Making Visible - Performance, Art and Anonymity
(Sub-project of the interdisciplinary research project “Reconfiguring Anonymity”)
Research Associate & Co-Curator
Leuphana University of Lüneburg

One of modernity’s most fundamental cultural formations, the way we practice and imagine anonymity, has recently started to undergo significant changes. Current and future media, information, identification and surveillance technologies transform established concepts and practices of doing and undoing anonymity. While the questions raised by such profound changes are widely debated in public discourse, empirically grounded and theoretically complex under- standings of the social dynamics, productivity and dangers of anonymity are surprisingly scarce and often lack precision. How do such regimes of anonymity work in daily life? How are they negotiated at the intersections of technologies, infrastructures, practices, and regulations? How can we understand the shifts in contemporary regimes of anonymity? What is lost and what is gained, for whom?

This project was meant to be a transdisciplinary endeavor bringing together social anthropologists, sociologists, media scientists, art historians and artists. Its aim was to produce new insights into regimes of maintaining, modifying or abandoning anonymity in contemporary, hybrid online-offline worlds. In order to do so, the project generated a series of extended ethnographic case studies, ranging from the production and usage of social media, to the interaction between citizens and police, infrastructures and usage of banking and credit cards, and anonymity regimes of gamete donation in reproductive medicine. Furthermore, it employed new forms of collaborative knowledge production emerging from the cooperation with experts, programmers and artists. The resulting theoretical models of the transformation of anonymity regimes aimed at offering new perspectives and answers to questions which we are currently facing on different social, trans- and supra- national levels, and as such provide a basis for future political and legal engagements with the topic of anonymity.

The sub-project „Making Visible – Performance, Art and Anonymity“ (SP 5) invited a number of internationally renowned artists and groups to participate in the research project on regimes of anonymity in transformation by creating new art projects that were developed alongside and in dialogue with the other sub-projects. The areas of technical and social transformation where regimes of anonymity have been most crucially tackled in recent years – video and data surveil- lance, online commerce and services, online and offline mediated communication, hybrid and virtual communication spaces – have also received heightened critical attention from artists and media activists, who have explored issues like online identity, the data body, data vulnerability, or surveillance.
The research project „Making Visible“ asked how contemporary artists address the notion of anonymity, and which aspects of anonymity current art projects focus on. Moreover, it explored how the experimental methods of art-based research can contribute to the interdisciplinary study of anonymity as a social phenomenon.

Exhibition, conference, performance, and workshop programme
October 24 - 27, 2018
Kampnagel, Hamburg
Co-curator exhibition & art program

How do contemporary regimes of anonymity arise in hybrid online-offline worlds? How is anonymity modified, evaluated, defended or opposed and abolished? When we rely on networked information and data infrastructures, how do information, owner- ship, transparency, privacy and anonymity interconnect? Over the course of three days, the Reconfiguring Anonymity research group invited the public to discuss anonymity with experts from science, art, technology and activism under the title “A=ANONYM”, in collaboration with and hosted by Kampnagel - Internationale Kulturfabrik, Hamburg. In workshops, lectures, laboratories, forums, and an exhibition, the participants enquired how we create or suspend anonymity today and what this means in political, aesthetical, and in social terms.

The exhibition A=ANONYM raised the question of anonymity from the perspective of its supposed absence. Ubiquitous video surveillance, the new regimes of transparency, compulsory online data-tracking, and the many forms of technical identification are said to have eliminated anonymity, at least in those parts of reality that have been touched by digital technologies. In the artworks presented in this exhibition, anonymity was neither a given, nor a marker of safety and freedom. Instead, the works con- fronted the visitors with different scenarios in which the construction, or the reconstruction, of anonymity has become problematic. This makes it possible to rethink the desire for achieving anonymity in the name of freedom, as much as to question the urge to repel it for reasons of safety.
Some of the pieces in the exhibition were developed in the context of the research project “Reconfiguring Anonymity” by the artists who participated in this project and its three-year exchange with social scientists: Aram Bartholl, Heath Bunting, Simon Farid, Parastou Forouhar, knowbotiq, and Johannes Paul Raether. In addition, the artist collectives RYBN.ORG and Bureau d‘études joined the project for this concluding event in Hamburg, offering workshop and installation formats that further underlined the interactive and exploratory methodology of the “Reconfiguring Anonymity” project.
With regard to the overall research project, the exhibition also tried to show how certain aspects of anonymity can be addressed specifically through and within artistic forms of research. Aspects that cannot easily be studied in the everyday social arena, but can be tested, provoked and dramatized in the specific, semi-autonomous field of contemporary art. The works in the exhibition asked how such artistic and experimental methods can contribute to an interdisciplinary study on anonymity as a social phenomenon. It presented a variety of experimental situations through which the structure and relevance of anonymity can be explored.

The exhibition was curated by Daniela Silvestrin and Andreas Broeckmann and evolved from the research project “Reconfiguring Anonymity” and its subproject “Making Visible. Performance, Art and Anonymity” (SP5), directed by Prof. Dr. Ulf Wuggenig and Dr. Andreas Broeckmann, Leuphana University of Lüneburg.

Download programme brochure here

IMPRESSIONS FROM "A=ANONYM" (all photos by Fred Dott):

Aram Bartholl, "Forgot your password? (Hamburg)", 2018 (installation view),
banner designed by RYBN.ORG for "A=ANONYM"

Aram Bartholl, "Is this you in the video?", 2018 (installation view)

Kampnagel, main foyer

Simon Farid, "Towards an Art History of Art Gallery Security Guards", 2018 (installation view)

Knowbotiq, "Amazonian Flesh, how to hang in trees during strike", 2018 (installation views)

Banner designed by RYBN.ORG for "A=ANONYM"

RYBN.ORG, "The Great Offshore", 2017 / 2018 (installation view)

Banner designed by Parastou Forouhar for "A=ANONYM"

Heath Bunting, "woody bay survival group", 2018 (installation view)