Disappointingly, the word ‘hack’ did not come from the word ‘hijack’, according to the Collins dictionary. But they don’t seem to know its etymology, so it’s still possible. Either way, hacking and hijacking are the two unrelated buzz words in Mal au pixel #7 currently showing at Gaîté Lyrique, who always put oomph into their exhibitions (I’ve yet to be disappointed). Mal au pixel #7 is not simply an exhibition but a nearly 2-month-long festival with films, conferences and workshops…
In true DIY Gaîté Lyrique style, the traditional spectator-art relationship is rejected. But neither are these interactive play-and-see pieces. They deliberately take an authoritative position, inversing control. Confronting our use of information-sharing and communications, Mal au Pixel intrudes into our lives, hacking into public systems and hijacking our private data…all to make us feel a flicker of uncertainty the next time we change our job status on LinkedIn. Orwell would be smug, seeing an artistic commentary on the foresight he had nearly eighty years ago (to whom the exhibit Memopol II is referring).
Thankfully, whilst it does have a disquieting aftertaste about 21st century privacy (nothing our parents haven’t already been shaking their heads over since MSN Messenger came about), there is a reassuring wry humour sprinkled around the exhibition. “I’ve hijacked your surveillance camera!” exclaims Surveillance Chess, having hijacked CCTV in London during the Olympic Games (FICTIONAL, before you wonder how this didn’t get on the news). As it is, the simple use of an exclamation mark means it comes across as a moment of fun, especially when we are then asked, albeit repeatedly, if we want to “Play chess with [the bad person who’s taken over London Underground cameras]”.
Newstweak made me LOL. Loudly. I hope it wasn’t lost on the predominantly French crowd who were there when I was. Along with a fantastic clip about manipulating the general public and the ease by which they can be monitored in every situation (I’ll mention phone hacking, British tabloids and stop there); there is a computer on which a webpage is loaded. This site is called Newstweak, and collates data from all the major newspapers. You can then, on the page, select your headline (genuine current affairs) and change it, as well as the accompanying blurb, to whatever propaganda you like. Click Save and the article appears on the page as before, except with your text in place of the “official” wording. Easy as that.
Before you leave home, make sure you’ve got your passport. Memopol II is a machine (strictly one person at a time, the reason for which you quickly understand) which scans your passport or identity card – although if you’re like me you’ll choose the demo version – and collects information from databases around the world in real-time. Your horoscope, interests, phone number, salary, recent purchases, brands you like, digital influence… no need to Like anything on Facebook, the machine maps ‘you’ out on a giant display, including your estimated DATE OF DEATH. Very, very unnerving.
Mal au pixel #7 will get your hackles up and your eyes open to the consequences we don’t consider. You might not be a social media addict, but the minute your face is captured on a CCTV camera, you’ve been hijacked.