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Artistic Expressions of Privacy – Part 2


This post expands on The Privacy Guru’s ongoing look at how artists explore issues of privacy, surveillance, and security. You can catch up on Part 1 here. It’s heartening to see that as privacy and security issues continue to make headlines, artists continue to make art in response. From creative ways to raise privacy awareness to imaginative alternatives to dystopian narratives, artists worldwide contribute to a future where we are free to explore our privacy practice. So what’s new in the world of artistic expressions of privacy? In this edition, we’ll take a look at three recent examples of how visionaries and humanist thinkers are engaging with the current continuum of big data, surveillance, and our place in the future.

Trevor Paglen’s a Surveillance & Privacy Genius

Trevor Paglen is an artist with a long, somewhat contentious relationship with our networked world and the military-industrial complexes which support and advance it. Whether photographing classified bases, exploring and inventing military symbology, or installing anonymizing network nodes in museums, Paglen is always investigating our relationship with the political and technological world in which we are all enmeshed. An August 2017 profile of Paglen provides an excellent look at the questions which drive Paglen as well as his upcoming projects. While some may see his projects as lurking in the margins and shadows of our culture, it would seem that his concerns are now much more mainstream. Paglen was recently awarded a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant. The award provides artists, scientists, academics, social activists, and others with a “no-strings attached” prize of $625,000. The prestigious award not only provides recipients with the resources to further their work, but it also elevates the profile of the subjects which drive them. As Paglen says in the New York Times Style Magazine profile:

‘‘People like to say that my work is about making the invisible visible, but that’s a misunderstanding. It’s about showing what invisibility looks like.’’

Congratulations to Paglen and kudos to the MacArthur Foundation for championing his work. We hope Paglen continues to explore the invisible, and that includes our right to privacy.

Giorgia Lupi & Data Humanism

Part of art’s inherent value lies in the way it helps us see in new ways, or “unsee” assumed, inherited perspectives on the world. For designer, author, and artist Giorgia Lupi, that means reframing the way we think of Big Data’s cold, absolutist image. Lupi is interested in “Data Humanism,” a practice which “question[s] the impersonality of a merely technical approach to data, and begin[s] designing ways to connect numbers to what they really stand for: knowledge, behaviors, people.” What’s more, Lupi wants to remind us that

“[data] is riddled with human error and tainted by biases. We should embrace these imperfections, just as we embrace imperfections in ourselves and others.”

One exercise Lupi offers artists and non-artists alike is a tutorial for drawing your own selfie using personal data. Her template is a whimsical, thought-provoking exercise which colors not only the page, but our understanding of how data combines to form a unique—if incomplete–picture of our humanity. It also reminds us that technology and data can be used mindfully, and mindfulness is key to a sound privacy practice.

The Glass Room Grows

Finally, we come to a happy update about a project previously featured on The Privacy Guru: The Glass Room. Billed as “a disruptive tech store with nothing for sale” which “challenges you to reconsider the technologies you use every day, how much they reveal about you, and what choices you can make in our quantified society,” The Glass Room will soon be landing in London. The Glass Room website reports the exhibit will “host over 50 objects and animations that address aspects of understanding your data – from government surveillance and data traces, to smell dating.” A sneak preview of some of the exhibition themes is available online. What’s incredibly encouraging about The Glass Room’s success is not just it’s international expansion, but the diversity and quantity of modern artists actively engaged in privacy, surveillance, and security issues. If you happen to be in the UK between October 25h and November 12th, be sure to explore The Glass Room at 69 – 71 Charing Cross Road, London.

Privacy Persists

When we are most afraid of losing our humanity to the technology which surrounds us, art reminds us that we are resilient and possess the unique ability to create space in spite of our fears. Though the pace of change and the headlines may prompt ambient anxiety, artists show us time and time again that great power resides in mindfulness, new ways of seeing, and relentless questioning of our relationship to structures which often seem too large to comprehend. Art renews us, inspires us, and enables to visualize a path along which privacy persists.

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