Tactics of Disappearance in a world of pixels

Tactics of Disappearance in a World of Pixels (TDWP) is a collection of three designs, Transparent Surveillance Station, Surveillance Free Area, which where exhibited at DOKK1 Aarhus as part of Internet Week Aarhus Denmark 2017.

The design-theoretical backbone of the project is Speculative Design which aims at questioning societal and cultural perspectives through designing, writing and mocking-up the future. Thereby future possibilities and dangers are explored and through actual designs are able to be experienced by the audience. Read more about Speculative Design on J. Paul Neeley's blog.

The collection is designed in collaboration with Marie Naja Lauritzen and Thomas Pedersen and is part of a bigger exhibition focused on future society in 2027 and post-factual design. The whole project is inspired by the idea of an absolute surveillance state and investigates different ways of retaining privacy in such a world. As part of the project I used the designprocess and exhibition to investigate how adversarial design can support political design and participation through the use of digital technologies.

Number 1: Transparent Surveillance Station
Transparent Surveillance Station (TSS) allows the user to access live-surveillance of different areas inside DOKK1. The prototype consists of a screen and a Arduino and Processing controlled console through which the user can shift to different camera channels - including one, showing the inside of a rest room. While the user believes the videos on the screen are live streamed, in reality we have recorded the videos in advance with permission of DOKK1. Seen from that perspective the prototype functions as a simulation of how surveillance could be accessible to the public living the year of 2027. This design is different to the other two designs, because it isn’t a tactic of disappearance. Instead it functions as a kind of paratext to empathize the visitor with our fictional future world.


Number 2: Surveillance Free Area
Surveillance Free Area (SFA) is a prototype of our conceptual idea of a public surveillance free area. The prototype consists a white canvas, a video projector, a DSLR-camera and a computer running Processing and SparkoCam. The camera is placed behind the canvas and films visitors standing in a marked area. Processing pixelates the video footage and the projector casts the output on the other side of the canvas. Thereby the illusion is created of seeing a surface which pixelates the content behind it.
In our design fiction the SFA draw inspiration from the smoking areas which can be seen on e.g. train stations. In contrast the SFA-boxes are not made to show people where it is allowed to smoke but give them an area where they can stay anonymous. SFA thereby shows the visitor how privacy could look like when surveillance not only permeated the digital but also the physical space.


Number 3: Facemasks
As part of our design fiction we created an underground group called the Pixel-hideout Collective. This group has dedicated their work to find ways to avoid and fool surveillance algorithms. One of this ways is the development of so called Facemasks. Through scanning the user’s face and thereby creating a digital three dimensional copy it gets possible to manipulate different face characteristics such as the nose or region of the mouth and eyes. The manipulated parts get 3D printed and subsequently attached to the user’s face. Now surveillance algorithms still recognize the user’s face as human, but can’t detect the masks as imitations and the user’s original identity.
As part of the exhibition the Facemasks concept was prototyped through showcasing different 3D printed face parts and a TV-screen with a connected Kinect camera. The visitors were able to try on the face parts and see how the Kinect camera still recognized them as human while changing the biometric net of their faces.
Facemasks tries thereby - both as concept and exhibition - to give the visitor a feeling of how digital and physical borders vanish as surveillance and digital technology evolves. In addition it questions our physical identity in a digital world and provides a scenario of how humans adapt to this condition.

FUN FACT: When designing and exhibiting Facemaks the iPhone X was not yet released. After the release of Apple’s new smartphone flagship problems with the phones face-ID scanner emerged which somehow reminds us of the way Facemasks came into being. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhbMLmsCax0