Exhibit designed to unsettle viewers

James Malzahn pictured with one of his pieces that make up 'How to Clear Your Browser History' at Pembina Hills Arts Council. (GREG VANDERMEULEN/Morden Times)

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The latest exhibit at the Pembina Hills Arts Council will make you uneasy and unsettled. At least that’s what the artist is hoping for.

Called “How to Clear Your Browser History”, the exhibit by artist James Malzahn declares itself an “exhibit about the surveillance state using technology, data forensics and other visual art mediums”.

His final art project at the University of Manitoba in 2013 the Winnipeg native said he was inspired when Edward Snowdon released his documents regarding the NSA.

“I took interest immediately and started building multiple works, to critique the surveillance programs,” he said.

Attending the exhibit is an experience for guests who will see a mix of technology and traditional mediums. “There’s silk screening, image transfers and acrylic painting as well,” he said.

Lighting is timed so while the viewer is in the exhibit, the room lights are extinguished and UV lights come on.

That reveals completely different aspects of the work.

“Under regular lighting you only see the image, and then when it switches over to the UV lighting you have the phosphorescent glow from the text which isn’t visible otherwise,” he said.

Every piece takes on a new look. One of his pieces looks like a white canvas under regular light, but is filled with images under UV. He achieved that by mixing phosphorous and pigment with an acrylic medium.

Malzahn said people aren’t expecting the change while at the show.

“I think they’re usually kind of startled when the UV lights come on, because I do have cameras that monitor the show as well,” he said. “The whole show is under surveillance. I want the viewer to feel uneasy about the environment.”

Viewers can also watch photos of guests get printed off and dropped into a box. Those photos can be purchased for $20, and guests can buy their own or others.

The show is critiquing a program called Optic Nerve which was created by the NSA. “They were going into chat rooms, private rooms and copying images of people,” he said. “Their intent was to use it for a facial recognition data base. These were completely untargeted people, they were just capturing everybody they could.”

Malzahn found images in a similar fashion.

“For this I went into public chat rooms and I captured screen shots of people and their chat transcripts and that is the source for the images,” he said.

This is only the second time How to Clear Your Browser History has been shown.

The exhibit will run until Oct. 30 at the Pembina Hills Arts Council at 352 Stephen St., Morden.

One of James Malzahn’s pieces under UV light. Under regular light, it looks like a blank canvas. (GREG VANDERMEULEN/Morden Times)

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