In September, we launched our inaugural artist-in-residence program, Art, Resistance, Technology (ART). Our first artist-in-residence, Sarah Newman, joins us from Harvard metaLab, a design studio and idea lab focused on networked arts and humanities. The ART residency is ambitious both in its scope and subject matter. Working with a range of artists and creative practitioners, the program relies on the power of art and creativity to frames or reframes emergent issues in technology and intellectual property law as they relate to human relationships, civil rights, civil liberties.

On September 17th, we hosted the first of three exhibitions with Sarah Newman: The Future of Secrets. As the only law school to host this international exhibition, Newman prepared a powerful artist statement. See the statement below, as well as photos from the event.

The Future of Secrets

September 17-18, 2019
Center for Law, Innovation, and Creativity Northeastern School of Law, 2019

Are secrets uniquely​ ​human?​ Our​ ​private​ ​lives ​are mediated and​ ​recorded​ ​by​ ​digital​ ​devices.​Where​ ​are​ ​our​ ​secrets​ ​now? ​How​ ​will​ ​intelligent systems​ ​of​ ​the​ ​future​ ​process​ ​the​ ​data ​we​ ​leave​ ​behind?​ ​What kind of relationships do we have with these systems, and why do we trust them with our most private information?

The​ ​Future​ o​ f​ ​Secrets​​ is an interactive installation that takes different forms and employs diverse media. At its core, the installation includes a simple interaction that invites viewers to submit a secret, at which time the participant receives someone else’s secret in return. The installation question​s ​the​ ​trust we​ ​place​ ​in​ ​machines​, and ultimately​ ​reflects​ back​ some shared aspects of being human — fears, vulnerabilities, insecurities, memories.​ ​What​ does it mean that we share so​ ​much​ ​of​ ​ourselves​ ​through ​complex ​systems and digitally distributed networks?​ ​What​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​logic​ ​or intelligence​ ​is​ ​behind​ ​a​ ​screen?​ ​Who or what​ ​is​ ​watching​ ​or​ ​reading​ ​our​ ​words?

After launching at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston in September 2016, ​The Future of Secretshas exhibited at Harvard Art Museums and the MIT Media Lab and has traveled to Berlin, Rome, Austin, and Warsaw, before returning to Northeastern School of Law for this exhibition. Over the past three years, the exhibition has taken different forms each time it has shown, been adapted in multiple languages, and as a result, the work has accumulated a database of thousands of secrets.

The work reflects on the relationship we have to our digital correspondence, and why we so willingly trust the machines at our fingertips with our most private information. Recent news, from Clinton‘s email leaks to corporate data breaches and personal emails being exposed, continue to convey the implications associated with transmitting private information digitally. Yet, at the same time, there is something seductive and incredibly easy, as well as generative, about this seemingly fleeting but, in fact, permanent form of correspondence.

All the secrets collected in this installation are anonymous, only the artist is aware of the location in which the secrets were collected; there is no other identifying information attached to them. It is not even clear when the secrets are true, which also speaks to the difficulty we have with detecting the truth in the information we find online that may be removed from a reliable source.

The piece also reflects on questions of what happens in the longer-term future with regards to our data, the information and memories we leave behind, and the stories that that information (true or not) may tell about us, and whether we want these digital traces to tell such stories at all. And yet, despite all of these longer-term and critical and important reflections, there is something deeply human underlying the sharing of secrets. Reading these secrets reminds us of the humanity in the people surrounding us, as well as the people across the world. While often the digital can often make us feel more distant and removed, the experience of this installation creates a moment where such anonymization of private thoughts can make us feel ​more connected to others, and connected to the very experience of being human.

-SarahNewman |

Previous versions of this work were produced in collaboration with Jessica Yurkofsky (technologist) and Rachel Kalmar (data scientist).

– Sarah Newman, 2019- 2020 CLIC artist-in-residence