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MSU Museum examines the complex relationship between surveillance and ethics

Tracked & Traced at the Michigan State University Museum
Posted at 9:15 AM, Aug 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-25 12:08:55-04

EAST LANSING, Mich. — MSU’s Science Gallery is presenting Tracked & Traced at the Michigan State University Museum Sept. 10 to Dec. 11. The exhibition and its supporting public programs examine the complex relationship between surveillance and ethics.

Through the contributions of more than one dozen national and international artists, scientists and researchers, the exhibition investigates surveillance both virtual and physical across four key themes. These include a focus on the ways that businesses collect personal information to generate profits, how surveillance disproportionately targets underprivileged populations, efforts to create more transparency and choice around the ways personal data is utilized and protective actions individuals can take to combat unethical surveillance practices.

Artists from across the United States, The Netherlands, Germany, Mexico and the United Kingdom are represented in the exhibition.

Michigan State University assistant professor Abhishek Narula of the Department of Art, Art History and Design is among those included. Guest curators for the exhibit include Hasan Elahi, professor and chair of the department of art at George Mason University; Hannah Redler Hawes, independent curator and director of data as culture at the Open Data Institute; and Emily Wegner, AI and facial recognition software researcher at the University of Chicago.

"The artworks in “Tracked & Traced” capture a huge range of the ways in which tracking and tracing technologies impact our lives - from the sinister to the unifying and beneficial,” said guest curator Hannah Redler Hawes. “They reveal how our place within these systems ranges from collateral damage of the constant surveillance which apparently accidentally captures us moving around our own cities, to being critical voices calling out the biased algorithms that have emerged through our imperfect design processes by imperfect—and too often monocultured—people. They encourage us to consider how these systems 'train' us and how we might form strategies to respond, fight back or humorously subvert. Projects move from wall-based to immersive and from software algorithms to Internet of Things hardware and systems. Many suggest quirky and amusing hacks which might allow us to use these systems for our own purposed in fun, ethical and life-enriching ways.”

Fifteen exhibits will be on view in the Main Gallery at the MSU Museum. Additional exhibits will be embedded at MSU’s new STEM Teaching and Learning Facility and throughout downtown East Lansing. Look for “Street Ghosts” by celebrated artist Paolo Cirio in East Lansing. The work consists of images of people captured by Google Street View posted at the same physical locations they were taken.

“Since the dawn of the 21st century, new technologies expedited the ways in which governments, corporations, and individuals surveilled people, places, and things throughout the world,” said MSU Museum director and curator Devon Akmon. “This timely exhibition seeks to explore the myriad ways surveillance impacts our society while encouraging visitors to explore how we can work to enable more ethical and equitable practices of seeing and being seen.

The exhibition kicks off with a variety of virtual and in-person programs. This includes a live playthrough of OnlyBans, an interactive game that critically examines the policing of marginalized bodies and sexual labor, presented in partnership with Ars Electronica Festival 2021, which is known as one of the world’s largest international multi-media festivals that celebrates technology, science, and the arts. And, later in September, an outdoors screening of the critically acclaimed film “The Truman Show” in the W.J. Beal Botanical Gardens.

MSU’s Science Gallery will present one dozen programs in conjunction with the exhibit, including a workshop and lecture about the exclusionary nature of artificial intelligence and the algorithms that undergird our technologies led by the acclaimed transmedia artist and Stony Brook University professor Stephanie Dinkins.

For complete exhibition information and to view the full virtual program schedule that includes lectures, workshops, and performances, visit:

The MSU Museum is reopening on Tuesday, Sept. 7 with regular hours Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with closures on Sunday and Monday. Free, timed-entry tickets are required and can be reserved online beginning in September. At this time masks are required for all visitors indoors on the campus of Michigan State University.

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