• Germany's news in English

Pixelhead - the ultimate in anonymous?

The Local · 23 Aug 2012, 12:35

Published: 23 Aug 2012 12:35 GMT+02:00

Pixelhead – disturbing to wear when looking in a mirror – is designed to raise questions about anonymity and when and how we give that up, whether voluntarily on social networks, or involuntarily via street cameras.

Backes, a digital media artist among many other things, says he has created “media camouflage for the internet age" and a solution for people “sick of photos on sites like Facebook or worried about showing up on Streetview.”

It is based on a photograph of Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, a sideways poke at the man responsible for keeping an eye on Germany.

The balaclava does not only hide the wearer’s face – it specifically shows up that disguise in the most modernist fashion.

Friedrich’s features are long gone, thanks to Backes spending the past year and a half “pixellating my ass off” to make the balaclava as realistic as possible, he said.

“It's supposed to put across the message that you should be aware of what you are doing on the internet,” said Backes.

Walking is publishing

It is also a response to a term used by many digital artists at the moment, “walking is publishing”, meaning wherever a person is and whatever they are doing, cameras may well be watching.

“I tried to think of a way to best convey this, and came up with Pixelhead,” said Backes. “It isn't meant to be an educational piece, but it is a statement about privacy.”

Even if it is a shouted kind of anonymity, the balaclava does hide the wearer, whether it is worn during a political protest, while dashing to meet an illicit lover or holding up a bank.

Many have also dubbed the mask creepy, something Backes rejects.

“I don't think it's creepy though, why would it be creepy?” he said, gesturing to an unfinished Pixelhead splayed out across a table, wood peeping through the eye slits.

Which is creepier - Pixelhead or Facebook?

Perhaps the really creepy aspect is what it has been created to represent - the reign of Facebook, Twitter and Google and how they are changing the idea of privacy, 34-year-old Backes suggested.

“Anonymity is harder, surveillance is increasing and although things like having a smart phone and the internet is great, people do need to know the downsides.”

And this would mean more than Family Minister Kristina Schröder's “Facebook lessons” idea, he added. Really teaching people the cons of the web requires more than that - and more than just a statement mask.

Backes, who grew up in Bavaria but moved to Berlin to go to art school, is making just 333 Pixelheads. Each one is hand stitched and the final design, which went on display in Berlin earlier this month has attracted considerable media interest.

“It was even on a couple of soldier blogs, which I found funny because I never would have thought of that,” said Backes. One army blog discussed its possible use as camouflage but rejected the idea as too odd.

Story continues below…

Pulling on the balaclava feels like slipping behind a screen. “Will you use this photo as your Facebook profile picture?” Backes asked.

“Absolutely not,” I reply, but then begin to wonder exactly how much of me there already was on the internet.

Jessica Ware



The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

15:51 August 23, 2012 by catjones
I worry more about pop-up ads in double underlined words.
15:46 August 24, 2012 by dprader
Where do I get one? Looks cool. Love to be able to purchase one.
16:44 August 29, 2012 by sally#
Pixelhead is somehow creepy.But as Backes said, it is a statement about privacy.While we are enjoying the convenience of Internet, camera and mobile phones, we are actually giving our preious privicy out.
08:26 August 31, 2012 by Sooney
What - too much
10:07 September 3, 2012 by smilingjack
is it illegal?

since finding out in august this year that the australian government had purchased software from the USA that was also running CIA facial recognition software and was being used in millions of security cameras around the country I am considering wearing a mask.

with microsoft as of this month able to access your machine and look at your emails, videos, music and keystrokes "for safety and privacy"??? and apple and google monitoring your every step I think we should all be concerned.

I was looking at tracing my ancestry recently and so looked at those online dna tracers - assured of my security as they would never let a third part get access to the information. then I found out google had been buying up the companies. nice - google now has access to millions of peoples dna. why??
18:01 September 3, 2012 by Julia Gloome
Not only Microsoft but America in general has become a monster.

We should boycott all American products to bring down its regime. Buy V W instead of Ford, Nestle or Lavazza instead of Starbuck, Seibel or Docs instead of Red Wing, fly Lufthansa instead of United. Use free Knoppix instead of Windows, use free OpenOffice instead of Word, buy Samsung or Nokia instead of Apple. And so on.
03:44 September 10, 2012 by coffeelover
@smilingjack,,,facial recognition software was developed in the U,K,, or England, or Great Britain, possibly Australia, since they are all related, not U.S. However, u r correct about google, a monster if there ever was one. Microsoft I am not worried about at all, since I have only bought microsoft puters since, well, ever. I have never banked online, or "social networked" either, I cannot stop people from googling me, therefore my real name will pop up, but not much more.
Today's headlines
Paris climate conference
Germans reluctant to go green, survey finds
This NASA handout shows CO2 release based on real emissions data. Photo: DPA

Germans reluctant to go green, survey finds

2 hours ago

Most Germans might see climate change as a threat - but that doesn't mean they're willing to change their behaviour, according to a recent YouGov survey.

