group D: mirrors


Both articles focus on the looming idea of governmental and consumerist surveillance, along with the imaginary surrounding that surveillance. A large emphasis is placed on the tactic of mirroring certain aspects of militarized technologies in order to subvert their original use particularly within the context of artmaking.

Rita Raley gives one example of an installation piece called SWIPE, in which gallery-consumers were made to swipe drivers license cards at a bar to have a drink, in order to receive data culled from each barcode search.The paradox of creating a mirror world for me is that the participants lives become very actively and concentratedly involved in the forces which they are attempting to dismantle or critique. On top of this, the art piece ritualistically forces the active participants to go through the motions of cyber-capitalism(gaining recognition through the swiping of the card — the pleasure of seeing what your data looks like) (and capitalism more generally; this critique being within the space of the gallery, reinstating that this space of money making is where “we” must contemplate). The author claims a clarity coming from this reenactment, a space opened up for an “a ha” moment “oh really the government is watching me this extensively??” But I have trouble with this because of the physicality of the ritual and the action. There is no space to retrain the body to physically think in a different logic from the one which has been instituted on our bodies over and over. In the ritual of swiping the card, showing ID, you must identify yourself in a language coded for the government to understand, a language built on particularly flattened out identifiers meant to sort us out and control us.  While reading about this piece I also could not stop thinking about the humorously extensive amount of time that the artists must spend in replicating dataveillance in order to subvert it; what happens to you when you emotionally invest that much energy in something that you find so despicable?

Some of the “Trojan Horses” mentioned in Morrison’s article, such as Transborder Immigrant Tool by Ricardo Dominguez, are perhaps more productive in that they actually take steps to hopefully actively and physically make more liveable some people’s lives who have been deemed irrelevant by larger systems of power. This tool repurposes gps to help Mexican immigrants more safely cross the border, giving the coordinates of water and medical help.

Daniel Howe and Helen Nissenbaum claim that in their work they are attempting “To level the playing field, we have sought to create a mechanism that places some degree of control back in the hands of the users and, at every point in the design where this has been feasible, we have sought to do so”(130). I was confused by the concept of leveling the playing field, when the field itself is a big problem.  Their project makes using these applications a little bit less precarious to use for those worries about dataveillance (arguably more “user friendly”) rather than doing much of anything to disrupt the mode of production and the endless hegemonic flow of violence which makes these technologies possible. After all, who mines the materials for on which these technologies are displayed?  A similar point is touched on in Morrison’s article, as “these digital gifts to civilian life and leisure are, quite literally, the fruits and spoils of war”(12). Not only were they developed by the military to surveil and demonize, but most gadgets (user-friendly or unfriendly), are the product of slave labor. This can be said about most products in our country which cater to the numbing comfort of “our”(although of course there are drastic divisions of comfortability within Our We) Lifestyles, but I am not sure if that justifies only focusing on such a small component of the evils which go into and produce these goods.  Is it possible to separate the means of production from which these goods have been made from the potentiality of “goodness” in their use?   


P.S. sorry if I sound snippy, I actually enjoyed both articles, they just raised a lot of questions… everything I have written is in flux!

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