I created the Pixelhead full-face mask to raise questions about anonymity, the digital industry, state control, and privacy—whether voluntarily on social networks, tracking, and monitoring, or involuntarily via surveillance. I think network technologies and the web are really great tools with lots of benefits, but with the threats to privacy, government spyware/surveillance, sentiment analysis data mining, and so on, the internet is not a gateway to freedom anymore.
How we're dealing with this kind of media and new technologies is interesting to me. People upload everything to the web: their location (GPS data), big parts of their lives (photos, preferences, interests, hobbies), and so on. What does this mean for society?
At the moment, technology is changing the world way too fast, and the social consequences are not fully foreseeable yet. The definition of the term "anonymity" will change as surveillance increases more and more. Although things like having a smart phone and the internet are great, people do need to know the downsides.
Pixelhead acts as media camouflage, completely shielding the head to ensure that your face is not recognizable on photographs taken in public places without securing permission. A simple piece of fabric creates a little piece of anonymity for the internet age. It is made out of the same elastic fabric used in beach wear and sports gear, but with a Pixel-style print based on German Secretary of the Interior Hans-Peter Friedrich. I have chosen the German Secretary because of his political function rather than who he is as a person. He's the guy responsible for internal security, the protection of the constitutional order, data protection, and freedom of information. So by using his face, it becomes a sort of metaphor—a political statement.
In Germany, we talk about having “Facebook lessons” in school. I think teaching people the cons of the web requires more than that. I would suggest a kind of digital class within school. It would be a lesson that starts from scratch, with social media like Facebook as just a part of it. It is now more important than ever to have digital media competence. People really should be aware of what they reveal and how this all works.
Martin Backes is a German artist, designer, director, lecturer, performer, hacker and composer.