A Profile View of the Museum Visitor

To refer to surveillance happening on the internet is, in some ways, sadly old hat. We may not be in control of it, but we know it's happening. It is much more challenging to contextualize the surveillance practices of the network era in relationship to profiling, the common telos of spies. An exhibition on view at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art presents two public art installations that chime-in on the subject of identity, privacy, and protection in surveillance culture. Developed shortly after 9/11, David Rokeby's project, Taken, monitors museum visitors in two ways: 'a continuously accumulating history of movements of visitors that is both a statistical plot of gallery activities and a record of each act of each visitor; and a catalog of visitors' head shots with classifying adjectives randomly attributed to them (i.e. unsuspecting, complicit, hungry).' These relatively traditional techniques are put on display by Rokeby, in order to address 'the increasing use of automated systems for profiling people as part of the war on terrorism and was conceived as an attempt to help ask questions about appropriate uses of technology.' In a more recent project (2006-Present), collaborators Amy Alexander, Wojciech Kosma, Vincent Rabaud, Jesse Gilbert, and Nikhil Rasiwasia connect entertainment media and surveillance with SVEN, the Surveillance Video Entertainment Network. Here they turn the same technology used to 'recognize' the facial attributes of criminals or terrorists on its head by using it to separate average people from rock stars, in the museum-going crowd. The project not only exposes the questionable methodologies behind such profiling processes, but it also parodies the absurdity of self-surveillance in a culture obsessed with 'reality' tv. These activist works require viewer activation. You can visit them through September 9th. - Marisa Olson