Semantic network of hierarchical tags from Camp La Jolla Military Park

A semantic network visualization and detail using tags generated from the hierarchical tagging system I created with Thomas Evan Lecklider as part of my Camp La Jolla Military Park project.

For example this item, Defense Contractors recruit at UCSD Job Fair, in the park is filed under: business » arms industry » spending » recruiting

Art Meets Radical Openness + Give Me My Data: A Short History

I’ve just returned from Linz, Austria, where I attended the art and technology festival/conference/exhibition called Art Meets Radical Openness (LiWoLi 2011). It is put on and hosted by Ushi Reiter and others of, and Martin Kaltenbrunner (creator of Reactable) and others at the Kunst Universität Linz.

While I was here I met a lot of friendly and engaging people, and saw some great works, talks, and performances. I also gave a paper about Give Me My Data, titled, “The Self-Indulgence of Closed Systems.” The presentation was about my current research into historic and contemporary modes of surveillance, ensuing privacy issues, and examples of resistance to these modes of data gathering. It was part the Naked on Pluto lecture series, organized by the cheery Marloes de Valk.

I also conducted a 2-day workshop, “Freedom for Our Files: Creative Reuse of Personal Data,” where I shared information and examples on how to go about data scraping and spidering, reuse and visualization, and using the Facebook API for all of the same, for creative or experimental purposes. I’ve posted some of the code and content from FFOF already.

One important motivation for my attendance was to meet programmers who might be interested in working with me on the more technical aspects of upgrading Give Me My Data to the new Facebook Graph API and finding a way around undocumented data limits imposed by Facebook that my users continue encountering.

Give Me My Data: A Short History

I thought I would give a little bit of a background here, about Give Me My Data, for those interested in its development and other related projects.

In 2008 I finished my Masters of Fine Arts at the University of California, San Diego with a thesis project titled Camp La Jolla Military Park. It was a fictional national park which documented the history and ongoing collaboration between the university with the defense industry. I created a custom content management system (PHP, MySQL, Google Maps API) and formed a group of collaborators to enter data in the system documenting relationships. The project exists now as a series of brochures and website which mimics the national park website and describes the research we conducted. I also gave tours of the “park” (campus) where technology was being developed for defense contractors and other sites with related interest.

The following year, while working during my first year as an assistant professor at Florida State University, I described and began developing aspects of a project I temporarily titled Automata. The project, which was a finalist in 2009 for the Rhizome Commission, proposed to use technology to visualize relationships in which there might exist ethical contradictions, but are difficult to discern for all the actors involved. An example of an ethical contradiction might be collaborations between the defense industry and educational institutions which encourage students to develop technology used to harm other human beings. I proposed to do this through various automated web spiders, semantic analysis, and finally visualizations and other interfaces to the data.

While working on Automata, which was named to reference the automation of the documentation Camp La Jolla performed, I was invited to MIT by Chris Csikszentmihályi, Research Scientist at the MediaLab and Director of Center for Future Civic Media at MIT, to discuss the project with members of his Center for Future Civic Media.

Later in 2009, while planning how I might visualize the network data from Automata, rather than creating the content from scratch I decided to use my Facebook contacts as a test subject. Since there was no application which exported data in various reusable formats, especially one which arranged the contacts into a format which described relationships, I created my own.

This application, live since October 2009, would soon became very popular in its own right. In late April 2010, Facebook made a change to the way they allowed users to present information about themselves. Previously entered user data was suddenly aggregated without permission in order to encourage strangers with common interests to form groups. This slight change in policy caused an uproar within the Facebook community because it attempted to force people together without regard to individual privacy.

Many Facebook users were originally attracted to the site because of its levels of privacy and therefore found this change to be manipulative and deeply disturbing. Further, users were no longer able to access or change this information because it had been incorporated into a larger structure. In their article, Facebook App Brings Back Data, May 1, 2010, The New York Times documented how my application allowed users to regain access to this and other information hidden behind the Facebook interface.

At this time, Facebook (still) did not feature a method to export your data for any purpose. In November 2010, likely influenced by Give Me My Data, Facebook finally added a way for users to export their profile data as a series of HTML pages. I believe their motivation originates in part with my application, and points to the effectiveness of such forms of public art / creative resistance to reach out beyond the art world and contribute to society in lasting ways.