The Local List
The 10 greatest German Alpine ski resorts
Skiing in the Allgäu. Photo: DPA

The 10 greatest German Alpine ski resorts

3 hours ago

This ski season looks set to be epic, with runs already open before December has even started - boding well for the rest of the season. We bring you the ten very best German resorts so you can make the most of it.

Bavaria accused of hoarding Nazi-looted art
Max Beckmann paintings in the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich. File Photo: DPA

Bavaria accused of hoarding Nazi-looted art

7 hours ago

A group of US Congressmen have sent a letter to Bavarian Minister President Horst Seehofer, urging him to do more to help return art stolen by the Nazis to its rightful owners.

Berlin suspects freed hours after terror raids
Police stand guard as colleagues search a van in Britz, south Berlin, on Thursday evening. Photo: DPA

Berlin suspects freed hours after terror raids

7 hours ago

Three suspects arrested in Berlin on Thursday night on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack were freed on Friday morning, police said.

Cologne fights drunks with walls that 'pee back'
"Don't pee here! The wall pees back!" warns a new sign in Cologne main station. Photo: DPA

Cologne fights drunks with walls that 'pee back'

7 hours ago

In Germany, those who urinate in public places have their own name: "Wildpinkler" or "free pee-ers." But they're about to face a backlash in Cologne - in a very literal and embarrassing way.

Final days of Hamburg Olympic vote battle
Demonstrators against the Olympic bid. Photo: DPA

Final days of Hamburg Olympic vote battle

10 hours ago

The finishing line is in sight. On Sunday Hamburgers vote on whether they want the 2022 Olympics to come to town and the result could be tight.

Two men arrested in Berlin police terror raids
A Berlin SEK (SWAT) officer during a deployment in June 2015. Photo: DPA

Two men arrested in Berlin police terror raids

1 day ago

Police arrested two men after raids at two Berlin locations on Thursday afternoon after tip-offs about known Islamists believed to pose a threat of violence.

Swimmer faces probe over Auschwitz tattoo
Rails run towards the entrance of the extermination camp at Auschwitz. Photo: DPA

Swimmer faces probe over Auschwitz tattoo

1 day ago

Prosecutors are investigating a man who appeared at a swimming pool on the outskirts of Berlin with a tattoo depicting a concentration camp and an infamous slogan used by the Nazis across his back.

Munich Jews feud over Holocaust remembrance
Stolpersteine. Photo: DPA

Munich Jews feud over Holocaust remembrance

1 day ago

A bitter fight has broken out in Munich’s Jewish community over how to remember the victims of the Holocaust, with one group now taking the city to court.

Fight against Isis
German air force will join French planes over Syria
A Bundeswehr (German army) Tornado aircraft taking off from the Jagel airbase in Schleswig-Holstein in 2013. Photo: DPA

German air force will join French planes over Syria

1 day ago

Update: A Leading German MP confirmed that the country will offer military aid to France in the fight against Isis in Syria, following a promise by Chancellor Angela Merkel during a visit to Paris on Wednesday.

Germany's 10 most-expensive cities
Sponsored Article
How to figure out healthcare abroad
German ISS astronaut tells kids to follow their dreams
Sponsored Article
Why family companies need free trade and TTIP
90 percent of Germans want tougher security
Sponsored Article
'Innovative companies like Hövding benefit most from TTIP'
Are you living in Germany's most expensive city?
Sponsored Article
The cheapest and fastest way to transfer money
Should singer accused of homophobia represent Germany at Eurovision?
70 years since the Nuremberg Trials
The German connection in the Paris attacks
Snow expected on 'first weekend of winter'
10 years of Angela Merkel in Berlin
Could soldiers soon be patrolling German streets?
Second German Paris victim was teacher and journalist
'We can't beat Isis with military means'
How will Germany help France fight Isis?
One German confirmed dead in Paris attacks
'Don't take Paris out on refugees': German defence minister
Germany's minute of silence for Paris victims
Nightclub bans refugees for harassing women
OPINION: Refugees must learn to respect German values
The ancient German community at the heart of Texas
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd