The Virtual State of Jefferson, a router state

The Virtual State of Jefferson

Artists Ethan Miller and Ethan Ham have made an art installation in the Schneider Museum of Art, at the University of Southern Oregon, that transforms their university into the University of Jefferson, at least temporarily. The installation is called ‘The Virtual State of Jefferson’ . The work is a poetic yet also reflection of the desire of residents in this area to form a separate, fifty-first state of the USA: the state of Jefferson. This separatist movement was very close to achieving its goal just before the Second World War, but Pearl Harbor destroyed the opportunity by scattering the movement’s energy. The dream of the state of Jefferson did, however, never really fade. The artists give this old separatist movement a new and effective impulse by making the state of Jefferson a part of the borderline reality of the world as seen through the eyes of search engines. ‘The Virtual State of Jefferson’ is one of those lovely crossover works combining conceptual art, intervention art and software art. Technically it is based on the ‘upside-down-(In)ternet’, a mild ‘hack’ created by someone who did not like his neighbors accessing his wireless network. Anybody accessing the router is redirected through a server running software that changes the look of his or her browser. In the case of ‘The Virtual State of Jefferson’ the word ‘Jefferson’ automatically replaces any appearance of the names ‘Oregon’ and ‘California’. Reality hacks are my favorite. They reveal the pitfalls of perception, which have been deepened by the murky overlapping realities of online and offline worlds. We trust our search engines to safely navigate through them. As long as we don’t get upside down search results, we barely doubt them. That is why, when surfing in the Schneider Museum of Art, Redding California now IS Redding Jefferson. Just imagine the future of news media.

Josephine Bosma