Ipseity

noun, sometimes capitalized

ip·​se·​ity | \ ipˈsēətē \

individual identity : SELFHOOD

2020 and (so far) 2021 have brought their lot of crisis, from the more obvious global health concerns to the more secretive, and more neglected question of mental health. Mental wellness apps are now common, usually free and easy to access. Physical health apps will allow you to track your feelings and emotions on a daily basis, and more intimate apps such as How Mental or Feelmo do a wonderful job at identifying and sharing your emotional status with loved and trusted ones.

The issue, however, is that between stress, anxiety, smartphone addiction and over use,  or neurological differences, more and more people are at a loss when it comes to knowing how they feel. Once considered a rare condition, alexithymia (or dyslexithymia), the absence of words or misuse of words to identify and express one’s feelings and emotions, are becoming widespread. And in return, this impacts the way we perceive ourselves: the loss of words for emotions becomes a loss of identity (René J. Muller, 2000).

But occasionally, patients who clearly have problems and are in great emotional pain tell noncongruent stories. They will insist that they have no problems, that life is fine and that they have no idea what is wrong. Their story is that they have no story

If a patient has no story to tell a clinician, even at a time when emotions are stirred high enough to prompt an ER visit, it seems a good bet that person has no story to tell themselves either. Having no story almost certainly implies an impaired identity: Who we know ourselves to be depends heavily on the story we tell ourselves about who we are.   To have no words for one’s inner experience is to live marginally, for oneself and for others.


This also means that wellness apps cannot be efficient as they solely rely on words or facial expressions to express feelings, methods that are not only impossible to use for people aforementioned, but also do not take into account the fact that not all facial expressions are universal, as some vary depending on the cultural and social context.

Therefore, the topic I would like to explore is how generative art could become a tool of introspection, allowing an individual to reconnect with their own self, recovering their unique individuality or ipseity. By playing with colours, rhythms, and shapes, one could create a truly unique work of art that would reflect their internal turmoils, allowing them not only to express their feelings but also to self-regulate their emotions.

ANXIETY AS A VECTOR OF CREATION: THE ARTEFACT(S)

As stated above, 2021 was not as smooth of a year as I had hoped it to be. All dreams of accomplishments quickly turned sour, and in the summer I found myself going home to rest, stressed and defeated. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t come up with any satisfactory idea for this project I cared about, and kept pressuring myself to come up with something grand, something that would be a feat of technical prowess – even though very few people with only a few months of programming behing them could start a small computational revolution in that way.

The theory, however, was building itself in the back of my mind. Even as I stood idle, unable to work in any productive way, I was over/analysing, spectating my own inability to cope, taking all sorts of mental notes of what I would say once I had the technical side sorted. I procrastinated. And it clicked. I started observing the ways I procrastinated, what art I would create, what I would inevitably come back to. It quickly tuned into an autoethnographic exercise, from which two major things stood out: I liked circles, closed shapes with no beginning and no end; I liked repetitive movements, expected yet always different; and I liked spirographs. I had just found what I wanted to create, and why.

Pulsating Perlin-noise circle and spirograph

I wanted to offer the soothing gesture of expected actions, I wanted to move and be an active agent of the creation, and I wanted to see the self – myself, yourself, themselves, but concealed within a barely, if at all, decipherable image.

I first decided to play with slit-scans, drawing the image from the video one line of pixels at a time, resulting in grotesque avatars of the Self. Too readable. I added glitches, played with values, destructured my image. It was better, but too obvious still, too literal, barring any chance of having the visuals be shareable; no one would identify that well with a white woman having a bad hair day.

I added a touch of computer vision. Not too much, partly due to my own lack of literacy when it comes to computer science, partly because I wanted to keep a balance of the inputs of the Self and of the Machine. Using openFrameworks and ofOpenCV, I had the program keep tracks of my movements, of its intensity and its activity, and transcribe it in rotations. I made a spirograph of the slit-scan, controlled by the movements perceived, offering an intimate performance of my anxiety only to the eye of my camera. I made a few arbitrary aestheric choices, such as the width of the line and the rotation’s steps, because language is, in a way, also made of a few arbitrary choices. The Machine drew the defformed vision of myself, choreographed in real time by my own agitation, and I felt more grounded – a new mirror, showing me a new Self. I became a direct agent of creation; I controlled the narrative, my narrative.

I felt better, and I liked what I saw.

The jumps in the rotation come from my own movements

After running for too long, most glyphs started looking alike, so I decided to have them be created in the span of one to two minutes, to ensure an easier differentiation of the various states I was in. It became a ritual: I would run the application whenever I felt some sort of way during the day, after an upsetting work call, relaxing in a bath, playing with a dog, feeling defeated in my room. I found myself focusing on the glyph appearing before my eyes, becoming more conscious of my movements and feelings, coming back to the visuals hours later to re-read what had come out of these states of being. Some had an uncomfortable texture, some reminded me of the soft inside of a shell, and all had a coherence to them that came from the set shapes and the fact that they spawned from what I see as my cultural context.

I shared a few glyphs with my family; they would see similar things in some, and had different perceptions of others. They wanted to create theirs. I found myself trying to control the way they were using the app, and realised I was getting in the way of what this language meant and was for. It is a tool for introspection, an intimate face-to-face with the Self, and my own set of rules, my code, would make no sense in the context of another user.

