In a society suffused with surveillance technologies and practices, which persist in their extension across and into all dimensions of human experience, members of the contemporary art community have made significant contributions to the ontology of the surveillant self. This article compares recent works by several prominent multimedia artists who have explored the radical potential of dataveillance as a way to bridge the disconnect between quantitative (metric) and qualitative (narrative) representations of self in the Information Age. By considering the questions raised by three recent art projects—Hasan Elahi's Tracking Transience; Jill Magid's Composite; Heather Dewey-Hagborg's Stranger Visions—I explore how each artist employs a surveillant aesthetic to test the extent to which meaningful subjectivities may be constructed out of decontextualized metric data. In this way, these artists are directly engaging with the surveillant assemblage, harnessing the discrete flows of data that normally work to depersonalize and thereby negate individual identities, and instead repurposing these disassembled metrics as a means of examining modern selfhood as it both produces and is produced by surveillance environments. In particular, this article focuses on the tension between metric and narrative representations of self, by drawing on multimedia artistic projects that engage with and combine both aspects and document their efforts in a range of visual and textual media.
Amy Christmas is Associate Professor in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at the American University of Armenia, where she teaches courses in literature and creative practice. Since 2014, she has also held positions at universities in the Middle East and China. Her scholarship is largely concerned with the intersection of self and performative spaces, with particular emphasis on subjectivity, intersubjectivity, and the narrative construction of self in surveillance environments.