I’ve always felt that artists will play a leading role in helping us understand the deeper subjective and identity dimensions of commoning. In Istanbul this past weekend, I encountered a number of artists who confirmed this fact for me. I was at the “Paratactic Commons” conference, hosted by Istanbul Technical University and Winchester School of Art. The event brought together a number of artistic interpretations of the commons as well as activist-oriented initiatives on the commons in Turkey.
I was quite taken by several performance and video works by the Dutch artists Karen Lancel and Hermen Maat. (I’ll talk about other projects featured at the conference in my next post.) One of their most provocative works is called Tele_Trust, a performance project that explores how we come to trust each other online. It explores how our bodies – especially our eyes and sense of touch – are critical to developing trust. So what does this fact mean as more of our personal and social lives migrate to online platforms? How do we develop trust there?
Speaking at the conference, Hermen Maat described how he and his partner wanted to explore the subjective experiences of trust and privacy in a world of ubiquitous personal communications. We face a paradox in our world of ubiquitous telecommunications: “While in our changing social eco-system we increasingly demand transparency, we cover our bodies with personal communication technology.” Our mobile phones function as a kind of “personal armor,” said Maat, covering our bodies and rendering us inaccessible to the public. And yet we still need to cultivate trust, if only to consummate business deals.
If our electronic devices function as “digital data veils,” Maat reasoned, why not explore that idea by connecting it to its nearest analogue – the wearing of a burqa?
Maat and Lancel developed an interactive wearable “DataVeil” to cover one’s entire body. Gender-neutral and one-size-fits all, it is “inspired by eastern and western traditions, like a monks’ habit, a burqa, Darth Vader, and a 'trustworthy' chalk stripe business suit,” they explain. “When wearing the DataVeil it functions as a second skin. Flexible, invisible touch sensors woven into the smart fabric of the veil, transform your body into an intuitive, tangible interface. It is a a membrane for scanning an intimate, networking body experience.”