It is not every day that you get to talk about cyber security and Gentoo penguins in the same breath, nor get to speak about a robot designed to fight global warming alongside friendly elephant seals – but those are just some of the highlights from an extroadinary journey which saw Eugene Kaspersky embark to Antarctica.
Bringing together art and science, the ground-breaking, inaugural Antartic Biennale expedition saw artists, researchers, philosophers and tech visionaries like the Kaspersky Lab CEO and Chairman embark on a 12 day-long expedition in search of a universal cultural future for Antartica.
But what draws a cyber security CEO to such a journey?
“I had several reasons,” Kaspersky told CBR’s Ellie Burns.
“First, I like helping extraordinary projects happen while also taking part in them. Second, I’m fascinated by the Antarctic. And third, I like contemporary art. Admittedly I’m not an expert and I don’t understand all of it, but I do find some modern works amazing.”
For those thinking that this was a luxury VIP trip to the Antarctica, you would be wrong. The whole team of explorers only had one satellite phone with a data plan of 100MB and then, of course, there was Mother Nature – which does not stop for any CEO or visionary.
Embarking under UNESCO’s patronage on March 17 in Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, the explorers traversed rough seas through the Drake Passage which played havoc with seasickness and schedules. However, once the research vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov had crossed the Solar Polar Circle, all became calmer and the explorers finally landed on Petermann Island. Alongside the native residents, including Gentoo penguins, elephant seals and whales, the explorers sought inspiration from the surroundings to install art or engage in performances which focused on the future of humanity and Antarctica’s role within it.
The goal of these performances and art installations, indeed the aim of the expedition as a whole, was to create intercultural and transdisciplinary dialogue about the future of ‘shared spaces’. Explaining what the concept of ‘shared spaces’ means to him, Kaspersky told CBR:
“My background is cybersecurity, and I see how shared space – like the Internet – is always at risk of abuse. I’m afraid the same thing may happen in the Antarctic as some countries are eyeing the continent for potential colonization.
“Because of the risks, any shared space requires very delicate balancing and regulation. It can be a platform for scientific and artistic research, which is great, but it requires nurturing and protection to be safeguarded from abuse.”
Art was temporarily installed during landings at various Antarctica locations, with the themes for each work of art including mobility, proportionality to space, ecological compatibility, artistic expressiveness and conceptual acuity. Installations included a piece by Yasuaki Igarashi who, together with other artists, created a fish net that connects memories of the people who weave it. There was also works by Sho Hasegawa, who developed a pair of skates that can generate electricity without harming the environment, and Shama Rahman, who played a sitar concerto.
“My favorite piece of artwork was Tomás Saraceno’s Aerocene project,” Kaspersky said reflecting on the art he saw on the journey.
“The black air-filled sculptures are warmed by the sun and gracefully float up into the air. It looked absolutely amazing in Paradise Harbor.”
For readers so far, it may seem that a cyber security company would be out of place on an art expedition, with many wondering how Kaspersky Lab fit in among the artists and philosophers. However, for Kaspersky, his company was a ‘good match’ for the expedition.
“We are part of tech business community and I understand that IT and engineering are very significant forces driving technological progress forward and shaping the world’s future, and I think we shouldn’t forget about making art at the same time, as art, too, always shapes – or, rather, reflects – the shaping of the world’s future.”
On a practical level, Kaspersky Lab also had an important contribution to the expedition – in the fantastically named Glaciator, an art object by Joaquin Fargas. With the Glaciator, Kaspersky Lab are once again fighting viruses – but in Antarctica, not cyber space. Permafrost, which is a layer of soil in the Antarctic which is usually permanently frozen, has been found to contain viruses. As global warming melts ice, deadly viruses could defrost and cause havoc. Explaining the robot, Kaspersky told CBR:
“The Glaciator is a robot whose sole purpose is to compress the snow to make it into a glacier so that it won’t melt so easily – thereby saving the world from global warming. It is of course a symbol, an art object, not a real practical machine.
“But I think that as technical progress continues, machines might play an increasingly important role in helping the world and maintaining its ecosystems so that it can continue to be inhabitable. Machines may soon be vital in saving the world from natural disasters and to mitigate the consequences of man-made catastrophes.”
One would imagine that the Glaciator is well protected through its association with Kaspersky Lab – and you would be exactly right. Although the Antarctica is one of the most disconnected places left on earth, Kaspersky Lab were taking no chances, protecting the art object with security software.
For Kaspersky, the link between his work in cyber security and the aim of the Antarctic Biennale are closely aligned. For him, the overarching objective for cyber security is to make the world a better place, a core aim shared with the expedition which seeks to explore the undiscovered in the hope of bettering lives. With the Antarctic Biennale and Kaspersky Lab, one can draw parallels around the theme of protection, although the expedition highlighted the fragility of protection in a place like Antarctica.
“The Antarctic has strict regulation; no piece of equipment, or – in the case of the biennale, artwork – can be left behind to possibly harm its delicate ecosystem. The trip was a reminder of how easily it can be damaged,” said Kaspersky.
Having navigated rough seas, icebergs and the odd penguin and whale, Kaspersky is ‘not sure yet’ of the legacy of the first Antarctic Biennale, although he is hopeful that it ‘will be the first of many.’
“It doesn’t harm the Antarctic, and it inspires artists. I hope the biennale will have a lasting artistic legacy in helping nourish progressive artistic talent,” said Kaspersky.
“The progress of humankind depends on a continual confrontation between forward-looking thought on the one hand, and grounded, practical thought on the other. This is a healthy and natural co-existence, which allows us to go beyond existing boundaries and open up new horizons.”