In Retained Reports, De Gregorio questions our relationship with data originating from our private human experiences, gathered and fashioned by surveillance capitalists into prediction products which are sold in behavioral futures markets. He invites us to imagine an alternative economic and social logic. He turned surveillance capitalism’s “means of production” against itself by training an AI algorithm to hallucinate portraits of imaginary individuals based on an analysis of the public-domain archive of Costică Acsinte, one of Romania’s most prolific early-20th-century photographers. Many of Acsinte’s fragile glass plates have sustained damages over the years due to heat and moisture. The delicate silver gelatine emulsion has peeled off, and the glass has cracked or splintered. Worn down by time and elements, the portraits in the Acsinte’s archive are allegories of the impermanence of human artifacts. Their counterparts in Retained Reports though, are like personal-data in the hands of the surveillance-industrial complex: permanent artifacts of computational processes and visual antiphrases. It is very hard for citizens to delete all their data, even when they decide to stop sharing them. De Gregorio is presenting these portraits as images retained on electronic-ink screens, chosen in lieu of traditional archival photo-paper or NFTs permanently linked on the blockchain. What do we believe in the most, free will or free markets? To whom liberties shall belong, to civil society or to industry? How does faith in innovation reconcile with novel digital technologies which are designed and operated to the detriment of democracy, civil liberties, and human rights? When asymmetries of knowledge between citizens and the surveillance capitalists translate into asymmetries of power, what will be the consequences for democracy? When we lose our private realm, how do we assert our moral autonomy? Or, when all our future behaviors are predicted, what does it mean to be human?
Alfonso de Gregorio (b. 1978) is a Italian artist, globally recognised cybersecurity technologist, and hacker. De Gregorio’s artistic work spans image-making, informatics, lectures, and engineering. In his practice, De Gregorio examines the aesthetics and politics of surveillance, traumatic memory, and sustainability. He has exhibited, spoken, and published internationally. De Gregorio’s works have been shown in art and cultural spaces around the world, including leading museums, contemporary photography festivals, and international art biennials including among others the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in London (2000), the FUTURE(S) Belfast Photo Festival (2021), the COUNTERPARTS – PORTRAITS HELLERAU Photography Award from the Museum of Science and Technologyin Dresden (2022), and CHAOS : CALM from the Bangkok Art Biennale (2022).