Spring conferences

I recently presented some early work on my authentication devices research, first at SCMS then at CCA. Below a bit of detail from both. Article version in the works.

SCMS March 2017 –  “Security Matters and Devices: Towards an Archaeology of Irreproducible Media”

This paper uses and questions the rhetoric of security to propose that systems of legitimation and control demand a continuous supply of black box technologies designed to be secretive, opaque, and extremely difficult to copy. Vigilance over amateur access, technical disclosure, and reproducibility become politicized matters of “national security,” requiring an alternate media history that hinges on a notion of irreproducibility.


…The ongoing need to complexify security devices to stay ahead of the copy-er has resulted in a particular alterna-tale within the story of media technologies that is driven not by ambitions of mass production or consumption, by ever-expanding accessibilities and usabilities, but rather by the controlled management and administration of legitimacy. Security devices are not just used by states, but by industries for objects of all kinds: credit cards, circuit boards, medical supplies, artworks, memorabilia, designer handbags—all seek to be secured through mechanisms that communicate and mediate their realness as they criss-cross the globe in transactions in which they are exchanged, bought, and sold. The technical logic of the security device is to reveal just enough to prove its authenticity, implementing security through the perceivable, informational, or computational, essentially the tip of larger infrastructures hiding in plain sight. How then do we situate current and emergent developments in the ecology of digitized security within a media history of visual, haptic, informational, and computational devices? What conceptual and historical frameworks does media theory have, or have to develop, to address, fold in, reflect upon, the device generally—as a particular kind of technic—and specifically, as applied for security?…

CCA May 2017 ­– “Device: Sensory and Performative Functions in the Name of Security” (Part of a panel I chaired called “Naming Things Made: Devices, Instruments, Tools, Machines”)

Devices are wedded to their function, but when and how does the device become fixed through the function that it performs? Whether parts of larger system, finished technological products, or stylistic literary or artistic strategies, devices are understood as means to an end, intermediaries on a mission, instruments with a purpose.


…One way that we recognize authentication devices is with our senses. We could call this a basic sensory level of detection. It is that ability of a trained border guard or bank teller to assess our documents, and through vision and touch detect the realness of our passports and our bills. …The devices they showcase include holographs and other OVDs, as well as raised inks, see-through polymers, microprinted features, and could also include techniques like UV inks or threads, visible only through special light. What characterizes these devices is that they are human readable – a person, with the right information and knowledge, can evaluate and determine, whether the document is real by recognizing the quality of the device.

And yet increasingly, problematically, our authentication devices have become not mere things to see and touch, but automated, computational and machine-readable so that we, through the human senses alone, cannot validate them. …

Machine-readability means the device only works through a certain amount of computation; it must be activated, decoded, accompanied or connected to and through algorithms and databases to “perform” its function of authentication. Authentication happens in the algorithmical, encrypted, and locked match in a database, a process that securely verifies the connective pathways between a person and their data. If this communicative matching is the site of authentication, we might say that authentication becomes a kind of processing, where device becomes wedded to the execution of authentication, regardless of its status as thing or object. Since these computational authentication devices therefore perform their duties by making links between body or thing and data, that authentication—and perhaps even authenticity—moves from being the “thing,” to the relation between things. …


Image of the guilloche technique for security printing, via AGFA graphics

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