A selection of pictures from a quick trip out of Lancaster on a warm summer evening. Taken on Canon 70D.
A quick day trip to the Crook O'Lune in Lancaster during the beautiful summer weather. Taken with Canon 70D, edited in Lightroom.
*UPDATE - OCT 2017* Many of the links in this post are not accessible as the YB website has been unpublished. If you would like to read anything discussed below that is not available, please contact me.
At the end of term two, I reflected on my progress with the YB project and concluded that my scope was far too broad amongst other things. My aim for term three was to focus on the Lancaster community and begin to focus on ways to engage this community with privacy/surveillance discourse. Following my investigation into Lancaster's CCTV systems, I found that there were serious questions that needed to be answered, but also that these questions needed more than simple answers. This shaped my direction for third term. I wanted to convey the complexity of pro-privacy, anti-surveillance arguments in reference to systems that are used by the local community and government; to create an awareness of the importance of careful consideration.
My body of work for this term addresses the pros and cons of CCTV systems and Social Media. A total of four videos (two videos on the The Benefits and Downfalls of CCTV & two videos on The Benefits and Downfalls of Social Media) have been displayed as a series on four screens side-by-side (pictured below). The main aim of this series, as stated, is to show the complexity of privacy arguments in relation to each topic. For example, in the Benefits and Downfalls of CCTV series, the benefits video shows an interview with one of the senior managers at FGH Security - an award-winning security firm based in Lancaster, while the downfalls video examines how CCTV cameras can be abused and the overall maintenance cost vs perceived benefit of these systems. In the benefit video, the interviewee addresses the importance of CCTV cameras in the running of a scheme called 'Pub Watch'. The scheme aims to keep violent criminals and drinkers out of bars and clubs in Lancaster to ensure the safety of pub/club-goers. In the downfalls video, questions are raised as to Lancaster City Council's use of CCTV systems, and the cost of these systems is considered in relation to the benefit they bring to the community. Together, the videos provide a well-rounded account into both sides of the pro-privacy, anti-surveillance debate. They aptly show how important CCTV cameras can be when used correctly, but also how they can be abused by people. What's more, the videos help create an understanding with the viewer about the problem with these systems and allow for a wider conversation with the community. In addition to these videos, printed materials have been provided that are free to take away so viewers can join in the conversation at a later date. These materials are important to the whole series as they tie all ends of the project together - they provide a physical object which should serve as a reminder to viewers. In addition, the printed materials give viewers something to read - they can learn more about the YB project and understand more about the movement as a whole. The exhibition space is intended to be a place where people can come and sit and learn about these issues.
The ultimate aim of this series is to create an awareness and facilitate a conversation with the viewer and local community. Since its inception, YB has been focussed on creating an environment where people can learn about the downfalls of surveillance capabilities and the loss of privacy online. By providing both sides of the argument, this series allows for a careful consideration of the facts before a final decision can be made. While some may not see a problem with much of what has been reported, viewers have a greater understanding of the tools at play and can begin to make changes if they see fit. Tying everything together has been the main focus of this final term, and I believe this series is a fantastic way of exhibiting just how complex privacy arguments can be given certain circumstances.
This term I achieved everything I set out to create. The four videos were put together with the help of FGH Security and the Lancaster University Student's Union. The printed materials were created from scratch (including the painting of Mark Zuckerberg) using photoshop and printed using online service Vistaprint. The YB strategy booklet was edited to include two additional pages and printed using online service InstantPrint.
Watch the four videos below.
*UPDATE - OCT 2017* A number of the links in this post are not accessible as the YB website has been unpublished. If you would like to read anything discussed below that is not available, please contact me.
What did I set out to achieve?
In term two, I wanted to expand on what I had established in term one; I wanted to focus on building the YB brand image and audience and move away from administrative work. I wanted to tie the movement closer to my art practice and explore innovative ways to establish the brand nationwide. I laid out how I planned to do this in the YB strategy document:
Set up as an NPO (Non-Profit Organisation)
The first objective I aimed to achieve in second term was setting up as a NPO (Non-Profit Organisation). By doing this, I hoped to give YB more credibility, whilst also laying the infrastructure for the movement to grow in the future. My research into other Privacy organisations had found that almost all groups seemed to be registered as charities. I believed this was the correct course of action, so built on my feedback from last term and arranged a meeting with the Executive Director of LUSU, Claire Geddes, to discuss pitfalls of setting up as a charity, as well as asking for some pointers that would help me run the organisation successfully. During our conversation, Claire informed me that establishing a charity was difficult given the rules set out by the Charity Commission which restrict political campaigning by a charity. Given what I wanted to accomplish, we came to the conclusion that a private company was likely the best option. What’s more, in conversation with Charlie Dunmore (The Supporters Officer for ORG [Open Rights Group]), I discovered that ORG were set up as a private company as being a charity would restrict the campaigns they could run. These conversations meant I had to rethink my objective, as well as the timeline for achieving results. As a consequence, I have had to push this objective back until the easter break/third term, at which point I will look to take the necessary steps to set up as a private company.
Read the notes from my conversation with Claire below.
Establish an understanding of the issues of giving up privacy and why privacy is important. Outline how people can protect themselves.
The second objective I wanted to deliver in second term was creating a wider understanding of Privacy issues with the general public. This included having active social media accounts, holding events and creating scenarios (or happenings) for the public to interact with. I wanted to focus more on an art-centred approach, using graphics and videos to deliver my messages. This was in part due to my term one feedback - I needed to use art-centred approaches to tie the project into my studio practice, as well as my understanding of social media users (I know from experience that people interact with videos and graphics more than standard posts). These approaches would involve collaboration with various different groups and would be targeted at specific demographics for differing purposes. For example, I wanted to make a satirical music video similar to Ricky Gervais’s ‘Equality Street’ to target University students. This video would involve Lancaster-based talent and was due to be filmed in Alexandra Square on campus. Similarly, I wanted to create a short 30 second breakdance video using a Lancaster University society that would target teenagers aged 15-18. The intention behind the video was to grab the attention of this demographic and get them to want to learn more. On top of this, I wanted to hold at least one event on campus in collaboration with the Politics society. All of these smaller projects were to tie in to an advertising campaign with a catchy slogan that I could push out on social media. This campaign would be used to target a nationwide audience and aimed to increase engagement to at least 30 people through Facebook and Twitter daily posts.
With this art-centred approach in mind, I set about researching how to organise and structure an advertising campaign through reading books by Stuart J. Agres (‘Emotion in Advertising: Theoretical and Practical Explorations’ 1990) and Jerry Jewler & Bonnie Drewniany (‘Creative Strategy in Advertising’ 2001) and taking inspiration from past and current campaigns. I took note of two ORG campaigns currently being run: New Government Jobs and Careless Laws Cost Liberties and mapped out a number of key ideas to be wary of. Following a brainstorming session and discussions with peers, I landed on the phrase ‘#NothingToHide’ as the campaign slogan. The idea behind this title was to show that just because you have nothing to hide, doesn’t mean privacy is not important. It follows on from the argument that people often use against me, maintaining “I don’t do anything wrong, therefore I have nothing to hide.” The campaign was designed to combat this train of thought; to show that privacy is important even if you have nothing to hide, flipping the phrase on its head. The campaign began on the 12th February with a simple graphic on Facebook which was boosted for £10. This initial post reached 1,156 people and was engaged with 31 times. Following the launch, I considered ways to increase engagement through using videos, as well as posting regular updates on Facebook. I also looked at creating another animation similar to the ‘Who Are We’ video released in December. Whilst I was able to put together one animated video ‘The Investigatory Powers Act - Explained’, the other videos never substantialised due to issues with timetables.
Deciding to settle with the slogan ‘Nothing To Hide’ was risky as there was a high chance of misconceiving and confusing the audience. As with the name ‘Your Bubble’, I was unsure whether an audience would be able to understand or engage with a slogan that posits an argument against what the campaign stands for. If someone believes that they have nothing to hide, how does a campaign expressing ‘Nothing to Hide’ change their opinion? If a person only sees the slogan of the campaign, will they understand the ideas behind it? I questioned whether my intentions were clear enough - would people be able to connect with the campaign at all? I had explored emotion in advertising and wanted to hone in on this. With this in mind, I approached a number of friends and course mates and asked whether they believed the slogan to be clear, whether it portrayed the ideas that I intended and whether they connected with it? From conversations with these people, I found that the slogan was clever but only when things were properly explained; many found that an explanation had to be given for the phrase to make sense. Building on this, I created a new page on the YB website that outlined the notions behind the ‘Nothing To Hide’ campaign. I had attempted to reach out to University Professors within the marketing department for their thoughts and tips, but received no reply. I believe if I had had these peoples’ help, I could have developed the campaign and its title further and built a structured action plan. Looking at the campaign and it’s development so far, I believe I need to carry out further market research to see whether the wider public engage with its intentions and title. With this information, I can look to target key demographics and use the title to start conversation. Given what my peers said, it may be worth reconsidering the title of the campaign and trying a new approach. Saying this, however, I feel the title draws people in and makes them want to learn more. I will look to conduct market research in third term.
Creating content for the ‘Nothing to Hide’ campaign was far more onerous than I had originally thought. My plan to collaborate with university students and societies meant I had to work with conflicting timetables and deadlines, many of which prevented the completion of final products. While I had planned to shoot three videos by the end of the term, I was unable to follow through on any of these proposals. I was able to meet with a number of those involved (as the time-lapse below shows), but was unable to create anything of substance. I feel I may have been too ambitious with what I wanted to achieve and may have done better if I had focussed on delivering one successful project or if I had used myself as opposed to looking to other people for help. Using myself could have proved to be a detriment, however, as teamwork and collaboration are key to growing the movement. Indeed, at this stage it is word of mouth that will help build YB, and collaborations are important to the project (my interview and meeting with the staff at ORG showed me that this was the case). In term three, I will look to mobilise the people I initially reached out to and will ensure that these projects are completed and delivered upon. I will also consider scaling back my ambitions so I have material to show when the degree show rolls around. This may include expanding my ideas beyond videos and graphics and considering innovative and intriguing ways to deliver material the campaign. For example, I have discussed a collaboration with Sara Procter which involves hosting a chatroom/website on the dark web. This could provide some interesting insights into people’s awareness and thoughts on privacy issues on the internet - are these people using Tor to escape surveillance because they are breaking the law or because they want privacy? Do they feel safer using Tor? What’s more, I will look to host happenings in Alexandra Square and try to engage University students with projects that raise awareness. With these projects, I will ensure that an end product is deliverable and try not to be too ambitious with the final product.
