New Death: Spotlight on Zach Blas
FACT Volunteer Hannah Lea looks at Zach Blas and his work as part of our Science Fiction: New Death exhibition which closes this Sunday
12 June 2014
Zach Blas is an artist, writer and curator whose work engages technology, queerness, and politics making his a brilliant addition to FACT’s Science Fiction: New Death exhibition. His current work responds to technological control and refusals of political visibility through tactics of escape, disappearance, illegibility, and opacity.
The Facial Weaponization Suite, stands as a protest of facial recognition software and the inherent prejudices it reinforces, creating a faceless mask to provide a shield from digital eyes.
We may be more accustomed to facial recognition software and biometric data collection than we think; it’s safe to say we are most definitely in an age where technologies that could only be dreamt of in science fiction novels are now a reality in 2014. For example, the smile detection function on our digital cameras and Facebook’s tagging system operates on the same ideas and same technology as the software challenged in Zach Blas’ Facial Weaponization Suite. So at a first glance, you may find these advances to be convenient and useful. But what happens when we uncover the more sinister uses for biometrics?
Facial recognition software uses biometric data to identify specific individuals from an image. It can also read facial expressions and in some cases even assign an emotion to the person captured. This allows biological characteristics to be made into quantifiable data that can be used by governments to establish a person’s identity without them knowing.
So biometric data gathering means that someone is always watching. With that in mind you don’t have to venture too far to find echoes of George Orwell’s 1984 and ‘Big Brother is watching you’. Blas argues that this facial recognition software is an invasion of a person’s identity, taking what can be considered unique characteristics and finding similarities in other (homosexual, disabled, criminal etc.) faces, to gather a database of characteristics that can and may be used against us in the future. In protest to this, Blas has created something excessive and shapeless in his ‘fag face mask’, fighting the notion that a face is something inherently familiar and totally knowable, by humans or by technology.
The mask provides an escape, through facelessness. When I think of the word facelessness, I imagine the reduction of one face into nothingness, removing any recognisable features of that one face. However, Blas’s collective approach enables unity against facial recognition software to create a shared yet unrecognisable face, giving power to the faceless and the many.
Zach Blas’s Facial Weaponization Suite is an excellent example of how art provides a platform to challenge ideas in society and highlight the inequalities that are perpetuated by the same technological developments that are allegedly creating safer environments. In reality, the increasing usage of facial recognition software can lead to the targeting of potential threats, leading to the control, monitoring and policing of every one of us. Is what was once seen, as a science fiction vision, now become a dystopian reality?