Kim Dotcom: Privacy & the Abyss

The arrest of the probable internet criminal and seizure of his bizarre art collection inspires an exhibition “that highlights one of the most important legal discussions of the moment”

Photo: mumok

New Zealand police raided Kim Dotcom’s villa in Coatesville, 30 km northwest of Auckland in January 2012, seizing his personal effects, including this giant flatscreen | Photo: The New Zealand Herald

A large Predator statue looms, its legs spread wide, one heavily armoured silver arm in the air. Across the room, a plastic female face looks out blankly from a chequered bed, each of its eyes bigger than a human head. By the door, wrapped in plastic, lie millions of US dollars in cash.

These are all replicas of what the New Zealand police seized when they arrested internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom in 2012 at his luxury home. Acting in cooperation with the FBI, they consigned the German-born Dotcom and his colleagues to nearly a month in a New Zealand prison. At his arrest, Dotcom’s famed file-sharing site Megaupload was shut down.

Artist Simon Denny stumbled across a list of what the police had seized from Dotcom’s home during the raid in 2012. Always intrigued by issues of technology and privacy, Denny decided to mount an exhibition. The result? The objects in the room are strange, but the ideas that accompany them are even stranger.

 

A monstrous predator and a vulnerable doll face: icons of government surveillance and its victims? Below, Simon Denny poses at Kim Dotcom’s New Zealand estate with the trademark of Megaupload  covering the lawn | Photo: mumok

A monstrous predator and a vulnerable doll face: icons of government surveillance and its victims? Below, Simon Denny poses at Kim Dotcom’s New Zealand estate with the trademark of Megaupload
covering the lawn | Photo: mumok

A question of spying

In the single room in Vienna’s Museum of Modern Art (mumok), pages from New Zealand newspapers line one wall, covering the story leading up to and including Dotcom’s arrest. Still sought by the US on charges of money laundering and copyright infringement, the German programmer is at the centre of the question of what, in the internet age, we can download, surf, or stream.

Simon Denny describes the exhibition as a “collection of copies, rip-offs and imitations of the ‘real’ contraband.” Denny and curator Matthias Michalka collected and assembled the items, which include a jet-ski, a series of flat screen TVs, and an assemblage of plaques symbolising Dotcom’s hundreds of overseas bank accounts.

Denny says that the exhibition highlights “one of the most important legal discussions of the moment – entangled as it is with borders, law, entertainment and what it means to steal, be supervised, and who owns what.” But it’s also clear, given recent events, that the exhibition also touches wider privacy issues.

 

Are you being watched?

New Zealand police raided Kim Dotcom’s villa in Coatesville, 30 km northwest of Auckland in January 2012, seizing his  personal effects, including this giant flatscreen

New Zealand police raided Kim Dotcom’s villa in Coatesville, 30 km northwest of Auckland in January 2012, seizing his personal effects, including this giant flatscreen | Photo: The New Zealand Herald

Recently the actions of former N.S.A. contractor Edward Snowden drew attention to just who has access to all these mountains of data we’re accumulating at such an alarming rate – every time we use our phones, check Facebook, trawl the internet, or receive an email.

Since Snowden’s revelations, serious debate has begun in Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere, about what privacy means.

As the newspapers on one wall of the exhibition suggest, Dotcom has become a poster boy for privacy issues.

Following the arrest, the surveillance on Dotcom and his colleagues by the New Zealand government were found to have been illegal.

The prime minister issued an apology, and Dotcom continues to speak out about these issues:

“You cannot pre-emptively turn every person into a suspect and go and snoop into their personal lives,” he said in an interview on New Zealand television.

If you google Dotcom, you may find a song he wrote, addressed to U.S. President Barack Obama with refrains of “Are you going to fix this, Mr President,” and “Let’s get together and all unite, or they will do whatever they like.”

Increased global attention on privacy issues has drawn attention to Five Eyes, a security collaboration between the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, which has operated since World War II.

Closer to home, Die Presse reports that the NSA also has an outpost in Vienna, but the nature and extent of the collaboration between Austria and the NSA remains, for the moment, unknown.

 

Into the abyss

Denny’s exhibition is not, however, a straightforward warning about privacy. This is not a cautionary tale of abuse by the government. The fact that Dotcom had U.S. $175 million in cash and 22 luxury cars at his home at the time of his arrest suggests he is a little different from you and me. But the exhibition, “might serve as a focal point for the many discussions around privacy,” Denny says. “The Predator is present.”

The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom can appear simple – a collection that echoes a list, a curious assortment of objects in a single room. But it is the ideas – and the unanswered questions – that seep outside the room and follow us into our everyday lives. The Internet is a relatively new phenomenon, and when we look at the looming Predator statue, the bed half-covered in a plastic face, and the colossal stack of cash, all that seems clear is that we haven’t yet figured out how to handle it.

“If you gaze for long into an abyss,” Nietzsche once said, “the abyss gazes also into you.” ÷

 

Simon Denny, ‘The Personal Effects
of Kim Dotcom’

Curated by Matthias Michalka

5 July to 13 October 2013

Mumok, mumok.at

 

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