The video below shows an early brainstorming session with two people I intended to use in the music video. The Soundcloud file shows the song we planned to sing over for the music video.
While I struggled to deliver the videos for the campaign this term, I was able to organise one event in collaboration with the Lancaster University Politics society, Amnesty International society and the Labour Club: ‘The Government is Watching You. Do you care?’ on March 7th. I originally reached out to the President of the Politics Society who agreed to help share the event, as well as book the lecture theatre. I attempted to reach out to all political groups (including the Conservative society and Lib Dem society) to ensure all views were represented but received no reply. I chased up members of the Conservative society in the days prior to the event to try to balance the panel but didn’t find any willing participants. This meant the panel held a pro-privacy bias which may have had a detrimental impact on the debate itself. Overall I think the event was a success, but this bias was evident throughout and is something I will look to improve on in the future at the next event. On the night, we faced a room booking altercation but were able to quickly fix this and change the location within the building. While this could have negatively affected the event, I had help from a variety of people who redirected audience members to the correct lecture theatre so this was not an issue.
Read my full analysis of the debate here: https://www.your-bubble.com/blog/the-government-is-watching-you-do-you-care-debate-analysis
Expand the community nationwide
Using the techniques outlined above, my main aim for term two was to build the YB audience - to increase likes on Facebook to 150 people; to engage high profile targets outlined in the YB strategy document; to grow the website membership and recipients of the monthly newsletter and to have a variety of successful paid advertisements that helped spread the brand name. I struggled getting responses from the high-profile targets that I reached out to. In many cases, I didn’t receive any responses. In one instance, I decided to tweet Eduardo Usturan - Head Privacy Lawyer at Hogan Lovells Lawyer firm in London - having sent him an emails two days before. While Eduardo didn’t respond to my email, he did respond the following morning to my tweet through my website. When I followed up, however, I never received a response despite repeated attempts to reach out. Similarly, I was in prolonged conversations with Liberty Human Rights Group, but was unable to capitalise on this connection due to conflicting timetables. I was successful in contacting ORG, however, and was able to interview the Executive Director Jim Killock and meet with their Supporters Officer Charlie Tunmore for support with YB (Read my analysis on this meeting here). In these conversations, I learned about the true scale of ORG’s work and set the foundations for a partnership with the organisation. As a result, my outlook for YB changed from being a nationwide movement to being a Lancaster-based movement. ORG already have a strong following up and down the country, so it is difficult to compete/lead this organisation. Working in a partnership, however, helps both YB and ORG expand and achieve key aims. I decided that I would have more success targeting a Lancaster audience and then expanding to another city in the future, as opposed to trying to create a nationwide audience. Again, I found that my scope from the previous term was too large and this became clear following the meeting with ORG. My aim now is to grow the movement in Lancaster alone. This includes creating and distributing content relevant to the city, like my report on Lancaster’s outdated CCTV system and targeting advertisements to this area. Since changing my perspective, the Facebook page has grown by 12 likes in the last 28 days, up 500% on the previous 28 days.
I believe that I did not utilise my social media accounts to the extent I should have done this term. While I was able to arrange events and meetings with high-profile targets as intended, I did not grow the audience to the intended 150 members. I feel this is mostly due to the lack of original or intriguing content on the page and is something I need to look to expand on in term three. What’s more, I feel I spent more time, effort and resources trying to reach out to high-profile targets, as opposed to building a home grown audience. Again, I will look to draw on this in term three and really focus in on the Lancaster area, creating engaging and interesting content for people to share and digest easily. This term was an important adjustment period for me to find the balance between administration work and creating content and I feel I got this balance wrong. In term three, I will look to learn from my mistakes and will try to better establish and maintain this balance. There were successes: I was able to send out 2 newsletters, the number of people receiving these newsletters increased by 4 people and the number of engagements on posts went up as the term progressed. I was also able to run some successful paid advertisements which helped boost posts and events. As stated, I will look to establish the foundations I have laid this term in term three and will seek to explore innovative ways to grow the YB audience while continuing to tie the movement within an ‘art’ bracket.
In the slideshow above, you can see some of the attempts I made at contacting High-Profile contacts. Of the people I reached out to, I received replies from Eduardo Ustaran (Head Privacy lawyer at Hogan Lovells); Martha Spurrier (Director of Liberty Human Rights Group); Pam Cowburne (Communications Director at ORG) and Tim Berners-Lee (Founder of the World Wide Web). Of these, only ORG and Liberty followed through with responses. I never heard from Privacy International, Big Brother Watch, TheLadBible and Jaclyn Wilkins amongst others. Below you can hear a follow up phone call with Privacy International - an organisation that never responded to my attempts, despite multiple efforts.
