Art, Surveillance and Privacy Meet in Washington This Fall

Paula BrueningPaula Bruening, senior counsel for global privacy policy at Intel

Art is essential to the human experience.  Since our earliest markings on cave walls, art has reflected what intrigues us at a moment in time, revealed our shared human condition, questioned political leaders, and contemplated societal change.  Leonardo and Michelangelo pondered the fascinations of the Renaissance:  the human form, the mathematics of perspective, exploration of the New World, the essential values of humanism.  Gustave Caillebotte showed us Paris changed by the industrial revolution.  Picasso grieved the brutality of war in the “Guernica.” At its most powerful, art challenges our assumptions and helps us see the world in ways we may not otherwise have considered. 

This fall in Washington, DC, the Washington Project for the Arts provides a forum for contemporary artists examining some of the most provocative issues of the digital age – questions about surveillance, privacy and identity. Open now,  “Cyber Insecurities,” WPA’s 2013 Experimental Media Series, brings together recognized artists who bring an often unexpected perspective to the public dialog about data, identity and surveillance, and who make real the experience of being observed and tracked.  Part interactive media, part installation, part performance, the series examines the monitoring and data analysis that makes the digital world work, and which already we often take for granted.  It probes the consequences of these activities, provoking the viewer to discussion and debate. In addition to the series exhibitions, videos that deal with these subjects are scheduled for screenings at the Phillips Collection and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and at universities and other public fora across the Washington DC metro region.

Washington is a fitting venue for an art event like this.  Over the past decade, experts, advocates, companies and policymakers have convened here to consider the possibilities of monitoring and surveillance and the public policy issues they raise.  These discussions have been attempts to understand the technologies of surveillance and data collection, the benefits they may offer and their potential costs to individuals and society, and the often unanticipated results they bring about.  Participants in this debate have often attempted to apply old models and rules to resolve these questions. “Cyber Insecurities” prompts the viewer to take a fresh look and to recognize that the digital environment raises new questions and lead to consequences that may defy conventional solutions.

But the audience for this exhibit series is not confined to policymakers.   The choices we make to make to reap the benefits of data collection, monitoring and data analysis reflect our ideas about personal identify and autonomy, and what we decide to be as a society.  The work in this series poses important questions:   How are we willing to let our data be used?  If data can predict things about us, do we want to use it in this way?  How accurate are the insights data reveals about us?  How does monitoring and data analysis affect our choices and our view of ourselves?  What does our need to observe and collect data reveal about the controls we must put in place to be sure that accountability is built into monitoring and processing of personal data?  These questions are critical as Intel works to foster trust in the use of new technologies.

“Creativity,” Henri Matisse once said, “takes courage.”  Making art, looking at it, and participating in it demands our close attention – a willingness to stop and contemplate, to reconsider our pre-existing notions and distinguish what we think we see from what is in fact before us.  It demands that we ask probing questions, recognize when first answers don’t work, and then go back and ask again. The work in this program is brave, challenging and provocative, and reminds us that the search for resolution of the issues it contemplates requires similar willingness to take risks and question commonly-held assumptions.  Intel is proud to sponsor “Cyber Insecurities.” We congratulate the artists and the Washington Project for the Arts on this important exhibition series and for providing an imaginative platform for timely discussion of these critical questions.

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