"Privacy. Protection. Act." Critiques the Internet's False Sense of Security at Halt Gallery

View of "Privacy. Protection. Act." from outside of the Halt Gallery's shipping container.
View of "Privacy. Protection. Act." from outside of the Halt Gallery's shipping container.
Courtesy of Becky Nahom and Halt Gallery

Throughout this past exhibition season, Halt Gallery has continuously provided us with excellence. With the shipping container galleries making a move over the summer and chief curator and director Becky Nahom relocating to New York City, this may be the last we see of Halt Gallery, at least in its current form.

"Privacy. Protection. Act," the big finale, if you will, is a conceptual installation by ArtFarm, as fictional artist Tinnas Enidraj Nimgaj, that questions issues relevant to the information age. In its entirety, the exhibition is a constructed facade that mimics the way we give and receive information.

See also: Becky Nahom of Halt Gallery Talks Curating, Phoenix's Art Scene, and Moving to New York

The exhibition is presented to the public just like any other exhibition is. The press release states that "ArtFarm introduces Indonesian-born artist Tinnas Enidraj Nimgaj," providing it with a sense of legitimacy. The art audience may not be familiar with this artist, but they sound international and mysterious. The rest of the press release, like most press releases, discusses security, comfort, and information -- the core ideas of the exhibition.

Before entering the exhibition, we are asked to provide our signature and a valid password on a paper form. The pages are filled with other participants and the brightly lit gallery is literally right in front of us. With no red flag in sight, we have to oblige. It's reminiscent of a pop-up ad or anything on the Internet, for that matter. We have to negotiate with ourselves and make a judgment call on whether or not something is secure or legitimate.

Detail image of the cloud of white security bands suspended in the space.
Detail image of the cloud of white security bands suspended in the space.
Courtesy of Becky Nahom and Halt Gallery

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After relinquishing our personal information, we're allowed to enter. The ceiling is filled with a cloud-like structure made up of what appears to be white security bands -- the kind used to contain a package. It's an ethereal sight, colliding soft delicacies like comfort and beauty with the hard aspects of security and protection. The light travels through the white security cloud, creating a tranquil atmosphere that makes us feel at ease. For a moment, we're comfortable with the fact that we just gave away our sensitive information.

This moment of pleasure is short-lived. With the Internet, there's a cold reality that hits when the virtual bleeds into the real. Various streams of information -- SSNs, credit card numbers, passwords -- lead to our physical bodies in "real life" and affect us. Information exchange is so full of ease and immediacy that this risk becomes necessary in order for us to function in contemporary life. We either believe that our gamble with pay off or simply ignore the consequences.  

The wall text in the gallery reads as an error message.
The wall text in the gallery reads as an error message.
Mikey Estes

When we reach the end of the installation, we're greeted with a sad faux fur seating lounge and an error message apology of sorts: "A message to our guests: We truly value our relationship with you, our guests, and know this incident had a significant impact on you. We are sorry. We remain focused on addressing your questions and concerns." It's the kind of message we might get if our information was compromised on the Internet. It's forced warmth is sterile and depersonalized, much like the vast white space of the installation itself.

The patches of white and off-white faux fur and lumpy pillows on the wood gallery floor are supposed to soften this blow, but they provide little comfort. Kneeling down on the floor and pondering this message was like sitting at a computer. We're often left with automated messages like these in the context of a one-sided relationship between ourselves and a screen. We could try and confide in Siri, but she'd probably say something similar.

Tinnas Enidraj Nimgaj is a personification of this condition. The identity of this fictional artist is entirely constructed, functioning as the enigmatic creator of the work. They are a person that we know nothing about, yet here we are providing our personal information to see their work. They're the same faceless person that we might give our credit card information to in order to purchase something online. The context may be slightly different, but the gallery is similar in that we are giving away personal information for the exchange of cultural capital.

The installation's seating lounge consists of faux fur mats, pillows, and a bowl of taffy.
The installation's seating lounge consists of faux fur mats, pillows, and a bowl of taffy.
Mikey Estes

The exhibition is playful and, in this context, it works. When providing our information, we used an iteration of a password that isn't actually valid. It may be cheating the system (sorry 'bout it), but there was no reprehension for doing so. The stakes weren't high. Like ArtFarm, we too have the potential to be whoever we want to be and participate in this virtual-turned-real free for all. It's interesting to consider what might happen if the stakes were higher. Physically writing down your SSN or credit card number on a form is profoundly different than typing it. The body feels exposed because there isn't a screen shielding it.

This post-Internet idea positions the comforts of the Internet within the context of "real life" and exposes the contradictions between the two. ArtFarm has essentially turned the shipping container into a physical version of the Internet. The press release is constructed just as we construct our online profiles, an error message becomes exhibition wall text, and the pseudo-comfort of the Internet becomes a reality. We've all been duped, but it was such a pleasure.

"Privacy. Protection. Act." is on view until May 3. The First Friday reception will take place on May 1, 2015 from 6 - 10 p.m. For more information, visit Halt Gallery's website.

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