continent. maps a topology of unstable confluences and ranges across new thinking, traversing interstices and alternate directions in culture, theory, biopolitics and art.
Issue 6.1 / 2017: 46-50

Bugs in the War Room

Linda Hilfling Ritasdatter

A War Room, New Year’s Eve 1999, Chennai, Southern India: A group of engineers are on stand-by, ready to deal with the presumed catastrophic, global consequences of the predicted meltdown of world-wide computer systems at the turn of the millennium. Fifteen years later Linda Hilfling Ritasdatter locates the key human and non-human players in this apocalyptic chapter of the digital age.

Linda Hilfling Ritasdatter’s artistic and research practice examines the paradoxical geopolitics related to technological development as it manifests itself in neo-colonial structures. Her methodology is based on fieldwork in which she encounters outsourced work and educational forces as well as engaging materials such as programming languages and outmoded apparatuses, for example by learning and working with legacy programming languages such as COBOL.

For the last five years Hilfling Ritasdatter has been researching how Western information infrastructures depend on legacy software and on-going maintenance that are often provided by the so called developing countries. In one of her cases she investigates the Year 2000 problem, or Y2K bug, as it was dubbed primarily in the Western world and which started to get worldwide attention in the mid 1990s. Since the early days of computation it had been a routine as well as a technical standard to indicate year dates with two digits instead of four, leaving out the numbers specifying the millennium in order to save costly computer memory. But awareness of the potential implications of such a practice began to be raised: When reaching the year 2000, the computer would not be able to distinguish the 00 of 2000 from the 00 of 1900.  The Y2K bug was presumed to lead to failures within major financial institutions like banks or stock exchanges, payroll systems, telecommunications and power systems.

The following image series are taken from a slide-based work part of the project Bugs in the War Room, which was originally presented as a solo exhibition at Overgaden – Institute for Contemporary Art, in Copenhagen, 2016. The work looks into the power mechanisms of repair and execution as mutually dependent. The bug which was to be fixed “once and for all” is here revealed to form part of a basic feature of technology as something that needs to be continuously maintained in order to execute at all. The myth of linear technological progress works to support neo-colonial power regimes but these are disrupted by the ultimate paradox which is that the West is dependent on the developing nations in order to keep their own supposedly more advanced systems running.


Excerpt from “80 Slides for Kodak AV-2000 Dia-projector”, Bugs in the War Room, Linda Hilfling Ritasdatter, 2016

 

 

REFERENCES

Linda Hilfling Ritasdatter. "Bugs in the War Room: Economies and/of Execution" in Executing Practices edited by Helen Pritchard et al. Autonomedia/DATA browser 06, 2017, pp 124 -142. http://data-browser.net/06/

Linda Hilfling Ritasdatter. Bugs in the War Room. Overgaden – Institute for Contemporary Art, Copenhagen. 2016. http://overgaden.org/en/udstilling/bugs-in-the-war-room/