Zach Blas is an artist and writer whose practice engages technics and minoritarian politics. Currently, he is a Lecturer in the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London. Blas has exhibited and lectured internationally, recently at Whitechapel Gallery, London; ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe; Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; e-flux, New York; Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane; New Museum, New York; Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City; and transmediale, Berlin.
Facial Weaponization Suite (2011-14)
Facial Weaponization Suite protests against biometric facial recognition–and the inequalities these technologies propagate–by making “collective masks” in community-based workshops that are modeled from the aggregated facial data of participants, resulting in amorphous masks that cannot be detected by biometric facial recognition technologies. The masks are used for public interventions and performances. One mask, the Fag Face Mask, generated from the biometric facial data of many queer men’s faces, is a response to scientific studies that link determining sexual orientation through rapid facial recognition techniques. Another mask explores a tripartite conception of blackness, divided between biometric racism (the inability of biometric technologies to detect dark skin), the favoring of black in militant aesthetics, and black as that which informatically obfuscates. A third mask engages feminism’s relations to concealment and imperceptibility, taking recent veil legislation in France as a troubling site that turns visibility into an oppressive logic of control. A fourth mask takes up biometrics’ deployment as a border security technology at the Mexico-US border and the resulting violence and nationalism it instigates. These masks intersect with social movements’ use of masking as an opaque tool of collective transformation that refuses dominant forms of political representation.
Face Cages (2013-16) (Installation / performance)
Face Cages is a dramatisation of the abstract violence of the biometric diagram. In this installation and performance work, four queer artists (Micha Cárdenas, Elle Mehrmand, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, and Zach Blas), whose bodies and identities are particularly precarious to biometric scrutiny, generate biometric diagrams of their faces, which are then fabricated as three- dimensional metal objects, evoking a material resonance with handcuffs, prison bars, and torture devices. The metal face cages are then worn in endurance performances for video. Once materialised as a physical object, the computational biometric diagram, a supposedly perfect measuring and accounting of the face, transforms into a cage that does not easily fit the human head, and is painful to wear. These cages exaggerate and perform the irreconcilability of the biometric diagram with the materiality of the human face itself — and the violence that occurs when the two are forced to coincide. The exhibition at Sonic Acts features 3 of the 4 face cages combined in a new set-up together with Facial Weaponization Suite.
Official literature on biometrics from the UK Home Office defines bio-exempt as those not required to submit biometric data to the government, and specifies that children, amputees with one or no fingers, and diplomats are bio-exempt. It also described bio-exempt as ‘exempt from control’. In his performative lecture, Zach Blas will attempt to understand ‘bio-exempt’ as a paradigmatic descriptor for today's global security regime. Bio-exemption is a mode of biopolitical control: who has the legal right to be exempt from their embodied self and who has the right to remain unmarked, not indexed.
Facial Weaponization Suite (2011-14), Zach Blas. Photo by Pieter Kers
Official literature on biometrics from the UK Home Office defines bio-exempt as those not required to submit biometric data to the government, and specifies that children, amputees with one or no fingers, and diplomats are bio-exempt. The UK Home Office also described bio-exempt as ‘exempt from control.’ In his performative lecture Zach Blas will attempt to understand ‘bio-exempt’ as a paradigmatic descriptor for today's global security regime. Bio-exemption is a mode of biopolitical control: who has the legal right to be exempt from their embodied self and who has the right to remain unmarked, not indexed.Masterclass by Zach Blas - Two Outsides: Informatic Opacity & Contra-Internet