‘Biometrics, Phenotypes and Hong Kong Cleanup’
A feature for Feral Horses on artist that centre the increasing rise of biometric surveillance techniques and their application as both a tool for control and dissent,
focusing on new work by Tony Oursler, Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Zach Blas.
Combined, these three artists force us to consider again the insidious nature of technology and power, but also new possibilities of collective dissent. They question how best to face—or not to face—the future of our high-tech societies of control.
“Written in 1975, Foucault’s seminal work Discipline and Punishment was a vivid genealogy of the emergence of newer, more insidious forms of power. His eminent analysis of the Panopticon, its mechanisation and emergent ideology are as relevant today as they were forty years ago. Over the last few years we have been seeing an unprecedented level of surveillance and data-harvesting enacted on civilians at the hands of both private companies and the state—their agendas and operations not always mutually exclusive. The revelations engendered by Edward Snowden’s dissent in 2013 have been followed by story after story of developments in surveillance-based technologies and the scale of their implementation in our daily, routine existence. These interferences haven taken the form of ‘convenient’ personalised marketing adverts and much darker forms of psychological profiling and voter modelling—as was seen with the case of AggregrateIQ and Cambridge Analytics in the recent US election and EU referendum.
However, as many theorists have noted, even Foucault’s notion of a disciplinary society has been rapidly outmoded. As Paul Preciado states, “The body no longer inhabits disciplinary spaces but is inhabited by them. The biomolecular and organic structure of the body is the last hiding place of these biopolitical systems of control.” In particular to surveillance technologies, the face has long been a historical tool for the taxonomisation and oppression of different peoples; from race, to psychiatry, to criminality, the face has been the object from which to identify and shackle certain physical appearances to pre-determined psychological traits, degeneracies and social corruptions. As Deleuze would go as far as to say, “The despot-god has never hidden his face, far from it: he makes himself one, or even several.”
Today, the face has not escaped this oppressive history. The evolution of facial recognition systems in recent years has come at the forefront of anti-terror legislation and rhetoric, the latest in a long line of attacks of civil liberties in the name of security and defence. All across the world it seems, from the Zapatistas to Anonymous, and from black bloc to Pussy Riot, movements are emerging that reject the face as a political tool—as the shrouded Mexican socialists declare, “In order for them to see us, we covered our faces; so that they would call us by name, we gave up our names; we bet the present to have a future; and to live . . . we died.”