FACE CAGES (2013 – 2015)
The success of today’s booming biometrics industry resides in its promise to rapidly measure an objective, truthful, and core identity from the surface of a human body, often for a mixture of commercial, state, and military interests. Yet, feminist communications scholar Shoshana Amielle Magnet has described this neoliberal enterprise as producing “a cage of information,” a form of policing, surveillance, and structural violence that is ableist, classist, homophobic, racist, sexist, and transphobic.
Biometric machines often fail to recognize non-normative, minoritarian persons, which makes such people vulnerable to discrimination, violence, and criminalization: Asian women’s hands fail to be legible to fingerprint devices; eyes with cataracts hinder iris scans; dark skin continues to be undetectable; and non-normative formations of age, gender, and race frequently fail successful detection. These examples illustrate that the abstract, surface calculations biometrics performs on the body are gross, harmful reductions.
A visual motif in biometric facial recognition is the minimal, colorful diagrams that visualize over the face for authentication, verification, and tracking purposes. These diagrams are a kind of abstraction gone bad, a visualization of the reduction of the human to a standardized, normalized, ideological diagram. When these diagrams are extracted from the humans they cover over, they appear as harsh and sharp incongruous structures; they are, in fact, digital portraits of dehumanization.
Face Cages is a dramatization of the abstract violence of the biometric diagram. Diagrams are fabricated as three-dimensional metal objects, evoking a material resonance with handcuffs, prison bars, and torture devices used during slavery in the US and the Medieval period. The virtual biometric diagram, a supposedly perfect measuring and accounting of the face, once materialized as a physical object, transforms into a cage that does not easily fit the human head, that is extremely painful to wear. These cages exaggerate and perform the irreconcilability of the standardized, neoliberal biometric diagram with the materiality of the human face itself–and the violence that occurs when the two are forced to coincide.
CAPTURE ALL, transmediale, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany
Theory of Colour, curated by Helena Chávez, Alejandra Labastida, and Cuauhtémoc Medina, Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC), Mexico City, Mexico
Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics Encuentro, Montréal, Canada
Dakar Biennale,curated by Massamba Mbaye
Annual Showcase, Eyebeam, New York, NY
Selected Press and Criticism
Lynn Berger, “Kunstenaar Zach Blas laat zien dat surveillance meer op het spel zet dan alleen onze privacy,” de Correspondent, 2014
Müge Büyüktalaş, “Karşıt-cinsel post-internet ve tekno-gerilla,” Art Unlimited 28, 2014
Kyle Chayka, “Fight surveillance by making it visible,” Al Jazeera America, 2014
Elizabeth Joh, “From Anti-drone Burqas to Face Cages: What Artists Are Showing Us about Surveillance and the Law,” The Life of the Law, 2014
Robinson Meyer, “This Is What a Facial-Detection Algorithm Looks Like in 3D,” The Atlantic, 2014
Rebecca Hiscott, “‘Fag Face’ Mask Protests Sex Discrimination in Facial-Scanning Tech,” Mashable, 2014
Performance Collaborators: Micha Cárdenas, Elle Mehrmand, and Paul Mpagi Sepuya
3D Modeling: Scott Kepford
Photography and Videography: Christopher O’Leary
Support: Eyebeam, Techné Institute for Arts and Emerging Technologies @ University at Buffalo
EventsMay 27 - 30 Sociology of the Trace and the Américas, LASA International Congress, San Juan, Puerto Rico May 14 - 15 The Politics and Practices of Secrecy, King's College London May 9 - 10 Hacking Feminism, Center for Transformative Media, The New School, New York, NY May 2 - 4 Queer Mixed Realities, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago April 9 - 12 Biocode: Performing Transgression After New Media, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA March 25 - 29 Opting-In/Opting-Out: Embodiment, Visibility and Opacity in Media Publics + Speculative Bodies: Trans and Queer of Color Digital Media Praxis, SCMS Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada March 20 Media Art & Text Guest Lecture Series, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA March 6 Workshop on US Locations: Privacy and Recognition, University of Chicago March 5 Black Box Formula, Royal College of Art, London, United Kingdom February 21 Institute of Modern Art Brisbane, Australia February 2 Virus, Monroe Center for Social Inquiry, Pitzer College, Claremont, CA January 30 Contra-Internet Aesthetics: A Workshop, Universität der Künste Berlin January 28 - February 1 CAPTURE ALL, transmediale festival, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany January 8 - 11 Queer OS: Queerness as Operating System, MLA Annual Convention, Vancouver, Canada December 15 Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, Poland December 11 Critical Tactics Lab, Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, NYU, New York, NY November 29 - 21 MyCreativity Sweatshop: Reality Check on the Creative Industries, Institute of Networks Cultures, Amsterdam, Netherlands November 19 Some Birds Are More Like Fish, Worksession GenderBlending, Beursschouwburg, Brussels, Belgium November 6 - 9 Queer OS: Queerness as Operating System, American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, CA October 31 - November 22 Your Consent is Implied, New Shelter Plan, Copenhagen, Denmark October 28 - December 14 The Moving Museum Exhibition, Şişhane Otopark, Istanbul, Turkey October 18 Meme You and Everyone We Follow, Pratt Upload, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY October 10 Performance as Resistance, conversation with Heather Cassils, videofag, Toronto, Canada October 4 - November 15 Reality Check, ULTRA, Udine, Italy September 27 - February 7 Theory of Colour, MUAC, Mexico City