URME Surveillance is an artistic intervention project that protects the public from facial recognition surveillance systems by allowing them to wear a photo-realistic, 3D-printed prosthetic of my face. When a user dons the prosthetic, camera systems equipped with facial recognition software identify that user as myself, thus attributing all of their actions to the identity known as “Leo Selvaggio.” In this way, wearers of the prosthetic safeguard their own identities by performing my persona in surveilled areas.
Furthermore, URME Surveillance subverts and confounds large automated systems of surveillance through the creation of disinformation, primarily by allowing my identity to appear in areas of public space that my physical body does not inhabit. For example, if multiple users were to wear my face and become a “Leo” in different areas of the same city at the same time, facial recognition systems would have conflicting locative information. In addition, as the body of each individual wearer is different, any data gathered about my height, weight, and gender is wildly inconsistent. Taken to its farthest conclusion, this massive generation of contradictory data related to my identity in facial recognition databases challenges and subverts facial recognition technology by questioning its ability to accurately identify a body in space. This subversion becomes all the more relevant as surveillance practices, traditionally conducted by human beings, are increasingly being turned over to automated systems under the false supposition that such systems are accurate and free of bias and prejudice. By using an analog means of intervention, in this case a prosthetic mask, I am able to disrupt digital networks and archives of information by exploiting the assumptions of those systems: that identity is a stable – rather than a fluid and ever-changing – paradigm.
Surveillance’s long history of racial profiling and persecution of minorities has made it clear that it is a system that values white men over all others. My work resists this milky homogenization by destabilizing my own privilege and distributing it to others. Furthermore, through workshops, social media, and dialogue I create with the public, I build community by producing platforms that protect the public from surveillance while also creating spaces to collaborate on the deconstruction of such systems.
About the artist
Leonardo Selvaggio is a Chicago based interdisciplinary artist whose work examines the intersection of identity and technology. He has shown work internationally in France and Canada; domestically in New York, Chicago, Florida, and New Mexico. He has been awarded an Albert P. Weisman grant for his work, URME Surveillance and a DCASE IAP Professional Grant to present supporting research. That artistic intervention invites users to wear a photo-realistic prosthetic of his face as protection from pervasive facial recognition surveillance systems. URME has been selected for the Art Souterrain festival in Montreal, the ISEA conference in Vancouver, and the Saint-Etienne Design Biennial in France. In 2015, URME Surveillance was also adapted for television in an episode of CSI: Cyber titled “Selfie 2.0”. Selvaggio’s arts practice has been featured in notable publications: Hyperallergic, Techcrunch, The Washington Post, CNET, The Verge, and The Creator’s Project. He holds a BFA from Rutgers University and an MFA from Columbia College’s Interdisciplinary Arts program.