Golan Levin: Welcome back to Shall Make, Shall Be. Our next speak­er is Vi Trinh, whose com­mis­sioned project con­sid­ers the Third Amendment. Vi Trinh works in dig­i­tal and tra­di­tion­al media to exam­ine the rela­tion­ship between eco­log­i­cal and social pat­terns. A Vietnamese-American artist based in Washington, DC, Trinh grad­u­at­ed from the University of Richmond in 2019 with a BA in Visual and Media Arts Practice and Leadership. She’s cur­rent­ly an MFA Fine Arts Candidate at Goldsmiths University of London. 

Much of Trinh’s work is based in and on the Internet. Through her inter­ac­tive dig­i­tal art, Trinh explores dynam­ics of pow­er and con­trol, free­dom and restraint, and how they man­i­fest in net­worked media. Themes in Trinh’s work include aes­thet­ics in eco­log­i­cal emer­gency, new tem­po­ral real­i­ties cre­at­ed by very large phe­nom­e­na, and the con­tra­dic­tion between the Internet as a seem­ing­ly free and demo­c­ra­t­ic space and the real­i­ty of the Internet as a site of exclu­sion­ary design, extrac­tive cor­po­ra­ti­za­tion, tech­nol­o­gized colo­nial­ism, and the per­pet­u­a­tion of white supremacy.

Friends, please wel­come Vi Trinh.

Vi Trinh: Hi every­body. It’s so won­der­ful to be here. I’m going to start my pre­sen­ta­tion now. 

Thank you every­body for being here. So my project for Shall Make, Shall Be is called Cyber Soldiers in Cyber Houses, and it’s based off of the Third Amendment. 

A lit­tle bit about me. First of all I’m actu­al­ly cur­rent­ly based in London because I’m in my Master’s pro­gram at Goldsmiths, in my first year. But before I talk about the project I’d like to talk a lit­tle bit more about my pre­vi­ous prac­tice and the con­text that sort of brings to Cyber Soldiers in Cyber Houses. 

So my first project, the project imme­di­ate­ly pre­ced­ing Cyber Soldiers in Cyber Houses was a series called The Bunker Series. And The Bunker Series is a series a post-apocalyptic inter­ac­tive Internet art pieces that take place in var­i­ous bunkers. And play­ers explore these bunkers through var­i­ous rooms that reveal more and more about the peo­ple who built the bunkers. 

The first piece in the series is called Escape. And Escape takes place in an under­ground bunker and is based off Plato’s alle­go­ry of the cave, and decon­structs exclu­sion­ary aes­thet­ics, and guilt and respon­si­bil­i­ty at the end of the world. The sec­ond piece is called The Station, and The Station takes place in a space sta­tion, obvi­ous­ly, and is based off of the myth of Sisyphus and func­tions as a cri­tique of nos­tal­gia as a weapon of ide­ol­o­gy, specif­i­cal­ly against his­tor­i­cal­ly mar­gin­al­ized peo­ple. And the third piece from the series was called Atlantis. And Atlantis is based off of Plato’s Atlantis and takes place under­wa­ter, and explores an opti­mistic post-apocalyptic soci­ety. Because I sort of made this piece dur­ing the pan­dem­ic and all the post-apocalyptic sad­ness was real­ly get­ting to me. And Atlantis was also the first 3D piece with 3D mod­el­ing and 3D move­ment of the player. 

And so all these pieces sort of fea­ture nar­ra­tion from two AI char­ac­ters that are in con­ver­sa­tion with each oth­er, and that serve as mouth­pieces of their cre­ators’ ide­ol­o­gy. And so Cyber Soldiers in Cyber Houses, or the Shall Make, Shall Be project that I’m doing, was cre­at­ed with the sort of same form and tem­plate, fea­tur­ing some­thing akin to a bunker and fea­tur­ing nar­ra­tion from two AI char­ac­ters. And so The Bunker Series was real­ly my first for­ay into dig­i­tal inter­ac­tive Internet art. And the series start­ed in 2019. And ever since then I’ve sort of con­tin­ued down this dark path of dig­i­tal Internet art. Which has con­tin­ued, actu­al­ly, into both the Shall Make, Shall Be project and this cur­rent project and I’m work­ing on that was sort of a direct response to the Shall Make, Shall Be project.

So, my cur­rent series is called Hot Potato Hot Takes. And it’s a series of Internet-based mini-games, and each game is made in under forty-eight hours. It’s very new and is cur­rent­ly ongo­ing. And each game is sort of like this very nos­tal­gic point-and-click sort of Flash-esque games that all exist on the Internet as free and open access pieces.

The first game is called The Yellow-Bellied Chicken Beats the Cash Cow. And it’s a response to the Goldsmiths staff strikes, the staff strikes there against redun­dan­cies being made by the admin­is­tra­tion. And the game fea­tures a rub­ber chick­en, a rub­ber duck, and a strik­ing herd of cash cows.

The sec­ond piece is called The Algorithmic Dragon Holds its Own Leash. And actu­al­ly this piece is based off of the research that I did for Cyber Soldiers in Cyber Houses. And it fea­tures an algo­rith­mic drag­on, a knight, a com­pet­i­tive leviathan, and a leashed hydra. 

The third game is called Flop, and it’s an effort to fight inter­nal­ized cap­i­tal­is­tic impuls­es of my own, where rest does not need to be pro­duc­tive. And it fea­tures a bunch of rolling rabbits.

And the last piece in the series cur­rent­ly is called An NFT Called Tyrian Purple. And this game is not an NFT, it is a crit­i­cism of the NFT and fraud­u­lent systems. 

So Hot Potato Hot Takes is an effort on my part I think to loosen up the process of mak­ing inter­ac­tive pieces, not per­fect but done in an effort to shake off stag­nan­cy and to respond with more authen­tic­i­ty and less aca­d­e­m­ic dis­tance. A sort of jour­nal or sketch­book rather than a curat­ed exhi­bi­tion. And it’s a response to my pre­vi­ous way of mak­ing video games that does not allow for much impro­vi­sa­tion or free cre­ativ­i­ty, while also allow­ing view­ers to also expe­ri­ence a game with no stakes and no expec­ta­tions. It’s some­what of a small, insignif­i­cant expe­ri­ence for each player. 

The series was a direct response to the process of Cyber Soldiers in Cyber Houses. And I intend to con­tin­ue both ways of mak­ing this work in the future, to sort of bal­ance both carefully-considered, con­tem­pla­tive works as well as mak­ing impul­sive and whim­si­cal pieces.

I’m also mak­ing instal­la­tion sculp­tures sort of that com­bat my ter­ri­ble com­put­er pos­ture. But that’s for a lit­tle bit later. 

So the actu­al project Cyber Soldiers in Cyber Houses is based off of the Third Amendment, which states that No sol­dier shall, in time of peace be quar­tered in any house with­out the con­sent of the own­er, nor in time of war, but in a man­ner to be pre­scribed by law. And so the Third Amendment his­tor­i­cal­ly was cre­at­ed in response to British sol­diers forcibly stay­ing in cit­i­zens’ homes dur­ing the Civil War. 

Legally, the Third Amendment is what lawyers I think would call func­tion­al­ly use­less.” So, no Supreme Court case has relied on the Third Amendment as the basis for a deci­sion. Sometimes it gets thrown in with the big­ger ones to fill out the line­up, as in the case of Griswold v. Connecticut, where it was list­ed along­side the First, Fourth, and Ninth, where the Supreme Court upheld the right of pri­va­cy in marriage.

And so this lack of prece­dent allows us to sort of focus on the essen­tial and the­o­ret­i­cal impli­ca­tions of the amend­ment rather than this dense legalese I think that many of the oth­er games might focus a lit­tle more on. It’s more about inter­pre­ta­tion rather than precedent. 

