Terms & Conditions, + All Eyes on You, Dead Weight and Tetris

From Jan-Feb 2017, I was artist-in-residence at The Auxiliary in Stockton. During that time, I focused on building a body of work that looked at our increasing use of digital (communications) technology, how this relates to contemporary surveillance, and the environmental and psychological implications.

As well as the installation Watchtower, I also produced the pieces below to explore my ideas on the subject:

Terms & Conditions
Medium: household paint, collage, gloss varnish and googly eyes on canvas
Dimensions: 50cm x 60cm x 1.5cm

Earlier this year, a study conducted by the Growing Up Digital taskforce found that almost half of 8-11 year olds sign over their rights to social media platforms without understanding the implications of the Terms & Conditions. In the case of Instagram, the T&Cs are a lengthy 5000 words and, when broken down into comprehensible language, are revealed to assert a high level of control over your personal data. Using the continued metaphor of light as a way to explore increasing surveillance powers and the quest for total visibility, Terms & Conditions translates a particularly restrictive excerpt from Instagram’s T&C’s into morse code, a language often communicated with light. This excerpt reads:

“You hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service”.

This means that whatever you upload to Instagram, the platform can essentially sell on to other companies to use, creating a profit for themselves with no share of that profit returning to the person whose image it is.

The lack of transparency within the workings of social media giants and their ability to assert lasting control over our data is the focus of this piece. Hinting at the link between surveillance and censorship, the morse code has been created with toy googly eyes (dots) and redaction-like black swipes (dashes).

All Eyes on You
Medium: glass fishbowl, googly eyes, craft glue

The idiom ‘living in a goldfish bowl’ conjures up images of living in a space in which everyone can see in – you have no privacy because the walls are transparent. But does this apply to contemporary surveillance, the systems in which we willingly participate in, handing over masses of our data for the convenience of using social media platforms? It might seem that the eyes are no longer always on the outside looking in. If we have a new role in partaking in the watching, the eyes have shifted within the bowl and are looking upon themselves. We are our own biggest gatherers of data and information.

This small sculptural object was used to create some of the soundtrack for Watchtower. Read more about this here: https://cell-less.com/blog/

Dead Weight
Medium: discarded mobile phones, a coffin, earth, rope and candles
Dimensions: tbc

How many mobile phones do we go through in a lifetime? It’s a question that wouldn’t have applied two decades ago. Current figures claim that mobile phones are used for an average of a mere 18 months before being thrown away, creating a huge environmental burden in the form of electronic waste. 40 million tonnes of e-waste is produced globally each year, much of which gets dumped in developing countries, and the UNEP estimates that by 2020, the amount of waste produced by discarded mobile phones will multiply by 18 times. The impact of this waste is not just hazardous to the environment but also to public health – mobiles can contain toxic substances including lead, cadmium, nickel and lithium so when they’re placed in a landfill or burned, they can contaminate the soil, air and water, and cause various health issues.

Dead Weight looks at how our discarded tech is infiltrating ecosystems and becoming part of life/death cycles. If we bury this waste without proper consideration of the environmental and health costs, we have to be prepared for what arise from the ashes. The coffin-like structure hangs from several ropes, as if being lowered into the ground, also serving to use gravity to demonstrate this weight.

Medium: Computer keys from a discarded keyboard, household gloss paint, white ink pen, black acrylic paint on canvas
Dimensions: 50cm x 60cm x 1.5cm