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Modern Art Meets Modern Privacy Challenges


A modern art exhibit may not seem like the most accessible venue for raising privacy awareness, but when our most popular tech retail stores resemble museums, artists see opportunities too rich to ignore. The Glass Room, a new interactive exhibit in the SoHo district of New York City, is an excellent example of art imitating life and subverting expectations to make a political statement about privacy.

From the exhibit’s website:

“The “products” on display have the power to illuminate our alternative selves, revealing the often contradictory and sometimes opaque dynamics of living in the Internet age. Who are we revealing when we’re online? What facts and fictions are recreated from our digital breadcrumbs? What is known about us, and why? The Glass Room is a place to consider how you use technology and how those behind technology use you. We invite you to defamiliarize yourself with the overly-familiar.”

Sponsored by Mozilla and the Tactile Technology Collective and curated by Stephanie Hankey and Marek Tuszynski, The Glass Room is based on The White Room, an original concept first shown at the HWK in Berlin, 2016. Described as “where privacy goes to die” by Joshua Kopstein for Vice’s Motherboard, The Glass Room is a much-needed spotlight on the issue of privacy in uncertain political times. As Mark Surman, the executive director of Mozilla’s non-profit arm tells Kopstein:

“My mantra right now is we have to take this set of issues and bring it into the mainstream, because the stakes are going up. None of this is unsolvable, we just have to try and take it seriously.”

In addition to The Glass Room’s provocative exhibits, the project also offers a schedule of free events, and the opportunity to hear from a wide range of artists, thought-leaders, activists, and technologists. Even if you can’t make it to New York to experience The Glass Room, the website also has an excellent section of tips and resources on the data industry, tracking methods, encryption, cybersecurity, and surveillance.

This privacy pop-up isn’t the only recent addition to artistic interpretations of privacy and surveillance issues. The movie trailer for the film adaptation of Dave Eggers’ novel The Circle recently emerged online, which showcases a satirical look at a near-future tech company where “sharing is caring” and “privacy is theft.” Though the fiction tries to take Silicon Valley’s ideologies to the extreme, it doesn’t entirely outpace reality. According to Andrew Orlowski writing for The Register:

“This is a satire of Silicon Valley ideology, as filtered through its propaganda proxies: political and media-class “gurus”, like Jeff Jarvis and Steve Hilton, and its client “digital rights” NGOs, like Public Knowledge. In reality, Google alone funds hundreds of influencers ranging from academics, think tanks to astroturf NGOs. The book appeared two years before Amazon’s creepy Echo always-on home microphone. Eggers’ literary conceit is a device called the SeeChange camera, which the population enthusiastically adopts, allowing everyone to watch everyone else in real time. There are no 4G hotspots in the Circle, so the technology is a little ahead of the curve – but much else is realistic enough.”

Art remains a valuable tool for both imagining the future and interacting with ways to shape it. As privacy awareness grows, keep an eye out for art across all mediums which can help others experience and preserve this human right.

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