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Privy To – Electric Dreams Online Festival

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Creator: The Assembly of Privacy Doxographers

Creative Director: Michelle Leddon

This 15-minute creative blast comes from the adventurous and exploratory Assembly of Privacy Doxographers .  A digital and live exhibition pushing the boundaries where technology and the human body meet, the Assembly’s latest work reaches a level of intimacy and technical intrusion that would have been impossible a few years ago. The results are sometimes challenging, but thoroughly interesting and provocative.

In Privy To, the Assembly ( Michelle Leddon, Julia Scott-Stevenson and Liz Steininger) invite composer and multimedia artist Jason J.Snell to participate in its investigation into the concept of privacy. Through a re-engineered EEC (electroencephalogram) and PPG (photoplethysmogram) headband and a computer programme Snell’s brainwaves and heartbeat signals are captured and then translated to music and an accompanying visual display. The experience is based on Snell’s physical and mental reaction to three different emotional states – Isolation, Intimacy and Exposure. The first two are pre-recorded, the final one performed live on webcast for the audience.

As a visual and auditory experience, it’s quirky and interesting but not tremendous. Reminiscent of the Windows Media Player’s automatic animations, and a backing track of generic electronic trance / chillout music it is nonetheless fascinating to equate the movements in sound and sight to different mental stimulus (such as opening his eyes to see the audience).

It’s an odd experience, watching someone’s brain live in A/V on the internet. As the show says, we “are “privy to” the shadow of his thoughts, the ebb and flow of his mind.” The work is a comment on privacy and intrusion so the questions it provokes are, naturally, sometimes worrisome. The Assembly’s comment on the tradeoff between privacy and performance or acquiescence to the curiosity of others (or potentially state surveillance programmes) is disturbing after an example of how a person’s most secret thoughts and rhythms can be so straightforwardly laid bare for even strangers on the internet. Fingerprinting was once a tool for criminal identification – now we buy coffee and log into our devices with it. What’s the future here? As much as we literally just read Snell’s mind – on this topic, it’s anyone’s guess.

The interest in this lies in the mechanic of production and the subject matter. It’s an intelligent use of technology  which lays bare some uncomfortable truths about itself. Smart work by the Assembly, and all in a quarter of an hour.

Runs here until 14 August 2020

The Electric Dreams Online Festival runs until 16 August 2020

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Smart, troubling use of technology

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