Artists come up with some twisted stuff, but this project by Dutch visual artist Willem Popelier might be the creepiest project ever. He essentially cyberstalked two 14-year-old girls whose photos he found on a showroom laptop.
On one showroom computer in a store, I found 91 pictures and 2 movies made by two girls. After some research I now know that they made a total of at least 153 pictures and 2 small movies in about an hour on the showroom computer
It's not that weird that Popelier would use found digital images for his art. Digital artists have been increasingly repurposing stuff found in the cloud. After Facebook's disastrous privacy rollback exposed users' private images in 2009, Spanish artist Daniela Ortiz scoured the site for pictures of the maids of high class Peruvian families for her piece 97 Housemaids.
But Popelier went a step further. One of the girls in the pictures he found happened to be wearing a necklace with her name on it, and Popelier was able to use Google to identify her. Then he tracked down her and her friend's presence on the web, including their Twitter accounts.
The exhibit, called Showroom Girls was shown this past summer at Amsterdam's Foam museum. It consists of censored images of the girls, who are not identified, and a printer which slowly prints a copy of a years-worth of one of the girl's Twitter posts. In the show, Popelier portrays himself as a "dirty 28 years old man, twice the girls' age, who has been looking at them and collecting their digital traces," according to Owni.eu.
Popelier says his project is a comment on our culture of "digital narcissism." But it might better be seen as an unsettling demonstration of the extent to which our anonymity has been erased by the stuff we voluntarily throw into the cloud. People taking pictures of themselves is nothing new; neither is finding other peoples' snapshots. At a house I lived in in college, my roommate tacked an entire shoebox-full of some strangers' family photos she bought at a thrift store to the living room wall.
But we've now given ourselves up to self-surveillance through social networking to the point that a random person's image is pretty easily tracked back to its owner. (Hell, there's a whole porn site dedicated the concept.) What Popelier did wasn't much different the facial recognition system Facebook uses to automatically tag your friends in photos. Except Popelier is making way less money on his art project.