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Art as data-activism

The second day of the DATACTIVE closing workshop, hosted online by SPUI25, focused on artistic responses to datafication and mass data collection. The DATACTIVE team has interviewed many civil society actors from the field of digital rights, privacy, and technology activism. Artists take part in this field, but often they don’t figure as the core actors in what is being highlighted as data activism. In this event, we wanted to stage artistic interventions in particular, in order to tease out what artists do and can do, and what insights and further questions do they generate. In this event we spoke with Karla Zavala and Adriaan Odendaal from The Internet Teapot Design Studio, Manu Luksch, and Viola van Alphen, about their work and ideas:

The Internet Teapot Design Studio is a Rotterdam-based collaboration that focuses on speculative and critical design projects and research. Karla and Adriaan explained how their work is based on the idea that ephemeral data processes have material effects in the world, and that it is needed to focus on the conditions of their production. In order to bring in this focus with their audiences, Karla and Adriaan organize co-creation workshops. In these workshops they aim to create counter-discourses, critical practices, and algorithmic literacy. Part of their approach is working with so called ‘political action cards’, a way to design pathways through the datafied society. In this way, they stimulate creative responses and make people aware of processes of datafication and, for instance, machine learning. One example of such a creative response is participants writing a diary entree from the perspective of a biased machine vision system. By taking the position of the machine, they would imagining processes such as inputs, black boxes, and outputs. Through their workshop, their audience engages with major conceptual themes such as Digital Citizenry, Surveillance Capitalism, Digital Feminism.

Manu Luksch is an intermedia artist and filmmaker who interrogates conceptions of progress and scrutinises the effects of network technologies on social relations, urban space, and political structures. She talked about her work on predictive analysis and how through her work she tries to involve publics in matters of algorithmic decision making. She showed us a part ‘Algo-Rhythm’, a film that “scrutinizes the limitations, errors and abuses of algorithmic representations” . The film, which was shot in Dakar in collaboration with leading Sengalese hip-hop performers, addresses practices of political microtargeting. As she explained, the film is an example of how she frames her findings in a speculative narrative on the basis of observations and analyses. The film got translated in eight languages and has been included in curricula across schools in Germany, which shows how her work finds a place outside of the more classic art settings and operates as a societal intervention.

Viola van Alphen is an activist, writer, and the creative director and curator of Manifestations, an annual Art & Tech festival in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Viola showed us trailers of Manifestations, and explained how ‘fun’ is an important element for passing the message on an art and technology festival. She provided many examples of how artists try to materialize datafication and concerns around the digital economy. Some of these examples included a baby outfit with an integrated smartphone, data poker games, and candy machines that give candies in return for personal data. She also told us about her experiences of hosting the exhibition online in virtual worlds, and how artists typically managed to push the boundaries of the platform and be kicked off the platform. This, in turn, exhibits ‘the rule of platforms’, but how artists found counter measures via alternative self-hosted and decentralized servers. Other examples included 3D printed face masks that would confuse the Instagram facial recognition system, and a film that disclosed how corporations, including ones that sponsored the exhibition, take part in the weapon industry. For her, artists are important in making complex issues about datafication simple. They can boil them down to a key problem and make that sensible.

In the discussion, we touched upon a variety of issues. In our DATACTIVE workshop, we have talked about the question whether the context of datafication has changed over the last 5-6 years. This question is important to us, because the project started in the wake of the Snowden disclosures and questions about mass data collection and security were relatively new to the larger audience. The Internet Teapot Design Studio addressed how the practices of data tracing and identification are seemingly much more present in the public domain now. Adriaan mentioned how tactics of ‘gaming the system’ are present on social media, and not only amongst the typical tech activists. According to him, algorithmic awareness has become more part of public discourse, as shown by Instagram influencers talking about gaming the algorithms. Karla added how, during social protests in Colombia, tips were being shared about how beauty filters can be repurposed to prevent online facial recognition software to recognize people. They find it interesting to see user generated content emerging that is critical about algorithms.

In response the question about societal change, Manu pointed to the fact that datafication existed also before the digital, and that for years, fears to be outpaced by technological competition hindered data regulation. She stated that it is an urgent task to remind ourselves that data is not immaterial, and that it is not some substrate that we sweat out. She commented that, when looking back, the notion of the ‘data shadow’, a concept that has been used to explain our ‘data profiles’, was maybe an attractive but an ‘unlucky choice’. Data is rather an extension, that opens and closes doors. In other words, data has much more agency than being just a trace that we leave behind.
We also talked about the question whether the artists follow up with their audiences. All participants work on awareness raising. But are people really empowered on the longer term? According Viola, who regularly ‘tests out’ ideas for her exhibition with neighbors and friends, it is important to break out of one’s bubble. Art can touch individual people in their hart, and they might remember single art projects for years, but one needs to invest in speaking a variety of languages. Amongst her visitors are professionals, kids, refugees, and corporate stakeholders. Sustaining awareness is both a continuous and customized process.