What Now?

So in conclusion, I created Give Me My Data while working on projects related in concept and execution. While I have paused my work on Automata you can see some sitemap visualizations from the project in a series called Firing Blind.

As for the status of Give Me My Data, I developed it using the Facebook REST API, which will be deprecated soon. It uses both REST and FQL (Facebook Query Language) calls to help users access a variety of types and formats of their data. I’m working now to put the project on Github, thereby making the code open source, and also to invite others to help to upgrade the data retrieval method to the Facebook Graph API, and to improve existing code that reformats the data from JSON to XML, CSV, GraphML, Dot, and other popular data formats. Now that I have a handful of business cards and new acquaintances I’m looking forward to moving forward. Please get in touch if you are interested in contributing.

Freedom for Our Files: Creative Reuse of Personal Data Workshop at Art Meets Radical Openness in Linz, Austria

This weekend I am presenting a lecture about GIve Me My Data and conducting a two-day data-scraping workshop at Art Meets Radical Openness in Linz, Austria. Here are the details.

The Self-Indulgence of Closed Systems
May 13, 18:45 – 19:15
Part artist lecture, part historical context, Owen Mundy will discuss his Give Me My Data project within the contexts of the history of state surveillance apparatuses, digital media and dialogical art practices, and the ongoing contradiction of privacy and utility in new media.

Freedom for Our Files: Creative Reuse of Personal Data
May 13-14, 14:00 – 16:30
A two-day workshop, with both technical hands-on and idea-driven components. Learn to scrape data and reuse public and private information by writing custom code and using the Facebook API. Additionally, we’ll converse and conceptualize ideas to reclaim our data literally and also imagine what is possible with our data once it is ours! Register here

Art Meets Radical Openness (LiWoLi 2011),
Date: 12th – 14th May 2011
Location: Kunstuniversität Linz, Hauptplatz 8, 4020 Linz, Austria

Observing, comparing, reflecting, imitating, testing, combining

LiWoLi is an open lab and meeting spot for artists, developers and educators using and creating FLOSS (free/libre open source software) and Open Hardware in the artistic and cultural context. LiWoLi is all about sharing skills, code and knowledge within the public domain and discussing the challenges of open practice.

Give Me My Data: A Facebook Application Inspired by the Stasi Files Controversy, talk at DAAD Meeting in Dresden, Germany

Giving a talk today in Dresden, Germany titled, “Give Me My Data: A Facebook Application Inspired by the Stasi Files Controversy.” Here is the abstract.

During the final days of the German Democratic Republic (or GDR) it became evident that the Ministry for State Security (more popularly known as the “Stasi”) was destroying incriminating evidence from its 40-year history of domestic and international surveillance. These documents, which the Stasi was attempting to destroy using shredding machines, as well as by hand when the machines failed, included information gathered through various clandestine methods about lives of citizens of the GDR without their knowledge or consent.

On January 15, 1990, protestors stormed the Stasi headquarters in Berlin in attempt to prevent the destruction of personal records which they felt they should be able to access. The phrase, “Freiheit für meine Akte!” (in English: Freedom for my file!) spray painted on the Stasi guardhouse during this protest embodies a desire by citizens to open this closed world of state surveillance in order to understand the methods of control employed the Stasi

This moment in history inspires my ongoing project, Give Me My Data, a Facebook application that helps users export their data out of Facebook. While clearly utilitarian, this project intervenes into online user experiences, provoking users to take a critical look at their interactions within social networking websites. It suggests data is tangible and challenges users to think about ways in which their information is used for purposes outside of their control by government or corporate entities.

At the height of its operations, the Stasi is believed to have hired, between spies and full- and part-time informants, one in every 6.5 East German citizens to report suspicious activities, almost 2.5 million people.1 At this moment, the ratio of people entering data on Facebook to non-members is one in fourteen for the entire world,2 introducing possibly the most effective surveillance machine in history.

Germany and Google Street View

This week I have been enjoying the blurred images of German buildings whose owners have chosen to opt-out of Google Street View. Infamous moments in the country’s history have led Germans to take privacy very seriously; especially when it comes to information about their residences. Unlike the United States, where data privacy is an opt-out option, Germany law states that, “citizens must opt-in to have their data collected in any way.” (1). In fact, there is a document detailing the rights of the “data subject” in the German Federal Data Protection Act which serves “to protect the individual against his right to privacy being impaired through the handling of his personal data.”

