Data Ontology: James Bridle on secrecy, surveillance, and the limits of knowledge

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A new exhibition by writer/artist/publisher/technologist James Bridle, "The Glomar Response," is on view through September 5, 2015 at NOME, Berlin. Here, Bridle discusses the exhibition with Fiona Shipwright.

James Bridle, Fraunhofer Lines 001 (Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program) (2015). Photo by Bresadola+Freese/drama-berlin.de

The title of the show is "The Glomar Response"—the official term for the response that one can "neither confirm nor deny" a particular fact. What do you find compelling about this term?

What I find so extraordinary about the Glomar Response is its spread. The fact that this thing—which was developed by the CIA at the height of the Cold War to disguise a top-secret operation to retrieve nuclear misses from the bottom of the ocean—is now a standard part of the vernacular of your local council. But it's also interesting because within that response is this kind of deep ambiguity of these knowledge forms; there's the danger of overloading the visible/invisible idea, the notion that "I've made this all transparent and possible for you to understand," because that assumes that it is even possible to do.

That is the underlying basis for these kind of technological forms of knowledge, this kind of data ontology. It's the same principle that surveillance relies on, the idea that "we'll just keep on gathering information, then we'll know for sure," that some absurd level of truth can be reached. At that point the Glomar Response actually almost feels like a kind of honest response to the genuine complexity of the world, that's now undeniable. Or rather it should be undeniable but we keep trying to generate these simplistic stories out of it.

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