Upon reflection of this term, I believe I struggled to find the correct balance between administration work and creative work. I think I spent too much time reaching out to prospective endorsers and high profile targets as opposed to thinking about the content I would push out to the wider public. As a result, I do not think I have a strong body of work to complement my desires and aims for the term that I set out in January. Whilst I believe I can build on this next semester, I think I need to pay closer attention to artists in this area (like ¡MEDIENGRUPPE BITNIK) and look to find innovative ways to express the ideas that I care deeply about. Towards the later stages of the term, I found that I was getting more ideas as a result of looking at these artists. If I spend more time investigating artists working in this area next term, I think I can deliver on the objectives I set out in the strategy document. Currently, I do not think YB has provided the spark that I initially intended when I first drafted its conception.
Saying this, I was successful both with my meeting with ORG and my event on campus. Both of these experiences helped develop my understanding and thinking towards the movement and have shaped my direction with the project. I have found collaboration to be a key part to the progression of the movement and will seek to expand on this next term. While I did have trouble with timetables and conflicting deadlines, as noted in this blog, I will try to collaborate wherever possible in third term and seek to expand the YB audience in Lancaster.
In comparison with Term one, I feel this term was slightly disappointing. I did not capitalise on the progress I made in the first semester. Saying this, however, my failures have helped develop my thinking and prepared me for third term and the degree show in June. I understand what is too ambitious and have lowered my scope so I can start to look to make meaningful change.
Click here to visit the YB website.
The slideshow below shows the development of the 'YB' logo from a simple red circle to its final complete design. When drafting ideas, I wanted to focus on notions of security, protection and togetherness, as well as making references to technological systems like WiFi and computers. I also wanted the logo to have elements of the 'YB' name embedded within it. These culminated into the final design shown below the slideshow.
The final logo design for 'YB' is shown below.
While creating the animation for the 'Who Are We' page, the cartoonised man glitched and broke the entire sequence. Photos of this can be shown below. The glitch forced me to recreate the man from scratch, re-rigging his limbs and attaching them to his body.
Having focussed on the psychological conflict created by war in my previous assignment, I wanted to continue exploring the internal battle of one’s subconscious. The theme for this assignment - the laundrette - lent itself to a whole host of possibilities under this overarching idea of internal trauma. I looked back to the times I had used the laundrette in the past and the sorts of peculiar thoughts that may have crossed my mind while I was washing my clothes. These ideas were the starting point for this piece.
Understanding that this sound piece was for a radio show, I wanted to focus on creating a clear narrative. This would tie in with radios traditional use as a method of transmitting information. Instead of starting with the dialogue for my piece, however, I began by gathering sounds with a contact mic and recording as many different environments as I could. The building I was most attracted to was the LICA building.
In the past I had found that the building creaked and moved with the wind and had heard this while walking between the front and back entrances. When I collected my sounds, I found this to be exactly the case. I was surprised to find, however, that the building was not only a generator of sounds but also a great cushion for external noises. Put simply, the building absorbed the sounds that came from outdoors and transmitted them up its metal, glass and plastic skeleton. In the sound clip below, you can hear the voices of students passing two floors below. This absorption and transfer of sound is incredibly fascinating as it shows that the building is not simply just a structure in the environment - it is a part of it; it interacts and responds to it.
I had also found from collecting my sounds that there were a lot of noises that went unnoticed within the building. In one instance, I placed the contact mic on a metal railing on the third floor overlooking the lobby. When someone entered into this space, the whole metal pole resonated with the footsteps and ambiance created by the moving person: the squeaks of their shoes, the pounding of their feet on the floor etc. This was interesting not because of the sound that was generated, but because of the way the sound was able to resonate through the entire building up to the microphone on the third floor. Once again, this idea of the connection of the building to its environment was evident: the building does not simply absorb sound in a space, it responds to it by sending noises throughout it’s foundational structure. The noises can be heard from the middle point of the track.
To tie these sounds in with the overarching theme of the laundrette, I turned my attention to radiators and the movement of hot water between different heating systems. I wanted to explore this idea of heat within my 8 minute radio piece and felt these sounds would help create this environment. I placed the contact mic on a metal pipe leading into a large radiator and recorded the noise that was created. The flowing of water was akin to the sound of white noise. The constant, undying whir of the radiator was itself warm and, in my mind, relaxing. In my final piece, this sound of the flowing water is used at various points to give the idea of heat and the movement of liquid within the washing machine. Both the source file and edited clip are shown below to display the changes that were made to make the clip warmer and more full. This included adding an EQ with a high cut at 3550hz and boosting the frequencies between 30hz and 80hz, as well as adding tremolo modulation to create a pulsating effect.
The playlist below shows the full library of sounds I collected with the contact mic. ‘Sound 6 - Lift’ was a particularly exciting sound due to the rattling of the lift in the lift shaft. In my final piece, this clip has been heavily edited, so much so that it does not resemble the original sound. I used Logic Pro’s Pedalboard to create an eery, high pitch drone. This edited effect is used in conjunction with low, bass-heavy sounds to create a gap in the mid-range frequencies, ultimately producing an uneasy and scary space in the piece. This sound is processed with an EQ to lower the high frequencies, remove the bass frequencies and add a little warmth in the mids. Reverb is also added to the clip to create the sense of a large, open space. Both the original sound and the edited clip are shown below.
