“Is our fundamental right to freedom of expression being threatened?”
With this question in mind, Marcel Top starts to investigate mass surveillance in the United States. Sara Hodges addresses the artist’s concerns over the safety of democracy in surveilled societies. With his project ‘Sara Hodges’, Top questions the current use of these technologies, finally exposing the possible threat they represent.
Sara Hodges is a non-existing, algorithm-generated, American citizen. To create this online fake persona, Top started by gathering over 50’000 Instagram posts that used the hashtag#iloveamerica (I love America). Starting from these posts Top was able to generate new non-existing pictures through machine learning. The online presence of Sara Hodges reflects the online presence of other ordinary people, who in the sight of surveillance technologies, represent the perfect American citizens
After the online presence was built, Top brought Sara Hodges into the real world. He created a 3D model of the face, that with the use of silicon and a 3D printer could be turned into a mask that everyone could own. By bringing this fictive perfect citizen ‘alive’, Top hopes to create a tool for people to claim and exercise their fundamental right of expression, without the fear of being identified and tracked online.
In fact, when wearing the mask, facial recognition technologies would redirect law enforcement on the social media profile of this apparently perfect citizen. This said, deceiving mass tracking technologies is not the only purpose behind Sara Hodges’ online presence. Sara Hodges is the average product of many people that are clean in the eyes of surveillance. Therefore, her online presence is also a warning. The symbol of a society that leaves no space to those whose opinion is not compatible with the government’s one.