Private vs Public: Giving up our Data


Week 7: September 24 – 30

Global communication has challenged and penetrated all previous notions of the divide between public and private space. We’ll take a critical look at mobile media, webcam technology, reality TV, surveillance, self-publishing, and social media, concerning the loss of the private, the commodification of personal demographics, and the changing nature of social relations in the virtual community. How have artists exploited issues of privacy and Big Data to offer a critique of these sometimes dangerous practices, which permeate the lives of everyone who engages in social media and other forms of telecommunications? As our personal lives become increasingly public, exposed, and sometimes exploited, how can we develop a critical stance on these developments and incorporate thoughtful criticism into our artistic investigations.

Guest Speaker: August Black from Cycling ’74.


Due: October 6, 8

Micro-project VII: Net Appropriation

Media artist and software designer August Black from Cycling ’74 will lead us in a workshop/project exploration in net appropriation. See Micro-project VII in Project Assignments for more information.

Project Hyperessay I: Concept

Complete the Concept for the Project Hyperessay by Monday, October 6th, 10:00 AM. Complete all commenting by Wednesday, October 8th, in time for class. See Project Hyperessay in Project Assignments for the full in class / take home information.


Project Hyperessay: Concept

We will review the first installment of the Project Hyperessay: to develop individual concepts toward the final project that will we discuss at our next class to synthesize into a group work. See Project Hyperessay assignment guidelines for full information and due dates.

Works for Study

Jennifer Ringley, Jennicam, (1997)

Why live under the eye of the lens? Why expose our everyday lives on the Internet? Is it a critique of the erosion of privacy, an exercise in voyeurism, a need for recognition? Here is a sequence of images from JenniCam (now only accessible through the Internet Archive Wayback Machine), a pioneering project by Jennifer Ringley in which for seven years, she opened up her life to the Internet via Webcam.

JenniCam_141 JenniCam_138 JenniCam_137 JenniCam_131 JenniCam_130 JenniCam_129 JenniCam_128 JenniCam_271 JenniCam_273 JenniCam_264 JenniCam_339 JenniCam_444 jenniMonOct20_900 jenniMonOct201145Jennifer Ringley was the first artist/designer/performer to situate her life in front of the Webcam. It was 1996 when she formulated the idea, a time when Webcams typically broadcasted traffic, city skylines, or perhaps a fish tank. But never had anyone placed themselves under the microscope, to be viewed as they move about everyday life. Jennycam became a worldwide phenomenon for the seven years she conducted the project. She lived her life in front of the camera: sleeping, eating, dressing, making love, just about all the things that people do in their personal life. Eventually the project drew a huge following, as Ringley setup galleries of camera shots all time stamped. The project evolved with the technology, beginning with still images taken every few seconds, later to real-time video. Ringley’s notion of the project was that she simply wanted to live her life in front of the camera as a site-specific Internet project. It was never clear whether or not her aspirations were as performance, or rather, a self-portrait in time of the most mundane and intimate details of her life.

Eva and Franco Mattes, Life Sharing, (2000)


Life Sharing perfectly emulates the idea of the open source studio, taking the idea to an extreme. Why? Because the computer is the artist’s virtual studio, connected to every other computer in the world, it is opened up to the network. And in the case of Life Sharing, the artists have eradicated all notions of privacy, their computer is 100% public, it is an open door to their virtual lives, nothing is hidden, everything is revealed, except, their true identities, which is hidden or obscured by contradictory information they provide about themselves, including their cryptic domain:


Their online world became open source, for the taking. You the viewer are invited to enter into that space and download anything you like. It is a subversive gesture against ownership and privacy with the aim to reveal the dissolving boundaries between private and public.

In January 2001 we started sharing our personal computer through our website. Everything was visible: texts, photos, music, videos, software, operating system, bank statements and even our private email. People could take anything they wanted, including the system itself, since we were using only free software. It was not a normal website, you were entering the computer in our apartment, seeing everything live. It was a sort of endurance performance that lasted 3 years, 24/7.

Email and other online communication of the artists (though there names are disguised) is open source material for the Life Sharing project:


The viewer resides in the computer of the artist. Everything is fair game. Nothing is private, all is open to the world and available for the taking: email, photos, the most personal of items. To extend the Website, they wore a GPS tracking device that displayed their location. They posted all their logs, so every visit was documented transparently on the site. Previously they remixed the work of others, now they make their work available for everyone to remix. More than file sharing, they called it Life Sharing. This was all before social media existed.

From Matthew Mirapaul’s essay in the NY Times:

Living so publicly online is a form of performance art in the digital age.

According to Steve Dietz, former media curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, who pioneered net art exhibitions in the late 1990s, and who commissioned Life Sharing:

This is open source living in the digital age. It’s making a political statement about ownership and commercialism. It’s not just about viewing. Not only can you see in, but you can use the plans yourself.

They became deeply involved in tracking data flowing in and out of their computer.

Access logs is where you could see how many people were viewing Life Sharing, where they came from, what they were watching, how much time they were spending there etc. etc. We were totally obsessed with traffic logs, waking up in the middle of the night to check “the traffic”

logs_ReqReferSiteHist_2000 logs_ReqDirs_2000 logs_ReqFiletype_2000 logs_ReqCountry_2000 logs_ReqWeekly_2000 logs_ReqDaily_2000

In the case of Life Sharing, the artists have eradicated all notions of privacy, their computer is 100% public, it is an open door to their virtual lives, nothing is hidden, everything is revealed, except, their true identities, which is hidden or obscured by contradictory information they provide about themselves. So they share their lives, their virtual lives, but because it is their virtual selves, it isn’t necessarily who they really are, it is who they pretend to be, or want to be, or want us to think who they are. It is in essence a performance of the digital identity, broadcast on the stage of the desktop.

