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Pixelhead - the ultimate in anonymous?
Photo: Jessica Ware

Pixelhead - the ultimate in anonymous?

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

A German artist has created a pixellated balaclava, perfect for confusing street cameras in a nation where mistrust of public surveillance is widespread, even if the appetite for Facebook is unabated. Martin Backes spoke to The Local.

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.

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

jessica.ware@thelocal.com

twitter.com/jesscware

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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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.
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