An even more powerful gesture are the very public images that have resulted from this protection. While they serve a specific function—to obscure identifying aspects of buildings, faces, etc.—they also communicate very effectively the message that individuals should have the right to decide how their data is used. This gets to the heart of the Give Me My Data app—to prompt this sort of discussion. It is then ironic that Google, a company whose revenue is based almost completely on advertising opportunities made possible by aggregating and re-representing data, has inadvertently brought us this message.

I was excited to find my own apartment building in Berlin has been removed.

Another building down the street

Helge Denker, a reporter with the German daily, Das Bild, has found a clever way to opt-out.

inSCRIPTion: … text … image … action …

If you are in Los Angeles / Long Beach check out Keyword Intervention at this group show:

inSCRIPTion: … text … image … action …
November 8th – December 9th
Opening Reception: November 9, 2010 (3-7 pm)

Cerritos College Art Gallery
11110 Alondra Blvd
Norwalk, CA

The current ubiquity of transmediated and telepresential dialogues, most notably via the casual and partially-inscriptive technologies of computer-aided chat programs and cell-phone text messaging, certainly complicates the age-old distinction between written and oral communication, and between langue and parole. In part, this conceptual convergence is predicated on the collapsing of linguistic signifiers into the immanent patterns of (un)becomings inherent to computational code. In such an (intra-)active environment, the living fluidity of dialogue is often actualized by digits (a technophenomenological fusion of finger movement and binary language) and the lifeless permanence of inscription can manifest as a dynamic system of inSCRIPTion.

Reveling in the physical and conceptual opacity of words, the fourteen contemporary artists participating in inSCRIPTion at the Cerritos College Art Gallery, in aiming for a field of matrixial encounters, produce materialized event-scores that hover somewhere between notation and realization and which play games with language through transplantation into various deviant contexts. Some of the diverse multi-media works in the exhibition demand that the artist and/or viewer perform an action, while others emphasize the creative and performative act of reading itself. Still others contain moving, as opposed to static, text and/or process found language through a scripted algorithm. The end results of these (re)visualized schemas include readymade actions, speaking objects, and literal semiotic machines that nevertheless remain discursively framed, which is not to say trapped, by the nationalist, racial, gendered, and sexed, political/philosophical structures in which they are embedded.

Participating Artists: Lisa Anne Auerbach, John Divola, Jonmarc Edwards, Mark Steven Greenfield, Jim Jenkins, Sherry Karver, Jason Manley, Katja Mater, Anna Mayer, Owen Mundy, Christina Ondrus, Lizabeth Eva Rossof, Cody Trepte, and Penny Young

Curated by James MacDevitt.

How to easily set up a campaign finance database (well, kind of) or Make Python work with MAMP via MySQLdb

Picture 15

I’ve been trying for a few hours to run a Python script from The Sunlight Foundation Labs which downloads (and updates) a campaign finance database from the Center for Responsive Politics. See their original post for more information.

In the process of getting this working I accidentally broke a working copy of MySQL and overwrote a database installed on my MBP (which I had stupidly not backed-up since last year). FYI, you can rebuild any MySQL database with the original .frm, .MYD, and .MYI files if you 1. Recreate the database in the new install of MySQL and 2. Drag the files into the mysql data folder.

I struggled quite a bit getting Python to work with MySQL via MySQLdb. I’m documenting some of the headaches and resolutions here in case they are useful. I’ve tried to include error messages for searches as well.

The Sunlight Foundation instructions require Python and MySQL, but don’t mention you have to have already wrestled with the madness involved in installing Django on your machine. Here is what I did to get it working on my MacBook Pro Intel Core 2 Duo. I’ve included their original instructions with my own (and a host of others).


  1. Install MAMP.

    While I had working installations of MySQL and Python (via installers on respective sites), I couldn’t get Python to connect to MySQL via MySQLdb. I decided to download and try MAMP for a clean start.

  2. Install XCode

    Past installs are available on Apple Developer website.

