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Mind My Business!

Tech Camouflage: Anti-Face Detection Makeup Workshop. Organized by the Coreana Museum of Art, Seoul. Inspired by Adam Harvey’s Project, CV Dazzle. Photo: Cha Hyun Seok.

By Daniel Whitaker, EARJ MuseOn Curator

I have a question for you: Do you own your face?

Now think about it for just a second. This question might seem right up there with “Do you know how to tie your shoes?”, or some query as obvious as that. But it may be striking to realize that in today’s society the answer may be that no, you may not actually own your face. The fact is that that mass data collection, including very detailed aspects of your face, is done on a regular, daily basis. And this collection of information happens whether or not you are aware of this.

The MuseOn and the “Mind My Business exhibit”, featuring a massive Instagram contract and the principal sub-contracts connected to it.

Personal privacy is an issue that needs to be addressed with students. It is an inalienable right that is losing its essential importance to mindsets that portray it’s demise as the new social norm, as Mark Zuckerberg once put it. But privacy is not just a question of a social norm, but an essential right that fuels democracy, liberty, and creativity. The students of today were born within this realm. This is their norm. But is it good? Is it something we want for them, or for ourselves?

So, how can we talk about this to students young and old? How can we promote the understanding of the importance of privacy? This is the mission of our new exhibit, Mind My Business, which just opened in the EARJ (Escola Americana do Rio de Janeiro) MuseOn, our museum-like critical thinking space located at EARJ. This exhibit is intended to provoke students, staff, and parents to discover, discuss and perhaps come to conclusions about privacy, and what (if anything) we should do to guarantee some degree of privacy – as well as if mass data collection can have some positive aspects for bettering cities, health services, and even less time in traffic jams.

Surveillance Camera – Ai Weiwei, 2010.

Information drives an enormous part of the global economy and politics. It is the new El Dorado… the new gold rush. Those who have better and more credible data can act in advance and seek greater gains or increased results. Old news – yes. But the quest for data has during the past years, exploded truly beyond control. This greed for information has long trespassed the boundaries of personal space. Our information, our personal data, has been read, analyzed, shared, sold, categorized, even stolen… most of the time without us even knowing it. From apps that record our everyday movement and activities in realtime, minute detail, to being identified on the street by facial recognition surveillance hardware and software, the quest to know more and more about basically everything and everyone is growing.

This current MuseOn exhibit is fortunate to showcase artists, designers, and activists whose work is deeply relevant to the theme of privacy. Adam Harvey is an artist, activist and researcher focused on computer vision, privacy, and surveillance. His project, CV Dazzle, intends to enable people to evade facial recognition systems by use of intricately designed and carefully calculated camouflage makeup schemes.

View of the content panels.

Inspired by Harvey’s work, the Coreana Museum of Art in Seoul, Korea, held an enticing event called “Tech Camouflage: Anti-Face Detection Makeup Workshop” in which models used a very creative approach to avoid facial recognition. The results were fantastic, and they provide a great context for our Mind My Business MuseOn exhibit.

Also presented in Mind My Business are the works of Ewa Nowak, a talented Polish designer who developed a facial jewelry project called Incognito which is also meant to fool facial recognition systems.

Hasan Elahi’s work takes a different approach. Born in Pakistan, Mr. Elahi is a Professor and Director of the School of Art George Mason University. After the 9/11 Twin Towers attack, Elahi was constantly being called to the FBI headquarters for questioning, simply because of where he was born. After a prolonged period of this repeated behavior, Elahi decided to make his life completely public by taking pictures of mundane moments and posting them online. All of his life, there – “online“.

We also are showing one of Ai Weiwei’s popular marble surveillance cameras sculptures, as a reminder of how present these machines are. Ai Weiwei is a Chinese contemporary artist and activist, active in sculpture, installation, architecture, curating, photography, film, and social, political and cultural work.

Last, but not least, we have the work of Misha Henner who reveals purposely pixelated regions on Google Earth in his Dutch Landscape series. Why are these places pixelated? Privacy? Security?

Daniel Whitaker, EARJ MuseOn Curator

In Mind My Business, we seek to foster awareness within the school community, regarding these pending issues related to privacy, and hope to promote a series of debates, collaborative activities done with teachers, and the promotion of student inquisitiveness, that will make us all here at EARJ reevaluate our times and our standing towards our own personal data. Students must understand the fundamental importance of personal privacy. They must cherish it, and perhaps – who knows? – take steps to maintain the rights to their own faces.

It is the goal of Mind My Business to foster awareness regarding these pending issues with privacy, from showing the brute creature an Instagram contract really is (to which we all agree to when we inevitably click “Accept”), to understanding the pitfalls of DNA identification. Students must understand the personal privacy they have. They must cherish it, and perhaps take steps to maintain the rights to their own faces.

Escola Americana do Rio de Janeiro (EARJ, the American School of Rio de Janeiro) is a twin-campus international school located in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The school was founded in 1937 as a private, independent, coeducational, non-denominational day school. EARJ offers an educational program from Nursery through Grade 12 for students of all nationalities.

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