Two public art installations that explore the use of automated systems for “profiling” people comprise Profiling, an exhibition that begins on June 8 and runs through September 9, 2007, at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Addressing issues surrounding surveillance, protection, privacy, and identity, the exhibition is organized by Christiane Paul, the Whitney’s adjunct curator of new media arts.

The connection between surveillance and entertainment is at the core of SVEN – Surveillance Video Entertainment Network (2006-present), by Amy Alexander, Wojciech Kosma, Vincent Rabaud, Jesse Gilbert and Nikhil Rasiwasia. SVEN humorously subverts the use of surveillance technologies ordinarily directed at profiling “suspicious subjects.” This project asks the question, “If computer vision technology can be used to detect terrorists, criminals, or other undesirables, why can’t it spot rock stars as well?” SVEN tracks visitors, detecting their characteristics, and analyzing their “rock star potential”.

The resulting video and audio are displayed on monitors, interrupting the standard security camera display each time a potential rock star is detected. The idea is to examine and demystify concerns about surveillance and computer systems not in terms of being watched, but in terms of how the watching is being done, and how else it might be done if other people were at the wheel.

David Rokeby‘s surveillance installation Taken (2002) provides two readings of the activities in the museum: a continuously accumulating history of movements of visitors that is both a statistical plot of gallery activities and a record of each act of each visitor; and a “catalog” of visitors’ head shots with classifying adjectives randomly attributed to them (i.e. ‘unsuspecting’, ‘complicit’, ‘hungry’). Taken addresses the increasing use of automated systems for profiling people as part of the “war on terrorism” and was conceived as an attempt to help ask questions about appropriate uses of technology.