Article by Alena Sokhan in Berlin Wednesday, May. 27, 2015
Paolo Cirio – “Avril Haines” (2015), detail, acrylic paint on canvas, 91 x 106 cm; photo by Bresadola Freese / dram-berlin.de, courtesy of NOME Gallery
Italian New Media artist Paolo Cirio has found vibrant ways to point out that giving people the right to protect us also gives them the ability to hurt us and cause damage. With the greater involvement of information and communication technologies in political and public life, the methods of governance have to be adapted for the digital landscape: in other words, we need to reconsider both how we protect ourselves and what protection means. What has become evident is that not only do methods of governance and policing need to change, but also our means of regulating the people responsible for regulation. The topic of surveillance and data security has received much attention over the last few years, particularly since Snowden‘s revelations about the U.S. clandestine domestic and international surveillance programs, though conversation often takes a certain passivity or fails to produce results. Cirio’s works boldly use satire, subversion and the status of the art work to effectively allow average citizens to hold authorities to account for their abuses of power.
Paolo Cirio – “Avril Haines” (2015), acrylic paint on canvas, 91 x 106 cm; photo by Bresadola Freese / dram-berlin.de, courtesy of NOME Gallery
The first exhibition to be held at the freshly opened NOME gallery, Overexposed looks at specific individuals who have been involved in mass surveillance programs, misled the public about them, or threatened the security of the U.S. by leaking classified information. The images also make a broader commentary about data security, surveillance, and privacy. Cirio puts a face to the otherwise abstract threat of data surveillance by exposing the people who are responsible, and makes the implications – that personal and private data can be accessed – real and comprehensible by exemplifying the people involved in it.
Paolo Cirio – “Michael Hayden” (2015), acrylic paint on photographic paper, 91 x 106 cm; photo by Bresadola Freese / dram-berlin.de, courtesy of NOME Gallery
The artwork is as much a conceptual performance as it is image production. The simple fact that Cirio could mine the internet and social media in order to acquire these unflattering candid shots or compromising selfies of high level officials is an artwork on its own. The printing process is another complicated project: Cirio developed an open source software that separates the image into the four colors – cyan, magenta, yellow and black – that a digital color printer would use to print the image. The software generates 4 stencils that Cirio manually uses to create prints, constructing a full color image that makes visible the constituent parts that printing technology relies on. This process effectively grounds contemporary concerns about our lack of control over information, on the internet and communications technologies, in the history of printing and the mass reproduction of the image. Another part of the project involved plastering large prints of these images on the walls of major cities at night. Cirio makes the private images of these people – who are involved in legally spying and collecting private information through digital technologies – physically public via illegal acts of graffiti.
Paolo Cirio – “Overexposed – Berlin” (2015); courtesy of the artist and NOME Gallery
Often, Cirio’s works involve an illegal process: hacking, organizing DOS attacks, copyright infringement, among other things, but these illegal activities are always precisely calculated to make visible the insufficiencies of our legal system in accounting for corporate or high level crimes in internet and communications technologies. Furthermore he explores the inability of the law to distinguish between artistic interventions and criminal acts: he often faces lawsuits for his works and turns these lawsuits into a performative aspect of the project.
A multifaceted project with meaningful implications, Cirio’s work indicates specific problems and also offers an exemplary model for artistic and new-media based activism. He produces thoughtful and beautiful prints and provocative social performances, using satire and subversion as a powerful tool for a non-violent form of social criticism and effective means of undermining corruption and abuses of power.
Paolo Cirio – “Overexposed – NY” (2015); courtesy of the artist and NOME GalleryPaolo Cirio – “Michael Hayden” (2015), detail, acrylic paint on photographic paper, 91 x 106 cm; photo by Bresadola Freese / dram-berlin.de, courtesy of NOME Gallery
Alena Sokhan is working on her Masters in Media and Communications at the European Graduate School. Her research interests lie in the topics of Queer Theory, Critical Theory, Film and New Media Art, and Economics.