“Data Shadows” cautions against web privacy

Laura Rostad, Contributing Reporter

The Carroll Gallery’s current exhibit, “Data Shadows,” offers a thought-provoking, original perspective of the Internet’s more elusive aspects. The show features the work of Assistant Professor of Photography AnnieLaurie Erickson and will run through Oct. 8.

The attention-grabbing title piece allows participants to interact with images on a screen by means of eye-tracking technology, while identical images are projected on the wall behind them.

The same room displays large, sculptural images of vibrant computer servers — the very same computer servers that Tulane uses to store its data.

The exhibit also features photographs of exteriors of large data centers, such as Google and Apple. Erickson spent two months traveling around the country to photograph data centers. Though Erickson tried to gain access to the inside of these corporate buildings, she was consistently turned down.

“From their point of view, they have no reason to accommodate an artist trying to create an arguably critical view of their data centers,” Erickson said. “I got some surprisingly rude responses. After realizing I wasn’t going to be given inside access, I decided that the best thing to do would be to go there and see how close I could get.”

Erickson was able to photograph inside data centers at Tulane and Louisiana State University.

“The people at the local data centers were much more accommodating,” Erickson said.

Most of Erickson’s overall work focuses on utilizing photography to reveal what normally goes unseen. The particular concept for “Data Shadows” occurred to her last year, after news of the Edward Snowden leaks.

“That was the first time I had really considered the implications of sharing large quantities of personal data on social media sites and cloud-based web services,” Erickson said. “I was reminded that our personal data is not entirely ours. I was curious and confused about the various mechanisms at play within these systems of surveillance and wanted to see if I could explore it visually.”

Erickson collaborated with two other local artists in order to complete her vision. Local artist and computer programmer, Cole Wiley, helped Erickson with “Data Shadows,” while fellow faculty member Dan Alley assisted with the server sculptures.

“I’ve needed to enlist the help of others for most of my long-term projects,” Erickson said. “I continue to be interested in creating situations where art can be a less solitary process and I get to work with others that have different skill sets than I do.”

Carroll Gallery Curator Laura Richens recognized the importance of Erickson’s concept.

“Data collection is so present in our lives,” Richens said. “Her work is a good reminder of the mechanical aspect of the Internet, which seems to be ruling our lives, for better or for worse.”