Having collected these sounds, I began to further consider the sorts of notions I wanted to explore in the final piece. I’d already established the idea of a narrative focussed on the psychological battle between a protagonist and his mind, as well as the feeling of heat and warmth. I also wanted to explore the mechanical system/sounds that make up the washing machine, as well as darkness, wetness and coldness that I felt could be found within. I turned towards creating synthesised basses that would mimic or indicate a turning motor or machine. To do this, I used Native Instrument’s Massive VST plugin. In Massive, I used the LFOs (Low Frequency Oscillators) available to manipulate the oscillators and modulate the synths. This on its own created some incredibly dynamic and enticing sounds. I played with the pitch, varying distortion methods and voices, before adding a third party distortion named ‘Ohmicide’ by Ohm Force. Using this plugin, I distorted the low, low mids, mids and highs individually. The sounds that were created using Massive–which I have called ‘Growls’–were then processed with EQ and reverb to create mechanical, unnerving and bass-heavy synths that fit perfectly into the piece. Each growl gives a unique feeling to the piece and makes connections with machinery, mechanical noise and the turning of motors. These growls were influenced by sounds created using Borderlands on my phone. Using the Massive synthesiser gave me greater control over the parameters of the sound, however, making it a better choice for creating the sounds I wanted. The playlist below displays the 8 growls I made. Screenshots below also show what these sounds look like in the Massive Synthesiser.
Once I had created these machinery sounds, I used clips from the 8 minute washing machine section I was assigned to fill different areas in the piece. For example, the ticking clock sound used multiple times in the final piece is actually the rustling of keys from the original source file. This clip has an EQ and stereo spread added to the high frequency to give the sound a wide stereo image. Futhermore, the banging sounds come from the shutting of a washing machine door and are processed with Reverb and EQ to give a variety of effects.
Dialogue followed once all these elements had been added. The dialogue centres on asking peculiar questions about a normal wash cycle and shows the protagonist’s difficulty in understanding what is real. It is the dialogue that takes the listener on a journey between the protagonist’s conscience, the washing machine and the laundrette. In a number of places, this dialogue is processed with reverb to give a sense of space and emptiness, affirming this sense of confusion. Halfway through the piece, the audience hears clips of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. These portions of dialogue have been processed using a ring shifter and pitch shifter to give a sense of unease and forgetfulness. These clips make reference to the typical use of radio as a source of news and briefly explore a struggle within the protagonist’s mind to find his true self in reality. The dialogue is what drives the piece forwards and is almost like a story for the listener. They are transported to a variety of different spaces before returning back to reality - the laundrette - at the end.
While my work throughout the past two terms has been centred on privacy and the unaccountability of the US and UK governments and their spying abilities, as this third term progressed, I began to consider whether we, as people, could argue for privacy given how much we give up on the internet. I had already addressed this issue in Term 1 with my spy wall. In this piece, I scrutinised a number of my course mate’s social media accounts and retrieved as much information as I could about them. I then connected them to how they knew each other and displayed my findings on a large wall. Despite having explored these notions however, the students that I used were art students, meaning I was connected to them on social media accounts and had access to all their information. The story would have been different for students I was not connected to or didn’t know at all.
At the start of the Jeremy Corbyn Box incident (read about what happened here), a post on a Lancaster University-related Facebook group ‘Overheard at Lancaster’ (not run by or affiliated by the University in anyway) received a lot of attention and backlash. In the comment thread of this post, students expressed their discontent towards the piece, as well as towards the arts in general. Perturbed and angered by this negativity towards my degree, I decided to create a database outlining the information of one of the students that had spoken disrespectfully. I planned to use this account and invite this student in for a “chat” about their work before confronting them about their comments and revealing to them the ease with which I was able to find out so much about them. The piece would have been my way of getting back at the student, but also a way to show him the dangers of being so vocal on the internet. Given the situation, however, I decided to hold back on going through with this idea as I knew the risks of deceiving a student and the ethical problems that would undoubtedly ensue.
In the days following the post when my emotions subsided, I was incredibly relieved that I had not gone through with my plan. Not only would the piece have been irrefutably unethical, it could have caused harm to another student, and further repercussions could have been detrimental. I used this opportunity to explore how it is useless in some respects for anyone to argue for privacy, given how much we willingly give up on social media.
From ruthless investigation, I had found out the student’s nickname, education history and political views, as well as articles that they themselves had written. From these, I was able to identify their varying views on a number of matters and could form my own opinion of them. What is perhaps most surprising is the ease with which I was able to do all of this. 1 hour of following links on Facebook, scrolling through Google, exploring LinkedIn and scrutinising the student’s website provided me with all the valuable information surrounding them. I could learn about every aspect of the student’s life through a quick google search. I could discover that they achieved 1 A*, 5 As and a B at GCSE, 2As and a B at A level and currently study a BSc at Lancaster simply from their LinkedIn profile. I could also find the student’s interests and volunteer status, and whether they are currently employed. All of this information was readily available online for people to read, which ultimately begs the question: how can we argue for privacy if we give up all of our information online anyway?
