Outrage Machine: A Public Meditation on the Surveillance State.

In partnership with Viacom and New York Media Lab, I created (with Rebecca Ricks & Zoe Bachman) a public art installation that went live on the Times Square Viacom Billboards on January 27th. The objective given to us by Viacom, was to outrage passerbys in Times Square. Inspired by Cecil the Lion and other daily internet outrages, Viacom prompted all the students at ITP to come up with their best interactive billboard that would provoke outrage. So Becca, Zoe and myself submitted our proposal and were selected from over 40 student groups.

Our project centered on the current surveillance state and the lack of outrage by most Americans. For our initial concept we wanted to create a twitter bot that analyzed the tweets of Times Square users to render their NSA terrorist rating. We would obtain this rating by comparing their tweets against the NSA keywords for identifying terrorists. We decided that did not fit the project, since this project was specific to Times Square we decided we wanted to utilize the space, and design a project that could only be done in that urban space.

In this day in age, we are constantly leaving a data trail that could be picked up and used by anyone. Our image is all over the web, our preferences recorded with the click of a mouse, it is more important than ever to be aware that we do not live in a vacuum anymore. We used to be an anonymous society but that is no longer the case when our identities are defined by our social media presence, and how quickly we respond to emails.

We decided to turn Times Square into a tangible form of the internet, and having an image up on the billboard functioning as your data trail staying behind after you leave. Using a space that is defined by its abundance of media and massive amount of people walking through it, we thought it was the perfect metaphor for the internet. So for our final project we had a live feed with a video of an eye running over it, then cut to the live feed that resembled security footage, zoomed in on someone, grabbed a screenshot of their face, then zoomed out to show it was going into an anonymous person desktop folder to live there forever. We wanted a narrative that flipped the switch and challenged the convention in the public space of Times Square.

We knew that the Revlon KissCam was a very popular advertisement in Times Square because people want to see their face on the big screen. So we integrated that thinking into our piece. We used the live feed to attract passerby then challenged the idea of a ephemeral experience by having that image go into the folder on an generic desktop. Making the viewer question where their image is going, and hopefully explore the idea of where their data is living in the large context of the connected world we live in now.

Overall it was such an amazing experience and truly amazing to realize we were able to outrage some people in Times Square that may not have thought about their image or data living on past that moment.