Part of Don’t Be Evil


by Simone C. Niquille

The Netherlands 2014
Single channel video installation (6:58 minutes)

Our bodies and body parts are being translated into machine-readable data. Biometric processes are distilling our corporeal identity into a pass/fail binary.

The first person to systematically measure and index human physical characteristics was French police officer Alphonse Bertillon, in 1893. He used this data to develop a system for identifying individuals who were repeatedly being arrested. He invented the mugshot, and created a file and ID card for each one. So, right from the start, the translation of the physical body into archivable numerals and measurable data has been performed under the pretext of protecting the public.

Selecting “safety” as the primary motive for biometric data collection is problematic because if acceptance signals normality, then rejection signals abnormality, secrecy, something to hide. Rejection identifies you as an opponent and a potential threat. The pass/fail binary of the corporeal body vs stored digital data represents an unequal power balance in which the machine containing the stored data is believed to be more reliable, more truthful, than the living, breathing person.

In Philip K. Dick’s novel A Scanner Darkly the protagonist hides his identity by blending in among others, taking on various human appearances and social identities, and ultimately losing himself. The opposite may also be true: celebrity lookalikes, facial copyright and plastic surgery as camouflage, may all contribute to scenarios in which taking on different identities can lead to a single encrypted identity, rather than loss of self. Here Be Faces is less about the technological developments than the cultural shift such developments necessitate. It expresses the urgent need for a more fluid understanding of our visual and corporeal identity, breaking with our obsession to define, analyse and categorise ourselves and others.


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