THE TELEGRAPH, WIRED 50: Heath Bunting

Heath Bunting is on a mission. But don't asking him to
define what it is. His CV (bored teen and home computer
hacker in 80s Stevenage, flyposter, graffiti artist and art
radio pirate in Bristol, bulletin board organiser and
digital culture activist (or, his phrase, artivist) in
London (is replete with the necessary qualifications for a
90s sub-culture citizen but what s interesting about Heath
is that if you want to describe to someone what he actually
does there s simply no handy category that you can slot him

If you had to classify him, you could do worse than call him
an organiser of art events. Some of these take place online,
some of them in RL, most of them have something to do with
technology, though not all. One early event that hit the
headlines was his 1994 Kings Cross phone-in, when Heath
distributed the numbers of the telephone kiosks around Kings
Cross station using the Internet and asked whoever found
them to choose one, call it at a specific time and chat with
whoever picked up the phone. The incident was a resounding
success; at 6 pm one August afternoon, the are was
transformed into "a massive techno crowd dancing to the
sound of ringing telephones", according to Heath.

More recently, in collaboration with his mother an
ex-Greenham activist and bus driver he set up a bogus Glaxo
website which mimicked the real one and asked employees to
send in their pets for vivisection and experimentation.
Glaxo were alarmed enough to issue a public statement, and
have the offending site removed.

But why has this one-time graffiti artist and stained glass
window apprentice embraced the net? When I was on the street
I was always looking for new tools, and I was always looking
to do battle with the front-end though I hesitate to say the
front end of what, exactly. For me the real excitement of
the net was that it exposed many different types of people.
Also, the new medium gave someone like Heath who had little
or no resources - the chance to engage head on with
large-scale organisations. I've always attacked big things.
When I was a kid I always used to pick fights with people
that were bigger than me. I suppose I've carried on doing
it, though now I"m fighting multinationals, or large belief
systems. I grew up in Stevenage, too, which although it
seems very pleasant jobs, grass, good transport it is in
fact an incredibly violent place. It s to do with the
top-down plan of the whole place and all the areas are
designated, for example. I think that s where I got my
hatred of large forms. People think it's a shame that
there's no central body in London. I think that's great.

This year is the one in which Heath has really begun to get
recognition by the burgeoning European digital arts scene
that conference hops its way around the continent from one
year's end to the next. This is the year, he says, that net
art is going to be absorbed into electronic art in a big
way. But although his travel schedule is beginning to look
completely insane. Heath has been doing a bit of conference
organising of his own. Last year, pissed off with gatherings
like Digital Dreams, which cost thousands of pounds to stage
and gave no one access to any of the big names he put
together the Netmare conference (TK), were there was no
distinction between audience and speaker; at the moment, he
is organising a series of informal lecture meetings called
Anti with E at the Backspace cyberlounge in Winchester
Wharf. Already, though, Heath sees the possibilities for
staging really challenging events on the net decreasing. All
those things which the Net initially exposed are now being
covered over. The real form of control is not police
confiscating servers but financial dictates. The potential
for different possibilities is being diminished by money.
For example, a lot of people who used to do challenging work
are business people in their own right now and this is
effectively a form of self-censorship. Also, and this is
only a suspicion, but a strong one, search engines are
beginning to deliberately ignore certain kinds of content.
The sites of, to take one case, were refused by
Yahoo because they were meaningless by Yahoos standards.

With this in mind, Heath is dreaming up ways to sabotage
other technologies like CCTV and marketing databases. But he
is not going to go around smashing cameras that's not his
style: by smashing cameras you only reinforced the system.
You need to get people to begin to doubt the system. That's
what I do - I create disbelief. The idea is to introduce bad
data into such systems using techniques of illusion, so that
they cease to become trustworthy - optical illusions for
cameras, inconsistencies and false identities for the
databases. Will it work? Judge for yourself: Heath is
demonstating his new techniques in Lancaster in June; for
details, see his website

James Flint