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Art That Makes You Think

Surveillance Capitalism #1: Storing up all cans of problems

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Welcome to my survivalist basement, where we are storing up all cans of problems for the future. 'Surveillance Capitalism', is a term coined by Shoshana Zuboff for the title of her seminal book in 2019. It refers to digital tech companies, largely in California (Google, Meta, Amazon, Apple, also Baido...), that have created unprecedented wealth and power by hoovering up and selling our personal data, even our very imagination, without our knowledge.

This first composition comprises industrial pipe-shelving glimmering with fluorescent 'digital rain' and scaffolding planks that are storing 12 rusted cans of 'Surveillance Capitalism's SOUP'. Unlike my other collection, 'Liquid Capitalism', which was inspired by Andy Warhol's Campbell's soup cans, and used to skewer the disastrous impacts of capitalism, the contents of the cans is not nature processed, but rather human nature processed.

In capitalism nature is exploited, commodified, and largely destroyed; in this series, it is our private data that is harvested from the surveilled activities that we carry out online, that is codified and condensed in cans. This 'digital exhaust' then becomes proprietary to and sold by, surveillance capitalist corporations, for enormous profits.

It defeats the object of Art That Makes You Think, to explain each can and the intended meaning; it for you to interpret in your own way. However, let's take the one can on the top shelf as an example, Surveillance Capitalism's Alphabet Spaghetti Soup - in a rich, frictionless sauce. This label design speaks to how most of the world willingly accepts the free toys and tools offered by Google’s parent company Alphabet; i.e. the motto ‘In Google We Trust’. In part, because these products seem to make navigating our complicated lives in the third modernity, both frictionless and more manageable. As a result, we have become interwoven with Google digital spaghetti; i.e. the digital processes that we rely upon. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to most of us, Alphabet has created what Zuboff calls the 'uncontract', with which they use our data to spell out precisely who we are, and to predict what we are about to do, and seek to, or sell to those who are able to influence what we do next. In the process, making themselves - the sauce - the richest company in the world. 

This is not a soup can. We are the soup.

See also the collection description here and the blog title Surveillance Capitalism: They will consume you one byte at a time, 


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