The question, however, is not so much to do with how much we already give up, but what we don’t give up. A better way to address this idea is to think of the following story proposed by Glenn Greenwald: suppose you proclaimed that you didn’t care for privacy because you didn’t have anything to hide. If that was the case, then you wouldn’t have an issue with providing someone you didn’t know with the passwords to all of your social media accounts and allowing them to access these pages. If I were to write my email address down and ask viewers to do that exact thing, I project that I would receive no emails because there is a degree of privacy that people intuitively expect. People may state that they do not care about their privacy, but expect there to be a lock on their door, or a password on their Facebook. These things act as a protective barrier; a place to escape for soul-searching; a place where someone can truly be themselves. Given this, then, we can argue for privacy. As Greenwald himself stated: “[people] do things to safeguard themselves. They put locks on bedrooms/bathrooms, passwords on social media. They have places where they can go to escape from world”… “We lose the critical part of what it means to be a free and fulfilled person” if we rid ourselves of our right to privacy. If you put a stick of tape over your webcam, you care about privacy; if you have a problem with showing someone your Facebook messages, you care about privacy. The issue is not that privacy is not sought, it’s that people confuse what can be meant by privacy. Having the ability to lock your room is a form of privacy. Being able to do that is your right as a living, existing, complex human being.
When I began my enquiry mid-way through first term, I ushered the phrase “I don’t care about privacy because I have nothing to hide.” Since then, I have changed my tune. Seeing the extent to which the UK government attempts to find things about about me as a part of a larger collective, the measures they go to and the few regulations that exist to control this made me realise that I, as a citizen, deserve to keep things to myself and need to fight for it. There are some things that the government doesn’t need to know. I do not break the law and I do not have anything that I need to hide, but I still deserve my right to privacy. As Snowden rightly postulates: “The government is supposed to know nothing about us and we should know everything about them. It is private citizens vs public officials. Yet, what happens when a culture of unaccountability takes hold of our society?” What, then, for privacy?
It is hard to say whether the commons will pass the new investigatory powers bill. If they do, the worst can be expected. In an attempt to address this, as well as the issue of having little privacy due to my own actions on social media, I have provided my entire Facebook history to be viewed by the examiner. The marker has the opportunity to browse all of my personal data, excluding my messages (which I deemed to be too personal) for as long as they wish. The piece shows the amount I have already released into the public domain and the ways this can be used to learn things about me. In doing this, the examiner must enter the taped off area. This area, inspired by Carey Young's 'Declared Void' (2003), removes the examiners right to privacy. Put simply, buy entering this area and engaging with the piece, the examiner themselves becomes subject to scrutiny. Is the camera that watches them live streaming to a separate device? Or is it taking pictures at set intervals? This will remain unanswered, but the examiner's right to privacy is lost by entering this area.
The photos below show the taped off area in which the viewer's right to privacy is invalidated. A picture of my notes of other artists I have explored is also shown.
Having explored the foundations of my enquiry into privacy through my video installation, I decided to look at the ways in which we as a society would respond to state surveillance and mass data retention in the future. Inspired by Darren Cullen’s ‘Pocket Money Loans’ exhibited at Banksy’s dismaland, I created fake adverts from the 4 largest internet providers in the UK: Virgin Media; TalkTalk; PlusNet and BT. Through reading articles addressing the importance of privacy (e.g. Anon HQ, The Times and The Guardian) and listening to panel discussions focussing on the same issues, namely the University of Arizona’s ‘A Conversation on Privacy’ featuring Noam Chomsky, Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, I decided to focus on the ways in which companies would exploit their customers’ desire for privacy in a fictional dystopian future. In this future, privacy is advertised as an add-on to existing internet subscriptions and is offered in package and bundle deals. This dystopia that the posters reflect is something that is becoming increasingly less fictional and more of a reality, specifically in the UK.
In the UK, the secretary of state Theresa May is attempting to pass a new Investigatory Powers Bill that would essentially rid all British citizens of the right to privacy and security on the internet. Internet providers would be required to maintain user's browser history for 12 months amongst other things. In light of these revelations, it seems privacy will no longer be a basic human right, but an add-on option to our internet services (as stated). In my mind, companies will exploit the public's fear of being watched and will offer "Privacy packages" for an additional fee. In this dystopian world, the poor will be have no right to privacy and the rich will live a lie, existing under the impression that they have more privacy when in actual fact they have as few liberties as the poor they mock. Each poster draws upon consumer and pop culture to create eye-catching and colourful designs. In the Virgin Media poster for example, James Bond (Daniel Craig)–a symbol of power, strength and secrecy–is used to represent a company ethic of privacy; that is to say he is used to present the idea that Virgin, as a company, will not spy on its customers. What is perhaps most interesting about the posters is the way in which they draw upon the public’s fear of being watched. Each assures viewers that they will have their liberties protected, but the small print of each work outlines the opposite. In this fine print, customers are warned that internet companies do not have the power to go against government legislation, and by investing in privacy bundles, consumers are essentially wasting money: they cannot be protected, the law prevents this.
Each poster was created on Photoshop using a variety of techniques. For example, the PlusNet poster is comprised of three different landscapes cut together in one (shown below). The companies patented pink colour and vivid aesthetic is maintained in this piece, along with it’s key salesman who appears in every advert. The poster offers extra privacy for £35, but goes on to note that customers paying extra are not guaranteed any further safety compared to normal customers. Similarly, the TalkTalk poster uses bright and glowing colours to attract the viewers attention. This piece was created using a photo of mine, combined with a number of paint brush layers and light strokes. Similar notions to that of the PlusNet ad can be found in the small print of the TalkTalk poster.
A number of key questions are raised when viewing the posters: why are they contained solely within the studios? Is the intention for them to be seen or for the message that they may portray? Can the works be displayed in a public space? Are they intended to be a prediction or simply a depiction of this dystopia?
The decision to contain the work within the studio lies in its ethics. To take the work beyond the studio, as with the video installation, would have left the pieces up to public scrutiny. Whilst this is important, the very nature of the work would mean viewers could have, and most likely would have, been deceived. The fact that these posters advertise a more secure, private internet, something that is incredibly sort after, it would be extremely unethical and inappropriate to exhibit them in a public space without the prefix that they were pieces of art. If the intention of the piece was to deceive viewers, it would be important to inform various officials of their existence, and to make them aware that no harm is intended through their display. For these reasons, the work is displayed within the studio as viewers are less likely to be defrauded as they are aware it is art. I intend to take my work outside of the studio next year and start to address these issues of ethics further. In order to do this, the scale of my work will increase. I will attempt to make similar posters, but will seek to get them printed for billboard presentation for example. This way, the adverts become a statement against privacy and cause debate within the public sphere whilst also being exhibited in this space.
While it is important for these posters to be viewed, it is more the message behind them that is significant. The notion of additional privacy as a form of service completely negates the right we, as British citizens, have to privacy itself. As the Global Internet Liberty Campaign writes: “Privacy is a fundamental human right recognized in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights and in many other international and regional treaties.” The fact that these posters are offering this fundamental liberty shows the extent to which security services have exploited their powers and how the rise of the internet has resulted in the loss of this basic human right. We, as people; consumers; citizens of a democracy, deserve the right to privacy, and, indeed, thousands if not millions of people attempt to regain control of this right through their own means (encrypted messages, Tor brower etc). Many believe that it is not for the security services to determine otherwise. As Edward Snowden himself stated:
“Privacy is the fountain head of all other rights. Privacy is the right to the self. Privacy is the right to a free mind. Privacy is what allows us to determine what we believe without being subject to someone else’s beliefs.. Saying you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is like saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say. To say you don’t care about a right because you’re not exercising it at this moment in time is the most anti-social thing a person can do.”
The posters show that in a world where these government departments work with zero accountability or legislation, it is the people that lose out. Big companies gain the most through exploiting the people. Privacy becomes a selling point; a money-making tactic. In my view, as I stated earlier on, I predict that this will be the bleak future that we, as a society, will soon encounter. Privacy will be an add-on to a subscription; a way to control people. This dystopian vision that Orwell was so against is no longer merely an idea, it is slowly becoming a reality.
Links can be drawn between my works and the campaign ‘Billionaires for Bush’ by Andrew Boyd. Billionaires for Bush was a “culture jamming political street theatre organisation that satirically purported to support George W. Bush, drawing attention to policies which were perceived to benefit corporations and the super-wealthy.” One of the main aspects of this campaign was it’s use of ironic banners and posters. These visuals were used to mock of the former president and his political policies. My posters, in the same light, use their aesthetic ironically to comment on privacy. Links can also be drawn to Women on Waves’s ‘dieselforwomen.com’ and the ways this group unwillingly used big brands (Diesel) to comment on the garment industry to expose the violation of workers’ rights. Their campaign was a hoax and was attacked by Diesel who threatened legal action. My works, similarly, deceptively use the names of big companies to comment on a political issue.
As I moved into third term, the scope of what I was able to create became incredibly narrow. I had pushed the boundaries of how far I could go in the previous semester and had found the limit of my enquiry; I discovered how far I could go before I would get in trouble. This proved incredibly difficult as I struggled to contemplate how I could further my investigations and scrutinise more thoroughly government notions surrounding privacy without breaking the law. I decided to move away from the limits of the law and explored the origins of this contemporary discussion of privacy.
