After reading an interview with Belgian concept artist Dries Depoorter, I am surprised part of his portfolio has not been presented on this website yet, so here goes! Maybe you have read it already: last September one of this artist’s artworks was discussed in the New York Times. The work in question is titled “The Follower” and links pictures posted on Instagram to the CCTV footage showing the behind the scenes of the insta-palatable post. The undertone of this project is to show how far surveillance can go. After all, in Depoorter’s words: “If one person can do this, what can a government do?” This is however not the only case of Depoorter’s body of work delving into the waters of privacy, more below.
Smile! You’re now an artwork!
A red thread in Depoorter’s oeuvre is that he uses technology in all of his installations. Some installations of his broad portfolio highlight how technology can identify and track us. Take Trojan Offices for example, this installation consists of webcams streaming to the internet, showing unauthorized livestreams from hacked webcams – who knows maybe our Lipsius building could have been part of this project before the security got upped – a maybe gratuitious jab, I concede. Another case in point is found in The Flemish scrollers: in this installation AI and face recognition locate phones and track the faces of politicians shown on the livestream of a Flemish government meeting. When a distracted politician is found, a video of said inattentive participant is posted on Twitter and Instagram accompanied by a mention and captioned “Dear distracted @[name], pls stay focused!.” After his work went viral, Depoorter was asked multiple times to sell his code, which he flatly refused: it would run contrary to his message. Another salient project in this vein of thought is TinderIn: a series of ten photo frames, each showing the LinkedIn and Tinder profile pictures of the same person side-by-side -though blurred. TinderIn is moreover a prime example of Goffman’s theory of splitting one’s personality (Bullingham and Vasconcelos 2013: 102 ) depending on the interaction and reminds us that anyone (read: your future boss) with a bit of searching is able to find aspects of your personality posted online (read: that one thirst trap you posted on a drunk outing). A last example for this post is Jaywalking: multiple cameras show crossings and the visitor of the installation can choose to report jaywalkers by pushing a button that will send an e-mail to the nearest police station. All these examples beg the question: is this even legal?
Art or privacy breach?
Even though he does not ask for the permission of the people featured in his works, he only uses open source software and images made public – be it willingly or unwittingly. Here lies the paradox of Depoorter’s installations: though they are a critique of how easy it is to erode someone’s privacy through technology, their images are sourced from gray ponds. On that note, it should be noted that Depoorter curates the images so as not to show subjects in uneasy situations (dentist operation rooms, hospital rooms are for example not shown) or directly link to individuals (blurring, hiding social media handles). As a final note, what are your thoughts on these installations? How would you feel were you to be featured in one of these? What does this tell us about the promise of privacy (and copyright if you are in for a long think) online?
 ‘The Presentation of Self in the Online World’: Goffman and the study of online identities. Bullingham and Vasconcelos, 2013
hi! thanks for a great article and introducing a new artist to me. i personally do not see a particular ethical or legal issue with privacy breaches by the artist himself, but rather the artist points to the morality of uses of technology by institutions of power. in that way, he seems to be sidestepping his own responsibility. one thing i like about the works you mention is how they show a progression in the ways we are monitored by technology: first, in Trojan Offices, workers are monitored by their superiors; then in Jaywalking we have the option to report each other in a kind of digital panopticon, then, in TinderIn, we have internalised surveillance in our self expression.
would you say the artworks are valuable just to read about, or would experiencing them or even being filmed as part of them change their value for you?
Such interesting art projects. The NYT article already touches on it a little bit, but even artists have to comply with the GDPR.
It made me think of another art project by Kyle McDonald, ‘People Staring at Computers’, where he installed programs on Apple store computers that would send him webcam pictures of peoples faces while they were looking at the computer.
He ended up with [the secret service raiding his house](https://www.wired.com/2012/07/people-staring-at-computers/), because Apple took exception to that.
For the people that were captured on camera, there’s not /that/ much of a difference between the projects, but of course installing spyware to reach your goals is a whole different thing than using already open access camera’s.