Rita Hajj, A turn on, a turn off, 2021

Net Encounters – Rita Hajj, A turn on, a turn off

For Net Encounters, artist Rita Hajj shares a live stream of her coffee machine with the public for a month. She invites the public to upload images of their coffeepot or teapot, while developing a reflection on the history of the worldwide web and the evolution of live streaming and online interactions.

event/Net Encounters, Online

01.05.2021 31.05.2021

Instagram @ritahajj

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Portrait Rita Hajj. Photo: Anastasia Mityukova

In 1991, the Computer Laboratory of the University of Cambridge set up a camera to provide live pictures of the coffee pot to their employees, and years later the camera was connected to the internet, becoming one of the first live stream. For A turn on, a turn off Rita Hajj recreate this historic event in her studio, allowing the audience to access her very own coffee pot through a webpage. In addition, she invites the users to exchange an image of their coffeepot. To do so, the users should visit the dedicated webpage, consent to participate and upload their image. After doing so, they will obtain an algorithmically-generated-image, based on a data training of coffee pots. Viewers then contribute to the machine learning algorithms that generate the image. In this sense, Hajj develops through her work a subtle critique of the social and commercial dynamics that have developed online. From a space of mutual exchange, the internet has turned into a terrain where users are exploited unwittingly for the collection of information for profit.

Visit the work here.

Statement by Rita Hajj:

“ This work came about as an interrogation about an encounter with a digital image. It reconstructs what became known as the world’s first webcam set up by scientists in 1991 at Cambridge University in England. Later in 1993, the same camera streamed live via a computer to monitor a coffee machine: an image of a coffeepot ran three times a minute onto the worldwide web. It is said that millions of tech enthusiasts have accessed that image, one that got several media coverages and built many anecdotes around it. ‘From a novelty, to a widely viewed icon, to a historic artefact’ the image has been turned off in 2001, and the coffee pot has been sold for £3,350 at auction over eBay. Unfolding that moment via reconstructing it within the context and history of the worldwide web, is not only about witnessing a past that brought us to video chats or live-stream e-commerce, but also about linking interactions with transactions. Universal in its adoption, social web interactions claim to offer inclusion by emphasizing on the seductive idea of a connected human network: A worldwide togetherness. We – as users – consent to this seductive idea despite our awareness of the extents of its non-democracy. One could wonder: Whose technology is being used? To whom is it accessible? Why do we-as users- consent to a power that seduces us, not only through the use of the technology but also through the production of images? “

Beirut-born Rita Hajj (*1993) is an artist and designer based in Geneva since 2016. Graduated from Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts in 2014, she proceeded to complete a master’s program at the Haute école d’Art et de Design-Genève in 2018. Through new media, writing, scenography and performance, her practice is an ongoing research exploring contemporary image production and its correlation with history and techno-politics. Hajj participated in group exhibitions at LiveInYourHead (Geneva), one gee in fog / two gees in eggs (Geneva), CAC-Brétigny (Brétigny-sur-Orge), and Institut du Monde Arabe (Paris). She also took part in several programs at the Istituto Svizzero (Roma), Haus der Statistik (Berlin) and Kunsthalle im Lipsius-Bau (Dresden).  She recently completed an artist residency at La Cité Internationale des Arts (Paris) and is currently working on a publication with Editions Clinamen.

Note by the artist: This project has been made possible thanks to the technical assistance of the fellow artist and researcher Alex Gence.


Net Encounters – Rita Hajj, A turn on, a turn off