At a time when employers incentivize workers to don wearable health trackers, artists Tega Brain and Surya Mattu offer a solution:Unfit Bits, household objects, from drills to metronomes, retrofitted to fool a Fitbit into thinking you’ve completed a triathlon. “Does your lifestyle prevent you from qualifying for insurance discounts?” asks the narrator of the infomercial introducing their product. “Maybe you just want to keep your personal data private without having to pay higher insurance premiums for the privilege.”
At last week’s Eyeo Festival, Brain called for a move away from “scary new media art”—works that highlight nefarious possible futures—toward a more nuanced and complex reflection on relationships with technology today. Eyeo is a three-day art and technology conference that has taken place annually in Minneapolis since 2011. With a roster of speakers from diverse backgrounds—art, coding, academia, the private sector, or a mix of the above—it’s fitting that the event is held at the Walker Art Center, an institution long revered for experimenting with interdisciplinary art and new technologies.
With Unfit Bits, Brain and Mattu provide a critique of workplaces corroborating with insurance companies to surveil employees’ lives. But rather than leave their audience with a sense of doom and powerlessness in the face of privacy invasion, Brain and Mattu give us humor, and perhaps hope. Unfit Bits simultaneously indicts the policing of bodies via data collection and reminds us that we can always find ways to skirt the system.
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