“Are you human?” is a series of works about access, control, and the image economy. CAPTCHAs regulate access to information. Software systems challenge users to prove themselves human before being allowed to register for a service or similar. Google’s reCAPTCHA asks us to select image tiles from street scenes in a bid to improve their image recognition. The photographs that are shown to us become more valuable to them through our actions. For “Are you human?” (print series) I swapped out the typical street scenes with photos of landscapes I found online. Is this the new landscape photography, compartmentalized into squares? Additionally, some of the pictures show copyright watermarks. Access to the landscape view is locked behind another grid of ownership that can only be removed with payment. Typical search instructions are replaced by spam email subject lines—sentences full of economic promise that rarely reach your inbox. Most of the time, they are filtered out and locked away. Looking more closely at the landscape images, actual borders of countries, like fences and natural borders like the sea or the desert can be seen. Physical access to a territory is a highly guarded privilege in many parts of the world these days. Increasingly automated fence systems equipped with image recognition technology are being put in place to control borders. Is this the same image recognition we trained when trying to access information online?
The “Are You Human?” floor piece is a five-meter long, solid steel sculpture made from one of Yahoo’s classic CAPTCHA codes (2013). The codes, strings of distorted characters, are pretty much extinct nowadays, superseded by image recognition algorithms. Servers used to generate them on the fly for us to decipher, after which they would disappear into digital oblivion. The rusting steel of the sculpture will also disappear but only over the course of a vastly longer time scale.