Art & the Plight of Personal Privacy

by Rochelle Mucha, PhD, Founder & Chair, Roswell Arts Fund

Artists have entered a new realm...they have taken on the onerous task of exposing the many ways our personal worlds are no longer personal, no longer private. Artists have wed technology with their art forms to visually provoke and shock us with this not so secret revelation.

Welcome to the intersection of art and technology!

Last month, a Berlin based nonprofit group, Tactical Technology Collective, transformed a gallery in lower Manhattan into a dazzling exhibition of artworks intended to educate people on how little we know, or sometimes seem to care, about privacy and data security.

  • One demonstration was of “Churchix,” a widely-used program of facial recognition used by churches to record and log the identities of people entering their premises.
  • Artist Aram Barthold displayed his book which lists the five million passwords stolen from LinkedIn during 2012.
  • Eight outside antennas enabled by Wi-Fi captured and beamed the images of people who just happened to be wandering by the gallery on a giant indoor screen, a real time reminder of how easy it is for people to be unknowingly tracked.

This year, Art Basel in Miami posted works like the "Social Security Cameras," by Fidia Falaschetti. Images of security cameras framed by the colorful logos of Google, Twitter, Snapshot and Instagram dramatically share how our need for validation usurps our desire for privacy and protection of personal information. It’s hard not to notice how, after browsing online, the last place you visited pops up on the next site you click on.

From Yahoo to Wiki Leaks, the news cycle continues to report how information that was supposedly private or even locked down is leaked, and how that information can be misused and abused. Sometimes the outcomes are tragic for individuals. Sometimes the victim is a country.

Artists now seem to be exploring how the power structures that govern the internet, primarily corporations and government, are shaping our sense of self and autonomy. Consistent with the work of artists and art since mankind, art strives to capture our history and illuminate an ever-changing social and political landscape to make us more self aware and smarter.

"Art has the ability to be a mirror, reflecting back to us the world as it is, even if we're not ready to see it.” 

 

Art is often activism.

Read more about art and the plight of personal privacy in Jenna Wortham's column, On Technology, in the New York Times Magazine.

How do you feel about technology and the compromise of privacy? Do these works of art reflect any of your thoughts? We'd like to hear from you.