Sunday, September 21, 2014

Erickson's Data Shadows at Tulane's Carroll Gallery

Hardware Mirror #10

Local Servers
One of the more prominent artworks at the old Saturn Bar back in the day was Mike Frolich's You Are Being Watched, a cosmic all-seeing eye luridly rendered in house paint. Frolich is no longer with us, but his visionary take on surveillance was decades ahead of its time, as Edward Snowden's exposure of the National Security Agency's massive data spying made clear. But the NSA is a piker compared to the vast private data spying perpetrated by Facebook and Google among other corporations collectively known as Big Data. And where early cave art reflected the unseen nature spirits that guided the fates of men and beasts, today's largely invisible data networks now mimic those  intangible forces to a spooky, near metaphysical extent. AnnieLaurie Erickson's Data Shadows expo explores the mostly hidden structures that facilitate Big Data's penetration into nearly every aspect of our lives.

Google Data Center, Mayse County Oklahoma
Within the dusky gallery, three mysteriously glowing vertical structures dominate the far wall. Titled Local Servers, they are photographic replicas of computer server circuits, but mounted on those eerily glowing structures they resonate an almost totemic presence. We almost never see them because most are hidden in sprawling data centers typically located in America's most remote regions. Armed security personnel sometimes allowed Erickson to photograph compounds like Google Data Center, Mayse County Oklahoma, above, from a distance. Their minimal forms suggest megalithic prisons or bunkers, yet her images of circuitry contained in those places --for instance, Hardware Mirror #10, top--recall tribal Mayan or Nepalese fabric patterns. A similar but glowing image initially looks blurred, but blacks out when you approach it except for a sharply focused circle. Move your gaze and the circle of focus moves with your eyes. Titled Data Shadows, it illustrates how digital data's "eye tracking" technology watches us even as we try to watch it. Like the nature spirits of ancient times, Big Data is the new unseen force that increasingly determines our destiny and, like those old gods of yore, it is unclear whether it serves us or we serve it.~Bookhardt
Data Shadows: Photographs and Mixed Media by AnnieLaurie Erickson, through Oct. 8, Carroll Gallery, Tulane University, 314-2228.