Can File Sharing Become a Form of Art? “The Pirate Cinema” Project Investigates Information Flows as Aesthetic Exploration

When it comes to torrents and digital piracy, users’ behaviours online are usually tackled under a variety of points of view, which include ethics, laws and copyright issues. But what about the file themselves, whose content is usually ‘invisible’ when people are sharing it via BitTorrent? What if you could have a glimpse of that hidden activity in the form of a real-time ultimate mash-up, made of an endless flow of media shared on peer-to-peer networks?

With The Pirate Cinema, a project created by Nicolas Maigret and based on data interception software, what is distributed through file sharing platforms is made visible as a flux of fragments of audio-visual files from all over the world.

Logo for Nicolas Maigret's project "The Pirate Cinema".

These images are restlessly screened almost at a subliminal speed. Or at least this is the experience you get when you stream this investigation into P2P architecture from the website of the project.

When screened in a physical space in the form of a more conventional video art installation, The Pirate Cinema becomes instead a cinematic collage that can be experienced in the room of an art gallery. In this case, the system downloads the most viewed torrents and data are projected onto multiple screens.

The Pirate Cinema. Exhibition at Eastern Bloc (Montreal) / Sight and Sound Festival 2013

In its third incarnation, The Pirate Cinema can also be executed by a performer, a sort of multimedia dj who selects movies and mp3s which are downloaded and screened live. In this case, the system becomes a sort of instrument that can be played in real time.

Finally, the project also has a release in the form of a book which offers a critical view on piracy wars. Overall, food for thought. Or, better, for the eye.