Nils Skarsten

"Nothing to Hide, Nothing to Fear"

Section MS3, Ariel Caine

Keywords: surveillance, moving image, architecture

In 21st century society, a widely accepted and yet dangerous surveillance rhetoric has emerged, that: ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.’ This has facilitated and advanced the act of compiling, politicising and monetising data captured and disguised as surveillance. The project problematises this rhetoric, acting as a forensic exposé of deeply entrenched and politicised surveillance technologies and brings to the fore the role of protest in increasing accountability to which these surveillant institutions are held.

The project investigates multiple scales, the site, the body, the face and the pixel. Reading surveillance across these scales enables a deeper understanding of its practice as extremely pervasive and deeply entrenched — acting across all bodies, both physical and digital, close and distant. This multi-scalar methodology is vital in understanding surveillance technology as a networked system.

In order to interrogate this condition, the project analyses a site of intense surveillance activity, Kings Cross in London. Kings Cross has been the subject of much controversy regarding its unsolicited use of facial recognition technology in the public realm. Through public recognition and backlash of these surveillance technologies, however, the practise is currently under review. By analysing and reconstructing spatial surveillance in Kings Cross, the project is able to occupy the embodied modes of vision surveillance institutions employ. Through this site specific analysis, broader characteristics of surveillance technologies become apparent, and crucially, strategies of resistance emerge.

The project employs the means of countershading to obfuscate identities, obscure the individuals likeness and render their face difficult to reconstruct. The methods offered by the project all involve painting the face as camouflage: creating a moment of asymmetry in the face, obscuring the bridge of the nose and creating unusual moments of contrast in the face. Through presenting these methods, the project offers the opportunity for collectivised, low-tech resistance to highly technological systems. Through such collective resistance, the practice of facial recognition can be eradicated, as by introducing widespread inaccuracy, its implementation is rendered obsolete.

The act of compiling and the act of surveilling are deeply entwined. The project engages with the nature of compiling in its methodologies of documentation, both in mapping of networked surveillance in the physical realm and in the act of photographing, abstracting and reconstructing the human face through analysing facial recognition technologies in the digital. These methodologies also engage in a critique of the act of compiling of data, captured under the guise of surveillance. In its offering of multiple strategies of collective resistance, the project questions the role of the individual and the population in resisting subjectivity; it offers a dual conception on the act of compilation as both the praxis of surveillance, and equally a means of resisting it.