Invisible

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It shows how completely genre TV has appropriated the concept of DNA identification that one would immediately associate Invisible—artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg's product-provocation designed to protect "against new forms of biological surveillance"—with murder scene clean-up. Invisible comprises two bottles of spray: Erase and Replace. The former deletes 99.5% of DNA residue; the latter is "a solution of customized amplified DNA" designed to "obfuscate the remaining .5%." Together they could certainly be used to "spoof" the site of a crime, but Invisible's stated purpose is firmly focused on the quotidian-dystopic, a new SF sub-genre attempting to describe the daily grind of the immediate future.

The product's launch video incorporates visual strategies from apocalyptic films (scene-setting turbulent news footage) and tropes from sci-fi viral-thrillers (surveillance camera footage, a color palette of washed out blues on black). The marketing copy argues that only "You should be in control of how you share your information." Dewey-Hagborg positions Invisible as a necessary tool in an emergent world where the logic of data-mining extends away from the keyboard, right down to your genome.

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Stealth Infrastructure

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Published in collaboration with VVVNT

Cell tower disguised as fir tree, Bedfordshire, UK. Photo: Dragontree.

"The Critical Engineer considers any technology depended upon to be both a challenge and a threat. The greater the dependence on a technology the greater the need to study and expose its inner workings, regardless of ownership or legal provision. "

            – The Critical Engineering Manifesto, 2011-2014

SIGHTINGS 

My first conscious contact with telecommunications infrastructure came in the form of a telephone call that simultaneously rang for about a hundred people.

It was called a party line and was common in the 80s in rural New Zealand and other areas too sparsely populated to justify a unique telephone cable to each household. Instead, the telco ran just one line out from the nearest exchange as though the whole community were a single address, and then wove it across the hills, through wooden T-poles, stitching farm to farm.

It worked like this: each farm was given a ring pattern similar to a phrase of Morse Code. Our antique phone with its wooden housing and little metal bells would ring with a dozen different patterns a day, but the rule was that you'd only pick up when the call was for you.

Naturally my sisters and I broke that rule once or twice, trying to keep a lid on our giggles as we lifted the wrong pattern. Though the system practically implemented wiretapping, we knew listening in on others was wrong and, apart from the odd prank, our Party Line worked quite well. As far as I knew the whole world was wired that way, that telecommunication anywhere would imply an open infrastructure with a contract of trust at the center. 

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The Chameleonic Impulse

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Camouflage by Andy Warhol (1986)

Camouflage is indeed a form of magic --it encompasses misdirection, illusion, the interrogation of issues of completion or incompletion of the object; but beyond these matters (that form the infrastructural support of magic), camouflage also asks us to participate in the psychology of the hunter and the hunted, to examine the structures of control and influence that pin down the prey, that show the hunted how being fascinated can renegotiate the system of authority from the posture of the unarmed. — Tony Conrad

Conrad has a personal connection to camouflage technology, as his father was involved in the design of the U.S. Navy’s dazzle camouflage technique. His point, to a certain extent, is that camouflage determines a relationship within the world: it creates a form of perception as much as it seeks to abolish the very possibility of perception. If camouflage is designed as a facilitator of invisibility, it also retains a contradictory status as something admirable, recognizable, and even bold. Far from generic or free of association, camouflage is loud, communicates multitudes, and is frequently invoked in discussions of art ranging from Cubism to Warhol. 

Still, camouflage is best known as a military technology of concealment, and it’s an effective one. From what or whom, though, does camouflage conceal? Hide and Seek: Camouflage, Photography, and the Media of Reconnaissance, Hanna Rose Shell’s recent book concerning the history of camouflage, traces the development of this recognizable form of hiding and reveals the expanse of impulses behind its development. As opposed to the social-psychological relationships created by camouflage, Shell focuses on camouflage’s relationship to popular and military technologies of reconnaissance and detection in the 20th century. While countless studies proliferate concerning the ontology of filmic and photographic images, Shell’s follows the specific thread of camouflage in tandem to those developments. Rather than focus only on camouflage as an attempt to blend into a physical environment, Shell emphasizes camouflage’s consciousness of visual technology since its emergence in World War I, when aircrafts were first widely used as reconnaissance tools and eventually refined as bombing machines. Previous wars had utilized human eyes to scout enemy positions, but as soldiers on the ground saw planes with affixed cameras flying overhead, camouflage became a nifty form of concealment within the frame of the photograph.

