The Public Private explores the ways in which the boundaries between the public and the private have been redrawn in the age of social media and networked platforms of data aggregation. Our daily moves in physical and online spaces are open to various forms of tracking. The messages and images we casually distribute, and the likes and dislikes we share with friends and families, construct profiles that are accessible to corporations and subject to commercial and social datamining. The social media services we use commonly own the information we circulate through them. What was once considered personal and private has become increasingly public in a cultural shift entailing a reformulation of our identity.

The artworks brought together in The Public Private address these issues from psychological, legal, and economic perspectives and use strategies, ranging from cultural hacking to self-surveillance, to make us reflect on the profound changes in our understanding of identity, personal boundaries, and self-representation. Some of the projects—such as Face to Facebook by Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico and The Others by Eva and Franco Mattes—“steal” and recontextualize personal images and profiles, crossing boundaries between personal and corporate spaces and opening them up for controversy and dispute. Ben Grosser’s Facebook Demetricator strips Facebook of one of its most essential features, while Luke Dubois’ Missed Connections analyzes personal ads to determine the odds that people are looking for each other. Both Paolo Cirio’s Street Ghosts and Carlo Zanni’s self-portraits “reposition” Google Street View’s images by transferring them from virtual to physical public space. Works by Jill Magid, James Coupe, and Wafaa Bilal explore systems of surveillance and self-surveillance, subverting narratives of control and exploring the poetic and cinematic possibilities of the watchful camera eye and the status of the image itself.

The works in the exhibition do not pass easy judgements on the “broadcast yourself” era, but rather unveil ambiguities and create ruptures in the complex relationships between the public and private sphere. They do not provide easy answers, but ask questions about the ethics and legalities of image control and the conventions of self-representation. Together they create a space in which watching and being watched becomes an inescapable condition.

— Christiane Paul, curator

3rdi

2010

Wafaa Bilal

Iraqi, born 1966

Installation, video, camera

www.3rdi.me

Courtesy Wafaa Bilal and the Arab Museum of Modern Art.

For the 3rdi project, Wafaa Bilal had a camera surgically inserted into the back of his head and distributed the recorded content via the internet. The artist strives to objectively capture his past in a form of anti-photography, with his hand and eye completely removed from the process of taking images. Metaphorically, the 3rdi serves as a reminder and record of all the places Bilal was forced to leave behind and may never see again. After two surgeries and rejections it was not possible to keep the original 3rdi camera embedded in his head, and he worked with a new company to create a design for a second model for the final quarter of the 3rdi project. The installation in the Kellen gallery includes a large-scale projection of images taken by the 3rdi camera, as well as the second version of the camera itself.

For more information:

Street Ghosts

2012 – present

Paolo Cirio

Italian, born 1979

Street art, posters

www.streetghosts.net

The Street Ghosts are life-size printouts of images of people found on Google’s Street View, posted in the same spots where they were taken. Paolo Cirio has put up these images in cities on different continents, usually without the permission of public authorities. As part of the exhibition The Public Private, they appear on the façade of The New School’s 2 West 13th Street building. By teleporting people from the online to the physical public realm, the artist raises questions about the differences between these two spheres. How do we perceive our presence in these distinct spaces and who has the authority to post our portraits? The blurry quality of the enlarged digital images gives people a spectral quality, turning them, in Cirio’s words, into “a digital shadow haunting the real world.”

Face to Facebook

2011

Paolo Cirio & Alessandro Ludovico

Italian, born 1979, 1969

Mixed media installation

For Face to Facebook, Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico “stole” one million Facebook profiles, filtered them with face-recognition software, and then posted them on a custom-made dating website, sorted by the characteristics of their facial expressions. The project is the third work in The Hacking Monopolism Trilogy, which began with Google Will Eat Itself and Amazon Noir. Cirio’s and Ludovico’s artistic activism explores the contested space of ownership rights to personal data from multiple perspectives. While no Facebook log-in was required to retrieve any of the profiles, the act of analyzing and repurposing them has led to multiple disputes. The Face to Facebook installation includes prints of the stolen faces, a local version of the Lovely Faces dating website, media coverage of the project, as well as exchanges between the lawyers for Facebook and the artists, and reactions by the public.

