Prosthetic Knowledge Picks: Privacy Exposed To Radiant Light


"...what is art? Privacy exposed to radiant light."

— Mu Xin, Chinese Landscape Painter

Undef, User 632 (2013). Animated GIF documentation of real-time visualization of data collected from passersby.

A collection of items from the Prosthetic Knowledge Tumblr archive and around the Web around the theme of privacy and surveillance. The projects listed below are tied to these themes in different ways: some take positions or raise questions on the new technological environments, some offer solutions for a world in which "just like the animals, we need to start adapting new ways to conceal ourselves from the autocratic predators" [source], while others collect and re-purpose ambient data in creative ways.


Adam Harvey for Rhizome's Community Fundraiser


In the final week of Rhizome's Community Fundraising Campaign, we profile seven artists hand-picked by Rhizome to generously contribute artworks, ensuring you receive compelling thank you gifts at every donation level. Give now to receive one of these works.

Concerned with the ever growing level of surveillance today, the work of Brooklyn-based artist Adam Harvey aims to provide a fashionable and functional means to combat it.

The Off Pocket is one in a series of projects where Harvey has thwarted the methods by which we are tracked in contemporary society  whether it be phone signal, or cameras, Harvey's work uncovers the surreptitious new enablers of surveillance societies. In an Artist Profile for Rhizome, Harvey explains:

"Smartphones infiltrate our senses. They cause anxiety, phantom vibrations, and keep us on alert. We expend energy maintaining an always-on connection. Smartphones should come with a switch to turn this off, but they don’t. Turning my iPhone off and back on takes 45 seconds. Using flight mode is also clumsy. I wanted a way to quickly and politely disconnect myself without relying on the phone’s software or hardware features. The Off Pocket circumvents this design flaw."

Harvey has donated twenty of his Off Pockets (Off Pouch version) which prevent data leakage from your smart phone. Placing your phone inside of the Off Pocket will improve personal privacy for smart phone users concerned about phone hacking, tracking, or simply a break from the connected life. 

Contributions of $300 will receive an Off Pocket as well as the limited edition tote bag by ReCode Project, the 56 + 10 Broken Kindle Screens (Kindle Edition) eBook, and one full year of Rhizome membership.


Artist Profile: Adam Harvey


From the set of "How to Hide from Machines"/CV Dazzle photoshoot

It's interesting that your career has gone from taking pictures to thwarting cameras, with projects like CV Dazzle and Camoflash. When did you become interested in camouflage and face-detection spoofing?

I became interested in spoofing and camouflage when cameras metamorphosed from art making tools into enablers of surveillance societies. This happened gradually over the last decade starting with the Patriot Act in 2001. To me, this document marked the beginning of the end of photography as I knew it from art history books. Now, 175 years after the daguerreotype was invented, cameras integrated with facial-recognition systems comprise the fastest growing sector of the biometrics industry.

But the use of photography in biometrics is almost as old as photography itself. In the late 1800s Sir Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin and pioneer of biometrics, used composite imaging in an attempt to predict criminal behavior and illness. For example, if a subject has similar facial features to that of a criminal he or she was more likely to commit a crime.

I see spoofing and camouflage as intelligent responses to the uses/misuses of photography: surveillance cameras, biometric systems, and paparazzi photography.  Though these uses have always been part of photography at large, it’s impossible to ignore their presence now.

Sometimes this negative omnipresence supersedes the camera’s role as an art-making tool. As a photographer, I think spoofing and camouflaging tactics can help offset this effect and make photography more interesting, more communicative, and that this can lead to better pictures. Camoflash and CV Dazzle are projects centered on making photography more interesting.

One of my favorite quotes, by René Magritte, is that “everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.” When everyone is photographing and revealing the world, it becomes interesting to try and cover it back up, to reveal anonymity.

Thinking of "How to Hide from Machines," included in the exhibition FaceTime at On Stellar Rays last winter, in which DIS magazine assisted with your tactical makeup and hairstyling ideas; there's something very stylish about CV Dazzle in addition to its function. What was your inspiration? Do you consider these looks "design fiction" or something we might one day see out on the street?

I think it depends on the cost associated with being exposed in public. If there is an increased threat to privacy or instances of abuse in the biometrics industry, then I think it is very likely that spoofing in public could become more acceptable.

The looks I collaborated on with DIS magazine could easily be classified under design fiction, but so could a lot of runway fashion. One of the goals of this project is to make camouflage communicative. The looks we designed were meant to make the wearer feel protected but not invisible.

It was interesting to see how the models reacted to wearing it. One of my favorite images from the shoot with DIS is when one of the models started texting and smoking while wearing CV Dazzle. This made it seem as if it had already become practical...