The Teapot Design Studio does see communities emerging that keep in touch via social media after workshops. The studio can function as a stepping stone for people to get familiar with the topic, after which they might hopefully become interested in bigger events such as Ars Electronica or Mozilla Fest.

We concluded the event with the following question: If you were looking forward to the future, what methods are needed? What approaches would you teach art students? The Teapot studio stated that one shouldn’t be intimidated by tech in a material way. And also: Digital media is not new: people need to work on understanding what is the post-digital and what are its aesthetics. Manu advises people to take their time to become data literate, develop their sense for values (including values and skills associated to the analogue space and time), and never stop dreaming. Viola states that art projects need to be easy and digestible with only one headline. If people don’t understand it in one minute, they are off again.

There is much more to know. Watch the video of our event to hear Karla and Adriaan about what ‘teapots’ have to do with the internet, to understand how Manu has investigated the way legal regimes co-shape what is returned as ‘an image’ after doing FOIA requests in the context of CCTV surveillance, and to hear Viola reflect upon how robots can provide multi-sensory experiences and raise questions about war. The DATACTIVE team is looking forward to follow the work of the speakers in the coming years. Some of work discussed in the event is also accessible through our website.


The first day of DATACTIVE’s final event also featured a more condensed, albeit exciting panel dedicated to the intersections between data / art / activism. Next to the artists already mentioned above, we also had the opportunity to have a peek on the work of Joana Moll, a Barcelona/Berlin based artist and researcher whose work critically explores the way techno-capitalist narratives affect the alphabetization of machines, humans and ecosystems. Stay tuned for more info on this event in an upcoming post!

Data Activism Futures (29 June): the trailer

Teaser for the event ‘Data Activism Futures’ (June 29, 2021) which summarises the 5+ years of collective work on the DATACTIVE project (, funded by the European Research Council (grant agreement no. 639379). The video features Niels ten Oever (PhD alumnus), Becky Kazansky (PhD candidate), Guillén Torres (PhD candidate), Davide Beraldo (Postdoc), Lonneke van der Velden (Postdoc), and Stefania Milan (Principal Investigator). Event program at Produced by EngageTV (Amsterdam).

June 29-30: DATACTIVE final event

We are nearing the end of the ERC-funded DATACTIVE project and we have many accomplishments to celebrate!

For almost six years now, we have worked together to investigate the complex and multifaceted field of data activist imaginaries and practices. We have had a wonderful time bringing together academics, practitioners, hackers and artists from around the world. We have engaged in numerous interviews, focus groups, participant observation of activist events, and we have even developed our own open-source tools to support our research. Together, we have traced the evolution of a global network of data activists and tried to figure out how institutions are reacting to their mobilization. We have explored the various ways in which publics engage with surveillance regimes and how notions of risk articulate strategies to resist it. We have shed light on the workings of the algorithms that power big tech platforms and located how human rights considerations painstakingly make their way into the infrastructure of the internet. With the inception of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have also devoted our attention to the politics of counting in the first pandemic in a datafied society, the inherent forms of exclusion and the risks of techno-solutionism.

Throughout these six years, the ‘we’ of DATACTIVE has been neither static nor stable. DATACTIVE has been home to no less than 26 people in its core team, plus the many other research associates, interns, and collaborators who visited for period of time and enriched our work with their expertise and unique contributions.

Although the project is coming to an end, we are well aware that our work is not done. We will take our data-activist approach to research to other venues and groups, and continue asking critical questions wherever we will land.

But it is now time for thanks and celebrations! Please join us on Tuesday the 29th of June 2021 for the DATACTIVE closing event entitled DATA ACTIVISM FUTURES, to celebrate looking back and ponder about the future. We have our Principal Investigator Stefania Milan reflecting on five years of data activism, after which the PhD candidates will take central stage. Becky Kazansky will shed light on threat modelling within civil society and grassroots resistance to surveillance, Guillén Torres will present his work on institutional resistance to transparency efforts by citizens, and Niels ten Oever will take us through the politics of infrastructure. Guest speakers include Maxigas (University of Amsterdam), Fieke Jansen (Data Justice Lab, Cardiff University), Claudio (Algorithms Exposed), and Svitlana Matviyenko (Digital Democracies Institute). Davide Beraldo will engage in a discussion with artists Joana Moll, Manu Luksch, Viola van Alphen, Karla Zavala and Adriaan Odenzaal about how art can contribute to the data activism agenda by fostering critical data literacy

The DATACTIVE final event will be followed by a public roundtable discussion on ART AS DATA ACTIVISM scheduled on the next day, Wednesday the 30th of June 2021. Note that each event has its own separate registration process. Find more details below!


