Media art to teach the unaware people

On: September 15, 2011
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About Maarten Jansen
After studying Multi Media Design I followed a bachelor for Theatre Technician with a specialization in Light Design and the use of Video in theatre. After that my interests shifted a bit to the question of ‘Why do we use new media in art and theatre’. And that’s were my interests are still are, after finishing the BA Media & Cultuur at the UvA last year. My first thesis was about the use of video in art & theatre. The second one was about the shift that sometimes artists are using new technologies that later on are used on daily bases by everyone, like augmented reality and locative media. Now at the New Media Master course I’d like to go a bit deeper into the theoretical aspects and apply it to interactive (new media) installations and theatre.


My first blogpost on the Masters of Media blog should be about a topic I’m interested in., but that’s not as easy as it looks, because my interests are very wide spread. The reason why I’m following the master program of New Media at the University of Amsterdam is my interest in the use of new media in theatre and artworks. But it is not only about the actual use or technical use of new media in the artwork (like video, sound, interactivity or augmented reality), it’s more about the awareness of the impact and use of new media on daily basis that the artist have and put in their work. I’d like to explain this with an example.

Nowadays people are connected to infinite networks via computers, mobile devices and their digital selfs on the internet. Almost nobody is aware of the dangers that came along with the invention and development of new media practices. The government is using computers en data storage instead of the paper files which where ubiquitous a few decennia ago. More and more data is stored on computers and accessible via internet or other (secured?) networks. Governments are also watching everybody in public space throughout CCTV with number plate or even facial recognition. All the information available on the recognised person is directly shown to the people watching the screens. But are the citizens aware of these practices? Do we now that the government is using all the information about us to check if we’re not planning some terrible horrors? A lot of people don’t. Even I didn’t. I was aware of the CCTV cams on the street, and I also now that information on the RFID chip in my passport could be read by everyone who wants to. But I didn’t link all these option together. And that’s where it becomes a bit dangerous if the wrong people are using your information.

Last year this was a topic on a Dutch television program: “VPRO Thema: wat nou privacy?” (unfortunately only in Dutch). The program tried to show the world behind the camera’s and digital storage. Who is saving the data? And more important, who has access to it and is able the use it? Who is watching the CCTV footage? A lot of questions they tried to answer. But there were also some items that made me aware of the weaknesses in the system. Most of the time it was the human link between the (private) information and other people that failed to keep the information secure. But also the easiness of changing the information on the chip of a passport is not reassuring. Although I did now about the possibilities of stealing someone’s identity, it was really confronting to see it happen. The easiness of how people get personal information about another person is very scary. Especially is they’re using to commit fraud or other crimes with your identity.

As I told before, people are not really aware of the issues confronted in the television program. People only get really aware of the danger when it is happening to them, when they really get the feeling that their being followed or being stalked. The confrontation when it is happening to them is to only way to get them aware of the dangers. And this is exactly what some artists try to do with their work. Getting the people aware of the dangers of the new media their using every day.

A nice project to mention here is Loca Lab. As the Loca Project states on their website:

Loca is a Locative Art project on mobile phones and grass-roots, pervasive surveillance. Pervasive surveillance has the potential to be both sinister and positive, at the same time. The intent of Loca is to equip people to deal with the ambiguity and to make informed decisions about the networks that they populate. Loca asks how do people respond to being tracked and observed? How ready are people to observe others? Who is the user, and how? Do we get fear of surveillance, disinterest, scopophobia or scopophilia? What happens in-between physical, embodied space and the digital space of abstract data? ((

The Loca network consists a few different projects. I’d like to mention the Node Network of the Loca project. On a very busy square/park they placed bluetooth devices on different points. These bluetooth devices (or noods) where looking for other bluetooth devices to send messages to. When people had enabled the bluetooth function on their mobile device, they where ‘catched’ by the noods. The noods where able to send text messages to the mobile devices that where discovered. To make the people on the street aware of the presence of the Node network, the messages where a kind of personal like “You walked past the flower stall and spent 30 minutes in the park, are you in love?” or “You were last here yesterday at 21.45”. I think this is a very scary way to discover that it is that easy to use peoples information and actually use the information to make people aware of the dangers. The only information Loca uses is the presence of a unique bluetooth device, and compares the information with the database they created.

A small introduction to the Node Network:

The use of new media in art to make people aware of the risks and dangers of the new media world we are currently living in. Using art to teach people. That’s what I’m interested in.

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