Quantified Faces. On Surveillance Technologies, Identification and Statistics in Three Contemporary Art Projects
Author(s): Zacher Sørensen, Mette-Marie
The article presents three contemporary art projects that, in various ways, thematise questions regarding numerical representation of the human face in relation to the identification of faces, for example through the use of biometric video analysis software, or DNA technology. The Dutch artist Marnix de Nijs’ Physiognomic Scrutinizer is an interactive installation whereby the viewer’s face is scanned and identified with historical figures. The American artist Zach Blas’ project Fag Face Mask consists of three-dimensional portraits that blend biometric facial data from 30 gay men’s faces and critically examine bias in surveillance technologies, as well as scientific investigations, regarding the stereotyping mode of the human gaze. The American artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg creates three-dimensional portraits of persons she has “identified” from their garbage. Her project from 2013 entitled Stranger Visions involves extracting DNA from discarded items she finds in public spaces in New York City, such as cigarette butts and chewing gum. She has the DNA that is extracted from these items analysed for specific genomic sequences associated with physical traits such as hair and eye colour. The three works are analysed with perspectives to historical physiognomy and Francis Galton’s composite portraits from the 1800s. It is argued that, rather than being a statistical compression like the historical composites, contemporary statistical visual portraits (composites) are irreversible and complicated amalgams. The article furthermore examines questions regarding the agency of the technologies used by the artists.
Zacher Sørensen, Mette-Marie: Quantified Faces. On Surveillance Technologies, Identification and Statistics in Three Contemporary Art Projects. In: Digital Culture & Society, Jg. 2 (2016), Nr. 1, S. 169–176. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25969/mediarep/922.
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