Embedded in this discussion is photography’s transformation of society’s understanding of temporality. Abbott Thayer, an early and controversial analyst of concealment strategies utilized by birds and other animals, focused his thinking on the crucial moment of hiding. Natural camouflage techniques, Thayer suggested, were not designed to keep animals constantly hidden, but rather allowed environmental blending during moments when an animal needed to be made invisible. Former President Teddy Roosevelt pointed to the flaws in Thayer’s thinking by suggesting that no Zebra stood still by their watering hole waiting to be unseen. While Thayer’s attitude towards the momentous may have been shortsighted for a discussion of the animal kingdom, it was undoubtedly prophetic for the development of military camouflage and it’s relationship to photographic technology, as illustrated by the similarity between Thayer’s crucial moment of concealment and Henri-Cartier Bresson’s influential photographic theory of the decisive moment.

Author Hanna Rose Shell in camouflage (source)

In World War Two, as photography took its rightful place as the ultimate intelligence-gathering tool, film was becoming increasingly popular as a means of training personnel, and the cinematic model of spectatorship itself became a training ground for pure, invisible perceptive practice.

 

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Robopix

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Michael Snow with the machine used for filming La Région Centrale

In 1971, Michael Snow spent five days atop a lonely mountain in North Quebec. He was making a film, or supervising a film that was being made by his robotic companion, depending on how you think about it. The film that robot made is called La Région Centrale: over the course of three hours, the machine runs through all its programmed motions, capturing every possible view of the barren mountain. Certainly, at least some of the images would have been overlooked by a human filmmaker.

Despite its lack of human warmth, Snow's film retains a mystical slant: the film is somehow purer for being supposedly unpolluted by the artist's direct physical control over the camera, and the machine bears witness to a primal landscape with nearly cosmic objectivity. The saintliness of La Région Centrale was possible not only because it played off of the machine's lack of learned perception (the machine couldn't find beauty in a landscape or respectably frame a shot), but also because the machine couldn't process the landscape as information.

Snow's sketch of the machine

Timo Arnall's short film Robot Readable World investigates the exact opposite: how robot-eyes gather information from the cityscapes, mediascapes, and people. On display in the video are the brightly colored squares, rectangles, circles, and lines that recognize cars, faces, doors and everything else that robots see. In our contemporary security-obsessed climate, robots and computer vision are tasked with growing responsibilities to survey urban and rural environments. Instead of following Matt Jones' suggestion that "instead of designing computers and robots that relate to what we can see, we meet them half-way–covering our environment with markers, codes and RFIDs, making a robot-readable world,” these machines read a world without man-made markers permitting robo-legibility....

 

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Reality Drone TV

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Former President George W. Bush standing next to a Predator Drone in 2007. White House photo by Eric Draper.

On a monthly basis, the US military collects over 10,000 hours of footage from Predator Drones that needs to be watched an analyzed. The Warholian challenge of sifting through the amassed footage and waiting for a moment of interest to the intelligence community has overburdened the military's viewing capacity. The load is only expected to increase with an over-extended drone program at the US-Mexico broder and the introduction of enormous new surveillance suites in Afghanistan and beyond.

The military turned to stalwart consultant geniuses the RAND Corporation. RAND's final report, The Future of Air Force Motion Imagery Exploitation: Lessons from the Commercial World [PDF], turned to a group of people most familiar with waiting patiently for a payoff: America's reality television producers. RAND consulted with producers from reality TV hits as diverse as Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami and Rock of Love: Charm School. Wired reports that the operations of a reality TV production and military drone footage analysis are not so different:

The volume of footage exploited in a reality TV control room, the report states, “is comparable in scale” to what an Air Force ground station processes. Operations in both scenarios run 24/7, with operators required to “record and report events in near realtime.” And in both settings, footage can be mundane for hours on end — until unusual or important events occur unexpectedly.

“You can’t have someone staring at the empty Jersey Shore living room for 24 hours a day,” Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who did not contribute to the report, tells Danger Room. “But when something crazy happens at 3 a.m., you want to be ...

