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The Public/Private Face

The Glut of Faciality in Surveillance Culture

Starting with Michael Warner’s historical analysis of public and private, this essay questions the position of the face when taken up as a set of information, biometric algorithms and codified analysis. Historically, public and private have been understood as spatially distinct zones, and what is considered public or private is embedded in instinctual behaviour and modes of speech. Advancements in biometric technologies and applications have led to the body as a flow of information and communication patterns, resulting in a loss of the material body. I argue that the amassing and distributing identities by corporations and bodies of government denies the face as the place of private expression and turns it into an object of mass culture and commerce. Facial recognition software, though not a revolutionary tool, engages issues of racial and social discrimination, abuse of power, and ways of seeing that shape the trajectory of public and private zones. In this way, I question the social and cultural acceptance and enthusiasm of technology as a universal remedy for behavior regulation and manipulation.

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Image: 3D printed face masks defy surveillance technology