Having addressed the scale of data and the loss of identity as a result of data, I wanted to explore the ways in which all this data was useful. One way I found was through surveillance. All this information was helpful for the government in their desire to keep the country safe. People’s internet data, specifically, was something I knew the government wanted, and so started to look into this.
I read and took note of a wide variety of articles surrounding internet data and security and found myself in the midst of a heated debate. The government was looking to bring in new internet laws that would give internet providers the ability to keep hold of everyone’s internet data for 12 months. Whilst they insisted that the data was not readily accessible, I found that a large majority of people were upset by this concept, insisting that it was against their right to privacy. In a speech in the House of Commons, Theresa May, the current Home Secretary, regarded these changes as simply “an itemised phone bill.” Journalists like Joshua Rozenberg, Heather Brooke and Simon Jenkins wrote extensive articles explaining that these new laws made it seem like “Orwell lacked vision” and that they would require “some great national emergency, and the most stern oversight.” It was Theresa May’s comments, however, that inspired this piece.
This piece is exactly what the Home Secretary described: an itemised phone bill. I placed 12 pages outlining my internet history from 22nd November 2014 to the 22nd December 2014 inside an envelope. Whilst the bill does not show exactly what pages I visited, it tells viewers the name of the website, and the number of times I accessed it on that day, something that Theresa May made clear in her speech. Whilst the piece is not intended to oppose the new laws, or even comment on them, it is there to show what these new laws could do. This piece, like my previous pieces, is more concerned with spreading awareness rather than creating/dictating an opinion. I, personally, am not against the new bill as I have nothing that would suggest I need to be surveyed. The piece is simply there to inform people in a satirical way that the government wants to have and keep hold of their internet data.
The internet history that the letter has printed is not the most important aspect of the piece. It is more what can be assumed from the information that is important. For example, on the 18th December, it is shown that I have been on the Lambeth council website, as well as the O2 Brixton Academy website, a range of parking websites and a ticket selling website. From this, one can assume that I am going to an event at the O2 Academy and am planning to drive. Similarly, on the 25th November, I visit a number of music production forums and photography forums. It can be assumed from this information that I spent some time of the day producing music, as well as using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. The power that one could have with this information is difficult to grasp, but is incredibly important. Based simply off a few factors, it is easy to assume what my interests and hobbies are.
This piece differs from the other works in that it is not so much centred on audience participation. Saying this, however, the process of getting the letter out of the envelope and going through it gives it meaning and, ultimately, establishes the notions it attempts to put forward. This piece is similar, however, in the fact that it is politically motivated. Like the questionnaire and the information wall, the itemised internet history bill is inspired and centred on a political idea. What is interesting with this piece is how different people react to it. Some do not care about the ideas of surveillance and privacy, whereas others are terrified just by the concept of losing it. I wanted to explore this further. I wanted to know where people on my course stood with the topic of surveillance.
On the 14th November, a small group of us went to Liverpool on a Gallery trip. While we were there, we visited a number of galleries. The FACT gallery had a number of pieces up on display on the ground floor that were relevant to my work this term. These were by artists Aram Bartholl, Michel De Broin, Tobias Ebsen Darsha Hewitt, Sam Meech, Sebasien Pierre and Bengt Sjölén. The exhibition was centred on exchange, with all artists looking at the communication between cities with electronics and technology.
This piece was inspired partly by Douglas Coupland’s book ‘Microserfs’. The book centres on Microsoft programmers who are searching for meaning in their lives. The novel is presented in the form of diary entries maintained on a Powerbook (Macintosh Powerbook) by the narrator, Daniel. My piece isn't concerned with creating meaning in my life, or in anyone’s life, but is, in contrast, concerned with removing meaning from it. The binary that hangs from the wall has meaning, but only to me.
Between the 25 October and the 25th November, I wrote and maintained a journal on my Macbook Pro. The Journal outlined all the things I did on a day-to-day basis: all the thoughts I was having; all the conversations I remembered; all the opinions I felt were important. I intended for the journal never to be fully translated, but simply to hang from the wall and remain hidden in this code. All my opinions of the people that surrounded me, all my secrets were contained (and still are contained) in this mesh of 0s and 1s. The journal is ultimately exploring how the complexity of our lives–how all the people we meet; all the experience we have, are not digital. The way we relive these moments is now completely digital. Memories are now contained in photos, videos, emails, texts, Facebook messages, tweets, likes etc on our computers, phones and tablets, as opposed to in our minds, or on paper, or on physical things. All our memories have become zeros and ones. Our world has become code. Nothing is physical. There is a sort of irony with this piece. It is a physical thing, depicting a digital thing. A touchable object depicting something completely untouchable.
Once again, like my previous pieces, this piece only becomes meaningful with audience interaction. The binary remains uncoded and useless on the wall until someone attempts to decode it using the table provided. By attempting to read into my life, by decoding these numbers, people create meaning, not only to my life, but to the data. The data becomes useful (to some extent). There is a desire to find out about my life, but that is only evident by how desperate the audience is to discover what I’ve written about.
