Level of confidence: Open-source art memorial to the missing #ArtTuesday


Via New Scientist.

Level of Confidence by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Baltan Laboratories, Eindhoven, The Netherlands, until 16 September

Green points and lines plot out your features, taking stock of what makes your face unique. The haunting expressions of young men stare back impassively, as a progress bar marks how far the software has got in matching your face with one of theirs.

This is Level of Confidence – a chilling and moving work by Mexican artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Currently on show at Baltan Laboratories in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, this work is a response to the kidnapping of 43 student teachers in the city of Iguala, Mexico, in September last year.

The students had been protesting over teachers’ wages and union rights before they were rounded up, taken into the hills and, it is believed, turned over to a local drugs cartel. Most people think they were killed and their bodies burned – drug-related atrocities are all too common in the Guerrero part of Mexico.

The monochrome collection of their faces is composed of photos taken from their national IDs. It reminds me of my class directory from university. They look so young, yet there are marks and discolorations on the images that evoke bullet holes and blood, hinting at the violence we can only speculate they endured.

Turn technology on its head

Most facial recognition draws on a vast database of potential matches, but Level of Confidence uses only the ID photos, coupled with three common algorithms – Eigen, Fischer and LBPH (Local Binary Pattern Histograms).

This technical arrangement is deliberate: Lozano-Hemmer wanted the matching process to take long enough that viewers would have chance to connect with the images and to see themselves in every one. By matching our faces to those of the students, Lozano-Hemmer aims to make us feel a kinship that often gets lost with today’s global news information overload.

After 25 minutes, the artwork tells me it has found my match and I see an enigmatic boy staring back from an incalculable distance. I try three times and the answer is the same: a 74 per cent match with Jesus Jovany Rodriguez Tlatempa – a level of confidence so high it might be a record, Lozano-Hemmer tells me.

The artwork is a memorial to these lost sons, brothers and fathers. The work is constantly striving for an impossible 100 per cent match, and this is a symbol of the heart-breaking and unending search for a complete answer or resolution to their disappearance. But it is also a way of turning the technology on its head, says Lozano-Hemmer.

Read more.

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