Group 1: People & Technology

The Project was making progress by the first reveal meeting on 3rd August 2021. The following projects had been identified and groups were formed to take them forward. Some fluidity began to emerge between group members and some inter project collaboration was forming.

Group 1: People & Technology [Robert, Ian, Hayley, Beth, Phil]

Othello – Magnifying Alexa [Robert, Ian, April, Hayley, Beth, Phil]

This project takes everyday technologies such as Alexa and looks as to how they can have both positive and negative impacts – benign / malevolence. A facsimile will be made with the device (probably the cylinder rather than the dot) magnified and made in clay. It may have ‘windows’ into the Alexa where the contents reflect the multifaceted impacts of engaging with technology. This artwork will be interactive, with Alexa providing different audio outputs – with all those in work in sound, music and words encouraged to give something for the magnified Alexa to broadcast. The magnified Alexa may be operated via a raspberry pi/Arduino/etc. (or perhaps an Alexa itself) with benign, positive and malign outcomes generated. Alexa’s outputs and the ‘contents’ may be diverse possibly reflecting broad issues including the imbalance of power seen in technology, the underpinning assumptions inherent within algorithms that reinforce behaviours and expectations; the manipulation of data for nefarious purposes; the links between big tech and government; impacts on news and journalism, etc. View of Alexa and this type of data as a Pandora’s Box.

Several projects emerged from this group. From Beth J. Ross we had the Long Pack which was based on the idea that the SMART speaker enters your home as a help but turns out to be a danger. Research looked at folk tales that might have a harmless intruder come into your home and become a danger. The Long Pack has elements of this and was told in 1723.

Work in Progress, the Long Pack – Beth J Ross

This is a Northumberland folktale from 1723. In summary, a wealthy family are spending the winter in London, leaving their country seat on the banks of the North Tyne, in the hands of their servant maid Alice and two men who took care of the cattle and outbuildings. One afternoon, Alice is spinning some yarn, when a handsome pedlar arrives at the door carrying a long and broad pack. The well-dressed pedlar asks to stay the night, but Alice refuses as her employer would not like it. But she agrees to keep the long pack for him in return for a beautiful shawl. She was curious about what was in the pack, and after much thinking went to see it. It moves and she rushes out to bring the cattlemen. The older of the two remains calm, and suggests she is seeing things. After much debate, about the pack and its contents, the younger, carrying a gun, sees it move and shoots at it. Blood and dying groans emanate from it. The pack is opened and, instead of finding the wares from Newcastle, a dead man is found, in one hand a cutlass to cut open the pack, four pistols and a whistle. A promise turned into a threat.

This painting was made by combining cobalt pigment (which is an element used in smart speakers), with holy water (which was used for protection) and egg tempera. This was poured and rubbed into a vintage bed sheet, dissected into eight pieces and reformed to make the shape of the long pack.

The Long Pack – Beth J Ross

In looking into protections and folklore, research was found on apotropaic marks from the 17th and 18th century. These witch marks were scratched and carved in buildings. The second piece is a series of 24 monoprints using the names of smart speakers from around the world with accompanying witches marks

Work in progress – the Witches Marks – Beth J Ross

Work in progress – the Witches Marks – Beth J Ross

In the 17th and 18th century, to protect from witches and intruders, people would carve and scratch apotropaic (protective) marks into stone and wood lintels, fireplaces, walls and windows. These have become known as witches marks.

We call their names to summon their presence into our homes. In different countries they are known by different names; Alexa, Bixby, Sammy, Cortana, Siri, Alice, Oleg, Marusya, Xiao Ai, Echo, Ziggy and Josh.

These monoprints record the name of a ‘smart’ speaker and a witches mark that could be used to protect one against it.

A sample of the Witches Marks – Beth J Ross

The second project responding to the Othello inspiration resulted in a number of ceramic pieces by Robert Campbell. The exhibition ‘SLEEPERS’ was a collaboration between four artists and resulted in a number of contextual settings.

Work in progress for SLEEPERS – Robert Campbell
‘Alexa’ the friendly Elephant in the room – Ian Horn

Described as ‘benign friend or malevolent intruder, a sleeper agent is a spy who is placed in a target country or organization not to undertake an immediate mission but to act as a potential asset if activated. This common use in fiction is directly related to and results from repeated instances of real-life “sleeper agents” participating in spying, espionage, sedition, treason, and assassinations.

SLEEPERS, as an installation illustrates the potential for all of us to become complacent about the technology we use at home by creating scenes of every-day life and introducing an “Alexa” which may be helpful and benign, or maybe malevolent. The WFH laptop is playing a short series of slides of some of the research and ideas behind the work. As a backing track to these scenes there is a selection of poems and music reflecting on the issues raised.

The SLEEPERS Setting At The John Marley Centre 30th September 2021

In keeping with the Cyber Eyes Wide Open Cyberfest / FUSE theme the work is a collaboration between artists and security industry professionals. Uniquely Robert is both. The ceramic “Alexa” have been designed and created by Robert, Ian has written and performed the spoken word that was heard and April and Beth have informed the ideas and the written words.

Insert the nice image of Alexa the friendly elephant in the room

Robert Campbell

Security Consultant Ecommnet Technologies Ltd.

Ceramic Artist –

Ian HornPoet and Author
April HollingworthAuthor
Beth J RossAuthor
Phil JackmanGuerrilla Working