“Privacy Techtonics” was curated by Candice Jacobs in collaboration with Phillipa Williams & Lipika Kamra, researchers from QMUL who are currently writing the book “Privacy Techtonics: Digital geopolitics, WhatsApp and India” - a critical take on how ‘privacy’ is designed, talked about, regulated and experienced by WhatsApp/Meta, governments and ordinary people.
The exhibition showcases artists & multi-media works that explore the intrinsic & unequal relations between data, tech & people to provoke questions about our digital futures, how sustainable or desirable they are & what the alternative worlds might be that we might want to, or need to create.
Privacy Techtonics took place within OTOKA during its gallery take over of Broadway Gallery with support from Near Now.
An Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation, Near Now is Broadways studio for arts, design and innovation, working nationally with pioneering artists to create bold new work and drive innovation through use of emerging technologies, helping develop and showcase the skills of Nottingham’s growing arts and tech community.
Broadway is based in the heart of Nottingham and is nationally recognised as a cultural lead organisation for independent cinema, arts and technology in the Midlands, offering creative learning, talent pathways and excellent customer experience to inspire creativity and future generations to have a lifelong love of film.
Scene 1: Black Box (2018) sees Indian American artist Tara Kelton interviewing Uber drivers in Bangalore, asking them to describe the company they work for (where they imagine what Uber is, what it looks like, who runs it, etc.) Using their responses as visual cues, Kelton commissioned local photography studios to produce representations from their existing image banks.
The resulting images reflect the gaps between the lived reality of Uber’s employees and their imagined ideas of who Uber is and what it does; to reveal a spatial and racial dissonance between Indian Uber drivers and the portrayal of largely white, western figures and settings that they feel represent Uber. Black Box speaks to the opacity, obfuscation and secrecy that surrounds Big Tech’s collection of data and how data relations between workers and platforms are normalised for corporate profit.
Tara Kelton is based in Bangalore, India. Tara’s work considers the traditional figure of the artist (and craftsperson) in relation to the digital. Working across media she reflects on the diminishing role of the human in contemporary society (replaced by automation, AI and digital mediation) and the remote algorithmic control of labour by western bodies and corporations. Tara has exhibited at the ZKM Karlsruhe, ICA Singapore and the Kochi Muziris Biennale. Tara is co-editor of Silicon Plateau, a publishing series that explores the intersection of technology, culture and society in Bangalore.
For Scene 2: Enter Platform Sweet Talk (2021), Ben Grosser’s analysis of the grammar used in messages on social media to investigate how their structure influences the users’ behaviour. According to Ben: To exist in the digital is to be in “conversation” with notifications.
The artist has devised a unique interface that presents the messages in a depersonalised form, highlighting the statements as empty carriers of our data, which are used against us to maximise our engagement online. Platform Sweet Talk reflects Grosser’s characteristic method to make the normal look strange, and in this case, surface the power of software design and confront our unequal relations with data.
Platform Sweet Talk was commissioned by arebyte Gallery, London, UK.
Ben Grosser creates interactive experiences, machines, and systems that examine the cultural, social and political effects of software. His has exhibited at Eyebeam, New York; Somerset House, London; Barbican Centre, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; SXSW, Austin; Museum Kesselhaus, Berlin; Science Gallery, Dublin; and the Japan Media Arts Festival, Tokyo. He is an associate professor of new media at the University of Illinois and an Assembly Fellow with the Institute for Rebooting Social Media at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.
Prepare for Digital Violence (2021), a global investigation by Turner Prize nominees Forensic Architecture with support from Amnesty International and The Citizen Lab. It examines the cyber-weapons manufacturer NSO Group and its malware Pegasus, a piece of “security” software sold to governments across the world. Pegasus can enable its operators to infiltrate phones, access personal and location data and surreptitiously control a device’s microphone and camera. In this scene we bear witness to some of “The Pegasus Stories”; video testimonials - narrated by renowned whistleblower Edward Snowden - of human rights activists whose privacy has been invaded with Pegasus. A sense of the pervasive application of Pegasus by surveillance states is heightened by an accompanying data sonification, a collaboration with renowned musician and producer Brian Eno.
Forensic Architecture Is an interdisciplinary research agency, based at Goldsmiths, University of London. Working in the intersection of architecture, law, journalism, human rights and the environment, they investigate conflicts and crimes around the world, and are dedicated to solving crimes against civilians, in part by analysing architecture and landscapes based on the idea, and the awareness, that not only people but all matter has a memory, and that all memory is bound up with spatial perception. Forensic Architecture were nominated for the Turner Prize in 2018 and took part in Documenta 14. They recently participated in the 12Berlin Biennial and are currently exhibiting at HKW in Berlin & Tensta Konsthall in Stockholm.
1014 (2015) gives us a tour of Room 1014 in the Mira hotel, Hong Kong that was occupied by the whistleblower turned privacy activist Edward Snowden immediately following his departure from the US in 2013, and from where the Guardian first revealed his identity to the world. The artist created the film work 2 years after the event, intrigued by the transformation of this story into a revered Hollywood film. Pattison’s film returns to the hotel location like one might make a pilgrimage to a movie location.
1014 is lightly annotated with diagrams and text elements borrowed from the NSA and GCHQ documents that were leaked by Snowden. The artist’s source videos are now hosted on a domain that was once controlled by Snowden when he was a teenager.
Yuri Pattison explores how new technologies such as the digital economy and online communication have shifted and impacted the systemic frameworks of the built environment, daily life, and our perceptions of time, space and nature. Selected recent exhibitions include Radical Landscapes, Tate Liverpool; Post Capital, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen (2022); The engine, Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin (solo); One Escape at a Time, 11th Seoul Mediacity Biennale, Seoul; No Linear Fucking Time, BAK, Utrecht; Proof of Stake – Technological claims, Kunstverin in Hamburg, Hamburg; The Ocean, Bergen Kunsthall, Bergen, Norway; and TECHNO, MUSEION, Bolzano, Italy (2021).
The global dominance of the Meta owned messaging app WhatsApp, and the recent ideological and policy shift by big tech towards digital private spaces raises important questions about the balance between public and private interests in a digital age. Privacy Techtonics examines how as an idea and a practice, digital privacy is infused with power relations, from intimate spaces of everyday life to the board rooms of big tech and the policies of state governments. Drawing on extensive research in India, WhatsApp’s largest market, Privacy Techtonics shifts attention away from western experiences of digital technology and privacy, and decolonises privacy studies by centring the ‘digital peripheries’ and ordinary digital technologies. In this crucial context it asks who has a right to digital privacy, how is privacy constructed and regulated by different actors and stakeholders, and what are ordinary ‘citizens’’ expectations and experiences of digital privacy? It examines how and why digital privacy is designed through end-to-end encryption, the legal and regulatory landscapes produced through relationships between big tech and government, and the digital lives of ordinary people. The book concludes that whilst WhatsApp is intended to enhance democratic life, in its largest global market, it is also implicated in undermining everyday democracy.
For more about the book and wider project see https://whatsapppolitics.com/