To compensate for the lack of internet access, Cuban video game enthusiasts and programmers have built vast grass-roots computer networks, the biggest of which, SNET (Street Network), at one point connected tens of thousands of households across Havana. Its material base consists of miles of Ethernet cables running across streets or balconies, Wi-Fi antennas mounted on poles on rooftops, and servers and network switches operated by an army of volunteer node administrators. It relies on a network of thousands of participants who collaboratively create, operate, and maintain its hardware and software infrastructure. This vernacular infrastructure generated not only new means of access, but also new relations between people and fostered new political subjectivities. SNET is heavily shaped by a local cultural ideology of resolver, of collectively navigating resources and limitations in a context of scarcity. Our artistic research draws on the metaphor of modding (modifying), a communal practice within gaming cultures that describes alterations by players or fans that change the look or functionality of a video game, to understand how SNET makers are forced to constantly adapt to the shifting technical, political, and social frameworks in Cuba.
Steffen Köhn is a filmmaker, anthropologist and video artist, based in Berlin, who uses ethnography to understand contemporary sociotechnical landscapes. For his video and installation works he engages in local collaborations with gig workers, software developers, or science fiction writers to explore viable alternatives to current distributions of technological access and arrangements of power. His works have been shown at the Academy of the Arts Berlin, Kunsthaus Graz, Vienna Art Week, Hong Gah Museum Taipei, Lulea Biennial, The Photographers’ Gallery and the ethnographic museums of Copenhagen and Dresden. His films have been screened at the Berlinale, Rotterdam International Film Festival, and the Word Film Festival Montreal, among others.