Artist Explores Identity Squatting and Slipping Between Skins
We have pin and social security numbers, bank accounts and Walgreens Wellness cards. We all carry litanies of codes and passwords that secure our cyber existence. We make paper trails and ghosts of our real selves, but how much of these cipher skins do we attribute to identity? How can they be shed and exchanged? Most importantly, can a fake identity form the basis for a real one?
Simon Farid is a UK-based artist who explores shed identities and the administrative selves we create: the things we put on paper, online, and on record. Beyond the identities we leave behind, he looks at how they can be re-inhabited in what he refers to as ‘identity squatting.’ In a recent article, Motherboard dives into Farid’s current piece in the “Nothing to See” exhibit at the Dublin Science Gallery and the deeper currents of privacy and identity.
Farib’s piece, titled “Occupy Mark Stone”, which extends until January, pivots on a particular case of shed identity. In 2011 The Guardian introduced the world to Mark Kennedy, a police officer who had been posing undercover as Mark Stone for several years. In claim to the fake identity, Stone had an email account and twitter, forged certificates, a passport, and a network of friends. Intrigued by the vacancy left to the name and the unclear bounds of identity, Farid began tapping into the persona. The forgotten identity was adopted once again as Farid began to slip between the skins of his own body and the fictitious Stone.
He was able to resurrect the identity after getting into Stone’s email account. From there he reactivated his Twitter, he found screen grabs of a passport, and Farid’s newly adorned skin grew more and more animated. Farid didn’t reach out to Stone’s friends. He didn’t hack into bank accounts, or act as Stone, but the identity was resurected back into administrative existence.
The train of information that had severed Kennedy from Stone was the same information that leveraged Farid’s dive into the person. The same information that created identity also created anonymity – under Farid’s construction Stone became a bodiless figure, stripped of a physical being, easily transferred like a mask. The entire process leaves us with the question of where we place identity. Is it administrative or physical?
This is a question Farid grapples with at the exhibit. Stone’s wallet lies in a glass case with ID’s, recent voter registration, and customer loyalty cards: all the staples that point to an actual existence. It is the ‘shell’ of Stone’s identity, the objects that contributed to an existence. They are the same ones that Kennedy left behind. The objects that created identity dually extinguished its own being. Farid was fascinated by value we attribute to these items, given their fragility.
The focus on ‘shell identities’, adopted and quietly thrown away, have always been a source of intrigue for Farid, who embarked in a prior project based on the fabricated persona of Michael Green. Michael Green was the identity adopted by Grant Shapps, and the face of his second career as a self-proclaimed web marketer. The alter ego sold digital tools and advice to make customers rich. Learning of this, Farid remade and inverted Green’s promotional site, using it as a political tool to showcase the money grubbing greed that marks online marketing. The site was appropriately renamed, “Don’t hate the rich, become one of them.” The recreation was so convincing that a Daily Mail article cited the Michael green fake (fake of a fake?) as real in an article.
Farid’s work visualizes secrecy, and points to the replicability of online identity. The information doesn’t speak to our personality, but we give it center stage in a map of identity. Our administrative selves leave us with a feeling of belonging in a community and an entitlement to a human status within it. But a prized piece of what we call our own is vulnerable, and ultimately doesn’t belong to us. It exists beyond the scope of skin and bone.
The rest of the multi-artist exhibit features pieces that deal explicitly with identity, privacy, and surveilance. It includes a book of hacked LinkedIn passwords where you can find your own (BadLime209?), an interactive analogue pixel wall, and an exposure of the infrastructure of data collectors.
Farib anticipates a future exhibit exploring the NSA’s PRISM, one of the biggest contributors to national intelligence reports. The exhibit will be housed at Abject Gallery near Gateshead, and will be open beginning January 2016. In the mean time, Farid will be fantasizing about the intriguing idea of someone posing as him to take credit for his work. Simon Farid may or may not also have plans to reach out to other Simon Farid’s to get meta-squared on all our asses.
Images via Motherboard, Dublin Science Gallery