Rhizome, the non-profit organisation affiliated with the New Museum has bought together two of the world’s most famous dissidents for a single art project. Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, who is still unable to leave his home country since 2011, has joined forces with Jacob Applebaum, a computer security researcher and hacker who has worked closely with Wikileaks.
Applebaum travelled to Beijing where the two activists met up for five days to work on their project. Ai’s and Applebaum worked closely in the Chinese artist’s studio – constantly under heavy monitoring by the Chinese government – in the Beijing art district, and invited Laura Poitras, the Oscar-winning director of the Edward Snowden documentary Citizenfour, to film them as they worked.
The resulting work was titled “Panda to Panda,” but it “was not about surveillance,” Poitras stated in the New York Times, “It was about secrets.” the two stuffed toy panda bears with shredded N.S.A documents that were originally given to Poitros two years ago in Hong Kong when she and journalist Glenn Greenwald met whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
In addition to the shredded NSA documents In each stuffed panda, Ai and Applebaum placed a memory card containing a digital archive of the published documents released in June 2013.
For the nine-minute documentary The film by Poitras consists of a nine-minute documentary in which the viewer will see three dissidents watching themselves being watched. Ai and Applebaum are seen shredding the sensitive documents, taking the stuffing out of the bears, and replacing it with the scraps of paper and sewing in micro chips.
Applebaum says of the politically sensitive work, “We’re going to distribute them to as many different places as we can, so it’s like a distributed backup—if you send one to different places it makes it impossible to destroy the information without destroying all 20 of them. One of the safest places to put it is in a museum or in a gallery, where it’s an object, where it’s protected.”
Applebaum has not returned to live in the United States due to an ongoing investigation into the activist’s involvement with Wikileaks, an organisation that has published half a million classified U.S military documents. In order to communicate without detection Applebaum uses a Cryptophone – a custom Samsung cellphone that has the strongest encryption technology on the market – according to Fusion.
Ai Weiwei suffered a traumatic brain injury after being beaten and detained for his outspoken response to Chinese governmental activities, the artist was put in jail for 81 days by Chinese officials. He subsequently moved his family to Berlin.
Images: Screenshots of The Art of Dissent