For more information:

Panoptic Panorama #2: Five People in a Room

2013

James Coupe

British, born 1975

Installation, screens, cameras

In Panoptic Panorama #2 a ring of five cameras located in the gallery space is configured to continuously monitor a 360-degree field of view. The resulting panorama is then displayed on five screens on the wall. Software filters the video captured by the cameras to show only one person on each screen, so that the gallery always appears to be occupied by exactly five people. The footage of each person loops, and if a new person is captured by one of the cameras he/she replaces the one currently shown on the corresponding screen. The software also demographically profiles people according to age and gender and then subtitles them with corresponding status updates from Facebook. For example, a 25-year-old male in the gallery is conjoined with text from a 25-year-old male on Facebook. The status updates function independently for each individual person, yet also work together as a narrative of five chunks of text representing the five demographics shown on the screens. Each time a new person enters the picture, the narrative will be reconfigured without compromising the narrative across the five screens. Panoptic Panorama #2 juxtaposes the oppressive qualities of centralized control—from surveillance to profiling—with the persistent urge to broadcast oneself through status updates, and explores the resulting narrative (im)possibilities.

Missed Connections

2012

Luke Dubois

American, born 1975

Website

www.music.columbia.edu/
~luke/missed/

Luke DuBois’ project searches and analyzes the Craigslist feed of the Missed Connections classifieds, in which people—whose paths crossed without giving them an opportunity to exchange contact information—try to locate and contact each other after. The software, written by the artist, scrapes the Craigslist feed and strives to find a match between people who might actually be looking for one another. It starts by randomly comparing pairs of ads of women looking for men and men looking for women. Words that these paired ads have in common are then checked against a database and given a score. For example, articles and conjunctions such as ‘the’ and ‘for’ receive a very low score; nouns and verbs like ‘train’ and ‘kiss’ a medium one; adjectives and adverbs like ‘blue’ and ‘softly’ get a high score; and proper names such as ‘Kevin’ and ‘Chelsea’ will score highest. On the basis of the score, the software generates a percentage that guesses the odds that two people are actually searching for each other. If the percentage of the match exceeds 85%, the matching ads will open in new browser windows. Missed Connections applies automated speech analysis to personal ads, using software processes to assist in establishing human connections. The matchmaking software playfully personalizes the personal ad by applying software analysis to speech acts. At the same time, it highlights the absurdity of software-driven “personalization” of our (love) interests.

For more information:

Facebook Demetricator

2012

Ben Grosser

American, born 1970

Web browser extension

www.bengrosser.com/
projects/facebook-demetricator

The Facebook interface is filled with numbers. These numbers, or metrics, measure and present our social value and activity, enumerating friends, likes, comments, and more. Facebook Demetricator is a web browser extension that removes these metrics. No longer is the focus on how many friends you have or on how much they like your status, but on who they are and what they said. Friend counts disappear. ‘16 people like this’ becomes ‘people like this.’ Through changes like these, Demetricator invites Facebook’s users to try the system without the numbers, to see how their experience is changed by their absence, and to enable a network society that isn’t so dependent on quantification.

For more information:

Evidence Locker

2004

Jill Magid

American, born 1973

Multimedia Installation, dvds edited from Police cctv footage, novella

www.evidencelocker.net

The Evidence Locker videos, staged and edited by the artist, were filmed by the police in Liverpool using public surveillance cameras in the city center. During a month-long stay in Liverpool in 2004, Jill Magid developed a close relationship with Citywatch (Merseyside Police and Liverpool City Council) who were conducting citywide video surveillance. For the shooting of the two-channel video Control Room, Magid would call the police on duty with details regarding her location and ask them to film her in particular poses and places. In the video Trust, she let the police guide her through the city with her eyes closed. In order to gain access to the footage shown in the videos Magid had to submit 31 Subject Access Request Forms, legal documents necessary to describe to the police how and when an ‘incident’ occurred. The artist completed these forms as ‘love letters’ to the police that reflect on her thoughts and feelings. The letters are collected in her diary One Cycle of Memory in the City of L, an account of her relationship with the police and the city, and are accessible in the installation’s reading room. The Evidence Locker subverts and reconfigures the paradigms of power established by surveillance cameras and systems. Jill Magid literally takes back control over the surveillance camera and counteracts its invasive qualities by becoming the director of her own story and creating a cinematic narrative of seduction, trust, and authority.

