Prove you're not a robot
The “reCAPTCHA” system was developed by computer security researchers to prevent bots from exploiting services provided by websites and social media platforms. One usually encountered these narrowly cropped, lo-res JPEGs, which were sourced from Google Street View, during the process of creating an online profile. Between May and July of 2016, just prior to them becoming obsolete and all but vanishing from the Internet, I had manually downloaded over 2000 reCAPTCHA image files. These ostensibly mundane, yet nonetheless operative images, served as the most conspicuous element of an automated gatekeeping system designed to prevent bots from simulating human agents: “Prove you’re not a robot.”
The reCAPTCHA image files became the constituent elements for an ongoing series of collages and other works of art. I print the collages on vinyl mesh, which is typically used to obscure construction sites, because its perforated surface suggests the shimmer of a computer monitor. Although features from the domain of humans occasionally infiltrate their frames – flowerpots, basketball hoops, flags, and other things that robots would have little use for – I was initially drawn to the generic sense of “placelessness” that imbued the reCAPTCHA images. Yet, beyond these incidental encroachments, I was also intrigued by how these cheap images harbored tensions that characterize our present, for example, between digital labor and automation; cultural production and corporate hegemony; mass surveillance and online identity. In these contexts, where the reCAPTCHA images interface with society, culture, and technology, they acquire an artifact-like quality and suddenly, the folder that I store these files in evokes a digital excavation site.
- E.J. 2017
Various installation shots: