I’ll be speaking at the NYU Obfuscation Workshop in New York
Next week I’ll be giving a couple talks in New York. The first will be at the International Workshop on Obfuscation at New York University. Led by Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum, the workshop “convenes researchers, scientists, developers, and artists to discuss a broad range of technical, theoretical, and policy approaches to obfuscation, from tools that anonymize users’ social media data to new methods for writing code itself.” The title of my talk is “Go Rando First and Ask Questions Later: Resisting Emotional Surveillance with Noisy Feelings.” I’ll be speaking about Go Rando as an example method for obfuscating personal identity, both in an outward sense (e.g. within big data) and an inward one (e.g. how the project encourages reconsideration of one’s one reactions on a case-by-case basis). I’ll also talk a bit about my works Facebook Demetricator and ScareMail within this same context, as well as the role of obfuscatory artworks in the public perception of governmental and corporate surveillance.
The (In)visibility of Black Death: Questioning the Image on Social Media Feeds
From its earliest days, Facebook’s News Feed has included images uploaded by users. But the site’s early status interface began with a text-based prompt: “[Username] is…”. Though Facebook still supports textual content and users still post text-based messages, the feed is now dominated by the image. One significant visual subject of this domination has been violence against black bodies. Within the contexts of the Black Lives Matter movement and the 24-hour news cycle, social media platforms—and the increasing number of images they display—make visible how national bloodlust and anti-blackness converge to create and feed a compulsive desire to consume images of black death. But what else do these displays of anti-black violence reveal? Are emotional traumas created by repeated exposure to images that reconstruct and display black experiences with violence? We argue that this exposure distorts how one’s blackness constructs perceptions of who is human and who is not human. We also consider the role of the News Feed algorithm in this context, where being seen and metrically responded to can lead to increased visibility (and thus, power), while overexposure to the same material can eventually lead to a perceptual invisibility and trauma. Critical net art practices that treat software systems as recomposable material can help us examine these issues. Specifically we consider how images make black death both visible and invisible through the use of the artwork Textbook. Textbook is a browser extension that removes images from Facebook, allowing users to test for themselves how images affect their experience and read of the site. Such a mechanism can enable resistance against the forced consumption of images of black death without erasing the subjects and actions they portray from critical inquiry. Given how the relationships between image, metrics, and algorithms have led to a torrent of dehumanizing and socially damaging visual material on the News Feed, it is time to more critically interrogate the role of the image on social media feeds.
… Grosser assembled a supercut of touch-based interactions from the popular TV series House of Cards, unsurprisingly with no voices heard and various evolving strategies to render the content. It is a difficult rendering of intimacy, as the screen is always oriented to the protagonists’ faces, but the expressions and gestures viewed become suddenly both empathic and iconic.
One answer lies in “Web 2.0’s” (O’Reilly, 2005) insistence on radical transparency. Social media in particular has conditioned many to not only accept high visibility, but to desire it (Bucher, 2012: 1175). This is because being as visible as possible on sites like Facebook and Twitter is the key that permits entry into and full participation within those site’s systems of interaction and connection. Users can lurk or hide if they choose, but doing so severely limits user experience. When this desire for visibility intersects with ubiquitous transparent veillance, it contributes not only to an acceptance of being seen, but also helps to produce the negative emotions expressed by users less visible to surveillance systems. Being less visible within social networks means having less power; one’s power (to influence opinion, to increase friend networks, etc.) is dependent on one’s visibility.
As a result, many visitors to Tracing You have already been conditioned by social networks to equate visibility with power. Thus, by mirroring the veillant structures of sites like Facebook, Tracing You also produces—at least for some of its visitors—a similar desire for visibility. This happens despite the overt potentially negative surveillance implications proposed by Tracing You’s ability to reveal one’s physical location.
Spin the wheel of Facebook emotional reactions! (image by Michelle Parise of CBC)
I had a great time talking with Nora Young of CBC Radio about Go Rando and the effects of emotional surveillance on Facebook. The show it’s part of, called Spark “…explores how technology, innovation and design affects our lives.”
My work Facebook Demetricator was discussed in the February 2017 issue of Wired Magazine. The article it’s a part of is titled “The Social Medium is the Message,” by Clive Thompson. In the wake of the US presidential election, Thompson writes about the cultural implications of social networks in the ways that they produce filter bubbles, enable fake news, and consolidate information access. When talking about tweaks that could be made to systems like Facebook, Thompson writes:
Let your imagination go wild and you can concoct even more aggressive, more ambitious reforms. Imagine if you got rid of all the markers of virality: no counts of likes on Facebook, retweets on Twitter, or upvotes on Reddit! Artist Ben Grosser created a playful browser plug-in called the Facebook Demetricator that does precisely this. It’s fascinating to try: Suddenly social media stops being a popularity contest. You start assessing posts based on what they say instead of because they racked up 23,000 reposts.