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On the Natural History of Surveillance

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Still from The Conversation (1974)

Upon hearing the phrase, we may not know exactly what a “cephalic sniffer” is, nor whether it is a real piece of technology. However, as to what such a nefarious device might be able to do, we could surely begin to imagine from the name alone. And as for whether it is technological reality (it is not, being invented by Philip K. Dick in his story Clans of the Alphane Moon), from its “sci-fi” sounding alliteration we might guess correctly that it is purely fantasy.

At least it was fantasy when PKD invented it in 1964. Today, advances in biometric identification mean that while a device that can search out an individual by his or her brainwaves is not yet on the market (at least publicly), searching out a person by face or speech pattern is decidedly real. Furthermore, brain-computer interface devices (BCI) have been commercially available since at least 1999. So how far are we from the technological reality of a biometric tracking system hacking BCIs and tracking individuals? If we change the name to “brainwave keylogger”, it suddenly is less fantastic, and frighteningly plausible.

Submitted for your consideration: an entire list of surveillance concepts, proposed by science-fiction stories. Note the technologically real items: Augmented Reality, ubiquitous surveillance, drones, eavesdropping rays, and tracking systems. These are all things that we might call “cutting edge tech”, but indeed, certainly real tech. Surprise, shock, uncanniness, paranoia— yes, it is repeated enough to be cliche--the future is here.

But what is truly uncanny about our present “not-so-distant future”, is that we continue to refer to it as the future. There is no need to speculate. We have a fully evolved culture of surveillance technology in the United States. Here is another list: this time of non-fictional surveillance concepts. They range from the slightly-troubling to the fully-horrifying, but they all are now employed by the government of the United States for the purposes of so-called “National Security”:

PalantirNo-Fly ListFull Body Scanners, “If you see something, say something”, Border Searches are Exempt from the 4th AmendmentStop and FriskNYPD spying on Muslims,TSA harassment of children, the elderlyDHS spying on activistsThat DHS existsFBI terrorism entrapmentDomestic Drone SurveillancePrivate PrisonsOver 1% of US Citizens in JailNational Security LettersFISC CourtsImmigration PolicyAbu-Ghraib Prison AbuseGuantanamo Prison CampExtraordinary RenditionTortureCodifying Indefinite DetentionFBI seeking backdoors in electronic communicationsICE raids on websitesIris scans of civil disobedience protestersWarrantless WiretapsRecorded FutureThe Domestic Communications Assistance Center

Nevertheless, the primary means by which we engage with surveillance culture outside of the news media is still speculative art and fiction. Speculation allows us, as both creators and readers, to play design-fiction with reality. It is rapid prototyping in emerging psychological patterns. But these thought experiments do not exist in a vacuum.

 

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Jonas Lund Clones His Browser So You Can Watch Him Surf

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Today at 12pm EST (17:00 CET) Jonas Lund is launching his work Selfsurfing "a Chrome extension that creates a self-surfing, auto-updating clone of my browser in real time," with a 24 hour period of online browsing for you to watch. Lund's "browser has a server extension installed which transmits the current state of [his' browser to a intermediate server, which holds all relevant information." We asked him a few questions about the work in advance of its launch .... 

"Selfsurfing," is a Chrome extension that clones your activity online so we can watch in our browsers. To kick off, you'll surf online for the next 24 hours. Are there certain hours that might be more entertaining than others? Will you sneak to another browser for email, Facebook, and other things you might not want to share?

This is the first time I’m forcing myself to surf for 24 hours straight so I’m a bit unsure of what to expect. My guess is that it will be more interesting towards the end when I’ve gone through all my typical resources and I'm faced with a nice fatigue combined with the open endlessness of the web without any specific direction.

The way the extension works is that it clones the tabs of my browser, so if I surf to my Facebook, you will see your Facebook. So in that sense the social network privacy is maintained, but for the duration of the 24 hours Chrome will be the one and only browser.

What inspired this project?

Ever since I made ‘Im Here And There’ I wanted to extend it to focus more on the whole experience of surfing and not just the locations, to create a version of my web and my browsing that comes closer to the original experience.

Each change to my browser is stored in a simple mysql database, so it’s both a continuous broadcast as well as a growing archive of my online activities.

