Revealing hidden conversations

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A new interactive artwork, opening 25th February at Pontio in Bangor, will allow visitors to see firsthand the huge amounts of data their electronic devices share with multiple sources every time they go online. 

Veillance, a new work by artist Ronan Devlin, intercepts web searches and reconfigures the data to create an immersive audio-visual experience.

Digital devices regularly share information with government agencies and third party companies for practical, commercial and security purposes and Veillance invites audiences to reveal this hidden conversation between our devices and other parties by browsing the internet using an allocated device. This browsing reveals words identified by UK and US global security services as ’triggers’ for potential suspicious activity.

These words appear and then leave the screen, echoing the journey information makes from you to outside agencies. A list of websites with which the device is communicating is created in real-time, illustrating the constant communication between you, your data and outside agencies.

Veillance exhibition image at Pontio Arts Centre
Veillance exhibition image at Pontio Arts Centre

The artist behind the work, Ronan Devlin commented

“Most people believe they are only communicating with the websites they have open at a given time. That’s just not the case – whilst you see only one website on your screen, your device is communicating with multiple other websites, sharing information about you. For example, CNN is a popular website for news updates, but when you open their webpage, your device is in fact communicating with over thirty other websites. These share data back and forth to bring you everything from weather for your area to adverts for products based on your browsing history.

I see Veillance as a fascinating piece of art; it allows the audience to create and play with the exhibit but, at the same time, I hope to open their eyes. Your information belongs to you and it has a value, by illustrating this I hope to empower the audience.”

An exhibition featuring the work ran from 25th February to 12th March 2017 at White Box, Pontio, Bangor University.

The work was supported with funding from Arts Council Wales and the full project team is Vian Bakir, Ronan Devlin, Ant Dickinson, Carwyn Edwards, Michael Flückiger, Gillian Jein, Andy McStay. To comply with data protection laws, the artwork intercepts only publicly accessible information from unencrypted website.

Keep up to date with the work on the Veillance twitter.