The Unselected of the Pinwale: James Malzahn

Gallery 1C03

black and white photograph of head and shoulders of a man wearing a hoodie

James Malzahn, Unselected #801142828, 2017, digital print, 30" x 30". Photo courtesy of the artist.

January 11 - February 17, 2018

Gallery 1C03 presents a series of photographs in its public foyer from January 11 – February 17, 2018 by local interdisciplinary artist James Malzahn that critically respond to government-led mass surveillance programs. These works are presented in conjunction with Gallery 1C03’s main exhibition What Flies Above which explores the socio-political implications of drones.

The Unselected of the Pinwale specifically references Optic Nerve, a mass surveillance program run by the British signals intelligence agency GCHQ and the National Security Agency of the United States of America that collected private webcam still images from users known as the “unselected”. Optic Nerve sought to build a global facial recognition database by secretly capturing still images of millions of users communicating in public and private chat rooms. Other operations monitor and record communications such as email, chat, and messaging. Users are automatically tagged when certain keywords are detected which results in their communications being stored in the massive collection and retrieval system known as Pinwale.

As an artist, Malzahn assumes the role of surveillant in public chat rooms. Images and chat transcripts of users are collected and the logs are filtered through a dictionary of monitored terms. These terms are then inserted into the code of the digital image creating a distorted and false representation of the user, analogous to the way these automated systems fabricate a potential enemy by corrupting a person’s character with non-contextual data.

James Malzahn is an emerging artist whose work draws on his extensive background in Internet technology and data forensics. He views technology as an artistic collaborator and as an essential component of his practice. His art proposes links between human perception and corrupted digital imagery, advancing a critique of surveillance and the abuse of technology by governments and corporations. By embedding surveillance and security technology into his photographs, paintings, prints, videos and installations he examines and exposes mounting threats to privacy. Malzahn also challenges viewers’ perceptions by incorporating image loss and data corruption to create unsettled atmospheres which also reference the workings of unethical systems. His glitched images create momentary disruptions that prompt viewers to pause and reconsider the content and, paradoxically, re-humanize the subjects portrayed. Malzahn graduated from the University of Manitoba with a BFA Honours degree in 2017. He has been the recipient of multiple grants, scholarships and awards including the Takao Tanabe Scholarship in Painting, and his work has appeared in juried and curated solo and group exhibitions. 

Gallery 1C03 foyer is an accessible public space that is open seven days per week from 7:00 am - 11:00 pm excluding statutory holidays. It is located on the first floor of Centennial Hall beside the UWSA Info Booth.

For more information contact:
Jennifer Gibson, Director/Curator, Gallery 1C03
1st floor, Centennial Hall, The University of Winnipeg
515 Portage Ave, Winnipeg MB R3B 2E9
Phone: 204.786.9253