Level of Confidence compares spectators to the 43 student victims of the Iguala, Mexico tragedy
The spectator stands facing a screen on a white wall. A facial recognition camera observes and analyzes algorithms and data from the face: measurements, depth, colouring. It tabulates a “match,” a photo that eerily appears on screen next to your own. Next to my face was a photo of a young hispanic boy: warm skin, penetrating stare. A student, like myself. A young activist, an enthusiastic crusader. A murder victim.
In September 2014, 43 students from a teacher’s college commandeered several buses to attend a protest in Iguala, Mexico. They were intercepted and confronted by local police, then inexplicably handed over to the Guerreros Unidos, a local crime syndicate. For reasons unknown, the students were kidnapped, killed, and thrown into a garbage dump-cum-mass-grave on the outskirts of the city. Using diesel, gasoline, tires, wood and plastic, the bodies burned for a full day before the remains were disposed of.
When the news of the savagery broke, Iguala erupted into furor. The city is still in a state of mourning, of residual social unrest, and Mexican artists throughout Montreal have been crusading to draw awareness to the disappearance and senseless murder of their people.
Meanwhile in Montreal, Mexican artist and former Concordia student Rafael Lonzano-Hemmer has chosen to commemorate the six-month mark of the “disappearance” of the students with the installation of his interactive art piece Level of Confidence (Nivel de Confianza) at Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts (FOFA) Gallery.
As previously mentioned, the installation uses advanced technology to forge a match between the participant and one of the 43 students. Once a tentative match has been made, the computer tabulates a percentage, a “level of confidence,” in the similarity of the faces. It is highly unlikely that the computer will ever find a positive, 100 per cent match; the piece’s intent is more morally-driven than aesthetic.
The project is meant as a commemoration, since the match-up with a murdered student will likely resonate and provoke some kind of discomfort. It speaks to the relentless search for the 43 students (citizens of Iguala and family members still suffer from denial) and also makes the students somehow more visible, more tangible. Not only is the technological aspect staggering, but so is the establishment of a visual bond between an everyday Concordia student and one of the victims from an otherwise nondescript school in Ayotzinapa, Mexico.
Lonzano-Hemmer is well known for his large-scale, interactive displays that have a global and morally-conscious agenda. He’s created pieces for the UN World Summit of Cities in Lyon, as well as constructed a memorial for the Tlatelolco Student Massacre in Mexico City in 2008, where 300 protesting students were shot and killed by police and army officers. For his work on these projects, he is expected to accept the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts in Ottawa on April 8.
The software for Level of Confidence is free to download for use in art galleries, museums, schools, or cultural centres. If the software is purchased commercially, Lonzano-Hemmer has voiced that the proceeds will be donated directly to the affected community and redistributed in the form of scholarships or subsidies.
Level of Confidence is open for viewing at Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts (FOFA) Gallery until April 10.