Tag Archives: Listening Post

Research Critique: Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin’s ‘The Listening Post’

The Listening Post by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin is basically a interactivity broadcasting installation that allows you to see a glimpse of the forums and discussions that occur ‘independently’ in the internet. A Short Summary is as followed:

“Listening Post is a ‘dynamic portrait’ of online communication, displaying uncensored fragments of text, sampled in real-time, from public internet chatrooms and bulletin boards. Artists Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin have divided their work into seven separate ‘scenes’ akin to movements in a symphony. Each scene has its own ‘internal logic’, sifting, filtering and ordering the text fragments in different ways.

By pulling text quotes from thousands of unwitting contributors’ postings, Listening Post allows you to experience an extraordinary snapshot of the internet and gain a great sense of the humanity behind the data. The artwork is world renowned as a masterpiece of electronic and contemporary art and a monument to the ways we find to connect with each other and express our identities online.”

By Science Museum, London

These descriptions would all look wonderful in theory but of course they don’t seem to be able to give light about the experience that participants would be facing. We must remember that an interactive installation will never be complete in paper unless we experience the situation or get involved – that is why they call it interactive. Hence, to perhaps give much more feel into this installation, I have attached an article written by Megan Gordon-Gilmore. The article not only explains the installation piece but includes description of the the situation and the environment. The author also does bring some perspective with regard to this installation being an art form.


Do read if you are interested but definitely, don’t stop here. I have my own input which is followed.

Overall, I think the project when it started in 2000, had so much meaning and context such that it seemed like a warning about the future – the future we are currently in. However, the dedicated meaning or the intend that the project was based on, might have been lost along the line of classification and data-sorting, especially when we want to categorise this as an art form. Hence, I shall go through this in great detail as I write on.

The Warnings

“Our early writing on the piece talked about a ‘global conversation’ and now that seems to be happening more broadly on Twitter and other social media, not IRC” (Hansen, 2014)

Hansen was right! The broadcasting medium expanded exponentially over the years and their project proposal and installation became something that was foreseeing this. However, the terms were no longer text. The whole idea of text based information was interpreted as text itself and that created the system that made it possible for them to sort out and filter these text for broadcasting. Hence, on their first curtain call, there were people who wrote things like ‘ I am 18’ and then eventually when it ‘webbed’ itself to the interne, there were things that made sense yet did not make sense. This seems okay when you are dealing with forums and discussions those days. But times have changed and text is no longer text in the context of art. Text is a symbolic expression of our feelings, thoughts and overlapping context. So what’s the difference between the past and the present when they are all text? Randomness. The randomness is not the same with the text that were spilt out during the curtain call of the installation. But the randomness is a burst of expression, call for activism etc. It is like its medium- a social too within another social tool. An article that I was reading by Bernard Enjoiras on Transcending Participatory Divides (2012) examines using web text data analysis from on social media re-affirms or transcend socioeconomic divides in terms of cyber participation – which means that there are aspects that make things complicated just by the sorting out of text. An example would be the use of emojis and sequenced gif images to construct within a text based environment to convey their message. Like the internet, the social interaction aspect of the ‘global conversation’ has expanded to include non-text elements together with text elements to create expressions. That’s what I meant by complicated.

Hence, for the group to be able to use the same project even in 2013, with a few tweets, to me becomes nothing more than an outdated installation cause the actual meaning and perhaps message is lost. But in 2000, when the project first started, it sent out a powerful message – someone can be watching and someone is. If it were myself, I would be scared to put an input cause there is a system out there, back then, that is already able to retrieve information about what you say. Just that in this installation, it was filtered to create a sort of visual sensation. Today, we are at debating about censorship and how National Security Agencies are spying on us. Well, don’t say they didn’t warn you. Its just that we were too overwhelmed by the presence of the internet.

An Art Piece?

The question is this is visually an art piece even with voice modulation and text layering via Max/MSP ( which is an awesome yet slightly expensive software) ?

“The artists used a principle called Minimum Description Length (MDL) to cluster possible topics. MDL says the best model provides the shortest description of a given set of data while still capturing the important features evident in the data” (Hansen & Yu, 2001)

Many a times, we associate art as thinking out of the box and it seems like this installation is befitting of such definition. But it goes through this regime of sorting and filtering – in such a system. Its like putting rules and regulation for different forms of art when art is a form of expression. How can you restrict expression? If you did filter expression, does it truly represent the system in the internet. Making cognitive sense might be part of the project’s for people to better understand what is happening, which I can sympathize with them. But in the name of making it an interactive installation, a system that filters these information on a text base syntax, makes it directed – which is no longer an interactive anymore. Hence, if they could either randomize or create a system that does not filter it based on text syntax but rather loop syntax might be able to make more sense


I might sound like I am pinning this down but honestly, I am not. I think this is still a great installation but that needs to perhaps redefine what makes this an art installation within the context of the 2010s and its message.