On the occasion of the Blinding Pleasures exhibition in London, I did an interview with Régine Debatty of We Make Money Not Art. We talked about Go Rando, how the Facebook News Feed shows you the world it thinks you want, resisting emotional surveillance, and more. It was really a pleasure to chat with her.
My work will be part of Blinding Pleasures at Arebyte Gallery in London
Next week I will launch a new work, titled Go Rando, as part of the exhibition Blinding Pleasures at Arebyte Gallery in London, UK. Curated by Filippo Lorenzin, Blinding Pleasures “… will study the dangers and potentials of a conscious use of the mechanisms behind the False Consensus effect and its marketing-driven son, the so-called “Filter Bubble”. … [Further, the exhibition] reflects on how people can critically take control over their inner psychological biases, disrupting the attempts of being misled by those who detain power on the platforms they use.” I’m pleased to be a part of this show with artists Angela Washko and Man Bartlett. Stay tuned for more about the new work!
I’m happy to share that I have a chapter in the recently released 3D Additivist Cookbook. Edited by Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke and published by the Institute for Network Cultures, the cookbook “is a free compendium of imaginative, provocative works from over 100 world-leading artists, activists and theorists. The 3D Additivist Cookbook contains .obj and .stl files for the 3D printer, as well as critical and fictional texts, templates, recipes, (im)practical designs and methodologies for living in this most contradictory of times.” My piece is titled “Adding to Subtract: 3D Printer Recipes to Disrupt Our Desire for More,” and can be found on pp. 256-9 of the free open-access PDF. The whole thing is a large 460MB download—if you’d prefer, you can grab my text here (along w/ the cover page, contents, and editor introduction).
Interview clip (w/ myself and William Binney) about ScareMail from “I SPY With My 5 Eyes” Film Documentary (watch the whole film)
I was very happy to be interviewed about ScareMail for a recently released online documentary film called “I SPY With My 5 Eyes,” about the impacts of global surveillance. Written and directed by Justin Pemberton, the film focuses on “the Five Eyes Alliance, a secretive, global intelligence arrangement between the governments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States. The alliance represents the largest surveillance program in human history.” The clip above has myself talking about ScareMail along with NSA whistleblower William Binney talking about the absurdity of NSA keyword searches. I highly recommend you watch the whole film, which is presented online in a novel interactive format.
Statistics seem cold—inhumane measurements of the way in which we move about the world, tracking our patterns, needs, and daily interactions. Power is given to those who accumulate and analyze these numbers, and the concern of these quantified evaluations is shared by us all despite our position, career, or involvement with government. Julien Prévieux’s workshop will present research from his book Statactivism and its relationship to movement measurement which forms the basis of his upcoming exhibition at Julius Caesar.
This workshop is part of the events surrounding Julien’s upcoming solo exhibition at Julius Caesar. I had the good fortune of seeing this work at Centre Pompidou in Paris last year and highly recommend it! The workshop is space-limited, so please let me know if you’re interested in attending.
The New Aesthetic and Art: Constellations of the Postdigital is an interdisciplinary analysis focusing on new digital phenomena at the intersections of theory and contemporary art. Asserting the unique character of New Aesthetic objects, Contreras-Koterbay and Mirocha trace the origins of the New Aesthetic in visual arts, design, and software, find its presence resonating in various kinds of digital imagery, and track its agency in everyday effects of the intertwined physical world and the digital realm. Contreras-Koterbay and Mirocha bring to light an original perspective that identifies an autonomous quality in common digital objects and examples of art that are increasingly an important influence for today’s culture and society.
I’ve given a number of interviews over the last six months but haven’t had a chance to post them here. A few of these are some of the best conversations I’ve had within the interview context (thanks to the great people on the other side!).
Next is a radio conversation with Rebecca Pulsifer at WEFT 90.1 FM as part of the Smile Politely podcast series. This is one of the most enjoyable conversations I’ve had in the live interview format. We talk about art as research, art as activism, and whether I’m an optimist or pessimist when it comes to human agency in the face of computational surveillance.
As part of an exhibition this past spring at Black Mountain College, I was interviewed about my work Computers Watching Movies by Sara Baird for the Media Arts Project. We talk about computer vision, expectation vs. surprise in computational works, and the role of software in daily life.
Last are two interviews mostly about a collaborative research project of mine to develop a computer system that communicates with humans using improvised jazz. I chat with Gary Zidek from WDCB Chicago’s The Arts Section about this ambitious project and how we’re trying to tackle it.