Proteoscope » Tom Miller The Blog of Proteus Gowanus Thu, 12 Nov 2015 16:51:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Roomful of Secrets Fri, 12 Apr 2013 15:27:09 +0000 photo-5 copy


The future history of secret wars has yet to be written:

Atomic priests and millenial vestments…


Bryan M. Wilson

Bryan M. Wilson detail


the cryptomusicology of shortwave espionage… floating signals in unbreakable codes…


Console copy 3


David Goren


the lost lost things…


Anna Livia Löwendahl-Atomic

Anna Livia Löwendahl-Atomic


the shadow world of black ops…


Joy Garnett


[this information has been redacted]


Renée Ridgway


—Tom Miller


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The Eye in the Sky Mon, 04 Mar 2013 17:39:59 +0000 A stealth addition to Secret Wars has just landed at Proteus Gowanus. panoptICONS, birds of surveillance with cameras for heads, are now observing visitors from a perch over the gallery.


This identity scavenger previously appeared over the streets of Amsterdam.

This identity scavenger previously appeared over the streets of Amsterdam.


FRONT404 (also known as the Dutch artists Thomas voor ‘t Hekke and Bas van Oerle) invented the avian robots to draw people’s visual attention up above their heads, where an ever-growing forest of surveillance cameras silently observes the humans gliding through the urban environment. Although they are hardly noticed, security cameras continually record faces in the crowd and can link with facial recognition software to track the identities of strangers. The artists observe that the ubiquitous optical surveillance devices occupy the same ecological niche as scavenging city birds. Perched high in the sky, each consumes the traces we leave behind when we pass by. Hidden cameras harvest our identities as crows swoop down to capture our dropped crumbs and discarded food wrappers. Voor ’t Hekke and van Oerle write that they see panoptICONS as “the logical evolution of these two species,” feeding on privacy and biometric data. The project website includes live video footage of a mother panoptICON feeding the facial profiles of passersby to her hungry chicks.



A lone sentry scanning the crowd at the Dutch Big Brother Awards.
Photo: FRONT404


The winner of a Dutch Big Brother Award, the observing birds were first seen in FRONT404’s home city of Utrecht. Random sightings are now being reported in cities around the world — including Brooklyn. So as you walk around the city, don’t forget to look up at the sky.

You never know who’s watching.


You are being watched.
Photo: Tammy Pittman


The state security apparatus of the Netherlands casts a looming shadow over Secret Wars at Proteus Gowanus. In another installment of Proteoscope we’ll enter the opaque miasma of Holland’s national police files in Renée Ridgway’s Revelation of the Concealed: Politics (in)form, composed of heavily redacted documents acquired through the Dutch Freedom of Information Act known as the WOB.











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Diving into the Maelstrom Sun, 17 Feb 2013 22:57:46 +0000 In Secret Wars, the current exhibition at Proteus Gowanus, artists reveal images of concealed conflict. These hidden battles take place not only in the shadows of the geopolitical map, but also in the dark and obscure corners of our bodies and minds. The silent neuronal firings and synaptic reactions we call fear are internal reactions to external threats. They are conditions of our isolation as biological individuals and our connection as social animals.

Nene Humphrey, the first artist in residence at one of New York University’s neuroscientific laboratories, renders the physiological basis of emotion visible. Her Secret Wars video installation “Circling the Center” animates the hypnotic patterns of activity inside the amygdala, the part of the brain where fear is generated. As electrochemical occurrences in the unconscious, these swirls and spirals trace secrets we keep from ourselves. Amazingly, she draws these accurate representations by hand, based on actual scans of brain activity recorded in the lab, then turns them into seamless sequences of moving pictures.
Nene Humphrey, Circling the Center (detail)Photo: Tom Miller

Nene Humphrey, Circling the Center (detail)
Photo: Tom Miller

Humphrey brought singing neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux from NYU, along with members of his band The Amygdaloids, to a Proteus event during the opening week of Secret Wars. LeDoux views the amnesia of post-traumatic stress disorder less as Freudian repression in the unconscious mind than as a failure of the conscious brain, specifically the hippocampus, to form new memories in response to an overwhelming occurrence. According to his hypothesis, consciousness shuts down rather than permanently register severely damaging events. But the amygdala, an emotional generator, still forms unconscious memories of the trauma. Re-encountering associated stimuli months or years later can trigger intensely visceral yet unconscious reactions, even if the person doesn’t know why. “So you might not remember,” LeDoux explained calmly, “but you can still suffer.”

Nene Humphrey, Circling the Center (detail)Photo: Tom Miller

Nene Humphrey, Circling the Center (detail)
Photo: Tom Miller

“This of course is all rat work,” he added none too reassuringly. People distinguish mild apprehension from abject terror, having different words with which to categorize intensities of feeling. LeDoux reasons that animals, lacking language, probably experience more undifferentiated states. But if the human brain is sufficiently like the rat brain, then our dizzying sensations of fear are correlated with the primal swirls and hidden spirals revealed in the installation.

Antique Memorial Book of Victorian Mourning Hair BraidsPhoto:

Antique Memorial Book of Victorian Mourning Hair Braids

Another of Nene Humphrey’s projects involves Victorian mourning braid patterns, which she has found are similar to the lab images. These intricate memento mori, woven on the body, served as an outward sign of grief and a bulwark against forgetting.

The theme of cryptic signals as artifacts detached from lost or forgotten meanings also runs through the work of several other artists featured in the exhibition, as I will write about in future installments of Proteoscope.



On January 25 the world’s media briefly converged on the corner of Union and Nevins to track the invasion of the Gowanus Canal by a wounded stray dolphin. In its death throes, the injured mammal known as the Gowanus Dolphin struggled in vain to swim to the freedom of the open ocean. Dolphins’ intelligence is more similar to humans’ than that of any other non-primate species. As the sadly doomed creature fought its way through the toxic waters of the canal to its death, I wonder what patterns of fear swirled and whorled through its cetacean brain?

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Secret Wars Tue, 12 Feb 2013 06:01:13 +0000 Dear Readers,

Proteoscope proudly returns to your pixel screens after a monthlong break, with a new topic to go with our new exhibition. I’m Tom Miller, an anthropologist who studies sound, shamanism, and the history of science. Together with Protean creative director Tammy Pittman, I co-curated Secret Wars, the current exhibition at Proteus Gowanus. I’ll be guest blogging for the next two months.

Secret Wars, the second installment of our yearlong Battle series, explores the cryptic ways of warfare waged behind a cloak of invisibility.  Here at Proteoscope we’ll go down the rabbit hole in pursuit of the themes in the exhibition: surveillance, drone warfare, shortwave spy signals, WikiLeaks, redactions, codes, invisible weaponry, cults of secrecy, the persistence of lost things in memory, the neurobiological bases of fear and more. I invite your comments and dialogue as we look at each of our artists’ work, play surrealist conflict games, and reveal the covert world of hidden battle.


Predator 2 by Joy Garnett

Predator 2 by Joy Garnett


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