Conflict in My Outlook_Don’t Be Evil

Dr Joseph Brennan speaks with curator Anna Briers about the works of ‘Conflict in My Outlook_Don’t Be Evil’ – 18 artists’ materialisations of the invisible power structures of our Internet age.

‘‘Don’t Be Evil’ is an expanded proposition,’ curator Anna Briers says about the second, concluding exhibition of the ‘Conflict in My Outlook’ series (launched in 2020 with ‘We Met Online’, a web-based exhibition running until March 2022). This time, ‘through the return to physical art objects and participatory installations activated by audiences, ‘Don’t Be Evil’ is reinforcing the porous inseparability of our online and offline lives,’ Briers explains.

‘Delving deeper into subjects such as the invisible human infrastructure behind AI technologies and the politics of labour,’ along with ‘data extraction, surveillance capitalism and its impacts on climate,’ showing in a physical space helps to surface the real-world impacts of networked technologies – especially the more troubling threads that are normally ‘concealed behind the ephemeral metaphor of the Cloud.’

Simon Denny, Document Relief 19 (Amazon Worker Cage patent), 2020, inkjet print on archival paper, glue, custom metal wall mount, 29.7 x 21 x 13.5cm, unique edition. Collection of The University of Queensland, purchased 2021. Courtesy the artist and Fine Arts, Sydney

‘Don’t Be Evil’ refers to Google’s original corporate motto – removed from its record in 2015; Google’s once-mantra was, perhaps, an aspiration incongruent with the demands, affordances, and greed of the oligopolistic Internet giants, such critical conversation on which this exhibition turns. Here, complex propositions of 18 artists – including two collaborating pairs, plus a collective – are in conversation with each other, audiences, and the digital tissue of the mediated conditions of control that have invaded our everyday.

The Internet – its ethical quandaries particularly – has been the subject of numerous global exhibitions. ‘What makes this one different,’ Briers explains, ‘is its reference to the very recent Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal that emerged in 2018, a watershed historical moment that revealed Facebook’s misuse and deployment of the data of over 87 million people to influence the 2016 Brexit Referendum in the UK and Donald Trump’s US Presidential election of the same year.’ In this instance: ‘Social media was weaponised as a tool to spread sophisticated disinformation campaigns to manipulate public opinion.’

Briers believes the incident ‘exposed the Internet as a powerful tool that can be harnessed to undermine ideals of truth and democracy, shaping our very behaviour – the way we think, vote and act’. It is one of many examples of the sinister, encroaching behaviour over the last decade of the five companies known as ‘FAANG’ (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google), who ‘have secured corporate monopoly over the Internet, reshaping capitalism and normalising surveillance.’

This cross-disciplinary exhibition spans screen-based video works, textiles, and interactive installations activated by viewer engagement, with each committed to the project of materialisation: of (often) invisible power structures and Internet-based forces that we as individuals have little control over. Little control, maybe, but as implicated parties in these structures, we also have a role to play in their materialisation.

Eugenia Lim, ON DEMAND, 2019; installation view ‘Don’t Be Evil’, UQ Art Museum, 2021. Photograph: Joe Ruckli. Courtesy the artist and UQ Art Museum

Interaction is encouraged. For example: in Eugenia Lim’s 2019 ON DEMAND, a bicycle-powered video installation calling attention to complicity in exploitative labour; in the VR experience of Xanthe Dobbie’s 2020 Cloud Copy, where corporate logos representative of ‘Big Tech’ disruptors, such as Facebook and Google, float in the cosmos – as ubiquitous and all-knowing as God, answerable only to their own laws and gravitational will; and in Simon Denny’s 2019 Extractor, a boardgame presented on a cardboard replica of the courtroom table at the Federal Court of Australia.

Xanthe Dobbie, Cloud Copy, 2021; installation view ‘Don’t Be Evil’, UQ Art Museum, 2021, VR Oculus headsets, chairs, MP4 video, colour, sound, VR aspect 360m duration 4:48 mins. Photograph:: Louis Lim. Courtesy of the artist and UQ Art Museum, Queensland

Extractor gamifies the dynamics of six global data-mining businesses. The aim of the game: world domination as the ultimate data capitalist, achieved through the avoidance of roadblocks such as data privacy regulations, diversity training and climate change. ‘With data deemed the new oil, we are now invisible labourers: every time we ‘like’ a post on Facebook, download a movie on Netflix, plan a trip with Google Maps, catch an Uber, or order pizza with Deliveroo, our data is being harvested towards targeted marketing initiatives and machine learning,’ Briers says.

Discomforting discords in the experiences of our digital selves that the big players – companies and technologies alike – invest heavily in trying to mask. ‘We are now the ultimate resource to be extracted,’ Briers says, ‘as we undertake the work of being watched.’ ‘Don’t Be Evil’ invites us to be disruptors in the deconstruction of the richest commodities of the Internet of Things: ourselves.

Artists include Zach Blas & Jemima Wyman, Kate Crawford & Vladan Joler, Simon Denny, Xanthe Dobbie, Sean Dockray, Forensic Architecture, Kate Geck, Elisa Giardina Papa, Matthew Griffin, Eugenia Lim, Daniel McKewen, Angela Tiatia, Suzanne Treister and Katie Vida.


Dr Joseph Brennan is an art critic, author and cultural scholar based in Far North Queensland.

UQ Art Museum
30 July to 22 January 2022