Monday, May 8, 2017


Artwork by Paolo Cirio

Review by John Coulter

Paolo Cirio is a political activist and artist.  His conceptual projects question ethics in the digital age.  Privacy, data collection, and surveillance are his subject, as well as his medium.  

His work takes place out of the gallery, not simply documenting social issues,
but directly engaging them.  If artists of the past printed protest posters, artists of the future must make works which are actual tools for the change they wish to see.  Making a painting about Wall Street exploitation will do nothing to deter the current practices of the finance industry, and this is why new methods are needed.  Such methods are far more important than classical techniques, in today’s turbulent, political state. 

There is precedent for work like this.  Mexican artist Minerva Cuervas counterfeits and distributes useful items, such as subway tickets, food coupons and student ID cards.  Using one of Cuerva’s works has a direct impact on the participant, that a framed painting of a subway ticket would not provide.  

This new form of art works within the language of mass media and advanced capitalism to deconstruct it.  While Cirio’s earlier works such as Street Ghosts playfully examine the relationship between the internet and the real world, his recent works directly engage the target.  Amazon Noir was a project in collaboration with which exploited a technological flaw to hack Amazon books and provide them for free.  It was eventually shutdown.  With Loophole for All, Cirio hacked and published information of account holders who used tax loopholes and offshore Cayman Island banks.   

Two of Cirio’s most powerful projects are Overexposed and Obscurity, which function in similar yet opposite ways.  Overexposed circulated photos of government officials from NSA, CIA and FBI, involved in the Edward Snowden leak.  The photos, taken from social media without permission of the owners, are then displayed publicly in streets and galleries.  Here, Cirio publicized private information on surveillance authorities who themselves seek to control and censor information.

Obscurity functions oppositely, in that it obfuscates information that has unethically been made public.  If published online, a mugshot can haunt a person for a lifetime and damage a career.  Current privacy laws do not provide enough protection, even for the falsely arrested and innocent.  Many websites monetize shaming individuals as entertainment.

Obscurity is a project which aids in the anonymity of those with criminal records published online.  By cloning the mugshot websites, scrambling names, and blurring images Cirio pollutes the internet with similar but false data. 

I can’t stress how genius this tactic is.  

Dan Shultz’s Internet Noise is a web project that randomly visits websites to fill ISP databases with noise.  This confuses companies gathering data on web history by flooding them with arbitrary web traffic.  There is a concept in Brave New World that the truth will become indistinguishable from a sea of trivial untruths.  

Both Cirio’s work and Internet Noise function similarly in that they mask personal records with massive amounts of homogeneous information: effectively nullifying the original.  By republishing the scrambled information, it makes it harder to find the true information amongst the static.  This also makes it more difficult for search engines to identify the original information through the noise of the false information.  

More artists need to abandon the paintbrush if they are seeking to do anything more than decorate.  Follow the Paolo Cirio’s work on his website and here on SharksEatMeat. 

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