Trevor Paglen, Jacob Appelbaum
Lucite, Novena motherboards
The Autonomy Cube is an art project run by American artists and technologists Trevor Paglen and Jacob Appelbaum which places Tor-relays in traditional art museums. Both have previously created art pieces that straddle the border between art and technology,. The cube is in line with much of Paglen's and Appelbaum's earlier pieces in targeting the field of surveillance and government snooping. The sculptures consist of 1.25 ft blocks of acrylic Lucite containing Wifi-routers based upon two open source hardware Novena-motherboards.
The first sculpture was installed in Oldenburg, Germany in 2014 and acts as both a Tor exit-relay and Wifi-hub for visitors of the museum. Any user who connects to the museum open Wifi called Autonomy Cube is directed through the Tor-network for all their activity. This effectively anonymizes and hides the traffic from many forms of surveillance and interception. In January 2016, four installations had been made in New York, London and Frankfurt, beyond the one in Oldenburg. More sculptures are planned, with three coming during May 2016, one at Altman Siegel Gallery in San Francisco. Institutions that have shown the cube in limited exhibitions include Metro Pictures Gallery on Manhattan which exhibited Paglen's work, and Whitechapel Gallery in London as part of the Electronic Superhighway (2016–1966) exhibition.
The willingness of museums to host these installations was a surprise says Paglen, who hopes the relays can play a potentially important role in the Tor network. Omar Kholeif at Whitechapel Gallery has commented on the idea that "when we enter civic institutions we expect them to have Wi-Fi, [and] we just hand over our data", and how the Cubes bring this agreement forth to discussion.
Inspiration for the Cube came from a 1962 art project by Hans Haacke called the Condensation Cube. It similarly consisted of a plexiglass cube, but which contained water which would move through different states of liquid to gas. Paglen also states he wants to raise the question: "What would a more civic-minded version of the Internet look like? What could the Internet look like if the Internet hadn't been turned into the greatest means of mass surveillance in the history of humanity?"