Media Histories of Authentication
This project examines how we inscribe and circulate information about who and what is “real,” and specifically considers the devices, media, and technologies used to authenticate (but also identify, verify, recognize) and “secure” people and things.
Devices (such as watermarks, metallic threads, invisible inks, holograph, RFID chips, or nano-optical images) are techniques of classification that mark and separate. In the first phase of the research, I look at the changing functionalities of the authentication device by situating current and emergent advances within a history of visual, informational, and computational media that maps the story of authentication devices in the interlaced histories of the technical image and security printing, material innovation, and media convergence. By exploring the particular conditions that drive innovation in anti-counterfeiting technologies, it also works to develop a theoretical framework for a media history of “irreproducibility.”
This project is an ongoing art-science collaboration with the artists Christine Davis and Scott Lyall, and the Ciber Lab at Simon Fraser University. It works to develop “nano-media” using nano-optical materials to produce a new kind of substrate, along with its accompanying image-making techniques, and to explore the circulation of these nano-optical images across fields and applications. Our work has been presented in a variety of venues, including academic and industry conferences (such as Siggraph and ISEA), and in exhibitions at the Miguel Abreu Gallery in NYC and Susan Hobbs Gallery in Toronto, with fuller-scale shows in the works for Paris (Fall 2017) and New York (date TBC). A website that presents the scientific, artistic, and technological dimensions of the project is in the works.
Introductory excerpt from an upcoming article:
The ability to design materials at the nano-scale is providing scientists and artists alike with new ways of manipulating light and making color. The “blackest of black,” or what has come to be known as Vantablack, is one example of a metamaterial pushing the established laws of chemistry and physics for visual effect. Though artists have in some cases contentiously claimed some of these for personal and exclusive use, this appropriation is by no means a solely artistic aspiration. For example, the business of security is continuously searching for cutting-edge image-making techniques and substrates, especially in the sector interested in the production of passive authentication devices (which don’t require powering). There, technologies like next-generation holographs or UV inks are developed for use in passports, credit cards, product labels, and other objects as a means to visually identify, legitimate, and secure. In this context, restricted access to technical know-how is a necessary anti-counterfeiting measure. Artists, scientists, governments, and industries alike are thus all interested in the ongoing development of new technologies of the image, with nanotechnology acting as the most recent area of this activity. It is this field of research that was explored in a collaborative initiative I instigated with the Ciber Lab at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, which specializes in the design and fabrication of optical nano-structures for authentication devices, and the artists Christine Davis and Scott Lyall, who have each been working on studies of light, color, and material throughout their careers. Together we have been developing nano-optical images that materialize in the convergence of visual technologies and designed materials, resulting in both material samples and speculative prototypes of a new optical medium.