Have any interesting (or embarrassing) events come out of your previous work imhereandthere.com?

One time I got caught watching Grey’s Anatomy on sidereel.com, I think that was the most embarrassing thing ever.

 

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Highways Connect and Divide

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JODI, GEOGOO, 2008-2011 ongoing, screenshot. (From Foxy Productions)

Highways Connect and Divide,” an exhibition on display at Foxy Productions featuring work by Cory Arcangel, Tauba Auerbach, Bureau of Inverse Technology, I/O/D, JODI, Nam June Paik, Sterling Ruby, and Kerry Tribe, considers how the structure of information influences its transmission, reception, and legitimacy. Using the highway as a metaphor, the show constructs a dialog concerning the geography of transmission and the role of the artist in reimagining the systems that impact our lives.

Nam June Paik & Jud Yalkut, Beatles Electroniques, 1966-7. (Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix, New York.)

Highways, or channels of transmission are playfully interrupted in Nam June Paik's pioneering work Beatles Electroniques (1966-1972), where a TV broadcast of the Beatles’ A Hard Day's Night (1964) is disrupted by a magnet, rendering the familiar images into abstractions that reveal the underlying technological structure of the electronic signal. In a similar vein, though nearly forty years later, JODI's Geo Goo (2008-2011, ongoing) obstructs Google maps with failures and errors, stripping it of functionality and turning the ordered maps into chaos. The result is a disorienting and emphatic challenge to the technology’s authority and power. In both works, the technological architecture is given precedence over the intended distribution of content.

Kerry Tribe, North is West / South is East, 2001 (Photo: Mark Woods)

Maps are also the subject of Kerry Tribe's work North is West / South is East (2001), where the geography of Los Angeles is redrawn from memory by random individuals approached at the LAX Airport. The resulting maps, framed and mounted on the gallery wall, elevate the personal and unique realities over the legitimate cartographic version. Legitimacy and authorization are challenged further by Bureau of Inverse Technology's (BIT) video Bit Plane (1997), where ...

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Paintings for Satellites (2009-2010) - Molly Dilworth

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In the last year my practice has grown out of the studio in the form of large-scale rooftop paintings for Google Earth. This project uses materials from the waste stream (discarded house paint) to mark a physical presence in digital space.

My work is generally concerned with human perception of current conditions; the Paintings for Satellites are specifically concerned with the effects of the digital on our physical bodies.

All my work begins a series of rules derived from existing conditions. For example, the color palette for the rooftop paintings is made from the discarded paint available on a given day; the physical surface of the roof determines the shape of the painting.

As this project proliferates, it will take two forms - a community model, using local volunteers and paint from the waste stream and a design/build model, using solar-reflective paint, solar panels and green roofing contractors.

-- FROM THE ARTIST'S DESCRIPTION

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#hi11 Times

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Today we'll be turning the blog over to the many people involved with #hi11, a New Year's Eve happening produced by Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch. For the event, the organizers took over three floors of a house in Los Angeles, transforming it into an interactive, multimedia environment. (The full list of names of everyone behind #hi11 is available here on the 2240hill site.) The house was equipped with video capture throughout, which allowed live video feeds between the rooms and a broadcast online. One of the rooms was covered over entirely in green screen fabric, so video captured therein could be augmented. Inspired by the organizational design of IKEA, the rooms in the house were assigned a letter and a number, for example, B2, C4, etc. The rooms themselves operated much like sets, and in many cases, IKEA furniture was used, mostly beds and couches for lounging. The house was illuminated by black lights, red lights, projections (some of the dump.fm chat room), and videos from the other rooms, giving the space an overwhelming feeling akin to Trecartin's delirious videos. An impressive amount of work went into #hi11. To name a few of my personal favorite details: the chandelier constructed out of Brita water filters, the herbal sexual enhancement pills freely distributed at the bar, the professional Diva wearing a headset connected to the PA on the dance floor, who would break out into song while walking around the party, the one water cooler (out of 4) in DIS Magazine's "refresh_forum" room which contained solely vodka (quite a surprise!), a small room off the dance floor which was intended as a secret Nine Inch Nails sex chamber, where participants could wear headphones (with flashlights attached to the top) blasting the band on repeat while ...

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