What Happens ‘Before the Bullet Hits the Body’: Dismantling Predictive Policing through Public Art

Bill Balaskas, Kingston University, London

‘Before the bullet hits the body’ is a public art installation that was commissioned by the Stegi Cultural Centre of the Onassis Foundation in the context of its exhibition ‘YOU and AI: Through the Algorithmic Lens’ (Athens, Greece; June-July 2021). The work took its title from the seminal 2018 report by the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, which led to the dismantlement of the “predictive” policing programmes of the Los Angeles Police Department. The algorithm at the epicentre of LAPD’s predictive policing was exhibited in the form of a ground mural at Pedion tou Areos park, in central Athens. It was the key piece in the collaboration between Greek London-based artist Bill Balaskas and the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition – a volunteer-run grassroots organization, whose campaigns and successfully fought court cases revealed the racial bias of LAPD’s algorithmic policing.

The algorithm exhibited in Athens describes an area’s predicted rate of crimes based on its historical average rate of crimes combined with recent trends. The Coalition’s community organizing expanded the critique of LAPD’s algorithm beyond just questioning the “feedback loop”, showing how police use the veneer of science to mask theirviolence. Thus, it was able to expose crime data as a social construct intended to contain, control, and criminalize Black, brown, and poor communities. The Coalition argued that surveillance and crime data create the conditions of police

violence “before the bullet hits the body”. These conditions include incidents of police brutality like the 2020 killing of George Floyd, which led to global protests by the Black Lives Matter movement. The installation in Pedion tou Areos adopted the visual language of these protests, which included slogans written on major roads in the U.S. in bright yellow fonts. Along with the installation at Athens’ central park, the project consisted of a presentation of the work of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition’s on Stegi’s website curated by Bill Balaskas, and a series of online discussions organised by the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition.

This paper will analyse the installation presented at Pedion tou Areos, as well as its relationship with the online material presented on the website of Stegi and the events that accompanied the exhibition. The paper will aim to reveal the complexities of algorithmic surveillance and predictive policing, and how these may be exposed through a multi-component cultural practice placing at its epicentre public art. At the same time, the paper will elaborate on the collaboration between Bill Balaskas and the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, highlighting the reflexive character of collaborative praxis and its contribution to understanding and communicating algorithmic critique.

BIO | Bill Balaskas is an artist, theorist, and educator, whose research is located at the intersection of contemporary politics, digital media, and visual culture. His works have been widely exhibited internationally, in museums, galleries, festivals and public spaces. He has received awards and grants from the European Investment Bank Institute; Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (CIHA); Open Society Foundation; European Cultural Foundation; Australian National University; and the Association for Art History, amongst others. In parallel with his artistic practice, he has been an editor for the Leonardo Electronic Almanac (MIT Press), while his writings have also appeared in edited books and in publications such as the Journal of Visual Culture, Third Text, Revista Arta, and Espace Art Actuel. His most recent book is ‘Institution as Praxis: New Curatorial Directions for Collaborative Research’ (Sternberg Press, 2020). Balaskas is an Associate Professor and Director of Research, Business and Innovation at the School of Art and Architecture of Kingston University, London.


Post-Algorithmic Strategies A Queer Critique of Discourse in Scientific Images

Felipe Rivas San Martín, Universitat Politèctica de València (UPV)

This proposal addresses a research and artistic production project that I developed within the framework of an artistic residency at the Despina Contemporary Art Center, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2018. This artistical project was exhibited between 2018 and 2019 in Santiago de Chile under the title “Sex, image and algorithms: homosexual data”. The work is associated with an ongoing doctoral research, which aims to carry out a queer reading of computer science and certain scientific projects that use algorithms, through a genealogical methodology.

The scientific study chosen and analyzed in that residency was that one of the academics Michal Kosinski and Yilum Wang from Stanford University, who in 2017 published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology the results of a project that trained a facial recognition algorithm to identify the sexual orientation of people based on photographs of their faces. This project by the Stanford academics was linked to biometric and anthropometric studies carried out with homosexual subjects in Brazil at the beginning of the 20th century, to question a possible genealogical relationship between the technologies of the past and those of the present.

