On route to Furtherfield Gallery nestled in the heart of Finsbury Park I noticed a father absentmindedly pushing his daughter on a swing, with head bowed, eyes glued to his phone, fingers twitching at the keypad. We are all – whether we acknowledge it or not - dependent on a multitude of screens yet we rarely question the mechanisms by which these interfaces control our lives, and perhaps - increasingly they are designed that way.
Lori Emerson, Author of Reading Writing Interfaces talks of the imagination being repressed by “seamless” closed devices which disempower us. In the Western world we would rather form orderly queues at the Apple store and pay out extortionate amounts of money than tinker with the technology we rely on. “It's getting harder and harder to be weird, or even encounter the truly weird which, for me, is "imagination" - existing in or seeing the world askew, envisioning new kinds of existence in the world because everything is indeed mediated tightly and thoroughly for us, making it next to impossible to be anything but a consumer.”
Beyond the Interface is an interactive exhibition which uses art to explore and expose the inner workings of the digital devices that pervade our lives. Contemporary artists are finding new ways to protest - through hacking, disrupting and appropriating technology they highlight issues surrounding privacy, surveillance, online sharing and data collection with beautiful and often unexpected results.
Tacked to the exterior walls of the gallery are Nathaniel Stern’s rippling images of water lilies – Giverny Remediated is a contemporary take on Monet’s Water lilies, eschewing the traditional paint and paintbrush Stern straps a hacked scanner to his body and wades through a pond to capture its contents. The product is a stunning, utopic fusion of body, nature and technology but inside the gallery the more sinister aspects of our digital age are explored.
Branger_Briz’s A Charge for Privacy is a provocative installation exploring the new currency of the digital age: our privacy. It’s a phone charging station - which if you take up its offer will upload and project your phone’s photos onto the gallery wall. I can’t imagine many visitors left their phone charging while they wandered around the rest of the exhibition, yet on a daily basis we happily share our most intimate moments via Facebook, Twitter, Gmail without thinking about how our personal date is instantly archived, indexed, monetised and searchable.
Zach Blas protests against this surveillance culture where facial recognition technology is more prevalent than ever (Think of London’s mass CCTV network, Facebook’s auto-face tagging function, even digital cameras use this function). Recently it was announced that London Met police would receive new powers to record their interactions with the public in an exchange of public privacy for public safety. Yet Blas sees identification technology as synonymous with regulation and restriction. His Facial Weaponization Communique: Face Fag cleverly evades surveillance technology which cannot recognise his deformed blob-like masks as human faces.
This exhibition suggests that there is a hierarchy of privacy, with technology often taking the upper hand. We are subject to targeted advertising, government surveillance and the panoptic eye of corporations whose devices we depend on, yet by engaging with technology in new, exciting and unexpected ways these artists begin to expose and reverse those power structures.
Alongside the exhibition are a number of events open to the public, including a workshop in hacking your own scanner based on Nathaniel Stern’s Rippling images of Finsbury Park.
Beyond the Interface is at the Furthfield Gallery until the 21 June 2015