June 29th 13.00-17.30 CEST
The event is broadcasted live from Engage! TV studios and will takes place online. Sign up HERE


13.00-13.30 5 years of contentious politics of data: What changed? Stefania Milan in conversation with Lonneke van der Velden
13.30-13.40 Launch of DATACTIVE video pills
13.40-14.00 PhD projects pitches: Data activism as a form of…
14.00-14.40 Breakout rooms: Extended PhD presentations + Q&A
Data activism as form of:
1. Institutional resistance (Guillen Torres)
2. Resistance to surveillance (Becky Kazansky)
3. Politics of infrastructure (Niels ten Oever)


15.00-15.35 Art as data activism: A conversation featuring Joana Moll, Manu Luksch, ☕️ internet teapot l design & research studio (Karla Zavala & Adriaan Odenzaal), and Viola van Alphen. Moderated by Davide Beraldo
15.35-16.30 Research futures for data activism: A fishbowl discussion with practitioners, featuring Maxigas, Fieke Jansen, Claudio Agosti and Sanne Stevens
16.30-17.00 Data activism futures: Closing remarks. Stefania Milan in conversation with Linnet Taylor
17.00 Thank you & festive moment. Keep your favorite drink at hand!


From DATACTIVE: [Speakers] Stefania Milan (Associate Professor of New Media and Digital Culture, University of Amsterdam), Guillen Torres (PhD at DATACTIVE, University of Amsterdam), Niels ten Oever (former PhD at DATACTIVE, now postdoctoral researcher at IN-SIGHT, University of Amsterdam), Becky Kazansky (PhD at DATACTIVE, University of Amsterdam). [Moderators] Lonneke van der Velden (DATACTIVE, Assistant Professor Global Digital Cultures at the University of Amsterdam), Davide Beraldo (Senior Lecturer and postdoctoral researcher at DATACTIVE, University of Amsterdam) & Niels ten Oever. [Co-organiser] Jeroen de Vos (DATACTIVE Project Manager, University of Amsterdam).

Guest speakers: Linnet Taylor (Global Data Justice, Tilburg University), Maxigas (People’s 5G Lab, University of Amsterdam), Fieke Jansen (DATA JUSTICE, Cardiff University), Claudio Agosti (Algorithms Exposed), Sanne Stevens (Justice, Equity and Technology Table), Joana Moll (Barcelona/Berlin based artist and researcher, Universität Potsdam and Escola Elisava), Manu Luksch (Artist in Residence at The School of Law, Birkbeck, University of London), Karla Zavala & Adriaan Odenzaal (☕️ internet teapot l design & research studio), and Viola van Alphen (Creative Director and Curator Manifestations@Dutch Design Week. Art, Tech, and Fun!).


June 30th 17.00-18.30 CEST
The event is hosted by Spui25 and takes place online. Sign up HERE

Art as form of political engagement is a proven formula, but what about art as form of data activism? Can art help us better understand and question the politics of everyday data flows? In the current context of datafication -the turning of every aspect of our lives into data points for further processing — artistic practice offers diverse ways to foster public engagement with data. From the early examples of the Net.Art movement to more recent artistic interrogations of automated decision making systems, the speakers in this panel will offer different perspectives on the role of art in questioning the power asymmetries created as a result of the use of data by governments, corporations and platforms.

Speakers: Manu Luksch (Artist in Residence at The School of Law, Birkbeck, University of London) Karla Zavala & Adriaan Odenzaal (☕️ internet teapot l design & research studio), and Viola van Alphen (Creative Director and Curator Manifestations@Dutch Design Week. Art, Tech, and Fun!).

Moderator: Lonneke van der Velden (DATACTIVE and Assistant Professor Global Digital Cultures at the University of Amsterdam)


BigBang Sprint at IETF110 Hackathon

When: March 1-3, 2021

The BigBang project will be working on improving its tool for mailinglist analysis at the IETF 110 Hackathon.

BigBang is an open source research project that studies collaboration and contention in digital infrastructure projects and governance institutions. We do this by combining data science techniques with qualitative methods. For example, with BigBang you can analyze participation, affiliation, gender, and networks in the IETF, ICANN, RIPE, IEEE, or the 3GPP.

We very much welcome both techncial and non-technical contributors! BigBang is built on the scientific Python stack, and we use Jupyter notebooks to make the analysis transparent and accessible.

To join the IETF 110 Hackathon, please register using the link from the Hackathon website. Registration is free!

We intend to work on (some of) the following issues during the hackathon:

– Integration and analysis of 3GPP and IEEE mailing lists
– Integration with the INDELab conversationkg tool
– Produce instructional videos
– Improve linking across datasets (such as the datatracker and mailing lists)
– Query/notebook design to support projects from research community
– Discussion of Star’s boundary object vs. Luhmann’s structural coupling
– The operationalization of _your_ research question!

