Hiding From the Machine: FIGMENT explores surveillance art


None of our lives are truly private. Is “Big Brother,” the NSA, always watching us?

It wouldn’t be possible without data. Bright, multicolored advertisements flash across our screens, across most of the websites we use everyday, from Facebook to Gmail, Instagram to Snapchat, using cookies to track our behavior and then pester us about shirts, shoes, or other recently viewed products. These smart, targeted advertisements have enveloped my own Facebook page, each ad resulting from careful algorithmic sculpting of my online reality.

Every piece of our data is a tiny snapshot of our lives. Highly sophisticated facial-recognition algorithms, like Amazon Rekognition, are able to use that data to find a face within a morass of pixels. With cloud technology, facial recognition can now estimate a subject’s age range, gender, and other variables, complementing biometrics like iris recognition, retinal analysis, and fingerprint scanning.


A model in CV Dazzle facial disguise, courtesy of Adam Harvey 

For FIGMENT artist Adam Flynn, invasive data collection was something many weren’t even remotely paranoid over. That is, until CV Dazzle. Computer Vision Dazzle (CV Dazzle), a project from New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), directly responds to algorithms’ invasion into our private lives. Adam Harvey created CV Dazzle as a technology that doubles as art, because each brushstroke has to be strategically placed on a person’s face in order to confuse state-of-the-art algorithms used in surveillance software.

We sat down with Adam Flynn recently to explore this topic, the impact of surveillance on communities, and his goals for his FIGMENT project and beyond.

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A Box Theater, Two Men, and a Red Carpet

FIGMENT highlights DIY interactive cinema with Larry Lansing and Eddie Kestermont

Imagine: It’s a balmy spring afternoon. Eager to watch an award-winning film, you search for YouTube previews of The Revenant. Clicking on what appears to be a film trailer, your screen is flooded with detailed footage of a monstrous grizzly bear sinking his teeth into Hugh Glass, who howls with a pure, unadulterated rage.

Spoilers like these ruin the surprise, rendering carefully crafted stories and artful cinematography predictable instead of exciting. Eddie Kestermont and Larry Lansing, joint creators of The Box Theater, decided it was time to create an innovative spoiler experience. The result: a playful, 10-minute film featuring deep spoilers from The Sixth Sense, Star Wars, and other classics woven into a mini-documentary.

The inspiration was simple: create a high-quality replica of the movie theater experience without full-length film showings. Craving “an outlet for restless energy,” Lansing considered compiling a montage of spoilers celebrating the best moments in cinema. For co-creator Kestermont, spoilers were only the beginning. He assembled deep spoilers—the pivotal moments in a series that profoundly alter an audience’s previous perceptions of the story.

boxtheater4.pngLook out! There are deep spoilers inside this Box! (snapshot from FIGMENT Oakland, 2015)


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The Art of Subtraction: Artist Rachel Colwell on the meaning of erasure

A book is a book and it can’t be anything else, right? If it’s one of those musty copies that smell like the local library, then you keep it on your bookshelf and crack it open over a cup of coffee. There’s something deeply rebellious about taking a felt-tip marker to that book and carefully obliterating words, allowing ink to seep through the page. This may feel difficult to many, but this rebelliousness is part of a unique type of art: the use of erasure to create a new story from an old one.

“Erasure is a very simple technique,” Colwell explains. “Using pens, [you] choose 5-6 words out of a page to make a sentence with.” Like her poetic inspiration, Brion Gysin, she finds that crossing out words isn’t just cathartic, it’s also a way to examine how we declare something more “true” or “real.” This is the basis of Colwell’s project, “The Art of Subtraction,” which uses cast-off books and poems to practice the technique of erasure.


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Call for art: FIGMENT Oakland now accepting interactive artwork submissions

The 3rd Annual FIGMENT participatory community event celebrates Bay Area creativity

Oakland, CA - The organizers of FIGMENT Oakland, the Bay Area chapter of the global participatory art organization, have announced the opening of their art submissions portal in preparation for the 3rd annual FIGMENT weekend event on June 10, 2017.

Artists, community organizers and performers of all types are encouraged to submit finished artworks, artworks in progress, concepts, performances, workshops or even games for inclusion in the 2017 event. Unlike many creative events, there is no fee to submit works for consideration, no fee for participation and no fee to attend the event.

“As a curator, I love to see the inception of new, creative concepts,” said Emmie Katz, Curatorial director for FIGMENT Oakland. “We try to find works that demonstrate the variety of ways a person can express themselves. Playful expression goes far beyond painting and drawing, and FIGMENT reminds us all of that fact by fostering work that draws inspiration from practice, movement, resourcefulness, and challenge.”

“At FIGMENT, we feature work that is uniquely interactive, accessible and participatory,” said Irene Malatesta, Outreach director for FIGMENT Oakland. “Our top concerns when selecting and featuring work are: How can we better engage our communities with creativity? How can we encourage participation in artmaking and art appreciation by people of all ages and backgrounds?”