Not mine: becoming spectator of someone else’s emotions

I had to rethink my approach to the communication and readability of the glyphs; I had to accept that what I perceived as true meant something entirely different for another person; a language isn’t less true than another, and different languages have different names for the same perceived object. I added a note regarding linguistic theories, and thought about the future of the project.

Once cleaned up and optimised, the code would be freely shared as an open source project, with only a few key concepts needed to understand what it is about. I am excited to see what might come of this.

I would need to add a more textural, sensorial element to it. Sounds can be unpleasant to some, so that addition would come later if needed. Giving it a physicality could emphasise the ritualistic impact it has, becoming either tokens or amulets, and understandable not to the eyes only. It comes from physical movements, so re-entering the physical realm seemed to make sense. A full circle, so to speak.

A sample of a week of glyphs

A THEORY OF COMPUTATION OF MOODS AND FEELINGS: CODING, ENCODING, DECODING… RECODING?

THE CIRCLE

This project is, in a way, a defense of artistic creation and expression of anxiety as research praxis. Starting from the making of an artefact means I had to retrace all the steps that led to it, inducing cognition of (my)self as well as turning into a regrounding experience, thus becoming part of the artefact itself.

Discovering these means of expression, and being my own ethnograph, also brought about the understanding of the states I found myself in, which appears reminiscent of the linguistic theory of relativity (Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, see bibliography). This process also underlined an attachment to the Circle as a shape, and as a way to remove the glyphs from linguistic biases.

Linearity is a very Western concept, especially tied to time, lived experience and written language. Things flow from left to right, strictly defined, and clashes with numerous non-Western structures (Boroditsky, L., & Gaby, A., 2010). Circular shapes flow continuously, with no beginning nor ends. This removal of rules and landmarks challenges its legibility to the Perceiver, forcing them to focus instead on their immediate perception, then allowing for a second lecture to observe the details.

The more agitated or active the Creator is, the more we lose the human structure of the information, as well as the literal, videographic representation of the Self. But the cohesion of the shapes and principles, the core structure of the glyphs, invites the Spectator to compare, juxtapose and draw meaning from the neutral anonymity. The need to self-regulate emotions is repackaged as vectors of creation, and shares with Strangers glimpses of an unseen artistic performance.

CODE, ENCODE. DECODE

These terms offer multi-layered interpretations, tied to computational practices as well as linguistic theories.

Code can refer to the one of the core actions of computational actions, as programming code, a language that is a means of (albeit one-sided) communication with a Machine. But a code is also the structural guidelines and rules that go with the rite of creation of these glyphs, to reach the liminal stage between the disconnection of the Self and the understanding of the Self. Through these rules, we in turn become Witness, Creator, Vector and Spectator of the birthing of these glyphs  

Encode can also refer to a computational action, a “conversion to a specific form”, in this case converting movement and image of the Self to an irregular circle. Encode, in its biology or genetics meaning of “producing a substance or a behaviour”, ties back to this experiment. The Creator, through an undefined choreography, impacts the behaviour of the Program, as well as the behaviour of the Self, as movement soothes anxiety (Zhu, X., Haegele, J. A., & Healy, S., 2019). The Program, as generator of the glyphs, opens a dialogue between the Self and the Perceptions, also producing a new behaviour.

Decoding is the one I prefer. With it comes the notion of removing the code, changint the structure of both the rite and the C++ that makes up the Program. Decoding the glyphs, however, implies three main levels of understanding.

  • The first level is the intimate reading from the Self to the Self. As Actor, Vector and Spectator of the creation of the glyph, we have access to all the cultural keys to understanding what we see. We know the context, the place, the time, and can access the state we were in through revisiting the experience. We get to confront our “Self” armed with these new ways of understanding, and create meaning from it. This somewhat relates to the linguistic theory of relativity (Kay, P., & Kempton, W., 1984).
  • The second level is the decoding by individuals who have some understanding of the creator’s cultural and, to an extent, behavioural context. These would be friends, family, acquaintances that can somewhat perceive information from the intimate level, while still injecting perceptions from their own, personal cultural context of understanding.
  • The third level is the decoding by Strangers, people fully removed from the creator of the glyph they are observing. This level, in terms of philosophy and linguistics, would be closest to the theory of representation of meaning (Speaks, J., 2021): the shapes, colours and sensory qualities of the glyph become a reference to the Stranger’s propositional attitude. Its meaning is born from the Spectator’s own representation of what it is.

These three layers have no impact on the veritas inherent to the glyphs. The code, the C++ used to shape the app as a tool, uses a lot of for loops, and similarly each iteration of perception by a new Spectator brings a new meaning, a new shift of veritas, as the introspective nature of the glyph not only welcomes, but necessitates mutations and interchangeability. 

for (human spectator=0; spectator<∞; spectator++){

veritas.push_back(spectator);

}

The communication and connexion happens via the Other’s perceptions of the artefact. The creator couldchoose to rectify any interpretation thought to be wrong, find similarities with different visions and lectures of the glyphs, or listen and learn about the Other’s own lived experience that shaped their cultural context. The language recreates itself and evolves because of these interactions.

if you gaze long enough into the program, the program will gaze back into you.

The Program created is at the core of this entire experience. It gives access to the intimacy of a language known only by, and made by, the Self, expressed as a solitary performance, with the option of then being shared and re-read as an aesthetic and sensorial experience.

The glyphs themselves are the produce of an esoteric dialogue between the Performer and the Machine, the computer standing as a confident of the people struggling to express themselves and be heard, coming close to a biographer of our inner turmoils. Once launched, a simple process of computer vision assesses the movements created, their intensity, and transcribes it as a deformation of the live video. The exchange means this is an active choice, as opposed to a passive observation.

LINE

Polar opposite of the circle, the line, finite and directional primary shape, also plays an important role in the creative process. Used as a spirograph, it adds sensory qualities to the glyphs. When undisturbed, the addition of lines becomes smooth, presenting more readable hints of the creator’s context. Agitated, all visual landmarks are erased, anonymising the glyph, showing a harsher texture – adding to the visuals a near-synesthetic feeling of physicality.

This use of lines and rotation, finally, means that in future stages of this project, the glyphs could easily be 3D printed, mutating into physical tokens, accessible to all, seeing and non-seeing alike.

AND THEN?

This project keeps coming back to itself, and each cycle brings about a new problematic. The current media used to share it means it cannot yet be seen as a universal language, self-contained and ready to use. But it opened an important discussion that I wish to continue, and involve others in. While the combinations of shapes and colours are seemingly infinite, the three main subsets of glyphs (smooth, mixed and chaotic) tend to remain similar, meaning that I have learned to guess roughly what actions in what settings might produce which subset. As I cannot remove myself fully from my testing phases, I would like to give more autonomy to the Program, and keep learning as the language emerges.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Zhu, Xihe, et al. ‘Movement and Mental Health: Behavioral Correlates of Anxiety and Depression among Children of 6–17 Years Old in the U.S.’ Mental Health and Physical Activity, vol. 16, Mar. 2019, pp. 60–65. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mhpa.2019.04.002.

Winawer, J., et al. ‘Russian Blues Reveal Effects of Language on Color Discrimination’. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 104, no. 19, May 2007, pp. 7780–85. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0701644104.

Speaks, Jeff. ‘Theories of Meaning’. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Spring 2021, Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2021. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2021/entries/meaning/.

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Reflections on Studies in Material Thinking

This week, I wanted to do a light commentary on Kristina Lindström & Åsa Ståhl’s Studies in Material Thinking, “an exploration of academic and artistic storytelling. It is also about storytelling
as an academic and an artistic practice”.

I come from a CG film background, and received an education on storytelling for live-action films, 2D and 3D animation, storyboarding, script writing etc. Moreover, my mother used to work as a traditional folk tale storyteller, meaning I grew up listening to tales and legends usually following the hero’s journey approach to narration. For a very long time, all I knew was linear, traditional narratives – until I grew bored of it, frustrated, feeling limited not only by the tools and softwares I was using but also by how ingrained in me that linearity was.

This is why the Threads exhibition really struck me. In a way, “patchworks” of illustrations have been used since very ancient times, in fresco or metal plates re-enacting a historical event as seen by the people who witnessed or heard of it in that age. But this time, the patchwork isn’t just a visual representation to document something specific, it brings together stories from random people, stitiching them and becoming almost a tapestry of humanity.

Critical making and potential limitations

During our last lecture, my group’s conversation took a turn when we started discussing the Disobedient Electronics. Some of the questions that were rightfully raised were what makes a hacker, and how is that impacted and impacting the artist or maker’s identity; and if it had an actual use. Some of the photographs seemed conveniently staged, as if the activists were expecting to be arrested, once again questioning the authenticity of the action.

While this could be tied to the age-old, impossible question of “does art need a purpose”, this one seemed a lot easier to answer. In a world that is now even more connected than ever, and yet still mostly presents the more palatable narratives when it comes to societal issues, staging and actions help bring awareness to issues that are too often ignored or forgotten about, drowned in the continuous flow of incoming new informations.

Our human, limited brains also can’t fully process information we can’t “see”. It becomes intangible, like a fictional story, something far removed from the reality where it takes place. Seeing these drones, or seeing that equal pay clock, becomes a visual punch in the face of the viewer: it’s not just a vague rumour they heard about, it is now anchored in their reality, for all to see. Alternatively, even without any context, these unusual creations can spark conversations: people are curious in general, and like a bit of drama.

Big Brother: Racial Biases and Methods of Resistance in a world of Surveillance

Introduction: 

Facial recognition software has emerged as one of the most active fields of research in computer vision and pattern recognition over the past few decades, and the methods of its applications are being actively utilized and explored by both private and federal institutions (Adjabi et. al., 2020). This technology, as a biometric identifier; that is, a method of human identification via physical characteristics, has many appealing characteristics for bureaucratic, legal, and commercial applications despite having more technical challenges than other biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints (Cole, 2012). Facial recognition software can be executed from a distance without physical contact, it can be used to survey a much larger set of information (faces) at once, and it can be conducted discreetly without the explicit knowledge of those being identified. In addition, Western societies, in particular, are culturally accustomed to the face as being a key marker in one’s identity (Cole, 2012). In the United States, in particular, there has been a preoccupation with developing and employing facial recognition technology post-September 11, 2001. Since then, the use of these algorithms has been employed by industry, government and research constituencies despite overwhelming evidence that these technologies are racially biased and not neutral, and in spite of concerns that countries who overwhelming rely on facial recognition technologies to monitor their citizens are veering closer towards becoming a surveillance state (Bisaillon, 2012). 

