The Spectre of Surveillance: Terms of Service at UICA

Terms of Service is on view at the UICA through April 17th.  The exhibit “explores identity, individualism and the conditions people face as a result of our increasingly surveilled lives”.

I have never fully read the terms of service contract for my iPhone and I’m guessing that I’m not alone on that front.  Jon Chambers’ iOS Terms and Conditions displays the lengthy and seemingly impenetrable document handwritten in Declaration of Independence-style cursive that only reinforce my suspicion of the nature of the Devil’s Bargain the document probably is.  “Just what have I signed up for?” I wondered to myself.

Part of a group exhibit curated by the  Curatorial Studio, a Visual Studies course in the Department of Art and Design at Grand Valley State University, which was supervised by GVSU faculty member Paul Wittenbracker, founder of the Civic Studio Project. The exhibit “addresses the psychological pressures that commercial and non-commercial monitoring creates, as well as potential solutions and responses”.  Among those potential solutions were instructions on how to delete your Facebook account or what to do with your Google data after you die.

Nick Briz How To:Why I Left FacebookNick Briz: “How To/Why I Left Facebook”

The exhibit absolutely crackles with a kinetic urgency and relevance that places it squarely in and of 2015.  The pieces flow together like a true inventory of where we’ve been and where are we going, and like any good inventory poses as many questions as it offers solutions.

The pieces persuasively ask the viewer to confront some of the uncomfortable questions about the role of social media and technology in our lives.  Artists Lauren McCarthy and Kyle McDonald’s, “US+” is as playful as it is disorienting.   The piece is a Google Chat “App” that is brilliant satire on the facetime world we live in.  The “App” analyzes face and tone and provides ‘insights’ on how to improve conversation through ratings on such characteristics as “Positivity”, “Self Absorption” and “Honesty”.  Trying to follow the conversation and keep an eye on the ratings resulted in a more disjointed and fragmented experience.  As I focused more on the side bars I lost track of the actual content of the conversation.  All that and it’s soundtracked by the always sublime Gymnopédie No.1 by Erik Satie.  You can view the entire video here.

McCarthy’s other contribution “Inactive Account Manager” hilariously and cryptically asks a potential paramour if they’re willing to sign up to be one of her “inactive account managers”, prior to embarking on a relationship.  It is a 21st century Pre-nup agreement, hashtagged with #mybodymybytes.

Lauren McCarthy Inactive Account ManagerLauren McCarthy: “Inactive Account Manager”

The trajectory of a relationship is measured and presented as a data plot metric in Cybil Scott’s “It’s Fine Keep It With The Rest”.  Scott’s piece maps the relationship from the almost off the charts euphoric bliss/madness of early love to the staggered, silences and sadness of the disintegrating relationship.  Wholly effective storytelling in purely black and white, indifferent data.

The spectre of the Surveillance state plays a role in the majority of the works.  Krysztof Lower creepily places the viewer as surveyor in “Three Minutes of Sleep” reminding one that the electronic eyes never really sleep.  In the short film “Scanning”, surveillance is inverted of sorts as a camera records (itself?) while going through an airport x-ray machine.

Annie Teall’s “Feeling of Gaze” (below) presents a fragmented image, like a short circuited connection.  The subject’s eyes are obscured by sunglasses and overlaying text.  It’s an evocative image as if viewing multiple selves in a broken mirror and brings to mind the phrase “the eyes are the window to the soul”.  The image is there, but the viewer doesn’t quite get a sense or feel of who it is we are seeing.

Annie Teall "Feeling of Gaze"Annie Teall: “Feeling of Gaze”

“Terms of Service” captures a moment that asks the viewer to reflect on just how ubiquitous social media has become in everyday life over the course of the last ten years and have we really examined how much of our time and freedom have we given up to be “connected”.

By Steve Davison

UICA Hours

Monday Closed
Tuesday 12:00 – 9:00 pm
Wednesday 12:00 – 9:00 pm
Thursday 12:00 – 9:00 pm
Friday 12:00 – 9:00 pm



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