Zach Blas: The possibilities of lost fingers

Monday 27 February 16:21

Zach Blas at Sonic Acts 2017, photo by Pieter Kers
by Linnea Langfjord Living in a world in which we are constantly under surveillance, there is a growing desire to remain unseen. Governments are increasingly collecting biometric data from citizens and immigrants, as this technology promises an objective truth about who you are. Furthermore, it makes it possible to trace you, if you divert from your so-called truth. Is there a way around this, if we want to avoid being indexed? In his talk, Zach Blas introduces the concept of bio-exemption. Bio-exemption means that for one or more reasons, you are not required to have have your biometric data collected. One of the things he notes as that which exempts you from biometric data collection, is having 'one or no fingers'. It strikes me, during the talk, that this is an opportunity, to speculate about absurd methods for existing outside of what can be counted and collected – to exist outside the system. Which finger would you keep? I always wear four rings. I have more than four rings, so they change depending on mood. As the rings vary in size, each ring fits to a specific finger. I can choose the finger on which my most precious ring sits, an oval amber stone in a silver setting from the 1920s. This finger happens to be my right middle finger, a finger with which you can produce a significant gesture. It is a contender for keeping. But what about my opposable thumbs? The thumb is the finger that makes me able to handle things and do tasks like turning on the water tap in my kitchen. If I decided to keep a thumb, would it still be an opposable thumb without the rest of the fingers? Is a lonely opposable thumb just a thumb? My index finger is good for pointing at things, but a little finger or a ring finger can do this as well. Together the fingers are tools which allow me to write and create, but through new ways of governmental management, they are becoming devices by which I can be captured. Physically they allow me to handle things, to ultimately be an independent being. Biometric data collection means they are also a part of me that provides a means for a system to invade me, a system which is itself created and operated by other people’s fingers. Mine are marked with scars, from papercuts to the time I wanted to make an extra hole in my belt, but missed the leather and slashed my finger. Some have strong memories connected to them. All of these permanent marks come from my own experience, from the fingers being and doing in the world. But what does it mean to be permanently marked by something you have no agency over? Everyday, people who cannot be categorized under standardized norms experience situations that have the potential to mark them permanently. When my fingerprints become abstract data held somewhere else other than at the end of my fingers, I lose agency. This parallel meta-existence of my fingerprints can be used to create a truth about me which is one-sided, superficial and ultimately not true. It is constructed only through the surface of my body, dehumanizing my personhood. The intangible existence of my fingers removes my voice within a part of the system in which I am not allowed to speak. Free is the antonym of capture. It should not be necessary to cut off all of your fingers in order to be free. In addition, finger cutting and hand cutting can have other meanings in different social, political and cultural contexts. But within this context, when a loss of all but one finger counts as being uncountable, it allows the possibility of existing in a strange gap in the system. Existing between these gaps is a way to be free, because you cannot be counted and collected. The logic of my finger loss thought experiment leads me to one image of freedom, of myself transformed into one giant finger: the possibility of being one un-counted and uncountable finger.

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