Facial Recognition Technology: Algorithms of Surveillance 

Facial Recognition Technology is a form of image analysis and pattern recognition that compares a facial image of interest, known as a probe, against a database of images, known as a gallery (Parks & Monson, 2008). Building an algorithm that can successfully isolate, calculate, and identify faces amongst multiple, and simultaneous, stimuli requires deep learning; that is, the machine mimics the neural networks necessary for human cognition and utilizes successively complex layers of information to become incredibly specific, and in theory, accurately recognize facial features and identify them (Martinez, 2017). Although rudimentary attempts at facial recognition technology were explored since the 1960’s, it wasn’t until 1991 that a true, near-real-time computer tracking system was developed by Matthew Turk and Alex Pentland at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Turk & Pentland, 1991). Their success came from the realization that they could design an algorithm that could exploit the fact that all faces share common basic structures. These structures, called principal components, and the analysis of a large set of faces via principal component analysis (PCA), allowed researchers to remove similar correlations between faces to leave behind only distinguishing characteristics of a face –an eigenface (Tsao & Livingstone, 2008). 

The current method of facial recognition technology involves creating a “template” of the target’s face, which is created by measuring the face through specific characteristics such as the distance between the eyes or the width of the nose; these facial landmarks are known as nodal points (Kristine & Rachel, 2019). Once the template is created in code, it is compared to a database of faces until a positive match is found. Automated facial recognition requires that the machine detects the face, extracts its features to depict an accurate face normalization, and classifies it through verification or identification (Adjabi et al., 2020). It is important to note that facial recognition, and deep learning, are not rule-based algorithms set by a programmer; rather, the machines themselves can be trained to define their own rules for detection, analysis and classification (Bueno, 2019). As a result, although facial recognition algorithms may seem neutral, the rules generated by the machines come from large databases of facial images that are often racially biased or not comprehensive.  

The Jim Code: Racism and biases coded into the Machine

Because facial recognition software requires it to be trained on a large database of information, whose makeup is often racially skewed or disproportionate, there has been a mounting interest recently in exploring how accurate and biased these algorithms can become. In addressing the question of whether or not machines can be racist in her book, Race after technology, Ruha Benjamin (2019) asserts that “robots, designed in a world drenched in racism, will find it nearly impossible to stay dry. [They] learn to speak the coded language of their human parents…one’s individual racial identity offers no surefire insulation from the prevailing ideologies (p.62).” Indeed, “automated anti-Blackness” can be seen as particularly sinister because it is a product of data-driven decision making, which is assumed to be objective but requires the subjective actions and training by developers – who often end up encoding their own biases into the programs (Nkonde, 2019). This results in either overrepresentation or underrepresentation of communities in certain databases. The Gender Shades project launched by the Algorithmic Justice League (AJL) exposed the divergent error rates across demographic groups and showed that the poorest accuracy was found within Black people, and particularly Black women, when compared to white men – at most with an error difference of 34.4% (Buolamwini & Gebru, 2018). 

Facial recognition technology continues to be developed in a world deeply affected by racial disparities, and as a result, reinforces racial discrimination. In most Western countries, Black people are more likely to be stopped and investigated by a police officer, and have their biometric information – including a face photo – entered into a bureaucratic database, which is then used by the machines to optimize their algorithms (Bacchini & Lorusso, 2019). As Benjamin notes “some technologies fail to see Blackness, while others render Black people hypervisible and expose them to systems of racial surveillance (Benjamin, p.99)”. In fact, since facial recognition systems can only certify individuals in its databases, Black Americans are more often found as a match, which results in a disproportionate amount of both true and false accepts. This in turn results in more Black people being stopped, investigated, and implicated as a consequence of facial recognition technology, which suggests its capacity to strengthen and perpetuate racially biased patterns of law enforcement that has existed since the 18th century “lantern laws” (Bacchini & Lorusso, 2019).  

In the simplest sense, algorithms can not be racially neutral because the world they are learning from, and whose data they process, is not as well. In an effort to expose the biases, many organizations such as the AJL continue to research and audit the software used by major bureaucratic and industrial entities (Buolamwini & Gebru, 2018). It is important to highlight that private industry choices are public policy decisions – that is, many bureaucratic organizations use data collected by the private industry and by extension, these industries have an often unseen but impactful influence in the legislature and systems of surveillance produced. In order to create an equitable and actively non-racist technology, there is a pressing need to diversify databases, consistently audit widely-used software, and center the impacted communities in the design process. By doing so, policy makers can create the frameworks for dismantling anti-Black systems and create a path “to develop socially just policies that can regulate biometric technologies” (Nkonde, 2019). 

Where’s Waldo?: Modern applications of recognition technology and methods of resistance

Live Facial Recognition is known for the heavy racial bias it perpetuates, due to algorithms being trained on datasets lacking diversity (Fussey & Murray, 2019) . Creating fairer databases could be a way to counter the issues stemming from these biases (Lamb, 2020), but could only do so much as long as racism prevails in western countries. Could art spark difficult conversations and help highlight the urgency in legitimising the right to privacy and individual agency (Nisbet, 2004), and notably the heavier policing of marginalised communities?

Brief history of art as a form of resistance

Art, in all its forms, has always been used as a powerful political tool (Anapur, 2016). But so was heavy surveillance from the state to enforce its power over the people. Evading censorship, targeted violence and surveillance has long been a concern for activists and artists (NCAC, 2019). How, before the coming of high tech surveillance, did artists find ways to confront and expose the brutality of a political system?

Uruguay, 1983. Artist Nelbia Romero was showcasing her installation, Sal-si-puedes, revisiting the massacre that eventually led to the disparition of the Native people of Uruguay. But, as Andrea Giunta shows, the actualisation of historical events allowed Romero to recall the lived experience of life under a strict dictatorship, whilst bypassing the heavy censorship of the time (Giunta, 2016) .

A more recent example of adapting to methods of oppression in that way would be the work of Dread Scott, “On the Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Slavery and Genocide”, reenacting a racist past event that one could immediately associate to more actual diplays of racial discrimination. His statement, “I make revolutionary art to propel history forward”, is rooted in the same idea: politics and history are cyclical, as are the oppressions they carry within (Duggan, 2014).

How can art help make statements that challenge the status quo and address discrimination  in our current age of pervasive, hidden mass surveillance? What can it do to confront algorithmic racial bias and spark discussions about the risks pertained by the disappearance of privacy?

LFR avoidance-based art

These past years have seen a major surge in anti-surveillance art practices, allowing individuals to evade scrutiny using a variety of methods to throw the algorithm off – usually by concealing or playing with the artist’s faces in visually intricate ways (McMullan, 2018).

The most talked about example this year would be CV Dazzle (Harvey, 2020), a way of using facial makeup and hair that was used to trick AIs by transforming and hiding key areas of the face. A wide range of objects also appeared, from LED glasses, adversarial examples printed on shirts, masks or frames to scarves covered in a multitude of human faces – all hyper-aesthetic methods of surveillance avoidance by using the limitations of LFR softwares (Tapper, 2020).

As the collective Hyphen-Labs said, “The control of identity and image has been a way to oppress freedom from groups who have been historically and systemically marginalized both in the U.S. and globally”. Reclaiming that control is, in a way, addressing identity politics ascribed by an oppressive system (McMullan, 2018).

Artist and researcher Zach Blas, by working with masks made mixing the features of multiple people, does offer a way to evade these imposed monolithic perceptions by completely deleting the wearer’s identity, offering to create a secret milieu of free expression (Blas, 2011-2014).

A question, then, would be to see how efficient all these methods are. LFR technologies get updated frequently, getting more and more accurate; CV Dazzle doesn’t work as well with these newer algorithms (Harvey, 2020), and individuals can be identified even just by their gait (Kang, 2018). Evading surveillance would then demand we all stay vigilant every second we spend in public spaces, changing our behaviours, looks and even the way we walk – eventually changing our very identity at its core, creating an entire new persona to showcase to the outside world.

But does art need to be efficient to be relevant? Making a statement to disrupt a narrative or spark discussions could have a greater long lasting impact on how society reacts to and implicitly accepts state surveillance.

The main issue, unfortunately, is how these methods can be used by marginalised people, who are already targets of heavier scrutiny. FR algorithms are known for perpetuating racial (and gender) bias, resulting in over policing (Funk, 2020); overt attempts to avoid surveillance or disrupt the system have a strong risk of being perceived as criminal acts, sometimes with lethal consequences. The ability to publicly wear masks or show defiance then becomes a statement of individual privilege, slightly missing the opportunity to question the ubiquity of said surveillance. The intersectionality of oppressive systems requires us to rethink what we accept, and how the responsibility of one’s protection shouldn’t be solely put on the individual, but instead a collective push enforced by the global public (Monahan, 2015).

Just like history, the interest of the public in these conversations is cyclical. Every year brings its lot of new scandal regarding police brutality, racism and unfair use of LFR, making conversations around anti-surveillance relevant once again, only to be soon forgotten – until the next revelation or murder.

 “Looking back”

So how can these art practices stay relevant?

For artist Nancy Nisbet, who had two microchips implanted,surveillance always comes with a context: a specific unique person, a location, an object of interest. She also mentions three key points for her practice: Avoidance, Intervention and Subversion.

Avoidance revolves around bypassing surveillance, and most of the anti-surveillance techniques mentioned before would fit in this first category, this first step to take to make a difference.

Intervention implies directly altering the data or the tool of surveillance, reclaiming control over one’s data.

Subversion then becomes the act of rendering all the collected data meaningless; as a state of surveillance implies having static, unchanging singular identities, that are well defined within a context. By having not one, but two microchips implanted, she then becomes an anomaly, breaking the very rules surveillance works with (Nisbet, 2004).

Similarly, artist Hasan Elahi, wrongly identified as a terrorist, interrogated and placed in the US Terrorist watchlist, updated his location in real time for years. His constant, open disclosure of location renders official state surveillance irrelevant and subsequently stripping them of any power (Elahi, ongoing).

Torin Monahan, on the other hand, writes that to be efficient and impactful, anti-surveillance art practices should be not only relying on avoidance, but inverting the positions of power and challenging the system by putting the oppressors in the spotlight, legitimating a right to “look back” (Monahan, 2015).

The works of Trevor Paglen and Laura Poitras use this method to attract public attention to concerning issues, photographing drones or various surveillance headquarters that wouldn’t even be found on maps (Crawford & Paglen, 2019. Poitras, 2016) . Observing the Observer comes with its risks, and they are both under heavy surveillance, creating an almost poetic loop if it weren’t for the heavy implications that come with it.

Artist and filmmaker Manu Luksch, in her project Faceless, fully renounces avoidance of surveillance and uses CCTV and her right to access her data to narrate a film, revealing in that way how omnipresent these cameras are, in a more concrete way than face masks or facial makeup (Luksch, 2007).

But the most front-facing way to oppose the system might just be the art of protests, seen as a performance. The Hong-Kong protests of these past years are probably the most obvious example of this, with chants, laser pointer plays, umbrellas, Lennon walls and human chains making for a day-and-night mix of artistic performances and installations. In this way, too, they call back historical events (the Baltic Way, Lennon walls, black bloc techniques) to make a statement about current struggles (Ioanes, 2019).

Masks, umbrellas and lasers become both objects of performance and tools to counter surveillance, concealing identities and blinding cameras and law enforcement.

But the BLM protests of 2020 saw a resurgence of conversations in regards to racial bias both in the police and in the algorithms (Stokel-Walker, 2020). Inspired by the Hong-Kong protests techniques, it turned into an opposition of low-tech against a high-tech police, but its power resided in numbers: all around the world, activists organised protests using the same visual language, the same chants and demands, becoming a worldwide performance and display of solidarity in the fight against systemic racism (Maqbool, 2020). It became one collective push against discrimination and intersectional issues, forcing both the public and the various governments to face a somber reality already getting out of hand. Recording the police and police brutality became a mechanic of accountability  (Lind & Fong, 2014), putting the focus on them instead of blaming the victims.

2020 normalised the use of masks in public space for now, but maybe the future of anti-surveillance art resides in this: a communal set of actions combined with avoidance methods to protect the individuals, while surveilling the perpetrators of state violence.

The recent law proposals in France, aiming to make filming the police illegal, goes to show how that last part is crucial, and how far we still are from actual freedom and privacy.

Conclusion

In addition to decolonising training databases for major LFR softwares, there is a need to engage in a bigger conversation about the invasive rise of mass surveillance as a threat to individual freedom under a guise of “care”  (Crawford & Paglen, 2019) . 

By disrupting mainstream narratives around the notion of identity/identities, self, and the passive acceptance of this enforced state of surveillance, artistic practices can play a key role in resisting insidious systemic discriminations (Duggan, 2014). 

More specifically, art that doesn’t focus only on individual avoidance and aesthetic but brings awareness and put oppressive systems and their perpetrators under a spotlight will effectively challenge said state of surveillance (Monahan, 2015), as seen in recent mass protests that turned into worldwide performances against racial discrimination (McGarry, Erhart, Eslen-Ziya, Jenzen & Korkut, 2019). 

It is important to approach practices with intersectionality in mind, to start a shift from individual responsibility to collective action.

CITATIONS:

Adjabi, I., Ouahabi, A., Benzaoui, A., & Taleb-Ahmed, A. (2020). Past, Present and Future of Face Recognition: A Review. Electronics, 9(8), 1-52. Retrieved from https://www.mdpi.com/2079-9292/9/8/1188/htm

Bacchini, F. & Lorusso, L. (2010). Race, again: how face recognition technology reinforces racial discrimination. Journal of Information, Communication & Ethics in Society, 17(3). 321-335. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org.gold.idm.oclc.org/10.1108/JICES-05-2018-0050

Benjamin, R. (2019). Race after Technology. Medford, MA: Polity Press

Bisaillon, L. (2012). Our biometric future: Facial recognition technology and the culture of surveillance. Surveillance & Society, 10(1), 95-96. Retrieved from https://gold.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.gold.idm.oclc.org/scholarly-journals/our-biometric-future-facial-recognition/docview/1315522743/se-2?accountid=11149

Bueno, C. C. (2019). The Face Revisited: Using Deleuze and Guattari to Explore the Politics of Algorithmic Face Recognition. Theory, Culture and Society, 37(1), 73-90. Retrieved from https://doi-org.gold.idm.oclc.org/10.1177/0263276419867752

Buolamwini, J. & Gebru, T. Gender Shades: Intersectional Accuracy Disparities in Commercial Gender Classification. Proceedings of Machine Learning Research, 81, 1-15. Retrieved from http://proceedings.mlr.press/v81/buolamwini18a/buolamwini18a.pdf

Cole, S. A. (2012). The face of biometrics. Technology and Culture, 53(1), 200-203. Retrieved from https://gold.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.gold.idm.oclc.org/scholarly-journals/face-biometrics/docview/929039973/se-2?accountid=11149

Hamann, K., & Smith, R. (2019). Facial recognition technology. Criminal Justice, 34(1), 9-13. Retrieved from https://gold.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.gold.idm.oclc.org/trade-journals/facial-recognition-technology/docview/2246857277/se-2?accountid=11149

Geoghegan, S. (2013). BIOMETRICS: FACIAL RECOGNITION. Law & Order, 61(11), 56-59. Retrieved from https://gold.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.gold.idm.oclc.org/trade-journals/biometrics-facial-recognition/docview/1470038366/se-2?accountid=11149

Martinez A. M. (2017). Computational Models of Face Perception. Current directions in psychological science26(3), 263–269. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721417698535

Nkonde, M. (2019). Automated anti-blackness: Facial recognition in brooklyn, new york. Kennedy School Review, 20, 30-36. Retrieved from https://gold.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.gold.idm.oclc.org/scholarly-journals/automated-anti-blackness-facial-recognition/docview/2404400349/se-2?accountid=11149

Parks, C. & Monson. K. (2018). Recognizability of computer-generated facial approximations in an automated facial recognition context for potential use in unidentified persons data repositories: Optimally and operationally modeled conditions. Forensic Science International, 291, 272-278. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.forsciint.2018.07.024

Tsao, D. Y., & Livingstone, M. S. (2008). Mechanisms of face perception. Annual review of neuroscience31, 411–437. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.neuro.30.051606.094238

Turk, M. & Pentland, A. (1991). Eigenfaces for Recognition. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 3(1), 71-86. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn.1991.3.1.71