The BigBang project will have a one-hour team meeting Friday February 26 – 9:00 ET / 14:00 GMT / 15:00 CET before the Hackathon which all are welcome to attend if they are curious about the project. You can join via this link:

Please don’t hesitate to write Seb (sbenthall at gmail dot com) if you have any questions about the BigBang project or the IETF 110 sprint, or if you have suggestions for research questions!


Stefania on ‘Tech-Based States of Emergency’ (PRIO, January 27)

On January the 27th, Stefania will contribute to the event ‘Tech-Based States of Emergency: Public Responses and Societal implications’ organised by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). She will join Brenda Jimris-Rekve (Basic Internet Foundation) and Sean Boots (Canadian Digital Services) as speakers, with Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert and Kristoffer Lidén from PRIO as moderator and an introduction by Bruno Oliveira Martins (PRIO), project leader of “States of Emergency as Disruptive Pandemic Politics”. As this is a virtual event, you can register to attend following this link.

Event description: Tech-Based States of Emergency: Public Responses and Societal implications

A one-in-a-century pandemic challenges global stability, threatening the lives of millions and the economic well-being of most countries on earth. Many states are invoking state of emergencies as the world collectively faces the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. States have relied on technologies to help mitigate the spread of the disease by deploying the use of metadata analysis, geolocation tracking, facial recognition screening and drones. But the resort to tech-based solutions to a complex social problem raises new questions that demand public and societal scrutiny.

Niels and Stefania at Privacy Camp

On January the 26th, Niels ten Oever and Stefania Milan will partake in the annual appointment of the Privacy Camp, this time round however only in virtual format.

Both will feature in the panel “Wiring digital justice: Embedding rights in Internet governance ‘by infrastructure’” (12.05-13), where Niels is a speaker and Stefania co-moderates together with Francesca Musiani (CNRS Paris). Know more about topic and speaker line-up. Niels and Francesca are also the organisers of the session.

Later in the day, Stefania will contribute to the panel “Reclaim Your Face, Reclaim Your Space: resisting the criminalisation of public spaces under biometric mass surveillance” (14.05-15), organised by Ella Jakubowska (European Digital Rights). Further details can be found here.


“Contentious data” paper development workshop hosted by Davide and Stefania (November 12-13)

On November 12-13, Davide and Stefania will host a paper development workshop where the prospective authors of the special issue Contentious Data: The Social Movement Society in the Age of Datafication will have the chance to discuss their draft papers. The issue is edited by Stefania Milan, Davide Beraldo and Cristina Flesher Fominaya, and will be submitted to the International peer-reviewed journal Social Movement Studies. Due to the pandemic, the workshop has been moved to Zoom.




Stefania at the kick-off of “Global Digital Cultures” (2 October)

The University of Amsterdam has a new Research Priority Area dedicated to exploring “Global Digital Cultures”. Global Digital Cultures is a interdisciplinary research community for comparing and analyzing the profound changes brought about by digitization around the globe. Read more here.

The kick-off event of the new Research Priority Area featured a keynote by Prof. Louise Amoore (Durham University) in conversation with our PI Stefania Milan, along the lines of Amoore’s latest book on “Cloud Ethics” (Duke University Press, 2020).

Stefania in conversation with Ranga Yogeshwar (Berlin & YouTube, 19 September)

Stefania was in Berlin on Saturday the 19th of September to give a talk at the Futurium museum–the awesome House of Futures.

With a reduced audience due to Covid-19, Stefania discussed risks and opportunities of datafication in conversation with Germany’s most famous science journalist, Ranga Yogeshwar. The event is available on YouTube. Note that the talk is in English with some inserts (e.g., the introduction) in German. Enjoy!

Stefania at 2.Dh5 Festival, Utrecht

On 1-2 February, Stefania will attend the 2.Dh5 Festival in Utrecht, the Netherlands. She will give a presentation on “Surveillance capiralism and the future of data activism” , with a Q&A section (date and time will be announced on the 2.Dh5 Festival website).

About the presentation:

Surveillance capitalism is grounded on the transformation of human actions, interactions and emotions into data points which can be quantified, analysed and monetised. It accelerates the crisis of liberal democracies, and changes the role of information and technology in the constitution of our societies. People may react by fighting the aggressive intermediation of the industry, including social media platforms, and the snooping of the state, for example through “smart city” projects. Others may leverage the possibilities for transformative collective action harboured by big data. This talk explores how citizens, social change activists, and variably skilled users engage with datafication looking at emerging practices of “data activism”. It takes stock of the main tendencies we observe on the field, and surveys emerging areas such as algorithmic activism and device activism.

Download the presentation.