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Ordinary Obscurity

Jorge Hopkins Wang (Haobin Wang)

£12.00

The project Ordinary Obscurity aims to raise awareness of the data driven surveillance by suggesting approaches of resisting facial recognition using almost ordinary daily objects.

Imagine a scenario where ‘crimes’ are handled before they even happen, behaviours are awarded with social credit scores that determines how restrictive life would be.... ​​Read More

The project Ordinary Obscurity aims to raise awareness of the data driven surveillance by suggesting approaches of resisting facial recognition using almost ordinary daily objects.

Imagine a scenario where ‘crimes’ are handled before they even happen, behaviours are awarded with social credit scores that determines how restrictive life would be. Although it all seems to be made up in some grim dystopian science fiction novels, it might happen in real life thanks to government surveillance driven by data colonialism. This reflection in the zine Ordinary Obscurity will provide insights on how to resist facial recognition algorithms with a critical outlook on data colonialism.

Data colonialism with its resemblance to historical colonialism appropriates data as raw material bearing the purpose of profit. According to Couldry and Mejias (2019), the practice is justified by the belief that data, with its nature of being the building block of information and knowledge, is infallible and objective and thus contains potential of capital. Based on that belief, more aspects of human life are extracted and surveilled in the form of a data double. Data double summarises individuals’ preferences through specific algorithms and further makes predictions based on what it appropriated (Fritsch, 2018). However, the practice of datafication introduces further inequalities. ‘Inequalities of data capital’ quote Couldry and Mejias (2019, p24) that human activities are exploited to fuel machine learning and thus reinforces surveillance. Facial recognition algorithms in particular (Couldry and Mejias 2019), are intended to, quote Facefirst, a facial recognition manufacturer, ‘create a safer and more personalised planet through facial recognition technology’, whereas it has been used more intensively in public surveillance. According to the BBC (2020), it only takes minutes for a facial recognition system in China to locate and take actions towards an individual in a city.

The project Ordinary Obscurity aims to raise awareness of the data driven surveillance by suggesting approaches of resisting facial recognition using almost ordinary daily objects. A simple primary research is conducted with photography storytelling in the first part of the zine. Pictures of street shots in Beijing from my own photography archive were gathered and examined to showcase the staggering number of CCTV cameras. This part is summarised as neo-panopticon. Panopticon, designed by Bentham (1798), is a visualisation of a prison where prisoners are visible by an observer while not knowing when they have been observed. The thought of being visible according to Bentham (1798) would keep the prisoners behave themselves. Panopticon theory was further expanded on by Foucault (1975), where he explains the power relations between the observer and the observed. The term Neo-panopticon in my zine represents a mixture of traditional panopticon and data colonialism where the surveillance practice of panopticon is further enforced and strengthened by the emergence of datafication and especially facial recognition. Therefore, in order to rebel neo-panopticon, gaining back the obscurity of self is rather critical. This leads to the second part of the zine, rebel.

Rebel against, or decolonialise the data enforced panopticon, is mainly conducted with photographic and graphic design practices. Stories of practices of resistances of facial recognitions are gathered from the internet and then categorised based on their approaches. Furthermore, under each category, the interpretation of my own approach based on the stories collected are presented in either a graphic or photographic manner. Three categories are embodied in this section. Relocation indicates a way of dodging surveillance by physically relocating one’s own body to the blackspot of CCTV cameras, while ‘The Stig’, with the correlation of a famous obscure character from Top Gear, illustrates a way of camouflaging one’s face either completely or impartially in order to trick facial recognition systems. The last category is ‘Fluid Identity’, and within this category, practices of face changing techniques from Szechuan Opera and Greek theatre are referenced and redesigned to serve the purpose of anti-surveillance.

Although only visual media is used in the making of the zine, in order to convey a strong rhetoric of unruliness, bizarreness, and inexplicabilities of the approach of resistance, I referred to the aesthetic of the Memphis group. This approach allows me to explore new possibilities of ordinary by overturning it into extraordinary and therefore to persuade audiences to refashion their conventional believes on data and surveillance (Buchanan, 1985). Building on top of that, the zine also constructs practical use of ordinary objects with a post-modernist texture, and therefore although seems absurd in a way, it is quite feasible.

To summaries, the zine offers a critical view towards data colonialism based on a neo-liberalism standpoint. However, in order to strengthen the rhetoric further, involvement of multisensory approach such as science-fiction sound effect of facial recognition can be considered, and a more thorough mapping of CCTV cameras can be conducted.

Published by Self-Published
14.8 × 21 cm
Softcover
68 pages
1st Edition, 25 copies
March 2021
English
In Stock