When George Orwell wrote 1984, surveillance technology was strictly analog. What would 1984 look like if it was written in the world of the Internet of things?
That’s the question posed by the Nemesis Machine, a new interactive exhibition by British artist Stanza. Currently on display in Bruges, the Nemesis Machine translates environmental data from sensors placed around London into a dystopian Circuit City.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that we live in a surveillance culture, if not a surveillance state,” Stanza tells me by phone. Sensors surround us, tracking everything from our location to our heart rate. Stanza says that he is troubled by how few people seem to be bothered by this. The Nemesis City, he says, is meant to raise questions about what mark the “infobesity” of our connected age will lead us in 50 years.
In appearance, the Nemesis Machine is like Big Brother parsed through the lens of the Internet of things. It gives visitors a bird’s eye view of a cybernetic cityscape, where skyscrapers are constructed of silicon and circuit boards. Each one of these buildings is wirelessly connected to sensors placed around London, measuring data such as temperature, humidity, motion, and so on. When those sensors record data past certain tolerances, they cause their associated tower in Bruges to light up, beep, click, or move, often in strange, insect-like ways.
“What I’m trying to do here, first and foremost, is confront people with a wild spectacle, to make them engage with the ideas of the piece on an emotional level,” Stanza says. There’s supposed to be something alien and unsettling about the Nemesis Machine, paddle-shocking those who experience it into truly reflecting how much data about themselves they are giving up every day. “I want people to ask themselves: 50 years from now, what are the executives at Google really trying to build?”
The Nemesis Machine is on display as part of the Intelligent City exhibition at the Arentshuis Bruges Museum until May 10. You can read more information about it here.