The list includes more than a dozen artists who contemplate the role of information-gathering, including surveillance by intelligence and law enforcement agencies. One of the participants, in fact, has for the past 11 years publicly informed the authorities of everywhere he goes, everyone he meets and much more.
Hasan Elahi was stopped and extensively questioned at Detroit’s airport in 2002, perhaps because his name is identical or similar to someone on a government watch list. The Bangladesh-born American citizen, now an associate professor at the University of Maryland at College Park, subsequently decided to monitor himself. His Web site, trackingtransience.net, reveals his current location and recent movements, and contains thousands of photos of where he’s slept, meals he’s eaten and bathrooms he’s used.
Among Elahi’s contributions to “Cyber In Securities” are a photo-painting of an “undisclosed location,” located on Google Maps, that the artist believes is former Vice President Dick Cheney’s home and a photo of a San Francisco AT&T building where the NSA allegedly maintained a secret room.
The latter piece, Moren notes, precedes Snowden’s disclosure of the extent of NSA monitoring by several years. “Information that people are saying is new has actually been out there, to my knowledge, since 2007,” she says.
“Cyber In Securities” features work by 13 artists or teams, European and Canadian as well as American. All use technology to comment on technology and its implications. New York’s Heather Dewey-Hagborg, for example, does what Moren calls “DNA surveillance.” She works with facial recognition software she wrote herself and does her own DNA sequencing at a DIY biotech lab in Brooklyn.
“She collects fingernails, hair, gum, cigarette butts — any human remains — that have been discarded in public places,” Moren explains. “She targets DNA code . . . for eye color, race, gender, tendency for obesity, and she cross-references that with her own face-recognition software. Once she’s done that, she’s able to make a 3D model and then produce a mask on a 3D printer.”
Some of the masks will be included in the show, highlighting both “the impulse for genetic determinism and the potential for genetic surveillance,” Moren says.
Baltimore’s Julia Kim Smith is showing prints and videos on themes of race, ethnicity and gender, as understood by Google. She types the beginning of a phrase and waits for the search engine to complete it, revealing its data-mining of mainstream curiosities.
“That has to do with Google’s goal of going from a search engine to what they call a ‘knowledge engine,’ ” Moren says. “Where they can rank content according to intent, rather than straight key-word matching.”