  3. Install setuptools

    Required for the MySQLdb driver. Remove the .sh extension from the filename ( and in a shell:

    ~$ chmod +x setuptools-0.6c11-py2.7.egg
    ~$ ./setuptools-0.6c11-py2.7.egg

  4. Install the MySQLdb driver

    After downloading and unzipping, from the directory:

    ~$ python build
    ~$ sudo python install

    Continue following the advice of this post to the end How to install Django with MySQL on Mac OS X.

    I also followed another piece of advice in Python MySQL on a Mac with MAMP to change the mysql_config.path from:




    Especially useful is his test script for making sure that Python is indeed accessing MySQL.

  5. Create a symbolic link between Python and MySQL in MAMP

    This is required in order to use a socket to connect to the MySQL. See How to install MySQLdb on Leopard with MAMP for more information.

    ~$ sudo ln -s /Applications/MAMP/tmp/mysql/mysql.sock /tmp/mysql.sock

  6. Create a directory and put the two Python files in it.
  7. Modify the top of the file to set certain parameters–your login credentials for the CRP download site and your MySQL database information.
  8. Install pyExcelerator

    Error: ImportError: No module named pyExcelerator

    I had to install this module next.

  9. Comment out multiple lines

    Error: NameError: name 'BaseCommand' is not defined

    In comment out the following:

    The line: from import BaseCommand, CommandError

    Everything from class CRPDownloadCommand(BaseCommand): to the end of the document.

  10. From the command line, run the script by typing, from the proper directory: Python
  11. It will take several hours to download and extract the data, especially the first time it’s run. But after that, you’re good to go.

Recent and ongoing projects

Howdy, it’s been awhile since I last shared news about recent and ongoing projects. Here goes.


1. You Never Close Your Eyes Anymore

You Never Close Your Eyes Anymore is an installation that projects moving US Geological Survey (USGS) satellite images using handmade kinetic projection devices.

Each device hangs from the ceiling and uses electronic components to rotate strips of satellite images on transparency in front of an LED light source. They are constructed with found materials like camera lenses and consumer by-products and mimic remote sensing devices, bomb sights, and cameras in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

The installation includes altered images from various forms of lens-based analysis on a micro and macro scale; land masses, ice sheets, and images of retinas, printed on reflective silver film.

On display now until July 31 at AC Institute 547 W. 27th St, 5th Floor
Hours: Wed., Fri. & Sat.: 1-6pm, Thurs.: 1-8pm

New video by Asa Gauen and images

2. Images and video documentation of You Never Close Your Eyes Anymore will also be included in an upcoming Routledge publication and website:

Reframing Photography: Theory and Practice
by Rebekah Modrak, Bill Anthes
ISBN: 978-0-415-77920-3
Publish Date: November 16th 2010


3. Give Me My Data launch

Give Me My Data is a Facebook application designed to give users the ability to export their data out of Facebook for any purpose they see fit. This could include making artwork, archiving and deleting your account, or circumventing the interface Facebook provides. Data can be exported in CSV, XML, and other common formats. Give Me My Data is currently in public-beta.


Facebook application


4. Give Me My Data was also covered recently by the New York Times, BBC, TechCrunch, and others:

Facebook App Brings Back Data by Riva Richmond, New York Times, May 1, 2010

Picture 6

5. launch

A major server and website upgrade to the web-hosting co-op for artists and creatives. The new site allows members of the community to create profiles and post images, tags, biography, and events. In addition to the community aspect, is still the best deal going for hosting your artist website.


More images


6. The Americans

The Americans is currently on view at the Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, FL. It features a new work with the same title.

More images


7. Your Art Here billboard hanger

I recently designed a new billboard hanging device and installed it in downtown Bloomington, IN with the help of my brother Reed, and wife Joelle Dietrick.

Stay tuned here for news about Your Art Here and the new billboard by Joelle Dietrick.


8. Finally, moving to Berlin for a year on a DAAD fellowship to work on some ongoing projects, including Automata.

More images

I’ll be giving a paper about Automata at the upcoming ISEA2010 conference in Ruhr, Germany.

Many thanks to Chris Csikszentmihályi, Director of the Center for Future Civic Media , for inviting me to the MIT Media Lab last August to discuss the project with his Computing Culture Group: