V&A Museum shows Guardian's destroyed MacBook as ART

Unremarkable trashed laptop brings hint of spy caper buffoonery to privacy exhibition

Photo Credit - V&A/the Guardian 2015

The remains of computer hardware which had contained the Guardian's London trove of Snowden documents – and which was destroyed on the rather spiteful demands of GCHQ personnel – have gone on display at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum.

While the frankly unremarkable remnants of a MacBook Air are uninteresting in and of themselves – who among us has not taken an angle grinder to an errant machine? – the causes of the MacBook Air's destruction are seemingly interesting enough to merit those remnants being considered art and subsequently included in V&A's new exhibition about "the museum as a public space and the role of public institutions in contemporary life".

Disconcertingly titled All of This Belongs to You, the exhibition is to include "three specially curated displays", among which is Ways to be Secret, which will examine what the curators describe as "the contradiction between our concern for online privacy and our obsession with sharing via social media".

Corinna Gardner, co-curator of All of This Belongs To You, told us that while still "recognisable as an example of the consumer electronics we use to conduct our everyday lives, the destroyed MacBook Air enables us to focus on often difficult-to-grasp questions about who owns our digital data and the right to privacy around material fact. The brute force needed to eradicate the data from the individual computer parts, down to the heat sink unit and track pad, is evidence of the current struggle for control of the digital public realm".

The destroyed MacBook Air and hard drive are to be displayed "alongside objects including the CryptoPhone 500, a secure, military-grade mobile phone, an Onion Pi router which enables users to browse the web anonymously, and a selfie stick with a remote shutter release".

Among the other 20 items included in the Ways to be Secret display is Adam Harvey's OFF Pocket – a phone case that also functions as a Faraday cage, which is intended to take the device completely off the grid. "Harvey brings a design sensibility to the notion of privacy, creating a product that makes fashionable the desire to retain control over ones digital life," Corinna told The Register.

The label text for the ex-Macbook Air display states that it had held data leaked to the Guardian by Edward Snowden. "The destruction was supervised by two officials from the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the UK's intelligence and security agency. Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger described the destruction of the hardware as a 'peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism' because the newspaper had already said it held copies of the data overseas."

The symbolic destruction of the machine was thoroughly critised by most of the media, although Nick Clegg publicly endorsed the government's decision.

It must be noted that although the label text claims"The Guardian continued to report on the Snowden data from America," they have not actually published any documents since November 2013.

The V&A exhibition, All of This Belongs to You, is free to attend and is open from now until the 19th of July 2015. ®




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