This act of translation raised a significant question. What is more important about the piece: what is being translated or the act of translating? Is the piece trying to say something through what is actually written, or through trying to decipher what has been written? The answer is neither. The act of translating/what is being translated is not important. The piece is more concerned with how our experiences are now entirely digital, how our lives have no meaning in this world of code. What is being translated is my life. My life has no interest to anyone but myself. Some people may be interested in my feelings and opinions, but will eventually forget what has been written. By translating, they are engaging in trying to find out more about me, providing some meaning to the piece and to my life. But the piece is not looking to address the translation of the binary, it is looking to address this world of code that surrounds us; this world that we are so oblivious to. If this world were to go offline, if we were to lose everything, we would have nothing to show for it. All the things we thought were important would be lost. All our Facebook ‘friends’, our status updates, all our videos and photos would be gone. We would lose our identities. Yet, this piece proposes this very question with all of this information present: can we be human in this age of technology? Do we have an identity? How are we human?
Again, similarities can be drawn with my previous pieces. This journal is similar to the questionnaire in that it addresses peoples’ lives. The experiences of people are turned into data that ultimately gets lost in the world. Yet, in contrast with the questionnaire and the information wall, this piece is not as politically motivated. It is not centred so much on politics, and more on the personal. It is clearly connected to the other two pieces in its depiction of data, however.
My initial idea for this piece involved having the binary code printed on fax paper. This paper would then roll down the wall, showing an endless cycle of code. My printer, however, had problems printing using the fax paper. The attempts were hung up, almost as though they were pieces of a puzzle, showing that they were of no use to anyone, they were useless. The fact that they are crumpled and ripped suggests this idea of meaninglessness. As a result, I had to print the journal binary on 118 pages of A4 and place them on my studio desk. This does not give the same affect, but still gets the central notions across.
While I continued to address information, I found that my previous piece had not depicted the scale of data available about the migrant crisis. 30 pieces of paper showing 30 participants was a small yield compared to the massive sum of data that surrounded the issue. My work this term was looking to address this seeming abundance of data, but the only way I could prove this was through physical evidence. I turned towards the mainstream media, particularly newspapers.
I had found through research that popular newspapers did not archive their releases online, meaning it was incredibly difficult to find articles from previous issues. I came across the website ‘Press Reader’ (http://www.pressreader.com/) which archived and stored some of the most popular newspapers from around the globe on their database. The UK papers that they archived included, but was not limited to: ‘The Wall Street Journal’, ‘The Guardian’, ‘The Daily Telegraph’, ‘The Daily Mail’ and ‘The Daily Express’.
From personal experience I had found that, following the death of Aylan Kurdi (the small child washed up on a Turkish beach in early September), reports on the migrant crisis had skyrocketed. Every hour it seemed as though there were 2 new articles by each newspaper company, each trying to get the latest “scoop” and distribute new, shocking statistics that would cause some sort of reaction from their readers. Indeed, it was not until the events of September 3rd that the topic became a huge social media hit, with a large majority of my friends quickly creating and posting about their opinions to how the crisis could be solved/how terrible the situation was. It was as though everyone had suddenly become an expert in the aftermath of that tragedy. What I wanted to show, however, was not how these comments were meaningless, or how more attention needed to be paid to the crisis, but how the newspapers were continuously printing more about the issue; how there was so much data that it was all essentially meaningless–who was (or is) ever going to read all of this information.
The piece shows every single article written about the migrant crisis from 5 major newspapers (‘The Daily Mail’, ‘The Daily Express’, ‘The Daily Telegraph’, ‘The Wall Street Journal’ and ‘The Guardian’) between the period 1 August to 9 November.
One thing that is immediately clear to see is the bias of some newspapers. The Daily Mail, for example, is famous for its outlandish and spectacular headlines and stories. When put together with articles from broadsheet newspapers like The Guardian, it is clear to see that the Daily Mail authors are trying to swing the readers opinion. Phrases like “swarm”; “new war”; “migrant mayhem” all give the impression of some apocalyptic disaster that is clutching Europe by the throat. In comparison, The Guardian refuses to use such phrases, instead attempting to distribute the facts as they are. Yet, what is interesting to note about this is that people who view the piece are instantly drawn to the big, bold headlines and the sensationalist comments of The Daily Mail as opposed to the blocks of text provided by The Guardian. From watching people experience the piece, I have found that no-one takes the time to read the articles, but simply reads the headlines and looks at the pictures, sometimes commenting on how vast the scale of the piece is. What I reiterate to these people is exactly that. The piece is about the scale of the data; about how there is so much that it is all meaningless, no one will ever read all of or, indeed, any of these articles. By experiencing the piece, the people themselves are confirming my notion that the more information there is on something, the more meaningless it becomes. I feel the piece was successful in exploring the idea. The fact that only 5 news papers were able to completely fill 3 large walls shows that the problem of data overload, of this abundance of information, is a clear issue. My response to the piece soon evolved into the ways in which this abundance of data can be used by people. How is all this information useful? Can it ever be useful?
The piece shares some comparisons with my first idea (posted below). Firstly, both pieces are looking to address the idea of data, the vastness of data and the abundance of information in the 21st Century. Similarly, both pieces confront the change of physical entities–people’s lives, memories and experiences–into data; binary; 0s and 1s. The experiences of these refugees are turned into stories and statistics that are fed back to viewers, and are ultimately meaningless. Furthermore, both pieces involve audience participation. The ideas that surround the pieces are only affirmed through an audiences’ participations with it. The pieces differ in their attempts to depict the scale of data, however. This piece is more successful in depicting the scale as the huge information wall (as I call it) confronts visitors, towering above them and around them, surrounding them. They feel as though they have entered a new, unknown environment.
The piece is comprised of close to 500 pieces of paper, estimated to cost around £45, using 0.4% of a tree, and emitting 1.5kg of CO2 from 93.8 hours of bulb. (Stats as of 10 November)