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Science and Media Museum

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The internet is based on an open culture of sharing and collaboration. The companies who provide access to the internet are proposing to change the way we view and pay for online content. Could this signify the end of the open internet as we know it?

open: with no restrictions
source: from which something comes or can be obtained

Curated by Sarah Crowther, the exhibition [open source] was an exploration of the open source nature of the internet and the current threats to net neutrality which could signify the end of this culture.

[open source] closed in June 2013, but you can still visit our permanent Life Online gallery, which explores the past, present and future of the internet.


What is open source?

An open source culture means that we are all able to create, consume, collaborate on and share content online. By adding comments to a news story, putting videos on YouTube or even creating a new website, users contribute to the open nature of the World Wide Web. No central authority controls or dominates what goes online and who puts it there. All content is equal.


Read Aloud by Ross Phillips, 2012

Ross Phillips focused on open source culture with Read Aloud. The piece was designed to mirror the collaborative nature of the open internet and the fact that we can all create, consume, collaborate on and share content online, often making new versions of existing content. Read Aloud invited visitors to perform a line from a chosen book. The recording was then added to other recorded lines and slowly the book took shape, making a new piece of work from an existing text.

Ross Phillips is an artist and designer who is renowned for his video-based interactive installations. His work has been commissioned by Liberty and Benetton, and he has featured in exhibitions such as Decode at the V&A and The Science of Spying at the Science Museum.


1 and another by Erin Newell and Phil Bird, 2012

1 and another celebrated the open source spirit of sharing and collaboration, with the artists have made the building blocks for their artwork openly available. Visitors to the gallery were able to design an image online, with pixels correlating to physical blocks in the gallery where visitors could work together to build a physical manifestation of the image, one block at a time, based on its virtual blueprint.

Erin Newell and Phil Bird were selected from a national call for the [open source] open commission with their concept for 1 and another.

Erin graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2010. She was shortlisted for the 2011 Open Prize for video painting and has exhibited her work at Eastern Bloc Centre for New Media & Interdisciplinary Art, Montreal and Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle. Phil is CEO of an internet software development company, Perfect Channel. He has worked on projects for numerous organisations including BBC, V&A, Specsavers, London Underground, and The Guardian. This is their first collaborative artwork.


What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the principle that everything on the web should be treated equally—regardless of the type of content or who produced it. However, so much information is flowing through the internet that we are running out of space. The companies who provide us access to the internet have proposed that we create a tiered system where some content is paid-for and prioritised. Could this signify the end of the open source nature of the internet?


Live portrait of Tim Berners-Lee (an early warning system) by Thomson & Craighead, 2012

Globally-renowned visual artists Thomson & Craighead focused on the threat to net neutrality with their piece Live portrait of Tim Berners-Lee (an early warning system).

The piece was a pixelated portrait of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the web as an open and shared platform. The portrait was created via live webcams updating in real-time on a regular basis—so Berners-Lee’s live image was literally made out of other peoples’ openly available data online from around the world from as far afield as Burkina Faso, Morocco, Mongolia and the Western Sahara.

Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead are fascinated by how globalisation and networked global communications have been re-shaping the way we all perceive and understand the world around us. They live and work in London and Kingussie, Scotland, making artworks and installations for galleries, museums and site-specific locations that include the World Wide Web. Exhibitions have included: Kumu Art Museum, Tallinn; Berkeley Art Museum, California; Highland Institute of Contemporary Art, Scotland; Artists Space, New York; Tang Contemporary, Beijing; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; and Dundee Contemporary Arts.


System Overload by Networked, 2012

System Overload explored the complex realities of net neutrality. Using dynamic and vibrant animation, the artists examined ideas of freedom, control and the flow of information. Networked created a vivid representation of the challenges faced in keeping the internet a free space. The work used the language of web culture to present the pros and cons of net neutrality and asked the question: what do you think?

Networked was made up of ten creative young people from West Yorkshire, aged between 14 and 19: Al-Ameen, Callum, Charles, Hadia, Josh, Karl, Katie, Luke, Spud, and Waz. The group was brought together by the museum for this project. With the help of artist Jack Lockhart, the group mastered the techniques of animation and the complicated theme of net neutrality. More than 60 hours of creative workshops, trips and detailed discussions went into the design and production of System Overload.

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