purchases.
The only problem: the marketplaces being bought from are comparable to the Silk Road. Items purchased thus far include: the complete Lord of the Rings book set, a pair of Diesel jeans, Nike shoes, a fake passport, stolen credit cards, and ecstasy pills.
The the artistic group responsible—!Mediengruppe Bitnik—said in an interview with The Guardian that the goal of the work was to get the public to think. “We really want to provide new spaces to think about the goods trades on these markets. Why are they traded?” The project also notes that they aim to explore the ways that trust is built between anonymous participants in online transactions for possibly illegal items.
Their exploration of the darker side of the web came to a close on Jan. 12, when police seized the bot and exhibit. According to a statement made to TechCrunch, “the confiscation [was] to impede an endangerment of third parties through the drugs exhibited by destroying them.”
It is unclear, at the time of writing, if any legal action will be taken against the group who created the work. Aside for the question of who is responsible, this situation comes down to one question: what is art?
In !Mediengruppe Bitnik’s conversation with The Guardian, the Swiss constitution is described as having articles which state that “art in the public interest is allowed to be free.” This would indicate that, if deemed artistic, there is no crime.
Remember, the police took no issue with displaying fake passports and credit cards, which could potentially be used—just the ecstasy.
Through the non-issue with all other forms of illegal items, there seems to be an understanding that The Darknet is art. The question then changes from whether its art, to how far should art be allowed to go.
Should there be a limit to what aspects of human reality should be broached by artists? Historically, artists of all types, have been the first voices silenced by authoritarian political regimes. The reason for this is precisely because the artist can speak about things which are taken for granted or ignored in society.
There are no numbers on exactly how much money is spent on black market websites each year, but it is reasonable to assume that there is a fair amount. This is something that most people turn a blind eye to. Perhaps this should not be so.
Whether or not The Darknet: From Memes to Onionland is good art, it is something worth thinking about. At the very least it’s left us with a lot of questions.