Nicolas Malevé interviews the artist Sebastian Schmieg on image annotation, immaterial labour and his TPG commission 'Decision Space'.
These (in)security cameras are all around us. In our streets, shops, buses, restaurants, homes. They are looking, listening and recording. Their omnipresent gaze pierces, protects us, keeps us safe. Through them we are delivered from unknown evils, from the nameless things that might creep up on us if we don’t watch out. Through their panopticon gaze we are quantified, verified, analysed, documented, mapped, filtered and judged.
Information asymmetry is power asymmetry. If “data is the new oil” in the 21st Century, then internet users are the raw earth from which this oil is extracted; a commodity to be exploited for the benefit of the oil barons. In this, there is at least some equity amongst users around the world: the parity of the powerless. Except that isn’t accurate either.
For the (conspiracy) theorist, the beauty of images is that they have the power to become simultaneously a source of proof and doubt. Look again, don’t you see that? There it is. Gone.
These images, drawn from films made by members of the YouTube conspiracy theorist community, are presented as evidence for the radically heterodox alternate worldviews of their original creators.
Who knows what went into an image, what it includes and what it hides? This is not merely a question of fine art historical importance of materials, or even media historical intrigue of chemistry but one of steganography - hiding another meaningful pattern, perhaps a message, in data; inside text or an image.
In early 2016, @RussianEmbassy, the verified Twitter account from the Russian Embassy in the UK, sent an image to the Russian Ministry of Defence via Twitter, warning that ‘Extremists near Aleppo received several truckloads of chemical ammo.' On further inspection, rather than a matter of urgency, it became immediately apparent that these were neither extremist trucks, nor was it in fact an actual photograph of real trucks at all.