The design of Physiognomic Scrutinizer is based on
principles employed in security gates seen at airports, shopping malls,
football stadiums and other protected public spaces.
guides visitors towards the brightly lit entrance where a mounted
camera records and projects each individual’s image on a LCD monitor at
the back of the gate. Two speakers on stands, located directly after
the gate, symbolise (act as) security guards.
Equipped with biometric video analyzing software, the installation
detects and scrutinizes the faces of the people wishing to pass through
the gate and enter the exhibition. Rather than try and identify the
person, the software probes for facial features and characteristics
that are similar to one of the 150 pre-selected persons in the data
base: all chosen for controversial or infamous acts. Based on what the
software detects, the visitor passing through the entry point will be
accused according to the disrepute of their match and an audio fragment
regarding this controversy played for all to hear. The complete
comparison process is also displayed on the LCD monitor behind the gate
and clearly viewable to the on looking public.
Physiognomy is the skill of interpreting a person’s
personality from looking at their external features and in particular
the face. These practices date as far back as ancient Greek
civilisation and throughout history this pseudo-science has been
accepted with mixed degrees of credibility. Though not really being
taken seriously in this day and age, recent research has revealed that
an individual’s facial characteristics can denote qualities of
trustworthiness, social dominance and aggression.
Face-recognition software is mainly developed for
surveillance and security applications and commonly referred to as
"biometric systems". Introduced to improve security, these biometric
methods are founded on cross matching the face of the traveller with
that in their passport or in forensic and immigration facial databases.
The same such software is currently employed in city centres and malls
to recognize criminals, shop-lifters and other troublemakers.
The person undergoing the recognition process usually
feels uncomfortable. Besides trying to look good in front of the
camera, they are also hoping to pass the test. And even if the person
is innocent, he is put in the position, whereby technology is passing
judgement and we are all aware that technology has its own logic. The
visitor is also conscious that being subjected to serious technological
tests he will undoubtedly appear guilty for something.
And who is likely to be the biometric match: a blood
thirsty 18th century murderer; an artist facing prison because of
illegal exploitation of bacteria; or a scandalous glamour model? Will
their true identity be revealed through the machine’s match? And why is
everybody laughing? The potentially embarrassing answer is seen first
by the audience (public) standing behind the portal They have already
been through the process and passed the control point: then it is so
much easier to laugh at someone else.
In a humorous way, De Nijs is reflecting on the bigger
role biometric systems play in present day public space. By using
biometric algorithms for physiognomic purposes, he is accusing the
visitor of behavior simply based on their physical appearance. The data
base includes a variety of hand picked individuals connected with the
hedonist pursuit: Feel Better. The list entails: soap stars, glamour
models and celebrities present in sex tapes, even the world record
gangbang holder; depressed writers and philosophers who committed
suicide; transvestites; musicians with drug problems; and also those
associated with the UFO religious movement. The genre of people we are
known to fantasize over, but at the same time point the finger at
because really there is no place for such unconventional behavior in
our pampered and over controlled society.
The first version of the Physiognomic Scrutinizer was developed and presented under the title Match & Smile for the Touch Me Festival 2008 (Feel Better) in Zagreb.
Physiognomic Scrutinizer was exhibited at V2_ during the Wereld van Witte de With festival 2009.
Text adapted from: www.marnixdenijs.nl/physiognomic_scrutinizer.htm
Produced by Marnix de Nijs
Co-produced by Kontejner, bureau of contemporary art practice
Biometric software implementation, V2_lab, Rotterdam
Process visualisation, Brecht Debackere, Antwerp
Thanks to Hans Beekmans