Notes from #MIT8: ‘Art that Remembers and Forgets’ – Artistic Interventions

On Saturday, May 4th I attended the ‘Art that Remembers and Forgets’ panel where Raivo Kelomees talked about Privacy Experiments in Public and Artistic Space. Kelomees discussed two projects by Estonian artist Timo Toots: “Hall of Fame” (2009) and “Memopol” (2011). Both projects are a critique on how much information is publicly available from the Estonian chip-enabled identity card and publicly accessible databases such as governmental databases and search engines.

 

“Hall of Fame” (2009)

The Hall of Fame is an installation that calculates a user’s artistic potential based on their publicly available identity information. People can participate by inserting their ID-card which is used as a starting point to gather information about the visitor from governmental databases and Google results:

The installation turns the visitor into a calculated subject where the algorithm for determining the artistic potential is as follows:

ARTIST = LUCK + FAME + DEATH
LUCK is calculated from data the visitor has no disposal of.
FAME is calculated from Google hits.
DEATH is calculated from the person’s average life expectancy.
A dead artist is the best artist. 

Artist Timo Toots wants to bring to attention the data that can be read from the Estonian ID-card and how it can be used to gather even more publicly available data. It aims to make Estonian citizens reflect on Estonia’s quick uptake of all kinds of new techniques and the creation of big relational governmental databases.

“Memopol” (2011)

The installation Memopol is even more tightly connected to governmental databases and people’s digital footprint online and represents a city that remembers everything:

Memopol is a social machine that maps the visitor’s information field. By inserting an identification document such as a national ID-card or passport into the machine, it starts collecting information about the visitor from (inter)national databases and the Internet. The data is then visualized on a large-scale custom display. People using the machine will be remembered by their names and portraits.

The Cyrillic spelling of the installation’s name refers to George Orwell’s concept of Big Brother from his dystopian novel “1984”. Over the past decades, technological means have transformed the surveillance of society. When surfing on the Internet, paying with an ATM card, or using an ID card, people leave their digital traces everywhere. Internet and social networks gather and provide a great deal of personal information, and a person’s profile is no longer constituted by his or her physical being alone, but also by the person’s digital information, over which he or she sometimes has little control. Background checks through Internet search engines and social network sites have become routine when we meet somebody new or apply for a job. Memopol enables us to make a thorough background check of ourselves, mirroring back to us all the data about us that is recored. (Toots)

The Cyrillic spelling also refers to Estonia’s Soviet past and KGB history which makes many citizens nervous about the current quick uptake of an ID-card that is connected to all kinds of governmental databases which themselves are also interconnected.

The two projects are artistic experiments in the public sphere which on the one hand could be seen as tests to see how citizens react when they are being confronted with the systems that are currently in place and on the other hand as a source of research for public behavior, so Kelomees argues.

2 thoughts on “Notes from #MIT8: ‘Art that Remembers and Forgets’ – Artistic Interventions

  1. Estonian ID-card is NOT RFID-enabled. No sensitive information is PUBLICLY available on the ID-card (which stores only the name and cryptographic keys of the individual). In order to access information, the person has go authenticate herself (you need a pin code in addition to the card). Google is a different story, no connection to the ID-card.

    Kindly explore the facts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estonian_ID_card

    Nevertheless, Timo Toots’ work is great despite of the false interpretation based on false facts in this post.

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