Viral Media

Oren Shoham

What are the artistic possibilities of computer viruses? How can user interfaces express experiences and take on personas?


“Unexpected behavior of common Windows makes you meditate about techno-determinism. We call it misuse of technology; we do it consciously; we create the new beauty.” – Alexei Shulgin

Viral Media is a series of experiments in writing malware as a creative practice. These programs use hacks and exploits to elicit unexpected behavior from familiar user interfaces, taking the computer desktop as a site for playful intervention. The mouse takes on a life of its own, resisting attempts at productivity. File icons drag themselves into the trash. Windows become portals to hidden worlds, or flock together like self-aware organisms.

Why the desktop? The computer desktop is an everyday visual environment that mediates our digital interactions, an interface so ubiquitous as to be almost invisible. The desktop is a private space, a virtual extension of our mental landscape that we rarely allow others to access. The desktop is sterile, functional, and full of corporate branding. To me, the combination of these qualities makes the desktop a ripe target for d’tournement.

This project touches on several conceptual threads: the voyeuristic tension that occurs when the desktop is made public in a performance context, a feeling of estrangement or defamiliarization that is evoked by misbehaving interfaces, and questions of control and trust that arise when someone is asked to run a “virus”-like program on their own computer.