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Pixelhead – the ultimate in anonymous?

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 - the ultimate in anonymous?
Photo: Jessica Ware

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

[email protected]

twitter.com/jesscware

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BERLIN

EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

Shops
If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

Leisure
2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

Hairdressers
For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

Transport
3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.

 

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