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Captive Portal: Customs and Border Protection Agency

Captive Portal: Customs and Border Protection Agency Sarah A. Friend

Part of the “Captive Portal” commissioned series, Customs and Border Protection Agency is a new work designed specifically for the CCA’s WiFi platform, Captive Portal, by Toronto-based artist, Sarah A. Friend. Visitors are invited to connect to WiFi via their smartphones, but first must pass through a digitally simulated checkpoint and AR (Augmented Reality) game that may or may not let them through. Modeled after border transfers and customs control gateways, the work traps visitors and asks them to complete an official-looking form similar to those of border protection agencies. The form is long and tedious and the questions it asks are invasive. There is no guarantee of being allowed through, but visitors may try again. They will never know why they were granted or refused entry. However, hidden within the checkpoint are alternatives. If the visitor is resourceful, he or she may find a way to bypass the form. Like the authoritarian ideology itself, the checkpoint is full of holes.

Today, when refugee crises and threats of military confrontations are at an all-time high, walls are being built between and within countries. The closing borders in Europe, a proposed sealing off of the United States from Mexico, and the Separation Barrier in Israel-Palestine are all symptoms of the state of division and increased insularity that is parsed via stringent official channels. C.P. Customs and Border Protection Agency mirrors the mechanisms used by government regulators to question the limits of such barriers.

About the Artist Sarah A. Friend is an artist, researcher, and software engineer based in Toronto, Canada. She focuses on privacy and transparency, designing ethical interfaces, and the political and environmental implications of technical systems. Her art practice centers on research-based games and interactive experiences, with a recent project titled You are a rock, a command-line game in which the user plays a rock buried deep underground, was recently exhibited at the British Public Library. By day she works on open-source tools for cryptocurrency development and blockchain analytics.

About Captive Portal “Captive Portal” is a digital “fifth wall,” like a gallery wall, that is accessed by visitors on their mobile wireless devices during their visit to the CCA, where the Wi-Fi platform is available throughout the building. We constantly navigate Wi-Fi spaces in our daily lives, and connect with them through “captive portals” that are usually used for commercial advertising by large corporations, but it can also serve as an invisible “canvas.” The CCA takes advantage of the constant obsessive search for WiFi, by both humans and cellular machines, to “captivate” or trap audiences into viewing a temporary, site-specific work of art before continuing to surf the net or use their mobile device. The project manipulates the very moment when visitors disconnect from the gallery space and enter an immaterial “space” rife with possibility. “Captive Portal” is curated by Yoav Lifshitz, Tal Messing, and CCA Curator Chen Tamir.

Tal Messing and Yoav Lifshitz are theoreticians, lectors, creators, and curators, and are also the founders of the Pirate Party Israel. Among their projects to date are a fake mayoral campaign for Daphni Leef (March 2013); “The Unobject” exhibition at HaShuk Street Gallery, Tel Aviv (2014); “The Unobject: The Re-Materialization of the Concept,” and essay published in Bezalel’s Journal of Visual & Material Culture (August 2014); and “Occupy WiFi,” a conceptual and digital activist project (August 2014, ongoing).

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