Archive: Issue No. 108, August 2006

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The writing is on the wall: Carnivore and the World Wall Painters
by Carine Zaayman and

As is usually the case on the project page, when there is trouble in the Middle East, we turn to activism on the net, and try to put something out about online communities and projects that resist the worrying global trend towards conservative right wing politics. Even though this project, by Area3 and RSG (Radical Software Group) is from 2002, I think it suits our current situation very well.

Area3 is a group (founded in 1999 in Barcelona) comprising artists, designers, programmers and musicians. They specialize in new media work, and operate across the commercial and fine art spectrum, as is evidenced by their participation in the Venice Biennale (among other events) and their ability to count companies such as Playstation and Diesel amongst their clients. One of their most interesting projects is the World Wall Painters, or Carnivore.

This project is based on the devices employed by the FBI to intercept electronic communications, ostensibly to protect the citizens of the world against terrorism. In the case of Carnivore, however, this data is not used to spy on people, but to provide a reflection of the material being circulated on the web. The data is interpreted in such a way that it creates a visual display, the form of which is determined by the manner in which the software has been set up by the user.

Initially, the project was only accessible in the galleries where it was exhibited, but it has since been packaged into a downloadable version. As the RSG website explains: 'Carnivore is a surveillance tool for data networks. At the heart of the project is CarnivorePE, a software application that listens to all Internet traffic (email, web surfing, etc.) on a specific local network. Next, CarnivorePE serves this data stream to interfaces called "clients". These clients are designed to animate, diagnose, or interpret the network traffic in various ways. Use CarnivorePE to run Carnivore clients from your own desktop, or use it to make your own clients.'

The online version has since been utilised by net art luminaries such as Joshua Davis and Entropy8Zuper! Area3 has used Carnivore to create the World Wall Painters, a project that 'paints' the flag of the country of a user connected to the project on its virtual canvas, to reinforce the notion that the Internet is, as they say, 'heterogeneous'.

(Additional information on the Carnivore project was sourced from Blais, J and Ippolito, J. 2006. At the edge of art. London: Thames and Hudson. 148.)