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Snowden speaks through exhibition at Austrian Embassy in D.C.

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Washington, D.C. -- This exhibition, Because Human Beings Can Be Expected to Face Reality, includes an incredible ballet performance with an actual flying drone, eerie video featuring a modernized reading of Plato's Cave Allegory and interactive multimedia with an ominous warning message, the type that leaves visitors thinking.

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Those attending the Because Human Beings Can Be Expected to Face Reality exhibition at the Embassy of Austria last week were greeted with words of warning written by Edward Snowden exclusively for the program. But that was not the only surprise.

The exhibition, by Austrian artist group TEAM[:]niel, is a combination of efforts by talented artists Dr. Veronika Bayer, Dr. Claudia Feyerl and Daniel Feyerl with support from the Technical University Vienna (TU Wien) and some ingenious hackers such as Bernd Artmueller.

“We make what the director of the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) once called ‘think-art - not fast food,’” Veronika states, referring to the group’s previous work. “The philosophy behind every project is of major importance for us,” she adds. “So there is a meaning behind everything we show.”

Veronika says TEAM[:]niel is the first group worldwide to have won over Snowden to contribute to an art project with an exclusive video statement. Snowden, she says, provided text which was selected for the group’s art-video "dEvolution." Snowden’s contribution gives the performance a special meaning, she says.

When the performance begins, visitors observe an innocent female figure, portrayed by Veronika, dressed completely in white from head to toe. It is as if her figure is absorbed into a sea of computer data. Perhaps she even joins the shadows from the Allegory of the Cave. The performance helps highlight the possibilities and dangers of new media, surveillance and human (d)evolution into the virtual world.

What is so ingenious about the exhibition is that while Veronika performs and dances almost naively with a drone, visitors are unaware that they have become part of the exhibition and part of the warning message the project conveys.

Visitor photos have been taken by the Parrot drone incorporating facial recognition, and their credit cards with RFID and smart phone data is just as easily extracted. Bernd says hidden receivers feed a computer that is connected to the university’s computers in Vienna via the Internet. Back in Vienna, hackers mine personal data on the visitors which is displayed in aggregate form toward the end of the presentation.

This exhibition is a thought-provoking performance that warns of today’s political and social conditions which relate to eroding privacy throughout the world following the recent NSA caper. But the message is broader than simply the NSA. Humans are vulnerable to exploitation by not just the NSA, but anybody with the proper technology.

"Because human beings can be expected to face reality," Veronika says the exhibition touches numerous different aspects. She said the three most important questions are probably:

  1. (d)evolution, and where we are evolving to?
  2. Reality versus virtuality - possibilities and dangers; do we start to get lost in the virtual world? Is this the reason why we neglect our environment so much? What about surveillance and are we aware of what tracks we leave online?
  3. Plato's Cave Allegory: This ancient Greek text that is about 2500 years old is increasingly more relevant.

“Since we are three artists,” Veronika says, “our projects usually come into being during talking to each other, exchanging opinions and thoughts, sharing impressions and inspirations. We mainly deal with questions about art-being and human-being, and this very up-to-date issue of virtuality versus reality, possibilities and dangers of modern technology, Internet, new media, surveillance, privacy and digitalization, losing connection to the real life, endangering our environment, and so on and so forth, together with all consequences that follow, was a highly interesting area for us for a long time now.”

The Because Human Beings Can Be Expected to Face Reality exhibition is a refreshing departure from the traditional art exhibition. It is a multi-dimensional exhibition drawing on the talents and skills of multiple academic disciplines which conveys a chilling message through different modes.

The exhibition is a unique insightful amazing experience with powerful warning message leaving anybody who participates to ponder the dangers. “For us it is important to communicate that we do not give any answers, solutions, directions, say what is right or wrong. You could say that we invite people to think, to see the bigger picture and make use of their own reason,” Veronika observes.

The Austrian Cultural Forum hosted this week’s performance at the Austrian Embassy. The exhibition appears next in Vienna. Please see the TEAM[:]niel website and YouTube page for video and details on the group’s continued projects.