Artist Uses Malware To Give New Life To Images, Music And Ringtones

December 1, 2014 | Rhett Jones

You may remember the computer virus Stuxnet, a piece of malware from 2010 believed to be designed as an attack on Iran’s nuclear weapons program — but do you recall the I Love You virus from 2000? That piece of malicious code did somewhere between $5.5-8.7 billion in damages to computer systems worldwide, and cost the U.S. $15 billion to remove. While I Love You’s damage has been done for 15 years now, the worm been re-born in the form of work by Brooklyn-based artist James Hoff.

Hoff’s latest exhibition at Callicoon Fine Arts in Manhattan is made up of digital images that Hoff has “corrupted” with code from the Stuxnet and I Love You worms. Hoff sees it as a way of investigating whether abstract painting still has the ability to be politicized. He tells Bomb magazine:

I tend to think of abstract painting as a kind of culture-bound illness. One wonders if it can … still be emotionally charged. I borrow from the historical vernacular of abstraction to render the work as abstract paintings. It allows me to talk about viruses using the language of painting rather than the technical jargon of computer programming or the hyperbole of mass media. In this way, abstraction functions as a lens, an interface.

Hoff has also used the computer virus known as Blaster to create an entire album, and furthered the I Love You work with glitched up versions of classic ringtones that would be instantly recognizable to any one who’s walked around in public over the last decade.

Viruses get a bad reputation because they can be a pain in the ass, but often times they are created by hobbyists to expose security flaws that are eventually fixed, creating a stronger system. In that spirit, Hoff says that he doesn’t consider viruses to be good or bad. Speaking with Wired the artist says:

I just want to pull that element into the work. It allows for that kind of reflection, both on a conceptual level and an aesthetics level. The actual code is embedded in the image you see.

You can hear some of his ringtones below. His exhibition, “Skywiper,” will be on view at Callicoon Fine Arts until December 21st.

(Photo: Callicoon Fine Arts)