Hasan Elahi, Tracking Transience 2.0 (2003)

In the post 9/11 climate, on one of his many trips abroad, Hasan Elahi (of Bangladesh descent) was taken aside by airport security as a suspected terrorist. Other than his middle-eastern roots, there was no reason to arrest him. However, the authorities warned him that they would be watching him very closely, regardless of the fact that he was an innocent college professor. Thus began Tracking Transience 2.0, Elahi’s epic work of self-surveillance that continues to this day. Elahi performs 24/7 tracking of his geo-spatial coordinates as an act of self-espionage, giving up his data as a subversive performance that engages and critiques issues of surveillance and privacy. As a professor at the University of Maryland Near Washington, DC, his proximity is broadcast to the world for all to see.


Elahi decided, as an act of confrontation and artistic mediation, to prove to the authorities that he could do a much better job of tracking himself than they ever could. You could call it data camouflage. Elahi began to photograph and time stamp his every meal, every airport, every bathroom, every toilet, every hotel bed and posted the photos online, defiantly, abundantly.

Elahi_06Elahi_04 Elahi_03 Elahi_01 Elahi_02

Now the authorities would know everything and nothing about Hasan Elahi. He would maintain his own profile and dossier that is more evasive than ever. A performance? I suspect so. It is a dance around 21st surveillance and overwrought security. But it is also a critique of the millions, in fact billions of individuals who willingly and gladly give up their data everyday. And who have no idea where it goes and how it is used.

As Hal Niedzvincki claims, we live in a peep society: we peep on each other, we peep on ourselves. Now, with Elahi, you can selectively give up your data as a screen to hide your real life from those who would use it for their own gain, or use it against you. If in fact Duchamp unveiled the toilet as a work of art by sheer force of the artist intent, Elahi has given us the toilet as an object of everyday life that renders himself, the artist, anonymous. Not only is he effacing his artistic self, he has become just another face in the crowd. This is art as camouflage mimicking objects as lifeless, nondescript entities that reveal absolutely nothing about the individual.

Perhaps this is a critique on the saturation of self-documentation, all of us who wield our cameras and cell phones taking photographs of everything and anything. Why? Because we don’t want to forget, the media carries a sense of purpose through memory, an archive of one’s life, preservation of the moment. When I presented Hasan with my documentation of his documentation, he could remember every place where each and every photo had been taken. Each of these images, no matter how empty (and his photos are typically void of people), no matter the sameness, brought back to him a specific moment in time and space. That is the life recorded and remembered through media representation.

So who is tracking whom? According to Hasan Elahi, we are tracking ourselves. Each and every one of us is a self-made spy keeping a close eye on our actions, our moods, our interactions, our everyday lives: the panopticon turned inward. What began as a critique of government intrusion on personal privacy during the George W. Bush years in the US, has become a performance in self-styled personal surveillance. Hasan Elahi is his very own Central Intelligence Agency with one subject: himself.

Guest Speaker: August Black from Cyling ’74

Screenshot 2014-09-23 10.55.05

August will discuss the language, space, and frameworks of the WWW while demonstrating the MaxURL object of Max/MSP.  He will then lead the class through the development of a patch that searches the flickr photo space in order to retrieve images for subsequent artistic appropriation.

Before August joins us, we will have a short tutorial covering the basics of Max. Here is what we will cover in class:

  • Concept and overview of the Max object-oriented software environment
  • Be sure you have downloaded and installed the latest version of Max 6.1.8 from the Cycling ’74 Website.
  • Open Max and create a new “Patcher,” which is an empty canvas for creating a patch that will consist of objects connected by patch cords, similar to the old-fashioned analog synthesizer.
  • Use Command E to lock and unlock the canvas. Unlock it to edit.
  • In the right sidebar, you will see the “Explorer” for choosing objects, grab a “toggle” from the “Basics” area and drag it onto the canvas. Drag the lower right hand corner and size it up. Lock the patch and click on the toggle to turn it on and off.
  • Unlock the patch and drag out a number object, placing it below the toggle. Connect the lower outlet of the toggle to the upper inlet of the number box. Lock the patch and turn the toggle on and off to see its output of “0” and “1”.
  • Now drag a button to the patch, place it above the toggle, scale it up, and connect it to the toggle and click on the button to see the toggle change with each “bang.”
  • Now drag an “object” to the canvas, place it below the number box, and type in “metro,” and connect its left inlet to the number box. Now grab another button and place it below the metro, scale it, and connect it up. Click into the metro object, add a space and type “1000.” Click the bang button at the top of the patch and you now have a metronome that ticks every second (1000 milliseconds).
  • Place another number box above the right inlet of the metro and connect it up. Scroll the number box to change it’s value. Try “500” and your metronome is now ticking twice a second. This is what we refer to as an “argument” or “variable” that changes the operation of the object.
  • Drag a “message” object and place it to the right of the number box that holds the argument value. Connect it also to the right inlet of the metro, and type “2000” into it. You now have a message that holds the argument that also functions as a button. Click on it to change the speed of the metro to once every 2 seconds.
  • Drag a “comment” object to the right of button above the metro, and type “Metronome” into it. You now have a comment or label for your patch. While it is selected or highlighted, click on the “Inspector” tab in the right sidebar. Under “Font,” set the comment to 24 font size and bold. This is how you can change the visual and other parameters of an object.
  • Option click on your comment and this will bring up a Max help file that is a working patch. Max has an excellent help system built into it that you can copy and paste into your own patches.

Here is the resulting patch:

Screenshot 2014-09-23 12.41.22

This will provide you with a very basic understanding of creating a Max patch before you begin working with August. Refer to this week’s Micro-project Assignment: Net Appropriation for detailed instructions.