Digital Panicoutside the circle


2020-2021 By Paolo Cirio
There are five thermal images of the same person, in each of the different
frame, the thermal reading is slightly different. On the bottom right hand
side of the image there is a model of a person with different areas marked
as different zones (i.e. zone 1, zone 2a). On the top right hand corner of
the image there are various outputs in numbers and alphabetically ordered
Still from the installation Bodily, 2020–2021

Since the onset of the pandemic, thermal body scanners have become increasingly common. Human rights organisations around the world have protested the exponential rise in bodily surveillance, but these invasive interventions have quickly became normalised anyway. Critics argue that the sudden, massive accumulation of highly personal civilian data is not only at risk of being leveraged and commodified – it is also often inaccurate. 

Paolo Cirio’s interactive video installation Bodily investigates the ways we are subject to bodily surveillance, both with and without our consent. Using the recognisable visual interface of thermal scanners – which promise to see inside our bodies – Cirio’s project operates, in the artist’s words, like a ‘slot machine’, randomising treatments and diagnoses for participants. These range from the mundane, like sitting down for anxiety, to the extreme, like quarantine for the flu. 

‘Machine vision’ technologies like thermal scanners have changed what we see and the way we see it. As they become more accurate and more ubiquitous, they will create more data about us. Who decides what is made visible and why?