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.
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.
Article Series - MIT8
- MIT8 Talk: Exploring the Boundaries of a Website. Using the Internet Archive to Study Historical Web Ecologies
- Notes from #MIT8: ‘The Internet as Archive’ panel – Censorship by Algorithm
- Notes from #MIT8: ‘Social Media Platforms between Private, Public and Commercial Space’ – Curation by Algorithm
- Notes from #MIT8: ‘Art that Remembers and Forgets’ – Artistic Interventions
- Notes from #MIT8: ‘Labor and Technologies of Surveillance’ – The Aesthetics of Objectivity and Computational Objectivity
- Notes from #MIT8: ‘The Work of Algorithms’ – Knowing Algorithms