For more information:

The Others

2011

Eva and Franco Mattes

Italian, born 1976

Video, sound

The Others is a video slideshow of 10,000 photos that the artists “stole” from random people’s personal computers without their knowledge. Technically, the act of obtaining the images did not involve any hacking but instead took advantage of a software glitch that gives access to peoples’ computers all over the world. The project intentionally ventures into legal and ethical grey zones and tests boundaries of the public and private, as well as the distribution and perception of “personal” images. The photos that make up the slideshow are the types of personal snapshots—from the edgy to the banal—that people take with digital devices and post online on a daily basis. The fact that these images frequently become the property of the corporation behind the respective site, and can be copied by anyone else without permission, is often forgotten. By grabbing personal imagery without consent and displaying it in the physical public space of the gallery rather than the virtual online one, Eva and Franco Mattes make the gallery viewer a voyeuristic accomplice and question how the digital medium redefines notions of privacy, ethics, and ownership.

For more information:

Self Portrait with Dog

2008

Carlo Zanni

Italian, born 1975

Webpage
(Google Street View)

www.selfportraitwithdog.com

In 2008, an image of Carlo Zanni walking his dog appeared on the Google Street View of the street on which he lives. Zanni turned the surreptitiously captured image into a “self portrait” of our time, taken by an always watching camera eye without the subject’s consent and available for everyone to see as part of an online map. In its exploration of time and space, the image brings to mind the futurist artist Giacomo Balla’s painting Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912). In late 2012 Zanni’s self portrait vanished from Google Street View, and all that remains now is an empty street, highlighting the time-based and ungovernable quality of online self-representation.

Self Portrait with Friends

2012

Carlo Zanni

Italian, born 1975

Webpage
(Google Street View)

www.selfportraitwithfriends.com

In 2012, Zanni once again was photographed by Google Street View, this time with a group of friends. The group is standing close to a post office with the word “fannulloni” (slackers) spray painted on its wall, a public comment referring to a postal strike. Zanni adopted I Fannulloni as the title of his self portrait with friends and exhibits it in grayscale, giving the image a neo-realist touch and alluding to Fellini's famous comedy-drama I Vitelloni (1953).

Public Programs

February 27, Wednesday, 6:30 – 8:00

Wafaa Bilal, Jill Magid, Paolo Cirio, Christiane Paul

March 13, Thursday, 6:00 – 7:30

Luke Dubois, Eva & Franco Mattes, Christiane Paul

Credits

Curator

Christiane Paul

Associate Professor in the School of Media Studies, The New School and Adjunct Curator of New Media Arts, Whitney Museum of American Art

Sheila C. Johnson Design Center

Radhika Subramaniam

Director/Chief Curator

Kristina Kaufman

Assistant Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs

Daisy Wong

Assistant Director of the Galleries

Allison Schlegel

Gallery Technician

Exhibition Design

Manuel Miranda

Remeike Forbes

Lighting Design

Derek Porter, IALD, IESNA

Students from MFA Lighting Design, Parsons

Exhibition Crew

Nelson Choi

Will Fu

Lee Gibson

Nathan Rudolph

2013 Spring Gallery Attendants

Kevin Aranibar

Hoi Chak Cheng

Jasmine Dominguez

Charlotte Duggan

Stephaine Ferreira

Matthew Herzfeld

Lindsay Lai

Brandon Lee Gorman

Jonathan Jay Ramirez

Maria Silvestre

Laura Jane Turner

Tasheena Sackes-Bramble