And so what struck me first about the Third Amendment is that it’s the only part of the Constitution that deals direct­ly with the rela­tion­ship between the rights of indi­vid­u­als and the mil­i­tary in both peace and war. And the amend­ments were writ­ten dur­ing a dif­fer­ent time. So how do we apply these laws to present sit­u­a­tions, espe­cial­ly in the case of new tech­no­log­i­cal advancement.

Modern war and the mod­ern mil­i­tary has extend­ed I believe far beyond the reach­es of the orig­i­nal con­cep­tion of the Third Amendment. And so today rather than sol­diers we have drones; instead of spies we have mal­ware. I was fas­ci­nat­ed by gaps in law, espe­cial­ly how law lags behind cur­rent events. Before laws, there are norms, and I’m extreme­ly inter­est­ed in how these norms crys­tal­lize there­fore into law. Our laws are based there­fore on the con­cep­tion of phys­i­cal space when they were first writ­ten. An so how do we apply these laws in cyber­space? How do we cope with unprece­dent­ed tools with unprece­dent­ed influ­ence? How are pre-existing pow­er struc­tures being influ­enced by new tech­nolo­gies such as big data? And how does new tech­nol­o­gy uphold old infra­struc­tures of inequality? 

So, sort of one of the main pil­lars of my research and of the project, were the Three Paradoxes of Big Data by Richards and King. And so they detail three dif­fer­ent para­dox­es. The first is the Transparency Paradox, which is the increase of infor­ma­tion on indi­vid­u­als with­out the indi­vid­u­als’ knowl­edge. And then there’s the Identity Paradox, which is the move­ment from iden­ti­fy­ing the indi­vid­ual to defin­ing the indi­vid­ual. And then there’s the Power Paradox, the idea that those already with pow­er con­trol and cre­ate new­er forms of pow­er at that only cement cur­rent hierarchies.

And this sort of matched with oth­er pieces of infor­ma­tion such as the cre­ation of US Cybercom, and the DODs sort of treat­ment of cyber­space as an oper­a­tion domain like land, air, or sea. So these aspects are com­bin­ing I think into these ques­tions of how do we define these dif­fer­ent aspects of the Third Amendment. How do we define sol­dier” and house?” How do we define con­sent and war and peace? 

So Cyber Soldiers in Cyber Houses, actu­al­ly, the piece itself takes place in a future time after a sort of 9‍/‍11 cyber-esque attack. And so this newly-created gov­ern­ment agency is man­dat­ing country-wide cyber sur­veil­lance. And so the play­er has to work against the clock to clear all sixty-five lev­els of their house from plant­ed bugs, sur­veil­lance cam­eras, micro­phones, and net sur­veil­lance. And so they are guid­ed through thir­ty lev­els by two AI house helpers as char­ac­ters. And I worked with Athena [Husek?], pro­gram­mer extra­or­di­naire, who is also in her Master’s pro­gram at NYU to cre­ate this project. 

And so Cyber Soldiers in Cyber Houses is an I spy” game. And the play­er has to find all the bugs plant­ed in their house with the help of the two AI nar­ra­tors, who have neb­u­lous loy­al­ties. And so how to play is explained through the first five lev­els of the game, and here we have the exam­ple of the fourth lev­el, I believe. And so the bugs are a cam­era, a micro­phone, and a code. And the code changes with each room, and you can check it in this key area. The play­er sim­ply need to click on the cor­rect bug in order to find it. And if the timer reach­es zero it’s an auto­mat­ic game over. 

The play­er can of course skip the lev­el, how­ev­er this is the per­son of inter­est’s pro­file, and each room is attached to a per­son of inter­est. If the play­er skips a lev­el with­out find­ing the bug, then there’s a chance that they’ve com­pro­mised the per­son of inter­est. And com­pro­mis­ing the per­son of inter­est adds to the score. Essentially, the play­er wants to get to the end of the game with the low­est pos­si­ble score. And the scores and the play­er’s name get sent to a data­base after­wards at the end of the game, where play­ers can com­pare their scores. 

And so all of this is hap­pen­ing while the two AIs talk sort of at the play­er. And you’ll see in this sort of text-to-voice nar­ra­tion that when­ev­er their voic­es echo, that is a direct quote from the research, as well as they also give hints some­times in the nar­ra­tion. So I’ll play some of that for you right now. 

