American citizens have legitimate concerns regarding the spectrum of metadata gathering processes directed at all individuals by our government. These actions by the NSA, FBI, CIA, and undoubtedly others, distort the transparent realities of a democracy but have elicited only opaque, redacted responses to Freedom of Information Requests from watchful individuals and organizations. This raises very contentious questions regarding American citizen's constitutional protections and rights to privacy. Needless to say it bears an unmistakable similarity to Orwell’s dystopian premise in his 1948 novel 1984, while the futuristic concepts presented in the Wachowski's film The Matrix seem distant but ominously plausible given the current environment.
While US government agencies indiscriminately track conversations and pervasively collect data ostensibly to thwart terrorism, corporations are busy assembling huge data banks that track identity, consumer preferences and predictable actions. A duplicitous, nefarious situation has arisen now that corporations and the government collaborate, tracking and revealing personal information and identity for questionable national security purposes and corporate profit. Strangely the warning by the former Five-Star General and President (1953-1961), Dwight Eisenhower, re-re-emerges: “beware of the military-industrial-congressional complex”. The Suspicious Privacy installation illustrates how the surreptitious, indiscriminate gathering of metadata diminishes moral and ethical precepts, while dissolving the structure and integrity of individual identities.
Sol Hill’s installation is minimal and spare, consisting of compelling components masterfully connected to produce a disquieting effect. Large format digital photographs confront the viewer with keywords listed in current government manuals outlining the protocols and procedures for analyzing huge volumes of “suspicious” electronic metadata gathered by surveillance. Large scale, elegant light boxes reveal ominous blacked-out, redacted photocopies of government documents retrieved from FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests for information on surveillance. Live video cameras simultaneously generate real-time images viewable in the space as well as on the website of all who enter and make their way through the installation. The data captured in the installation is temporarily collected and fed into a real-time Suspicious Privacy installation website. In an edgy contemporary reflection of NSA operations those images can be reviewed on the installation website, purchased and downloaded by anyone, anywhere.
As one leaves the installation the paradox of the simplistic gathering and misappropriation of individual identities by NSA procedures is eerily complete. Any pleasant memories of strolling through art exhibitions are turned inside-out by the awareness of metadata being collected by our government and the commodification of identities by corporations. Artist Sol Hill's installation probes topical information and raises tough questions, while increasing transparency and generating greater awareness of our government's current shadowy and pervasive electronic surveillance practices.
- Craig Anderson, Curator October 22, 2015