I began the term by looking at the conversations between Edward Snowden, Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald in 2013. ‘Citizen Four,’ a documentary-film created by Poitras showing the discussions with Snowden in Hong Kong before and during the release of top secret government documents, provided me with some interesting insights into the ways in which Snowden himself made Poitras aware of his findings. The email exchanges between the two gave an indication of the extent to which average citizens were having their right to privacy breached by the NSA. The interchange of communications also showed Snowdon’s anxiety towards releasing these documents and the repercussions of his actions. This is all particularly clear and evident to see simply through reading the exchanges. What was deeply interesting about the emails was the way in which they appeared to represent a dystopian fiction; the solemnity of the situation made it appear fictitious; fabricated and untrue. Yet, there is also something disturbingly real and relatable about the exchanges. We as outsiders to the communications understand Snowden’s desire to set things right; we sympathise with his moral standpoint and negate the consequences that may come from releasing the documents. We comprehend the intentions behind Snowden’s actions and know that he only wants to start conversation and debate, he is not interested in bringing about harm. A connection can be drawn between my art and Snowden in this sense: I intend to start debate amongst my friends about the importance of privacy and the significance of unaccountable, unscrupulous state surveillance. That is not to say that my work stands hand-in-hand with Snowden’s actions, given the gravity of his disclosures, but a connection between my practice and his intentions can undoubtably be made.
In an attempt to capture these emotions and ideas that came from reading Snowden’s initial exchanges, I decided to create a short installation video, narrated by myself, consolidating all the emails sent by Snowden. The video begins with an email from Snowden outlining the seriousness of his disclosures, before moving into logistics of meeting up. The piece was recorded using a RØDE NT-USB microphone and edited using Final Cut Pro X. Multiple text layers were used to keep the visuals in time with the audio. The work is displayed in my studio space on a 32 inch TV. The decision to place the video in this environment is worth noting, as it is not within a greater public space; only art students will see it.
The question of the public space has become a key catalyst for debate in my work. I have considered taking my work beyond the studio and placing it in an environment where works like this are unusual and not expected. While this would bring about interesting debate and reactions, the ethics of doing such a thing must be thoroughly considered. I have found that, by keeping works contained within the studios, I have greater freedom with what I can do as what is created and displayed is automatically defined as art. This means that it will be viewed from the perspective of art. To take it beyond this space would leave it open to greater scrutiny with possibly greater risks and consequences. I have decided that my work for this term, and indeed the work for the previous two terms, has been centred on the studio and the reactions of art students. Next year, I intend to take this work outside of the art bubble and expose it to the university. In doing this, I will have to play close attention to ethics and must ensure that all aspects of the work have been considered.
In regards to this piece, an important question arises given what has been stated: could it be taken into a public space? In my opinion, yes. The work does not bring about harm to any other person. The very nature of what it is representing (email exchanges between Snowden and Poitras) suggest that the work would be suitable in any environment. A short description would be needed to outline the ideas behind the work, but generally it would be understood what is going on. This piece can be linked to the work of sound artist Susan Philipsz who uses sound to define a space. The artist uses recordings, mainly of her own singing voice and projects this recording into a space. She is focussed on how sound can trigger certain emotions. Like Philipsz, this work intends to shape the space that it is in. That is to say that it directs attention away from everything and towards itself. The simplicity of the text that unravels as the piece begins is able to catch the attention of the viewer. For this reason, the piece is particularly powerful in the art environment as it is able to detract from the rest of what is being displayed and centre attention on itself. In any other environment, it may be difficult to do this as the sound may not be loud, the space may be crowded with other visuals or it may not be suited to displaying video. As Philipsz herself stated "when the work is placed in a gritty urban setting, you're prevented from fully entering into a state of reverie." In this sense, the viewer would not be able to fully engage with the work. This provides valid reason for displaying the video in the studio. Another question rises from watching the piece: what is the importance of the soundtrack?
Like my video work in the previous term, this piece is accompanied by an ambient soundtrack. My decision to use a soundtrack in this instance is principally down to creating emotion within the work. The central aim of the piece is to create a sense of tension with the audience. The viewer needs to be aware of the risks that the narrator (in this case, Snowden) finds himself in, and this is highlighted with the soundtrack. That is not to say that the soundtrack is the soul source of emotion within the piece, it simply elevates the suspense of the work. In saying this, however, it appears that I am stating that the work is intended to evoke some sort of emotion from the viewer; that the viewer must feel some way towards the piece. This is incorrect. The audience simply needs to understand the anxiety behind the work; the tension that Snowden has created in sending these emails. There must be an awareness of the thrill, but also of the distress. In doing this, an observer will be able to establish their own emotions towards the piece, if any. In other words, the viewer will be able to judge how they feel towards the piece without the work telling them how they should feel. This is, once again, similar to the work of Philipsz.
A key final question to consider is: what is the work trying to show? Is it trying to say anything?
The work is intended to pinpoint the start of contemporary enquiry into state surveillance and government laws surrounding data retention and privacy. The piece takes us back to where it all started, back to the main source of inspiration behind my two terms worth of work. By doing this, I am able to show where my fundamental ideas for the two terms originated and am able to round off this years work by showing what I have achieved (e.g., I have gone from this starting point, to creating phishing letters, posters, information walls etc commenting on our loss of privacy). This does not mean that my enquiry has finished. On the contrary, it shows how far I have been able to expand off this simple idea and how far I can continue to go. In this sense, the piece is showing that this is only the beginning step, I can expand my ideas further and push more at our loss of privacy and how this can be linked to art and cause debate.
GCHQ have the ability to hack into your computer and gain access to your webcam. Are you wary of being watched? Alarge majority of internet users are.