[The fol­low­ing is deliv­ered by alter­nat­ing male and female com­put­er­ized voic­es. The quot­ed para­graph echoes as men­tioned above.]

Move fast and break things. 

Move faster and break more.

Responsibility is not in the hands of the cre­ator or imple­men­tor, it is on you to pro­tect your­self from attacks. They shot you, why did­n’t you defend yourself?

Neither the cre­ation of big data­bas­es nor the appli­ca­tion of data sci­ence to them are neu­tral acts. The design and assem­bly of a data­base, the appli­ca­tion of algo­rith­mic tech­niques to that data, and deci­sions about peo­ple based upon the out­puts of those algo­rithms are human deci­sions made by human beings with goals, incen­tives, and pur­pos­es that can be sharply at odds with the data sub­jects under analysis.

Machines, algo­rithms, and tech­nolo­gies are not neu­tral enti­ties, they were cre­at­ed by peo­ple with motives for cer­tain ends. Baked into their cre­ation and input are bias­es, blind spots, and fal­lac­i­es. These fal­lac­i­es must be active­ly root­ed out and account­ed for. If a tech­nol­o­gy is in and of itself neu­tral, it is a tool by which ide­ol­o­gy can be amplified.

We are lis­ten­ing when you open that draw­er and when you close pan­do­ra’s box.
pre­sen­ta­tion slide [quot­ed para­graph from Big Data and the Future for Privacy]

So it’s a rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple premise but I think the sim­plic­i­ty real­ly allows for con­cep­tu­al cohe­sion. And the game was made using Blender, Photoshop, Audition, found footage, imagery, audio, and was pro­grammed with Unity. Most of the con­tent is found with­in the AI char­ac­ter nar­ra­tion. However in the visu­al design, as the play­er con­tin­ues through the lev­els the rooms become less and less lit­er­al, break­ing from the tra­di­tion­al con­cep­tion of the home as a phys­i­cal space and embrac­ing the idea of the home as includ­ing a neb­u­lous dig­i­tal cyber­space, real­ly lean­ing into that futur­is­tic sci-fi absur­dist genre that I’ve been find­ing myself in lately.

And so the dif­fi­cul­ty of the lev­els also increas­es as the play­er con­tin­ues. How there­fore do you hide on the Internet, where noth­ing dis­ap­pears? Rather than mak­ing the bugs hard­er to find by hid­ing them and try­ing to erase their pres­ence, the Internet strat­e­gy is to inun­date the play­er with an excess of infor­ma­tion. Bury the bugs under­neath more and more out­ra­geous infor­ma­tion to over­load the amount of infor­ma­tion giv­en to the view­er. To exhaust and dis­tract rather than to hide. So I think one of the strengths of Shall Make, Shall Be in cre­at­ing games about the amend­ments, and what drew me to this project, is that laws are meant to be lived in, and they must clash against real­i­ty to test their valid­i­ty. And I think games are a fun way to pro­vide that. 

And also a way of game struc­ture par­al­lels sort of socioe­co­nom­ic struc­ture, cre­at­ing struc­tures and rules in games mim­ics super­struc­tures of any place—both gov­ern­ment, indus­try, and mil­i­tary. Games inher­ent­ly deal with the view­er’s agency. And the game mak­ers build a sys­tem in which the view­er inter­acts. Not just hard rules but also reward sys­tems that push play­ers to react a cer­tain way. I think the con­nec­tion between game sys­tems with the amend­ments is an extreme­ly poignant one. 

And so I come from an art back­ground rather than a game mak­ing back­ground, so I should­n’t take for grant­ed how immer­sive a game is in get­ting audi­ences to inter­act with con­cepts. And because I come from an art back­ground I think in the past my focus was less about mak­ing the game fun and more about express­ing con­cep­tu­al ideas. But I think this project was a good way to focus a lit­tle more on the actu­al game mechanic. 

So, thank you every­one for lis­ten­ing. That’s all I have.