The work production strategy was very simple. It consisted of taking advantage of the scientific research itself (the academic paper) as material and work reference, using the images and representations of the article by Wang and Kosinski as the motive for several works. These illustrations, diagrams and scientific schemes went from the page of the academic paper to the
wall of the room, through the use of painting or theuse of objects. In this transfer, the images lost part of their illustrative and utilitarian sense, becoming contaminated with the connotations of the artistic object. In this operation, an attempt was made to challenge those illustrations, diagrams and

schemes with which the scientific discourse is explained and legitimized (Bruno Latour, 1990). By painting and materializing the images on the paper, what they have always been is made explicit: assemblages, artifices and representations.

This artistic strategy was defined as “post-algorithmic” in three senses: first, it does not refer to the algorithm itself as an abstract entity (Goffey 2008), but rather to scientific projects that use algorithms, that is, to algorithms in use. Second, it specifically addresses the discourses and ideologies around the algorithm that are hidden in scientific rhetoric and that can be visualized in images. Thirdly, it is post-algorithmic since it is about works that do not use algorithms in their digital and computerized dimensions, but rather position themselves from the objectuality of the “conventional” artistic work, to exercise a “material” criticism of those algorithmic discourses.

BIO | Felipe Rivas San Martín is a Chilean visual artist, essayist and sexual dissidence activist. He has a Master in Visual Arts degree from the University of Chile. He currently lives and works in Valencia, Spain, where he is pursuing a PhD in Art at the Universitat Politèctica de València (UPV), as a fellow of the National Research and Development Agency (ANID). His work deals with the intersection between queer activism, technology and decolonialism. He develops an in-disciplinary production connecting painting, drawing, performance, video, writing, activism and research. His work is part of the collections: Museo Reina Sofía (Spain); AMA Foundation, Ministry of Cultures Collection, MAC Collection (Chile). He is the co-founder of the University Collective of Sexual Dissidence (CUDS). Also is co-editor of the publication Multitud Marica, activations of sex-dissident files in Latin America (2017), and author of the bookInternet, mon amour: queer/cuir infections between digital and material (2019).


On Someone

For approximately two months in 2019, Lauren Lee McCarthy (US) installed custom-designed smart devices – cameras, microphones, lights, and other appliances – in four individuals’ homes. From a command centre in 205 Hudson Gallery (NYC), exhibition visitors were able to look into the homes using one of four tabletop installed laptops. In addition to surveying participants, visitors were also able to access and control their networked devices. If participants called out for “Someone” visitors were able to step in as their virtual assistant, fulfilling requests and answering questions. Installed as video documentation of the initial performance, SOMEONE explores the tension between a desire for privacy on the one hand and the drive toward technologically-enabled convenience on the other. As we become increasingly accustomed to the idea that artificial intelligences and the corporations they work for are surveying and capitalizing on our private lives, McCarthy asks how a reminder of the human element that typically lies behind these actors might provoke a renewed sense of awareness and criticality.

BIO | Lauren Lee McCarthy (she/they) is an artist examining social relationships in the midst of surveillance, automation, and algorithmic living. She is a 2021 United States Artist Fellow, 2020 Sundance New Frontier Story Lab Fellow, 2020 Eyebeam Rapid Response Fellow, 2019 Creative Capital Grantee, and has been a resident at Eyebeam, ZERO1, CMU STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, Autodesk, NYU ITP, and Ars Electronica. She is the recipient of grants from the Knight Foundation, the Online News Association, Mozilla Foundation, Google AMI, Sundance Institute New Frontiers Labs, Turner Broadcasting, and Rhizome. Her work SOMEONE was awarded the Ars Electronica Golden Nica and the Japan Media Arts Social Impact Award, and her work LAUREN was awarded the IDFA DocLab Award for Immersive Non-Fiction. Lauren’s work has been exhibited internationally, at places such as the Barbican Centre, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Haus der elektronischen Künste, SIGGRAPH, Onassis Cultural Center, IDFA DocLab, Science Gallery Dublin, Seoul Museum of Art, and the Japan Media Arts Festival.

Lauren is also the creator of p5.js, an open-source art and education platform that prioritizes access and diversity in learning to code, with over 1.5 million users. She expands on this work in her role on the Board of Directors for the Processing Foundation, whose mission is to serve those who have historically not had access to the fields of technology, code, and art in learning software and visual literacy. Lauren is an Associate Professor at UCLA Design Media Arts. She holds an MFA from UCLA and a BS Computer Science and BS Art and Design from MIT.


MODERATOR: Dr. Susan Cahill, University of Calgary

FEATURE IMAGE: Lauren Lee McCarthy, Someone, 2019 — Image Credit: Chelsea Yang-Smith

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