Approaching biometrics as inevitable and prevalent, my interest is in how biometric technologies become mobilized within creative representations, outside of scientific inquiry. My aim is therefore to draw connections between the increasing deployment of surveillance and biometric technologies, and their manifestation within contemporary art practices. Evolving from an art-as-research methodology, and privileging artworks as examples, this presentation looks to artworks that engage with traditional portraiture and representations of the face, all the while manipulating expectations of the face-as-portrait. Artworks included in this project are Ursula Johnson’s L’nuweltik (We are Indian) (2012-2015), Gillian Wearing’s Self Portrait at Twenty Seven Years Old (2012) and Anthony Cerniello’s Danielle (2013).
Though these works do not engage specifically with, or participate in an explicit trend toward, artistic representations of surveillance and biometrics, what I aim to demonstrate through their analysis is the ‘creep’ of surveillance-based tropes into the socio-cultural milieu. My approach to biometric technologies acknowledges their ulterior nature, ubiquitous but not always apparent. As such, the works analyzed herein have been chosen to demonstrate ulteriority at the site of the face. Art as visual expression is thus considered in relation to surveillance as another outcome of visual culture, one that highlights a continuing desire to identify and categorize the subject within a social order.
In what ways has the face, historically and presently measured and classified through biometric techniques, been manipulated within visual representation? How has the face thus deployed come to be represented in contemporary portraiture, and might these representations suggest a shifting logic of identity, away from the face? In answering these questions, I argue that creative, contemporary representations of the face-as-portrait, when considered in contest with representations of the face-as-data, can impact and influence a socio-culture approach to identity, becoming independent from the face.
Presented at Carceral Cultures Conference, March 1-4 2018, Simon Fraser University.
The Carceral Cultures Conference is hosted at Simon Fraser University’s Vancouver Campus on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.
Photo: Youth #1, Ali Mustafa.