When tech giants unveil new products, including mobile devices and wearables, consumers clamor to get their hands on the latest technology. But just as we mindlessly agree to convoluted Terms of Service agreements without understanding their contents, few of us truly understand how much data our devices are collecting about us.
Founded in 2008, XCEED is a Hong Kong based art collective focusing on new media art. Comprised of artists, programmers, and engineers, the collective creates work that both reflects on and challenges issues of the digital age. Currently, the group is on tour in Greece and Poland with a recent work, the Collar X. Collar X is an aesthetically updated version of a piece XCEED was commissioned to make by the Incubator for Film & Digital Media in Asia (IVFA) in 2016 on the theme of surveillance. The earlier version, called the Collar AG, is a metallic necklace with a countdown clock, talking guide, and conduction headphones meant to intervene with gallery goers' experience of an IVFA exhibition.
Its features were inspired by Google's filter bubbles, wherein the company's algorithm begins to provide users with selective search results aligning with their pre-existing worldview, based on previous activity. In pursuit of mimicking this ideologically limiting behavior, the Collar AG closely monitors its wearer and instructs their actions in the gallery space. "We installed different sensors in space, so when the visitor puts on the Collar AG and walks through the space, our system will know their location," XCEED Artistic Director Chris Cheung tells Creators.
The sensors not only track movement, they also trigger Suri, a hacked version of Apple's Siri. Suri acts as a guide for the wearer, explaining details about different pieces in the exhibition. As Suri offers opinions on the art and prevents visitors from diverging from her prescribed path, the more Big Brother-esque aspects of the Collar X and Collar AG come into play. Depending on the size of the space, the countdown clock forces wearers to adhere to a strict 20 to 30 minute timeframe for viewing the exhibition. As the timer approaches its pre-ordained deadline, the collar emits a disruptive buzzing noise.
In order to attach the Collar X or Collar AG, the team must fasten it around a wearer's neck with a drill. XCEED provides as little information as possible to participants regarding the Collar's features, and Cheung says our willingness to try the wearable with no knowledge of what it's tracking says a lot about how we currently interact with technology. "For example, we know that cellphones are kind of a tracking device, but we still want to use them because the smartphone gives us some sort of convenience or is a fashionable thing we need to have," he explains. "So we are giving up our freedom to use a new technology. And this is what we are trying to do, to create a fashionable wearable device that helps people rethink the idea behind the surveillance issue."
XCEED just finished its first tour of the device and hopes to continue showing it at festivals and exhibitions around the world, inspiring people to think critically about their relationship with technology and surveillance. Sometimes getting an idea through your head requires a good kick in the pants. Other times, you might need a talking metal collar fastened around your neck in order to truly absorb it.
For more information on XCEED and upcoming exhibitions, check out their website.