In Retained Reports I question our relationship with data that originated from our private human experiences – which surveillance capitalists gather as free raw materials so as to fashion them into prediction products, sold in behavioural futures markets – and I invite us to imagine an alternative economic and social logic. I turned the surveillance capitalism’s “means of production” against themselves, by training an AI algorithm to hallucinate portraits of imaginary individuals based on an analysis of the public-domain archive of Costică Acsinte, one of Romania’s most prolific early-20th-century photographers. Many of Acsinte’s fragile glass plates have sustained damages over the years due to heat and moisture. The delicate silver gelatine emulsion has peeled off, and the glass has cracked or splintered. Worn down by time and elements, the portraits in the Acsinte’s archive are allegories of the impermanence of human artefacts. Their counterparts in Retained Reports, though, are, like personal-data in the hands of the surveillance-industrial complex, permanent artefacts of computational processes and visual antiphrases. It is very hard for citizens to delete all their data, even when they decide to stop sharing them. I am presenting these portraits as images persistently retained on electronic-ink screens, chosen in lieu of traditional archival photo-paper, or NFTs permanently linked on the blockchain. When asymmetries of knowledge between citizens and the surveillance capitalists translate into asymmetries of power, what will be the consequences for democracy? When we lose our private realm, how do we assert our moral autonomy? When predictions of future behaviours are enabled by knowledge and end up with control, what control do we retain over our lives if companies know more about us than we know about ourselves or than we know about them? Or, ultimately, when all our future behaviours are predicted, what does it mean to be human?
Alfonso de Gregorio is a European artist, globally recognised cybersecurity technologist, and hacker. De Gregorio’s artistic work spans image-making, informatics, lectures, and engineering. In his practice, De Gregorio examines the aesthetics and politics of surveillance, traumatic memory, and sustainability. He has exhibited, spoken, and published internationally. De Gregorio’s works have been shown in art and cultural spaces around the world, including leading museums, contemporary photography festivals, and international art biennials, such as Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize (National Portrait Gallery – London, 2000), FUTURE(S) (Belfast Photo Festival, 2021), Singapore International Photography Festival – SIPF (Arts and Heritage District, Singapore, 2022), COUNTERPARTS – PORTRAITS Hellerau Photography Award (Museum of Science and Technology – Dresden, 2022), and CHAOS : CALM (Bangkok Art Biennale, 2022), among others.