Midterm: Undervaluing Suicide & Hiding Information

In the Bureau of Inverse Technology (BIT), 1991, Natalie Jeremijenko collaborated with Kate Rich and artist Daniela Tigani in the field of technology and its database systems to raise questions about how technology makes social relations tangible in the context of the public space, the streets of New York, and the open air. Produced at the Piet Zwart Media Design school of Willem de Kooning Academy, Rotterdam, the work utilizes many pieces of technology including video cameras, car roof monitors, voice chips, and webcams. In Stephen Wilson’s book, Information Arts, he quotes Jeremijenko saying,

Truth or falsity of something is seen as a property of the information such that power is the distorting lens of the information camera. Power and information are presumed extrinsic to each other and somehow independent. Fundamentally, power is not seen to affect the truth of the information, and power is not seen to contribute constructively to information.

By using the form in these social contexts, the work raises the questions of how emergent technologies of the Information Age address social situations even though they may be argued as neutral systems and how much power and information go hand-in-hand when it comes to technology commenting on societal constructs.

According to Alessandra Caporale, Jeremijenko and BIT pose the question of information control by providing instructions to build artefacts that, using the deconstruction of their data systems, are adapted to serve social or cultural objectives of users and communities.[1] In 1992, 100 bridge deaths have been confirmed, averaging 17 deaths per 100 days. The bridge has been a premiere attraction and a suicide hotspot, yet authorities refused to make the barriers taller on each side because it would mar the aesthetics of the Bay Area’s signature attraction.[2] Caporale writes about anti-corporate activism saying, “Information, the datum, is presented as something that is fixed, neutral and inalterable when in reality it is the result of a precise selection and intention. The Suicide Box project with its Despondency Index11 and the Biotech Hobbyist12 projects are other examples of how to ‘turn an information system upside down –dismantling beliefs, making visible what was previously hidden and challenging dominant ways of receiving information’”.[3]­ I agree with her interpretation of Jeremijenko’s project; it does seek to show the discrepancy between the data that is controlled and given, and the data that she finds in her video. This furthers the idea of the social responsibility that Port Authority has to present the correct documented data to the public. During the time period of the 17 deaths recorded in Jeremijenko’s video, Port Authority only counted 13, suggesting how tragic the information field is fairing.[4]

Ethically, I believe this is underlining the undermining of the value of suicide. The engineer’s report for the BIT Suicide Box says, “The work of the Suicide Box, in its imaging of suicide, recovers this statistical representation as visual rendering, and quantifies what it is to render suicide in the logic of information.”[5] Wilson even brings to light that the technological attention to suicide did not exist until the bureaucratic eye lent it to the Bureau.[6] If Jeremijenko decided not to create this documentation of a social issue, suicide using one of the most famous landmarks may not have been brought to the attention of most people who are not particularly concerned with the facts. It inspires an answer to the problem of undervaluing lives and making sure data matches the actual happenings surrounding unnoticeable events such as these.

[1] Caporale, Alessandra. ““Natural Drift (in the Work) of Natalie Jeremijenko”.” ELISAVA TdD. N.p., 2010. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.          <http%3A%2F%2Ftdd.elisava.net%2Fcoleccion%2F24%2Fcaporale-en>.

[2] “SUICIDE::: BOX.” SUICIDE::: BOX. Silicon Graphics Microsoft NBC Genentech Fox Failure Analysis Disney, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.              <http://bureauit.org/sbox/#transcript&gt;.

[3] Caporale, Alessandra. ““Natural Drift (in the Work) of Natalie Jeremijenko”.” ELISAVA TdD. N.p., 2010. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.          <http%3A%2F%2Ftdd.elisava.net%2Fcoleccion%2F24%2Fcaporale-en>.

[4] “Bit Projects Archive.” BUREAU OF INVERSE TECHNOLOGY: THE DECADE REPORT, THE BUREAU THE EVIDENCE THE FIRST 10        YEARS. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2015. <http://www.bureauit.org/decade/projects.html#suicidebox&gt;.

[5] “SUICIDE::: BOX.” SUICIDE::: BOX. N.p., 23 Jan. 1997. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. <http://bureauit.org/sbox/#report&gt;.

[6] Wilson, Stephen. Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science, and Technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2002. Print.

Wilson, Stephen. Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science, and Technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2002. Print.

Kristen Chan

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