Fussey, P. & Murray, D. (2019). Independent report on the London Metropolitan Police Service’s trial of Live Facial Recognition technology.  The Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project, 20-22. Retrieved from https://48ba3m4eh2bf2sksp43rq8kk-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/London-Met-Police-Trial-of-Facial-Recognition-Tech-Report.pdf

Anapur, E. (2016, Oct. 27). The Strong Relation Between Art and Politics. Widewalls. https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/art-and-politics

A selective timeline of art censorship from 1989 to the present. National Coalition Against Censorship. Retrieved from: https://ncac.org/resource/art-and-culture-censorship-timeline

Giunta, A. (2016). Archives, Performance, and Resistance in Uruguayan Art Under Dictatorship. Representations, (136), 36-53. doi:10.2307/26420577

Duggan, B. (2014, Oct. 22).Performance Art and Modern Political Protest. Big Think. https://bigthink.com/Picture-This/performance-art-and-modern-political-protest

McMullan, T. (2018, Jun. 13). Fighting AI surveillance with scarves and face paint. Medium. https://medium.com/s/story/fighting-ai-surveillance-with-scarves-and-face-paint-6b634ef174a1

Harvey, A. (2020, Jun. 15). Computer vision dazzle camouflage. CV Dazzle. Retrieved from https://cvdazzle.com/

Tapper, J. (2020, Feb. 1). Hiding in plain sight: activists don camouflage to beat Met surveillance. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/01/privacy-campaigners-dazzle-camouflage-met-police-surveillance

Hyphen-Labs Collective. Hyphen-labs. Retrieved from http://www.hyphen-labs.com/

Blas, Z. (2011-2014). Facial weaponization suite. Zach Blas. Retrieved from https://zachblas.info/works/facial-weaponization-suite/

Kang, D. (2018, Nov, 6). Chinese ‘gait recognition’ tech IDs people by how they walk. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/bf75dd1c26c947b7826d270a16e2658a

Funk, A. (2020, Jun. 22). How domestic spying tools undermine racial justice protests. Freedom House. https://freedomhouse.org/article/how-domestic-spying-tools-undermine-racial-justice-protests

Monahan, T. (2015). The right to hide? Anti-surveillance camouflage and the aestheticization of resistance. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 12(2), 159‑178. https://doi.org/10.1080/14791420.2015.1006646

Nisbet, N. (2004). Resisting Surveillance: identity and implantable microchips. Leonardo, 37(3), 210-214. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1162/0024094041139463

Elahi, H. (2009-present). Tracking Transience v2.2. Hasan Elahi. Retrieved from https://elahi.gmu.edu/track/

Crawford, K. & Paglen, T. (2019, Sept. 19). Excavating AI: the politics of training sets for Machine Learning. Excavating AI. Retrieved from https://excavating.ai

Poitras, L. (2016). Astro Noise. Whitney museum of American art. Retrieved from https://whitney.org/exhibitions/laura-poitras

Luksch, M. (2007). Faceless. Manu Luksch. Retrieved from http://www.manuluksch.com/project/faceless/

Ioanes, E. (2019, Aug. 23). Hong Kong protesters are forming a human chain 30 years after the Baltic Way democracy protests. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/hongkongers-are-forming-a-baltic-way-style-human-chain-2019-8

Stokel-Walker, C. (2020, Jun. 24). The lasting effect of digital surveillance at Black Lives Matter protests. The Face. https://theface.com/society/black-lives-matter-facial-recognition-digital-surveillance-george-floyd

Maqbool, A. (2020, Jul. 9). Black Lives Matter: From social media post to global movement. BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-53273381

Lind, D & Fong, J. (2014, Oct. 6). Why recording the police is so important. Vox. https://www.vox.com/2014/10/6/6905253/cops-on-camera-these-powerful-video-clips-show-why-recording-the

Lamb, H. (2020, Sept. 4). Facial recognition for remote ID verification wins Africa Prize. E&T, Engineering and Technology. https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2020/09/facial-recognition-for-remote-id-verification-wins-africa-prize/

McGarry, A., Erhart, I., Eslen-Ziya, H., Jenzen, O., & Korkut, U. (Éds.). (2019). The aesthetics of global protest : Visual culture and communication. Amsterdam University Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvswx8bm

Playing with various facial recognition softwares: iOs Photo app

The 2020 mass protests denouncing racial violence and racism in the US, UK and western countries in general highlighted a new danger: policing authorities using social media pictures to identify and target activists. Mobile face recognition apps now go from a useful feature, helping taking candid (or not) pictures, to miniature, portable back-stabbers. Since iPhones store the time and location associated with pictures, the risks are even greater. So how well can it track and identify a face?

For iPhone users, going scrolling to the bottom your Albums folder will show an interesting sorting option: “People”. The Photo app constantly tries to associate faces that seem to belong to the same person, and will give you the option to select (or remove) photos it perceived as being of one subject. This also trains it to more accurately find this person in future photos.

My unsuspecting younger self was the base image to identify me

I have over 6 years of photos accumulated on my Cloud, so it does an eerily good job at identifying recurring faces, and struggles more with random people or children growing up, so for the purpose of understanding how to escape the face detection and recognition tool I decided to ignore these. I also do not have the option to borrow random children at the moment so my experiment shall include my face only, taken from the safety of my room.

As we know, the Photo app on iOs does a great job at identifying my unobscured face, hair up and down. But how well can it recognise me when I wear accessories?

I posed in front of a neutral background (namely a white wall), wearing the same outfit and at the same time of the day. I then took multiple sets of pictures: wearing black glasses, wearing golden glasses, no glasses. For each of these three sets, I took pictures from the front, but also turning my head as to obscure one eye, and with exagerated top and bottom views. I also took a second series of said pictures wearing a mask, resulting in a total of sixty-five pictures.

I then headed to my People Album, to see how many versions of my face the Photo App identified as being me. Out of the sixty-five, only fifteen pictures made it to the folder, mostly front-facing and looking to the right, and none of them were of me with the face mask or looking up or down.

12 of the 15 pictures recognised as my face

Now, that result probably indicates that most pictures of me are using these angles, and recent studies showed that when wearing a mask, facial recognition algorithms failed over 50% of the time. With most of my face covered by the mask, I wasn’t expecting it to succeed in identifying me. But what if my face was only partially obscured? I went on and took a few pictures with two strands of hair going over my eyes – and the Photo app failed to recognise me again.

My test samples were obviously minuscule, but it did give me a good idea of ways to conceal my identity on pictures, as well as understanding why CV Dazzle-type makeup and ways to disguise or cover key features of the face can play the algorithm.

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Présentation personnelle (exemple d’article)

Voici un exemple d’article, publié initialement dans le cadre de la Blogging University. Inscrivez-vous à l’un de nos dix programmes et lancez votre blog.

Vous allez publier un article aujourd’hui. Ne vous inquiétez pas pour l’apparence de votre blog. Ne vous inquiétez pas si vous ne lui avez pas encore donné de nom ou si vous vous sentez dépassé. Cliquez simplement sur le bouton « Nouvel article » et dites-nous pourquoi vous êtes ici.

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L’article peut être court ou long, contenir une introduction personnelle sur votre vie, décrire la mission de votre blog, présenter un manifeste pour l’avenir ou énoncer simplement vos sujets de publication.

Pour vous aider à commencer, voici quelques questions :

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Répondre à ces questions ne vous enferme pas définitivement dans une voie. Ce qui est magnifique avec les blogs, c’est qu’ils sont en constante évolution au fur et à mesure de vos apprentissages, de votre développement et des interactions avec autrui. Il est toutefois opportun de savoir où et pourquoi vous vous lancez. L’articulation de vos objectifs peut simplement contribuer à apporter de nouvelles idées d’articles.

Vous ne savez pas trop comment commencer ? Écrivez simplement la première chose qui vous passe par la tête. Anne Lamott, auteur d’un excellent livre sur le processus d’écriture, affirme qu’il est nécessaire de s’autoriser un « premier jet bordélique ». C’est un enseignement essentiel : commencez par écrire, vous vous occuperez de retoucher votre texte plus tard.

Une fois que vous êtes prêt à publier, attribuez à votre article trois à cinq étiquettes qui décrivent son sujet : littérature, photographie, fiction, parentalité, alimentation, voitures, films, sports, etc. Ces étiquettes aideront les internautes intéressés par ces sujets à vous trouver dans le Lecteur. Veillez à ce que l’une de ces étiquettes soit « zerotohero », afin que les nouveaux blogueurs puissent vous trouver également.

Présentation personnelle (exemple d’article)

Voici un exemple d’article, publié initialement dans le cadre de la Blogging University. Inscrivez-vous à l’un de nos dix programmes et lancez votre blog.

Vous allez publier un article aujourd’hui. Ne vous inquiétez pas pour l’apparence de votre blog. Ne vous inquiétez pas si vous ne lui avez pas encore donné de nom ou si vous vous sentez dépassé. Cliquez simplement sur le bouton « Nouvel article » et dites-nous pourquoi vous êtes ici.

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L’article peut être court ou long, contenir une introduction personnelle sur votre vie, décrire la mission de votre blog, présenter un manifeste pour l’avenir ou énoncer simplement vos sujets de publication.

Pour vous aider à commencer, voici quelques questions :

  • Pourquoi créez-vous un blog public au lieu de tenir un journal personnel ?
  • Quels seront les thèmes que vous aborderez ?
  • Quelle est la cible privilégiée de votre blog ?
  • Si votre blog passe la première année avec succès, qu’espérez-vous avoir accompli ?

Répondre à ces questions ne vous enferme pas définitivement dans une voie. Ce qui est magnifique avec les blogs, c’est qu’ils sont en constante évolution au fur et à mesure de vos apprentissages, de votre développement et des interactions avec autrui. Il est toutefois opportun de savoir où et pourquoi vous vous lancez. L’articulation de vos objectifs peut simplement contribuer à apporter de nouvelles idées d’articles.

Vous ne savez pas trop comment commencer ? Écrivez simplement la première chose qui vous passe par la tête. Anne Lamott, auteur d’un excellent livre sur le processus d’écriture, affirme qu’il est nécessaire de s’autoriser un « premier jet bordélique ». C’est un enseignement essentiel : commencez par écrire, vous vous occuperez de retoucher votre texte plus tard.

Une fois que vous êtes prêt à publier, attribuez à votre article trois à cinq étiquettes qui décrivent son sujet : littérature, photographie, fiction, parentalité, alimentation, voitures, films, sports, etc. Ces étiquettes aideront les internautes intéressés par ces sujets à vous trouver dans le Lecteur. Veillez à ce que l’une de ces étiquettes soit « zerotohero », afin que les nouveaux blogueurs puissent vous trouver également.