FIGMENT is organized entirely by volunteers. FIGMENT accepts no corporate sponsorship and is completely funded by individual donations. In 2014 and 2015, FIGMENT Oakland presented 200 creative interactive artworks for the delight of 3,500 visitors in Mosswood Park. In addition, FIGMENT Oakland provided 5 weeks of free art education workshops for Oakland area children in 2016.


About FIGMENT Oakland:

FIGMENT Oakland is a free, inclusive, participatory arts event held in multiple cities and drawing tens of thousands of participants each year. FIGMENT's mission is to offer free, family-friendly and participatory art to entire communities. FIGMENT is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization entirely funded by grants and individual donations. FIGMENT accepts no corporate sponsorship of any kind. The event will be held on June 10, 2017, at Mosswood Park in Oakland, CA. To learn more, visit: oakland.figmentproject.org

Press Inquiries:

Contact Brian Phan, FIGMENT Oakland Public Relations / brianphan@figmentproject.org


A full FIGMENT global event image gallery can be found here.

Robotics Artist Ashley Newton on Technology, Art and FIGMENT

Something phenomenal happens when technology expands the reaches of an artist’s imagination. Ashley Newton, a San Francisco-based artist, spent her days doing market research in a cubicle before stumbling on that accidental discovery. Newton and her business partner, Sean Stevens, were teaching a class on creating arboretums when one of the students mentioned something revolutionary: a robotic flower. Just like that, the internal gears of a maker began to turn.

“[We] called it Sustainable Magic, because we wanted to create something magical,” Newton smiled. Soon after opening their artistic practice in 2012, Newton and Stevens applied for 2013’s Priceless Art Festival in Belden Town, California, to create radiant mechanical flowers that amaze attendees. The team painstakingly laser-cut the delicate designs. From petals and pistils, Sustainable Magic was born.


Robotics artist Ashley Newton with some of her creations.

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Celebrating creativity & imagination with artist Robin Birdd

If you’ve heard of the X-Men comic books, you might know about The Danger Room: a fictional training facility appearing first in X-Men #2. “The Danger Room [is] a [space] that changes depending on what the characters want [it] to be,” Robin Birdd noted, pausing to consider the inspiration for her own version of The Danger Room. Robin Birdd and Jeffrey Yip wanted their version to be as much a place for creative imagination as possible: “Every time Danger Room pops up, there’s a new scenario,” Birdd explained.

The Danger Room, a whimsical place of discovery, is first and foremost an interactive space intended to push the limits of the imagination. “With the use of light, texture, and sound, the artists engage the human senses in the temporal unknown,” she smiled. “People were afraid to go in. It’s supposed to be mysterious.” But more than anything, like the comic book space before it, The Danger Room emphasizes training the senses: in unstructured play, participants can imagine anything they want to be.


Artist Robin Birdd inside The Danger Room, FIGMENT Oakland 2015. (via Instagram)

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Seeking Curation Co-Director for 2017!

Interactive Rainbows by Toni Tone, Photo by Jason HayesInteractive Rainbows by Toni Tone, Photo by Jason Hayes

Are you passionate about art in Oakland?  Do you love connecting with artists and your community? FIGMENT Oakland is looking for a co-director for our 2017 Curation team!

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FIGMENT sits down with multimedia artist Adam Davis

“It’s only been recently that people started thinking of the Bay Area as tech hub first, and art hub second,” says Adam Davis, an illustrator and full-time father in the East Bay. Davis attended FIGMENT in 2015 with his project Secrets Everywhere, an intricate, puzzle-like scavenger-hunt in which participants used clues to find a piece of art they could keep. This project--along with his original scavenger-hunt--are very much about immersive experiences leading people to see the world in a new light. For Davis and other appreciators, original art is undervalued. “[But] if you make art accessible, someone [may] want to [go] home and hang it on their wall, rather than going to Ikea,” Davis said wryly.

Locally, there are many different types of art-themed events: you could attend a gallery showing by current MFA candidates, experience interactive theatre like Neurosociety, witness the Oakland Symphony, or get a taste of the thriving East Bay gallery scene at Oakland Art Murmur First Fridays. The Bay Area offers a diverse array of cultural flavors to experience: and some even allow you to get up close and personal. Since 2014, Oakland’s FIGMENT Project offers you just that: a chance to get up close and personal with local artists just like Adam Davis. 

Can you spot the clue? Painting by Adam Davis.

Can you spot the clue? Above: A mysterious painting by artist Adam Davis.

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Mark your calendar for these Meet and Greet events

Are you an artist or maybe just art-curious? Are you considering submitting an art project, installation, workshop or performance idea to FIGMENT Oakland 2017? Or, are you interested in helping with the event and want to know how to get involved? Then these free participant Meet and Greet events are for you.

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You're invited: Dancehall of Beautiful Radiant Figments

The Dancehall of Beautiful Radiant Things - a creative slow dance event series - is joining forces with FIGMENT Oakland - a free, global interactive art nonprofit - to present a one-night-only event on March 22, 2017. Art supporters and social dance enthusiasts of all skill levels are invited to sway, shimmy, and mingle in support of the annual interactive FIGMENT art event and community.

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